Surrealism in the Service of the Fantastic

Jean Rollin, a “Parallel” Director in Libertarian French Cinema by Isabelle Marinone

Arena Supplement No 1

Le Frisson des Vampires
Surrealism in the Service of the Fantastic (click to read full article)

‘What dyed-in-the-wool cinephiles have always stupidly misinterpreted as amateurism, nonchalance or ineptitude on Rollin’s part (his disregard for linearity and logic, the influence of theatricality and pataphysics on his thoughts about directing, his well-meaning curiosity for erotic deviancy, his passion for the melodramatic) comes fully into its own as an aesthetic and, may we say, ideological option […] We are transported simultaneously into a Clovis Trouille painting or a Gaston Leroux novel, into a Max Ernst collage and a Grand Guignol play, into the gaudy cover of some old Fantômas and an episode from a silent serial, into The Castle of Otranto and the cavern of The Phantom in Bengal. Swimming against the tide of pyrotechnics in movies that confuse car chases and action, conventions and daring innovations, and digital trickery and mise en scène, Jean Rollin steers us back towards cinema. Genuine cinema, the sort that can make us shudder and cry, the sort that can leave us walking on air.’

Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, “La Fiancée de Dracula,” foreword to Pascal Françaix’s Jean Rollin, cinéaste écrivain (Paris: Éditions Films ABC, 2002)

No man is a prophet in his own land, or so the saying goes. This certainly holds true for Jean Rollin, a filmmaker vilified right from the outset by French movie critics.[1] As for British and American movie-lovers, they look upon him as a “master of fantasy cinema.”[2] When all is said and done, why the French are so down on him remains relatively obscure. As Bouyxou stresses, the reasons for such lack of understanding are doubtless to be sought in the profusion of literary, pictorial and filmic references freely employed in Rollin’s productions; but also, and primarily, in a “defensive,” conformist line of thought. Most often, this failure to understand uses laughter as an outlet in the movie theatre, a laughter usually triggered by the resort to the kind of overblown eroticism that pervades Jean Rollin’s films. Curvaceous young women strolling naked through graveyards elicit chuckling on account of the seeming anachronism of their appearances, but above all because of the sensual power they hint at. Female subjects relate to an innocence mingled with perversion, a reminder to some that the director made X-rated movies during the 1970s[3] and which in their eyes justifies assigning – rather crudely – the exclusive label of pornography to Rollin’s entire fantastic output. While the director admittedly likes filming the beauty of the female form in its simplest get-up (that is, with no get-up at all), this aspect assumes significance in a more complex whole that encompasses location, space, colour, subject, etc. These aspects all add up to a singular aesthetic which has earned Rollin an auteur status that is recognised and feted abroad. A major and singular filmmaker, as Laurent Akin states in the Dictionnaire du cinéma populaire des origines à nos jours, Rollin “can lay claim to being one of the rare poets of French cinema.”[4]

Exercising True Freedom, To Wit, Mad Poetry

According to Jean Rollin, “the very essence of the fantastic is that it is improbable, unrealistic, nonsensical and illogical. In short, an exercise in true freedom, which is mad poetry.”[5] Poetry remains one of the preponderant elements in Rollin’s, whether in his films or his books. It oozes from every single image created by the author. Such images delve into dreams, at once children’s dreams and of adults’ dreams. In this respect, the work of the filmmaker is akin to painting, especially that of two surrealist painters: Clovis Trouille for the link to eroticism, deliberate immorality and politics, and Paul Delvaux, for its enigmatic aspect, the ghostly female forms, the desert and night scenes. Rollin shoots the way Delvaux paints. Who could fail to see a connection between the women, elegantly draped in white dresses in Fascination (1979) and certain canvases of Delvaux’s such as La Robe de mariée (“The Wedding Dress,” 1976)? Who could remain insensible to the gathering of women as in Belles sirènes (“Beautiful Mermaids,” 1947)? And how not to spot the same treatment of the train theme in the closing sequence of La Nuit des traquées or one of the scenes of La Fiancée de Dracula as in the Belgian artist’s painting? Besides this theme, which may be found in the work of both the painter and the filmmaker (La Rose de fer, Lèvres de sang, Les Raisins de la mort), Rollin and Delvaux also share a morbid fascination with skeletons (Requiem pour un vampire, La fiancée de Dracula) as well as evanescent, unreachable women, like the “sleeping Venuses.” The oeuvres of both men also involve alienating, desolate landscapes depicted in very dark colours with cast shadows strongly emphasized and a classical – or even Gothic – architecture through which naked women float with nondescript expressions and dramatic poses.

