Two days ago I shot another couple of in-depth interviews with the amazing Jess Franco, who turns 80 today, at the apartment he shares with his wife and frequent star Lina Romay in Malaga, Spain. I’ve now shot countless discussions with him for DVDs produced for various companies and he never fails to provide colorful insight into each project — how they came about, which actors/producers were great and which were dreadful, budgetary restrictions, what good, honest food was available in the relevant location etc. No matter how sublime (Succubus, Venus In Furs) or ridiculous (The Cannibals, Castle Of Fu Manchu) or just ok (Count Dracula, Justine) the film under scrutiny may be he can reel off anecdote after anecdote about the production.
From the first time we met when I was working on, among others, one of his finest Eugenie – The Story Of Her Journey Into Perversion there was no doubt in my mind that Jess Franco was one of the great raconteurs in the world of moviedom. He loved to talk about the masters of cinema who had influenced him, he loved to be completely dismissive of the importance of his own work thereby justifying a lot of shit-talk about the abilities of his contemporaries, he loved to talk about his other passions including fighting censorship, good food, jazz, Lina… he just loved to spin tales which, on the odd occasion, sounded a bit far fetched but were delivered with such gusto and conviction that you just took it as gospel.
This time around I heard one that I’d never heard before. I pointed out a mini-statue of Yoda dressed in a Santa Claus outfit sitting on his shelf and asked why it was there. Jess smirked and nonchalantly revealed how he was the inspiration for the jedi master. I won’t go into detail because to hear Jess tell it is so much more entertaining and you can do that by viewing the clip below. If you squint you may be able to see the physical resemblance but on a wider scale the similarities between the wise, learned and powerful little green man and the granddaddy of eurocult cinema are not so disparate. After all, anyone with even a passing interest in the wild side of cinema in some way may have learned something and/or benefited from the wisdom and teachings of master Jess.
My first introduction to mondo Franco was as a kid in high school sneaking a viewing of Bloody Moon in the months before it was banned as a video nasty in England. I thought it was the best movie I’d ever seen… Mainly because of the spectacular buzz saw decapitation sequence. While that opinion soon faded I’m very pleased that we were able to reintroduce that slice of 80s gruesomeness onto the home video market a couple of years ago.
But as anyone interested in Franco knows, there are incredible gems to be found throughout his vast, record-breaking filmography. That first introduction via his slasher quickie wasn’t even a prime representation of the eccentric auteur’s oft-indulged obsessions. For many, his greatest works are like sado-erotic fever dreams which, as you might expect, play like improvised jazz often rendering the need for linear narrative cohesion secondary. My personal favorites like Eugenie – The Story…, Eugenie De Sade, Venus In Furs, Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed In Ecstasy may represent some of the finest eurocult films of them all, but what about The Awful Dr. Orloff, Lorna The Exorcist, Barbed Wire Dolls, Macumba Sexual, The Hot Nights Of Linda, The Demons, 99 Women, The Sinner, Love Letters To A Portuguese Nun, Sadomania and on and on and on? Sure, there may be some stinkers in that almost 200 plus movie resume but there’s so much to savor. And with every film it seems like the fortunate few who really enjoy his work have still more to discover, let alone understand.
I recently watched his latest film PAULA-PAULA and it’s, well, very bizarre indeed. But it is undoubtedly the work of Jess Franco. So here he is at 80, physically a bit more frail every time we meet, but his mind is as clear as it ever was and his desire to keep making movies equally as youthful. A very happy birthday to you, Uncle Jess, and keep ’em coming!