***Simply put, Heather Drain is one of my favorite writers on the planet so I am quite blown away this morning to present this amazing piece she has written in tribute to our man Jean Rollin. Heather's always intelligent and eloquent writing has appeared in the pages of Video Watchdog, Screem, Ultra Violent and many other publications. She also has her own fascinating blog, Mondo Heather, and posts regularly at Cinema Head Cheese as well. I can't thank Heather enough for submitting this haunting and lovely piece on Jean Rollin and I am honored to present it here. Enjoy and comments are most certainly appreciated.***
Few suffer in this world like the misunderstood. Poets, monsters, dreamers, madmen and artists alike have to battle the often inherent ignorance of human nature. A filmmaker like Jean Rollin, for example, was a man and an artist who dealt with the slings and arrows of an often unappreciative world. He was most certainly a poet, for so many of his films possessed a melancholy and heartfelt poetry to them. (With “Lips of Blood” and “Living Dead Girl” sticking out to me the most, but they are far from the only ones.) Rollin was a not a madman, but he was a dreamer, though the twain have been known to meet and he painted his visions with monsters, most famously, vampires.
Part of the appeal of a filmmaker like Jean Rollin was that his approach was never simple. Traditional horror can be a genre fueled by very basic morals. Black and white, good versus evil, the whole nine yards. Horror, dating back hundreds of years, has been a device to both give us a shiver of adrenaline but also a safety method of coping with the inevitable darkness of this world. With Rollin, the darkness was a different type of shadow. There are rarely clear cut villains or villainesses, for even the monsters have hearts and souls, caged by their own curse. Unlike so many monsters, Rollin's are usually beautiful, in spite of the air of death that clamors all around them.
On top of all that, Rollin utilized imagery that we usually associate with “classic horror cinema.” Items such as bats and castles perennially pop up, but are weaved seamlessly into the dream world of mist, ghosts, gauze and decadent-gorgeous-sad-eyed undead. In essence, he did what any wholly brilliant filmmaker does, which is putting his thumbprint on his art. No matter that there have been umpteen horror movies with blood drinking beauties, because Rollin's films look and feel like nothing else. Forty plus years and the freshness of his vision has not even a speck of dust on it.
The thing that haunts me the most about Jean Rollin, other than how ethereal, sad and full of beauty his films are, is how gypped he really was. It's an age-old quagmire. How many painters and writers lived lives full of pain, poverty and semi-obscurity while creating on this plane, only to be championed after their bodies have long merged with the Earth? Too many. Van Gogh wasn't the exception, he was the norm. Filmmakers are no different, though at least with Rollin, a steady cult started growing while he was still with us, so he got to leave knowing that there were more and more fans that truly loved and appreciated his films.
That said, it all feels like so little. Maybe part of it was that France, historically, has never been a huge magnet for homegrown horror cinema. There are notable exceptions, like Franju's masterful “Eyes Without a Face,” but compared to the United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico and America, it is fairly low on the genre film output. On top of that, no matter what country you live in, horror was and, in many ways, still is considered a notch above pornography and a couple of notches below everything else. (Proof? Note how many A-list directors and actors will refer to films that are clearly horror themed as “thrillers,” practically tripping over themselves to skirt away from the lurid “H” word.)
With a director as unabashedly in love with all things dark and fantastic as Rollin, not to mention one that often incorporated elements of eroticism, he was critically doomed from the get go. Why horror and sex, two fundamental aspects of our species, were and are the red-headed stepchildren of film, is a mystery usually mired in double-standards, puritan-hangovers and smatterings of classism. (And speaking as a red-headed stepchild, I know where I speak from.) After all, war is one of the biggest and most tangible horrors for many on this planet and it is considered a respectable topic for film. But use a mythical device, a la vampires and revenants, and forget about it. Sure, there are horror films that use exploitative elements, but there are equal amounts of dramas that are inherently just as emotionally exploitative. (Exhibit A: “Terms of Endearment.”) The true future of art needs to be vital and with all limitations, antiquated notions and categories sheared to ribbons. Rollin is a godfather of this because he took what he needed from his cinematic and literary heirs and used it to create something new.
His dreamy world haunts not just from fear abut from the ghosts of our own human condition and dark planet. Jean Rollin is a filmmaker whose creative impulse was pure and beautiful, even when it was ugly. As his films are becoming more and more preserved and available, the stronger and more pronounced his legacy grows.
Copyright 2012 Heather Drain