= Highest Rating
stated in some of my previous reviews, I have a general dislike
of surrealistic cinema. Instead of being inventive or inspired
I usually find such films silly, pointless and indicative of
a lazy and/or way-too-stoned writer. Now I don't wish to confuse
the surreal with a heavily stylistic approach... I have no problem
at all with say, setting the Bard's Richard III in an
alternate-reality fascist Britain of the 1930s. But on principle
I do take issue with a director choosing to 'reimagine' the
Mexican Revolution using frogs instead of human actors. (I've
never actually seen Jodorowsky's Holy
Mountain... and from what I've read about it, probably
never will.) David Lynch is about as surreal as I can stand,
and some of his films are maddeningly obtuse — weirdness merely
for weirdness' sake is not entertaining to me, nor is it thought-provoking.
(Beyond musing "What were they thinking?", that
Jess Franco's Venus
in Furs —
often touted as the Spanish auteur's greatest work —
certainly leans to the avant-garde, yet mainly avoids the pitfall
excoriated above. Suffused with an atmosphere of languid decadence,
set to a smoky jazz/lounge beat, it's an erotic ghost story
of obsession and revenge that in its best moments is strangely,
compellingly hypnotic. Nothing is really explained in this (almost)
Möbius Strip-like film but its dreamy spell is potent enough
to make that of little consequence. As with improvisational
jazz, you just have to surrender yourself to the vibe and go
with it, man.
Jimmy Logan (James Darren) leads a bohemian, globehopping lifestyle,
playing gigs at clubs and parties for rich, hip elites across
Europe and South America. In Istanbul, during a melancholy stroll
along a Black Sea beach, he spots a nude body washing ashore
on the surf. An obvious victim of foul play, the corpse is of
a woman Jimmy recognizes —
Wanda Reed (Maria Rohm), a mysterious blonde beauty he last
saw under rather bizarre circumstances... At a private party,
Jimmy witnessed Wanda being whipped and sexually abused by a
trio of debauched sophistos: millionaire Turkish playboy Ahmed
(Klaus Kinski), elderly art dealer Herr Kapp (Dennis Price),
and lesbian fashion photographer Olga (Margaret Lee). Thinking
the acts consensual ("Man,
it was a wild scene... But if they wanted to go that route,
it was their bag..."), Jimmy walked away, his presence
unnoticed. He didn't see Ahmed slice Wanda with a dagger and
drink her blood, vampire-like... Now
she's turned up dead.
Haunted by this morbid event ("She
was beautiful... even though she was dead"), Jimmy
flees to Rio de Janeiro. Here a romance with singer Rita (Barbara
McNair) helps him get his head on straight and back into the
groove with his music.
But one night while he's jamming in a club, a woman who looks
exactly like the dead Wanda walks in, dressed in a fur coat.
Jimmy quickly becomes obsessed with this doppleganger, falling
in love with her even though he realizes something is terribly
wrong. She seems to exist only in a waking dream, even though
others physically interact with her; her almost trance-like
state and lack of a past only deepens the mystery. Is she really
a dead woman somehow come back to life? Jimmy and Wanda become
intimate, straining his supposedly 'open' relationship with
the kind and empathetic Rita, who loves him dearly. Then two
of the perverts whom Jimmy saw abusing Wanda the year before,
Kapp and Olga (now also in Rio), are found dead under mysterious
Appearing to her murderers in a slightly different form — short
hair instead of long, a brunette rather than blonde, but always
in a fur coat with very little on underneath — Wanda exacts
vengeance for the wrong done to her. Jimmy is unaware of this
and together, he and Wanda return to Istanbul where it all began.
They share some golden moments, thinking not of the past or
future, living and loving only in the present. Jimmy knows that
none of this should be happening, but he can't help it — it's
as if he's hypnotized, drawn to this enigmatic woman who shares
his bed and haunts his mind like the proverbial moth to a flame.
If only he could forget everything that's happened before then
perhaps they could be happy. But Wanda's revenge is not yet
complete. Ahmed's reckoning awaits...
