Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Venus in Furs (1970)

Now with %30 less footage!

Part EC-inspired rape-revenge movie, part experimental film, and part softcore S&M, Jess Franco's Venus in Furs is nearly as difficult to categorize as it is to follow. Only tangentially related to the novel of the same name, it tells the story of Jimmy Logan (singer James Darren), a jazz trumpeter so talented that his fingers do not have to be even remotely in sync with the music he is producing. Franco makes some half-assed attempts to cover up Jimmy's fingers with foreground elements (other trumpets, the scenery, etc.) but by the end of the movie everyone stops caring and we are treated to a nice closeup.

It begins with voice over narration (suprise!) on a sandy beach. Jimmy wanders around, lamenting recent events that have robbed him of the will to trumpet. He digs the instrument up from under a dock, then spies a prone figure in the surf.

Look Ma, no hands!

After an eternity of optically printed slow-mo running, the figure turns out to be the surprisingly fresh corpse of Wanda Reed, the blonde bombshell who caught his eye in Istanbul before disappearing into the night with a trio of high class weirdos lead by Ol' Bug-eye himself, Klaus Kinski. We jump from the quite well preserved body to a surreal flashback of the night in question.

Voice over narration and flashbacks, huh? I see we're not shooting for any screenwriting awards.

It seems pre-corpse Wanda has a penchant for trotting around in cute stockings and little else. Ahmed Kortobawi (Kinski) and his bizarro sidekicks couldn't stand for that. Later in the party, Jimmy stumbled outside for a smoke and witnessed the trio getting kinky with a whip and poor, topless Wanda. Too cynical to intervene, he looked on as they alternately tortured and made out with her, even taking time to drink some of her blood. (Vampires perchance?)

She's probably fine.

Jimbo is wracked with guilt over his inaction, doubly so when he finds the corpse washed ashore, but his torment quickly turns to terrified confusion when a doppelganger of the young woman arrives to one of his shows in Rio. Thanks to some wavy optical printing effects, he is unable to resist her supernatural charms and the two hit it off with some sweet lovin', much to the chagrin of Jim's steady girl, Rita. (Singer Barbra McNair)

The worlds laziest lounge singer.

Unfortunately for Jim, his trippy new gal appears to actually be Wanda, back from the dead and thirsting for vengeance. In between trysts with her new beau and stock footage of Carnival she slips off to find her killers. One by one she takes them out the only way she knows how, with sexiness. It seems she has just as much fascination with pairing stockings and nothing in death as she did in life.

I was aware that sexuality could be a powerful weapon, but Wanda/Venus shows that it can be so in a direct, literal way. She appears to her first victim, a sweaty English millionare, as an attractive phantom; appearing and disappearing in and out of mirrors to entice him. Eventually the phantasmagorical prick teasing proves too much, and the fiend suffers some sort of aneurism/heart attack/stroke/diarrhea, the life draining out of him as he reaches fruitlessly out to caress his tormentor.

Who can blame him?

Maria Rohm, who plays the titular (hehe) character, exists throughout the film in a strange quantum state of hotness, wherein she is both hot and not hot at the exact same time. (the mind reels) As you can see from these cherry picked stills, she is pretty damn hot, albeit in the overly made-up style endemic to '60s Italian cinema. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.) With the assistance of some occasionally suspect cinematography, she often ends up looking plastic and lifeless, like some sort of alien in drag. The goofy wig and pantsuit combo she gets saddled with later in the picture doesn't do her any favors either.

Here's a fun game: imagine a pantsuit with the same epic cleavage as Venus' on someone like oh... say.... Hillary Clinton. Now try to stop imagining that before it completely fries your brainbone circuitry.

Current status: hot despite wig

Jimmy and Rita try to go on about their lives, but his growing obsession with the mysterious, possibly undead stranger makes things difficult. For the most part, she's surprisingly cool with it--giving him several opportunities to return to the status quo, no questions asked. She can't stop Venus from showing up at his gigs though, and he keeps sneaking off to play hide the salami.

