Tag Archives: French

48*. THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES (1971)

Le frisson des vampires; AKA Sex and Vampires, Strange Things Happen at Night, Terror of the Vampires, Thrill of the Vampire, Vampire Thrills

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“A grandfather clock is of no interest – a vampire woman getting out of this clock at midnight, that’s me!”―Jean Rollin

DIRECTED BY: Jean Rollin

FEATURING: Sandra Julien, Jean-Marie Durand, Dominique, Marie-Pierre Castel (as Marie-Pierre Tricot), Kuelan Herce, Michel Delahaye, Jacques Robiolles, Nicole Nancel

PLOT: Newlyweds Isle and Antoine arrive at the castle of her beloved cousins, only to be told they died the day before. Isle soon discovers that the castle has become the domain of vampires, that her cousins were vampire hunters who were murdered and converted to the ranks of the undead, and that the lead vampire seeks to welcome the young newlywed into her coven. Antoine soon recognizes the threat to his bride, but he may be too late to prevent her from being seduced by the vampire’s call.

Still from shiver of the Vampires (1971)

BACKGROUND

  • This was the third of a quartet vampire movies that kicked off Rollin’s directorial career.
  • Marie-Pierre Castel, the blonde half of the pair of Renfield-like maids, is one of two cast members to return from Rollin’s previous feature, The Nude Vampire. She appeared in several of Rollin’s films, usually alongside her twin sister Catherine. (Catherine skipped this installment due to pregnancy).
  • Rollin shot the opening scene, in which the vampire slayers are entombed, in black-and-white as a nod to classic Universal horror films.
  • The director credited actors Delahaye (the other returning cast member) and Robiolles with improvising much of their dialogue, as they would often forget sections of their lengthy speeches during the extended takes.
  • Actress Nancel was widely disliked on the set, but she rose in the crew’s estimation when she volunteered to do a second take of a scene where her body is tossed into a moat, into water that was brackish and potentially toxic.
  • Explicit inserts were shot separately to turn this into a porno in some markets (a practice that was not infrequent in European horror movies in the early 70s).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Are you kidding? It can only be the clock. Isolde, the vampire queen with the ghastly pallor, has a knack for entrances, but none is grander or more surprising than her first appearance, climbing out from within a grandfather clock and immediately pawing at the naked young woman she finds standing there. Rollin himself was unable to shake the sight; he returned to it in later films. 

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Death by pointy pasties; cousins deliver exposition in-the-round

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Easily ranking among the most elegant grindhouse movies ever made, The Shiver of the Vampires is relentless in its pursuit of exceedingly tasteful presentations of tawdry material. Gothic fashions and decor coexist harmoniously with a summer-of-love psychedelic vibe, all for the ostensible purpose of setting up vignettes of softcore smut but really in pursuit of an air of erotic disquiet. The film knows what it wants, and does exactly what it intends to do to get there.

Scene from Shiver of the Vampires

COMMENTS: How frequently over the years have movies been Continue reading 48*. THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES (1971)

CAPSULE: GODARD CINEMA (2022)/TRAILER OF A FILM THAT WILL NEVER EXIST: PHONY WARS (2023)

 Godard, seul le cinéma/Film annonce du film qui n’existéra jamais: ‘Drôles de guerres’

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DIRECTED BY: Cyril Leuthy

FEATURING: (archival footage)

PLOT: A documentary overview of the career of nouvelle vague icon Jean-Luc Godard, programmed together with a sketch for the director’s final, unfinished film.

Title card from "phony wars trailer of a film that will never exist" (2023)

COMMENTS: There have been a number of director retrospective documentaries lately: Dario Argento Panico (2023), Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer (2022), Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist (2020). These affairs are typically hagiographies wherein talking heads (usually other directors) sit around complimenting their comrades. Godard Cinema, originally made for French television, digs a bit deeper into its subject, and isn’t afraid to expose a few of Godard’s warts (his habit of literally stealing to finance his early films, his troubled relationship with first wife , his “inexplicable” decision to go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao). If there is an ongoing theme to Leuthy’s portrait, it’s Godard’s ultimate unknowability: early on, he observes that there are no known boyhood pictures of young Jean-Luc. Although, by the end, we understand why this free spirit did not quite fit in with his bourgeois family, the absence of much childhood biography reinforces the idea of Godard as a sui generis being who arises spontaneously in response to his time in cinema history.

If there’s one complaint here, it’s that, as an examination of a man’s life, the the pacing feels wonky. You may find yourself wondering how the doc is going to fit in the majority of Godard’s five-decade career when it’s already at the midpoint, and they’re not even through 1967. They aren’t; the doc rushes through the final 45 years of Godard’s life, spending only about 15 minutes on the entirety of his output after 1985’s controversial comeback, Hail Mary. Godard Cinema follows the commonly-accepted dogma (which this writer also endorses) that Godard’s vital movies were all completed in his first eight years of filmmaking, and that his work falls off an ideological cliff after 1968. The front-loading makes sense if you consider the documentary as an essay on film history, but as a complete biography of Godard the man, it falls short. But perhaps that’s why it’s called Godard Cinema and not Godard.

