Saturday, June 14, 2008

Jess Franco, Rosalba Neri and 99 Women

Seriously, who's cooler?

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.

The smuggled muse

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.

11 comments:

aphanisis said...

Have you heard about the Franco/Dietrich retrospective at NIFFF?

Lars Nilsen said...

Yeah, but the worst (for me, since I'm a po boy) is the ongoing thing at the Cinematheque Francais.

aphanisis said...

I did not know about the Cinematheque Francais thing. That line-up is insane. The upside is that there are prints floating around.

Anonymous said...

Can't they send the Franco retrospective on a world tour?
p.s. there's a great episode of Eurotika all about Jesus Franco. I recommend it.
Joe D

Lars Nilsen said...

Yes, the whole EUROTIKA series is highly recommended and if I had a desert island choice between the companion volume IMMORAL TALES and the complete Shakespeare I would have a hard time with it.

il boss said...

Lars, while this is not a Jess Franco/99 Women question, I was hoping you can help me figure out the title of a nagging WW movie scene/memory that is suddenly lodged in my brain this week. I seem to recall a prior WW movie/Euro-sex flick that has a scene where there is a very large room which has two large (paper mache?) womans' legs open that led (in the obvious opening) to another room. Can you help me with the title.....or, perhaps, have I admitted in public that I need help? I am pretty sure I remember seeing the scene in the trailer as well but am drawing a blank. gracias

Lars Nilsen said...

Femina Ridens aka The Laughing Woman aka The Frightened Woman.

il boss said...

Thanks! Just went back and watched the trailer - I had forgotten about the teeth door.
Bring on the Franco

arnaldorossi said...

Thanks Mr. Nilso, very useful review.

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