Following the definitions of the fantastic devised by Jorge Luis Borges and highlighting one of its most telling features – “the work of art contained within the work itself”[6] – Trouille’s canvases also haunt Rollin’s movies, sometimes literally with the reproduction of paintings in certain sequences: in a scene of La Fiancée de Dracula (2000) taking place in a convent of the Order of the White Virgin, Religieuse italienne fumant la cigarette (1944) may thus be seen in the background. Here the filmmaker does a Clovis Trouille. Setting the painting in an anti-clerical, blasphemous scene, he takes up one of the Surrealist painter’s favourite themes. Yet in Requiem pour un vampire (1971), the director had already represented one of Trouille’s favourite motifs, the woman with her private parts concealed by a bat (La Grasse matinée).

Rollin, whose references are as pictorial as they are cinematic, paid tribute to Georges Franju in 1970 with Le Frisson des vampires, in which one of his creatures holds a dove in her hand the way Christiane Genessier does in Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes without a Face). Le Viol du vampire (1967) dealt with drugs through the theme of addiction to vampirism. In a movie which looks ground-breaking these days, anchored as it is in a contemporary context enjoying a blend of gothic and modern influences, the filmmaker borrows certain scenes from Abel Gance’s Le Capitaine Fracasse in a highly personal manner.[7] As for La Fiancée de Dracula, the pataphysical spirit of this feature film tainted with absurd humour harks back to the spirit of Buñuel by borrowing his composition of images, like the couple on the beach in Un Chien Andalou or the bishops’ skeletons in L’Age d’or.

Rather than mere borrowings, Rollin’s cinematic or pictorial references are part and parcel of the creative process, continually woven into the creative tradition of the director, who draws his inspiration primarily from his own life experience. And indeed, painting has a place in Jean Rollin’s own life. He grew up in an artistic family: his father was an actor, his mother was a model and his half-brother worked in the plastic arts. Besides, his grandfather “had an artists’ supplies shop in the Rue du Dragon, right alongside a painting academy that he had once run, the Académie Jullian.”[8] The pictorial image and more particularly its composition gave the director a sharp eye. Rollin considers himself above all else as “a visual [artist]”: “All you do is make images,” I have often been scolded. But as I see it, the composition of the image is every bit as essential as the logic of the story-line.[9]

Jean Rollin’s films articulate a logical succession of synthetic images presenting a motley collection of elements which build up to a surrealist whole reminiscent of a collage: here we might think of La morte-vivante (1982), notably the scene in which the creature, drenched in the blood of its victims, gets sentimental about her childhood music-box; Fascination, and the opening sequence in which two young bourgeoises sip from glasses filled with blood in the middle of a room filled with sides of beef; La Fiancée de Dracula, with the clock on the beach; or Le Viol du vampire and the blind man playing skittles. In all likelihood, these unusual associations partly explain why the French public has given Rollin the cold shoulder. His productions are primarily constructed around what Pascal Françaix terms “springboard” or “keystone” central images in his analysis,[10] images that make up sequences around which the rest of the narrative will revolve:

I had images. For instance, Requiem pour un vampire was built on the image I had had of the Louise character, playing the piano at night in a cemetery. There was that image, then I arranged everything around it.[11]

The classic fantasy narrative gradually draws the reader or viewer down the passage towards a different universe. As Jean Arrouye explains it, the feelings triggered by the fantastic in literature do not seem to be the easiest to transfer onto the screen:

The visual image, as we know, does not lend itself happily to the fantastic, which is the diegetic effect par excellence, the product of the progression and complexity of a text. As it happens, the image lends itself to being taken in at a glance: past that point, there is no way of introducing into it this slow process of acclimatization which […] accustoms the mind to what it had initially deemed unacceptable.[12]

As it happens, Rollin places viewer and reader alike at the heart of the matter right from the outset, blending different genres in the same image and setting, the words of Gaston Leroux for instance (Rollin is one of the few experts in the field [13]) alongside the fantastic characters from La Fiancée de Dracula, superimposing the melancholy of desolate landscapes on the violence of deeds done by his creations, or indeed marrying iconoclastic provocation and Grand Guignol-style derision. In his own way, Rollin brings the fantastic out of the ghetto, setting himself up against the definition offered by Roger Caillois, who feared that the genre would spread and the term would be misused:

The meaning of the term fantastic is entirely negative: it refers to everything which, in one way or another, steps away from the photographic reproduction of the real, that is, any fantasy or style and, needless to say, imagination as a whole. As far as literature goes, the application of the same principle – staying clear of any preliminary definition – would result in the inclusion within the same anthology of fantasy of a hotch-potch of St John’s Apocalypse, La Fontaine’s Fables, an Edgar Allan Poe story and Gargantua, some minutes from the Metaphysical Institute, a science-fiction tale and an excerpt from Pliny’s Natural History, in short, any text that, willingly or not, for whatever reason, strays away from reality.[14]

