Camp David

CAMP DAVID FEBRUARY 2009: MASKS AND ROSES

By • Feb 23rd, 2009 •

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MASKS AND ROSES

Elsa and Annette

I was compelled to put this essay together after having seen a bootleg DVD-R copy of the French cut for Roger Vadim’s now-classic vampire film ET MOURIR DE PLAISIR, known in the states as BLOOD AND ROSES. Many of us who have been enthralled with this gentle and subtle take on J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella CARMILLA wonder why it has never been made available on home video by Paramount. The answer is, of course, money, plus the fact that earlier in 2008 Legend Films acquired the rights to distribute several cult titles from Paramount’s back log, including THE SKULL and THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH, with less-than-stellar results in the sales department.

ET MOURIR DE PLAISIR was made in 1960, a banner year for genre films, as we saw Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO breaking box office records right beside Roger Corman’s HOUSE OF USHER and Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY. Paramount chose to mount a “horror film campaign” to launch Vadim’s elegant vampire film, which was anything but a conventional horror film in the tradition of similar films made by Hammer Studios in the UK. The fallout from this resulted in an alternate version of Vadim’s cut, now titled BLOOD AND ROSES for the American market, with nearly ten minutes removed from the film and a voice-over narration created by Peter Viertel, who wrote the English dialogue for this version. The result was a more overt declaration of vampirism than perhaps Vadim wanted to make in his director’s cut, which to my knowledge was never screened outside of France during its initial release. What I discovered in watching the French bootleg was that the dream sequence itself, which is such an homage to Jean Cocteau’s LE TESTAMENT d’ ORPHEE that it borders on plagiarism, was reduced to less than a minute during Elsa Martinelli’s nightmare visitation by the vampire Milarca.

After countless viewings of the American version I began to see similarities between Vadim’s film and Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY, besides the fact they both have female vampires as the central character. Both films are basically about the same thing: a vampire seeks to reclaim life on earth by invading the body of their ancestor a few centuries later. They both have paintings of themselves that bear an uncanny resemblance to the current ancestor. In both films the vampire was put to the stake in the past only to curse those that will follow. In both films the current mistress of the manor is lured to a crypt where the vampire in question resurrects itself and takes control of the mind and body of its ancestor. And both films suffer the same major flaw: both Vadim and Bava sacrificed logic and narrative for imagery.

BLACK SUNDAY is the superior film in every way, yet this does not diminish Vadim’s film in the least, as they are literally the light and dark side of the same material. It is interesting to note that neither director ever did a film afterwards to equal what they did this one time in their careers. Vadim suffered from the fallout of a life too well-lived, as the critics of the day seemed to relish in putting him down with bad reviews and little respect, even though he broke out with the Nouvelle Vague.

Delphine Seyrig in DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS

In the early 70’s a film would emerge from Belgium that would be more of an homage to BLOOD AND ROSES than even BLACK SUNDAY, and that of course is Harry Kumel’s mesmerizing LE ROUGE AUX LEVRES otherwise known as DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS. Kumel created with this film the absolute last word in lesbian chic, the centerpiece of which is a tour de force performance from actress Delphine Seyrig, channeling Marlene Dietrich in word and wardrobe. Where Vadim’s film is based on the novella Carmilla, Kumel goes even further back in time to a real life historical figure – the blood countess herself, Elizabeth Bathory. Kumel is a master film-maker, so the film is not a parody of Vadim’s film in any way. The films complement each other in color and style. It is only in the last reel that they become completely alike, as the female vampires are impaled on stake-like objects, yet their spirit lives on in the women they possessed.

One of the drawbacks in evaluating BLOOD AND ROSES is the fact that it only seems to come up in discussion as the pre-ultimate example of Lesbianism in the cinema, which it decidedly is not. One can probably blame a lot of this on Roger Vadim’s hedonistic reputation, which caused the Continental advertising material to emphasize a non-existent relationship between Elsa Martinelli’s character and that of Annette Stroyberg Vadim.

There is a timeless oneiric quality to Vadim’s film, a constant displacement of reality that gives the material its style and ultimately elevates the film to a very special place in the history of vampire films in the cinema. I think some die-hard horror fans lack the patience to let this film work its magic on them as they are more accustomed to blood and thunder with fangs and gore. BLOOD AND ROSES has neither. The vampire, as seen by Vadim, is a creature of the spirit, an invisible force that draws the soul from the body of its victim until it becomes that person completely.

