27 February, 2011

ODÓN ALONSO (1925-2011)

The Leonese conductor Odón Alonso Ordás died on 21 February 2011 in a Madrid hospital, a few days short of his 86th birthday. He is best known among Spaniards of a certain age for sharing with Enrique García Asensio the post of principal conductor of the Spanish Radio and TV (RTVE) Symphony Orchestra from 1968 to 1984, as well as for numerous TV broadcasts of classical concerts. Jess Francophiles the world over, however, may remember him as the composer of two films by the director: Residencia para espías (1966) and El diablo que vino de Akasawa (1971). Jess Franco happened to be Odón Alonso’s brother-in-law and it is significant that all the other films he scored are variously connected with Franco, mainly several films by Joaquín Romero-Marchent in which Franco was active as co-writer and assistant director: the quasi-westerns El Coyote (1955) and La justicia del Coyote (1956), plus the comedy-drama Fulano y Mengano (1959). To these one should add León Klimovsky’s comedy Viaje de novios (1956), a comedy vehicle for the pairing of Fernando Fernán-Gómez and Analía Gadé which had Franco as assistant director; and a short called El increíble aumento del coste de la vida (1976), directed by Ricardo Franco, Jess’s nephew.

Odón Alonso’s filmography appears to have been confined to the titles mentioned above, but then, composing was secondary to conducting in his career, as indeed was playing his instrument, the piano: he dabbled with being a concert pianist early in his musical life until he definitely found his place on the podium, while not, however, abandoning the keyboard altogether: sometimes he would conduct Baroque music from the harpsichord, while providing the continuo.

The son of the conductor Odón Alonso González, also the composer of the hymn of León, Odón Alonso Jr. received his musical training in Madrid and later in Siena, Salzburg and Vienna, his teachers including Paul van Kempen and Igor Markevich, one of his predecessors as principal conductor of the RTVE orchestra. His career as a conductor began in 1953 with a number of Spanish ensembles and in 1958 he was among those considered to succeed the deceased Ataulfo Argenta as the principal conductor of the National Orchestra of Spain. His rise as a star conductor began, of course, with his long association with the RTVE Orchestra, during which he found time to score El diablo que vino de Akasawa and the Ricardo Franco short. Following his period with the RTVE, Alonso settled in Puerto Rico (like his countryman, the cellist Pau Casals) and began a new phase, lasting until 1994, at the head of the Symphony Orchestra of Puerto Rico and the Casals festival. On returning to Spain, he became the principal conductor of the Malaga Philharmonic until his resigned in 1999 due to health problems. Now retired as a conductor, he concentrated on his work as the organizer of the annual Sorian Musical Autumn.

In the midst of all this activity, he received numerous awards and honors and was named adoptive son of both Puerto Rico and Soria. The latter town named both an auditorium and a square after him and the City of León Orchestra also bears his name. His greatest international mainstream exposure came in 1970, when he and his RTVE forces accompanied the guitarist Narciso Yepes in a Deutsche Grammophon recording of Joaquín Rodrigo’s two best-known pieces, the Aranjuez Concerto and the Fantasía para un gentilhombre. On the whole, Alonso’s recorded efforts for international companies (EMI being one) tend to reflect the tradition of confining Spanish musicians to the classical Spanish repertoire, as represented by the likes of the aforementioned Rodrigo, Joaquín Turina or Ernesto Halffter. He appears, nevertheless, to have been a notable interpreter of Tchaikovsky and was responsible for the Spanish premieres of works by Schoenberg and Messiaen (who liked Alonso’s performance of the Turangila Symphony). Moreover, he also conducted (and often premiered) works by such contemporary Spanish composers as Luis de Pablo, Carmelo Bernaola and Antón García Abril.

Link to two clips from Odón Alonso’s score for Residencia para espías:



Below, the pre-credits scene and credits of Romero-Marchent's Fulano y Mengano, scored by Odón Alonso:

Below, a clip of Odón Alonso and his RTVE forces accompanying Victoria de los Angeles's rendition of an aria from Handel's two-act opera Acis and Galatea(1718-1789).(The sound is not very good)

Below, an extract from a performance conducted by Odón Alonso of Prokofiev's oratorio Ivan the Terrible (composed for Eisenstein's film in 1242-44 and posthumously arranged into oratorio form in 1961) for speaker, soloists, chorus and orchestra. Alonso conducts the City of Malaga Orchestra and the Malaga Opera Chorus. The speaker is Rafael Taibo, an occasional voice at the Arcofón studios.