Jean Rollin has no problems with eclecticism. He pushes back the boundaries of the genre and defies Caillois by clinging to the fundamental viewpoint of a fantasy that “looms like a break within universal coherence.” While Caillois, in the confines of his literatures of the imagination, indulges in a reshuffle of the classic categories of fairy tale, science-fiction and fantasy, he overlooks the nonsense which Anglo-Saxons refer to as fantasy or the fantastic, and which dares to cross the boundaries between genres and themes, thereby evading major classifications.

This is of course only one response offering some sort of explanation for the charm of Rollin’s movies for the British and for Americans, quite apart from any appetite for the genre of fantasy that has been part and parcel of the history of English literature: one need only think of William Beckford’s late eighteenth-century gothic novel Vathek and Matthew Gregory Lewis’s The Monk, both of which trade in ghostly apparitions, demons and vampires. Rollin is closer than might be thought to the tradition of literary fantasy that emerged in Germany with Adalbert Von Chamisso, Achim Von Arnim and Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann. He exploits fantasy the way that Hoffmann did, with the blend of excitement, frenzy and chaos palpable in The Devil’s Elixir, embracing the influence of Lewis’s The Monk and putting forward contrasting episodes against a backdrop of aesthetic meditations, political essays, mystical ecstasies, adventures and even love stories, all wrapped up in the themes of solitude and madness.

Erudition as a Modern Form of the Fantastic

As early as 1883, Maupassant held that fantasy was an outmoded “sub-genre,” what the author of La Main coupée (The Hand) termed a “para-literary” one.[15] This fantastic “para-literature” actually appears to come in two versions, one from great, renowned and studied authors like Gérard de Nerval, Honoré de Balzac, Bram Stoker, Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft, Franz Kafka or Jorge Luis Borges, the other from so-called “minor” authors associated with what might be described as “popular fantasy”: writers such as the elder J.-H. Rosny,[16] Maurice Renard,[17] Gustave le Rouge,[18] Gaston Leroux[19] or indeed Claude Farrere.[20] Jean Rollin draws his inspiration from this “popular fantasy,” which is much less highly regarded by authorities of legitimation.[21] Besides this sort of classification, to which he takes no exception (since he is a big fan – of Leroux’s in particular, as one of the prominent representatives of the “pure fantasy” strand), Rollin offers the reader and viewer a taste for pastiche and erudition that places him in the company of the “post-modernist” authors of the review Sur. Relying on literary, pictorial and cinematic references, Rollin is a dreamer as much as a savant. In that regard, he comes under Borges’s definition that holds that “erudition [is] the modern form of fantasy.”

Much of Jean Rollin’s literary knowledge is that of an autodidact, with his own readings influenced by the handful of intellectuals who left their mark on his childhood. It is no coincidence that the heroines of Les Deux Orphelines vampires surreptitiously read Georges Bataille’s Histoire de l’oeil (Story of the Eye) and that their minds are filled with perversion, eroticism and cruelty, as are the minds of every single one of Rollin’s “parallel” creatures. The filmmaker did not start out reading Bataille’s musings. At a very early age he absorbed them indirectly in his contact with the author.

As far back as I can remember, my earliest memories are of a man stooped over my cradle. This man was talking to me, telling me bedtime stories. […] Other memories return. Images. This man and I hiding around a corner, watching from cover the little village square with its church. A host of little girls in white emerge, veils on their heads, white gloves […] “Big wolf babies,” he said. […] That phrase, “Big wolf baby” can be found in a short text entitled La petite écrevisse blanche […] All of the female adolescents in my books and films are faces made after the one and only ‘Simone’ (from Histoire de l’oeil) and the possibilities of her. […] Only adolescents could stay innocent and beautiful whilst owning up to the filthiest acts, for disobedience pervades their atmosphere.[22]

