13 December, 2010


LE JOURNAL INTIME D'UNE NUMPHOMANE, a Robert De Nesle production from Jess Franco's very busy early 70s period,  is a visually and musically entrancing downer. Suicide, seduction, sexual abuse, prostitution, lesbianism, drugs, sex, rock n' roll, it's all here. Oh yes, and nymphomania. The delirious cubism of this film, along with the acid tinged Jean-Bernard Raiteux electric guitar powered score (think early Pink Floyd), redeems the TV-movie-meets-Russ Meyers script (credited to Jesus Franco Manera), which Robert De Nesle commissioned as a typical "Clifford Brown" sexploitation epic of the era. The script's structure and final edit {see the DVD review below} seem to indicate CITIZEN KANE as a possible influence, it makes sense considering Franco's history with Welles. The prying investigator here is female (Jacqueline Laurent, who played Lina Romay's earthly mother in LORNA, THE EXORCIST) and that makes all the difference,  the film takes on a resolute Feminist tone while remaining marketable sexploitation. Women are shown as pathetic objects of desire and the film opens with a girl-on-girl show involving Kali Hansa and Montserrat Prous. They are watched by a significant customer. Once again the performance and the audience are caught up in a kind of magnetic field of attraction, but this time the focus is on "watching."

A parallel investigation is carried on by Jess Franco himself, as the clueless local police inspector. He just wants a signed confession. In fact, the film examines the poisonous relationship between perpetrator and victim, sexploitation and Feminist critique of pornography. It's a candy colored 70s film noir-melodrama at baseline, though. Sexed up as much as possible. Filmed in long takes and plan-sequences, the most impressive being the stalking of Linda from a back street through an amusement part by the man who will destroy her life. The handheld camera floats past Linda and the predator taking in the garish booths and rides in the park, gliding by the customers who often stare into the camera while stifling a smile. At one point the operator's shadow becomes visible on a street sign. It's an audacious sequence, looking forward to the plan sequences in GEMIDOS DE PLACER (1982) a decade later. The film is like a fever-dream of and from the early 1970s. There's very little dialogue, except for Linda's narration from her journal. She speaks of her broken spirit and her sexual addiction. She must have constant stimulation from both sexes. She seems to trust and crave women more than men, though. She speaks of experiencing orgasm while watch a female object of desire dancing to the loud hard rock music. The film illustrates how her sexual addiction is subtly related to her childhood trauma. She actually realizes this and pleads for love, understanding, writing that the man who destroyed her must pay. We hear her words as they are read by Rosa Ortiz (Laurent) who realizes that her husband is a monster who must be destroyed. In the film's finale Rosa must make a terrible choice which she does in a spasm of rage and pain.The final image of the journal sinking into the ocean is a near-perfect metaphor which pulls the themes and characters together into the moment of truth which Franco is always seeking. It's one of the director's best written and acted films and the Raiteux, Cosma, Tical cues drive it at a frenzied pace. It should be noted that in 1972 the director made at least nine other films, including the unfinished zombie horror-comedy EL MISTERIO DEL CASTILLO ROJO.  It appears likely to have been made back-to-back, or perhaps overlapped, LES EBRANLEES, which also featured Prous as a doomed stripper in the sexual underworld of Southern Spain, filmed on the same locations with many of the main cast of SINNER. LES EBRANLEES is pure, unadulterated Eurosleaze and just as much of a downer as SINNER. Both films illustrate the dark side of the sex trade and sex in general and are guided by an vengeance delivering investigator, in the case of LES EBRANLEES, Howard Vernon as Franco's favorite PI, Al Pereira.  And there is at least one erotic dance scene in both films which could have been cut into the other one with no problem, and probably was. 

