EL FRANCONOMICON / I'M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND

Robert Monell & Alex Mendíbil Blog Alliance

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The concept of the spiritual “Walk-in” an event where the soul of one person replaces the exiting soul of another is a generating factor in several important Jess Franco films, most notably his 1974 LORNA, THE EXORICST (Les Possedees Du Diable) in which the sould a modern female demon/witch invades a young girl (Lina Romay) after she is murdered by the girl’s father (Guy Delmore). There’s a lot more to this 20th Century version of Faust, retold in a downmarket environment as a near hardcore porn item. Soul transference/metempychosis may also be a factor in Franco’s 1967 occult sexploitioner NECROMONICON/Succubus in which Lorna Green (Janine Reynaud) is a disturbed nightclub performer who is dominated by a menacing male demon (Michele Lemoine) who forces her to seduce and murder a number of hipsters of the milieu. Soul invasion/mind control also plays a role in SHINING SEX (1975) and is at the center of MACUMBA SEXUAL (1981), a remake of VAMPYROS LESBOS (1970), in the latter two a powerful female dies and her soul invades the body of an innocent female victim.

NAKEWOMAN – Jess Franco, 2005, États Unis/Espagne

Jess Franco doesn’t make “films” anymore, he makes video but the results are still, even in glossy HI-DEF, 100% Jess Franco. I spoke to Jess during the conception of this film and he was quite excited about attempting an updating of VAMPYROS LESBOS (1970), which this in essence is, but it’s also more than that. Carmen Montes is the title character, a female vampire who wears nothing but a long red lined black cape and a tatoo of a double headed python which curls around her torso. She dominates a netherworld {Malaga, Spain} where “walk-ins” appear and disappear as suddenly as her attacks. Her most recent victim is a female reporter (FATA MORGANA), the Jonathan Harker character, and Christie Levin is the demented female Renfield who is kept in a private asylum by the mad Dr. Nostradamus (Antonio Mayans). The reporter has come to invesitage the estate of the legendary actress-composer Oriana Balasz. The Snakewoman may be her descendant or her continuation. It begins and ends and is often interrupted by telezooms onto flocks of tropical birds which recall the kites in VAMPYROS LESBOS. The music is spectral but will not enter the imagination in the same way as the ground breaking score for that 1970 cult classic. Carmen Montes does evoke the late, great Soledad Miranda and the film is filled with captivating images. Franco’s director credit appears over an old b&w photo of Marlene Dietrich and this may be another subterranean hommage to the cinema of Von Sternberg. There are a lot of lesbian interludes (Franco told me he wanted to call it VAMPIRE INTERLUDE) but not as many as in some of his recent work and they don’t smother the film. The acting is above average and it’s worth seeing on the SRS DVD where it is coupled with DR. WONG’S VIRTUAL HELL and some still galleries. (c) Robert Monell 2006 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Written by Robert Monell

15 agosto 2018 at 7:19 PM

LILIAN (la virgen pervertida) Clifford Brawn (sic) 1983

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An image which sums up the hard-boiled dimension inhabited by Al Pereira (Antonio Mayans). Cigarettes, a gun, a few drinks, suggesting a minimalist pattern of a gritty life and a story which ends with Al executing the club owner (Emilio Linder) who drugged, raped, and turned out Lilian (Katja Bienert).

In the opening scene of this neo-noir the young, naive Lilian opens a door to the upscale villa in which she is staying and confronts a hardcore scene between Lina Romay and Jose Llamas. That perfectly sums up the issue with this project, which began as Clasificada “S” thriller which had to be upgraded/downgraded to a hardcore feature, necessitating the removal of some 20 minutes of the original’s runtime (84m). The reason was a Spanish law which had been suddenly imposed restricting the showing of “S” product in Adult houses. Jess Franco had to scramble and add this footage since his film would not be playable in more mainstream locations.

I assume the film did reasonably well, probably due to those grudgingly added hardcore scenes, and may disappoint those who look for something more than another hardcore.

