Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Humble Attempt at a Eulogy for Jean Rollin

On Friday the 17th of December, 2010; I learned that one of my favorite directors, Jean Rollin, passed away two days prior. Presented here is my humble attempt at a suitable eulogy for the great man.

I am very good with words, everybody tells me so. However, I’m not exactly sure how well this eulogy will come out. Truth to tell, I’m still just getting to know Rollin and his work. I first learned about him roughly two years ago. I was searching the internet for oddball movies that I had never seen, and I came across one website. It had a few movies that looked very interesting. As per usual, I missed the name of the director, or even that they were all done by the same man. I finally learned this when I checked the name of the director for one of the movies and then looked him up on Netflix. I found that I had already watched, and enjoyed, nearly all that they had by him. Thus my fascination (if you’ll pardon the pun) began.

I don’t feel I know all that much about Rollin because, due to DVD formatting, there is still much of his work that is unavailable to me. However, what little I have seen has definitely caught my imagination. The most notable thing about him is that he is a true artist with his own unique vision. What’s more, he was a man who was determined to get his vision out to the public, whatever hardships he had to face to do it. Even when he faced bankruptcy, or had to do other projects that he did not wish to do, such as directing hard core pornography, to fund his own visions; Rollin was still dedicated to his work.

One of the things I really like about Rollin’s movies is how un-commercial they are. They are almost nothing like conventional mainstream films. Admittedly, this can make them confusing and somewhat intimidating at first. I tend to think of his films like I would a dream; viewed externally they tend not to make much sense, but taken on their own terms they have their own internal logic. Rollin’s movies show us realms and vistas that we might not actually inhabit, but that we instinctively know exist just out of sight.

Rollin’s films, to borrow a comparison from somebody else, are more akin to poetry than prose. Most, if not all, of them have a sleepy atmosphere about them that gives the impression of either a waking dream or a living nightmare. Sometimes both. He tended to dwell on feelings of loneliness and alienation, but there’s a sense of wonder as well. Whether it’s the need and fragility of human relationships, or the limits of mortality, Rollin employed themes that stay with you after the movie is over. Every Rollin movie I have seen, whether or not I thought it worked, has had the director’s mark very clearly on it. Even if his movie was only a partial success, it was still wonderful for being something so unique.

One thing very noticeable about Rollin’s movies is his focus on women. Females are almost always the protagonists; it is rare that he has male heroes. Admittedly nudity and lesbian scenes are in great supply, but it rarely ever feels truly exploitative. For one thing, the heroines are given definite personality. What’s more, they are usually the strong ones, whoever they might be up against. Even today it’s rare to have movies that center around strong, capable, female protagonists and antagonists. I do think he got a bit carried away with the theme of having his heroines tied up and whipped, but overall I think he handles his female characters with much more respect than most movie makers, past or present.

I cannot begin to fully describe what I get out of Rollin’s movies. Rollin has shown me cinema that is very different from what I was able to imagine before I encountered his work. It is through Rollin I was introduced to such individuals as Joelle Coeur or the Castel Twins; now ranking highly among my fantasy women; or Brigitte Lahaie, who very quickly rose to just below Mary Woronov as my favorite actress. Most of all, he helped me realize that it is still possible to create something truly unique in art. As an artist myself (albeit a different medium), that is a priceless lesson. It is my hope to one day create something that equals a fraction of what he was able to accomplish. Rollin, you will be missed.

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