My notes on Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin
A feature documentary on Jean Rollin, one of the most distinctive auteurs in the field of … well, that’s a question. The title goes with ‘fantastique’ (a term Clive Barker self-applies sometimes, equally aptly) rather than horror or art or erotica or cinema-bis, though there’s a sense that Rollin didn’t think much about labels. Orchestrator of Storms combines a film-by-film chronology with biographical material (some of Rollin’s writings are read out) and a sense of the culture he came out of, citing surrealism (his mother had a relationship with Georges Bataille), American movie serials (though Rollin’s own work tends to be related to the French serials of Louis Feuillade) and other decadent art forms as influences.
Though as the clips demonstrate, Rollin’s films really weren’t much like anyone else’s – for all their vampires and virgins, beach rituals and diva-harpy-dominatrix figures, Rollin’s dreamy pictures don’t play like horror movies. He wasn’t particularly involved with the commercial or arthouse French cinema of his era, making his first feature (Le Viol du Vampire) almost accidentally in 1968 and opening during ‘les evenements’, and this doesn’t cast around to make connections with, say, Georges Franju.
Whereas Mario Bava and Jesus Franco, cited here, attracted the attention of Dino de Laurentiis or Harry Alan Towers and made overground movies, Rollin worked with producers who were basically patrons of the arts (the economic model of his cinema has much in common with L’Age d’Or and Vampyr – which might also feed into the artistic model of his work), had not-very-happy brushes with grindhouse production (finishing off a couple of projects Jesus Franco abandoned) and spent a stretch cranking out hardcore porn (not to mention a stab at Emmanuelle 6).
The documentary moves on from the filmography to the reputation, providing a happy ending of sorts in the wider reputation Rollin achieved as his work started to be seen widely on the cult circuit – though it should be noted that Barrie Pattison (The Seal of Dracula) and David Pirie (The Vampire Cinema) paid attention to him when he was at his busiest creatively. The most moving section covers his later years and death, when – plagued by ill-health – he still managed to turn out a bunch of final works. Interviewees include Virginie Selavy, Kier-La Janisse, Nigel Wingrove, Howard Berger, Jeremy Richey, David Hinds and actresses Brigitte Lahaie and Francoise Pascal. Directed by Dima Ballin and Kat Ellinger (The Magnificent Obsession of Michael Reeves).