LILIAN… tells the downbeat story of a young woman (Katja Bienert) who collapses while staggering though a desert-like area. She has been drugged, held prisoner and forced to be the abused party in an S&M show staged for the edification of the local police official (Daniel J. White) who is supposed to be leading investigations. Instead he takes detective Al Pereira off the case when he gets too close to the truth.

Al has discovered the comatose Lilian, who recounts her terror in a delirium at the residence of retired cop and friend Bernardo (Jess Franco), who counsels Al to forget it. He doesn’t.

Corruption is endemic here as in LES EBRANLEES (1972) and BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO (Golden Films Internacional, 1982), two very similar Al Pereira episodes. As in those films, Al Pereira  is depicted as a hotheaded, high minded loser who will ultimately trigger his own exile from the human race.

The villains, the drug lord (Emilio Linder) and his wife (Lina Romay). who fetches him party girls and druggies at her nightclub, are oh-so-chic, part of the local glitter scene. Franco shoots this as a 1980s Film Noir, a virtual encyclopedia of noir references and visual quotes.

Using long takes and wide angle lenses in the style of Sam Fuller (UNDERWORLD USA) and Robert Aldrich (KISS ME, DEADLY), but also incorporating his personal favorites THE KILLERS (Robert Siodmak version) and Howard Hawks’ THE BIG SLEEP in the flashback structure of the former and the opening credits of the latter, which are recreated in the penultimate scene when the camera lingers on a pack of cigarettes (American, of course), two whiskey glasses and a pistol on a table. The drug lord had just been sitting there having a drink when Al Pereira burst in and summarily executed him, Dirty Harry style. Al leaves his pistol as a calling card, knowing the police will trace it to him. Then he quickly hops into his car and drives away into a future life of assured damnation.

One evil bastard is done away with, but the corporate  evil of the big combo will continue under the averted attention of the corrupt police official. And the principled avenger and seeker of justice Al Pereira will suffer the punishments of our sinful, fallen world.

The film has a brutal, nihilistic tone which is mediated by one of Daniel J. White’s most breathtaking scores, incorporating a kind of funk theme and an ethereal line. Some of these cues can also be heard in the director’s 1985 Jungle adventure, L’ESCLAVA BLANCA, a Manacoa production.

If one can forgive or fast forward the hardcore scenes there’s a good film in there. Franco and Antonio Mayans are superb as the world weary receivers of Lilian’s sad story. This element of delirious confession to authority figures evokes EUGENIE DE SADE (1970) and Sade’s theater piece, DIALOGUE BETWEEN A PRIEST AND A DYING MAN (1782).

The Spanish “kiosk” DVD version was screened for this review. It has very good video quality, sharp and colorful with acceptable Spanish only audio.  This version lasts approximately 73 minutes.

We’re left with a moral vacuum, set in the glitter scene, which is made into a sexual hell by the insertion of much routine hardcore footage, taking advantage of Spain’s newly liberalized censorship. With strong performances by Lina Romay, Jess Franco as the retired cop, and Daniel J White as the corrupt police official. This was released on Spanish VHS before it appeared as a “kiosk” DVD.

The opening beach escape by the delirious heroine is the film’s best scene.

Filmed on locations in Madrid and Huelva.

(c) Robert Monell, 2018

Written by Robert Monell

5 agosto 2018 at 8:27 PM

THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1969)

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This is Fu Manchu. Once again, the world is at my mercy.” — Dr. Fu Manchu

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I first saw this second Jess Franco-directed Fu Manchu epic on local television in 1973. It was broadcast in black and white. It didn’t impress me. In fact I didn’t watch the entire film. I decided that I would never watch another Jess Franco film. It seemed that dire….

Then there was the 1981 EVI VHS (above) which was my next encounter, after deciding to give Jess Franco’s cinema “one more chance.” It seemed at least watchable, with some attractive color gel filtering not available on my previous black and white viewing.

