'I'm happiest when I'm watching a Jess Franco film or writing a review of an obscure giallo.'
Robert Monell has been writing and making short films and videos since 1971. He is the creator and webmaster of Cinemadrome - a website which covers all aspects of cinema and I'm in a Jess Franco State of Mind, number one English-language web resource on the cinema of Jess Franco. His articles and essays have been published in UK and Italian books, such as Il Caso Jesús Franco edited by Francesco Cesari. Robert took the time out from his various writing projects to chat with Trash Film Addict about his experiences in art and trash cinema.
TFA: Can you remember the first time you ever went to the cinema? What was the experience like?
RM: I went to see Gigantis Fire Monster in 1959. That was my first movie I remember. Then I became addicted to Japanese science fiction. I saw Gigantis in a theater. I discovered Starman on TV.
TFA: Did you already want to make films by then or how did that come about?
in the same day made me want to make films. But not normal films. When I started making films I wasn't into Eurotrash. I was into Art films and US B cinema and the New York Underground.
TFA: And the first films you've made weren't eurotrash-leaning either, were they?
RM: No, I was heavily influenced by Surrealism. Andre Breton. Paul Eluard. Bunuel and Cocteau were my guides. Fellini's Satyricon made a huge impression. Anything that wasn't depressing Realism, which I hate. Also architecture in films. Last Year At Marienbad is all architecture.
An Issue of the Nocturno dossier dedicated to Jess Franco,
containing THE SECRET CODE OF JESS FRANCO
essay by Robert Monell (in Italian language).
essay by Robert Monell (in Italian language).
TFA: Fantastic. One or two examples of film titles representing depressing realism?
RM: Fellini and Visconti's The Damned broke away from boring Neorealism to a complete stylized model which I admire.
TFA: What about Rome Open City? Did you find that boring? Personally I was bored by The Children are watching us (De Sica) but loved Rome open City and Era Notte a Roma.
RM: Open City is not Realism. It's high Melodrama. Can't stand De Sica. Buñuel's Los Olvidados takes place in the slums of Mexico city but it transcends Realism because it examines the Unconscious mind. It's a Surrealist film.
TFA: When Godard went over to the States to make 1 AM, his hosts were shocked to discover he was a crap camera operator. He simply wasn't interested, which doesn't lessen his overall importance as a filmmaker. What is your relationship with filmmaking like? Are you hands-on wanting to handle equipment and such, or are you more conceptual and happy to leave execution to the crew?
RM: I hate technology and computers and have no skills there. I like rough films like Warhol's Vinyl.That's what I want to make. I make films with a cellphone. I used to like 8mm a lot.
Il Caso Jesús Franco, a book published in Italy
for which Robert Monell wrote the introduction.
TFA: You also tried your hand at drama/theatre. How did that come about and did you enjoy the experience? Was it liberating as there's less technology involved in staging a play than making a film?
RM: I wrote many plays in the 1980s, some were staged. The actors were difficult. Hitchcock was right. I hate acting. I like Bresson a lot. No acting allowed in his films.
TFA: Your favourite Robert Bresson film? Mine has got to be The Devil Probably.
RM: That's also mine.
TFA: Fassbinder loved it, too. He featured it in Third Generation. You're known as a seasoned film journalist. Do you think reviewing films is still relevant in the 21st century? Do you read many reviews yourself?
RM: No, something needs to replace "reviews" the review format is useless except as a consumer guide.
TFA: How did the I'm in a Jess Franco State of Mind blog originate?
RM: I thought that a blog would be a good place to talk about Jess Franco from a personal point of view. Sometimes I do other things on it. Now there are two blogs: one of Blogger and a new one on Wordpress in association with the Spanish EL FRANCONOMICON.
TFA: Do you have a favourite DVD label? Please name a few recent DVD releases that made you happy.
RM: MONDO MACABRO and SEVERIN are both very good in terms of choice of product and the care they take. MM recently did outstanding work with The Slave and The Fan, both worth choices which deserve HD release. SEVERIN did amazing work with Vampyros Lesbos. My absolute favorite new company, relatively new, is VINEGAR SYNDROME. They do vintage erotica and old cult stuff. They did a DVD/BD combo of Night Train to Terror which is a research project in itself. They do 4K and 2K scans of vintage films by Bob Chinn and Roberta Findlay which look just great. THE CRITERION COLLECTION may be my all-time favorite for classic foreign and US gold. Their 3-disc release of Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin is the most valued object in my collection. You get three versions of one movie, commentaries, Welles radio programs, the novel and much more. Some films, though, don't need or deserve this HD treatment. That's when it gets ridiculous.
TFA: Could you say a few words about your Jess Franco book project?
RM: I can only say that I have been working on a Jess Franco book, in association with other writers, for about 10 years. When it will be completed and published is an open question.
VIDEOHUNTER, a web series by Robert Monell