Georges Bataille entered the life of Denise Rollin-Roth-Le Gentil on October 2, 1939 just after her separation from her husband, Jean’s father. A model for painters, Denise was a bright, cultured woman whose circle of friends included Jean Cocteau, André Breton and Jacques Prévert. She has been described by her entourage as a woman possessed of an extraordinary beauty characterised  as “melancholy and taciturn.” Her son was less than a year old when her adventure with the writer started. Jean Rollin wallowed in the atmosphere created and tales told by Bataille who at the time was living with them on rue de Lille in Paris. Between the autumn of 1941 and March 1943, the writer regularly hosted readings-cum-discussions at Denise Rollin’s apartment. Two discussion groups grew out of them; they included a number of intellectuals like Maurice Blanchot, Michel Leiris, Raymond Queneau or Michel Fardoulis-Lagrange. According to Leiris, these gatherings actually revolved primarily around arguments between Bataille and Blanchot regarding the groundwork for L’Expérience intérieure (Inner Experience). During his affair with Denise Rollin, Bataille penned several other texts such as Le Supplice [“The Torture”], Le Coupable (Guilty), Les Malheurs du temps présent [“The Misfortunes of the Present Time”] or La Chance [“Luck”]. “She was a woman who was the very embodiment of silence. She listened to speeches in a metaphorical way. The echoes they had drawn from her were amazing,” Bataille testifies. In his Carnets, or notebooks, he describes a personality characterised by silence: “Other than in Laure, never have I ever sensed such slick purity, such quiet simplicity, such a fragile illusion melting away at the slightest trouble, at the slightest easing of heedlessness.” Again he cites the ghostly aspect of Denise, whom he describes as “burdensome purity,” an aspect which he had to love “through to that sickness of heart that bears the chill of death.”[23]

In 1942 Jean Rollin’s mother moved house and set up home in the countryside, bringing Bataille and other artists like André Masson and his wife in her wake. A year later, they spent some time in Vézelay, settling in a run-down house. That idyll ended after a few months when Bataille met Diane Kotchoubey. This eventually tainted the unmitigated purity and Denis turned to Maurice Blanchot for consolation. According to her, theirs was a passion that meets only in the void; in the void, in the absence of all form, in the absence which, ultimately, is absolute presence, a single gaze, blind to outside phenomena, an absence of language and form, where images no longer register and everything is finally rendered obsolete and fades; the void being the presence of the being which passion has chosen to pursue.

This aspect of Jean Rollin’s personal history is not anecdotal. As he has himself testified, Georges Bataille’s concerns keep cropping up in his own books and films. The Simone character in Histoire de l’oeil remains crucial and aspects of her shine through in every one of Rollin’s female creations. This also applies to the Marcelle character, whose Norman dresser and sacrilegious confessional crop up in the novel titled Caroline-Laurence. However, Bataille is not the only author that influenced the filmmaker. Following her breakup with Bataille, Denise Rollin took up with Maurice Blanchot in 1945. Out of this relationship, exceptional in terms of its passion, came a correspondence sustained over a 25-year period.[24] Of his attachment to Blanchot, Rollin declared:

Bataille’s characters had a sort of aura for me. But Blanchot’s possibly even more so. My mother wasn’t seeing Bataille any longer but Blancot wrote to her on a daily basis. We were living in Villard-de-Lans at the time. I was in high school, and every day I would post a letter from my mother to Blanchot. The very next day, a letter from Blanchot would come in. It had become something of a ritual. I was never aware of what was in those letters and when my mother died I returned them all to Blanchot, a suitcase full of them! As far as my mother was concerned, Blanchot truly was the love of her life! And I reckon that went for him too![25]

Through his language, his excesses and betrayed feelings, Georges Bataille besmirched Denise’s uncompromising purity. Maurice Blanchot, on the other hand, was to be perfectly at one with her quest for the absolute.

Jean Rollin’s borrows a rather more metaphysical dimension from Blanchot’s characters than he does from Bataille’s. He notably takes up their relationship with the world, time and memory, as can be seen in La Nuit des traquées, for instance. In the film, the amnesiacs sequestered in the dark tower live in the world of the present, for the moment, thereby escaping the memory of the “endless replay” that Blanchot talks about, the lingering feelings of regret and guilt that can smother a person. Forgetting, leaving behind the “slow shuffle of monotony,” the “gigantic harassment that is central to starting again” – which for Blanchot make up memory – pave the way for emancipation on the road to the absolute freedom expressed in Rollin’s film.

The Logic of Illogicality

Following the logic of classical fantasy, fear remains one of the main elements of this genre, this feeling of “uneasy strangeness” which Sigmund Freud termed unheimlich, the “unhidden” as well as the “unfamiliar.” Within this framework, which is a common denominator of fantasy literature, Jean Rollin singles out the fantasy of fright and fear. He regards the genre as a lot loftier and relating more to a “psychic experience” redolent of abstraction. It is up to the author to conjure up his own universe, guided by his thoughts and breaking completely with realistic and tangible representations of the world.[26] He defines this fantasy using a concept all his own: “the logic of illogicality,” which harks back to the postulates of the Incohérent, Surrealist and Pataphysical art movements. Rollin sees fantasy as the culmination of undiluted hallucination, the images and unions of creative ideas of crazy poetry which, as Ado Kyrou used to say, allows one to “drift along the magnetic line where the separation between life and dream is no more.” Somewhat like Kafka or Gogol, Rollin brings to the viewer pictures of “illogicality” that sometimes border on the nonsensical. In a critical approach, the filmmaker probes a supernatural in a way that calls into question the order of the world, the existence of a harmonious cosmos governed by immutable laws.

