03 May, 2008

DAS BILDNIS DER DORIANA GRAY (1976)


Enter a hushed parallel world of Sex and Death...


Strange shadows in empty rooms. A bleak mise-en-scene...


DAS BILDNIS DER DORIANA GRAY/DIE MARQUISE DE SADE/DIRTY DRACULA/EJACULATIONS:
SWITZERLAND/WG-1976, 76m.
I'm still looking for the non-hardcore version of this which Francesco Cesari says he has seen. I think this film would work a whole lot better without the distraction of the closeups mechanics of all that just as LA COMTESSE NOIRE (1973) works best without the hardcore footage, which really drags it out and down.

As with LA COMTESSE NOIRE Franco made this film as a hardcore female vampire film with the main character sucking the "essential liquids" from her victims and also as a version without the XXX action inserts. But I don't know of any version of DORIANA GRAY which has traditional vampire scenes of the main character sucking blood from her victims, as the EROTIKILL version of LA COMTESSE NOIRE has. This version was distributed by Force Video in the mid 1980s in the US and lasts just over 75 minutes and is cropped at 1.33:1, which takes much of its impact away.

Many critics have complained about the numerous out of focus shots and seeming technical "errors" in LA COMETESS..., like Lina Romay bumping into the camera lens during the credits sequence. But I find these moments part of the film's uniquely dreamlike quality. To paraphrase the late Henri Langlois, sometimes Franco's failings become his greatest strengths.


It opens with one of the most stunning images in Franco's extensive filmography and justs get better as it goes along. An almost dialogue-free film the impressionistic and low level sound mix is very appropriate to the theme. DORIANA GRAY tells the same story as LA COMTESSE NOIRE with the same characters but in a slightly different key. An lonely female vampire leading a life of quiet desperation in lavishly appointed isolation. Adding a Conradian "secret sharer" in Doriana's torment, her twin sister, separated at birth, who suffers hidden away in the clinic of Dr. Orloff. First seen in a mirror sing songing a macabre nursery rhyme Doriana's twin is one of Franco's most haunting creations, a pathetic creature, a sexually addicted victim of her predatory sister's erotic experiences. She thrashes about having the climaxes denied to Doriana, who telepathically, or somehow, transfers the orgasms to her imprisoned sister who is almost always seen either sexually stimulating herself in between Doriana's transmissions.

It's a world without love, only compulsive sexual behavior, frustration and screaming release for the sister. Punctuated by the cries of birds and set to the minimalist sitar score of Walter Baumgartner the film is clinical, remote and deeply disturbing. The reduced, but luminous, color scheme which lights the way to world of shadows is rigorously explored by Franco's drunken camera.

Designed in slate greys and eye popping pinks (Doriana's see-through robe), set within a castle perched above a jungle (Portugal, probably), much of the run time is taken up with Franco zooming in to study the architecture of the estate. The endless rains pour from the mouths of gargoyles onto the hard tile floors of the mansion while Doriana slowly walks through pillared patios and down long, mysterious hallways to her next deadly assignation. Like Irina Von Karlstein she dies in private bath evoking the last lines of T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land." It works as unique version of Wilde's THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, while evoking Ingmar Bergman's THE SILENCE and Kieslowski's THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE.

Having re watched the 2003 VIP DVD from producer Dietrich's ELITE FILMS, taken from original camera negs and superbly restored, I find it somewhat technically flawed with some motion glitches, unless there's been a replacement transfer since then.
The English language track grates due to distracting voice casting. I do wish for a new English subtitled NTSC disc which ideally would contain both the non-hardcore version as well as the XXX one.

1976 was a rather amazing years for Jess Franco in that he managed to turn out three of his best films, all in different genres (erotic vampire; nunsploitation; gore/true-crime thriller) and styles: DORIANA GRAY, LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN and JACK, THE RIPPER.

(c) Robert Monell, 2008





13 comments:

Douglas A. Waltz said...

This is a beautiful film and that's a great review of the film, Robert. I never saw the hardcore elements as a distraction from the film though. It almost seems necessary to convey the main character(s) intensity.

Robert Monell said...

Thanks for feedback, Doug. I've been thinking about this film for a long time and have always wanted to see the non hardcore. I think the hardcore stuff just puts it in that category and kind of strands it there. But that's a good point about it expressing the character's obsessive quality.

Anthony said...

After seeing how the German language version of JACK THE RIPPER plays better than the English dub, it's become a private project of mine to get some of the non-subtitled VIP editions and whack subtitles on them. A few are already out in subtitled versions via Anchor Bay UK with nominal cuts, and I plan to marry those subtitles with the uncut editions. DORIANA GRAY will hopefully be not too hard to sub if it's near dialogue free - I haven't seen it yet - but again after scanning through JACK THE RIPPER and watching some of BLUE RITA with subs, the German language versions seem to be the versions of choice. I'd love to do WOMEN IN CELLBLOCK 9 too if I had a chance. This is just one of my many private projects but I'll probably get to it sooner rather than later. The Anchor Bay UK box which includes uncut / subtitled editions of BLUE RITA, JACK THE RIPPER, VOODOO PASSION and variously cut editions of 4 or more other VIP titles was recently half price at Amazon UK.

Robert Monell said...

Sounds like a commendable project, Anthony. I'm not familiar with this UK boxset. I've heard, as you say, some are cut for reasons beyond my ken. But I do kind of like the English track for VOODOO PASSION, because it's in the spirit of the film and fits the characters somewhat. DORIANA definitely needs a subtitled variant. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I've also been toying with just doing "dubtitles" for the film to make it at least a more pleasant viewing experience even if the subs just transcribe the English dialogue.

Douglas A. Waltz said...

I think this is the box set that I have. Isn't it called The Jess Franco Gold edition or some such thing? Great box set. I'm gearing up a indepth review of it for my zine Divine Exploitation. Love Letters Of A Portuguese Nun is in the set and that is a fantastic film.

Robert Monell said...

Anonymous: Even a transcription of the Eng track would be OK with me. It's not the content I mind but the way-off tone voice casting of the VIP English dubbing...

Robert Monell said...

Doug, Is this an R2 set and does it contain FRAUEN OHNE UNSHULD? Another intesting underrated '77 Franco.

Douglas A. Waltz said...

Yup, it's got that in it. This is probably my favorite box set of mine.

mike said...

DORIANA GRAY is one of my favorite Franco films, and it's all due to the oneiricism, the color palate (the brilliant pinks on grays), and most of all, the way Franco's camera lingers on and interacts with the architecture. A brilliant film all around.

Robert Monell said...

Doug: Are any of the films cut> I'd like to hear your reaction to FRAUEN OHNE UNSCHULD.

Mike: I agree. It's almost a perfectly tuned film and has a unique haunting mood.

scott said...

for years I had a bootleg in German language only, but finally bought the VIP disc a few months ago. Really really need to watch it, now if I can just get through the awful dub tracks.

Erwin Dietrich, please subtitle any others???? I'm really happy with the FRAUEN OHNE UNSCHULD dvd, why the "wicked women" title? Kind of silly..same for the misleading artwork.

CBgnosis said...

Doriana Gray weaves a haunting spell upon me. This is the film that convinced me that Franco possesses genius. Monica Swuine's performance is mesmerizing, as of course is Lina, who seems all the more melancholy now that she is gone. Like many of you, I am dying to see the softcore version and any footage Jess shot that is not in the hardcore version.