(AKA Paroxismus) should give pause to many of Franco's
detractors. It's a highly accomplished piece of work, both stylistically
and technically, an art film with elements of horror whose eroticism
is provocative without ever being vulgar. Sight and sound are
an integral team here — composers Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg
perfectly capture the spirit and tone of Franco's erotic dream.
Even though it wasn't, like Leone's Once
Upon a Time in the West the film's imagery and music work
so perfectly together that one would think the score was composed
beforehand and the visuals shot specifically to accompany it.
I'm not really a jazz fan but I really dug the music; the instrumental
lounge and mood pieces are superb, too, with the genuinely eerie
'impending death theme' being a highlight. (Only one of the
film's songs hits a sour note — a kitschy pop number with bad
lyrics sung by McNair as she writhes on a club's dance floor.
Hope they mopped first!) Some of the dialog carries a strong
whiff of soap opera melodramatics (McNair, as the flesh-and-blood
woman trying to save Jimmy from his dream lover, is saddled
with the majority of such lines) while Darren's voice-over narration
of the story in dated '60s jazz scene lingo
may cause some to snicker, but Franco's masterful visuals
reduce these factors to mere trifles. Even the seemingly
odd casting choices work. The clean-cut Darren (TV's The
Time Tunnel) is surprisingly good as the brooding, obsessed
musician (it's helpful in the jam session scenes that he was
a trumpet player in real life); McNair, known primarily for
her singing, invests her role with passion and conviction.
of the small ensemble is populated by actors who worked with
Franco on numerous occasions.
With her icy, doll-like features, Maria Rohm (The
Bloody Judge, The Blood of
Fu Manchu) cuts an arresting, iconic figure as the mysterious
femme fatale in whose erotic web these characters become
entangled. It may seem a bit of a stretch
to cast the blond, Teutonic-looking Kinski as a Turkish
playboy, but his strong screen presence and piercing eyes make
him the perfect choice for Wanda's most sinister tormentor.
Even Paul Müller (Nightmares
Come at Night, She Killed
in Ecstasy) makes a brief appearance as Jimmy's wealthy,
perpetually drunk employer, while the director himself cameos
as a musician in a couple of scenes, accompanying Darren on
trombone and piano.
an essential title in Franco's oeuvre, and one that may
well appeal to those who typically find his films too grungy
or transgressive for their tastes.
by in tandem with Franco's 99 Women
(also 1969), Blue Underground's new edition of Venus
in Furs represents a must-buy for fans of the director's
work. They won't be disappointed. The film is presented in its
original 1:85.1 AR, 16x9 enhanced. Apart from some noticeable
grain and moments of rougher film stock, mostly during the opening
beach scene (just prior to and during the discovery of Wanda's
body), the print looks terrific, boasting vibrant colors and velvety
blacks. Given the grooviness of the score it would've been nice
to have it in stereo, although the digital mono track provided
is crisp and clear and in no way disserves the music and dialog.
addition to an image gallery, the U.S. theatrical trailer and
a Franco bio/film essay by Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas
(the latter accessible via DVD-ROM), the disc features two great
interviews: one with "Venus" herself, Maria Rohm, the
other with Jess Franco. The Rohm interview (11 minutes) is an
audio-only affair illustrated with numerous production stills.
In it, the now reclusive actress talks rather whimsically and
candidly about working with Franco and a number of her co-stars
in various films, among them George Sanders, Christopher Lee,
Rosalba Neri, and —
baring the brunt of her more stinging comments —
Klaus Kinski. The on-camera Franco interview is contained in a
20-minute featurette entitled Jesus in Furs. Speaking in
subtitled French, the chain-smoking septuagenarian discusses why
his original concept of the film had to be changed to appease
American distributors (he originally planned for the Jimmy character
to be African-American) and how the title (initially Black
Angel) and fur coat motif were likewise forced on the picture;
he also gives his thoughts on the individual cast members and
declares his disapproval of some minor aspects of the film's editing.