It begins with Fu Manchu directing from his secret control room the sinking of a luxury liner in tropical waters by means of a device which turns water into ice and, in the arch-villain’s own words, “safety into Peril!” This is represented by intercutting the sinking of the Titanic via footage from Roy Ward Baker’s 1958 A NIGHT TO REMEMBER with color footage from (according to some sources) an earlier Harry Alan Tower’s Fu Manchu opus, THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU. The color footage of the control-room scene depicting the struggle of Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee, in his final appearance as the character), daughter-in-crime, Lin Tang (Tsai Chin, looking somewhat more enthused about her murderous antics than in THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU) and a henchman over a “safety” switch, of course, obviously clashes with the tinted B & W footage and one wonders if writer-producer Tower’s cared if its intended audience would even notice. The director must have been delighted to be making a Fu Manchu film despite the budget restrictions. The classic Fu Manchu film is, of course, THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932, Charles Brabin) featuring a leering Boris Karloff as the mad Doctor Fu Manchu.

The basic plot to take over the world by dominating shipping lanes is reasonable enough but the action quickly and permanently veers into a subplot involving the kidnapping of Dr Heracles (the inventor of the icing process) and his friends, Dr Kessler (Gunther Stoll) and Dr Ingrid Koch (the lovely Maria Perschy). Most of the narrative is set in Istanbul with local mover and shakers Omar Pasha (Jose Manuel Martin), his factotum, Lisa, (Rosalba Neri, wearing her stunning mane under a fez and hiding her body underneath men’s clothing), the spy, Melnick, and the concerned Inspector Ahmet (Jess Franco himself, also topped off with a smart red fez), either working for or against Fu Manchu’s plot. There’s lots of rather tedious exposition and Scotland Yard’s Sir Dennis Nayland Smith (Richard Greene) and his loyal assistant Dr Petrie (Howard Marion Crawford) seem pretty much side-lined and clueless up until the very last few scenes. It is amusing to watch an early scene of Nayland-Smith deducing that Dr’s Kessler and Koch have been kidnapped by spotting a lit cigarette on the edge of a polished wooden table.

This film works as an illustration of Ado Kyrou’s exhortation: “I urge you: learn to look at ‘bad’ films, they are so often sublime.” I usually prefer to laugh “with” films rather than “at” them. Nonetheless, I find it hard to not break into a satisfied smile as I watch Fu Manchu standing in Barcelona, atop a Gaudi tower, directing the destruction of a dam. What’s amusing here is that the dam cracking and drowning the workers below is obviously footage from another film with completely different grading and color. It’s a sort of involuntary surrealism resulting from the desperation of near-broke and ruthless filmmakers ready and willing to trick the hard earned cash from the grip of devoted fans of the original Sax Rohmer stories and the previous Fu Manchu films. One has to laugh or feel insulted.

Filming began in September 1968 and I would be surprised if there was a finished script at that point. The exotic locale is Istanbul. Unfortunately, the very first introductory shots of the ancient city (remember, this is supposedly the 1920s) show 1960’s era Chevrolets and BMWs parked on the docks in the foreground. It’s impossible NOT to notice these glaring anachronisms and one wonders what the filmmakers were thinking. Couldn’t they have adjusted the camera a few degrees to the right or left? Why didn’t the supervising editor catch it and use alternate takes? WERE there acceptable alternate takes available? Probably not.

The delicate bubble of Fantastique is burst from the get-go. Director Franco was able to employ some delicious emerald and crimson color-gel lighting to illuminate the tatty lab sets and underground chambers which fill with water at the end. This does indeed provide some sort of comic book/serial ambience which the director discusses in the accompanying documentary, THE FALL OF FU MANCHU. The climax is a riot of ineptly edited stock footage: explosions from B & W war movies, shots of characters hurrying out of the exploding castle and Lin Tang, followed by Fu Manchu, rushing out of the shot, not once, but twice. Ed Wood, you are avenged!

We haven’t even mentioned the “heart transplant” scene and it’s probably best not to. Every detail, from the costumes to the sets, seems completely unconvincing, false. This falsity, though, can be compelling when guided by an aesthetic trickster with the talent of Jess Franco. Unfortunately, the results are highly erratic and its obvious that Franco had very limited control over the final product. Lee looks totally exhausted here and even more uncomfortable in his Asian makeup than in THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU. Rosalba Neri’s polymorphous-perverse spy pretty much steals the show and attention tends to fade when she is offscreen. Franco’s THE GIRL FROM RIO (also written and produced by Towers) and 1987’s SLAVES OF CRIME (sans Towers) were more visually striking attempts to approximate Sax Rohmer and both had a compelling erotic atmosphere as a bonus added extra, something CASTLE totally lacks. Listen closely to producer Tower’s comments about Jess Franco’s direction. Towers once said something to the effect that Franco couldn’t direct traffic, describing the director as a musician whom traded his trombone for a zoom lens. It will be up to the individual viewer to judge whom to blame for this highly entertaining fiasco.

