05 March, 2007

Douglas Sirk vs Jess Franco



"Melodrama means music plus drama..." Douglas Sirk

Way back in the days before cable TV, videotape, DVD, I once travelled 500 miles to see a Douglas Sirk film. There are not many films I would do that for. It was THE FIRST LEGION, his film about Jesuits. Not exactly a key film in his oeuvre or something I could discuss here at length. But, like all of Sirk's films, I was hypnotized by the emotional honesty of it amidst its unique plastic aesthetic. It was worth the trip.

I finally caught up with the CRITERION COLLECTION DVD of Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956), a late masterwork and one of the 20 plus films he made for Universal International after signing with them in 1950. It's Sirk's most beautiful film in terms of pure form and that has a lot to due with DP Russell Metty, who would shoot Orson Welles' Hollywood swansong TOUCH OF EVIL (see Jess Franco's 1963 RIFIFI EN LA CIUDAD for a virtual remake, which may have prompted Orson to hire him to direct second unit for CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT) the next year. Universal was persuaded by producer Albert Zugsmith to let Sirk, and later Welles, work as they pleased. A DP able to give a film an auteur's style and a studio look Metty is one of my favorite Hollywood cinematographers and he enabled Sirk to do breathtaking things with color, framing and camera movement. The gorgeous hues pulsate in depth of field and seem to have a life of their own. It's beyond the kind of Expression which Sirk practiced in his early UFA films before he fled the Nazis. It's a kind of eye drugging American Surrealism, bold, delicious and somehow morbid. How can one describe in words a canary yellow sportscar speeding past a pumping oil derrick and tanks emblazoned with a red family business seal? You have to see it. It's like Metty is painting with Technicolor heated up to the max. The plot is lurid and ulitmately unimportant. It's a film about sex and class and its images are its true story and themes. By classification it's a melodrama, a "woman's picture" which Douglas Sirk mastered in his final decade of filmmaking. But Jess Franco, througout his career, has also made the woman's picture HIS genre.

Franco's most interesting and personal films are women's pictures: women and their emotional turmoils are at the center of THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z, NECRONOMICON, 99 WOMEN, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT, EUGENIE DE SADE, VAMPYROS LESBOS, SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, LA FILLE DE DRACULA, LA COMTESSE NOIRE, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR (a perfect Douglas Sirk title), LORNA-THE EXORCIST, A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, MACUMBA SEXUAL, right up to the recent SNAKEWOMAN. Women have absolute power over men (and not just sexual) in these films and even in his male centered neo-noirs like BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO. The women at the center of these titles search for meaning and identity, usually finding neither.

In WRITTEN ON THE WIND the pathetic nymphomaniac played by Dorothy Malone holds the life and death of her dysfunctional family in her quivering hands througout. On impulse I immediately put on Franco's 1973 MAIS QUI DONC A VIOLE LINDA? (BUT WHO RAPED LINDA?)and completed a fascinating double bill. Franco also made early films in the style of German Expressionism (1961's GRITOS EN LA NOCHE/THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF), moved to a kind of Surrealism in films like NECRONOMICON, VAMPYROS LESBOS, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, but settled into the impoverished minimalism or subrealism of his these mid 1970s French backed features. He didn't have Russell Metty, or even his favorite DP, Manuel Merino. He had little money, so it's an imposed style, and he seems to have preferred working in relative freedom, although he had to eventually turn even the best of these films into hardcore versions at their producer's insistence. LINDA presents the precognitive dream of Marie-France (Alice Arno) who is about to go to an island where she will interact with the bizarre Radeck/Steiner family. The fact that the "story" of the film is presented as she dozes off reading a book (by "David Khunne*) recalls the formal structure of EUGENIE...THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1970), but that was a big budget film compared to this.

Like Sirk's film LINDA is also about sex and class, the pressures they place on the family unit, which ultimate fragments under the strain. The Orloff's family secrets as the ones of the title character in SNAKEWOMAN are kept hidden from the outside world and are investigated at the risks of those who do the probing. Paul Muller's neurotic father is wealthy and remote, he warns Marie-France about the nymphomania of daughter Olivia (Lina Romay). As in most of Franco's key films, this is about watching various performances and he uses mirrors to open the action into symbolic dimensions of time and space. The mirror is the central object in Franco's mise en scene and his filmography as it is with Sirk. The progression into madness and murder is thus a reflection on what life should be, something to be experienced within a happy family. But there are no really happy families in the films of Douglas Sirk or Jess Franco, only the Self to be contemplated by the camera and in the mirror.

