Monday, February 23, 2009

The Hidden Cinema of Jean Rollin: Phantasmes (1975)

Between the years 1975 and 1979, Jean Rollin shot around ten adult films for mostly financial reasons. The commercial failure of both The Iron Rose and Lips of Blood had left Rollin with little choice in the matter, and he has all but dismissed these films that were shot under the pseudonyms of Michel Gentil and Robert Xavier. However, for completeness sake I will be dedicating posts to the few that I have acquired for my collection. For these films, Rollin only signed his name to one and it remains one of the most interesting 'lost' films in his canon.

Rollin recalled to Peter Blumenstock in the pages of European Trash Cinema that he chose to sign his name to 1975's Phantasmes (The Seduction of Amy) for the simple reason that "what (he) did in the film (he) really liked." The film, while never really coming together as a successful work, is an interesting picture that is clearly the work of Jean Rollin. Everything from the abandoned castle to the lighting scheme will alert viewers that this is indeed a Rollin film, something that his other adult features for the most part cannot claim.

The plot of Phantasmes concerns a seemingly innocent widower who it turns out is related to the Marquis De Sade (and possibly the devil himself) and is collecting young female prisoners in search of a one true eternal love. Rollin admitted in Virgins and Vampires that, "the story of a cursed Satan forced to kill the women he loves should have deserved a better fate", than Phantasmes and he's correct as the film is more frustrating than anything else. Still, there are moments in its slim running time that are really striking with a special note going to the final sequence on a sand covered hill that recalls Antonioni's masterful Zabriskie Point from just a few years earlier.

Rollin has said of Phantasmes that it was his, "first and final attempt at a serious", adult film but that viewers finally just, "walked out." Despite its limitations as a successful film, there is something quite admirable about what Rollin is trying to achieve with Phantasmes. Not content with just delivering a purely profit motivated production, Rollin creates a film that is for very brief stretches quite riveting and distinctive.

Wanting to create an adult work that didn't just, "poke fun at sex" Rollin did the best he could with Phantasmes before it was taken away from him by producers just looking to make a profit. Rollin told Blumenstock that for the most part the film was, "not really my work" and that he could only take credit for, "30 minutes or so." The scenes in the film that are clearly Rollin's are unmistakable, and a decent copy of the film would be a most welcome event for fans of the great director's iconic filmography.

The cast includes the legendary Castel Twins, with their entrance in the second half providing an instant clue that this is a Jean Rollin film. Jess Franco star Monica Swinn is also featured and Rollin himself makes a cameo at the beginning of the picture. The rest of the cast is mostly made up of actors from various French adult films of the seventies, although the film's star Mylène d'Antes (whose quite good here) can be seen in both Grapes of Death and Fascination.

The score, credited to Lips of Blood composer Didier William Lepauw is actually fairly exciting and is one of the films best attributes. Parts of the film's score were apparently later changed for the American version, which is also missing around ten minutes of footage. The film's very Rollinesque cinematography is credited to an 'Allinh', who is in reality French photographer Charlet Recors.

Phantasmes is far from being an essential Jean Rollin film, but it is far and away the most interesting 'hard' work that he had to make in this period. A good quality copy would be most welcome.


The Vicar of VHS said...

I'm fascinated by the lost work of cult directors like this, and not just because it's "hard" stuff. I recently got to see some of Jose Mojica Marins's bill-paying work from the 80s, and you can tell it's him, even if he's toned down for the requirements of the genre. The personal language and obsession shines through, even when it's by the numbers--because he's an artist.

I can only assume with Rollin that effect is amplified, given his incredible artistic sensibilities. I'll have to check my sources and see if I can come up with a copy of this one. Thanks for writing it up--I love Rollin, but I'd never have known about this or his aliases without your scholarship!

Soukesian said...

Many thanks for putting this together - the ongoing coverage of Rollin's "Hidden" films in depth is one of great strengths of this blog. I look forward to more.

... said...

I agree that the "hidden films" segment on this site is the biggest draw for me, NO ONE is talking about these films and its great that they are getting some kind of tribute even with their numerous flaws.

dfordoom said...

I've been tempted to buy that one, and you've convinced me that maybe I should bite the bullet and actually do so.