Text by Nzoog Wahrlfhehen

22 February, 2011


Further thoughts on LORNA... THE EXORCIST


Those eyes!

This DVD was constructed from 3 vintage positive prints, including a hardcore version. But even the most washed out, damaged of the footage is far superior to the dark, fuzzy, unsightly dupes of the past. Curiously, on the back cover of the disc, it states "Brand new anamorphic transfer from negative..." but that's understandable given that they used the best possible positive elements. A prologue states the original negative is lost. If so, this presentation stands as the best possible alternative.

Revisiting this presentation I was struck again by the opening credits followed by the erotic encounter between Lorna (Monique Delaunay) and Linda (Lina Romay). Given that the actresses ages were close it still carries a transgressive charge. Silent except for Andre Benichou's maddening guitar notes (and was producer Robert De Nesle really co-composer as credited?!) it is at first baffling since we haven't been introduced to these characters and seems like a flash forward. It was certainly placed at the opening to give the paying customers their money's worth. This reel-length fantasia then fades to Linda standing in her parent's bourgeois apartment lamenting, "I'm so bored!" What we have just witnessed is anything but boring. Given the fact that Lorna finally introduces herself to Linda in a later scene claiming she has already entered the girl's subconscious mind this then can be viewed as a representation of Lorna's psycho sexual invasion of her prey. The psychic invasion continues in a later bathroom scene and becomes a physical invasion in the highly grotesque "initiation" of Linda by Lorna which occurs in Chapter 10. I'm not sure if this was the director's intent but given that editor Gerard Kikoine structured the final cut without Franco's input these "invasion" scenes work in the overall context. The opening credits are printed over shots of architecture and fruit on a tree in a garden (forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden?) before introducing Lorna as she admires herself in a mirror. The mirror is, of course, a structuring element in many of Franco's key titles and throughout his oeuvre.

Lorna's outlandish eye makeup also is a inspired touch. It establishes her uncanny quality without special effects. Just a bit too much green eye pencil. It gives her a grotesque quality, like a Halloween face worn on just another day. She could be a mental patient on leave from Jess Franco's private hospital which is visited in other scenes.

It's also interesting that Vernon's majordomo character attacks Patrick with a conch shell. A shell fish like the crabs which infest his wife. Creatures from the deep, the unconscious.

15 February, 2011

Franco's 80s actors: VERÓNICA ARECHAVALETA

Call her Verónica Arechavaleta, Arezchavaleta, Arizchvaleta, Areschavaleta or, the most un-euphonic among several contenders, Arecnavaleta …I have settled for the more probable Verónica Arechavaleta as the proper moniker of this actress who was billed under several variants of the same name. Arechavaleta is, after all, a surname a Basque person or someone of Basque origin could have, whereas the weird-sounding Arecnavaleta registers as the mistaken typed transcription of some handwritten text with low aitches.

Matters of correct spelling apart, little is known about Arechavaleta, whose film career was confined to the early eighties, except for rumours that she was born in Uruguay. At the end of her brief filmography, she was among the pioneering actresses of Spanish hardcore, working for the likes of Ismael González and Manuel Mateos, all of whom operated within homegrown porn in its earliest stages before it was brought to a temporary halt by heavy taxation. Prior to the legalisation of hardcore, Arechavaleta had appeared in, you guessed it, softcore movies, memorably as the reformatory governess in Ricardo Palacios’s Mi conejo es el major (1982).

Her occasional billing as “Mae Monroe” brings a stark contrast between the associations of this pseudonym and the hard, sub-nosed appearance of Arechavaleta herself. Not a pretty actress by common standards, she lent herself easily to evilly domineering types, such as those she played in at least two Jess Franco films, as in Sangre en mis zapatos (1983), partnered with Daniel Katz, and Furia en el trópico (1985), aka Mujeres acorraladas aka Orgasmo perverso, where she was once again seen as a prison governess. Neither her name nor its variants are anywhere to be seen in the credits of Furia en el trópico: she could well be the “Verónica Seeton” who shares a screen credit with Palacios.

