30 January, 2007
"I want action!" Jess Franco in DR M SCHLAGT ZU
Just as THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1968) was pretty much the final cinema destination for the famous Sax Rohmer character and THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA represents the beginning of the death throes of the Edgar Wallace franchaise, Jess Franco's LA VENGANZA DEL DR MABUSE (1970) finishes off the grand cycle featuring the evil genius first visualized by Fritz Lang some 50 years earlier with the crime epic DR MABUSE, THE GAMBLER (1922). Without going into the details of Lang's followup THE TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE (1932), his trouble with the Nazis, subsequent Hollywood career, THE 1000 EYES OF DR MABUSE and the 1960s series of W. German/CCC produced follow ups, it's not surprising that Franco's Mabuse is cast against type with Jack Taylor in the title role and a look which evokes a color version of Godard's ALPHAVILLE or 1971's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Franco's use of extreme wide angle lenses, color filters, outre costuming, minimalist settings, juvenile humor is more like a cheap comic book than any of the earlier Mabuse films. Jess Franco may take Lang's classic versions seriously but he never attempts to compete with them and he would have been foolish to do so.
As someone who has often noted his admiration for Lang's early German Expressionist work it's no coincidence that Franco's first horror film [GRITOS EN LA NOCHE/THE AWFUL DR ORLOFF (1961)] visually evokes environment of the silent Mabuse epics and that the plot of GRITOS... is recycled in LA VENGANZA. Franco is not really that interested in the story or characters or structure as much as delivering an exercise in pure style, mise en scene is everything here. It looks more toward the technological and cinema evolutions of the 21st than 20th Century. As usual, Franco was ahead of the times. Leaving aside short subjects and Claude Chabrol's DR M, it was to be the last of the 10 films which featured the name Dr Mabuse in the title. By trying to squeeze every last dime out of his property the wily, cutrate producer Artur Brauner killed off the mad doctor as a revenue generator for the rest of the century.
Franco scored the film with an array of hot Jazz, Big Band, Swing, and experimental cues composed by himself. These upbeat cues carry the obviously hastily filmed "action" and the music is one of the more interesting elements of the film, perhaps the most interesting element. Franco has always said that he considers himself a musician who makes films and his score here is a series of exhuberant, frenetic riffs, as is the film itself. Franco's approach to sci-fi versimultitude is not unlike the mid 1960s Grade Z cinema of Larry Buchanan or Roger Corman's delightful 1950s drive in quickies like WAR OF THE SATELLITES. A very short step above PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE with production goofs and blown takes left in the final cut.
We'll come back to LA VENGANZA DEL DR MABUSE and Franco's score in future blogs. In the meantime, I'm searching for the reportedly longer German language version [DR M SCHLAGT ZU] which is variously listed as 88 to 100m, considerably longer than my 71 minute Spanish language video, which is a bootleg dupe with poor picture quality. If anyone has access to this or wants to write a review here please contact me at the email on the banner above and we'll work something out concerning a future review blog and a DVD trade for a DVD R.
Note that RETROMEDIA will is releasing a set of early 1960s Artur Brauner produced Dr Mabuse films: THE RETURN OF DR MABUSE (1961), THE INVISIBLE DR MABUSE (1962) and THE DEATH RAY OF DR MABUSE (1964), all worth seeing if only to compare to Franco's approach to the subject.
(c) Robert Monell, 2006
26 January, 2007
The Severin Films site now reports that both THE SEXUAL STORY OF O and THE INCONFESSABLE ORGIES OF EMMANUELLE will be released on April 24th. Both films will be 2.35:1 transfers; 16X9; 2.0 Dolby; the audio option for ...STORY OF O will be its Spanish language track. Besides its original Spanish language track ... ORGIES OF EMMANUELLE will also have an English language track, probably taken from the EMMANUELLE EXPOSED version. Both features will have optional English subtitles available.
Each disc will contain a related documentary interview with Jess Franco.
