Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Cinema of Jean Rollin: Lost in New York (1991)

One of Jean Rollins greatest and most distinctive works, the under an hour 1991 production Lost in New York is an unbelievably unique film that operates as both a career summation and a brave new beginning. Rollin would write of the film in Virgins and Vampires that it was like, "an anthology of all the themes and obsessive images I have used in my films", and that it, "brought to an end what had been started within the previous 13 films."

Movies, and the movie-making industry, had changed during the eighties and as the decade turned the corner into the politically-correct obsessed climate of the nineties, the independent, horror and exploitation genres struggled more and more to find their way into theaters in Europe, Asia and America. Jean Rollin might have had trouble all through his career getting his particular brand of filmmaking made and distributed, but by 1990 it was next to impossible. The period of revolution and change that had helped to deliver works as profound and challenging as Rape of the Vampire and Thrill of the Vampires was over and in its place was a corporate fuelled world more interested in consumption rather than change.

To say Lost in New York is an anomaly is putting it lightly. Here is a beautiful and transcendent work made for no one, as the hope of it getting seen in theaters or on television was next to hopeless. The fact that Rollin's strange little work has survived and has indeed found an audience is thanks to the home video market and the necessary changes it brought on the film industry. If the first half of Rollin's career was marked by shocking film-goers in theaters then the second half has been about alerting potential fans to his vision on the small screen. The nineties would be a time when Rollin would gather legions of new and younger fans (myself included) thanks to both authorized, and unauthorized videos, of his works that would change hands through an excited and hungry collectors market, made up of fans looking to escape the increasingly bland Americanized cinema community.

Lost in New York got its start, as Rollin wrote in Virgins and Vampires, when "a producer friend of mine needed some scenes of New York for a TV-series he was working on." Rollin left his home and artistic-base of France and travelled to New York armed with the smallest crew possible and a 16MM camera. In New York Rollin got the idea to, "improvise a theme", which involved, "two young women separated and desperately looking for each other." This strange and wonderful New York footage, which feels both familiar and quite unlike any other footage ever taken of the city, appears sporadically throughout Lost in New York and is among the the most incredible Rollin ever shot.

Like the best of Rollin's work such as The Iron Rose and Lips of Blood, Lost in New York is centered on memory and how our the past never really leaves us. Much like the line in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia that says, "We may be through with the past, but the past isn't through with us.", Rollin's haunted looks at fractured memory is strikingly resonate and Lost in New York is one of his most profound and mesmerizing works. Rollin would write in Virgins and Vampires that Lost in New York was, "an intellectual key" to all of his past film and it is an emotional one as well.

A near silent piece heightened by some of the most oddly ordinary and yet surreal shots of Rollin's career, Lost in New York is an intentional concluding chapter to twenty odd years of personal and genre defying filmmaking. Punctuated by moments recalling most of Rollin's major, and sometimes minor, works Lost in New York is a solemn and strange farewell for Rollin even though it didn't become the end of his film career that he might have expected. It ultimately marked, as Rollin wrote, a period coming to an end and he has only worked sporadically behind the camera since.

I find Lost in New York one of the most difficult works in Rollin's canon to write about, which has been one reason this post has been delayed so many times. Thinking about the film and then attempting to write on it has been a bit like trying to recount a particularly vivid but abstract dream to someone. So, instead of attempting anymore, I will just leave it to Rollin who told Peter Blumenstock in the pages of both Virgins and Vampires and Video Watchdog that Lost in New York is, "a very beautiful film", and a, "little gem that deserves to be seen." That quite nicely sums up my feelings on it...

Lost in New York, Rollin's wonderful "index of all his obsessive visions" (as written by Nigel Burrell in Flesh and Blood), is sadly not one of his most commonly availble films here in the states. Import copies are available, including Redemption's Region 2 DVD, but none of them are fully-blown special edition releases like the Encore Sets. Fans, and potential fans, should seek any version out at any cost as it is one of Rollin's greatest works. A mesmerizing culmination of more than two decades of some of the most distinctive filmmaking in history, Lost in New York also stands as a defiant fist in the face to an artform that was being threatened in everyway by corporate greed and artistic blandness.

***A very nice, and much more detailed piece than mine, on Lost in New York recently appeared here at the terrific Cinezilla.***


CiNEZiLLA said...

Great piece Jeremy.

And thanx for the shout out!


Soukesian said...

Great piece - one of Rollin's films I have still to catch up with. This moves it up to the top of the list!

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Thanks so much for the comments!

Unknown said...

any idea of where to find this one? I havent had any luck myself. really interested . great write up.

Unknown said...

any idea on how to see this film? i havent had any luck myself. nice write up!

hanna said...

Can't wait for the new blu-ray! Rollin's movies are always filled with emotion, but this one really overflows with it - as subtle as it is. Love it a lot!