Some who find this blog might recognize me from my past FemDom life. I was a phone Mistress for five years and I dabbled a bit in the world of professional Domination. I was also active in a FemDom group for the better part of three years. And I wrote a column for a FemDom e-zine.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Jess Franco’s “Venus in Furs”
by: Jess Franco
The first movie I ever
reviewed for the e-zine Predominant (February 2005) was the 1994 Dutch film
version (dubbed in English) of the Sacher-Masoch classic novel “Venus in Furs”.
Some time had passed before I received any feedback about that review however a
gentleman wrote me, a self-proclaimed film connoisseur and an equal lover of
cinema (especially independent films), to inform me that he had purchased a
copy of the movie based on my lukewarm (3 stars) recommendation.
Upon watching the film,
he only gave the movie 2 stars at best and he mailed me his copy of the 1969
Jess Franco version of “Venus in Furs”. This gentleman was a fan of Jess Franco
comparing his style of film making to that of David Lynch with his usage of
dreams and dream-like imagery within his works. David Lynch’s “Mulholland
Drive” is one of my all-time favorite films, therefore I was eager to observe
Jess Franco’s version of “Venus in Furs”. I considered reviewing it for
Predominant but since I had already reviewed the Victor Nieuwenhuijs and
Maartje Seyferth’s Dutch version, I decided to watch Franco’s film version
purely for my own personal enjoyment.
As I viewed the film, my
first though was “this movie has nothing to do with Sacher-Masoch’s book” which
disappointed me and probably prevented me from being totally objective about
the overall quality of the film. The DVD had some nice extras, including an
interview with Jess Franco about the movie, but I must confess that I never
bothered to watch any of the extras at that time. I mailed the movie back to
the gentleman who so kindly loaned it to me, and I gave him what was at the
time my honest opinion of the film, including expressing my disappointment that
Franco used the title “Venus in Furs” when the plot had nothing at all in
common with the Sacher-Masoch book.
Now fast forward several
years later. I was seeking possible movies to review and I came across Jess
Franco’s film “Succubus” on Amazon. The premise looked very promising;
“Janine Reynaud plays
Lorna, the star of an underground nightclub's Grand Guignol theater who harbors
a dark, haunting secret. She performs elaborate S/M fantasies nightly with a
bound naked couple before she pretends to kill them, but she's losing her grip
on reality. Dreams, flashbacks, and erotic fantasies blur with her waking world
and pretty soon she's murdering her sexual partners for real... or is she? The
answer may have something to do with a furtive stranger on the fringes of her
consciousness and a plot to drive her insane, but it's hard to tell for sure.
Sexploitation master Jess Franco creates an alienated but gorgeous vision of
the decadent grotesque-chic world of European high society with oblique camera
angles, distorted images, and disorienting editing, turning a kinky erotic
thriller into a heady (if abstract) psychological fantasy.”
This synopsis rekindled
my interest in Jess Franco, therefore I decided to order both movies. I viewed
“Succubus” first but I didn’t care for it. Then with much hesitation, I forced
myself to pop the “Venus in Furs” DVD into my player. Since I had seen the
movie a few years prior, the first thing I watched was the Jess Franco
interview. This gave me an entirely new perspective on the movie, and a new
respect for Franco as a filmmaker.
Jess Franco is a big
lover of jazz. Franco’s original title of his “Venus in Furs” movie was
supposed to be “Black Angel”. Franco loves to talk with jazz musicians and one
time he was having a casual conversation with jazz musician Chet Baker and
Baker shared with Franco how he will often gain his inspiration from someone in
the audience, usually a woman, and he will focus on her while he performs.
Franco wanted to make a
movie about a black trumpet player who is inspired by an attractive white woman
he sees during one of his performances. His idea for the film was to have the
musician fall for the woman yet she is both mysterious and elusive as she comes
in and out of the clubs where he performs. Franco wanted the jazz music to be
the core of the film, while his trademark dream-like sequences portrayed the
erotic nature of the interracial romance between the trumpet player and the
When he pitched his idea
to film producer Harry Alan Towers, Towers informed Franco that in order to get
the funding to shoot the film, Commonwealth United had several conditions. They
wanted the film to have the title “Venus in Furs” and the female character had
to be shown wearing furs throughout the film and that image had to be on the
movie poster and in the trailers.
