Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Cinema of Jean Rollin: Requiem for a Vampire (1971)

Eloquent, expressive and altogether haunting, Jean Rollin’s fourth feature film,
1971’s Vierges et Vampires (Requiem for a Vampire) shows him as an artist totally in control of his own art and totally separate from anyone else in cinema before or since.

Rollin admitted in his introduction to Requiem for a Vampire in Virgins and Vampires that by 1971 he was, “used to the critics insults, the public outcry” and that with the film he, “started shooting for (his own) personal pleasure exclusively since the others had rejected” his past works. It’s that striking spirit of independence that finds its way into every frame of Requiem for a Vampire, a totally secure and confident work that has our guy making one of the purest Jean Rollin films imaginable.

For fans of Jean Rollin’s oeuvre, the images in Requiem for a Vampire are legendary. The opening shots Marie-Pierre Castel and Mireille Dargent dressed as clowns in a never explained high speed shoot out to the many shots of the two of them walking alone and in silence through fields, an empty cemetery and a ruined castle will be chill inducing for admirers of Rollin. A friend once spoke of Requiem for a Vampire reverentially by stating that in the hands of anyone else it would have been an incredibly boring and poor piece of filmmaking, but Jean Rollin’s uncompromising and beautifully singular style makes it all seem so profound and moving.

Attempting to replay the minimal plot of Requiem for a Vampire is a bit senseless. Rollin stated in Virgins and Vampires that the work was “an attempt to simplify the structure of a film to an extreme” and it does so with remarkable veracity. One can imagine the film set to an unwritten opera by Philip Glass or Terry Riley as it contains so many of the repetitive and hypnotic methods inherent in much if the minimalist music that was beginning to come out of the period. Along with being a love letter to a particular style he had perfected, Rollin is clearly building his own mythology with Requiem for a Vampire and he would recount to Peter Blumenstock in Virgins and Vampires as well as Video Watchdog that he was more and more making, “references to (his) earlier films” and that he was looking to, “connects dreams and stories like a construction system and (that) the audience can make their own thing out of it.”

Requiem for a Vampire is a bit of a hard film to nail down. Cohill and Tombs would state the film works as a, “straight horror film and an exploration of personal mythology.” in Immoral Tales but it strays as far from the idea of a ‘straight horror’ film as possible at times. Surprisingly comic (an early sequence involving Castel and an outdoors street vendor is one of the silliest and most infectiously fun moments in Rollin’s canon), undeniably erotic and strikingly mournful, Rollin’s fourth film is a work that defies categorization. Perhaps Rollin himself placed it in the best context when he wrote in Virgins and Vampires that, “excluding the timid erotic scenes”, the work, “could be a film for children made by children”, and that finally it is very much, “a fairy tale.”

Shot quickly in and around the ruins of a dungeon owned by the Duchess of Roche-Guyon, Rollin recalled in Encore’s booklet for the film’s special edition DVD release that it had all come from a spidery script, “written naively without thought, almost in automatic writing, without prior idea and above all without reflection. It’s nothing else but a simple stream of ideas out of an unconstrained imagination.” While the film is controlled by the lovely team of Castel and Dargent (whom Rollin recalls on Encore’s commentary track as two girls he loved that hated each other) other familiar faces pop up throughout its less than ninety minute running time including the hypnotically strange Dominique and musician turned actress Louise Dhour (featured in a terrific interview on Encore’s set), who would be so memorable in Rollin’s 1974 production, Demoniacs.

Inspired by the paintings by Paul Delvaux, and working with a young but stylish cinematographer named Renon Polles, Jean Rollin injects every frame of Requiem for a Vampire with a striking and languid authority. Not in a hurry and delighting in capturing moments that other filmmakers would scoff at, Jean Rollin has by this point totally perfected the deliberately slow and mesmerizing pace that so many of his fans have come to worship and revere over the years. The director himself would state in Encore’s booklet about his most “childish and personal” film that he “was beginning to obtain a certain authority” in his command of the medium, and it's not a stretch to say that every film he has made since owes at least something to the evocative images of Marie-Pierre Castel and Mireille Dargent running from something unseen throughout this, one of his most iconic and necessary works.

The near silent (dialogue wise) Requiem for a Vampire would have a fairly successful run in France and throughout parts of Europe but not surprisingly it was butchered for its US release, and retitled with the wincingly exploitative Caged Virgins moniker. Widely considered one of the best Rollin films, the film is available on a bare bones Region 1 DVD from Redemption (featuring a solid visual presentation) as well as several varying DVDs throughout England and Europe.
Collectors and lovers of Rollin’s work should seek out Encore’s impressive three disc box set which features a beautiful print (I have read some complaints stating that the picture is slightly squeezed but honestly on my player and computer it looks just beautiful) and a terrific set of extras (many of which I have already highlighted in previous posts). Hardcore collectors are advised to seek out the old Something Weird VHS under the title of Caged Virgins, which features some needless additional footage that all but destroys Rollin’s deliberately maintained and incredibly effective pacing.