BLUE UNDERGROUND has provided another colorful transfer from mostly pristine original materials of the longest (94m) version of this film yet to appear on home video. The 1.66:1 letterboxing and Dolby Digital Mono sound transform this admittedly modest effort into a highly watchable curio. Extras include a theatrical trailer, poster and still gallery, “The Facts of Dr. Fu Manchu”, talent bios and VIDEO WATCHDOG Tim Lucas finishes off his thorough and highly informative liner notes on the history of the Fu Manchu phenomenon. This has been released in HD on Blu-ray since this review was first written, making the comic book aesthetic even more impressive.

Reviewed by Robert Monell, copyright 2003-2018

Written by Robert Monell

7 julio 2018 at 2:43 PM

BANGKOK, CITA CON LA MUERTE (Clifford Brown, 1985)

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BANGKOK, APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH (VSOM dupe from Spanish television broadcast; No official North American VHS, DVD release)

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A good-natured experiment, BANGKOK CITY OF THE DEAD (1985) mixes comic book-style imagery with crime film elements, some self parody and a martial arts driven thriller plot. Franco has tried this before, notably in the delightful LOS BLUES CALLE POP…. (1983) and La sombra del judoka contra el doctor Wong (1985). Unlike LOS BLUES CALLE POP…. BANGKOK is fascinating to the seriousJess Franco student but may not engage interest as a serious action film with martial arts interludes included. The overly formulaic plot combines drug running, Thai pirates (led by Lina Romay), karate fighting, kidnapping, comic relief and tourist footage which looks cribbed from an unknown source.*  [Update: the DoP Juan Soler Cozar read this review and kindly informed me that he was sent to Bangkok to shoot some street footage, which he did and it does appear in the film. I was very surprised that they went to the expense and trouble to do this.]

The yacht-going daughter of a millionaire is kidnapped by pirates. Her father (Eduardo Fajardo) hires a bumbling private eye named Panama Joe (Bork Gordon) to locate her. The daughter’s boyfriend is also on the kidnappers’ trail. Panama Joe discovers the crooks are led by a drug smuggler (Antonio Mayans), who is in turn being double crossed by Queen Amania (Lina Romay). The detective roams around the faux Asian locations, tries to play both sides against the other, while uncovering deeper layers of corruption and double dealing.BANGKOK is dialogue and plot heavy to no good end, and Gordon’s imitation Inspector Columbo ramblings just do not spark enough interest. The characters are shown talking in cartoon dialog balloons during the opening credits, but Franco unaccountably drops this unusual device immediately and never picks it up again. What’s left is a C-minus adventure with some ill-timed comic relief and ineptly staged karate stand-offs, in which the participants miss each other by miles. Gordon (Christian Borck) just seems a disheveled guy, actually a German comedian/television actor, who wandered in. Like the karate stuff, comedy-parody needs timing. The lines and martial arts blows rarely connect. Actually, I managed to find some amusement in the martial arts showdowns where the fighters miss contact with each other by such obvious distances that it looks like children playing at karate fighting. This is all likely due to a crushing schedule/lack of budget. Nonetheless the colorful cinematography frames the locations with skill and makes the Canary Islands seem like Southeast Asia, at least for 90 minutes.

Lina Romay has a few touching moments as the pirate leader, but she is once again miscast, and her familiarity as Lina Romay distracts from her performance. In one embarrassing scene, shes dances around in a tight swimsuit accompanied by a mechanical band. The result might been cute in 1973, but at this late date it is unfunny and unflattering to the talented Ms. Romay. Veteran character actor Fajardo (DJANGO)  turns in a professional but unexceptional performance as the millionaire.

