Sunday, July 17, 2022

Fantasia ’22: Orchestrator of Storms

America had Universal Monsters and Roger Corman. The UK gave us Hammer. Spain is known for Jess Franco and Paul Naschy, amongst others. However, until the emergence of the New French Extremity movement, the French really only had Jean Rollin—and they didn’t think very of him at the time. Nevertheless, Rollin persevered, building a cult following (largely outside of France). Dima Ballin & Kat Ellinger chronicle his life and films in the documentary, Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin, which screens during the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Rollin always took pride and inspiration from his artistic Bohemian mother and her surrealist friends, with whom she was somewhat scandalously associated. He should have perfectly placed to ride the wave of popularity for lesbian vampire films after Hammer hit it big with
The Vampire Lovers, but his erotic vampire films were not sufficiently bloody and often too romantic or artsy to click with international distributors. Yet, French critics largely dismissed his films as trashy schlock during his lifetime.

Ballin & Ellinger nicely explain all of Rollin’s career hurdles and setbacks, including the inconvenient opening of
Le Viol du Vampire during the May ’68 protests/riots/mass tantrums. They interview most of Rollin’s surviving inner circle, including his frequent co-star/muse, Brigitte Lahaie (who is still probably best known for her adult films).

Throughout the film, the collected commentators are pretty even-handed in their evaluation of Rollin’s filmography. They admit many of them were not so hot (especially the cheap action knock-offs). However, docs like this would be so much more interesting if they also an outright critic, who finds their subject over-hyped (even a comically dissenting voice added a lot to Mark Hartley’s
Not Quite Hollywood). Nevertheless, the film definitely lays out Rollin’s themes and motifs, clearly identifying the films newcomers should start with.

It is frustrating to see how much a master like Rollin had to scuffle to make films. France always takes credit for getting American jazz musicians before we did here at home, so now we can throw Jean Rollin back at them. His legacy still inspires independent horror films, like
Blood of the Tribades. Some enterprising publisher ought to start acquiring his books and stories, which are largely untranslated and unread outside of France. Recommended as an above-average documentary portrait of a horror auteur, Orchestrator of Dreams screens again tomorrow (7/18) at this year’s Fantasia.