Elsa and Annette, together again... in the Makeup room

Annette Stoyberg Vadim plays both characters as if in a dream. With subtle restraint, she creates an incestuous energy that can also be interpreted as Lesbian, especially in her scenes with Elsa Martinelli and during the attack on the servant girl in the woods. However Carmilla is in love with her cousin Leopoldo and remains obsessed with him even in her vampire state, causing some critics to view the whole film as a demonstration of sexual repression strong enough to make the supernatural aspect of the film a figment of Carmilla’s imagination. This stance was taken in Jack Clayton’s version of THE TURN OF THE SCREW known as THE INNOCENTS, as well as in Robert Wise’s production of Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING.

One of the pleasures of BLOOD AND ROSES is the music by Jean Prodromides, whose sublime reinvention of an adagio by Albinoni is unforgettable once you have heard it. The music acts as a bridge between the past and present, making the film seem less contemporary, with Hadrian’s villa adding a timeless location to Carmilla’s journey into darkness.

I feel it is also time to re-examine the films of Roger Vadim. The director penned a memoir that was short on film-making and long on love-making, so he did bring some of this on himself. Still, I believe Vadim should be remembered for more than inventing Brigitte Bardot or coining the term “discotheque.”

If you feel the way I do about BLOOD AND ROSES then please email Legend Films and make your feeling known, as they are now very much aware of the fan base for this film and might still be persuaded to do something about it. If you want to add your voice to those who want to see the film on DVD, call (858) 793-4420, or email support@legendfilms.com.

It would be amazing to finally see this film uncut, as I have kept from it a still for over twenty years depicting a great phantasmagoria climbing over Elsa Martinelli, which was shot (I am told) for the dream sequence and then removed. Roger Vadim created a stunning tone-poem for the undead and it still has the power to transfix those who wish to remain romantics when it comes to phantoms that walk in the sunlight as well as the dark.

Editor’s Note: I would personally vote for Criterion as the proper company to assemble all the parts and put out a multi-disc release.

This was a gorgeous movie, shot in the Technirama process. Even the 16mm print that I once owned and regret having gotten rid of was anamorphic and in Technicolor.

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11 Responses »

  1. I cast my vote! Saw this years ago and was very impressed-let’s keep our fingers crossed!

  2. an amazing film…I’m writing Legend now…too bad THE SKULL didn’t do better…I bought it right away and loved it…I was lucky and found a lot of color transparencies from BLOOD AND ROSES…with a surgery sequence I don’t remember in the film itself which looks like something out of Cronenberg.

  3. I have cast my vote for the release of this magnificent film. I also cast my vote for a commentary to be done by the film historian responsible for this article, David Del Valle. All commentaries should be done by those with a passion for their subject, and David certainly qualifies for this one.

  4. Just saw the new Horror Cinema Taschen book that you helped on…why did they skip so many movies? No ROSEMARY’S BABY? No THE OTHER or even THE OTHERS? No LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT or BLOOD AND ROSES — PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY?? So many great films skipped but then overdone coverage on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN and ALIEN??? WTF? …Were these guys even fans of the horror genre? I’m surprised you didn’t get more involved…besides seeing a lot of your photos in it I see none of your influence…sad…so hard to get books made and people botch it up when they do get the chance. Looking very forward to your POE book…Theirs was surprising absent of any AIP/POE Material besides maybe 2 or 3 stills…I figured they skipped it because of your book or did they skip it cause they’re just clueless?

  5. Hi Manoah

    I agree with you of course…unfortunately I was not asked to work on this at all I just provided what they asked for and you see the result…please give your email or contract info to the editor…need to talk to you

  6. David, It’s so nice to see Camp David back. I guess it was a vaca for you. I was afraid that you’d ended your run with Films In Review.

    I’m still dying to see the Archives up and running. What seems to be the problem?

    All Hendershot Sisters here are alive and well. As always, I wish the same for you & yours.

    *Regards*

    The Youngest

  7. Saw BLOOD & ROSES @ Demille Theater, NYC of blessed memory, U.S. premiere Sept. 1961. In Technirama, big-BIG movie-palace [screen 17′ high x 50′ wide, master-blaster sound system], pure *bliss*, movie-going gets no better.