The movie benefits from its luminous cinematography and occasionally hectic energy but needs a more interesting focal point.. The Far Eastern locations, represented via the aforementioned stock footage are given an atmospheric boost by Pablo Villa’s (Franco and Daniel White) brassy score, some of which recalls music heard in Franco’s earlier FU MANCHU AND THE KISS OF DEATH/KISS AND KILL (1967). Given the negatives I’m at the stage where I can still engage with and enjoy even an understandably flawed genre mashup such as this one. It’s obvious that Jess Franco took it serious enough to attempt to deliver a multi-faced entertainment package under impossible circumstances. As he told me when I interviewed him on his Golden Films Internacional period, these productions were “poor” i.e. made at very low coast, with little or no resources and rushed out to theaters or hidden away in the offices of producer Emilio Larraga to be lost forever. I had some fun watching it but have no idea where one could see it outside of fan websites. I am not aware of any DVD release, although it may have appeared on Spanish VHS.

The version I saw was from the wretchedly unreliable VSOM and had no English subtitles. Maybe if a good quality print with desperately needed language options appeared I would give it another shot.

*Thanks again to Juan Cozar for additional information on the production of this film.
(C) Robert Monell [1998: New Version: 2018]

Bangkok, Cita con la Muerte
1985 87 Minutes. Spanish TV broadcast.

Director:  “Clifford Brawn” sic (Jess Franco)/ Director of Photography: Juan Cozar./ Produced by Golden Films Internacional S.A. in Alicante and Bangkok, Thailand.

Cast: LINA ROMAY, ANTONIO MAYANS, JOSE LLAMAS, HELENA GARRET, BORK GORDON, EDUARDO FAJARDO

Written by Robert Monell

29 junio 2018 at 9:38 PM

MARIA TOWERS ROHM (1945-2018)

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Here is some updated information on the recent, sad passing of the iconic actress Maria Rohm, the wife of Jess Franco’s former producer-writer Harry Alan Towers. She appeared in a series of Jess Franco films, from THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU (1968) to SEX CHARADE (1972), the latter a still lost film. She had acting skill, acquired from her work in the Viennese theater from the age of 5 and developed for decades in numerous productions by Harry Alan Towers and others. She also had class, a lovely woman and warm friend whom her fans will miss.

She was a magical presence, especially as the haunting Wanda in Jess Franco’s VENUS IN FURS (1969). She probably gave her most layered performance in Franco’s EUGENIE.. THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION/DE SADE 70/DIE JUNGFRAU UND DIE PEITSCHE/LES INASSOUVIES (1970).  In that Sade adaptation she plays the stunningly beautiful but devious Madame de St. Ange, the female viper from Sade’s story Philosophy in the Boudoir, who attempts to destroy,  but ends up liberating, the young, innocent Eugenie (Marie Liljedahl). Written by producer Towers, under his Peter Welbeck beard, it’s one of Franco’s best Sade adaptations. The cold blooded Mme St. Ange is perfectly and memorably captured by Maria’s precise performance. Maria was also well cast as Mina Harker in the Franco-Towers EL CONDE DRACULA (1969), as prisoner 99 in Franco’s 1969 hit 99 WOMEN, and as the innocent Mary Gray,  persecuted as a witch in the Towers-Franco historical horror THE BLOODY JUDGE (1970), featuring Christopher Lee as witch-finder Judge Jeffries. She managed to focus attention as both likable characters and as villains, matching wits and holding her own with the imposing Christopher Lee and other international stars.

Thanks to Maria for her emails and messages to me on her appearances and memories in Jess Franco-Harry Alan Towers productions. R.I.P.

The 6e0023b6fb548c6a0218be4b8b201ff4 (1)following is from her FACEBOOK page and includes a new Tribute site:

** FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO DO NOT YET KNOW + A MEMORIAL SITE HAS BEEN SET UP xo <3 Hunter

Dearest Friends,
It is with great sadness that I share the news that our dear friend Maria Towers / nee Maria Rohm has passed away. She collapsed suddenly and was admitted to hospital unable to walk. At that time it was determined that she had acute leukaemia and a tumour pressing on her spine which was the cause of the paralysis. She had been in pain for months thinking it was sciatica, so by the time the diagnosis was made she was suffering considerably. Her condition deteriorated rapidly and she died within days of entering the hospital.
I’m sure you all have many questions but to answer each one of you individually while processing my own grief and taking care of all practical arrangements on this end may not be timely.