Text by Nzoog Wahrlfhehen

08 February, 2011

Franco's 80s actors: EDUARDO FAJARDO

On returning to Spain in the late 70s, Jess Franco came more and more to rely on either his stock players or assorted obscurities to people his casts, obviously in accordance with his ever-dwindling budgets. Now and then, however, some old-timer of Spanish cinema might turn up in a film of his. The reasons for them appearing in such down-market productions were presumably various. One assumes that Fernando Rey was available to fill in time between assignments when appearing in La bahía Esmeralda (1989), and that it was personal friendship with Franco that brought Manuel Alexandre into the cast of Las tribulaciones de un buda bizco (1989). As for the case of Lola Gaos and Barta Barri, their appearances in, respectively, La isla de las virgenes (1987) and the aforementioned Las tribulaciones obviously bore on the declining careers of these aging, once-prominent character actors.

Of all these actors, Eduardo Martínez Fajardo, with three Franco films to his credit, worked most prolifically in the director’s later output. The squarely-built, distinguished-looking Galician was born in either 1918 or 1924 (sources disagree on this point) and his collaboration with Franco coincided with a period of career decline in the early eighties, which paradoxically preceded what may have been his greatest popular success. Soon he was to appear in a major role in the TV series Tristeza de amor (1986), taking over from the recently deceased Alfredo Mayo, which brought Fajardo more familiarity than he had ever enjoyed before, although now, of course, he is chiefly remembered for his numerous villainous roles in Spaghetti Westerns.

Having started his acting career in 1942 as a dubber, providing the Spanish voice of Charles Boyer in Franz Borzage’s History Is Made at Night (1937), he was later to supply the voice of Orson Welles’s Othello. Concurrently, he was appearing onscreen as a contract player for the powerful CIFESA. Following a long fifties period working in Mexico, he settled in Spain once again and it is then that he embarked on his long series of international coproductions. During this period, most controversially, he was also active in the National Show Business Syndicate of the (Francisco) Franco regime. At the time he was making films for Jess Franco, he was appearing in much TV and had resumed his old trade as a dubber, his velvety bass voice being heard in anything from episodes of Starsky and Hutch to films such as Absence of Malice (1981).

As for his roles in Jess Franco films, he was given a very good starring role as the drunken fisherman in El lago de las virgenes (1981, released 1987). As he gives his teenaged grandson a crude but sound sex-education monologue, one cannot help remembering the very different, less welcome instructions he had earlier given as the onscreen lecturer in Manuel Esteba’s El despertar de los sentidos (1974), an outrageously repressive sex-instruction docudrama in the manner of Erich F. Bender’s Helga (1967).

Franco gave Fajardo another role in the replacement Spanish scenes of Oasis of the Zombies (1983) in which he and Lina Romay took over from the two French actors used in the initial Eurociné version. Finally, he appeared in the supporting role of a millionaire in the adventure film Bangkok, cita con la muerte (1985).

In the nineties, Fajardo went to live in Mojacar, Almería, where he has a street named after him, and since 2001 has been mainly involved in giving acting lessons to disabled people. He now lives in Huércal, Almería. He is also occasionally active on the stage, having performed a monologue written by himself in 2009. All in all, he has appeared in some 2,000 television programs, 180 films and 75 plays.

An extract of Fajardo’s voice in Tulio Demicheli’s Tequila (1973):


An extract of Fajardo’s voice in the Spanish-language soundtrack of Norman Jewison’s And Justice for All (1979), dubbing a supporting character:


An extract of Fajardo’s voice in El lago de las virgenes:


Imdb entry:


Spanish Wikipedia entry:


A list of some of his dubbing jobs:


An early image of Fajardo, during his CIFESA period, in a brief role in Rafael Gil’s Don Quijote de la Mancha (1948)

Text by Nzoog Wahrlfhehen

05 February, 2011

LORNA... THE EXORCIST: First Look at the Mondo Macabro DVD

The new Mondo Macabro DVD is a careful reconstruction and full restoration of the longest yet version of Jess Franco's most controversial film. It's a 1.66:1/16:9 anamorphic transfer from a variety of vintage negative [according to the back cover] and other elements with rare, select scenes included from other sources which were painstakingly tracked down. The source elements vary from excellent to acceptable but as a package it flows together beautifully while retaining a vintage venue appeal. A few lime green scratches during some of new, unearthed scenes actually add to the Grindhouse appeal. And that's exactly where versions of this film played theatrically back in the 1970s, but it was even censored for those theatrical venues. 

