28 January, 2014

Outrageous Jess Franco music video!

21 January, 2014


Does anyone know, or can anyone confirm, if Jess Franco directed any scenes in this very sleazy Eurocine composite? It's a crime film set in Hong Kong and featuring a lot of erotic performances in a nightclub fronting for a white slave brothel. Jess appears as "Mr. Caramelis." None of the scenes seem to bear his mark or have much of his usual iconoclastic style. The director of credit "A.M.F. Frank" is a beard usually used by Eurocine founder Marius Lesoeur. There's a lot of  footage from other films on display, including Eurocine's Paul Naschy vehicle, CRIMSON (Juan Fortuny, 1973).  Please post any information in the comment section.

09 January, 2014

The Jess Franco Zoom Effect

 Jess Franco has often been criticized for using and overusing the zoom/telezoom lens in his films, especially those from the early 1970s to the mid 1980s, all low-budget productions compared to his earlier work in Spain and for mega-producer Harry Alan Towers. The zoom is considered by some critics to be a lazy director's tool for saving the work of setting up and breaking down shots and saving effort in the editing room. Well, a man who made nearly 200 films is not lazy and Franco often did use the zoom to save time and money for the producers for whom he was working. But he also began to find a way to develop the zoom into an aesthetic tool with which he could explore spatial relationships, create cubist and other style compositions, compress and expand interior locations, atmospherically scan exotic exteriors (see FEMALE VAMPIRE as an example of his telezoom explorations of the magical isle of Madeira), collapse foreground into background and create a kind of personalized "negative space" which would become his signature.
The main title is printed over an elaborate zoom shot which makes its way through the Parisian  traffic. We have entered the Jess Franco Zone.

For instance, the incessant zooming in and out from the very first to very last shot of THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA (1970) create a kind of furious internal pacing which drive the formulaic script directly into Jess Franco territory. Not at all a personal project, AKASAVA becomes compulsively watchable if only because of the frantic zooming. It may be the fastest paced of his films. DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN (1971), made the next year, was an even more extreme example of the unfettered use of the telezoom, from the opening shots zooming up the hill toward Dracula's castle to the final zooming back from the castle at the resolution. LA COMTESSE NOIRE (Female Vampire) is a case in itself and will be covered in a separate blog on this ongoing series.

Let's look at a few shots from THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA (1973) to illustrate what could be termed the Jess Franco Zoom Effect. *

The opening credits begin with a slow zoom shot back into a Parisian street, following Marie France (Alice Arno). After several more telezooms of Paris, the sequence ends with a slow zoom past her as the credits end. But the zoom continues to a rack-focus conclusion, going out of and into focus, revealing a blurred image of frozen tree branches which come into focus to further reveal a sharper image of some Parisian landmarks in the distance. Why did the director do this? He didn't have to. He could have just cut away as she left the frame. But Franco, as always, seems as interested in what surrounds the characters, the periphery, the total environment, the seen and the unseen.

My colleague Francesco Cesari has suggested that his use of the zoom lens in this shot creates a kind of musical effect/commentary, a flourish at the end of what could be an unexceptional shot at the end of the credit sequence. I agree. 

Zooming into an out-of-focus image breaks all the rules of "good cinematography" 
In the above grab we can barely make out the thin branches in the foreground.

Rack-focus, a frequently seen effect in 1970s low-budget cinema, changed the focal length without the use of a track in or out of the image. Franco used it on a regular basis from the mid 1960s onward to create startling, often curiously artful moments which would become his signature.

The branches are now visible in sharper focus as seen in this grab, the conclusion of the rack-focus effect which occurs at the end of the zoom shot which ends the opening credit sequence....
Photo: Zoom into ....
Photo: The End
The End.... The final shot is also a slow zoom shot into the "novel" being read by Alice Arno, which has the same title as the film we have just seen, written by "David Khunne" the well known nom de plume of Jess Franco. The use of the slow zoom actually creates both suspense, we can't make out the exact title until the shot concludes in close-up, and a kind of self-satire.

*screencaps taken off my monitor from the recommended Severin Special Edition Blu-ray presentation, THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA.

Further installments to come on Jess Fran and the Zoom....

Text (C) Robert Monell 2014

01 January, 2014

HAPPY 2014!

I want to wish the readers of this blog a Happy and Healthy 2014. It promises to offer a bounty of Jess Franco films on Blu-ray and DVD from all over the world.  Severin's THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA has officially won the blog poll for Favorite Jess Franco Blu-ray/DVD of 2013. Redemption's Blu-ray presentation of A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD and Mondo Macabro's HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN have tied for second place. Thanks for voting!

A Virgin Among the Living Dead (Blu-ray), temporary cover art