United wanted to capitalize on the budding submissive nature of man and figured
a film with the same title as the famous Sacher-Masoch novel would increase
box-office sales. One wonders why not just make the Sacher-Masoch book into a
movie but I guess back in 1969, showing a woman whipping a man was still
considered controversial, therefore they decided to tease but not please its
submissive male targeted audience.
Another problem the
studio had with Franco’s story was his idea about a black trumpet player having
sex with a white woman. They wanted to eventually market this movie to
international markets, including America, and they felt this was also a taboo
subject. Franco relented and re-wrote the film to incorporate these changes
while still holding true to his idea about the jazz music being the core of the
Franco commissioned the
popular British rhythm and blues band, Manfred Mann, to do the soundtrack and
in order to conform to the studio’s wishes he decided to make the male lead a
white trumpet player who has a sexual relationship with a black female jazz
singer (reversing the interracial dynamics of his original idea). In a sign of
the times of where society was morally in 1969, the producers of the movie had
no problem with scenes of a white man in bed with a black woman but they were
dead set against showing a black man in bed with a white woman. Franco decided
to split the persona of his original idea of the female lead into two women and
have the trumpet player romantically involved with a black jazz singer, yet he
falls for a mysterious woman, a white woman named Wanda who would be the Venus
(adorned) in furs, the way the movie studio demanded.
Franco cast former teen
idol and American actor James Darren (“Gidget”, “Guns of Navarone”) for the
lead character, Jimmy. At first Franco thought Darren’s boyish good looks and
conservative image was not a good fit for the role. However, when Franco
learned that Darren was a gifted trumpet player in real life who personally
knew Chet Baker, he gave Darren the role, as Franco was convinced that Darren
could channel Chet Baker in his portrayal of the trumpet player. Franco also
cast talented singer Barbara McNair as Rita and sexy Maria Rohm as Wanda. For
the supporting roles Franco went with two actors that were regulars in many of
his movies, the always controversial Klaus Kinski and the talented British actor
With the required studio
changes in place, the story follows trumpet player Jimmy Logan as he falls in
love with Wanda Reed, a woman whom he saw once at a cocktail party where he was
performing. The movie begins with the opening credits showing a partially naked
Maria Rohm in a fur coat while she seductively smokes a cigarette.
The movie opens with
Jimmy playing his trumpet along a beach in Istanbul, Turkey when Wanda’s body
washes up on shore. Although she is dead, he has a revelation that she is a
woman he had recently met at a party.
In a flashback, we see
Jimmy performing at a cocktail party (whose guests are what Jimmy refers to as
the ‘Riviera Greek Island crowd’) when he notices Wanda (entering the room
wearing a fur coat) and he is immediately attracted to her. He tries to make
his way over to meet her during a break but Wanda is also being seduced by a
woman, Olga (Margaret Lee), a fashion photographer. Wanda is approached by a
millionaire playboy, Ahmed (Klaus Kinski) and she begins to kiss him (giving us
the impression that the party is being held at his house and he was the one who
invited Wanda to his party).
Ahmed leads Wanda to a
dark room where he watches as Olga and an older wealthy socialite, Percival
(Dennis Price), rape Wanda and engage in unconsenual sadomasochistic sex. Jimmy follows Wanda and
watches the unusal sexual encounter unfold from a distance as Olga whips Wanda
into submission. Wanda screams and rolls around on the floor trying
unsuccessfully to escape the bite of Olga’s bullwhip while Ahmed and Percival
watch. Olga than kneels down on the floor and kisses Wanda while Percival
violates her by touching her body all over from her waist down. Ahmed watches
(and when we see close-ups of his face, we also see flashbacks of Ahmed in a
turbin, as if he may have been reincarnated from a past life). Ahmed takes a
knife and cuts Wanda’s body, drawing blood. He sucks on her wounds while Olga
continues to kiss her and Percival continues to rub his hands all over her legs
and exposed thighs. Unbeknownst to them, Jimmy watches this unfold but assumes
it is consensual and therefore doesn’t intervene.
But once the film moves
away from his flashback and he is back looking at Wanda’s dead body on the
beach, along with noticing the knife marks still fresh in her flesh, Jimmy
realizes she was murdered that night and he laments not having prevented it.
The movie switches to a
later time, in Rio de Janeiro, where Jimmy is performing in a club along with
his lover Rita (Barbara McNair), a black female jazz singer. While he looks
around the room to seek his muse for the evening (a la Chet Baker) Jimmy sees a
woman who looks just like Wanda (wearing a fur coat). Jimmy is in love with
Rita but he is infatuated with Wanda.
