16 June, 2008


Ask Macho Jim...

I have come to a conclusion recently. In a sense Euro-cult, or as I like to term it, EUROPEAN TRASH CINEMA, has come to be accepted by the Mainstream [mainstream culture, discourse, even academia] as a classification. I mean mainstream thought/discourse in contemporary America, Europe and even the Third World.

I have recently noted that I now get regular visits here from Hanoi, developing Africa, Iran, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories besides New York, London, Paris, Russia, Brazil, Korea, Japan, you name it. It seems the entire world is interested in the topic of Jess Franco, even outposts I wouldn't have imagined.

I really think that Jess Franco, who is a brand name which is synonymous with European Trash/Cult cinema, has come to be, if not embraced, then accepted and known among Mainstream culture in many parts of the world. With the emergence of DVD and the internet there are no longer cultural boundaries as there were in the past.

Franco started wanting to be a mainstream director and his first films were musicals [LA REINA DEL TABARIN; VAMPIRESAS 1930] aimed at general audiences in Spain and Europe in 1960. Franco returned to making mainstream fare in the mid 1980s [in between bouts of hardcore, which was also finally accepted by the Spanish mainstream].

Now with regular books, periodicals, and retrospectives like the one starting June 18th at the Cinematheque Francaise it seems to me that Jess Franco has been repositioned very far from where he was when I first heard his name in 1969 and regularly started watching/collecting his films over twenty years ago.

In any case, here's a review of his 1983 proto-punk obscurity LOS BLUES DE LA CALLE POP, which is both mainstream and experimental in signification/intent. In a way, Jess Franco may be one of the pioneers of Punk Cinema, if there is such a thing.

I made a short, multi format film in the early 1970s which I carried around in a briefcase for a decade and showed to whomever I could corner. I once showed it to a fellow filmmaker who exclaimed, "it's the first Punk film!" I'm still trying to get it on my IMDB page! Punk isn't mainstream yet, is it? Maybe that's why I became obsessed with Jess Franco...


1983- 80 MINUTES Galan Video

DIRECTED BY JESUS FRANCO WITH: ROBERT FOSTER[Antonio Mayans], CANDY COSTER[Lina Romay], TRINO TRIVES, ANALIA IVARS, MARY SAD [Maria de la mar Sanchez], JOSE LLAMAS, Augustin Garcia, Jesus Franco, Juana de la Morena.

SHIT CITY (actually, Benidorm):
Felipe Marlboro, capably incarnated by Antonio Mayans ("Robert Foster"), is a seedy private investigator who takes up a missing person case at the behest of the girl friend of "Macho Jim" (Jose Llamas) in the punk infested coastal resort. It's a sinister, retro place reminding us at times of the mise en scene of BLADE RUNNER, only without sets, just the bright, tropical, tacky reality of Benidorm, a tourist trap on the Spain's east coast which seems to situated in a time warp where all the men seem to hang out in a smoky bar decorated with posters of Bogart and Mae West, waiting for trouble to erupt.

The residents of this corrupt town all look like they base their fashion sense on 1980's MTV punk rock videos. The men look like either Sid Vicious or a member of A Flock of Seagulls, and the women sport the slutty attire and pouty sexuality of the late Robert Palmer's back-up vocalists in the music video of "Addicted to Love." Likewise, (as the visual style of the film is comic strip array of primary colors and weird camera angles.
The plot has Marlboro enlisting the aid of piano player Sam Chesterfield (played by Jess Franco himself) in an all out effort to bust the town's drug and dirty money kingpin Saul Winston (Trino Trives).

This witty and visually striking neo-noir parody is one of Franco's personal favorites, and it's easy to see why. Almost every shot in the film is a loving homage to 1940s private eye cinema (such as THE MALTESE FALCON and THE BIG SLEEP) filtered through a 1980s MTV-style lens.

Franco has stated that he attempted to create a sustained comic strip look, and he has totally succeeded in that while creating his most light-hearted film since his amusing 1967 spy spoof LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE. NOTHING is taken seriously, but it is a very serious hommage to a certain look. Antonio Mayans is the perfect fall guy in Franco's off balance world of pimps, whores, killers, and thugs. He's a brother to Al Periera in such films as BOTAS NEGRAS LATIGO DE CUERO, although the tone here is much lighter. Analia Ivars in leather, sporting an electric coiffure, is a perfect lean, mean femme fatale.

Franco stages all the standard private eye cliches in his usual off-kilter fashion. For instance, when Marlboro gets a beating for asking too many questions, the gangster who kicks the living daylights out of him (Augustin Garcia) is a flashy flamenco dancer who performs his dance steps in between each punch and kick. Most amusing of all is the twisted ending, where sex wins out over sentiment. It's also reminiscent of the FATAL ATTRACTION finale of BOTAS NEGRAS... .

Franco has filtered this personal project through red and blue filters, the tacky, brightly colored locations shot through diffusion lenses (his comment on the garish, tourista architecture of Benidorm) and a rousing New Orleans style jazz score by Fernando G. Morcillo. LA BLUES DE LA CALLE POP is a busy fiesta for the eyes and ear. It's his candy colored 1980s update 1940s Film Noir techniques. In a crucial casting decision Franco himself plays the piano man who "PLAYS IT AGAIN, SAM" for Mayan's update on Bogart's cynic in the classic CASABLANCA, that film's poster of Bogart is the generative image which adorns the wall of Sam's saloon.

Franco's experimental deployment of colored filters is especially interesting (as in the similar ESCLAVAS DEL CRIMEN) and makes me wonder why he didn't continue in this style. Instead, his next several films, such as DARK MISSION (1987) and DOWNTOWN HEAT (1990) were made in a much more "realistic" mode.

It should be noted that some of the eclectic cues composed by Fernando Garcia Morcillo can also be heard in his score for Raul Artigot's 1972, THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN.

This film is also very much in the satiric spirit of Robert Altman's THE LONG GOODBYE (1973), which also continually undercuts the Raymond Chandler mythology.

It's also the only film of I know of in which all the main male characters are named after popular American cigarette brands. Keep smoking, Jess! In this day and age, where smoking cigarettes is generally considered uncouth, filthy and dangerous to the smoker and those around him/her it's the ultimate example of cultural incorrectness. Jean Pierre Melville would have understood...

(c) 2007-2008 Robert Monell


Anonymous said...

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Remember... In all the world Jess rules.

Robert Monell said...

Thanks for the link...Hot site! Welcome to the blog.