« Seconds | Main | Summer Things »

September 04, 2005

Saturday Night with Jesus (Franco)

The Girl from Rio
Jesus Franco - 1969
Blue Underground DVD

Blue Rita
Das Frauenhaus
Jesus Franco - 1977
VIP Region 0 DVD

Sadomania - Holle der Lust
Jesus Franco - 1981
Blue Underground DVD

"I feel that cinema should be like a box of surprises, like a magic box" - Jesus Franco

After seeing about ten films by the extraordinarily prolific Jesus Franco, nothing surprises me about his films. Franco is so agressively transgressive that he makes the films of Takashi Miike look like Merchant-Ivory productions in comparison. The word "gratuituous" is virtually meaningless. For Franco, a film's narrative is primarily an excuse to show as many women as possible in little or no clothing, having sex with each other, and humiliating men when not killing them. Still Franco fascinates because of his idiosyncratic, and admittedly idiotic, films.

In the DVD of Blue Rita, the producer, Erwin Dietrich, expresses the opinion that Franco was the original Dogme 95 film maker. I'm sure this would surprise Lars von Trier among others. If unpolished film making was all that was required, one could go on this particular tangent and argue on behalf of Andy Milligan, a guy who worked with budgets smaller than Franco's, making horror movies with a 16mm Auricon camera that recorded synch sound while shooting. Dietrich also throws out the description "post-modern" for Franco for good measure. Even most of Franco scholars will admit that Franco has more misses, than hits.

As amazing as the fact that Franco is still actively making films at 75, so is one of his former producers, Harry Alan Towers, age 80. I've seen a couple of films Towers produced with other directors, so I don't understand why the films he produced for Franco look so hastily cobbled together. Franco did one of his best, that is to say most consistently entertaining, films with Towers, Venus in Furs. Towers also produced The Girl from Rio, one of the many films based on characters by pulp author Sax Rohmer. This film was intended to be a sequel to a film titled The Million Eyes of Sumuru. However, as that particular film was laughed out of theaters in the U.S., the character of Sumuru was either renamed Sumitra or Elektra, depending on which dubbed version you saw. In any event, former Goldfinger girl Shirley Eaton portrays the villainess with her all woman army, planning to take over the world from her island fortress, Femina.

Sumuru and her army have been kidnapping rich people to finance her plans for world domination. Richard Wyler, an obscure leading man is several obsure movies, comes to Rio to rescue the kidnapped daughter and in general, save the world. Getting in the way is George Sanders, lamely camping it up as well connected shnook who attempts to steal Wyler's ten million dollar ransom. The film begins with a breathy female singer performing the title song with lyrics and melody informing the audience that Towers and Franco probably saw Goldfinger many, many times. Sumuru's army is dressed in uniform, if you were getting your uniform from Frederick's of Hollywood. Most of the women are seen wearing capes with a collar that barely covers their breasts, black tights and go-go boots. One of the torture devices looks like a dentist's x-ray machine. It may be telling that both Eaton and Wyler retired from acting after making this film. More surprising for me was to find out that co-star Maria Rohm, an actress who worked on several Franco films, has gone from acting to producing. One may consider the career change part of Ms. Rohm's real life role as wife to Harry Alan Towers. Along with Towers, who seems to have made a career of producing new versions of films he has previously done, Rohm is credited for producing a film from a couple of years ago simply titled Sumuru.

Blue Rita is one of approximately fifteen films that Franco make with producer Erwin Dietrich. The story is almost a variation of the Sumuru films, with Rita being a stripper who is actually a secret agent, leading her band of lesbians to kidnap men for their money one behalf of some secret government agency. Unlike Sumuru's army, Rita's gang just wear thigh high boots in their secret lair. Outdoor wear means wearing a blue cape and boots (and nothing else). Men are seduced in an apartment filled with clear plastic furniture. It's surreal, soft-core nonsense. While the film benefits visually from looking more polished than many Franco films, it's ultimately less interesting than the grindhouse dada Franco made in the Sixties and early Seventies.

Sadomania is one of Franco's women-in-prison films. Made with a tiny budget, the film is mostly distinguished by starring the post-op transexual porno star, Ajita Wilson. The prisoners and guards both wear very tight cut-offs, shorts so short that Daisy Duke is a model of decorum. The guards also have boots. The plot involves Wilson as the evil prison warden who has her way with the gorgeous prisoners who are also abused by the Governor and his wife. Some of the prisoners are sold to a brothel run by a short gay man, Lucas. This is the kind of film that sounds more interesting to read about than to actually see with the scenes involving rubber alligators and a very friendly German shepard. More comic in its implications is a scene with Lucas caught in bed topped by another man. In an effort to keep within the meager budget, Lucas is played by Franco. He is topped by Wilson, impersonating a man. Without the wig, and with a mustache, Wilson looks kind of like Richard Pryor.
Sadomania falls, down, down, down, into the category that can only be called, "did I actually watch that?"

Those who have bothered to take Franco seriously , such as Pete Tombs in his book Immoral Tales, have commented on his seemingly unlimited imagination. It's not that I disagree, but there are times when the films of Jesus Franco present arguments on behalf of self-censorship.

Posted by peter at September 4, 2005 01:46 PM