"The mirror is the imitation of life. What is interesting about a mirror is that it does not show yourself as you are, it shows you your own opposite." Douglas Sirk


*MAIS QUI DONC A VIOLE LINDA? is also known as LES NUITS BRULANTES DE LINDA [Hardcore version], EROTIC DREAMS [the rare non hardcore English language version], among other titles. The film must be seen in it's origina 2.35:1 OAR to appreciate Franco's complex use of framing, space and objects. Thanks to Francesco Cesari for helping me to see three significantly different edits of this underappreciated JF title.

**The title of the book is MAIS QUI DONC A VIOLE LINDA? Now that we know that there were no actual "David Khunne" novels, this is a double in-joke on JF's part.

"Sirk on Sirk".

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I am about to place an order with ETC for three films:

PLAISR POR TROIS
LES NUITS BRULANTES DE LINDA
AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO

the latter I have only seen in it's Italian hardcore inserted versions.. but I amtrying to seek out the Spanish version without the inserts after reading so many glowing reviews on the Latarnia forum.
what are the main differences between EROTIC DREAMS and the LES NUITS BRULANTES DE LINDA?? I don't have an issue with the strong sex scenes, mostly I have an issue when the inserts are done some time after and don't really help the film in anyway..

Thanks,
Scott
(Wearethedead)

Robert Monell said...

Scott: I have an old VHS of the Spanish version of AL OTRO LADO, which is essential first tier Franco. The Italian and French are distortions. Perhaps we can work out a trade. Many, many differences between WHO RAPED LINDA and LES BRULANTES... I didn't realize it until Francesco sent the non hardcore. LES BRULANTES has several very ugly hardcore interludes replacing major scenes, like the ending if the film within the film which I don't want to spoil for you is totally different. Two characters and an entire subplot are cut out of the hardcore version, also. BUT LES BRULANTES has scenes and shots which I like not in the non hardcore versions, like the intro of Alice to Lina seen through the mirrored doors on the porch instead of inside and other scenes. Also WHO RAPED LINDA is the onscreen title of the Spanish language version which is in correct OAR. You must see this is 2.35:1. The English language EROTIC DREAMS is fullscreen destroying Franco's visual design. But to understand what is going on you should see it and to get all the footage both nonhardcore you have to see all three or four versions. I know, it's confusing. Let's hope Francesco sees this and explains further as he seems to have a list of further cuts. Thanks for your interest.

Robert Monell said...

I just realized that my 2nd vcr is on the blink so I can't copy these. I would ask ETC if they have LES BRUTLANTES and the Spanish AL OTRO LADO.

Anonymous said...

I ordered both from ETC. They have the Italian hardcore version called OBSCENE MIRROR (I'd like to see the Spanish version too) and the French language version of LINDA, I'm guessing that's BRULANTES unless there was more than one French edit (it is hardcore but is missing its title card though it does feature otherwise complete credits.

So, LINDA's 2.35:1?

Robert Monell said...

The OBSCENE MIRROR, L'MIROIR OBSCENE is the French version, I believe. The Spanish is one of Franco's key works, definitely in the top 10 or even 5. I spoke with him about it and he seems to feel it was compromised by all these factors. I've also recently spoken to actor Robert Woods about the making of it. I would see the Spanish version first and then the French. There are some non hardcore shots in the French not in the Spanish.

...LINDA is def 2.35:1 and the French version should be in OAR. I actually have two slightly different Fr language versions, one with titles and one without. It's the Spanish non hardcore versions of these films which seem to have been made first and were Franco's intended cuts and the producers later recut or forced him into doing hardcore inserts at the expense of narrative, atmospheric footage, original scoring and his original desing. You'll really have to go to quite some expense and time to compare all the versions of all his mid 70s French films. Good Luck and please keep us posted on your reactions to these films.

Robert Monell said...

I believe EROTIC DREAMS is available through www.erostv.com. Try it. At least that contains all the footage from the non hardcore edit.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, R. I know I 've only seen the Italian hardcore version of
"Al Otro Lado Del Espejo" and it seems there is a really good film somewhere in the emma cohen footage. I believe ETC offers the full spanish version. I will look for it there.

I will see about the LES BRULANTES version first I guess before approaching the other versions. "Erotic Dreams" version sounds like alot of the visual side of Franco will be lost in that version and let's face it, that is his main strength I feel as a director.

It's ok about not being able to copy anything right now as I'm sure I don't have anything Franco related you don't have either! I know I have less than many others. Thanks anyway.

best,
s.

