13 questions to Jean Rollin
(conducted in 1996)
by Frédérick Durand
F. D. - Tell me about two of your most obscure films, Les échappées and Killing Cars ?
J. R. - Killing Cars is a made-for-TV movie that has never been shown in theaters. It was filmed in super 16 and it is available, in France, on video, from Film Office. Les échappées is sadly not a very good movie. It is available on video under different titles, but it was never shown in theaters.
F. D. - You had some restrictions when you were directing the book collection Frayeur. Will the new collection Poche Révolver Fantastique that you're directing let you more freedom in the choice of the novels ? What will be its general mood ?
J. R. - For Frayeur, in the beginning, I had to submit the texts to literary director Jean-Baptiste Baronian. Then, Fleuve Noir let me free to act as I wanted. However, I had some problems in the beginning because Baronian and me did not always agree. I had a relative freedom with Frayeur, but I couldn't choose the covers, and I had to take in account the restrictions of time : we had to publish two books each month - at a time, we were obligated to take what we had. As for Poche Revolver Fantastique, it is a similar situation, I have a total freedom, even if I must submit the texts to publisher Florent Massot. Until now, he didn't refuse any title. Same problem that for Frayeur : I can't choose the cover of the books, except for one or two titles where I'll impose what I want to do.
(Note : The collection sadly vanished in 1997. Since then, Rollin had another collection « Les Anges du Bizarre », that also disappeared after 10 titles ! These incidents didn't stop him from publishing many other books, the last in line being VIES & AVENTURES DE JP BOUYXOU)
F. D. - Can you tell me about a project called Miami Vampires ?
J. R. - Miami Vampires is a project that belongs to Lionel Wallmann, an old partner who was my producer and director of production many times since Le Frisson des vampires/Thrill of the Vampires (1970) and who lives near Miami. He has this scenario, I read it, I liked it and I accepted to do it, under the condition, as usual, that I could work the screenplay in my way and as I want to. For the moment, Lionel Wallmann is trying to finance the movie in the USA. Nevertheless, in spite of the interest for my films in the USA, it is not easy.
F. D. - Le viol du vampire/Rape of the Vampire was first shown in Paris during the events of may 1968. The film encountered some problems. What can you tell me about that ?
J. R. - The film had a terrible reception : people were whistling, throwing objects at the screen... Le Scarlet (the theater where the film was shown) was once cleared by the police. It was an awful scandal, because people didn't understand the film. The film announced itself as an erotic film, because of the word « rape », but also as a vampire film, with the word « vampire ». At the time, the viewers only accepted, in this genre, the Hammer vampire films. What was going off the beaten track was badly received. The moviegoers and the fans of fantastique hated my work because it has no common point with the usual films. For them, a vampire film wasn't that. It is in fact a personal film, related to the old american serials, to the works of Max Ernst and Paul Delvaux. There are in it many references that were mine during my adolescence. This is an amateur film, because it was my first full-lenght film, but also the first full-lenght film of all the team. The scandal was so intense that, at one time, I thought about moving to another career and leaving the cinema. A few months ago (24 January, 1995), the French Cinematheque organized a Jean Rollin evening, where they showed Le viol du vampire and Fascination. I had the surprise to see, for the first time, that poor Viol du vampire viewed in a religious silence. There were, later on, a very interesting debate with the public. Now, this film has become somekind of cult-movie because the public hasn't seen it since many years. This black and white film can no longer play in theaters, There's a legend around this film, around its scandal. It has become a little classic of the bizarre. There were, in the auditorium, some people who saw the film in may 1968, in Paris. They came back, more than 25 years later, to see if, once again, they wouldn't understand anything. And they told me : « Indeed, we still understand nothing, but we like it ». (laughs)
F. D. - Which of your films do you prefer, and for what reasons ?
J. R. - It's impossible to say ; it depends on the day, it depends on many reasons. I have a soft spot for Requiem pour un vampire because it's a naive film, and because it is pratically silent during at least one hour - I like it. My best subject, best screenplay, it's certainly Lèvres de sang/Lips of Blood. My best cinematographic achievement is Les deux orphelines vampires/The Two Vampire Orphans which was, for the first time, made like a real movie, with a real team, real budget, with a preparation time to work with the actors. The film was made under professional conditions that I haven't known before. Les deux orphelines vampires is a film that rolls, that moves, that works. It may be my last one, I don't know...
