I disagree with almost everyone anymore. I don’t want to, I certainly don’t try to, but I do. We already know that I disagree with everyone on Paul McCartney, he is, was, and always will be a genius. But there is one more person, equally significant in my life, that I also disagree with everyone about… Jess Franco, the greatest filmmaker of all time.
And I meant that. Nope, I don’t buy into the common logic that “his films suck… but…” No, not at all. His films don’t suck, in fact, they are, when he was at his best, some of the most visionary, influential, and enthralling films I have ever seen… and I’ve seen a whole lotta films. So, as you can imagine, I was really struck by Jess Franco’s passing, yeah, he was old, led a great life, accomplished a lot, so I wasn’t sad for him so much as glad for him. Jess Franco led an enviable and remarkable life.
It’s all about the courage to follow your obsessions down whatever rabbit hole they lead you into, no matter how deep or dirty. Jess Franco was not merely a dismissable king of sleaze, no he was a highly personal and uncompromising filmmaker who knew damn well what he was doing. He knew he was zooming in tight, knew he was showing scenes out of focus, knew his films didn’t make a lot of sense linearly. They weren’t meant to be linear, they are dreams, nightmares from the id, reincarnations of the spirit of de Sade. I’ve read numerous laughable complaints about his use of the zoom lens on pubic hair (a practice he explained as merely being “honest”), look closer, Jess Franco zoomed in hard on EVERYTHING, faces, eyes, background elements, even the sun. As for the zooms AND the out of focus moments, well, both elements are also a part of his driving theme, fetish, obsession, and that is that he was a voyeur. He meant to shoot through things, to have objects between his lens and the actors, he meant to zoom in, like any fetishist staring hard, real hard. And out of focus, well, that just added to the documentary feel, the “this is actually happening NOW” vibe that his films have. I’ve seen Franco successfully approach certain films in a more conventional way, the things he did were a conscious choice, not faults or lack of skill. And the things he did, the zooms, the focus, the shakiness, were repeated with such sincerity that it is obvious to anyone who understands the creative process that these elements are repeating themes much more than they are mistakes or flaws.
This is a point I failed to make in my first draft of this thing, and it’s a point a friend of mine reminded me of, and that is… that the reasons most people dislike Franco say more about their limitations as film viewers than it does about Franco as a filmmaker. Franco Made Franco films, and in order to watch them you have to meet him half-way. He did not make films according to Hollywood expectations (or even according to Exploitation expectations), he made films in a lawless and highly personalized way. He knew the rules (and frequently proved it in his more approachable and conventional films) but chose to make films in his own way, and quite by design, I assure you. In order to watch a Franco film, you must first empty your cup, otherwise you simply ain’t gonna get it. I’ve watched people respond to Franco films, they’ll giggle, snicker, and quite erroneously feel smarter and more sophisticated than him… but they’re not, they’re instead, simply brainwashed into limitations they may not even know they have. Open up, empty your cup, let go, and let Jess Franco be Jess Franco.
I admire his courage to dismiss any and all socialization, as a man or as an artist. Franco shot what he wanted, and he didn’t give a damn (or “I don’t give a shit” as he would say) if you understood it or not, well, as for me, I get it. I for one, will miss the hell out of Jess Franco.
Then again, I miss Jean Rollin, I miss the recklessness and carefree attitudes of all the exploitation films. I miss the low budgets, the filmic qualities, the soft focus, the lighting, the eyeliner, the patterns on the clothes, the music, all that damn wicker… everything that made that stuff what it was.
I remember discovering exploitation films when I was younger. I didn’t know anything about these little gems I was finding at the video store. There was no internet to turn to for research. When I discovered exploitation it was a strange world enshrouded in mystery. Who are these people? What the heck is going on? Hey… haven’t I seen that guy before? And one thing I noticed, saw, recognized and felt was what Jess Franco was doing. At the time I didn’t know who Franco was, but as the years passed, as I researched, learned, and viewed these movies again, and this time as an educated viewer, I realized that the spirit of Jess Franco’s movies had haunted me. It was a lot like when I was young and heard Beatle and solo music everywhere, but knew nothing about it, I simply loved those songs more than the others on the radio. I later began digging into the Beatles and other solo stuff and realized that all the songs I loved most were by them. In essence this was what happened to me with Franco, something about his films stuck with me even though I hadn’t realized it until years later. Essentially, just like with the Beatles and their solo stuff, I was a Jess Franco fanatic before I even knew who he was. There was no bias as a fan, his stuff stuck with me, unnerved, challenged, even excited me, well before I knew his name. THAT, my dear friends, is powerful art.
If you’re not convinced, I don’t care, and honestly, neither did Jess Franco.