Here again Rollin can be linked to the German romantics in terms of political critique and rebellion. The director’s creations are what he calls beings “parallel” to the bourgeoisie’s “right-minded” world, a world of “laws” and “authority.” The plainest example of this remains Les Deux Orphelines vampires, in which Henriette and Louise are out to destroy “the ghastly rational world, this world of common sense.” As Jean Rollin’s wife points out in the afterword to Les Deux Orphelines vampires, the heroines’ intention is to “tear down all the social structures of the nightmare that is religion, family, Education and other state institutions.”[27] The sexual nature of the two young girls harks back to certain scandalous acts in Bataille’s Histoire de l’oeil, which the two vampires obsessively pore over in their room at night, when the overseers of the orphanage are asleep. This appetite for revolt has been cultivated by Jean Rollin ever since the joined the Anarchist Federation in the 1950s, through his political positions which are traceable to Kropotkinist anarchist morality[28]:

The fact is that what I have achieved, I have done in the name of anarchy. In essence, the relationship is somewhat akin to that between Surrealism and Anarchism. Revolt for revolt’s sake being one aspect! They say that Marxism can be construed primarily as a political doctrine, whereas Anarchism is more of a moral code. In Surrealism there is a moral code as well. There is no “accommodation” possible with Anarchism or Surrealism: there is a form of intransigence which I see as a bulwark. A dress code.[29]

“Parallels”

The many creatures dreamt up by Rollin, marginal beings such as ogresses, ratteuses, necrophiliacs, ghosts, magic dwarves or even vampires, forever rebels against the established order, are catalogued in the novel La Petite Ogresse. Some of them, like the vampire figure, are recurrent references in Rollin’s work. The fringe community thus returns in La Fiancée de Dracula, with the ogress feeding on nurslings or Triboulet the dwarf waiting for the resurrection of his beloved. Melancholy eats away at these characters, which occupy that part of dreamland where instinct rules. Unhindered by any authority, these “parallels” stand out from other characters – not because they are provocative but because that is the way they are. The romantic side of these creatures is not far removed from the classical fantasy tradition. According to Louis Vax, harking back to Jung,[30] the “beast” – the animalistic aspects of which may be identified in the “parallels” – is merely one aspect of ourselves shunning wisdom and, above all, social virtues. In fantasy, the beast manages to embody reason which it then takes over and turns to evil purpose (or to purpose punishable by law), opening the way to savagery and perversion.

Such perversion is notably found in the figure of the Vampire who, according to Vax, may be situated in an ambivalence between ghastliness and fascination. Every one of Rollin’s female vampires hints at a mighty eroticism, whereby the creature stands out in terms of its power to seduce (Fascination) which leads on to sexual violence (Le Viol du vampire). The counterpoint to this infatuation with the vampire is the perdition and murder which immediately follow. In his latest creations Rollin illuminates the ambivalence that exists between death and life through sexuality and falls into line with Bataille’s quote to the effect that “Eroticism is an endorsement of life, including in death.”

His penchant for “sexy” characters began with Le Viol du vampire, which created quite a stir in 1968 and was to place Rollin in the camp of Z-movie directors:

The movie came out in May 1968 and people kicked up a rumpus in the theatre, throwing things at the screen. The press had a field day, Le Figaro especially, where someone wrote: “This movie has been shot by a gang of dead drunk medical students.” I almost quit filmmaking after that. But the movie worked. It was a minor succès de scandale, but it was a success all the same![31]

The prominent treatment of the vampire theme by comparison with classic fantasy movies, the exaggerated eroticism and the humour that stepped outside of the very specific referential frameworks of the genre (satire or lampoon) disconcerted audiences. Besides being an iconoclast, Jean Rollin looked to “non-sense,” illogicality, Surrealist black humour deconstructing the very form of fantasy to reach for an emancipatory, rebellious poetry. This outlook was to lead to a misunderstanding linked to a failure on the part of French movie critics[32] to grasp Rollin’s work; they assumed that, since we were in the codified, serious realms of fantasy, any humorous elements could only have been the by-products of incompetence on the part of the director in terms of mise en scène and in deciding to which genre his film belonged. This assessment only consolidated following the shooting of La Vampire nue, with dialogue written by Serge Moati. Poet and experimental filmmaker Maurice Lemaître, a leading light of the Lettrist movement, is featured in the film and introduces a slightly more grating note by deliberately mis-acting, along with the rest of the cast.[33] This “falsely involuntary parody,” as Pascal Françaix states in his essay, adds up to the unique style of a director and situates his major work in the field of experimental and avant-garde cinema.