Robert Monell said...

I hope you can find the Sp version. Once you see it you won't want to watch the others ever again. They really ruined the film. It's depressing because Jess himself shot the new footage with Lina Romay which destroys the mood and meaning.

Anonymous said...

Having watched the Italian version of OBSCENE MIRROR again (called MIRROR OF PLEASURE), I think I can reconstruct in my mind how parts of the Spanish version were meant to play (I haven't seen it) but you can tell that Cohen's reaction shot to apparently discovering Lina dead is a close up taken from some unrelated scene (probably her discovering her father dead in the original). It's sort of like the way Rollin and Eurocine used a reaction shot of Cristina Von Blanc upon seeing her dead father in the original to show her reaction to the zombies in the refilmed footage for VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD.

I'll have to email ETC and ask if they have the Spanish version. When I ordered from them a while ago, they only had the Italian version.

Robert Monell said...

That's an interesting comparison since AL OTRO LADO is kind of a more complex consideration of the themes in AVATLD. But it's more complicated by the fact that the all important music score was removed from the French version and a new one put in. This totally destroys the original concept of using the same cues in differing contexts. Maybe the most brilliant use of music in JF's oeuvre. I really dislike the altered version of this film. I have the Spanish language "Q" video dub. It came out onn prerecord during the 1980s
in Spain. Some collectors have dubs like myself, scattered collectors. Good luck in locating even a dub. It's letterboxed and in Spanish language. Since there's a LOT of dialogue and a complex narration I hope you are a Spanish speaker. This great film really needs a R1 DVD presentation with English subs. NOT likely to happen, though, due to rights issues.

Anonymous said...

Robert can you tell us more about legal issues here?? Is it a de Nestle production?? AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO?? I ask, because why is it that LA FILLE DU DRACULA and LES DEMONS both came out on Region 2 dvds in Europe..??
I just got a dvdr from Lumious today of LORNA L'EXORCIST, i've read some say this will never come out on dvd proper..hmm.. I ordered from etc the titles I spoke of earlier..Craig said he thinks he has a spanish version around of AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO.

best,
s

Robert Monell said...

There is a developing story of the CFFP De Nesle's. There may be some movement and we may see some released sooner than later. But there are some complications also. Some of them appear to be "lost", in terms of elements. I've been told that LA COMTESSE PERVERSE may be one of these, which would be unfortunate. LORNA may or may not be play. I hope so. I always put LORNA and LCP on my 10 best JF lists. But some may appear. I hope it works out. The LUMINOUS LTE is missing a scene with Caroline Riviere which I have on a vhs, btw. The only advantage of the LUMINOUS is that it has [very incorrect] Eng subs. I don't buy anything from them. The rights owner for AL OTRO LADO would have to be found if they are in Spain and then the elements would have to be there and usable. I'm not sure if it's the same person as the one who holds the CFFP rights. It was a coproduction. The rights holder of the CFFP's knows and cares absolutely nothing about the films themselves and is concerned about keeping them for other for family legacy. But if the money is there... Enough money, the may yet appear. Let's hope it works out.

Anonymous said...

"Is it a de Nestle production?? AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO??"

Its co-produced by France's Comptoir Francais du Film (de Nesle's company) and Orfeo Film in Madrid (I'm wondering if this is a reference to Cocteau's ORPHEE given the use of mirrors here - though I think his VENUS IN FURS/BLACK ANGEL is closer to Cocteau's Orpheus who goes to the underworld ostensibly to retrieve his wife but is far more intrigued/attracted to Maria Casares' Death).

Robert Monell said...

According to Tom Betts, the editor of WESTERNS ALL'ITALIA, Robert DeNelse died in 1978/ Betts has a very extensive database on European producers so I believe this is correct. I have been told by someone who knows JF that Franco claimed DeNesle offered him the rights to his library as he lay dying in hospital. Franco didn't take him up on the offer and the films went to Elisabeth De Nesle who later sold them. DeNesle also produced many sword and sandal type films, apy films in the 60s. These are the CFFP films, the ones purely with DeNesle's money, not the coproductions. LORNA is one of these. That's why I hope it is in play in the current negotiations. THE OBSCENE MIRROR is the French version of AL OTRO LADO... but I'm not sure if that's in the package being talked about.
The Spanish coproducer was Jose Manuel Herrero for Producciones Orfeo S.A., Madrid, Franco was not in control of the production of either version in terms of monies. He made the good Spanish version which was released theatrically there to critical praise and won some awards. De Nesle exercised his rights as cofinancier and asked Jess to make a sexier version for the French adult "X" market. Jess agreed and shot the new footage which tragically deforms a potentially great film. Jess also agreed to shoot new footage for the DeNesle produced LA COMTESSE PERVERSE at the producer's request. Both of the sexier versions made money and are easier to see than the superior original versions, which are two of Franco's best 70s films, along with LORNA.
When I spoke with Jess a few years ago I praised AL OTRO LADO... as Bunuelian. Jess said, "No, Bunuel was free... I wasn't. It was just a commercial film." I think he regretted having to destroy his film for commercial reasons. And he had to do it over and over again to continue to make films at that time.

