12 September, 2014

Jess Franco's USHER in HD? A dream... #2

"I wanted to make an Expressionist film." Jess Franco

Jess Franco's EL HUNDIMIENTO DE LA CASA USHER is a dream, a gorgeous nightmare. It registers more like a mannered Gothic fantasy than period horror film and very far from Roger Corman's 1960 version. Even in its Eurocine version, far from the original director's cut, its bleary eyed imagery spins the Gothic tradition into his territory.

Above: Image from NEUROSIS: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER. But who shot it? Marius Lesoeur? Olivier Mathot (as Morpho) also worked as a director for Eurocine and may have directed this. Morpho and Francoise Blanchard (reclining) are not seen in the previous cuts of this project.

Both the existing Spanish language version, the second version, and NEUROSIS/REVENGE are "slow" to the point of largo tempo while the imagery could be termed stilted in terms of compositional considerations, the shots are often held much longer than they need to be, as if there were another point to be made beyond the exposition of the plot. And there is. A number of points, in fact. First and foremost being that isolation is a kind of living death which distorts conventional notions of Time and forces the person who has isolated him or herself into a kind of alternate spatial-temporal reality. That alternate space is immediately apparent in the opening scenes. The heavy stone aesthetic of the construction seems psychologically as well as physically oppressive. Motion seems to be discouraged, impeded by the structure and its surrounding area It's almost as if a powerful magnetic field were keeping everything and everyone in place, unable to easily move or maneuver easily. See the below images of Harker exploring and approaching Usher's "castle." 

Photo: Tonight's Film..
Exploring an alternate reality...

The world of USHER, as Jess Franco represents it, is an unreal, irrational, absurd, nightmarish melange of cinema tropes from previous Usher and Jess Franco films. Franco cites Jean Epstien's silent version* as a conscious influence while the insertions from GRITOS EN LA NOCHE are re-contextualized into a different Gothic modality.

  1. Jean Epstein: La Chute de la maison Usher (1928) - YouTube

    Sep 26, 2013 - Uploaded by iconauta2
    *Epstein, a Surrealist, was as much of an iconoclast as Jess Franco, in a less commercial realm.
Franco has said of the film (but which version was he talking about?). "I find the result very interesting." [P. 242, OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO. Interview with Jess Franco.] For an auteur who often dismisses his own work and seems to want to forget many of his films and move on, USHER seems to have been a labor of love, a project he cared about enough to closely overlook all three of its versions.

To really examine what Jess Franco has done with this project we have to go back to the second version, before it was again reshot and recut with Eurocine financial, artistic and logistical input, including actor-sometime director Olivier Mathot (EXORCISM; MANIAC KILLER) who appears as Morpho. We'll look at it closely in Part 3 of this survey. In the meantime, don't get your hopes up for a HD edition of either NEUROSIS..., although it could happen, since Eurocine controls it, and certainly not for the Spanish language version, which was only available on poor quality bootleg video to consult before writing this blog.
As with many of Jess Franco's mid 1980s personal projects, a good quality print seems to linger out of reach at this point. One wonders if the original cut still exists anywhere and if elements for the second version are extant.

"In twenty years perhaps people will discover it's a gorgeous film..." Jess Franco on EL HUNDIMIENTO DE LA CASA USHER**

** Jess Franco quotes from OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO, INTERVIEW-Jess Franco.

 Approaching the twilight zone which is the Castle Usher. Note the spatial distortion via wide angle lens.

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