‘What the public criticise in your work, cultivate it. That’s you, that’s who you are.’ Jean Cocteau advised French film director Jean Rollin, and he’s got a point. For decades, Rollin has suffered from one of the worst reputations of any creative force in movies; Dima Ballin and Kat Ellinger’s documentary attempts to put that disconnect right by taking an admirably detailed look at Rollin’s work. Women wielding scythes? Nude vampires emerging from grandfather clocks at midnight? Yup, Rollin certainly did have a style of his own, and while mainstream audiences may shrug at Rollin’s oddball narratives and cheapo production values, this sympathetic film does a good job of suggesting why Rollin’s reputation deserves to be elevated.
The title ‘orchestrator of storms’ comes from Rollin himself; that’s how he saw his creative battle, and that dash of pretention is very much part of his unique style. This film starts with some serious musings on creativity revealed to be from Rollin circa 1958; being a permanent ‘outsider’ never quite knocked the pretention out of him, although most of his films were failures, critically and publically. Rollin was influenced as a youngster by Georges Batailles’ relationship with his mother, while the films of Abel Ganz also seem to have influenced his style. But films like The Rape of the Vampire didn’t help Rollin’s reputation; an old-school artistic riot followed at the first screening, with the offended audiences ripping their seats out to throw at the screen, and physically pursuing the director from the cinema; not a positive result for an impressionable young artist.
‘Who hasn’t had sex in a cemetery this past week?’ helpfully offers one of a number of experts assembled here to testify to the quality of his work and raise the spirit of Rollin. It’s a question that’s meant sarcastically, and ably reflects that Rollin was working with dream logic rather than trying to manipulate a compliant audience; in constructing his own cinematic universe, he went for symbolism rather than surrealism. Diversions into gore and hard-core probably didn’t help, but Rollin used the cash for finance other, loftier projects, at the expense of his reputation. Rollin was championed by the boutique horror Redemption label in the later stages of his career, and some well-chosen clips reveal why films like 1979’s Fascination are now seen as minor classics.
Mention is made of traditions like the 18th century literary movement of graveyard poetry, and having worked through Rollin’s anarchist periods and ‘psychedelic manifestos’, it’s probably apposite that he now resides with the great and the good in the Pierre Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Rollin’s films may have been fantastique, but his own experiences wasn’t always so wild, and this engaging overview of the ups and downs of his life should provide a helpful guide for those currently not under this spell of Rollin’s imaginative, deeply personal films.
Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World Of Jean Rollin Debuts Exclusively on ARROW February 14 in the US, UK, Canada and Ireland