F.D. - Your first project, L'itinéraire marin, seems more nouvelle vague than fantastique. It's the same thing for Amours jaunes (based on the poems of Tristan Corbière). Why did you choose to work in this difficult field that the fantastique genre is ?
J.R. - L'itinéraire marin is not
fantastique, but it is not nouvelle vague. It was actually shot at the same
time, but it is an anti-nouvelle vague film. It wasn't neither comedy, nor romanticism,
simply the story of two old men who love everything about the sea. One day,
they decide to go in Brittany with an old barge, by the sea. They live many
adventures. It's a nice story that was never finished. We shot about an hour
I told many times how I had been driven to work in the fantastique genre. A distributor had a film called Le vampire, créature du diable (Dead Man Walk, 1943). He had a circuit for this film : Scarlet, Midi-Minuit, Ciné-Vogue et Styx (the circuit I had for my first movies) but that film, bought in the USA with Simone Lancelot, directress of the Scarlet, was a B movie, a second-bill film, so it lasted only 65 minutes. The distributor told me : « I know you want to make movies, you like bizarre things, you read fantastique books, you see every old horror movies... If you wanna make a 30 minutes movie, I can program it with Le vampire créature du diable ». I went to see Sam Selsky, an American of Paris, I told him : « We had a guaranteed distribution if we make a 30- minutes film ». So we made Le viol du vampire, that costed 2 cents. When Selsky saw that we shot 45 minutes for 2 cents, he said : « We're going to make 45 other minutes for 2 cents and then we'll have a full-lenght movie for nothing ». We wrote an additional 45 minutes of film and shot the sequel of Le viol du vampire, La reine des vampires (Queen of the vampires). It was very complicated because, at the end of Le Viol du vampire, everyone was dead... We decided to ressuscitate some people. As the film was a bit delirious and dadaist, it worked very well ! I had since the origins an interest for the fantastique and I thought the genre could help me to construct some images I'd like to create, in reference to Max Ernst, Paul Delvaux and Magritte... Besides, I've reconstructed - nobody saw that, but, well - two paintings of Magritte, one of them is called Madame de Récamier, with a divan on which there is a coffin, in Le Frisson des vampires, but this is another story...
F. D. - Your works offer a strange combination of poetry, fantastique, surrealism and marvellous. How do you situate yourself in this stunning mix ?
J. R. - I don't situate myself. I'm the only specialized-in-the-fantastique-film director in France, so I can't situate myself in regard of an inexistant movement. For the instant, there is only me. I made 17 films, and 15 of these 17 films belong to the fantastique field, there is no other examples such as this in France. I'm me, that's all. In relation to the american movies, with special effects or gore treatment, I hate this, I'm not interested in that, that's not the kind of the cinema I'm trying to create.
(Jess Franco was too a « martyr of exploitation », according to french genre authority Alain Petit. Franco directed and produced in 1971 a surrealistic, poetic and dreamlike film called La nuit où les étoiles meurent (The night where the stars die), with the participation of the late Howard Vernon. French firm Eurociné bought the film, but they found that it wasn't commercial enough. They cut some parts of the film and replaced it with erotic footage shot by an unknown director. Result : a film called Christina, princesse de l'érotisme (Christina, Queen of eroticism). At the beginning of the eighties, Eurociné wanted to rejuvenate the film, and replaced the erotic footage by zombie scenes shot by Jean Rollin. The film was rechristened Une vierge chez les morts-vivants/A virgin among the living dead. For the occasion, two other scenes of the initial Franco film were cut. Of course, the film suffers of the intrusion of this bogus footage - not because of the quality of Rollin's work, but because zombies have nothing to do in this story, and it is very apparent that these are additional scenes shot many years later...)
F. D. - The legendary european firm Eurociné contacted you, in the eighties, to direct some false screen tests for a supposed on-going project of a zombie film to come. These scenes were included in Jess Franco's A virgin among the living-dead. What was your reaction to this odd fraudulent abstraction ?
J. R. - It wasn't a fraudulent abstraction, just a command. Eurociné told me : « We need 15 minutes of living-dead footage. Do you want to direct it ? » I did it, I was paid, during a day. We shot 20 minutes in one day - that's not bad - and we did what he (Marius Lesoeur) wanted. It's supposed to be in A virgin among the living-dead, I don't know about it, I never saw that film. Once again, it wasn't a fraudulent abstraction - I knew from the beginning that these scenes were going to be included somewhere.