It will be a revelation to have both of these visually fascinating films
in 2.35:1. HISTORIA SEXUAL DE O, an S&M reworking of LA COMTESSE PERVERSE (1973) via EUGENIE...HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1970), is one of Franco's most gorgeous films in terms of color and composition. It has previously only been available via a 1994 Spanish language tape [King Home Video] in a ratio closer to 1.85:1. LAS ORGIAS INCONFESABLES DE EMMANUELLE was released as a Spanish language VHS by Million Dollar Video Corp's "Caliente" label in the late 1980s in a very awkward fullscreen format.
Don't let the name Emmanuelle in the title mislead, LAS ORGIAS... is rather like a lush erotic-action painting which fully exploits its exotic Balearic Islands locations. Franco's contribution to the Emmanuelle mythos is another totally personal take which slyly turns the series' concept inside out and examines the underlying sexism and absurdity inherent in it. A very entertaining satire of sexploitation in general and Spanish "macho" attitudes in particular, this is very much worth a look. You also get to hear Alain Petit's outrageous song "La Vie est une Merde" backing up a striptease. Can anyone name all the Franco films in which this song is heard?
(c) Robert Monell, 2006
22 January, 2007
Born in Chaco, Argentina in 1937, today is the 70th birthday of Hugo Blanco, probably best known to Jess Franco fans as Andros, the radio controlled zombie who is DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER [US title of EL SECRETO DEL DR ORLOFF-1964]. Blanco is perhaps even more impressive as the tormented killer Ludwig Von Klaus in Franco's 1962 THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS.
Blanco subsequently appeared in a number of Italian-Spanish westerns such as UP THE MCGREGORS, TEXAS ADDIO and THE UGLY ONES. He projects a very intense, unsettling presence, at least in the few Spanish genre films in which I have seen him.
According to the IMBD, his last film role was in 1991.
A variation on Morpho (Ricardo Valle), Dr. Orlof's surgically created robot in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE/THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF (1961), Andros would return, played by different actors, in LA VENGANZA DEL DOCTOR MABUSE (1970) and EL SINIESTRO DR. ORLOFF(1982), lumbering through the the 1970s and 80s as the director's favorite mindless henchmen of mad scientists. Other variations on the Morpho/Andros characters can be found assisting more mad scientists in Franco's SADISTEROTICA (1967)and FACELESS(1988), respectively played by Michel Lemoine and Gerard Zalcberg.
Although these later films borrow heavily from the earlier b&w Orloff films they illustrate the evolution of Franco's style as he recycles the same characters and plot situations in compeletly different aesthetic environments, moving from German Expressionism (GRITOS...) to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE era stylization (LA VENGANZA...) to the tropical delirium of his Golden Films Internacional period (EL SINIESTRO...). Who says all Jess Franco films look the same?
LA VENGENZA DEL DOCTOR MABUSE and EL SINIESTRO DR. ORLOFF are not presently available in R1 DVD presentations with multiple language options. Let's hope that changes in the future.
(c) Robert Monell, 2007
16 January, 2007
No, this isn't an image of Caroline Munro from Jess Franco's FACELESS (1988), but I just love this picture of her. Everyone has their favorite Caroline Munro film, and although she doesn't necessarily mix well into the bloodbath which is FACELESS she really gives it her all. A very classy Lady and talented actress who can make even dreck like STARCRASH watchable.
Actually, my favorite CM performance is in the rather obscure Paul Naschy monsterfest HOWL OF THE DEVIL (1988), one of the actor-writer-director's best films which remains very hard to see outside of the grey market circuit. In our DVD age this compelling monster rally deserves a R1 digital presentation.
Look up her exact birthdate on the IMBD... a Gentleman never tells a Lady's age.
(c) Robert Monell, 2006
If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that the late, great Bruno Nicolai is my favorite film composer, and not just because of his scores for Jess Franco films. Two new CD's containing his Spaghetti Western scores for Sergio Martino's ARIZONA SI SCATENO... E LI FECE FUORI TUTTI (1970) and Guiliano Carnimeo's LIGHT THE FUSE, SARTANA IS COMING (1971) are coming soon accoring to SCREEN ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT.