Called, “a definitive work of French fantastic cinema, post 1970.” By Tim Lucas in the pages of Video Watchdog 31, Requiem for a Vampire is one of the most ideal introductions to Jean Rollin’s filmography to newcomers. It is also one of the most representative and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that a person who isn’t won of by the delightfully different and distinctive images in Requiem for a Vampire will sadly always probably fall outside of the circle of Jean Rollin fans.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Jean Rollin: The Collaborators (Marie-Pierre Castel)

Whether she is going by the name Pony Castel or Pony Tricot, Marie-Pierre Castel remains one of the most bewitching and memorable figures in the world of French film in the seventies. Lovely, graceful and endearingly witty, several of Jean Rollin's key works are unthinkable without her striking presence.
Information on my favorite Castel is a bit hard to come by. She was born in 1950 and between the years 1970 and 1977 she appeared in just eleven features, sometime with her twin sister Cathy and sometimes without. Of these eleven films, seven were directed by Jean Rollin. The remaining features have for the most part unfortunately been all but lost in time, with the exception of her final film, 1977's Rene The Cane, a film directed by Francis Girod starring Sylvia Kristel and Gerard Depardieu.
These behind the scenes shots from Requiem for a Vampire capture Marie at her peak, filming what would become her most famous and iconic role. More to come on Marie-Pierre here in the future.

***These shots are all taken from the incedible slideshow on Encore's Requiem for a Vampire box set. Please buy the set to the many others.***

Requiem for a Vampire: Alternate Scenes

Encore's box set of Requiem for a Vampire presents three alternate 'clothed' scenes shot to battle possible censorship problems. Here are three stills to highlight these intriguing moments.

Requiem for a Vampire Alternate Scene 1

Requiem for a Vampire Alternate Scene 2

Requiem for a Vampire Alternate Scene 3

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jean Rollin: The Collaborators (Mireille Dargent)

Requiem for a Vampire BHS 11

Mireille Dargent is another one of those very special performers who almost exclusively only worked with Jean Rollin. Her career in front of the camera, made up of only half a dozen films, was unfortunately very short but her work in four of Rollin's greatest films will always be treasured by fans. Here are some quotes from Rollin taken from Encore's Requiem for a Vampire booklet, as well as the audio commentary, on Mireille. The behind the scenes shots are from Encore's set as well.

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"An agent introduced me to Mireille Dargent who would play Pony's partner, due to Cathy being busy or pregnant again. This agent was a crook. He used to collect Mireille's wages filling his own pocket without giving anything to her. I hired a lawyer and the agent hopped it. Mireille was grateful for me for taking care of her...A great friendship united us. She had a very round face and her plaits made her look as young as Pony. She had a plump body, very sensual..."
-Encore's Booklet-

Requiem for a Vampire BHS 14

"She was very strange...everybody was in love with her, including myself."

Jean Rollin: The Collaborators (Renan Polles)

Requiem for a Vampire’s beautiful, poetic and stately photography is credited to Renan Polles, a talented French cinematographer who sometimes goes under the name of Jacques Flood. Astonishingly Requiem for a Vampire marks just the second major photography credit the gifted Polles, with the first being a 1969 short for director Jean-Michel Barjol.
Polles had worked previously with Rollin as part of the camera crew on Le Frisson des Vampires. Sadly, despite the excellent work he does on his first feature as cinematographer, Requiem for a Vampire would mark the last time Polles would work with Rollin, as the director would return to Jean-Jacques Renon soon after.
While Polles’ work on Requiem doesn’t contain quite the degree of fantastical greatness (especially in the lighting) that Renon had delivered for Le Frisson, there is still no denying that Polles work is quality stuff. Rollin himself would remember Polles fondly in Encore's Requiem for a Vampire booklet by saying that he, "was pleased with the work made by Polles, who'd taken Jean-Jacques Renon's place because the latter was unavailable." Polles balances the film’s wide open early outdoor daylight shots with the film’s later more interior and nightime atmosphere spectacularly well and his work helps make Requiem for a Vampire one of Rollin’s most distinctive looking films. Much more naturalistic than Renon, it’s no surprise that one of the filmmakers Polles is most associated with is Jacques Doillon, a director very much removed from the fantasy and horror genre that Rollin specializes in.

Polles filmography includes films with Doillon and Yvan Lagrange and he has continued to work prolifically in French and film and television. Despite only collaborating twice with Rollin, his work on Requiem for a Vampire makes him an important contributor to the French horror genre and a key, if relatively minor, player in Jean Rollin's canon.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Jean Rollin Wallpapers: Requiem for a Vampire (Set Three of Three)

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Requiem for a Vampire Wallpaper 20

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Requiem for a Vampire Wallpaper 22

Requiem for a Vampire Wallpaper 23

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Here are the final wallpapers I will be posting for Requiem for a Vampire. My look at the film as well as some notes on Rollin's collaborators will be coming later this week.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jean Rollin at Home

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My favorite extra on Encore's terrific Requiem for a Vampire box set is the interview with Jean Rollin entitled "Le Dernier Livre". The eight minute featurette focuses on Rollin's literary work and in it we are treated to him reading us a section from one of his works. Outside of the obvious delight in getting to hear Rollin reading some of his writing to us, is the treat we are given when the documentary crew films some of his apartment while he is doing so. I have captured a few images here, and I think just from looking at these you can tell a lot about the man. He is obviously a voracious reader who loves art, music, cinema and antiques. One also gets the feeling that he loves his memories and he values his career and the people that he has worked with in the past four decades. It's a lovely clip and I wanted to share these images to promote it.

Jean Rollin at Home 2

Jean Rollin at Home 3

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