Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Friday, August 22, 2014

Soledad Miranda: July 9, 1943 - August 18, 1970.

The lovely Soledad Miranda has been on my mind all week, I will assume that subconsciously I had somehow retained the fact that she's passed away this week, 44 years ago at the age of 27. Consciously, I can honestly say I didn't remember that at all, or at the very least, the fact that this was the week of her death was nowhere near the front of my mind. Certainly not one of Franco's more prolific muses, due only to her horribly untimely death in 1970, Soledad Miranda nonetheless remains likely the most remembered of his actresses. Having done bit parts in American film productions in the 1960's, it's her work with the late Jess Franco that she will forever be widely associated with. Their collaborative efforts were standouts not just for Miranda's magnetic beauty and mystery, but also for the kitschy, dreamy, surreal and gorgeously erotic qualities these collaborations brought to the world of Jess Franco's cinema in a short period of time.  

I had stated, a few posts ago, that I was considering  -- in fact, looking forward to -- a re-watching of Vampyros Lesbos, which is probably the pair's most famous creation together. And I certainly did give it a re-watch; however, only to discover that my own imagination had built this film up into an (understandable) iconic representation of the Miranda/Franco collaborations... when in fact, I think now that while still enjoyable, it ranks as one of the lesser-realized of the collaborative efforts. The abundance of potential was ultimately exhibited in far more creative, engaging ways, in their other works together.

That being said, nearly all of the Miranda/Franco films have remained steady personal favourites of mine within Fracno's enormous film repertoire. It cannot be denied that the man easily knew how to film the most of one of his favourite subjects... Soledad Miranda.

Personal favourite #1: She Killed in Ecstasy ...This was also a fairly recent re-watch for me, solidifying its place in my heart and mind as my all-time favourite Franco film, and in actual fact one of my favourite films ever made. Soledad's best performance, and some of the best surreal cinematography in Franco's career. Amazing locations and highly kitschy sets, to boot.

Favourite #2: Eugenie De Sade (De Sade 2000) ...Truthfully, another one of my top favourites overall, lush cinematography and it really felt like Soledad Miranda was starting to own these films. It's a lurid little thriller set in the wintertime. 

#3: Nightmares Come at Night ...Although this was at the beginning of the Miranda/Franco cycle, and so the actress was relegated to a very minor supporting role in this erotic/heist/double-cross dream-thriller, she often easily outshined her leading costars. Very sexy and less reveling than in her other Franco films, Miranda is really the reason I hold such a high regard for this movie -- although the erotic-surreal plot is pretty engaging, too. Pieces of this film were cut into another Franco/Miranda/Eurocine collaboration under a three-picture deal the trio was putting together, which included Sex Charade and De Sade 2000. Sex Charade is a film steeped in rumour and mystery -- historically speaking, there was a release of this film, which was rumoured to be nothing more than a re-edit/mash-up of previous footage shot for Eurocine, a practice the production company would become notorious for in the following decades (70's and 80's). The Paris Cinematheque has claimed to film historians (See the "Nightmares Come at Night" Blu-ray) to have a pristine print of Sex Charade, yet it has to this day never actually been seen or confirmed by anyone -- perhaps because it really was just a money-grab release using recycled footage and outtakes of other Franco films, but perhaps, too, because it was never really intended to exist (or to be remembered, and therefore, exist) -- it is not listed in the Eurocine catalogue.

#4. The Devil Came from Akasava ...Well, this hurt me, just a little, to place this in ranking order over Vampiros Lesbos. It is not a better film -- but for the intents and purposes of this list (namely Soledad Miranda), I was forced to push it over Vampyros Lesbos simply because Soledad Miranda's screen presence in this one is simply to melt over. As the French like to say in English, You'll die a little. If De Sade 2000, Nightmares Come at Night, and Sex Charade was the Franco/Miranda trilogy for Eurocine, well, Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed in Ecstasy, and The Devil Came from Akasava are certainly a trilogy of their own, as well -- all three latter films were shot back-to-back and feature the same amazing jazz score of The Vampires' Sound Incorporation.

#5 Vampyros Lesbos ...Of course, this film was still going to be on the list, while it might not be the best of stories (probably just slightly better than Devil Came from Akasava) -- and ranking lowest in the still-perfectly-mentionable section of the list -- we can absolutely not ever forget the human mannequin and candelabra & mirror fetish stage show that is really the feature of this whole film, with Soledad Miranda showing us her erotic, bizarre, hypnotically charming moves. The stage show is the film, if you're going to watch this one for any reason at all, the other scenes pale easily in comparison. Luckily for us Jess Franco knew exactly what to exploit in these movies.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Return to the Bloody Moon

So, I went back to Bloody Moon - the DVD from Severin Films - merely a couple of evenings ago if only to judge if the movie/DVD would be worth an upgrade to Severin's freshly-released Blu-ray -- and while this may sound like a plug, well, it is and it isn't. It isn't mostly because I don't ask them for any free swag (i.e. Blu-rays), so there is absolutely no silently contractual obligation to plug anything one way or another. However, this non-plug may be indicative of Severin's meticulous authoring when it comes to their products... as Samuel Jackson said to Vin Diesel in "XXX", "You're a victim of your own success." But in the interest of keeping one duly annoyed, I'll get back to this later...

Okay, so Bloody Moon the film, is definitely worth a re-watch -- and I'm specifically speaking to those of you (perhaps like me) who may have quickly labelled Franco's Bloody Moon a mere Franco-slasher in the midst of a quick and brief cinematic assessment during the watching/devouring/learning of the extensive body of this man's work. But it's not just a slasher, nay... Also a disco-slasher. A Euro-slasher. A giallo. In fact, Bloody Moon has for more in common with the films of Lucio Fulci than Friday the 13th, despite what the easy, broad descriptions of this movie may imply. It really does resonate within the style of an Italian Lucio Fulci gialli, filled with a surprisingly confident style depicting a more dream-like slasher/thriller narrative and abundant sexuality, fully appreciative of the female form and the leading characters' magnetism. Actually, the entire film is surprisingly stylistic and engaging -- for those who may have thrown this aside as a mere slasher -- previously. One could easily pair this film up with a double-feature featuring Fulci's Murder Rock or New York Ripper. Or City of the Living Dead, of you're really into electric circular power tools. Also, it springs on us a double-double twist ending that you won't see coming, as you'll likely have been distracted by stylish photography, bizarre acting, bad special effects, and naked people.

Okay, but, a new upgrade to blu-ray? Unfortunately... I don't know. The cheesy special effects will be even cheesier in a 2K BRD re-release... but of course, so will other assets of the film become clear(er). Take, for instance, the scene wherein three young women are sitting at a public outdoor pool-side table, all topless, watching a tennis match. Topless. How unconditionally Euro-artsy, indeed. We would never be witness to such a thing in an American slasher, because hell, in North America, that just wouldn't make sense! In a Jess Franco film it makes all the sense in the world, which is why we adore this bloody genius. I suppose that the importance a blu-ray upgrade, in the end, would ultimately depend entirely on the pickiness, the fickleness, the completist within the individual Franco fan. Does Severin's Bloody Moon actually need the upgrade? No. The DVD is pretty damned vibrant and clear already, and seriously, how much of an overhaul is a Jess Franco release going to receive from an American company who has already done an HD film-transfer to a perfectly well-encoded DVD that is only a couple of years old? I'm going to guess not much. -- at least, that's gamble I'm going to keep my twenty-five-and-change firmly in my pocket over. Newcomers? By all means, go for the blu-ray. And enjoy. Topless tennis-watching, among many, many other shenanigans.