    *Eat your hearts out, bitches.*

    Have also seen ET MOURIR DU PLAISIR—B & R is *way* superior: the cut footage is a needless sub-story about the servants, and scenes with the doctor. Losing them does *not* detract from the story, and gooses the pace. This IS a 74 minute movie. ET MOURIR is *very* disappointing.
    BLOOD & ROSES is the *real deal*—they *knew what they were doing*, cutting out extraneous material which reduced impact.

    Other films that actually profited from being cut for American release are BURN !/QUEIMADA [’69] and FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE/DUCK YOU SUCKER [’72]—both were disfigured by overt Marxist political agitprop which *cold-stopped* the story, an affliction that effectively killed off the spaghetti western.

    Only European film that *is* better in its *original* version is HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK [’64] running 76 minutes U.S. The *ENGLISH* cut, “TERROR OF DR. HICHCOCK” hews to the original—88 minutes AND has very good ENGLISH dubbing. The one to get.

    The stunning soundtrack by Jean Prodromides was issued on FONTANA France 1960 in 45 EP and was a hit. Strangely it has not been re-issued on ANY CD—original 45 EPs can be found on Ebay sometimes, dig deep.

    Hillman Books issued a tie-in paperback novelization of BLOOD & ROSES, 35c. You’ll pay more for it *now*. Follows American cut. Good of its kind—I remember many “novelizations” of films in the 1960s. Monarch Books had a whole line of horror-sc-fi novelizations.

    The beautiful U.S. poster of BLOOD AND ROSES is ***available on a T-shirt***—color fidelity PERFECT—I wear it with my linen suit, *killer*. $15 at filmfax.com. 2 for $25.
    They also have a beautiful TERROR OF DR. HICHCOCK, British poster T-shirt. BLACK SUNDAY, BRAIN EATERS and many others worth a look for the cult film fan.

    Cheers !

  8. ***UPDATE*** FOR BLOOD & ROSES junkies:

    CD of film score x Jean Prodromides available ***NOW*** @:

    http://www.disquescinemusique.com/DCM_120_A.html

    Can be purchased Online at this website [Contains scores for two other Prodromides scores.]

    Et mourir de plaisir (Blood and Roses) is an elegant vampire tale tinged with lesbianism,
    features a memorable harp tune and a classical flavored main theme for strings and organ. 16-page booklet.

    ET MOURIR DE PLAISIR (1960)
    21 Thème de Millarca 3:53 **
    22 Carmilla et Leopoldo 2:25
    Irish harp solist: Elena Polonska
    23 Tarentelle 2:46 **
    24 Danse ancienne en trois mouvements 2:03
    25 La Glace brisée 1:24 **
    DT 12:30

    **=sound files/online listen.

    The wait is over !

    Cheers !

  9. Hi kids,
    Here’s the YouTube version *BLOOD & ROSES*—it’s cut-down > 1.66-1, original TECHNIRAMA 2.35-1 and color is “variable”
    BUT IT ***BEATS A BLANK***, n’est-ce pas ?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmQKwia_snU&feature=related

    Been watching movies since 1956, have liked many.
    But this one *stands apart*, in a *class by itself*.
    It’s *better* than a great movie, it’s a *cum-drinking bitch*.

    TIP: *Disable Your Screensaver* Start/screensaver/right mouse-click/open controls/turn off.
    Then:
    *DELETE* ALL temp. files and browsing history—I use ***Google CHROME***/Adobe FLASH/REAL Player, ***best*** browser set-up for movies.

    I use ***CC Cleaner***, *free* download registry cleaner works like a charm as good/better than the fee-based cleaners: Get it *HERE*:

    http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner/help

    Open program, click on *Run Cleaner* and you’re done:
    Look how many megs of temp files you had clogging your registry !!!

    BEST results with 64-bit, 32-bit *sticky* image quality.
    Click “Full Screen”/lower right.
    ENJOY.

    Blood & Roses part 1 ( et mourir de plaisir )

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmQKwia_snU&feature=related

    Cheers !

  10. Blood and Roses (Et mourir de plaisir, 1960)
    ENGLISH LANGUAGE ***dvd***, $15, available HERE:
    http://www.trashpalace.com/collectorsmovies/horror1.htm

  11. Hi kids,
    Trailer for Blood And Roses *here* :
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhQWVOuONQs&feature=related

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