There's always a slightly dangerous mix of mystery, eros and experimentation in Nicolai's best work. The kind of widespread recognition enjoyed by his former collaborator Ennio Morricone still eludes Bruno Nicolai but discerning collectors and those who appreciate European genre films of the 1960s and 1970s certainly realize the excitement his cues can bring to virtually any genre: war (DESERT BATTLE), horror (THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE), Eurospy (UPPERSEVEN; LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE), not to mention his numerous giallo and spaghetti western scores.
I'm still waiting for someone to issue my alltime favorite of his scores, the soundtrack for Jess Franco's NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT.
For more information here's a link to Screen Archives Entertainment where a wide array of his scores are offered at very reasonable prices, just type Bruno Nicolai in Search:
(c) Robert Monell, 2006.
13 January, 2007
The Belgian publication SECRET has published an excellent article on Jess Franco's 1973 Sade adaptation PLAISIR A TROIS. It was written by Michael Orlando Yaccarino, one of this blog's regular readers. This highly recommended analysis of the film takes a look at the original Sade text, examines the film's visual style and has comments by actor Robert Woods (the image above is a more recent pic of him), the screenwriter Alain Petit and director Jess Franco.
Ordering info can be found here: http://www.secretmag.com/
12 January, 2007
Yes, that's Jess Franco's image as the mad slasher from his 1979 film EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME adorning this WIZARD Video cover of Maurizio Pradeaux's 1973 TORMENTOR, one of the lesser mid 1970's Italian gialli but nevertheless an entertaining 90 or so minutes of Le Bad Cinema. Jess Franco is not in the cast of this sleazy item and the killer in the film bears no resemblance to his image here whatsoever.
WIZARD also released a video in an oversized box of DEMONIAC, a heavily censored version of EL SADICO, so maybe they decided to get more bang for their buck by porting Jess over. But the DEMONIAC box had different cover artwork, not including JF's image, although there were stills of him in action on the back.
This eyecatching cover is a case of video box art being superior to the film it's promoting. For an array of old WIZARD video covers: http://critcononline.com/wizard_video_vhs_covers.htm
(c) Robert Monell, 2006.
10 January, 2007
A silent partner on the international coproduction deal which financed Jess Franco's VENUS IN FURS (the party scene was filmed in one of his villas) Ponti produced over 150 films since the 1940s directed by such cinema luminaries as Vittorio De Sica, Antonioni (BLOW UP), Fellini (LA STRADA), David Lean (DR. ZHIVAGO), Godard and many others.
He will probably be most remembered as the man who discovered and married Sophia Loren.
07 January, 2007
My favorite US video cover has to be Wizard's big old Virgin Among The Living Dead. I can't believe that Eurocine could patch in Simon Garth, The Zombie from Marvel Comics (complete with his "S" amulet)...and this one is just psychotropic mayhem all around. It doesn't fit the film, but what the heck?
06 January, 2007
We're not talking DVD cover art here, but considering the vintage video box art which decorated the first Jess Franco home video releases in the US. Companies like Force, Wizard, etc. started releasing obscure Euro Trash/Genre titles in the 1980s. Now, in our DVD age, these covers have become increasingly hard to find and are often auctioned on ebay, fetching pricey bids. They are definitely collector's items. I managed to save a few boxed prerecords, but others got damaged, lost, trashed. I especially prize the oversized boxes from WIZARD VIDEO.
The best of these were over-the-top collages of outre horror & erotic elements which sometimes captured the mood and look of the film surprisingly well. Sometimes, especially on the WIZARD VIDEO oversized boxes, there would be stills on the back along with credits which were actually from another film which WIZARD also had out in an oversized box edition! If I remember correctly spurious back-of-the-box info showed up on the WIZARD releases of VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD and THE INVISIBLE DEAD, to name a few. Somehow, this was all part of the fun of these.
So, what are your favorite video box covers from that era? One of mine is at the top of this blog... You can post your favorites on the comments below or if you email your votes with an image of a cover I will do a separate blog with your choices.