Jimmy follows Wanda back
to her hotel but while he is trying to find her, Franco blurs the movie, making
us wonder if what follows is real or a dream. Next we see Jimmy in bed with
Wanda making love to her.The movie becomes a
series of flashbacks and dream sequences where we see Jimmy falling in love
with Wanda and Wanda taking revenge on the three people who killed her. At the
same time, we see Jimmy trying to maintain his real-time relationship with
Rita. But the real star of the movie is the jazz music, courtesy of Manfred
Mann, and there is more music on display here than dialogue.
In a classic Franco mode
of operation, nothing is making sense to Jimmy as he wanders through the
carnival in Rio, and the narrative structure of the film serves to hide the
truth (whatever that may be) from the audience. We never know more than Jimmy
and trying to follow a plot in a Franco movie is folly as it jumps all over and
we’re not totally sure what is a flashback to an actual event, what is a dream,
and what is reality.
We know that Jimmy is
haunted by the memory of the dead Wanda, a memory so strong with love and lust
that he manages to somehow manifest her, and she becomes the catalyst for the
events in the film. There is, of course, the revenge subplot that plays out
amidst the romantic haunting. It is within this subplot that balances out the
"non -Franco" elements of the film, creating the dichotomy of the
personal film Franco wanted to make and the public film the studio wanted to
promote. But it's not just a generic subplot to pad the runtime and sell to
international markets, rather, this subplot is vital to the success of the film
because Franco’s idea for “Black Angel”, while entertaining for the art and the
music, would have been a very dull movie.
It is the subplot of the
mysterious Wanda coming back from the dead to kill those who killed her that
allows Franco’s trademark of “surrealism”within film to work in “Venus in
Furs”. Wanda just doesn’t kill for revenge but she seduces her victims the way
they had seduced her and it is through eroticism that she captures them, as if
they submit to her revenge willingly, and in this Wanda discovers that all
three of her soon-to-be-victims are in fact in love with her. Wanda always
shows up in her fur coat prior to extracting her revenge. She dominates all
three sexually and psychologically and they enjoy being dominated by Wanda,
even though they realize it will end in their demise. Wanda sexually teases
Percival but he is not sure if she is real or a ghost. He goes mad and suffers
Olga has a lesbian
relationship with Wanda, not realizing who she is, but once she discovers her
scars, overcome with guilt, Olga climbs into a bathtub and commits suicide by
slashing her wrists with a razor blade, dying slowly while she confesses her
love for Wanda.
Then there is Ahmed.
Wanda returns to Istanbul and wearing her signature fur coat, she enters a
Palace and walks in on Ahmed who is laying down dressed in a turbin.
He recognizes her and
tells her a story about how a long time ago, in this very Palace, a Sultan
(Ahmed) ruled who had many wives and even more slave girls. He became enamored
with a new slave girl (Wanda) and to secure her favor, he granted the girl the
opportunity to rule over him for twenty-four hours. The slave would be the
Master, and the Master would be the slave.
The slave girl had the
Sultan’s headcover removed and burned. She ordered all of his guards and
servants out of the chambers except a few selected slave girls and one slave
boy. She had the Sultan bound in chains, hanging by his wrists, and knowing
that the Sultan desired her, she made love to the slave boy while forcing the
humiliated Sultan to watch. We don’t see the slave boy’s face but he has black
hair and could possibly be Jimmy in another life.
After the slave girl is
done with the slave boy, time passes and we see her entering the chamber again
where the Sultan is all alone, hanging by his wrists. We are left to wonder, is
this still the story of the slave girl and the Sultan? Or are we now seeing
Ahmed and Wanda back in current times?
Wanda proceeds to tease
the strung-up Ahmed, acting as if she is going to have sex with him, only to
keep pulling away time and time again, driving him mad until he finally dies,
perhaps from being bound in that position for twenty-fours hours or perhaps
from suffering a heart attack.
All three deaths makes
us wonder, did they all die from guilt? Did Wanda really come back and haunt
them as a ghost or were they merely haunted by her memory? Did Percival
fantasize that Wanda was there teasing him when he died of a heart attack? Was
Olga all alone the night she slit her wrists, driven by guilt? Did Ahmed string
himself up by his wrists and fantasize that Wanda was cuckolding him and
teasing him when he died from the exertion of his self-induced bondage? Or was
the ghost of Wanda real and she killed them all?