The main selling point to Kino’s Godard Cinema release may not be the documentary itself, but the supplement: “Trailer of a Film That Will Never Exist: Phony Wars,” the auteur’s incomplete sketch for a final feature. The piece is a skeletal outline for a work that would be, by all appearances, a very loose adaptation of the novel “Faux Passeports” by Communist artist Charles Plisnier. What we get, mainly, are a series of photographic collages, with Godard’s enigmatic handwritten notes scrawled on some of them (e.g., one reads “it’s your business and not mine to reign over the absence of…” The next phrase is blotted out by magic marker). Much of it is silent; other segments are scored to dissonant classical music. There is almost a minute of actual film, studies of a young actress wandering around smoking, overdubbed with Godard giving some background on Plisnier; later on, we hear what seems to be a dialogue rehearsal, read in both French and Russian. It’s impossible to guess what the final film might have looked like—did Godard intend to flesh it out, using these stills as an outline, or was it always intended to be a longer version of the experimental abstraction we see onscreen? It’s hard to imagine anyone but the most dedicated Godard scholar watching this “trailer” more than once, but it is an interesting artifact, a peek into a master’s creative process, and therefore worth a gander.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[Godard Cinema] provides an immersive exploration of his influence on both the celluloid world and broader cultural landscapes… TRAILER OF A FILM THAT WILL NEVER EXIST: PHONY WARS, the final work from Godard, emerges as a daring and inventive visual tapestry.”–Chris Jones, Overly Honest Reviews

Godard Cinema / Trailer of a Film That Will Never Exist: Phony Wars [Blu-ray]
  • An in-depth look at the career of revered French director Jean-Luc Godard
  • Includes Godard's final work, Trailer of a Film That Will Never Exist: Phony Wars

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: TOUT VA BIEN (1972)

AKA All’s Well, Just Great, Everything’s Alright

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DIRECTED BY: Jean-Luc Godard,

FEATURING: Yves Montand, ,

PLOT: Susan, an expatriate American journalist, and Jacques, her commercial-director husband, visit a sausage factory on the day that the workers launch a strike and are trapped in the building for two days; after the strike ends, they reflect on the decline of their leftist ideals, and their relationship.

Still from Tout va bien (1972)

COMMENTS: A full year after it was published, a particular excerpt from KC Green’s webcomic “Gunshow” began to gain traction as a meme. The strip, “On Fire,” tracked the fate of a bowler-hatted canine as he maintained his optimism in the face of rising and increasingly destructive flames. Intriguingly, it was the first two panels that became a widely recognized meme, setting our inferno-consumed scene and enshrining the dog’s preternaturally calm assessment, “This is fine.” Lost in the commodification of the image was the build and climax, including Question Hound’s confident ignorance (“I’m okay with the events that are unfolding currently”), his more uncertain self-assurance (“That’s okay, things are going to be okay”), and finally his ultimate fate in the conflagration, melted into hideous deformation like a decorative candle left in the attic. 

Tout Va Bien, which translates literally as “everything is going well,” lives in the space of those forgotten panels. While leftists remember the raucous events of May 68 for the drama of the strikes, protests, and occupations that brought France to a halt, the aftermath four years later find them exhausted, frustrated at their failure to transform society, and uncertain of the line between social and personal gain. So it is that a Communist leader, far from triumphing over the tyranny of capitalism, can be found in a store hawking his book. (“4.75 francs, marked down from 5.50!”) 

Godard and Gorin feel this uncertainty very keenly. Having spent the past several years trying to make Marxist movies in a Marxist fashion, Tout Va Bien was a step back into (relatively) mainstream cinema. As it happens, the movie begins with a pair of offscreen voices debating the traditional story elements needed in a successful film, followed by a series of checks being written to the many participants in the production. The message “you’ve got to spend money to make money” is clearly delivered.

But it’s not as though Jean-Luc Godard is going to suddenly go full Marvel. The subject of leftist dissatisfaction with their role in the political conversation is hardly mainstream subject matter. His technique is forcefully Brechtian, as characters frequently face the fourth wall to expand upon their complaints. And for all the power of having two international movie icons as your leads, the directors give them precious little to do beyond watch the actions around them as they unfold, and to describe their frustrations to each other—and to us. Godard may adopt the conventions of traditional moviemaking, but he puts them in service to a stridently political message, one that asks the question, “Why didn’t we change the world?”

Two of Godard and Gorin’s set pieces are genuine showstoppers. They build the factory set vertically, allowing us a peek into every room, much like the ship cutaway in Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. (Contemporary critics regularly cited Jerry Lewis’ The Ladies Man as a visual inspiration.) This proves valuable in predicting the fate of the strike, as we watch the angry employees break down into factions, fight over their aims, alternate between pointed agitprop and steam-venting vandalism, while each of them insists that their part of the literal sausage-making process is the worst. This is bookended with a stunning tracking shot along the checkout lines at a impressively large supermarket, wherein we watch the lifecycle of a protest as it goes from citizens trying to go about their business to mass defiance to the inevitable violent crackdown by the authorities. These are not surprising messages, but they demonstrate vividly what Godard’s filmmaking acumen can bring to the telling.

Tout Va Bien is an elegy for active leftism. Five decades later, the situations echo strongly with current events, and the young people in the movie chanting “Cops! Bosses! Murderers!” feel like direct ancestors to the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter protests of recent years. But the outcome is also mirrored in our time. As the film concludes, a chipper tune pops in to proclaim, “It’s sunny in France, nothing else matters.” It’s the kind of song that’s probably playing in a room filled with fire, while a melting dog nods along.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Godard’s strange fusion of his pre- and post-radicalized styles turned off critics and audiences alike, but Criterion’s lovingly assembled new DVD suggests that it warrants reappraisal. Though certainly dull and didactic at times, Tout Va Bien is remarkable foremost for its sustained twilight mood of exquisite resignation, of exhausted sadness and bone-deep world-weariness.”–Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club (home video release)

(This movie was nominated for review by Caleb Moss. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)