(c) Robert Monell, 2007.
03 January, 2007
Many thanks to Adam Williams for finding and providing this image.
02 January, 2007
Who is Luc Moullet?
Why did I once drive over 500 miles to see one of his films in the mid 1970s? Why is he almost totally unknown in the US? What is the name of the film he made which is built around the image of French critics viewing Vittorio Cottafavi's HERCULES CONQUERS ATLANTIS? Why did I spend money rather foolishly earlier which I could have invested in this PAL tout le regions boxset? Why is this on a Jess Franco blog?
I'll try to answer these questions when I have more time. Until then, I hope this inspires some adventurous cinephiles reading this to research his work and actually attempting to view at least one of his films. Despite this 2006 Euro boxset, it won't be easy.
01 January, 2007
It looks like there will be a new Jess Franco title appearing in 2007, but there won't be any more new Robert Altman films...
The first day of 2007 is an appropriate time for me to comment on the loss of a major innovator in American cinema from the 1970s onward. When I first heard of the death of Robert Altman last November at the age of 81 I remembered Monica Swinn's comment in OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO that "Jess...liked Robert Altman a lot... ." She worked with Franco in the mid 1970s when he was furiously turning out some of his lowest budgeted and most personal works at a rate of sometimes 12 a year! My favorite Altman films also come from that period. They would include MC CABE & MRS MILLER (1971), IMAGES (1972), THE LONG GOODBYE (1973) and NASHVILLE (1975), among others. All boldly broke conventional genre barriers. MC CABE is a symphony of dreamy, elaborate zooms and soft-focus interludes which create a spectral quality startling in a film purporting to be a western. There's also an on-the edge-elegance to the intricate zooms (although many will insist that they just attest to lazy filmmaking) in many of Franco's Robert de Nesle produced films of that era along with the ultimate zoom/rack focus fest, LA COMTESSE NOIRE.
Both rather obscure films which should be sought out, it's especially interesting to compare Altman's IMAGES to Franco's AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO, both were filmed on islands in the Atlantic (Ireland; Madiera) and are told from the point of view of a woman who is undergoing a violent mental breakdown. They shatter the comfortable illusion that what we see (in cinema and in life) is the whole truth rather than an impression, suggesting that ontological (and cinema) reality is a question rather than an answer before finally obliterating that consciousness by the very optical devices (lenses, mirrors, cameras) through which we establish our self-image. In the much criticized (at the time) THE LONG GOODBYE, with its inversion of decades of established Film Noir motifs, there could be a possible model for Franco's long running Al Periera series of neo noirs.
Altman's methods were notably similar to Franco's at that time: reducing adherence to completed scripts and shooting with more attention to on-set actor's improvisations, including chance environmental elements (the extraordinary snowstorm which blows in during the climax of MC CABE) which couldn't be prescripted, a focus on ensemble blocking rather than single protagonists, an impressionistic sound design where overlapping dialogues, music, sound were tonal and of equal value along with an always musical, nonlinear overall structure. Franco often calls himself a musician who makes films and so was Altman at his best. Altman's very last film is a musical-comedy which has some a number of interesting similarites to Franco's long standing fascination with musicians-in-peril scenarios from VAMPS OF 1930 to VENUS IN FURS.
Especially in the early to mid 1970s both used the telezoom as an aesthetic device to artfully collapse and expand space scan from wide to close perspective and back creating a stylistic fluidity, finding compelling spatial relationships in seemingly banal areas and familiar zones .The camera was always roving and exploring in Altman's best work as it does in the long plan sequences of Franco's GEMIDOS DE PLACER. One gets the feeling that both filmmakers had an intense fascination with the interactive relationship between inatimate objects and human figures, external environments and interior states, music and film, the art of the movie deal and the mysteries of chance. The difference is that Jess Franco remained a B, C, an Z series auteur while Altman utlimately converted cult status into a degree of acceptance from the Hollywood system he so consistently satirized and challenged.
(c) Robert Monell 2007