A highly disturbing tale of diabolical possession and Faustian fatality I place LORNA...THE EXORCIST [onscreen title aka LES POSSEDEES DU DIABLE, SEXY DIABOLIC STORY, LINDA]...

Poster for Lorna, the Exorcist (Les possédées du diable, aka Linda ... | http://www.wrongsideofthear...
Rare English language track included...

Lorna the Exorcist ( Les possèdèes du diable , Jess Franco 1974) | http://dvdsleuth.blogspot.com/201...
Mondo Macabro does it right!

Cult Movie Posters/L/POSTER - LORNA THE EXORCIST | http://www.cultmoviez.com/L/slides/POSTER%20-%20L...

IGN: The Exorcist: The Complete Anthology Box Arts 1670826 | http://dvd.ign.com/dor/objects/853867/t...
More disturbing than...*

in the top 5 of the director's extensive oeuvre. One of Franco's best acted films, Lina Romay, Guy Delmore, Pamela Stanford and Jacqueline Laurent (SINNER) are well cast in their roles. There's a palpable, destructive, unearthly magnetism within the cursed ensemble. I'm not giving any of the plot away since this best works when one simply sits back and watches as it slowly, hypnotically, inexorably unfolds. The emergence of the crustaceans from Laurent's private parts is certainly an image which burns its way into your unconscious. You might want to banish it from your mind, but you won't be able. This is 1000 proof Jess Franco, as subversive, transgressive and historically significant (mid 70s sexual anxiety has never been more thoroughly explored) as UN CHIEN ANDALOU was in its era. Look out for a wild eyed Howard Vernon as a thuggish retainer. 

Franco's blocking has never been more subterranean and a truly creepy musical score featuring a hellish, tortuously repetitive, high pitched guitar theme and rumbling chords makes it as effective as an audio as well as visual experience.

The French language version is presented with easy to read, highly literate English subtitles capturing the poetic flavor of the phrases.

Then I watched the rare  English  language version. Pretty strange experience. The voice sync, casting and dialogue are jarring but it's fascinating to program it with the Eng subs on to see the variances in dialogue between French and English. That's what makes this a must have DVD. It plays more like a strange near-hardcore mid-70s melodrama but is very much worth seeing against the French version. 

A number of deleted and extended scenes are included. Most significantly two completely new scenes: a tense family dinner and post dinner discussion among the Mariel family about Patrick's possible motives for changing the location of the family holiday (he has to follow Lorna's commands) and Chapter 10, which is the first time the "initiation" of Linda by Lorna (who has emerged through the wall) into her supernatural web has been seen totally uncensored on any video format. I'm not going to describe this scene. You probably already know what it entails but seeing it after hearing about it for a quarter of a decade was a seminal experience for me. A still from this scene is included in the 1993 publication OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO. It's the stuff nightmares are made of, mythic, dreamlike, delirious and sinister. And indelible. With these additional scenes (I've collected about half a dozen video versions  from around the world all lasting no more than 82m) it now runs nearly 100m.

Numerous pertinent extras include text notes which explain the fumetti influence in the film along with the importance of the location shooting in the architecturally bizarre structures at La Grande Motte. An interview with editor Gerard Kikoine and some words from Stephen Thrower on the film are also included among other extras. This is a must-have DVD, certainly in the running for the best ever Jess Franco DVD presentation. This masterwork of erotic horror can finally be seen as the director intended. I'll have more to say about this in future blogs. 

*And I do indeed find it more frightening and  soul disturbing than THE EXORCIST (1973), which made me physically ill when I first saw it theatrically. It's a very well made film and I got the chance to discuss it at length a year later with director William Friedkin, a gracious, talented gentleman. But I still have grave doubts about that film and don't really want to revisit it. 

I give this new Mondo Macabro LORNA THE EXORCIST DVD **** across the board. Four stars: my highest rating in the Film, Video, Audio, Extras categories. 

(C) Robert Monell 2011