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Jean Rollin (1938- )

Related: vampire films - lesbian vampires - French cinema - erotic movies

Worked with: Sandra Julien

Bibliography: Immoral Tales (1994)

Franka Mai and Brigitte Lahaie
image sourced here. [Apr 2005]


Jean Rollin (1938- ) is French director of fantastique cinema who shot many hardcore and vampire horror films under the name Michel Gentil. His early works reflect a will to employ sex and violence as means to shock and criticise the society.

A master of cinematography, heavily influenced by near-contemporary French New Wave and earlier German Expressionism, his art films have been rightfully compared to a sort of visual poetry. His surreal images juxtapose the horrific and the erotic, often with minimal dialogue or action and sparse, but effective, scores. Like F.W. Murnau before him, Rollin typically employs the conventions of the horror genre, especially vampires, as a framing device for his unsettling images. As a result, the plot and dialogue of his films tend to be silly at best, and nonsensical at their worst, although these elements are really quite immaterial to the visual art for which his films are known.

Unfortunately, his peculiar combination of high-art and erotic horror camp failed to generate financial or critical success. On the other hand, his ability to incorporate sexuality into his art allowed him to recieve some financial support from the adult film industry, who hired him to direct some non-artistic adult films, which he did under the pseudonym 'Michel Gentil'.

After the rerelease of many of art-house horror films on DVD in the US and UK, his work has started to attract critical and academic attention, as well as a small cult following. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Rollin [Apr 2005]

Daniel Bird on Jean Rollin

"For a quarter of a century English cinephiles have tended to resist Jean Rollin's work, his descents into hermetically sealed worlds of desolate chateaus, solitary vampires and violent seduction, and above all the bizarre genius and poetic imagery with which he weaves his morbid fascinations"
-- Daniel Bird, from Necronomicon Book 1, edt. Andy Black, 1996


The works of French director Jean Rollin have been difficult if not altogether impossible to see in America. However, reference books, such as Phil Hardy's The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror, frequently describe Rollin's movies in glowing terms. Hardy describes Lips of Blood as "beautifully macabre" and Requiem For a Vampire is described as a "deliriously lyrical sadean poem." Meanwhile, Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs' excellent Immoral Tales devotes nearly 60 pages to Rollin's career while reserving its highest praise for Rollin's films and describing him as "a weaver of dreams." --http://www.imagesjournal.com/issue09/reviews/jeanrollin/text.htm

Marie-Pierre (Pony) and Catherine Castel

Rollin's regular duo of succulent succubi were most irresistible when they appeared onscreen as a pair, and while usually relegated to background minion roles, the identical twins admittedly outshine their leading co-stars with their silent charisma. Discovered by Rollin as teenagers, the two were forbidden from associating him by their mother, who saw him as a bad influence. She didn't know how bad - aside from his artsy lesbian vampire films (La Vampire Nue, 1969, Lips of Blood, 1975) the two also became staples of the hardcore films he made for extra cash under the pseudonym Michel Gentil. Among the most legendary of these is the bizarre Phantasms (1975, released in the US as The Seduction of Amy) and the newly restored Baccahanales Sexuelles (1973). --Kier-La's Top 10 Sexadelic 70's Euro-Starlets (originally written for Celebrity Skin Magazine) via http://www.criminalcinema.com/films/EuroTrashStarlets.htm [Apr 2005]

As and admirer of Gaston Leroux

Around this time, you wrote a lengthy essay about Gaston Leroux which appeared in the final two issues of the famous magazine MIDI-MINUIT FANTASTIQUE.
I was always an admirer of Leroux. I read his works when I was very young and he certainly influenced me a great deal in my decision to make genre films. I think that, at that time, his approach to literature was very close to my approach to making films. I wrote that essay on Leroux as some sort of exercise. I never expected it to be published. Losfeld looked at it and liked it, so he published the thing. At the end of that essay, there is an excerpt from a screenplay, signed "Michel Gentil," which would later become the pseudonym I used for my hardcore films. That was just a joke. I only wrote those few pages especially for the essay. --http://www.shockingimages.com/rollin/interview.htm [Aug 2004]