F. D. - Is there a Jean Rollin fan-club or an association of this kind ?
J. R. - Not at all. But if someone wants to do it, why not ? However, some people in the USA, in Germany, in England, are collecting my films, are bootlegging them. My work begins to be discovered... Just two years ago, I was ignored, despised by everybody, including the fans of the cinema fantastique.
F.D. - Why didn't you never adapt the books of Gaston Leroux ? I know you're a fan of his work, and in the issue 24 (winter 1970-1971) of the magazine Midi-Minuit Fantastique, you published a screenplay for an adaptation of his book Chéri-Bibi.
J. R. - Many Gaston Leroux books have been adapted for TV, and the rights are not available. The other titles, like The Phantom of the Opera, would be too expensive to direct. At one time, I thought about adapting, with the participation of TV, the plays of the grand-guignol. Among the plays, there was a text from Gaston Leroux called L'homme qui a vu le diable (The man who saw the devil) that was very easy to adapt. I wanted to make many made-for-TV movies of one hour long, with the collaboration of local TV stations. I would have shot it on small stages, like the plays of the 1900's. Of course, this project never saw the light of day.
F.D. - You rarely work in the field of science-fiction. Why ?
J. R. - The end of La vampire nue/The naked vampire belongs to this genre, with the theme of the mutant. But science-fiction is expensive, and I'm not really into it.
F. D. - Who are your favorite authors in the fantastique field. I know you love Mario Bava's Black Sunday. What are your favorite books or movies ?
J. R. - It would be long to describe it in details. I like the works of Franju, Bunuel, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, not only the fantastique directors, as you can see. In this genre, I prefer the films of the 30's and 40's. I consider White Zombie as an absolute masterpiece. As for the books, I can mention that I recently read a novel by Bram Stoker, called La dame au linceul (Lady of the Shroud). That's a little masterpiece. Sadly, the end is not supernatural, but I'd adapt this book for cinema with great pleasure.
F.D. - What do you think about the situation of the cinema fantastique in France ? Is the genre dying ?
J.R. - There's no situation, because there's no fantastique in France. The genre doesn't exist anymore. It was very difficult to show Les deux orphelines vampires in theaters, in spite of the success of the film. We had a triumph in London, at the Eurofestival where the crowd acclaimed the film. We obtained a great success at the international Mostra of the fantastique film, in Rome, in july 1996. I came back with the special price of the jury for my work in general. The german and american magazines have published pages and pages of pictures and articles about Les deux orphelines vampires. In spite of that, in France, nobody wants it, and, sadly, it it was very difficult to show it in theaters. Nevertheless, Norbert Moutier (Norbert Moutier : 6, rue Pierre Sémard, 75 009 Paris, France) will publish a 200 pages special Jean Rollin issue of his french fanzine Monster Bis. It's the reedition of a sold-out issue published 15 years ago, with new texts and a new interview. There will be an important article on Jean Rollin, writer. All the possible informations about my work will be published there.
(note : French journalist and underground film director, Moutier (aka NG Mount) directed "Ogroff" with Howard Vernon. He also directed many films starring Jean Rollin, such as Trepanator, Alien Platoon and Dinosaur from the Deep (released in november 1996. In november, Moutier also released Edgar Allan Poe Syndrome, with the fabulous Michel Lemoine).
Because of the difficulties I had with Les deux orphelines vampires, I'm more and more interested in writing novels. I'm not very young, I have health problems, and I'm tired of fighting with everbody to make movies that no one sees. With the books, it's easier. I can publish my texts, when, 5 or 6 years ago only, no one would have accepted them Maybe one day I will start a new project but, for that, I'd need to sell my 17 movies to a TV station, or I'd need a financial backing and the possibility to work in the fantastique genre. Now, the french TV stations hate the fantastique, they don't want it at any price, they don't even want to hear about it. They hate a fortiori Jean Rollin for some reasons that I don't know. I'm probably the only director in France who was unable to sell a movie to a TV station. It's at the same time flattering and disasterous, because, as I work with very small budgets, I could finance a new film with the sale of only one or two of my previous films. Recently, there was an attempt via the film markets of Los Angeles to sell the rights of 12 of my films, TV and video, in Canada. That affair lasted months and months, many contacts were taken, some incredible and absolutely impossible contracts of 50 or 80 pages were wrote by lawyers, when nothing's simpler than a contract to sell a film. Three or four canadian societies were participating to the operation, but this situation lasts since last year. Each time that we're contacted by these canadians, we meet them, we talk to them, and nothing happens... That's all I can say for the moment.
Interview conducted, translated from french and annotated by Frédérick