The world has lost a great filmmaker, poet and visionary with Jean Rollin’s passing on December 15th. His haunting, wistful images will be burned into our imaginations for generations to come, his beautiful protagonists – most notably the lovely Brigitte Lahaie and the Castel twins Catherine and Marie-Pierre (nicknamed ‘Pony’) – forever the heroines of the damned.
The first Jean Rollin film I saw was Le frisson des vampires, and I was hooked. The crumbling countryside chateau, the two weird uncles, the chugging groovy soundtrack by French teenage psych band Acanthus, and a gorgeous woman for every ideal – it remains the perfect gateway for any exploration into his oeuvre. Like many European genre directors, Jean’s work was as informed by literary and comic book references as much as (if not more than) cinematic ones, and his work is among the most rich and dense that the genre has to offer.
These things make Jean Rollin a great artist. But Jean Rollin was also a great man.
His hunger for life was unquelled by years of persistent illness. I first met Jean Rollin in the year 2000, the sophomore year of my Vancouver horror festival, CineMuerte. Communication between us was difficult due to my shameful lack of French, but this was back in the stone age when most communications were still done by fax and we were able to call in translators. I wanted to play his films La Rose de Fer and Les deux orphelines vampires at the festival, and he wanted only to be invited to present his films in person. “Of course you’re invited!” I exclaimed. Being new to the festival racket at the time, I didn’t know this meant I had just agreed to cover all his expenses associated with attending, so this required a bit of scrambling. But the real problem was that, at the time, Jean was undergoing kidney dialysis every three days, and he would have to do this several times during his stay at the festival – a four or five-hour process that would completely wipe him out. He even ended up having to go to the hospital in the middle of the night on one occasion.
Considering all this, I was amazed at his energy and the optimism with which he viewed everything around him. It wouldn’t occur to him to not attend a festival because of a major illness. He made his way across the Atlantic again in 2007 when the Fantasia Film Festival honoured him with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and even as recently as last month he was talking about presenting his new film Le Masque de la Méduse (covered in December’s Fangoria Magazine) in Montreal, and he was excited about the possibility of coming in person even though he’d been quite ill again during the last few months.
While his films were often misunderstood, and sometimes maligned by his contemporaries, Jean’s spirit was undefeatable. He remains one of the most singular artists of the cinema, a dreamer and an iconoclast who will remain in our hearts and minds forever.
- Kier-La Janisse, December 16, 2010