Anonymous said...

..oh and thanks for the history on de Nestle..if only Franco could have bought the rights to his work..

best,
s.

Anonymous said...

I only know this movie as "LES CROQUESES" (sp?) I'd love to see a non-hardcore version ..does it exist?? I was thinking there was some grey market video of LA COMTESSE PERVERSE with subtitles out there..maybe from Luminous? I will ask you about the missing scene from Lorna soon- I tried watching this the other night during a very tired period, but what I know so far from viewing half is that it's brilliant..Jacqueline L. is great in thoe frenzied early on scenes..possession? it reminded me of a scene in DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN that was alot more subdued but still very effective..
I think I will love LORNA very much..

Anonymous said...

I checked with ETC and they do have the Spanish version of OBSCENE MIRROR.

My French copy of BRUTAL NIGHTS is letterboxed at around 1.66 or so and is definately SECAM derived. The fleshtones get orange in shadows and the white of the house is completely blown out against the sky. The credits for Arno, Romay, and Muller are missing as well as the title. The otherwise complete credits start with "A FIlm by J.P. Johnston"

Robert Monell said...

I would def go with the Sp version of OBSCENE MIRROR, you really haven't seen the film until you have. And the Fr version is a bad distortion.

I would recommend you get the 2.35:1 versions of BRUTAL NIGHTS... . The one you have is improperly framed, and framing is THE key issue in this particular film. Also many important scenes and images are missing from this version and the music score is deformed as well. The two other versions reveal an entire subplot and several new characters and a different climax. It's really another film...You can get them both online, I believe.

Anonymous said...

I haven't been able to find the Spanish or OAR versions of BRUTAL NIGHTS. I got the incorrectly framed French XXX version from ETC. Any suggestions? The only online places I'm familiar with besides ETC are Midnight (doesn't carry this particular title), Sinister Cinema, and SWV.

Robert Monell said...

If you wish, you can email me to discuss getting you a video or DVD R of the Spanish versions. Use this alterante email for the time being: renegovar@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

Ok, I just saw AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO.. very different from the xxx Italian cut I saw a few years ago.. this version is much better. It almsot seemed like this film could have been made right after VENUS IN FURS in terms of it's elements.
best,
s.

Robert Monell said...

I'd like to read your comments on it. Interesting that you relate it to VIF. Franco had already wanted to make it around the time of MISS MUERTE, 1965, but couldn't get it past the Spanish censors.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, interesting to read that. I wish my copy of this looks better..I'd love to see that get a DVD treatment ala VENUS IN FURS, LA FILLE DU DRACULA, etc. There's several moments in it where it doesn't seem like a Franco movie at all.. like it was really aimed at the spanish commercial market.
Emma Cohen has the most interesting face, in some scenes she's drop dead beautiful and in others at varying angles quite the opposite.

Anonymous said...

oh, and this had the best nightclub ambiance I've seen in a Franco movie yet too... in terms of live music, etc. Really hard to believe he made this.

Robert Monell said...

The film was critically praised in Spain and Emma Cohen got some awards for her performance. This was rare for a Franco film to be well recieved in Spain. Franco did say to me that it was a "commercial" film. I still don't understand why they added the softcore stuff later. DeNesle I guess wanted to make more $$.

Anonymous said...

"I still don't understand why they added the softcore stuff later. DeNesle I guess wanted to make more $$."

The film was made after Franco's other de Nesle titles and at a time when French cinema was getting more explicit. Given their past association, its not surprising that de Nesle would've picked the exploitation route over the arthouse one.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, well I really loved AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO... also got PLASIR A TROIS - just ok, Tania Bussellier is in it and seeing Lina as the mute was pretty cool at least.. LES NUITS BRULANTES DE LINDA i just now finished watching.. this was the XXX version, had alot of inappropriate music playing..there was only one really good musical sequence.. the wheelchaired charcater was barely in this version at all. Not sure what to say about this version I guess I need to seek out the other two versions --

WHO RAPED LINDA - spanish
EROTIC DREAMS

I don't have a dvd burner but have some audio music shows on bootleg..it would be great if some kind of trade could be worked out. I can also copy dvd onto ntsc vhs.

best,
scott

Anonymous said...

this copy of Linda was very much full of red/orange tones.. and the print seemed to look as if it was made together from several versions of the movie. Paul Muller's scenes seemed mostly edited out.

best,
s

Robert Monell said...

