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Daily | Jess Franco, 1930 – 2013

The legendary Spanish filmmaker, condemned by the Vatican, worked with the likes of Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski. Updated through 4/11.

Jess Franco

Jess Franco

“And so ends—or begins—the most epic story in the history of fantastic cinema,” writes Tim Lucas, passing along word that Jesús Franco Manera passed away this morning, having suffered a stroke last week. “The IMDb credits Franco with directing 199 features and the list is surely incomplete, lacking some titles altogether, not to mention variant editions and unreleased titles. Very often, he was also their writer and very often their cameraman, editor, dubber and a member of the cast. No one demonstrably loved making movies more than he.”

Catherine Grant has already begun “gathering tributes and links in memory of Franco’s amazing film career” and will carry on doing so over the next few days. Do, then, head over to Film Studies for Free for links to essays from Senses of Cinema, Offscreen, and more.

Noting that Franco was “once referred to as the most dangerous filmmaker alive by the Vatican,” SciFiNow‘s Jonathan Hatfull adds that “the notorious filmmaker is best known for his work with Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski on films like Count Dracula” as well as “The Awful Dr. Orlof, his cannibal and zombie films, and his erotic horrors like Vampyros Lesbos. Franco’s interest in the erotic and transgressive meant that many of his films dealt with sadomasochism, such as Necronomicon (also known as Succubus), Eugenie, the Story of Her Journey into Perversion, She Killed in Ecstasy, and reached a high point with the Kinski-starring Venus in Furs (also known as Black Angel).”

“I don’t think you could find a post-1970 horror filmmaker who doesn’t know Franco’s work or hasn’t been influenced by him,” writes Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg at Twitch, adding that “his work was outrageous, bloody, sexy, gory, creepy, and crossed just about every line imaginable—some that even today’s horror filmmakers wouldn’t dare put a toe over.”

See also: Robert Monell‘s blog, I’m in a Jess Franco State of Mind, another blog, The Films of Jess Franco (recently inactive, though the archives go back a few years), an archive of discussions at the Latarina Forums, and of course, Wikipedia.

Updates: Glenn Kenny selects several stills and adds: “I met him, and his soulmate/collaborator/eventual wife Lina Romay (whose death last year makes Franco’s own passing rather less surprising than it might have been), back in 1997, at a Chiller Theatre Expo in Secaucus… Given the crush and the fact that their English wasn’t all that hot, I wasn’t able to convey much to them aside from admiration, but my photographer and I paid homage by turning up a few nights later at CBGB for a set by Killer Barbys, a Spanish post-punk combo featured in a recent Franco picture of the same name.”

Thomas Groh posts an appreciation (in German).

And, via Richard Metzger at Dangerous Minds:

Venus in Furs – trailer – Jess Franco from Thierry Lopez on Vimeo.

Updates, 4/3: “In his 2009 interview with The A.V. Club, Franco was characteristically humble—even dismissive—about his life’s work,” writes Phil Dyess-Nugent. “‘I don’t like my movies. I prefer John Ford‘s movies,’ Franco said. However, when pressed, he allowed that ‘if you’re curious about which film I would save from a fire,’ the likeliest candidates would be Necronomicon, Venus in Furs, and The Diabolical Dr. Z. Still, he summed up his career thusly: ‘I don’t think I’ve done anything important or magnificent. I’m a worker, and the thing I prefer in my life is cinema. When I’m working in cinema, I’m happy. And that’s all, you know?’”

“Jesús Franco began his film career in the mid-’50s, composing movie scores and writing screenplays,” writes Andre Soares in the Alt Film Guide. “He was also an assistant director to Juan Antonio Bardem on Death of a Cyclist (1955), among a handful of other films (including Orson Welles‘s Chimes at Midnight in the mid-’60s)…. In 2009, the Spanish Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Franco an Honorary Goya in recognition for his contributions to Spanish cinema. That would be (somewhat) akin to having Hollywood’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handing out an Honorary Oscar to, say, George Kuchar, Ed Wood, Russ Meyer, or maybe to the John Waters of the ’70s, or Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones‘ Gerard Damiano.”

