Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Lost in New York

Lost in New York
Orignial Title: Perdues dans New York
Directed by: Jean Rollin
France, 1989
Fantasy, 52 min
Distributed by: Njuta Films

In every good filmmaker’s catalogue there is more than often one movie that kind of feels like a perfect bookend to their immense careers. David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ 1999 feels like an inventory of themes and structure that he’d explored until there was no where else left to go, David Lynch’s The Straight Story 1999 was the perfect non-confusing, linear tale that induced a feeling that it was the end of the line. I felt that it was the master of the cryptic narrative presenting a straight story and was done with the movies. Lucio Fulci’s shock/fantasy/biography Cat in the Brain 1990 with it’s original ironic ending gave a sensation that this was his “signing off and commentary on his life as a horror film director... You get the idea, that one movie that more or less sums up their fascinating catalogue of work. That one piece that feels like the final movie.

Obviously none of these directors stopped making movies after these significant films, but the movies that followed in the wake of these great bookends, where never as powerful or as impressive as the ones that had gone before, which is why I feel that these movies should have been the full stop exclamation mark of their careers – that said without taking anything away from the movies they did make afterwards.

Jean Rollin’s dreamlike fantasy Lost In New York is precisely one of those movies – and that is no revelation as Rollin himself even admits to this in interviews, but I'm going to show you how this can be seen within the movie.

One could argue that Jean Rollin’s debut feature Le viol du vampire 1968 acts as a trailer for the works he would produce for the rest of his career. The tone, the dreamlike imagery and locations (the beach, the cemetery, the railroad station), the recurrent characters, (the female vampire, the twins, the clowns, the fool, the mourning older woman etc.) are all apparent parts of his catalogue of work. Most of what is seen in that breakthrough film is reflected upon and revisited throughout the movies he would make from there on after. And with that said, there’s obviously a bookend movie somewhere along the line, and I find that movie to be personal and splendid Lost in New York.

An elderly woman – Michelle [Nathalie Perrey] sits alone reminiscing over times gone lost. Se holds an ancient artefact in her hand, a moon goddess that she has held onto since her childhood. She starts to share her childhood tale with us, and we are shown how she as a child meets Marie - in a cemetery of course - another young girl with whom she shared the most amazing adventure.

Together the two of them take part in a fantasy journey as they travel through time and space via the pages of their most cherished childhood stories. A final trip takes sees them as teenage women in New York, a town filled with dangerous threats posed by muggers and vampires. But the biggest threat is being separated from each other and the main part of the film sees them searching high and low for one and other again. Eventually they are reunited and after a joyful reunion we come back to where we started – The elderly Michelle sits alone in that back yard talking about the journey she and Marie took, but still with a sorrow as the rules of the moon goddess always separates the travellers during transportation. Michele and Marie have been apart since that ecstatic reunification in New York, and it is why Michelle is so heartbroken. But this time the moon goddess has other plans for her – and after revealing her true shape she does a little dance – presents Michelle with a second relic, and transports her to a desolate beach where she finally is completed once again as she meets the elderly Marie there too. As the movie comes to it’s climax Marie and Michelle are changed back into the children they once where and leave the beach together through a hole in the mountain face. They will now be together as children for all eternity.

Now this is the kind of movie that show’s the great talent that Rollin possesses. The stressed New York footage – which definitely captures the anxiety of the two young women - was shoot by Rollin as he was in the Big Apple to shoot supplementary footage for a completely different production. Faced with the fact that he was going to spend some time in New York he brought a few actresses with him and made the most of it, and ended up with the made for TV short feature Lost in New York. And he captures that great city in all it’s magnitude, the looming height of the buildings that always knocks you on your ass when you see them, the size of everything, the melting pot of cultures and people, the frenetic lights of Times Square, it’s all there – and some critics complain that the footage feels like a reel of Rollin’s holiday footage, but why not, why would that be a bad thing, as the sights he shows are the ones viewers – and anyone who’s been to New York will recognize. Without those shot’s he could just has well have shot the entire flick in France. But Rollin made the most of it and it’s an excellent use of footage in my opinion.

Lost in New York is without a doubt Jean Rollin’s neat summary and thanks’ for everything film. Again, themes and imagery from almost every Rollin movie is found in the film. The elderly woman in mourning – often seen in the cemetery, the seductive vampire woman – also often seen in the cemetery or on the beach of Dieppe, the two girls - they are always together and in some cases twins, the lost souls and items found in the waters on the beach of Dieppe and so on.

Lost in New York is a very poetic and sensitive film that I interpret to be all about loss, loneliness and reclaiming that which once was of importance.

Much like Jess Franco, Rollin stays true to his common characters, traits and themes, and reuses these throughout his body of work as he refines them to perfection. Lost in New York is a wonderful example of how this works, as almost all of his archetypes, themes and emotions return in one shape or other. Emotions you say, I thought this was all about exploitation flicks, where do emotions fit into exploitation. Well yeah, if you lay aside the pigeon holing that I quite dislike, then the emotions can’t be missed if you have seen more than a hand full of Rollin movies. The majority of them deal with loss and the quest for a remedy against those powerful emotions. Be it loss of life, loss of innocence, loss of a loved one, or loss of direction. The recurrent theme that ties Rollin’s movies together is loss. Then if you want to call the nudity of Rollins movies exploitative, then feel free, I chose to see it more as part of the narrative and the artful concept that is Jean Rollin. Vampires and nudity go hand in hand, it’s in our pop cultural references and the neo vampire shows that air on the telly these days contain more sex and nudity than any Rollin movie does. There’s a reason why he didn’t shoot the graphic inserts for his adult movies and stuck to that Michel Gentil pseudonyms for those films. It’s even said that he didn’t even stay in the room as they shot these scenes, instead he would set up the camera and leave the room to smoke his pipe. It says a fair bit about the complexity of the great Rollin.

