‘Be True to Yourself’: Jeremy Richey on Jean Rollin

The Iron Rose
La rose de fer ( The Iron Rose)

Lost in New York_small

Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin
Curated and edited by Samm Deighan
Spectacular Optical
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The writer, editor, film critic and leading expert on Jean Rollin talks about his fascination with the unique French director.

Writer, editor and film critic Jeremy Richey – founder and editor of the quarterly print journal Art Decades and writer of numerous well-known film blogs, such as Moon in the Gutter among others – is a leading expert on Jean Rollin. With his comprehensive blog Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience, Richey has devoted many years to researching and writing about Rollin’s filmography.

Founded in 2008, Fascination has become one of the most significant Rollin resources in existence. Devoted entirely to the French director, the blog includes Richey’s in-depth articles about, and reviews of, Rollin’s films as well as interviews with Rollin collaborators and aficionados, including his actors such as Françoise Pascal, as well as filmmaker Damien Dupont, the co-writer/co-director of the 2011 documentary Jean Rollin, le rêveur égaré (Jean Rollin, the Stray Dreamer). Through his extensive research and writing on Rollin, Richey has sought to debunk commonly held myths about him and his films, in particular, that Rollin was not a competent filmmaker.

Presented below are Richey’s answers to Marcelline Block’s questions about his work on Rollin, from first discovering the director to becoming a leading authority on his work, including his favourite Rollin film as well as the best starting point for the Rollin novice.

Marcelline Block: When and how did you first encounter Rollin’s films? What drew you to them the most?

Jeremy Richey: I initially encountered Jean Rollin in the early to mid-90s via an extremely important early edition of Tim and Donna Lucas’s Video Watchdog and then through Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill’s ground-breaking Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies 1956-1984. The importance of these two publications to my life as a film historian and lover cannot be overstated.

It might be hard for younger readers, so used to instant accessibility in these days of streaming and such, to understand that film lovers would often have to spend years reading about films and filmmakers before they could actually see the films. This was especially true of someone like Jean Rollin, whose work was mostly only obtainable in the pre-DVD days via murky and pricey grey market dubs that you would have to order via mail order from companies that may or may not prove reliable. So, the first thing that drew me to Rollin’s works were the words of writers like Tim Lucas, Craig Ledbetter and Daniel Bird and the mesmerizing stills that I saw in the pages of a number of genre-related books and magazines. It ended up taking me most of the 90s to track down the majority of Rollin’s major films, like I said often not in the best quality, and with each new work I felt more and more entranced and obsessed by his extraordinary and unique style and vision.

How did you go about researching/writing/publishing about his films?

I began seriously researching and writing about his films in 2008 when I started the blog Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience. I viewed the blog as a way to not only celebrate Jean Rollin’s career, and connect with other fans, but also as a path to learn more about him, his work and his many collaborators. I still have a long way on this journey, and a lot more to learn, but years now of reading and writing about him and his work have only strengthened my admiration and love for the films and the people that helped him make them.

How does your passion for Rollin shape your work as a film critic/scholar as well as a writer and editor?

His DIY ethic and his ability to create great art with very little means are things that I keep in mind regarding both my own work and life in general. His art wasn’t fuelled by commerce. He truly did it out of love and that passion and uncompromising attitude inspires me on a daily basis. Even the films that he made only for the money, that he had no real interest in, were made to finance his own dream projects.

Do you have a favourite Jean Rollin film?

La rose de fer ( The Iron Rose) from 1973, the year I was born, is my own personal favourite and, honestly, I think it is Rollin’s best film. It’s an unbelievably moving and poetic work that I think stands amongst the great European art films of the 70s. Le frisson des vampires (The Shiver of the Vampires) from 1971 would probably be my second favourite. When speaking of that incredibly surreal and psychedelic work, I must mention cinematographer Jean-Jacques Renon, a great artist, who I think was Rollin’s most important behind-the-scenes collaborator.

Who are your favourite performers in Rollin’s films?

