Friday, May 15, 2009
Thirty years after its release Fascination stands as one of the Jean Rollin's most popular and iconic films. While it is arguably not as masterful as his greatest works, the fact that it contains a striking balance between his more poetic and classic vampire pictures makes it one of his most representative works. Fascination is a striking film from one of cinema’s most individualistic directors at the top of his creative game.
Fascination comes at an odd time for Jean Rollin. The over the top gore found in The Grapes of Death seemed to signal a new chapter in Rollin’s career, but instead of following up on that the director instead decided to return to the haunting tone of works like The Iron Rose and Lips of Blood. Fascination would also mark a return to some of the earlier obsessions of films like Thrill of the Vampires and Requiem for a Vampire that had made Rollin such a sensation in the first place.
Rollin discussed the origins of Fascination to Peter Blumenstock in the pages of Video Watchdog and Virgins and Vampires. He recalled that, “the title and general flair of (Fascination) is an homage to a French magazine of the same name”, and that the publication was, “dedicated to all kinds of eroticism in art.” The correlation makes sense as Fascination is indeed one of the most truly erotic films Rollin ever shot, with lovely Brigitte Lahaie’s stunning lead performance fueling the eroticism at every turn.
According to Rollin, Fascination “was shot inside an old, elegant and very luxurious chateau, with a discrete entrance through the woods.” The location paid off as Fascination is one of Rollin’s most elegant and spacious productions. It’s also one of the best conceived in the way Rollin correlates the rather decadent and aging château with the film’s memorable characters.
While the shooting of Fascination proved to be one of the easiest Rollin had experienced he did have initial troubles with the film’s producer, who had something very different in mind when it came to how the film should come out. Rollin told Blumenstock that the, “co-producer wanted (him) to make a very explicit sex film-straight exploitation fare without too much emphasis on the fantastical elements.” Fascination is such a remarkably magical feeling work that it is hard to imagine it without these ‘fantastical’ elements, and we can all be grateful Rollin was able to make the film he wanted to make despite the minuscule budget granted to him.
Along with his friend Jean-Pierre Bouxyou’s magazine Fascination, Rollin told Blumenstock that the main idea for the film came from a Jean Lorrain short story entitled, “Un Verre de Sang" ("A Glass of Blood") that centered on, “wealthy French people at the turn of the century drinking the blood of bulls as a curative for anemia.”
Rollin transformed that idea into something quite remarkably resonate and haunting. The film is all the more striking when one considers that it took just two weeks to shoot. Rollin credited the, “Reassured and relaxed” set to Lahaie’s presence, Nathalie Perrey’s hard work and the “magic” of Eric Pierre’s make-up. Despite its appearances has an extremely planned out and calculated work, Rollin admitted in Virgins and Vampires that, “there was no shooting script, technical support or tracking.” Instead of hindering the film though, Rollin recalled that, “the production was not marred (by the lack of preparation) and that the setting was used to maximum effect.”
Fascination is one of the most hypnotic films Jean Rollin ever shot and one thing he credits this to is the fact that he had his, “actors move about slowly, inside or out, so that they blend into the set.” It’s a brilliant ploy by Rollin and it gives the film a hazy dreamlike feeling that is hard to shake while watching it, and it is that quality that lingers long after the film has ended.
Pretty much everything about Fascination works, from Philippe d’Aram’s strange and lovely score, to Perrey’s imaginative costume designs, to the colorful photography of Georgie Fromentin. It is one of Rollin’s most exquisite pictures, and it is one that would serve as a perfect introduction to his cinematic landscape for a newcomer.
Fascination also features one of the most gifted casts Rollin ever worked with. Lahaie is just astounding and says more with a glance than more ‘accomplished’ actors could ever hope to. The image of her approaching menacingly with a scythe is one of the most indelible moments in Rollin’s canon, as well as being one of the most iconic in all of European cult cinema. Lahaie is joined by a compelling group of supporting players including the memorable Franca Mai, the handsome Jean-Marie Lemaire and Myriam Watteau, who proves unforgettable in the scythe sequence. Keep a look out for cult French actress Muriel Montosse, who makes an appearance in the film’s bloody climax.
If I have any compliant about Fascination, then it is perhaps that the film lacks some of the punch of Rollin’s earlier vampire offerings. In creating something so incredibly elegant, he lost a bit of the visceral power of a work like Thrill of the Vampires. Part of it is the loss of Jean-Jacques Renon, a photographer who was able to transform Rollin’s fantastical visions like no other. Also at just past 75 minutes the film could use a bit more fleshing out as well, particularly in a romantic late film story-line involving Franca Mai’s character that is never fully developed.
Minor complaints aside, Fascination is a stunning film. Tim Lucas called it, “an ideal introduction to Rollin’s bizarre world” in his terrific review of the film in Video Watchdog 31. Lucas would note that the film weaves together, “pulp horror, comic book eros, and classic French fairy tales into something distinctly…Rollin.”, a wonderfully insightful note that would alone make the film essential viewing for anyone even remotely curious about the director.
Fascination had a disappointing release in France in 1979. Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs documented the strange turn of events that hurt Fascination in their essential Immoral Tales. They wrote, “Fascination looked set to consolidate Rollin’s success with The Grapes of Death and secure his position in a more mainstream branch of cinema.” They would continue with, “all the publicity material was prepared”, and, “twelve release prints were struck”, but disaster hit when, “one of the director’s of (huge French distributor) UGC” cancelled the screenings Rollin had been promised. The Immoral Tales authors noted that, “Fascination went from being a film everyone was going to see to a film no-one could see-even if they wanted.” It was just another sad chapter in a career beset by bad luck and ill timing and Rollin, ‘Once again lost all his money”, and “was forced back into (the) Gentil and Xavier”, films.
Despite the tragic circumstances of Fascination’s inability to get a proper release, the film did garner a number of high profile good to great reviews in its initial run. It soon became known as one of Rollin’s most powerful works and, perhaps most importantly, Rollin himself was happy with it. He told Blumenstock about fifteen years after its release that he liked the film very much, and that it was extremely “close to what (he) envisioned.” He finally admitted in his Virgins and Vampires introduction to the film that it finally worked as a summation as sorts, and that above all it was, “a homage to vampirism.”
Despite its position as one of Jean Rollin’s greatest films, Fascination has unfortunately still not been granted a proper special edition on DVD. Several versions are available; my shots come from Redemption’s newest Region 1 release of the film. While a special edition would prove most welcome, at least the film is fairly easy to find all over the world and it remains essential viewing.