09 January, 2012

Atypical Franco: VIRGIN REPORT (1972)

While the typical Jess Franco film can be easily integrated in a “cycle” of some sort or at least related to some other feature of his, Virgin Report(1972) is rare in that it stands alone. Made during the director’s association with the German producer Artur Brauner, Jungfrauen-Report (as its original title reads) clearly sought to capitalise on the success of the Schulmädchen-Report series produced by Wolf C. Hartwig, for whom Franco himself was later to make Bloody Moon (1981). This Schoolgirl Report cycle followed in the footsteps of the likewise German Helga films of the sixties by serving standard softcore thrills in the guise of sex education documentaries, and Virgin Report adopts the same stance.

The results are predictable. A number of what are supposedly candid interviews are conducted with assorted passersby seen either in the street or at a disco, all questions asked bearing on the issue of virginity that is the film’s central theme. One is inclined to think that the interview segments, while almost certainly staged, were not directed by Franco, whose work may have been exclusively linked to the (openly) fictitious material. This includes the odd contemporary bit, including an almost self-contained sketch about a female teenager and her two successive lovers, one of them an ineffectual youth, the other a rather more satisfying mature man. Otherwise, most of the running time is taken up by brief set pieces set in various periods and areas and allegedly illustrating attitudes towards virginity throughout the ages.

While no historian or anthropologist, I honestly doubt the bona fides of what we’re shown, no matter how insistently a German voice-over may attempt to confer documentary status onto it all. Among the things we “learn” is that Native American women (never specified by tribe) would undergo defloration rites involving a coincidentially phallic outgrowth from a tree; and, in one of the film’s few entertaining scenes, that the Droit du seigneur actually extended to senior members of the clergy (although the existence of such a right even for feudal lords is controversial among historians). In the midst of these cod-documentary trappings, several familiar Franco players can be spotted here and there, sometimes doubling up: Britt Nichols, wearing a stole, forfeits her hymen to a huge metal dildo; within the same period, Vitor Mendes’s large body is covered by an Ancient Roman toga; the rather slenderer bodies of Hans Hass Jr. and Christina von Blanc, doing Adam and Eve, appear on full display as they frolic about in the Garden of Eden; Howard Vernon is recognizable as an inquisitor and a Victorian father.

And so on. Were it not for these actors, one would never guess this is a Franco film. In his travels through time and space, Franco profits from the associations of the Victorian segment to suddenly switch from colour to monochrome – probably for the sake of some variety, if nothing else. Otherwise, he proves either unwilling or unable to extract much variety, for exploitation purposes, from the framework given him. To be sure, the virginity premise is far more limiting than the more generic “schoolgirl report” denomination but, inasmuch as the notion of virginity is seemingly reduced here to its anatomic dimension (admittedly, the least controversial one), it is remarkable that the possibilities of fellatio are not even touched upon, as they had been in Bill Osco’s Mona: the Virgin Nymph (1970). Perhaps the subject is best suited to hardcore features such as Osco’s, but what about the lesbian activity that is almost inseparable from softcore? And in a Jess Franco film, no less! Since the filmmakers could hardly have been genuinely constrained by questions of historicity and research, they might have let their imagination run freer and make a more successful film by its own standards.

The “educational” sexploitation film (basically a German concept, later taken up by Italians and even by Spaniards who, unlike Franco, were operating within their own country) certainly wowed ‘em back in the sixties and seventies but nowadays it is far less interesting in itself than for what it is: a documentary, in fact, though not of what it purports to show but of what it really does show about popular attitudes at the time of its existence as a genre. And Franco’s film is certainly no exception. Even if it is highly unlikely that, as stated at the opening, the crew travelled to all five continents, Virgin Report is pleasant enough to look at thanks to José Climent’s photography and one assumes that making the film, with its varied settings, must have been more fun than watching it. Technically speaking, Franco has done much worse but rarely has he made anything more boring than this. 

Text by Nzoog Wahrlfhehen


Robert Monell said...

Thanks for the interesting review. I'd actually like to see the complete version of this. The US DVD was incomplete.

Douglas A. Waltz said...

I've seen this. Pretty sure Franco just needed some cash.