Furthermore, the interest of Anglo-Saxons in Rollin’s cinema almost certainly has to do with the importance of the work on matter in the director’s output. The almost palpable aspect of characters and objects haunts everything he produces, whether it be the blood trickling from the vampires’ mouths, the pus oozing from the faces of zombie villagers in Les Raisins de la mort (1978) or indeed the putrefying flesh in stagnant water in Lèvres de sang (1975).

His subject matter may well be one of the most seductive factors in Rollin’s work across the Atlantic for it accords with Locke’s theses[34] on the origin of ideas. According to the philosopher, the mind holds no character and no ideas and our knowledge may well be based on experience alone. Our minds are made up both of external objects (ideas conveyed by the senses) and from the use of reason itself (ideas that emerge as the result of reflection). In both instances, ideas derive from experience. Through the senses, any excitement of or movement on the human body brings us the perception of discernible qualities; and through reflection the soul gets some impression of its own activity when it perceives phenomena in the outside world. Each “parallel” strives to show itself to the world, to step out of oblivion and memories and to take up its place again and be “made flesh,” just like Medusa in Le Masque de la Méduse (2010). This was also the case with La Petite Fille au cerceau [“The Little Girl with the Hoop”], whom Rollin glimpsed again  in the Luxembourg Gardens:

A few paces away, seemingly making for the steps, was a young girl about ten years of age, dressed in a light grey overcoat buttoned up to the neck, using a short wooden stick, pushing before her a hoop nearly as big as she was. She was edging forward in utter silence and soon she had reached the first steps. She disappeared. Yet a muffled sound reached me. That of the hoop bouncing from step to step.[35]

That little girl is but the recollection of another young friend of the director’s mother, Jacqueline “whose ghastly death, with her swollen tongue protruding from her mouth, traumatised Denise Rollin for good,” an all too real, horrifying sight which she was to pass on to her son.[36] Memory and dreaming were to do the rest.

Jean Rollin certainly does not deserve the place which French movie critics have carved for him thus far. A director working in the fantastic genre, he brings a style of his own to that genre’s tradition in France – a style steeped in Surrealism. A worthy heir to Luis Buñuel and Georges Franju, Rollin “unseals the eyes” of those exploring a different sort of “fantasy,” at once poetic and rebellious.

Jean Rollin’s “fantastic” filmography

1. Les Amours Jaunes (The Yellow Love, 1958) 35mm, 11 minutes (lost), featuring Jean Devisse and Guy Huiban.

2. Ciel de Cuivre (Sky of Copper, 1961), 35 mm, 17 minutes (lost).

3. L’Itinéraire Marin (Sea Journey, 1963), not completed, featuring Gaston Modot.

4. Le Pays Loin (The Far Country, 1965), 35 mm, 12 minutes (lost).

5. Le Viol du Vampire (The Rape of the Vampire, 1968), 35 mm, 90 minutes: featuring Catherine Deville, Bernard Lestrou. Dialogue by Jean Rollin and Serge Moati. Produced by Sam Selsky.

6. La Vampire Nue (The Nude Vampire, 1969), 35 mm, 89 minutes. Cast: Olivier Martin, Maurice Lemaître. Producer: Jean Lavie.

7. Le Frisson des Vampires (Thrill of the Vampires, 1970) 35 mm, 96 minutes. Featuring Sandra Julien. Produced by Les Films modernes.

8. Requiem pour un vampire (Requiem for a Vampire, 1971) 35 mm, 95 minutes. Featuring Marie-Pierre Castel and Mireille Dargut. Producer: Sam Selsky.

9. La Rose de Fer (The Rose of Iron, 1972) 35 mm, 76 mins.

10. Les Démoniaques (The Demoniacs, 1973) 35 mm, 80 minutes.

11. Lèvres de Sang (Lips of Blood, 1975) 35 mm, 85 minutes. Featuring Jean-Loup Philippe and Annie Belle.

12. Les Raisins de la Mort (The Grapes of Death, 1978) 35 mm, 90 minutes. Featuring Serge Marquand, Félix Marten,. Brigitte Lahaie. Produced by Jean Rollin and Jean-Pierre Bouyxou.