The movie cuts back to
Jimmy. Rita has left him and he is in Istanbul with Wanda. The police want to
talk with him. The Captain shows Jimmy a picture of a blonde woman who is
wanted for questioning in two murders, one there in Istanbul and one in Rio. When
the Captain asks Jimmy the name of his female companion, he tells him her name
is Wanda Reed. The Captain doesn’t believe Jimmy because Wanda Reed died two
years ago, her body having washed up on an Istanbul beach. Jimmy tells the
police he will go get the woman in his hotel room and prove to them that Wanda
Reed is still alive. Once Jimmy retreives Wanda from his room, he tries to help
her escape from the police. There is a car chase scene and when Jimmy comes to
a stop, Wanda runs out of the car. Jimmy runs after her and the film goes into
a creepy Twilight-Zonish mode where the screen turns different colors and we
see Jimmy chasing Wanda as if he is in a dream. Then we see flashbacks of
Ahmed, Percival and Olga staring at Wanda’s dead body as if they had just
murdered her the night of the cocktail party.
The movie cuts back to
Jimmy, without the weird colors, and he runs into a grave yard where he comes
across Wanda Reed’s tombstone.
The final scene shows us
Jimmy walking along the same shore where he found Wanda’s body, playing his
trumpet, when he sees another body washing up on shore. This time it is the
body of a man. When he turns the body over, he sees that he is the dead man,
dressed as he was the night of the cocktail party. Jimmy then makes the
statement that he’s been dead the entire time.
So, did the same three
people who killed Wanda also kill Jimmy because he was a witness to their
bizarre sex scene and this movie was meant to be his final consciousness prior
to dying? Or was the entire movie merely a bizarre dream Jimmy was having? Or
was it a mixture of dreams, fantasies and reality? In the end, the
interpretation is up to the viewer. I can definitely see how after watching
this movie, a person might compare Franco to David Lynch.
Franco’s films are full
of what one reviewer referred to as “psychic sex demons”, a kinda unique and
sexy “monster”, which is basically a beautiful woman who is possessed by
something or someone. Franco’s films often show women withering on the floor as
if they are being sexually satisfied by an unseen spirit, both of the
Franco films I watched had this common theme.
In “Succubus” the female
sex demon premise didn’t work for me but in “Venus in Furs” it kind of fit
because Wanda came across as sophisticated and mysterious and seductive, and we
wonder if all of these scenes are merely a figment of Jimmy’s imagination
(distraught by guilt of finding a dead woman on the beach) or perhaps merely
the result of Jimmy’s sexual fantasies. Thus viewing the demon possessed women
in “Succubus” and interpreting it as a male’s sexual
fantasy, it works in “Venus in Furs” if we substitute the character
Jimmy for the real male author of the fantasy (Jess Franco).
In his interview on the
DVD, Franco said that he hated the bizarre ending of “Venus in Furs” and blamed
it on producer Harry Alan Towers. Yet it’s the marriage between Franco and
Towers that made this movie Franco’s so-called masterpiece. Just as Lynch stumbled
into his masterpiece “Mulholland Drive” when ABC cancelled what was supposed to
be a television series and Lynch took what he had filmed and made it into a
movie, likewise Franco stumbled into his best film when Commonwealth United
forced him to work a woman wearing furs into his dream project of doing a movie
about a black trumpet player who is inspired by a white woman he sees in his
While Franco is not on
the same level as Lynch when it comes to film making (in my opinion and I’m sure
in the opinion of any serious film student), having watched “Venus in Furs”
twice, I’ve come to appreciate the overall quality of this most unusual film.
Aside from the literal
content of the film, much of the greatness of the film comes from it's aesthetics;
specifically it's visuals and it's soundtrack. I also really enjoyed Barbara
McNair’s title song “Venus in Furs” which she sings at various times throughout
the film as well as at the end.
If you are looking for
the Sacher-Masoch novel, don’t be deceived by the title. This film has nothing
to do with the 1869 classic. But perhaps it is fitting that exactly 100 years
later, Commonwealth United forced Jess Franco to loosely incorporate the
Sacher-Masoch character Wanda, a woman adorned in furs, into his movie about a
jazz trumpet player. The end result was that Jess Franco, a man known for
making movies about lesbian vampires, women in prison, zombies and other
sexploitation themes, finally made a movie that is worthy of any serious film aficionado’s