Rollin was also rediscovering his lifelong love for French pulp paperbacks, which like their American "noir" and Italian "giallo" counterparts, had been widely popular in the first half of the twentieth century. One of these pulp authors, Gaston Leroux, so impressed Rollin that he wrote a long article- in fact, a full length study of his work- in Losfeld's popular magazine, "Midi-Minuit Fantastique". Gaston's novel, "La Poupee Sanglante (The Bleeding Doll)", was to be a strong influence on Rollin's second film, LA VAMPIRE NUE (1969). --http://www.cinema-nocturna.com/au_rollinarticle.htm [Aug 2004]

On Henri Langlois et la Cinémathèque

Jean Rollin : C’était aussi l’époque des Situationnistes, bien sûr. On se déplaçait comme ça, d’un pôle d’attraction à un autre. On ne rencontrait pas toujours les mêmes personnes d’ailleurs; les gens qui allaient chez Boullet n’étaient pas les mêmes que ceux qui allaient chez Losfeld, mais tout le monde se retrouvait à la Cinémathèque le soir, où l’on assistait aux trois séances. Ma culture cinématographique vient exclusivement de là.

Langlois était très fascinant, il ménageait les surprises pour son public… Quelquefois, on ne savait même pas le film qui allait passer, le programme n’avait pas été édité. Il le faisait exprès, et disait : " On doit venir à la Cinémathèque, point ! Quel que soit le programme ! " (rires). --http://www.objectifcinema.com/interviews/152a.php">http://www.objectifcinema.com/interviews/152a.php [Feb 2005]

see also: sexual revolution - nudity in film

Shiver of the Vampires (1970) - Jean Rollin

Original poster by Druillet.
Image sourced here.

Le Frisson Des Vampires / Shiver of the Vampires (1970) - Jean Rollin [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Fascination (1979) - Jean Rollin

Franka Mai and Brigitte Lahaie
image sourced here. [Apr 2005]

Women treat their anemia by drinking fresh blood at a slaughterhouse
image sourced here. [Apr 2005]

The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender (1997) - Mark Rappaport [FR] [DE] [UK]

A pair of society women dressed in all their finery stand in the middle of an abattoir, animal carcasses hanging behind them and blood splashed across the floor. Giggling and fidgeting, they drink their prescribed glass of ox blood. The startling, unreal image of high-society manners in the midst of gore and death pitches Jean Rollin's 1979 feature Fascination into a turn-of-the-century culture come unhinged. When a well-dressed rogue, fleeing from angry partners he double-crossed, takes refuge in a lavish, moat-protected mansion, servant girls Franca Mai and Brigitte Lahaie cajole, tease, and seduce him into staying for their nighttime soiree. "You have stumbled into Elizabeth and Eva's life, the universe of madness and death," mutters one of them as they await the cabal where he is the guest of honor. Shot on a starvation budget and populated with stiff performers, Rollin's direction is arch and at times sloppy and his story never more than an outline. It's the mix of dreamy and nightmarish imagery that gives Fascination its fascination: blonde Lahaie stalking victims with a scythe, the bourgeois blood cult swarming over a fresh victim like wild animals, alabaster faces streaked in blood. While it lacks the delirious spontaneity of his earlier vampire films Shiver of the Vampires and Requiem for a Vampire, the languid pace and austere beauty creates an often-mesmerizing fantasy. The DVD also features the original theatrical trailer, a gallery of production stills, and a Rollin filmography. --Sean Axmaker via Amazon.com

definition of fascination


The power or quality of attracting: allure, allurement, appeal, attraction, attractiveness, call, charisma, charm, draw, enchantment, enticement, glamour, lure, magnetism, witchery. Informal pull. See like/dislike. --Roget's Thesaurus

Bacchanales Sexuelles (1974) - Jean Rollin

Bacchanales Sexuelles (1974) - Jean Rollin [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

I recently watched Bacchanales Sexuelles, my first Jean Rollin movie. For those of you who don't know about his work, he's a Frenchman, now sixty-five, who's best-known for his cult horror movies of the sixties and seventies. He has also made porn, both hard and soft. You can find out more about his work on his own website. I urge you to click on the "interviews" button on the left panel -- it's a well-done, long q&a.

