As the years go by, it becomes ever more obvious that French film maker Jean Rollin is one of the true heroes, not only of “film fantastique” but of independent cinema itself. For any readers who’ve just arrived from Mars, a brief résumé: Born in Paris, France, 1938; began to make shorts in the 1950’s and his first full length feature (Le Viol du vampire) in 1967. It opened in Paris in May 1968, in the middle of the street riots that almost toppled the French government. In such turbulent times the film’s freewheeling “anarchic” spirit achieved great notoriety, dividing audiences and critics, as have all his subsequent works. Often described as a makers of horror films, Rollin’s movies actually defy any simple categorisation. This refusal of his work to conform to genre expectations has caused him many difficulties over the years. But he has never compromised and continues to plough his own gloriously crooked furrow.
To date, Rollin has made some 18 movies, all under conditions of extreme pressure, all on budgets more normal for a short film than a feature. Battling poor health, commercial indifference and critical incomprehension, Rollin has never given up. His films all share the same faith in the power both of cinema and of the fantastic in all its forms. He has also written 18 books to date that explore the same territory as his films. Initially reviled in his home country, Rollin has, in recent years, come to be seen as something of an inspiration for all those who wish to kick against the pricks of an industry that has become increasingly corporate and fiercely competitive.
This month (January ’09) sees the long awaited publication of Rollin’s autobiography, MoteurCoupez! (get it from Amazon France here)
MoteurCoupez! is, like his films, a unique and personal work. Anyone hoping for a straightforward A-Z of his life and times will be disappointed. What you do get is much more interesting: a fascinating and illuminating guide to the world of Jean Rollin and all who have passed through it. Reading the book is like listening to Rollin talk – he takes you on a voyage and you never want it to end. Packed full of anecdotes, illuminating insights and detours into matters literary, artistic and cinematic, the book is a treasure trove. What emerges above all, is the incredible warmth and generosity of the man. Although he has ample opportunity, he never sinks into bitterness or despair. He has a vision; that’s what keeps him going and that’s what shines through everything he does. How many film makers today can say that in all honesty?
The book is in French, and is perhaps unlikely to be available in English. However, translations of lengthy sections of the work have already appeared in the booklets accompanying the Encore special edition DVD releases of Rollin’s films. These are highly recommended and Xploited cinema is now offering them at a great discount. Get them while you can!