Updates, 4/4: “Franco’s work is best seen as a giant mosaic, a rippling borderless continuum, with individual films less important than the wider trends and currents passing through,” writes Stephen Thrower for the Guardian. “Watching a single Franco film is like sipping a glass of water from a brimming lake; to really enjoy what he has to offer you have to throw yourself in…. Ultimately there’s something truly otherworldly about his films; they give us precious glimpses of a stranger, more delirious reality. Jess Franco was the anti-Kubrick—wayward, impulsive, impatient—but he shared with the master procrastinator one special quality: a cinematic vision as personal and unique as a retinal photograph.”

“[T]he world of cinema is made more interesting by the presence of people like Franco in it, whether or not you like his actual work,” writes James R. “So obviously I had to mark his departure with one of his films, and what better (well, probably a few better) than one starring the man himself.” He’s gone with Exorcism, “being the longer sexier version and Demoniac being the shorter one which keeps its clothes on.”


Matt Singer
collects more remembrances at Criticwire.

Updates, 4/6: Kimberly Lindbergs: “Instead of writing another obituary I decided to approach fellow Franco fans and many of his most stalwart supporters who have often championed his work against a tide of indifference. I asked them to simply share their favorite Franco films with Movie Morlock readers in an attempt to introduce you, as well as TCM viewers, to more of the director’s films but what I received was some of the most impassioned and insightful Franco commentaries that I’ve ever come across. I hope you’ll enjoy the results. This is more than just a simple roundtable or survey. This is a lengthy love letter to one of Spain’s most prolific directors and a celebration of everything that made his movies so special.”

Kim Newman turns in a more traditional obit in the Guardian, noting Franco’s “practice of collaging influences into his own distinctive forms. He would remake [Gritos en la Noche (1962)] in disguise several times (including Faceless, 1987), and delivered sequels resurrecting Orloff, but he also found other touchstones in Cornell Woolrich’s novels (especially The Bride Wore Black, inspiration for Miss Muerte, aka The Diabolical Dr Z, 1966); pulp serials (he made a brace of Fu Manchu films); gothic horrors (he made both Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein, and The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein); the Marquis de Sade (he made multiple versions of Justine and Eugenie); and private-eye fiction (with his two-fisted Al Pereira and the Red Lips, a detective agency staffed by two daffy blondes). Cartes sur Table ( also known as Attack of the Robots, 1966), starring Eddie Constantine, is a companion piece to Jean-Luc Godard‘s Alphaville (1965). Though they gravitated to different areas of cinema, Franco and Godard both borrowed from and subverted high and low art in a manner that resonates still in the postmodern genre cinema of Quentin Tarantino.”

Update, 4/8: Another note from Tim Lucas: “I am pleased that I had some hand in reversing what was once the common wisdom about him and his work, and that he acknowledged my efforts on his behalf in a warm and appreciative manner. A shared love of his work also became a password into many important friendships in my life… and there is much more work for us still to do…. Now that his filmography is complete, its full arc and all its oceanic confluences can be measured and charted; maybe it’s the kick in the ass I need to come to complete grips with this book I’ve been compiling on the back burner and get it done. In the meantime, there are more Blu-rays coming up and I’m hopeful of recording audio commentaries for at least a couple of them. Jess Franco is finished with life, but life is far from finished with him.”

Update, 4/11: In the Notebook, David Cairns reviews Cartes sur table (Cards on the Table, a.k.a. Attack of the Robots, 1966), a film with “a Buñuel connection or two. Franco’s co-writer on this and other early productions was none other than the great Jean-Claude Carrière, the collaborator’s collaborator, who worked with Buñuel on all his later French movies (as well as ghosting Don Luis’s autobiography My Last Breath). The movie also features regular Buñuel star Fernando Rey among its seamy rogue’s gallery of villains…. Although the movie is light, even silly, it does have a bracingly cynical view of politics and law enforcement.”

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