Tag Archives: Alfred Baillou

15. STEPPENWOLF (1974)

“…it seems to me that of all my books Steppenwolf is the one that was more often and more violently misunderstood than any other, and frequently it is actually the affirmative and enthusiastic readers, rather than those who rejected the book, who have reacted to it oddly…”–Hermann Hesse in the 1961 prologue to Steppenwolf

DIRECTED BY:  Fred Haines

FEATURING: Max von Sydow, Dominique Sanda, Alfred Baillou

PLOT:  Harry Haller is a world-weary writer and intellectual in the Weimar Republic who is considering committing suicide soon.  One night he meets Hermine, a beautiful young woman, who shows unusual interest in him and makes him pledge obedience to her as she initiates him into the pleasures of the flesh, including jazz, drugs, and sex.  Eventually Hermine leads Harry to the Magic Theater, where a delirious dream about some aspect of his personality lurks behind every door—including, perhaps, his homicidal side.

Still from Steppenwolf (1974)

BACKGROUND:

  • The movie was adapted from Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse’s classic 1927 novel Steppenwolf, which had been rediscovered and adopted by the 1960s counterculture because of it’s perceived revolutionary vision and it’s apparent endorsement of free love and psychedelic drugs.
  • Michelangelo Antonioni (Blowup) was offered the chance to direct but turned it down because he thought the book was unfilmable.
  • This was the only film directed by Fred Haines.  He had previously been co-nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Ulysses (1967).
  • Co-producer and LSD-enthusiast Melvin Abner Fishman declared the Steppenwolf would be “the first Jungian film.”
  • The Czech artist Jaroslav Bradac created the wonderful animated sequence, “The Tractate on the Steppenwolf”; the artist Mati Klarwein (who was also responsible for classic album covers for Miles Davis and Santana) created the fascinating paintings that line the corridors of the Magic Theater.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  For a movie that is so deliberately visionary, there’s not one single image that sticks out far above the others.  The most obvious choices are the images which show Harry simultaneously as a wolf and a man, a concept that is often chosen in numerous variations for covers of paperback editions of the novel.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  The heavy symbolism and feverish imagery of Hesse’s masterpiece, written while Freud and Jung’s theories of the unconscious mind were still novel and revolutionary, present some weird scenarios (such as Harry entering into dream debates with the ghosts of Goethe and Mozart). When this material is adapted through a 1974 lens, an era when cinematographers hadn’t yet come down from the LSD-inspired visual experimentalism of the late 1960s, it becomes even weirder. From the Magic Theater sequence on, Steppenwolf is truly trippy stuff.

Original trailer for Steppenwolf (1974)

COMMENTS: There’s a difficulty in reviewing movie adaptations of novels, in that the Continue reading 15. STEPPENWOLF (1974)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: GIRL SLAVES OF MORGANA LE FAY [MORGANE ET SES NYMPHES] (1971)

DIRECTED BY:  Bruno Gantillon

FEATURING: Mireille Saunin, Dominique Delpierre, Alfred Baillou

PLOT:  Two pretty young women travelling through the French countryside

Still from Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay [Morgane et ses Nymphes] (1971)

stumble upon the castle of an elegant witch attended by a bevy of beauties and a dwarf, who promises to keep them eternally young and pampered if they will give up their souls to her.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  With it’s hunchbacked dwarf in eyeliner, tokes off a hookah, and decadent, dreamlike atmosphere, Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay tries fairly hard to be weird.  But the film isn’t really as committed to creating a weird atmosphere as it is in filling the frame with as many tastefully hot lesbian sex scenes as it’s running time will allow.

COMMENTS:  Despite the acres of nude female flesh and Sapphic trysts, Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay is a serious attempt at art, albeit erotic art.  The cinematography and costumes are luscious, and the location shooting at a real French castle provides a sensuous, refined background for the ladies’ romps in the buff.  The setting is decadent, and so are the pleasure-obsessed slave girls and their mistress, who sip on wine and quote Baudelaire all day in between refined orgies and interpretive erotic dances.  It’s the kind of locale you might like to live in (especially if you’re a lesbian), but not one that’s especially interesting to watch.  The atmosphere is trance-like, but the actresses emote as if they were in a trance. Despite the high-stakes battle for the girls’ souls, everything is so sublimated and understated that little real drama emerges.  The sex scenes are of the tasteful sort where one girl carefully caresses or kissed the torso of her lover, but only briefly brushes a nipple by accident.  The ending to the film is surprisingly effective, although abrupt. 

The DVD presentation by Pete Tombs’ Mondo Macabro is really amazing for a film this forgotten.  Tomb’s writes exhaustive essays on the film, cast, crew, and even the Chateau de Val location, as well as including Gantillon’s short film, Un couple d’artistes.  It’s nice to realize that enthusiasts exist to give a film as obscure as Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay a release that’s as every bit as loving as Criterion Collection would if it were a respectable mainstream classic.  

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The first naughty scene… is potently erotic, and it sets the tone for the dreamlike stupor of lesbianism that permeates the rest of the film… Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay is classic soft-core exploitation, but it is done with such fun and gusto that nary a hint of coercion or negativity intrudes.”–Rob Lineburger, DVD Verdict