Performing at one of his boss' epic length afterparties, Jimmy spots both Venus and Olga, an evil lesbian photographer and one of the three murderers. The two women eyeball each other over and over while the 'musicians' pretend to play. On the second viewing of this rather drawn out scene it becomes apparent that, in a possible cost saving measure, there were only about a half dozen actual shots being cut up and reused. Thanks to the film's fever dream editing style, this is not an isolated case, though it is the most extreme and self contained example.

Throughout we see quick cuts of the various players against a red background and/or wearing different clothes. A wide shot of this "scene" is revealed near the end of the picture, and is then inter-cut with footage from closer to the beginning. I'm sure there is some method to the madness; perhaps an attempt to emphasize the lack of time perception in the characters' (probably) hallucinatory states. Either way, the distinct impression is created that this is an hour long movie being stretched to feature length with clever editing and the liberal application of an optical printer. (Post-slow-mo FTW) Perhaps the location shooting proved too much for the budget and the filmmakers were forced to improvise in post-production.

Clever or cop-out? I'll let you decide.

One of my new all-time favorite shots.

Jimmy interrupts the ladies' makeout session, but can't stop Venus from tracking Olga down later. After an erotically charged photo-session, Venus pulls the old 'now I'm a corpse' trick on her, which somehow induces a bathtub suicide.

Two down, one to go. As an additional treat, Venus gets a jazzy theme song complete with lyrics every-time she takes someone out. It adds a faint air of badassery to the otherwise vulnerable looking, bestockinged nymph.

Clothes come of in 3... 2...

The lovers make a quick escape back to Istanbul, but it looks like Jimmy has been played for a sap, as Venus has her sights on one last victim. Now, as though they weren't already, things start to get strange.

With the stage set for her final confrontation, the story begins to dovetail with that of the original Venus in Furs novel. Klaus (Have I mentioned his enormous eyeballs?) Kinski and Venus/Wanda appear in some sort of flashback/reenactment/alternate-dimension where they play the parts of a wealthy sultan and his hot slave girl. The sultan becomes obsessed with his reluctant concubine, and the girl, in turn, hates the dude's guts. One day, while he is feeling a touch masochistic (Fun Fact: the word "masochist" comes from the last name of the guy who wrote the novel, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.) he decides to trade places with the slave for one day. She gets to rule, and he has to do whatever she says. Before you can say 'par-tay,' she's burned his goofy hat, locked the doors, and strung him up to watch her get it on with various people who are not him.

Much like in the rest of Venus in Furs, the flashback and 'true' chronology slowly begin to merge. Eventually, the sultan gets the worlds most brutal case of blue-balls and joins the choir invisible, only now he is also the 'real' Ahmed and croaks in the 'real' world too. Cue the revenge themesong.

I think this counts as a Goofy Face of Death

Revenge complete. It should all be smooth sailing for Venus and Jimmy from here, right? Sort of, except for the fact that she is still a mysterious revenant, and now Istanbul's finest are hot on their tail. After an obligatory car chase, they lose the cops and end up at a graveyard, and it is right about this point where Venus in Furs goes completely Snooker Loopy.

Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite!

The whole thing finally devolves into the stream-of-consciousness experimental film that it has desperately wanted to be from frame one. Franco pulls out all the stops with the optical printing and goes for broke.

After I ran some blood tests to make sure I hadn't eaten anything hallucinogenic, I determined one main point from the insanity: everybody's dead, Dave. In a final, nonsensical twist, it seems even poor Jimmy can count himself among the recently dead, which really throws a monkey-wrench in my vampire theory.

I guess it's his punishment for not stopping the murder-orgy, but that opens the question "when did he die?" Everyone else finally bit it upon seeing Venus in corpse form, and he does find his own corpse on the same beach that he found hers, so it would make the most sense that he drowned in the beginning. But what sort of waterlogged cadaver takes a trip to Rio, makes sweet love to Barbra McNair (who has confusingly anglo features for an African American) and Maria Rohm, then heads back across the Atlantic to get into some minor GTA action with the Istanbul PD?

If your answer was "the best damn waterlogged corpse around," you get a hundred points.

1 comment:

  1. i see this post is old but goodness, thank you for splaining this movie to me. I just watched tonight on TCM - and I was not sure if I was tired, or if the screenplay was as odd as it seemed.