A further reason for interpreting the movie as a summary, or index of Rollin’s work is also found through the dialogue of the film. As Michelle in voice over guides us through the two young girls first adventure where they wander through classic passages and scenes of literature and films, Rollin makes sure to put his own works in the same context. As the two girls drift the “Screen of Dreams” they finally end up being part of La morte vivante (The Living Dead Girl) 1982, La nuit des tranquées (Night of the Hunted) 1980, Le frisson des vampires (The Shiver of the Vampire) 1971, La vampire nue (The Nude Vampire) 1970, Les trottoirs de Bangkok (Sidewalks of Bangkok) 1984 and Fascination 1979.

Through the dialogue Michelle provides answers to scenes in previous Rollin movies, weaving a thread from this “last” movie all the way back to the very first ones. And it’s a fascinating scene as it conjures up the images of the Marie-Pierre and Catherine Castel – the twins featured in The Nude Vampire and The Shiver of the Vampires (and many others too), and also previous movies that Nathalie Perrey also starred in for Rollin; Night of the Hunted where she plays a mother as an example, or The Iron Rose where she mourns at a grave in the cemetery. That scene in Lost in New York is of extreme importance for the movie and it’s the key to realising that the movie is indeed a summary of Rollin’s career.

This is also apparent with the idea that all his movies are about loss, as Michelle has lost her true love Marie, and though that loss she has also directly lost her preadolescent innocence. It’s through the eyes of the child that the fantastic journey is made possible – the power of imagination -, and now that she has lost that gaze, instead filled with the logic mind of an adult, there is no way that she can travel in time and space to find Marie. Metaphorically it also symbolises Rollin’s own preadolescent innocence, as it was as a young child Jean Rollin stood upon the iconic beach of Dieppe and decided that this was the spot he wanted to make a movie at. Coming to a culmination, the movie sees Michelle and Marie reunited at that important location (where also many other Rollin movies both start and end or are at least featured as a main character almost). The elderly woman is reunited with her “lost” love, or passion if you like, and through that she is then changed back into an preadolescent child, a child free from the condemnation of adult logic and values, a child that holds a clean slate to go wherever she chooses. It’s a heavy line of thought, but one that I feel is very relevant to the movie, as I still claim that this is the one that was Rollin’s signing off movie. With this movie he could mentally return to Dieppe and release all the emotional luggage that he and his movies where associated with and cleanse his personal slate.

Lost in New York is accompanied by a wonderful, gentle and delicate soundtrack by Phillippe d’Aram who scored several of Rollin's later movies. At some times the soundtrack reminds me of early Eric Serra, which is a positive value, but at the same time it sets the movie in a distinct time frame. But to the advantage of Rollin, who need the movie to feel as it captures a determined time frame it works like a charm. I don’t think that the score to Luc Besson’s Subway 1985 or Le grand bleu 1988 has aged as well as d’Aram’s score for Rollin’s movies have.

Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1

Dolby Digital Stereo, French dialogue – Swedish, Danish, Norwegian or Finnish subtitles are optional.

The disc comes with a trailer show for Rollin’s The Grapes of Death, The Nude Vampire, The Rape of the Vampire, Demoniacs, and Requiem for a Vampire. There’s an image gallery and then there’s the short film Les Pays Loins, a 16min short directed by Rollin in 1965, which - just like I propose many other Rollin movies – is about being lost.


Alex B. said...

Reading this makes me want to watch this film more and more.
This is a second positive review I read of it, and the screengrabs look promising.
How does it compare to "Sidewalks of Bangkok"?

CiNEZiLLA said...

Hi Alex.

Well I liked LiNY, I think it all depends what you are looking o when you watch the movies, we all know that you can't get into a European Genre piece and expect to see something like the great american horror epic etc.

In the world of Rollin it's a great little summary and index of themes and stuff like that, and it a nice little surreal movie at the same time on it's own legs. Compared to Sidewalks, well it's a completely different thing really as SIdewalk is more of a fast paced thriller relying on shorter arcs to drive the narrative forth, and LiNYis more of a medative piece. I like both films, but right now with me going back and searching for themes and context, i would say that Lost is preferable of the two. But if ou want something that stands out and is more in the vain of Night of the Hunted, then Sidewalks is your bag...

I dunno if that helps you. Sidewalks lacks some of the classic Rollin traits and feels like one of the Eurocine flicks. It's a decent film that you should check out if you are into Rollin.


Alex B. said...

Cheers for the comparison.
I actually am not much in favour of "Sidewalks".
As you said, it's a little faceless for Rollin. And I definitely prefer meditative over fast pacing.
I was afraid "Lost in NY" was also impersonal, but obviously not so I'll seek it out.

Dave said...

Excellent review. I watched this tonight and felt that it said more about Jean Rollin than anything else in the filmography. Boy, do I love his work!

CiNEZiLLA said...

Cheers Dave!
Yeah Rollin will always hold a special place in cinematic history. All we need now is a damned big retrospective at one of the prestigious Film Institutes and Rollin to finally get the recognition he deserves.


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