Thursday, December 16, 2010
RIP Jean Rollin [1938-2010]
High on the list of text messages a person does not want to receive while already gloomy about the holidays is the simple yet devastating memo "Jean Rollin R.I.P." When I saw this note yesterday evening, I was saddened on a level much deeper than what I've experienced with the passing of other celebrities I admire. Rather than being a charismatic face on the screen or a distant auteur blessing his audience with flashes of brilliance, I feel a profound connection to Rollin's body of work.
While working on a response to a memo from a friend expressing her grief at Rollin's passing, I started to get closer to the heart of what Jean Rollin's films mean to his fans.
Simply put, Jean Rollin's movies taught me how to watch genre films.
Shortly after reading Pete Tombs' essential "Immoral Tales," I logged on to eBay and set about bidding on a lot of video cassettes produced by Video Search of Miami. Sweating through a power outage in the last minutes of the auction, I wound up winning the videos at great personal cost (this has become a running theme in my Rollin fandom). Far from being the acquired taste I'd expected to be, I felt an immediate joy in watching "Frisson of the Vampires," a movie whose clever dialogue, psychedelic visuals and dreamy structure mirrored the brand of surrealism I was studying in my fine art training. Rollin's eye for beauty--in shot composition, soundtrack, and setting in addition to the physical forms of his cast members--was so distinct and so consistent in its execution that I never noted the low-budget nature of his productions. Some directors make the best of their budgets, others hide their budgets, but Rollin always seemed to be filming in a world that had nothing to do with such financial matters. In the same way one wouldn't look at a painting and remark on how the artist's application of oils in terms of cost, I never viewed Rollin as a "low-budget filmmaker."
This isn't to say that Rollin didn't have his missteps or commercially-motivated efforts. There's something very real about an artist who works on commercial projects in order to fund more personal efforts. I find it grounding on a personal level to see that for every "Frisson," there were several projects like "Zombie Lake," "Emmanuelle 6," or even hardcore pornographic titles. Rollin was a working artist--not a product of family money, aggressive networking, or lavish praise from colleagues.
Appreciation for Rollin's work has grown enormously over the past decade or so with the release of his films in beautifully-restored DVD editions from distributors like Redemption Films. People who might not have had access to the dredged-from-the-ocean-floor, fan-subbed VSOM editions can now get copies of Rollin's movie's via mainstream retailers and even DVD rental services. Even so, Rollin's films haven't achieved the same Horror Film Canonization as the works of, say, Dario Argento. The process of discovering Rollin's work tends to be a personal one--the product of active seeking-out--and I think that's why the viewers that go on to be fans feel a true connection to his work.
Several years back, a friend was working on an interview with Rollin and I had the opportunity to sprinkle in some of my own questions. Unfortunately, I suspect something got lost in translation and I never had my inquiry as to Rollin's own background in the arts answered properly. His connection to fine art is clear, as he made no secret about his appreciation of the Surrealists, specifically of French painter Clovis Trouille, whose work he referenced in his films. This marriage of fine art and genre cinema is what resonates with me in Rollin's work, and I love seeing echoes of this in his movies.
It saddens me deeply to know that I'll never be able to shake Rollin's hand and tell him how much his work affected me. For influencing my art, teaching me new ways to engage with the works of other artists, and leaving the world with a remarkable body of work--thank you, Jean Rollin.