As one of Maria’s final wishes and to bring everyone together a “virtual memorial” and online portal has been set up at

https://maria-towers.muchloved.com/

*****Here you can post photos, condolences, memories, as well as make direct donations to the Canadian Cancer Society and for her final expenses.

This fundraiser has been set up… https://www.gofundme.com/maria-towers-final-expenses , as one of Maria’s final wishes to remove the burden from the few and share the arrangement with the many. Anything you can contribute is greatly appreciated. xoxo

MARIA-TOWERS.MUCHLOVED.COM
Dedicated to the memory of Maria Towers

Written by Robert Monell

26 junio 2018 at 1:18 AM

VIAJE A BANGKOK,  ATAUD INCLUIDO (Jess Franco, 1985)

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The Robot assassin watches the diplomatic party though sunglasses.

Col. Blimp (Howard Vernon) caught in the lens of the killer robot….Ocular adventures in the Edgar Wallace mode. This is actually a pretty faithful remake of Franco’s 1966 black and white cheapie,  CARTES SUR TABLE /CARTES  BOCCA ARRIBA (ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS), which featured Eddie Constantine as Al Pereira, replaced here with Howard Vernon as an agent Investigating a sect of assassins. With Christian Bork,  Helena Garrett and Jose Llamas.     The scenes involving the rituals of the sect are staged with a touch  of minimalist delirium,  complete with smoke and mirrors. Stock footage is  used to represent Thailand. A film of some visual interest despite the recycled plot.

Above-The Excelsior: Cult Fiction

This was  Franco’s final Edgar Wallace “adaptation”, if there is indeed any Wallace element here at all. Franco spoke about wanting to film Wallace’s THE CASE OF THE FRIGHTENED LADY right up to the end of his careerNot as much fun as the 1983 SANGRE EN MIS ZAPATOS, not to mention THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA (1970), as more official Edgar Wallace film adaptations, Jess Franco style. One gets the sense that a gentle type of genre ridicule was intended, which doesn’t quite carry to non Spanish speakers. Howard Vernon appears to be having fun with his Eurospy antics. This Manacoa production was obviously a way to gain further income from an idea which Franco wanted to revisit for nearly 20 years. The color here is less expressive than the black and white noir-look of ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS. There are a lot of personal in-jokes, which only Jess Franco got, simply because he reinvented them, as he did the main plot. It’s always fun to try to imagine what Franco meant with certain scenes in certain projects. But the meaning of this is either deeply buried or nonexistent. As always the “meaning” is not in the dialogue, plot or acting. It’s in the style of the film itself. A hall of mirrors and other reflective surfaces which capture and expand the action, modestly resourced and staged as it is, into sometimes startling dimensions.

(C) Robert Monell (2018)

Written by Robert Monell

26 abril 2018 at 2:02 AM

Subliminal imagery in the films of Alain Robbe-Grillet

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BELOW:  L’Eden et apres (1970):  I managed to capture this after several viewings. This shot lasts for less than one second of screen time and acts as a subliminal flash which doesn’t register immediately to the eye but is retained in the mind. The image is highly stylized, a depiction of a nude woman lying a bath of red liquid, signifying blood. The picture on the raised portion of the tub is of the lead actress, Catherine Jourdan.

The positioning of the pistol suggests that the woman has shot herself. But there is no realism here outside of what is arranged as a transgression.  An aesthetic shock of flesh, red, white, like an abstract painting. The fact that it registers subliminally rather than as readable image completes the transgression.  And it illustrates how Robbe-Grillet was an abstract painter in his writing and films.  It’s also an example of the influence of Sade on his prose and cinema. More images will be added to this series.img_20180330_001130.jpg

Written by Robert Monell

4 abril 2018 at 9:32 PM