13. Fascination (1979) 35 mm, 86 minutes. Featuring Franca Mai, Brigitte Lahaie. Produced by Joe De Lara.

14. Le Lac des Morts Vivants (Zombie Lake, 1980) 35 mm, 80 minutes. Featuring Howard Vernon, Pierre Escourrou. Produced by Eurociné, J E Film.

15. La Nuit des Traquées (The Night of the Hunted, 1980) 35 mm, 90 minutes. Featuring Brigitte Lahaie, Vincent Gardène.16. La Morte Vivante (The Living Dead Girl, 1982) 35 mm, 90 minutes. Featuring Marina Pierro, Francoise Blanchard, Jean-Pierre Bouyxou. Produced by Sam Selsky.

17. Les Deux Orphelines Vampires (The Two Vampire Orphans, 1995) 35 mm, 89 minutes. Featuring Isabelle Teboul, Alexandra Pic. Produced by Jean Rollin.

18. La Fiancée de Dracula (The Fiancee of Dracula, 2000) 35 mm, 97 minutes. Featuring Cyrille Iste, Jacques Régis. Produced by Boomerang Productions.

19. La Nuit transfigurée/ La Nuit des horloges (The Night of the Clocks, 2007) 35 mm, 90 minutes. Featuring Ovidie, Serena Gentilhomme. Screenplay by Jean Rollin, adapted from Serena Gentilhomme’s book.

20. Le Masque de la Méduse (2010), 35 mm, 75 minutes. Featuring Simone Rollin, Jean-Pierre Bouyxou. Produced by Insolence Productions.

 NOTES

[1] To take but one example, Paul Chauvet wrote the following on Requiem pour un vampire in Le Figaro on April 12, 1972, in an article titled “How far can one overstep the mark”: “…One may see something supposedly terrifying [on the screen] (…) about which you have to wonder how such a hopelessly silly screenplay, a film so clumsily botched, featuring two child actors so inexperienced, ever came to secure the endorsement of any ‘professional’ at all.”

[2] Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, Immoral Tales, Sex & Horror Cinema in Europe 1956-1984 (London: Titan Books, 1995).

[3] Douces pénétrations [“Sweet Penetrations”] in 1975, La Comtesse Ixe, Amours collectives (co-directed with J.-P. Bouyxou) and Apothéose porno in 1976, Les trois trous [“The Three Holes”] and La ruée vers l’orgasme [“The Rush to Orgasm”] in 1978, to name a few.

[4] Christian-Marc Bosséno and Yannick Dehée, eds., Dictionnaire du cinéma populaire des origines à nos jours (Paris: Nouveau Monde, 2004), entry on “Jean Rollin.”

[5] Pascal Françaix, Jean Rollin, cinéaste écrivain [“Jean Rollin, a Filmmaker-Writer”] (Paris: Editions Films ABC, 2002) 11.

[6] The other three features are “contamination of the real by the dream,” “the journey through time” and “split personality.”

[7] “…In my first film, Le Viol du Vampire, I shot quite unwittingly the very same thing that I had seen as a child: a torchlit duel between two women. Several years after that, I remembered Gance’s movie, whereupon I said to myself: “But I’ve already done that! […] Le Viol du Vampire is segmented like a serial, in two instalments, with lots of cliffhangers – in the spirit of Republic Pictures, whose productions involved a new, sudden development every ten minutes.” Objectif cinéma Staff, “Conversation with Jean Rollin,” Objectif cinéma, 29 March 2002: 1.

[8] Jean Rollin, interviewed by the author on 22 June 2004. Reproduced in Isabelle Marinone, “Anarchisme et Cinéma: Panoramique sur une histoire du 7ème art français virée au noir” [“Anarchism and Cinema: A Panorama on a History of French Cinema Turned to Black”], diss., Université de Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2004.

[9] Jean-Pierre Putters, “Les deux orphelines vampires, interview de Jean Rollin,” in Mad Movies 107 (2000): 34.

[10] Françaix, Jean Rollin, cinéaste écrivain 138.

[11] Interview with Jean Rollin, 22 June 2004, in Marinone, “Anarchism and Cinema”:

[12] Jean Arrouye, “Rapsodie Ropsienne,” in Eros et fantastique, CERLI, Presses de l’Université de Provence, (1990) 93-96.

[13] Jean Rollin, “Aujourd’hui Gaston Leroux,” Fantastique 23-24 (1970-1971)

[14] Roger Caillois, Au coeur du fantastique (Paris: Gallimard, 1965) 22.

