Today, cinema's most maverick director is celebrating his birthday. Jess Franco has for more than four decades provided audiences with some of the most original and startling images ever committed to film. More often than not the greatest artists are usually criticised or overlooked completely in their lifetime and this has unfortunately sometimes been the case with Jess. Since the early 90s though more and more film fans have been discovering the wonderful, surreal and always unforgettable world of Franco and his films.
I discovered Franco probably in the same way many pepole my age did, by stumbling across a photograph of Soledad Miranda in the early part of the 90s. I'm still not sure if I have ever seen a face as lovely, haunting or pure as Soledad and I soon had in my possession a horribly blurry, cropped and un-subtitled VHS pirated copy of her in Franco's VAMPYROS LESBOS. Even though I was seeing it in the worst possible condition I still knew that I was witnessing a film, actress and director unlike any other.
Solidifying my love for Franco over a decade ago was the groundbreaking coverage in Video Watchdog and book IMMORAL TALES. The mid 90's were a blur of seeking out and ordering different Franco films, some in good quality prints and others in the worst imaginable. Soon people like Soledad, Lina Romay, Maria Rohm and Jess himself started coming up in conversations with other film fanatic friends on a regular basis. It was an extremely exciting time of discovery for a new cinema and a completely fresh way of looking at art.
DVD has been a miracle for Jess Franco fans, I have been able to replace many of my blurry tapes with fine, and sometimes even special editions, discs of my favorite Franco films. Being able to watch the Soledad Miranda films, FEMALE VAMPIRE, VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD or any number of his best films from the sixties and seventies in such high quality still blows my mind. I have only seen fifty or so of his near 200 films and the anticipation of continuing to discover his works still feels like discovering cinema itself. A recent re-watching of MACUMBA SEXUAL on dvd left me as speechless as any film has in a very long time.
I met Jess and Lina once and wrote about it in the early days of this blog. He remains, well into his seventies, one of the most important and unique of all directors.
When thinking about Jess I always remember a line that Montgomery Clift said in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, "A man don't go his own way...he's nothing."
Jess Franco has always gone his own way...Cinema has been the better for it...God bless him.