11 January, 2008

Review: ANTENA CRIMINAL


"I love women... in most of my films women are the real protagonists... I think that women are much more important than men... I like to show them dominating the world... I am a feminist...a total feminist."
Jess Franco in ANTENA CRIMINAL: MAKING A JESS FRANCO MOVIE [TRASH PALACE]

Shot and edited by Brian D. Horrorwitz during the Costa del Sol shoot of BLIND TARGET in January-February 2000, this shot-on-video documentary actually made me want to revisit that odd (for Franco) blend of South American political melodrama, martial arts action, relatively mild sexual interludes and torture. That's high praise from me as I consider BT one of the my least favorite Jess Franco films.

Brian Horrorwitz is an actor and musician who worked in those capacities on the feature while making this sometimes revealing, amusing and fast paced documentary. It's a compelling look at the legendary filmmaker in action on one of his typically iconoclastic projects, but one which he obviously undertook with complete seriousness and dedication.

As with many Franco films it was shot mostly in and around a hotel(in Malaga, Spain) and its low budget shows throughout. It does feature a lively rock soundtrack by the Ubangis (also heard on the documentary music track) and professional performances by Lina Romay (as an enthusiastic South American torture specialist) and Linnea Quigley (who has a very sexy voice, by the way) as a double dealing bimbo. The rest of the performances and the perfunctory staging of the martial arts action leave something to be desired. But it's nonetheless fascinating to witness Jess working against all odds. Tenacious, observant, fussing over every detail, acting as his own camera operator, he's the whole show, exploding at an actress who just can't deliver a line after an hour of prompting or following the action as he's pushed in his wheelchair-dolly, he's always giving 1000 percent of his energy to the task at hand.

There are short interview segments with the director between footage of the shoot during which he discusses the origins of the project (it is based on the actual experiences of a politically active actress he worked with during the 1960's) and his views on women, film making, other directors, actors and eroticism. There's also welcome glimpses of such key players as his laid back producer, Kevin Collins, his universal helpmate, actress Lina Romay, his assistants and technicians. A rather bizarre detour to a Chicago fan convention where a Jess Franco style S&M act is performed is also included.

Horrorwitz uses onscreen titles, wide angle lenses, split screen, and, very much in the spirit of Franco's early 70's works, an actively probing telezoom, to get at the heart of the action and keep things visually interesting. Everything from Franco's obsessive cigarette smoking rituals to the way he almost sexually clutches his beloved camera is duly recorded. The often hand-held verite-style camerawork is very suited to its subject. Clever editing gives some perspective for Franco veterans, such as when a clip from DEMONIAC/EXORCISM of Jess Franco's character attacking Lina Romay is interspersed with the director's frustrating encounter with the actress over the aforementioned line reading.

I would especially recommend this for the legion of Franco naysayers who insist that he is a lazy, indifferent director. This offers continuous evidence of his frenetic care over details, willingness to do it over and over until it's right, his passion for film making in general. He's a steamroller who just won't stop and he obviously believes in what he's doing. Make up your own mind if he's a hack or a genius. This is going to be a must have for those serious about the films of Jess Franco as well as anyone interested in the day to day mechanics of making a B minus Euro-exploitation film.


A second disc includes an exclusive interview with the director in which he answers give some interesting responses to questions about his focus on eroticism in his films and his influences. There's also 50 minutes of outtakes, a 21 minute digital photo gallery, an 3m trailer, liner notes by Mondo Macabro's Pete Tombs and more. There are some video glitches here and there, along with some heavily accented dialogue which remains impenetrable but these are acknowledged upfront and easily overlooked considering the amount of information here and the extended look at the work ethics of a controversial film making legend. If you're Franco-curious, a Franco completist, or a Jess Franco skeptic this documentary may make you reconsider your position.

[2 DISC DVD-R SET: In color with some b&w sequences/DD Stereo Sound/Full-frame; 83m-feature]
www.trashpalace.com/Antena.htm

(C) Robert Monell, 2007

5 comments:

Douglas A. Waltz said...

Yup! This was an awesome documentary. It makes me sad that no thought of doing this before. Can you imagine this kind of indepth doc while he was filming Exorcism or A Virgin Among The Living Dead? That would be awesome! Great review Robert.

Michael "Mick" Cantone said...

I concur. The review was wonderful and I am looking forward to obtaining a copy of Antena Criminal. I also agree with you, Douglas. I would have loved to see an documentary showing Jess' artistry during the 70's, especially on the making of the two masterpieces you mentioned. But, there is no use crying over spilt milk. Again, thank you for the wonderful review.

P.S. I sent the updated photos of my Lina Romay triptych to you. Did you receive them?

DADA for now....

Robert Monell said...

Doug: Yes, it would have been most interesting to see him at work during those years. Thanks for your comments.

Robert Monell said...

Mike, thanks for your comments and interest. You may have to send those again. I've had some problems with incoming. Thanks again.

Brian Horrorwitz said...

Robert: Thanx for the nice words. I am always interested to know what people think about AC, good or bad, because really this was sort of a big experiment for me and I'm still not quite sure if it has any "meaning" to anyone but myself. And while I did originally intend it to be something that anyone could get into, whether they were familiar with Franco's movies or not, I realize that the final release does have it's limited appeal. So ultimately I suppose it is "for the fans" but since I am a Franco fan too I suppose that's okay. And if anyone gets anything out of it I am glad.

Douglas: It sure would have been great to have had someone shoot him making a movie before this one. But I know for a fact that Jess is very private about his film making and I am honestly amazed I was allowed to do it. I know he probably would rather have not had me there beathing down his neck although he did handle it well and was really very nice about it. Probably you all have seen "Vampir" which was shot during his "Count Dracula" movie with Christopher Lee. I'm not sure why that hasn't come out ever and it would have made the ultimate extra on the DVD release of "Count Dracula". Anyways, as far as I know that was the only other time he allowed someone to document him in that way.