Thursday, 4 April 2013

In A Silent Way - Jesús Franco 1930-2013

When the news reached me yesterday that Jesús Franco had passed away, it came as a gentle surprise. I knew Franco’s health had been perilous in the last few years – recent interviews with Franco filmed for various DVD supplements were sometimes painful to watch, but despite all this I always had this notion that Franco was immortal, that he would continue to grind out zero-budget quickies long after all the rest of us had bit the dust. I won’t mourn Franco’s death but instead celebrate the career of an extraordinary artist. In the grand scheme of things few people in this world will get to leave behind such a rich and dense body of work like Franco has and I have no doubt that his filmography now finally complete will be studied, discussed, argued and obsessed over as long as people watch movies. How's that for immortality.

I’m listening to a lot of jazz at the moment and I mention this because in a strange way I've always associated Franco with Jazz. One of the first things I discovered about Franco was that he was passionate about Jazz. He often signed his films with the director-pseudonym Clifford Brown, the name of an influential American trumpeter who recorded in the '50's before his untimely death at 25 in a car accident. I would even suggest that Franco's body of work perfectly embodies the spirit of Jazz. One of Cinema's most prolific auteurs, Franco's filmography is a vast ocean of shifting styles and moods, and like Jazz is complex, formidable, it resists any easy definition of what it is exactly. His films include plenty of bum notes and fluffed solos, but he also made films that were blazingly progressive, full of emotion and liberation.

Black Angel's Death Song... Jess Franco on trombone in Venus In Furs (1969)

Franco was legendary for his rapid-fire work rate, stories about the director juggling three of four films simultaneously may well be true (Franco has always denied this), his sprawling filmography reads less like a director's CV and more like a list of sessions by a jobbing horn player. Jimmy Cobb who played drums on Kind of Blue, once described Miles Davis' great masterpiece as "just another date" and one wonders if Franco thought a masterpiece like Succubus, or Eugenie de Sade was "just another production". Probably. Franco had little regard for his own films and would always say he was happy just making movies. The final word goes to the man himself. When asked in 2009 why he made films, Franco replied, "Because I love Cinema. It is the most important thing to me. Life is Cinema"


  1. Great to see lots of new posts Wes. On hearing the news, I wondered if you might write something about Jess Franco.

  2. Thanks for the kind word Jay. I wanted to say something about Franco, I've been watching his films lately - Sadomania and Female Vampire the most recent ones, and they have patched me back into Euro-Cult Cinema, which for a while I seem to be avoiding. I actually saw Female Vampire on a double-bill with Terminator Salvation, quite accidentally I must stress, and compared with McG's 200 million dollar tundra of a film, Franco's film looked even more extraordinary. Note to McG: for your next film have less CGI and more zooming in on your leading lady's crotch...

  3. Wonderful tribute Wes. I posted on Facebook that I'm not well versed in Franco's movies and the few that I have seen didn't particularly speak to me, but from what I've read he did everything with an idiosyncratic style that's easy to admire. Not only that but the respect and adulation the man inspired in his fans means it's surely only a matter of time until I open up to him and his movies in my own special way. It's been a pretty terrible week what with Ebert departing too.

  4. Thanks Mart. Just read your piece over on FB. Good stuff. I'm no Franco expert myself, by my count I've only seen 16, 17 Francos which puts me squarely in the amateur bracket, but there's never been a better time to be getting into Franco with plenty of titles announced on Blu-Ray. In the meantime look out for Venus In Furs and 99 Women, both late-night regulars on the Horror Channel and movies4men (or whatever its called these days)...

    Yep, all these passages ! What's going on ? There was much talk yesterday over here about the death of the great Irish actor Milo O'Shea. Thankfully one of my heroes Roger Corman is still very much alive, it's his 87th birthday today !

  5. Good to see you writing again, Wes. Great new look for the blog as well.

    Franco is a filmmaker I need to investigate more. Since his recent death, I've had a hankering to do just that.

    Keep the posts coming.

  6. Many thanks Dave, this is the kind of encouragement and shot in the arm I occasionally need to put something out. Yeah, Franco is a genuinely challenging film maker and will test even the most hardened fan of trangressive Cinema... Thanks for the kind word about the new look, I was getting sick of the blackest ever black look and have gone for a little White Album. Or else it's that kindle I bought recently...