After finally digesting the new MONDO MACABRO DVD I must say that this presentation does something few DVDs accomplish: it forced me not only to reevaluate the film but Franco's "De Nesle" produced oeuvre and maybe his entire career. It's a sterling, glittering, luminous 1.1:66:1/16X9 transfer from excellent negative elements. It's the most complete version available and has French and English language options with new English subtitles. It has to be the definitive presentation of one of the director's less celebrated films from that busy era. If the film itself is not on the level of LA COMTESSE PERVERSE, LORNA, THE EXORCIST or LA COMTESSE NOIRE it's certainly interesting enough to be worth  discovering or rediscovering via this presentation. I've always said that Franco's career is the Mount Everest of European Trash Cinema and while this is not at the very top it's a full tier above dozens of efforts before and after its production in late 1972 and release in 1973. The intoxicating colors revealed in this transfer allowed me to see it as one of what Franco terms his "black films"/film noir, in this case drenched in early 1970s psychedelic drag. Or more exactly a Eurocrime/softcore item produced for a certain market. Editor Gerard Kikoine who reveals during a 15m interview that Robert De Nesle hired him to post-produce this and other Franco directed productions beginning with the 1972 LES DEMONS. The producer gave Kikoine virtual carte blanche, numerous reels of b&w footage, a few pages of explanatory script and the job of making it all make some kind of sense. Kikoine never met the director but became his silent partner who not only sculpted this and other Franco-De Nesle efforts into a final shape but added sound, dialogue, and, most importantly, chose the music from his own library collection. These include the studio musician Jean-Berand Raiteux's delirious acid rock tinged, Pink Floyd-influenced guitar and sonic fantasias selected from the legendary "Musique Pour L'image" with contributions from Vladimir Cosma and H. Tical (the latter uncredited on SINNER). This 1972 compilation was layered over numerous subsequent Franco-De Nesle items including LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN, LA COMTESSE PERVERSE and other key titles. 

I find it rather fascinating that Kikoine made these sound/music/editing choices independently of the director, a fact that allows us to reconsider just what a Jess Franco film is, how much of what we see and hear in these films was his choice. De Nesle and Kikoine had the final word on these titles and even more so in the hardcore versions made for those venues.. The featurette is one of the most revealing and fascinating on any Jess Franco DVD and might have been titled HOW TO MAKE A JESS FRANCO FILM [IN POST-PRODUCTION].  Franco rarely writes "scripts" and famously relies on malleable outlines/notes/treatments sometimes written/rewritten moments before the shoot, as Paul Muller confirmed to me in my 2005 interview with him.  I also had to the chance to interview and question Franco about what exactly he had to do with the editing of his films. He answered that on the Harry Alan Tower production he made a final cut with the producer's editor and then it was out of his hands. Even his personal favorite VENUS IN FURS underwent extensive post production alteration by a several teams of US based editors.  Given this preference for minimal scripts and moving along or being moved along after the shoot I think it's fair to say that Franco is most truly "there" or "present" during the actual shooting, after which he rushes off to shoot another film asap.

This extra also shows us the patrician face of De Nesle for the first time and Kikoine provides some humorous anecdotes of the Producer's busy "social" life and penchant for buying and promoting cheap pepla, Eurospy and Spaghetti Western titles. 

Watching it in this deluxe edition also allowed me to discover the subtle inflections of Jacqueline Laurent's performance as the woman who investigates her jailed husband's "crime." What's unique about his film in Franco's oeuvre is that the character's are dynamic rather than static and Laurent's character undergoes a radical shift in consciousness, an awakening from her petit bourgeois waking sleep. Like Linda she ends up preferring women to men sexually and seems done with considering men as sex partners.  Also, along with CITIZEN KANE, I realized that the theme, structure and plot owe a lot to one of the director's favorite films, Robert Siodmak's PHANTOM LADY (1943). That final image resonates whether Franco put it there or Kikoine found it and decided it was the perfect end point. 

More light is thrown on the film itself in the text notes by Pete Tombs who reveals that the story was suggested by De Nesle's wife, Elisabeth, and considers Laurent's character's class background and psychological make up as a key driving factor.  He also picks up on the network of glances which open the film and restate Franco's obsessive themes of watching and performance. Critic Stephen Thrower (who offers a 10m summation of the film's themes and characters) cites the CITIZEN KANE influence, the downbeat tone of the film and notes the difference between the handling or eroticism here and in such Franco Sade adapts as PLAISIR A TROIS (1973).  Thrower also considers Franco's career as a whole in a longer video essay FEAR AND DESIRE, discussing themes, images and music which make the director's films unique. 

Informative notes on Laurent, Kali Hansa, Howard Vernon, Anne Libert and Montserrat Prous are included along with a note on the score which names Armando Sciascia as  "H. Tical" whose cues are as outre as Raiteux's. Thanks to Curt Purcell for supplying me with the CD "Musique pour l'Image n. 39" which features a key cue in the film, HARLEM POP TROTTERS.

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