The scenes which are missing are all the ones with Bigotini and Catherine Laferrie as the team spying on the family; the home invasion and fight with Pierre taylou; the exterior meeting of Alice and Lina moved to the interior; the complete murder spree of Lina; the final police raid and more. And all the XXX stuff is mercifully missing. But there is some footage I like not in any other version. Does it have the opening credits?

Robert Monell said...

And as a formal experiment PLAISIR may be more interesting than LINDA and AL OTRO LADO... I recently interviewed Robert Woods about the making of this film, btw.

Anonymous said...

The version I have starts with Bigotini and Alice Arno speaking in French, LOL.. then the titles begin as a film by JP Johnson, but Lina, Alice Arno and Paul Muller's name are missing from the credits oddly enough. the detailed scenes missing all sound really great. I'm sure there is an interesting movie there..maybe less in the version I saw..

my copy of Plasir looked just ok,watchable but that's all. I am sure with a proper release and subtitles it could be alot better. did woods like working with franco?

best,
s

Robert Monell said...

Bigotini has a second role, as the cop who is gathering evidence on the family. He and Catherine Laferriere use telephoto lenses to spy on them from across the bay. This is all cut out of the version you have. I'm trying to find another US source for you. The erostv version is th same content as the Sapnish vers but is fullscreen. PLAISIR showed in the UK in a Eng language version, Woods told me. He loved Franco because he's a jazz musician. He told me a lot of wild stuff went on during the shooting!

Anonymous said...

ha ha ha!! I bet!! are you conducting these interviews for a book of work on Franco or something?? I noticed a few years ago when searching online for Tania Busselier, it had a modern photo of her and it seemed to indicate she was a comedian or something.

I forgot to mention but I clicked on that eros tv link you gave much earlier in this thread but it brought up something else entirely..

best,
s.

Robert Monell said...

Do you know where that pic is of her? I'd like to do a blog on her and use it, Thanks> Also I thought it may be possible to get this on erostv.com.

Anonymous said...

hi robert- i am searching for that photo of Busselier.. it seems the internet link is gone but i know I saved the photo as I thought it to be something rare. will let you know.

best,
s.

Anonymous said...

ps

any comments on the Luminous version of LA COMTESSE PERVERSE? I haven't ordered it but I see it's subtitled .. i have only seen the version as LES CROQUESES.. should I bother with this luminous disc?

best,
s

Robert Monell said...

The Luminous DVD R has terrible video quality and is the XXX version de Nesle demanded Franco compile. The version that is the closest to Franco's original has NO hardcore footage and is shorter. This version is available through MIDNIGHT VIDEO. Check it out. And thanks for looking for the TB pic.

Anonymous said...

sadly I never found the TB photo.. still going to go through some data discs and see what I can come up with.

I checked out Midnight Video and they have it - but only on vhs. is the quality really good?? I was hoping for a dvdr option. Hmm..

best,
s.

Robert Monell said...

Yes, I have that MV versions and it's good quality. It's essential to have this since it's the closest to the original version w/0 the added hardcore. Unfortunately it still has the added "comedy" scenes which frame the action.

Yoel Meranda said...

wonderful comments on sirk! he's one of the greatest. have you seen tarnished angels?

Robert Monell said...

Yes, I saw TARNISHED ANGLES a long time ago but I would like to see it again on DVD. I like the "look" of the film. Thanks for your comments and welcome to the blog!

scott said...

Hmm, I doing a trade with someone for a version of EROTIC DREAMS, but in the meantime have now stumbled upon an Italian version of "Les Nuits brulantes de Linda" which plays much different than the French version with the hardcore scenes- I wonder how close this is to EROTIC DREAMS? I'm not very good at telling th framing and OAR/ratio stuff but it looks much better framed than the French version.

Robert Monell said...

What is the onscreen title? EROTIC Dreams is the fullscreen version which destroys the original compositions I wouldn't recommend this version.

scott said...

"La Felicita Nel Peccato" is the on screen title. it doesn't have the xxx scenes so maybe this is a better version?