SHINING SEX- LA FILLE AU SEXE BRILLANT (1975)
- Directed by Dan L. Simon (Jess Franco)
- “A superior force obliges me to love you and then to kill you.”
- It’s not insignificant that Jess Franco’s name is nowhere to be found onscreen in this film’s credits. It was “Directed by Dan L. Simon” suggesting an anonymous employee of Eurocine, Paris and Brux Inter Film, Brussels.
- SHINING SEX , released in both soft and hardcore versions, could have been just another cheap continental sex film. Jess Franco’s experimental erotica is set in an alternate reality anticipating Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 UNDER THE SKIN. As in that film the female protagonist is both the seductive force who lures victims (male and female here) to their doom, and finally a victim herself. Franco himself plays the disabled Dr. Seward, who tries to help the hapless Cinthia (Lina Romay), but cannot save her.
- Abstract mise en scene, an eerie Industrial style score and an excellent performance by Lina Romay, make this the most interesting of the two Jess Franco films shot back to back in 1975 at Le Grande Motte, the hotel-casino complex in Southern France. The two were micro-budgeted features, sharing the same cast members and locations . The other film is the interactive comedy THE MIDNIGHT PARTY. The geometrical architecture of the structures along with the alien factor place this adjacent to the Fantastique sub genre. Highlights include a memorable encounter between Romay and Monica Swinn framed in a mirror and the dialogue-free ferry sequence. Franco remade this in the mid 1980s as AIDS, THE 20TH CENTURY PLAGUE, with Francoise Blanchard, Ricardo Palacios and US actor Bill Hoverstein, partiality funded by Golden Films Internacional. That apparently completed film languishes in a laboratory somewhere in Spain. SHINING SEX could perhaps be seen as rough draft. Of course, that could be said about many of the director’s films.
- Franco abstracts every moment of the film, from the reflections in the sunglasses of human turned alien Andros (Ramon Ardid), to the cubist wallpaper of the hotel room where Cinthia and Alpha (Evelyn Scott) have an erotic encounter while the camera lingers on a rose placed on a pedestal. Encounter is probably a better word than sex here, because the act is clinically observed and occurs within an environment which is both recognizable, hotel rooms mainly, and uncanny. True close encounters of another kind.
- The fact that Franco’s wheelchair bound occult expert is named Dr. Seward and a victim of the alien plot (Olivier Mathot) is a biologist named Van Helsing* speaks to the insistence on genre hooks within this airless allegory. Character names from Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, echoing into the late 20th Century post-modern genre exploits of a notorious director.
- Cinthia is an exotic dancer at a decadent resort. A performer, as are the main characters of the majority of Jess Franco’s key works. Franco himself appeared as a piano player, performing for drunken slugs in his first horror film, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961). Cinthia is introduced applying make-up and then performing her act, which is called “Shining Sex”. She is avidly watched by Dimension X invaders Alpha and Morpho, who plan to use her until she is used up. Dr. Seward has his own psychiatric clinic, but spends most of his time engaged in para-psychological research. He is “connected” with Cinthia, as is Doriana Gray to her insane sister, and provides her with temporary shelter after her first deadly mission.
- One also thinks of another performer from an earlier period of the director’s career, Miss Muerte (Estella Blain) in the 1965 film of the same name, who is also a remote control killer sent by someone with a special agenda. Lorna (Janine Reynaud) in Franco’s SUCCUBUS/NECRONOMICON is another significant example. A female Faust doing a devil’s bidding. Franco himself inhabits the center ring and gives his most vital performance, raging against the dying light, in his last completed film, AL PEREIRA VS THE ALLIGATOR LADIES (2012).
- Jess Franco, like Seward, would end up in a wheelchair, as he continued directing in his waning years. The important point is that the wheelchair didn’t slow him down or stop him. Seward can only move in straight lines, in perfect concert with the geometry around him. Characters live in, enter, exit from triangles, rectangles, parallelograms, rhomboidal areas in this science fiction universe. Cinthia is destroyed and abandoned at the end, but Seward lives on to tell her narrative to a world which considers him at best irrelevant, a dubious crank.
- Not much seems to happen in the 100 of so minutes of SHINING SEX. Hardcore scenes were added for that market, which necessitated the removal of much atmospheric footage. Even so, that version is about 15 minutes shorter and seems rather pointless. It somehow works better in its longer, English language version. As in UNDER THE SKIN, aliens are all around us, but everyone is too distracted to be aware of them, and in both that film and SHINING SEX, they are an unaddressed threat. Seduction is just a means to an end, a bad end. One might say the message is “Wake up”. But Jess Franco would leave messages to Western Union, adding that it’s only a very low budget erotic film, made at a French resort over 40 years ago.
- Look for this on Blu-ray, maybe later this year, hopefully with both versions available. It will be nice to be able to see this in its original 2.35:1 Techniscope format
- *Kallman in some versions.
Robert Monell, 2017