I think the best performance given in a Rollin film is by the stunning Françoise Pascal in The Iron Rose. Her work in that film is so haunting and unique. Pascal only worked with Rollin once though, so when speaking about favourites I think you have to look at the talented group of actors who worked with Rollin multiple times, of which there are many. The marvellous Brigitte Lahaie is probably the ultimate figure in Jean Rollin’s filmography, but if I had to pick a favourite it would probably be a coin toss between the ferocious Joëlle Coeur and the mesmerizing Marie-Pierre Castel.

If someone were just starting out with viewing Rollin’s films, which films would you recommend to begin with, and why?

The Shiver of the Vampires is an ideal entryway in my opinion. I think it stands as the definitive Rollin film. Perhaps for more straightforward horror fans the gorier works like La morte vivante (The Living Dead Girl, 1982) and Les raisins de la mort (The Grapes of Death, 1978) might be better options. I think that, ultimately, Rollin is, simply put, not going to be for everyone, and considering that he was such a non-conformist and outsider this is fitting.

What are some commonly held myths about Rollin and his films that you would like to debunk through your work?

That he only made ‘lesbian vampire films’. Hell, even the films that fall into this category transcend it. Also that he was an incompetent filmmaker. This probably bothers me the most. Rollin was in fact an extremely gifted filmmaker but he was an artist forced to work with incredibly small budgets with short shooting times. What he was able to accomplish, often under the most difficult of circumstances, is astonishing. I don’t like the whole ‘Mystery Science Theater’ crowd looking to make fun of low-budget filmmakers’ work, so the myth that he didn’t know what he was doing is the one that really gets under my skin the most.

How has Jean Rollin influenced cinema? How would you situate him within the history of cinema?

I’m honestly not sure. Rollin was so derided in his day, and continues to be so misunderstood by most mainstream critics and film lovers, that I still don’t think he has ever been given his due or found a proper placement in film history. You can definitely see his influence more and more on younger filmmakers, but I think the real Rollin renaissance is still coming.

What would you say is Jean Rollin’s ultimate legacy for cinema? For his fans? For you, personally?

Don’t be afraid to follow your vision no matter how outside the mainstream it is and keep following it no matter the lack of acceptance. Be true to yourself with your art no matter the derision or obstacles placed in front of you.

What are some of the new directions currently being taken in Rollin scholarship?

As we get further and further away from the period where Rollin made his key films we can see that the canons of so many of his more acclaimed peers are falling further to the side while Rollin is being written about more and more and his films continue to become more and more accessible. Great personal works of art ultimately prevail over safe works created for current popular tastes. I think we will continue to see more and more film critics, fans and historians embracing Rollin’s distinctive cinematic visions as the years pass.

Along with your own comprehensive website, Fascination, would you recommend any other Rollin resources for those who are beginning to learn about him and his films?

Surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of websites dedicated to his work, which is one reason I started Fascination. There are a couple of others, but honestly they don’t contain a lot of material, and I mean no disrespect to the authors of those sites at all.
There are a number of books on Rollin with my favourite being one he penned himself, entitled Virgins and Vampires.

What are some of the best Blu-Ray/DVD editions of Rollin films available? Which would you recommend? Are there any films that you wish would be made available on DVD/Blu-Ray?

There are so many at this point! As far as Special Editions go, the Encore box-sets that came out on DVD in Europe are breath-taking packages. They offer beautiful versions of some of his major films, eye-opening extras and exhaustive books. On Blu-ray, the Kino Lorber/Redemption line in the States is really splendid. I don’t think the films have ever looked better and the extras on some of them are excellent. There are a few of his mid-period films like Sidewalks of Bangkok, Killing Car and Lost in New York that still need quality Blu-ray releases, as do his last couple of films. Perhaps the big one for me is his extraordinary 1975 adult feature Phantasmes, which has never been granted a satisfactory release on disc. Thankfully though, for fans looking to discover most of his greatest films, they are fairly easily accessible now both on disc and streaming. We have come a long way since I was first discovering them via grey market VHS copies in the Wild West days of collecting in the 90s!

Interview by Marcelline Block

Jeremy Richey is currently writing a book about the 1970s European film career of Sylvia Kristel, which is slated for publication in December 2017.