Saturday, June 14, 2008
Jess Franco, Rosalba Neri and 99 Women
When I tell people I love, love, love Jess Franco's films a lot of them look at me like I'm trying to say something shocking like "The Archies were better than the Beatles". I'm serious though. I think Franco is (or was, his shot-on-video output awaits my review - and I'm in no hurry) one of the most civilized filmmakers around. His technique runs circles around vaunted camera-centric directors. You rarely see a bad performance in a Franco film, even though he's usually working with a mix of second or third tier pros and pretty ladies who are willing to get naked a lot.
Furthermore, they're personal films, the most personal expression a terminal cinephile can create is a film, and with Franco's great willpower and knowledge, he creates watchable movies nearly every time out, and occasionally a masterpiece. But Franco's not really in the masterpiece business. He always refers to himself as a professional for hire. But what an idiosyncratic professional for hire!
99 WOMEN is from one of his great, reputation making periods - the Harry Alan Towers period. Franco periods are defined by their money-men, so you've got the De Nesle period, the Eurocine period, the Erwin Dietrich period etc. The Harry Alan Towers period gave Franco (relatively) big budgets, and several name stars like Klaus Kinski, Christopher Lee, Jack Palance and, in 99 WOMEN, Herbert Lom, Mercedes McCambridge and Maria Schell. Plus he could fill out his casts with capable pros who weren't necessarily name stars and travel to exotic locations, usually Brazil. The Towers period gave us some of the Franco's best films including VENUS IN FURS, EUGENIE - THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION and JUSTINE, all of which I recommend bigly.
Franco periods can also be designated by his muses: Lina Romay, Soledad Miranda, Janine Reynaud, Britt Nichols and others. With the Towers money came a Towers imposed muse - Maria Rohm (aka Mrs. Towers) - she's fine, a pale lovely blonde - but Franco smuggles his own muse into 99 WOMEN in the person of the Italian sex bomb Rosalba Neri. I'm happy that Neri, like Franco is becoming a recognized name now that so many films of the era have made it to home DVD. She has a unique and overwhelming kind of feral, erotic ravenousness that Franco, of all people, appreciates. She's not in a whole lot of the movie, largely due to location-based budget concerns, but whenever she's on screen (and she's photographed lovingly) the camera has a raging hard-on. At the end of the film, when the prisoners are shown assembled in the wind-swept yard, Franco gives her a close-up that emphasizes her cinematic importance to the film, even if the character was a minor player. When we first showed 99 WOMEN back in '02 or so, that closeup triggered a spontaneous round of applause, which was one of the happiest moments of my life.
I'm eager to find out what you guys think of 99 WOMEN this week. I hope the world will be a little more full of Jess Franco and Rosalba Neri fans very soon.
The theme song is here so you can start rocking it.
Posted by Lars Nilsen at 12:06 PM