[15] Guy de Maupassant, “Le Fantastique,” Le Gaulois, 7 Oct. 1883.

[16] Notable titles are La Sorcière (1887), La Jeune Vampire (1920), L’Assassin surnaturel (1924).

[17] The author of Fantômes et fantoches (“Phantoms and Puppets,” 1905).

[18] The author of La Guerre des vampires (“The War of the Vampires,” 1909)

[19] The author of La double vie de Théophraste Longuet (“The Double Life of Théophraste Longuet,” 1903 to 1924) and La poupée sanglante (“The Blood-Soaked Doll,” 1923).

[20] The author of Fumées d’opium (1904) as well as Contes d’outre et d’autres mondes (“Tales from the Beyond and Other Worlds,” 1921).

[21] Bosséno and Dehée, Dictionnaire du cinéma populaire.

[22] Jean Rollin, Les Dialogues sans fin: précédés de quelques souvenirs sur Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot et Michel Fardoulis-Lagrange (Paris: La Mirandole, 1997) 11-12. For Bataille’s La petite écrevisse blanche [“The Tiny White Crawfish”], see his Oeuvres complètes, vol. IV (Paris: Gallimard 1988) 324.

[23] Georges Bataille, Oeuvres complètes, vol. 5 (Paris: Gallimard, 1988) 515, 524.

[24] Rollin, Les dialogues sans fin 29. “To me, Maurice Blanchot meant small handwriting. When a letter arrived bearing those barely decipherable signs, I was happy, knowing how anxiously my mother had been waiting for them. We were cut off in Villard-de-Lans and she locked herself away in order to read or answer them. That correspondence, several hundred letters of it, persisted right up until my mother died. On her table lay her last and unfinished letter, the single line of which was proof of a relationship that went beyond words and time: ‘I think of you each day.’ ”

[25] Interview with Jean Rollin, 22 June 2004, in Marinone, “Anarchism and Cinema”.

[26] “Starting from what is not a given, starting from something other than the tangible, immutable world that we hold before our eyes, stepping outside of the realm where we see what exists in order to devise systems or thoughts on the basis of man’s unaided thoughts, that’s what fantasy is all about.” Jean Rollin, as quoted in Françaix, Jean Rollin, cinéaste écrivain 22.

[27] Jean Rollin, Les Deux Orphelines vampires (Paris: Editions ABC, 2001).

[28] Pierre Kropotkin, Anarchist Morality, 1897, The Anarchy Archives, ed. Dana Ward, Sept. 1995. “But if you feel within you the strength of youth, if you wish to live, if you wish to enjoy a perfect, full and overflowing life – that is, know the highest pleasure which a living being can desire – be strong, be great, be vigorous in all you do. Sow life all around you […] rise in revolt against the iniquity, the lie or the injustice. Struggle! […] Struggle so that all may live this rich, overflowing life. And be sure that in this struggle you will find a joy greater than anything else can give.”

[29] Interview with Jean Rollin, 22 June 2004, in Marinone, “Anarchism and Cinema”.

[30] Louis Vax, L’Art et la littérature fantastiques (Paris: PUF, 1974).

[31] Putters, “Les deux orphelines vampires, Interview de Jean Rollin”: 34.

[32] “My earliest films were taken apart by the critics, fantasy fans and the magazine Midi-Minuit included… They did not fit in with the traditional archetypes of the day. Today, things are changing. The younger generation is discovering my movies, which it classifies somewhere between commercial cinema and auteur cinema. The pendulum has swung the other way, in fact. I’ve never had as much press coverage as for Les Deux Orphelines vampires, and that holds true world-wide.” Putters, “Les deux orphelines vampires, Interview de Jean Rollin”: 34.

[33] “As for Lemaître, the fancy took me one day to cast him even though he is by no means an actor and his diction is all wrong.” Interview with Jean Rollin, 22 June 2004, in Marinone, “Anarchism and Cinema”.

[34] John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford, New York: Oxford U.P., 1975).

[35] Jean Rollin, La Petite Fille au cerceau (Paris: Editions Rafaël de Surtis, 2001) 8.

[36] Jean Rollin, MoteurCoupez! Mémoires d’un Cinéaste Singulier [“CameraCut! Memoirs of a Singular Filmmaker”] (Paris: Éditions e/dite, 2008) 18.

Isabelle Marinone teaches at University Paris 3 — Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris Est Marne la Vallée, Paris Ouest Nanterre, and Femis. Doctor of History and Esthetics of the cinema (University Paris 1 — Panthéon Sorbonne). Author of a thesis on “Anarchism and Cinema in France” (Paris 1 – 2004)