Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Cinema of Jean Rollin: Les Amours Jaunes (1958)

Viewed fifty years after it was shot, the most remarkable thing about Jean Rollin’s first venture into filmmaking is just how much it feels like a Jean Rollin film. Entitled Les Amours Jaunes (The Yellow Lovers) shot in black and white with a voice over made up of bits of poetry and running just around ten minutes, Rollin’s first short film is an interesting little time capsule that sees him beginning to explore some of his major thematic obsessions a full decade before he will begin shooting his first feature.

Rollin recalled to interviewer Peter Blumenstock in Virgins and Vampires (a version of the same interview first appeared in Video Watchdog 31) that the film was shot near the sandy shores of Dieppe and it is indeed the many shots of the beach that will instantly signal fans that this is very much a Rollin production. Inspired by a Tristan Corbiere poem, Les Amours Jaunes is on overtly romantic and lyrical piece that is obviously the work of a first time filmmaker, but one who is already showing remarkable promise.

Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs ventured a guess in their essential Immoral Tales that Rollin might have been attracted to Corbiere’s work because of his “peculiar reputation” and “his troubled relationship with his father.” Rollin himself would recall in Virgins and Vampires that he was “very fond of him” and considered him “sort of an outsider”. The fact that Rollin would choose to align himself with someone clearly on the outside at the earliest stage of his career is of massive importance, marking Les Amours Jaunes in many ways an ideal first film for the iconic director.

Recalling how Les Amous Jaunes came to be, Tohill and Tombs note that “Rollin ‘borrowed’ an ancient 35mm camera from the newsreel company he was working for” and that he shot the film on weekends with friends. They would also note that the camera was a “Maurigraphe” and that it was “incredibly heavy, noisy and complicated”, a fact that makes the relative professionalism of Les Amours Jaunes all the more noteworthy.

Watching the film today one can detect Rollin's many influences, tracing all the way back to the work that he told Blumenstock was the first film he ever saw as a young child, "Abel Gance's Capitaine Fracasse (1942). Rollin recalled that he "remembered the storm sequence" and that it "changed (his) life forever." Later in the interview he would mention his love for serials and adventure films, citing such works as The Shadow (1940) and the Johnny Weismuller production Jungle Jim (1948)as favorites. He noted that one of his major cinematic obsessions, the beach, came directly from the love he had for these serials as a child growing up.

Set to a series of seemingly random, but striking, black and white images as well as a surprising break for the drawings of Rollin’s friend, actor Fabien Loris, Les Amours Jaunes has more in common with the short work that Polish animator Walerian Borowczyk was doing in the late fifties, rather than the French New Wave directors like Truffaut and Godard that one might have expected Rollin to attempt to align himself with. This was, after all, shot at the same time the New Wave was beginning to explode, but already you can feel that Rollin is distancing his art from it all in an attempt to position himself in the way that he recalled Corbiere did, as “someone between two worlds.”

According to IMDB, the small cast Rollin assembled for the film, including Dominique Vidal, Guy Huiban and Jean Denisse never appeared in front of a camera again. They were friends looking to help the budding young filmmaker out and considering that much of Les Amours Jaunes is shot in long shots it is hard for them to make much of an impact. It is indeed the beach that is the real star of Rollin’s first production, and the idea that a major talent had been announced even though it would take many years for him to get a major production off the ground.

Les Amous Jaunes can currently be seen on Disc Three of Encore's import box-set of Lips Of Blood as well as Redemption's The Nude Vampire disc. Both include a series of stills from the film as well.
Rollin would continue shooting short films throughout the early sixties, although unfortunately they are either lost or currently unavailable. Thankfully his 1965 short, Les Pays Loins (The Far Country) is in circulation and I will be posting a look at that work very soon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Welcome to Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience

I was first introduced to the remarkable cinematic world of Jean Rollin in the early part of 1996, thanks to a cover story in Issue 31 of Video Watchdog. I was 23 years old. Soon after I discovered the phenomenal book Immoral Tales by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, which contains one of the still most fascinating and insightful articles on the work of Rollin ever published.
My first experience actually watching a Jean Rollin film was an unforgettable one, and it set in motion a love affair with his distinctive brand of film making that continues to this day. I was lucky that my first film of Rollin’s was one of his best, the extraordinary Requiem For a Vampire, and even though the version I saw was cut and compromised and titled Caged Versions (yes, this was the Something Weird Video VHS), I was still completely hypnotized and enthralled by Rollin’s style and the way that he photographed and framed his actors...and even more importantly the space around them.
Throughout the mid to late nineties I began seeing more of more of Rollin’s work, mostly in poor quality dupes from companies like VSOM and Video Screams. No matter the quality though, films like Shiver of the Vampires, The Demoniacs, Fascination and The Living Dead Girl blew me away. They were poetic, erotic, audacious and simply unlike anything else I had ever seen.
It wasn’t just the films I fell in love with but also the actors Rollin worked with again and again (including the unforgettable Castel Twins, Joelle Coeur and especially Brigitte Lahaie). I also fell in love with the very idea of Jean Rollin…a filmmaker who refused to compromise or stray from his singular vision no matter how many people and critics he would alienate along the way.
The last few years have been a very good time to be a Rollin fan, first with the Redemption DVDs and then with the amazing Encore box-sets…not to mention the return of Rollin as a filmmaker with such distinguished works a Two Orphan Vampires, Fiancee of Dracula and most recently The Transfigured Night. While Rollin has prospered on the home video market, I have felt that he has remained surprisingly under-represented online which is why I am starting this tribute to him.
So what exactly will this site be? Anyone who is familiar with my Nastassja Kinski site will recognize the format. I will go film by film in chronological order and will be offering my own reviews, articles on figures in front of and behind the camera, occasional outside critical reactions, and other notes related to the works. I will be quoting from the out of print book Virgins and Vampires as well as the exhaustive supplements from the Encore releases to create a commentary track of sorts as well. I will also be making this as visually pleasing as possible with many exclusive screenshots and wallpapers.
What this will not be is a theoretical look at possible various psychological workings of Jean Rollin’s cinema. If this was being offered as a college course it would be listed under the film history category and not film theory…there are other far more astute viewers who can offer these kinds of viewpoints so I won't bother. Honestly, heavy film theory doesn’t interest me much…nor is it something I claim to be any good at. I think approaching these films in the more factual and historical manner I am going to is more than appropriate.
I suspect this will site be a bit slow going as work, school, my personal life and my other writing at Moon in the Gutter and Nostalgia Kinky will continue, but I promise to get through all of Rollin’s major works (and hopefully some of the more hidden pieces). I hope it proves an interesting trip and thanks in advance to the people who will choose to travel along with me. My first post, on Rollin's 1958 short Les Amours Jaunes, will appear soon.