Directed by: Jess Franco
Audiovisual Experience, 66min
It’s a well know fact that much of Jess Franco’s cinema is about voyeurism, forbidden urges, breaking taboos and weird beard wackiness. This may also be true in the case of the strange “Audiovisual Experience” Paula-Paula, but trying to make sense of this experimental short is a hard task which takes it’s time and will definitely polarize the fans.
Paula-Paula has me worried, confused and disoriented. I can’t make much out of it despite the guideline “inspired by Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by R. L. Stephenson” and several hours of previous Franco movies behind me. I can definitely get behind previous movies that give an impression of Jesus loosing patience and almost walking away from hence leaving the movies with a gaping hole as there is no real climax or conclusion to the narrative… but Paula-Paula goes completely off track even before it get’s started… and that’s a shame, because Jess Franco can do better.
Paula [Carmen Montes who also starred in Franco’s Killer Barby’s vs. Dracula 2002 which starred Viktor Seastrom (aka Peter Söderström) who I used to sell Franco import tapes to some fifteen years ago before he fucked off to Spain saying that he was going to find Franco – he did, and ended up working for the man on several flicks!] sits rocking in a corner, a detective, Alma Pereira [Lina Romay] has her guided out of the corner and into something that looks like an office, obviously someone’s apartment, and Pereira starts asking about the other Paula, whom the first Paula claims to hate. The detective asks if Paula killed the other Paula who replies that she has done so several times, Paula is a hard one to kill… An almost noir-ish tone is set into action, but each time the narrative starts to pick up, it’s intercut with mirrored split screens of “the other Paula” [Paula Davis] dancing… and from there one it just get’s lost in itself. Paula makes a move on Sergeant Meliton, before he scampers off and Paula starts a little dance for herself.
Unfortunately all the Franco style voyeurism is lost, as Paula on more than one occasion stares right into the camera busting through the fourth wall. It’s not longer voyeurism, as Carmen is looking right at me, the audience. I claim that voyeurism lacks interaction, it’s the unknowing of the observed that makes the one is watching because then it’s not voyeurism it’s exhibitionism and that’s a completely different bag…. Don’t even for a second think to yourself “yeah but Romay stared so damned hard through the fourth wall that she bumped into the camera in Les avaleuses (Female Vampire) 1973, so what are you talking about…?” because that iconic moment in Franco cinema is metaphorical for her she vamp character seducing the audience. In Paula-Paula it means nothing, at least not to me.
If you are a returning reader, then you know that I hold the greatest respect for Franco. I’m not just going to rip him to parts here; I love his work way to much for that. So much that the first moment it was possible I pre-booked and eagerly awaited the “audiovisual Experience” of Paula-Paula, and if my (and all the other fan’s) pre-booking in anyway contributed to helping Jess Franco complete Paula-Paula and secure distribution, then I’m quite content. But looking at the movie I want more. No, I demand more. This is Jess Franco, but no matter how hard I'm willing to argue, debate and defend his genius, I have a hard time getting behind offerings like Paula-Paula. For me this was a complete waste of time. Hardly ten minutes of Franco scripted “plot” - an introduction of themes - and the remaining fifty minutes tedious, and seedy video footage of two naked women squirming around on his living room floor – which may be good enough for certain fans, - doesn’t qualify for me. I’m wanting some context and texture to the platform of my sleazy viewing, this was just boring and as mentioned earlier, tragic. Jess Franco can do so much better than this.
It’s a difficult task reading Paula-Paula, and it’s taken me almost a year to get round to putting my thoughts in writing even if the conclusions are minimal from the few notes I found a few days ago. I wanted to see something that I’d might have missed in there, but sadly no, it’s still a pretty poor movie.
Sure, as I’ve pointed out in previous posts on Franco, a lot of his movies are linked and connected through intertextuality and in referring themes, plots, character, names and visuals. There’s a few small referents here, the obvious being Paula & Paula’s seedy nightclub act - even if it’s only performed on the floor of that living room and not in an actual seedy nightclub as it normally would - the character of Al Pereira, here as Alma, the Jazzy score, and the voyeurism trait that’s commonly found in Franco’s work is kind of warped and fails as I mentioned above. But if one really searches the narrative for reason and story then the answer is in there even if it is a pretty dodgy storyline to start with. The question of Paula’s death is posed early on, Paula denies answering, and enters a kind of dreamlike state. This continues as she and Paula dance and slither their way though out the movie… Well we never see a corpse, so in a way the Paula-Paula is two personas in one character – keep the Jekyll & Hyde text from the start in mind, and remember that that story is about man’s (or as here woman’s) inner conflicts with their good side and evil side. Dark haired Paula is riddled with guilt, she’s a blubbering mess at the start of the film, I’d say she’s the good one. In an extension of the movie, it’s safe to guess that she’s cured, as she during the narrative of Paula-Paula actually kills off that counter part which she can’t cope with, Blonde Paula, the temptress, evil Paula. The long tedious dance on the treadmill… well that my mates is the transformation scene!
The metaphor of a detective story is established when Romay asks if Paula killed Paula… She replies that she’s a hard one to kill, implying that changing ones character isn’t something done easy. But as we know at the end of the movie, there’s a climax to that arc in the death scene. A death climax, and in a micro perspective the detective story comes to a climax too. Yes Paula did kill Paula, but at the same time she frees’ herself, which is further implied by the text card at the end; And no one heard about Paula-Paula’s show ever again.
It could be that Paula-Paula is Franco’s most anarchic movie ever. Despite awards for lifetime achievements he say’s screw the system and I’ll make movie in my very own way until the very end. And If I want to make a movie right fucking now, I will! Almost as if he’s making a point of showing the industry that he doesn’t need them, and if he wants’ he can shoot a movie (or experiment – as that is what this is) in his living room on DV, with two naked women, long-time muse Lina Romay and a soundtrack right off the stereo if he wants…
…and he certainly can, because if that is the case, then I’m right behind this movie, or artfuck experiment or what ever he wants’ to call it. Viva La Revolucion, because Jesus Franco never stopped revolting against the system that denied him the opportunity to prove exactly what a true master he was.
But it can’t end here. No way, this can't be the final Jess Franco movie, it just can't! At times, even on his bare knees, Franco pulled off some fascinating and stunning movies, and I’ve always claimed that the majority of his flicks all have at least one scene that will stick and make an impression. Be it a composition, a glance from one of his actors or a pure surreal moment that one comes to expect from a Jess Franco movie, there’s always something in there that sticks with you.
Although all is not lost, the best thing with the Paula-Paula 500piece special release is that there are some fantastic moments in the presence of Jess Franco himself, and it starts with the introduction to the movie where he claims to have just completed the film half an hour ago… there’s what I’d call that anarchy again and perhaps one of the moments that makes me enjoy the disk overall despite not really enjoying the movie.
Oh and I have number 29 of the original 500 batch if you are interested.
Spanish Dialogue, English Subtitles optional.
Introduction, About the film and interview with Jess Franco where he shares his thoughts on film, music, women and the industry, and smokes another hundred cigarettes whilst lounging on his couch.