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

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EL SEXO ESTA LOCO (1980): The Mirror and the Exhibitionist. 

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Made during the very productive year of 1980, during which he worked on at least nine films for three different production companies- Lisa Films-Munich, Eurocine-Paris and J. E. Films-Madrid, this cyclical film was produced by Joaquin Dominguez for Triton P.C.-Madrid. It is a cyclical film, the kind of “broken lineage” or non-linear work which was a favorite Luis Bunuel format in his most surrealistic films, UN CHIEN ANDALOU, L’AGE D’OR (1930), THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972) and THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY (1975).

In others words, a film which has no individual story with a beginning, middle and end, but a series of macabre tales, tales within tales, and sidebars, all performed by a small cast playing ever morphing characters. A surrealist vaudeville structure in which Spanish anarchists like Bunuel and Franco could cut loose from censorship and the commercial demands of producers and make a highly personal transgression. It also relates back to Franco’s lost 1970 SEX CHARADE.*wp-image-506837742jpg.jpg

In fact, EL SEXO ESTA LOCO is also Franco in his role as a maestro of Spanish ridicule, a tone which was adopted by such writers as Cervantes and filtered down to such Spanish satirists as Bunuel and Luis Garcia Berlanga (EL VERDUGO)

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El sexo está loco

, both of whom one can imagine being able to appreciate what Franco was doing here.  As the lyrics in a Bob Dylan song go, “There’s something happening here, but you don’t know what it is… . ” No, we really don’t,  because Jess Franco’s authorial voice, in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU or EL SADICO DE NOTRE DAME, no matter the context, is always heavily inflected with irony and carefully encoded.  But before we can decipher the code, we must contend with the structure, the interrupted journey with which we presented. This time the subjects seem to be considered in the realms of light comedy and science fiction, Franco had seen STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (both 1977) by this time.  But the light comedy keeps getting gently strangled by the science fiction element, which has a horrific, rather than family-friendly style we know from the feel-good science fiction of George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg.

It opens, as with so many Jess Franco films, with a nightclub performance. Silver skinned aliens carry a scantily clad young woman (Lina Romay) to the stage, place her on the floor and proceed to rape her, one alien male at a time, each time producing an instant child. We only hear an infant’s cries, representing each birth, on the soundtrack. The set is at the center of a seeming labyrinth of mirrors. Nude silver skilled female aliens call out orders, “Pito uno”, “Pito tres”, calling out each male to do their sexual duty. They’ve come to kidnap and impregnate Earth women!  As the births commence, the audience, who all have grotesque monster faces, applaud and the players arise and take their bows. It’s all been a show, but the audience is definitely not of this earth. They would be at home in the cantina sequence, checking out Hans Solo, in STAR WARS.

The acting troupe are the exhibitionists, a breed apart in Jess Franco’s alternate universe. GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, MISS MUERTE, EL SECRETO DEL DR. ORLOFF, all establish the performer as designated victim early in Franco’s horror movie career, and the mirrors which surround them in this film are the deceptive mise-en-scene, the Wellesian smoke-and-mirrors (CITIZEN KANE onward)  which make up the alienating texture of his films. We’re never confronted with “reality” in a Jess Franco film, only reflections, and sometimes, as in NECRONOMICON, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT and VENUS IN FURS, reflections within reflections. But the alienating surfaces can also quickly become seductive as in the sex-and-sadism shows of the bewitching “Miss Death” and Lorna in NECRONOMICON/SUCCUBUS.

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Above: the audience of monsters watch the science-fiction sex charade in EL SEXO ESTA LOCO

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The cinema of Jess Franco is a hall of mirrors where the self and the contents of the unconscious will be revealed.

The Cucufate cult…..

    

FIN is  Spanish for The End, but The End in this cyclical context is just another Jess Franco joke, using the punctuation of cinema as a tool for his own personal brand of ridicule. The show will continue, on or off camera. It started as a “show”, became a dream, evolved into another reality and ended as another dream which might be an alternate reality where sinister aliens actually invade and impregnate Earth women in a plot for world domination. It’s your choice in a menu which allows for audience participation. Interrupted narratives make up the bulk of the film, with a bemused narrator introducing the always nude “Rosalinda, the girlfriend of the producer.”  There’s even a sort of devil cult,  played by all the cast members, who chant in unison and have the letters c-u-c-u-f-a-t-e painted on their naked bodies. It’s another vaudeville sketch in the lively revue.

The mirror is a key object in numerous Jess Franco films. The object which defines cinema as a reflection of reality, but cinema is never, ever reality itself. The first victim in GRITOS EN LA NOCHE is startled by her own reflection in the dark mirror, then she is taken by Morpho to be an experimental candidate in the laboratory of Dr. Orlof (Howard Vernon). Omnipresent mirrors in EL SEXO ESTA LOCO reflect and reveal the presence of Jess Franco and his film crew who are shooting the actors in the stories which we see. Franco himself is seen operating the camera, as he often did during the production of his films. In one scene he comes out from behind the scenes, from the other side of the mirror, to give last minute instructions to Lina Romay and other cast members. Then he goes back to his role and the scene continue being filmed. All the unfinished films, never stated projects didn’t really matter to him as much as the fact that he got to keep filming even as he was dying in 2013.

There is never a finished film in this context, only an endless process. And process always interests Franco more than completion, more than results. The idea, the obsession, is to keep filming at all costs. Nothing else matters, not death, illness, alien invasion or the lack of resources, Just keep filming. The resources here include a supply of spray paint, a hall of mirrors, an elliptical building which represents the flying saucer/nightclub, various monster/demon masks. Some bizarrely titled  Spanish comic books are seen being read by Antonio Mayans, Lina Romay, Tony Skios and the late Lynn Enderrson during the “group marriage” sequence. There were always plenty of comic books on the sets of his films.  Sometimes the films themselves were animated comic books BANGKOK CITA CON LA MUERTE, LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE, complete with dialogue balloons.

The entertainment is non-stop, and it’s all presented in the lighthearted vein of American screwball comedy of the 1930s, 40s, 50s, BRINGING UP BABY, THE GIRL CAN”T HELP IT, SOME LIKE IT HOT, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks (THE PRODUCERS, HIGH ANXIETY) is even mentioned by one of the actors as source of inspiration. Is it SPACEBALLS or SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR? Only Jess Franco knows for sure…

*Thanks to Francesco Cesari for relating some details of the lost SEX CHARADE feature, which will be discussed in future blogs.

(C) Robert Monell, 2019

Written by Robert Monell

20 septiembre 2017 a 1:04 AM

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