Monday, November 30, 2015

Doriana Gray (1976)

AKA Die Marquise von Sade (The 1000 Shades of Doriana Gray), Das Bildnis der Doriana Gray (The Portrait of Doriana Gray), Dirty Dracula and Ejaculations 

Given the oftentimes highly sexual nature of his films, Jess Franco was, and still is labeled a pornographer by detractors. While this is hardly surprising with low hanging fruit being the easiest to pick, what’s ironic is that the films which lead most people who don’t understand Franco’s work to refer to it as porn are hardly pornographic. Of course that’s not to say that Franco didn’t directed his share of hardcore adult features which indeed he did, mainly in the 80’s and for commercial purposes. Franco himself was the first to admit that he had little interest in shooting hardcore films and the work bored him. Its well known that Franco’s films often suffered at the hands of producers and distributors and many of his films exist in several versions due to the common practice of a hardcore version of a film to be released featuring pornographic inserts in order to sell the film in different markets. Some of the most famous examples being Female Vampire (1973), The Other Side of the Mirror (1973), Lorna the Exorcist (1974) and The Hot Nights of Linda (1975). What makes Doriana Gray unique is that not only is the hardcore version is the most widely seen and accepted and perhaps the right version to watch, the film also stands as one of Franco’s most genuinely haunting featuring what is quite possibly Lina Romay’s finest performance.

A journalist from a woman’s magazine (Monica Swinn) arrives at the estate of secluded millionaire Doriana Gray (Lina Romay) believing that Doriana’s story would interest her readers. Perpetually lonely, Doriana possesses eternal beauty at the cost of draining the life of her lovers. Doriana is also incapable of feeling sexual pleasure, the results of complications that arose after being separated at birth from a twin sister (also Romay) whom Doriana keeps locked away in an asylum, driven mad by lust from feeling all of the pleasure Doriana cannot. While recounting her tale to the journalist, Doriana comes to the realization that her starvation for physical satisfaction and her sisters nymphomania are drawing the sisters, and their eventual fates closer.

Franco was certainty no stranger when it came to drawing parallels between sex and death, perhaps most famously with Female Vampire, a film which Doriana Gray shares several similarities with, and would continue to do so for the rest of his career although in many ways Doriana Gray could be considered the final word on the subject as far as Franco is concerned as never before had he approached the topic in such a direct manner. Just like in Female Vampire, Franco recycles the idea of the morose woman longing for impossible companionship sucking the life force (albeit regretfully) from her lovers through sex, yet here Franco takes the idea much further with the addition of a twin sister making the film much more tragic and perverse. From a technical and narrative standpoint the film is quite minimal, driven by a seedy mood of uneasiness that is persistent throughout which contrasts nicely with the beauty of Doriana’s estate and the surrounding locations as well as the hypnotizing exotic, eastern flavored score. Franco operated the film himself making it much more personal, idolizing Lina like never before who delivers a truly astonishing performance, particularly in the role of the twin sister who’s outbursts of raw sexual mania are legitimately frightening. Despite featuring hardcore scenes, the film could hardly be considered “erotic” taking into considering the material and the air of melancholy the surrounds the film and Franco makes no attempt to eroticize the sex scenes either never forgetting the doom that follows Doriana everywhere.

Ascot Elite released the film as part of their Jess Franco Golden Goya Collection under the Die Marquise von Sade title which included the softcore edit of the film as a bonus and its ironic that the soft version suffers from the same problems that most hardcore edits of Franco’s films suffer from. The biggest issue being the jumpy editing making it glaringly obvious that something had been edited out but what’s also obvious is that there is footage which was clearly shot after the original film had been finished and added in at a later date. Interesting thing regarding the timing of the release of Doriana Gray, its was released the same year as In the Realm of the Senses (1976), of the most important “mainstream” films to feature hardcore scenes. Given that films featuring unsimulated sex have essentially become somewhat respectable, it’d be interesting to see how the film would fare if it were released today compared to a Catherine Breillat film or say Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (2014). Doriana Gray holds an interesting spot within Franco’s filmography because of it being of the very few, possibly the only one of his films where the hardcore scenes actually work but the main selling point of the film is Lina’s jaw-dropping performance elevating Doriana Gray to an entirely new level. An adult horror masterpiece and one of Franco’s and Lina’s finest hours.

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