Bacchanales Sexuelles (also known as Fly Me the French Way) was made in 1974 and it has the loopy, stoned sexiness of many other films of that time, such as Sweet Movie by Dusan Makavejev, or some of Walerian Borowczyk's movies. It's kind of about a free-wheeling young woman (Joelle Coeur) who takes over her reporter cousin's apartment only to become caught up with a mysterious S&M secret society. It's a silly, mindless romp -- but it has its own outrageousness too.

The plot isn't your usual porn plot -- it meanders around in a dada-like way, with a logic that's only based in pleasure. It's a very different viewing experience than contemporary porn is. If you compare it to a soft core movie by, say, Zalman King -- whose work I'm fond of -- the latter seems slick. If you compare Rollin's movie to a contemporary Vivid porn video, the Vivid video looks glaring and hard-driving, and anonymous in its settings.

Rollin's movie is -- to use a Norman O. Brown phrase from the seventies -- "polymorphously perverse." It's sexually anarchistic. Rollin is his own man when it comes to directing, known for his odd choice of shots and angles. I found his editing and staging strangely engaging. He puts the camera where it pleases him, so that the logic of the shot-flow feels surreal, in the same way that Erik Satie's harmonies or Jean Cocteau's movies do. Making allowance for the fact that this is consciously trash, of course. But it's trash in that French, sophisticated-primitive way. (I imagine Tarantino would go wild for Rollin's work.)

And what a seventies experience it was to watch the movie, which portrays a world not just of '70s fashions and colors, but of untoned and unpierced young bodies, unwaxed crotches, and enthusiastic young performers clearly in love with the idea of being sexually and physically free on camera. Rollin seems to like standing back and letting the action take on its own life, even during the orgy scene at the film's climax.

I watched the film imagining that Jean Rollin was someone I'd enjoy knowing. I like his arty-trashy, low-budget spirit. And I liked the way he really seems to like women, and women's bodies. He seems to like the variety of them, for one thing. The actresses he uses, like Joelle Coeur, are often luscious and beautful, but Rollin seems to enjoy it if in some of the film's shots they look ungainly. You see wobbly flesh and knock knees, and you find yourself enjoying both.

Rollin also has that French love of women as sexual instigators. They seem to give the impression of being onscreen not to please a man but for their own reasons. There's a moment when Joelle Coeur walks towards a guy -- it's in the morning, and he has just made breakfast for her, but she's feeling wicked and horny. And she smears a little jam or chocolate on herself. It's all her moment. You don't usually see this kind of performance from a woman in soft or hardcore. It's what made the early Jenna Jameson performances such an inspiration to so many women; she seemed to be having her own good time, on her own terms.

I had an enjoyably scattershot set of reactions to the movie. The movie itself was very unfocused; it was like having a couple of glasses of wine and letting yourself go, or like being in the presence of someone who's very stoned and telling you an amusing story that doesn't quite make sense. But that's what I found pleasant about it -- it was outrageous and amiable; it wasn't a pile-driver of a movie. I watched a recent hardcore American porn movie soon after, and it left me slightly nauseated. The camera was so intrusive that watching the film was about as erotic as watching a dental procedure. Bacchanales Sexuelles, though it didn't work on me aggressively, kind of got to me. I'm looking forward to checking out Jean Rollin's horror movies too. --http://www.pollyfrost.com/archives/000061.html#000061 [Mar 2005]

The Rape of the Vampire (1967) - Jean Rollin

The Rape of the Vampire (1967) - Jean Rollin [Amazon.com]

Cult director Jean Rollin's first feature mixes existentialism and vampirism with the added ingredient of chaos. Originally made as a short, it was expanded to feature length with the dead cast inexplicably returning to life half-way through (having been killed off at the end of the original). That said, "Le Viol du Vampire" is a masterpiece of the bizarre, mixing blood, a naked woman in a convertible, coffins and some fencing, semi-naked nymphs in a fragmented melee.

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