When Judge William Lee dances with himself, he's usually not naked in front of the mirror. Usually...
"I think this movie is one of the top two or three weirdest films I've made."—Jess Franco
Jesus Franco, or Jess Franco, is credited with creating over 200 films, but I know his work by reputation only. His celebrated effort Vampyros Lesbos didn't hold my attention and the Spanish director's fame as the king of Euro-sleaze didn't make me want to seek out his works. Franco has a devoted fan base and yet even those loyalists will admit the man has more misfires (even more disasters) than hits. So, hearing that the octogenarian was still making movies, I was curious to see what a prolific exploitation hack would craft in his senior years.
Paula-Paula is described as "an audiovisual experience" on the DVD cover and that's appropriate, I guess, since it's not really much of a movie. It's supposedly inspired by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but aside from a surface reading of "Hey, maybe the two women named Paula are actually the same woman," what little narrative effort is on display bears scant resemblance to the classic novella. The literary pretense is just an excuse the dirty old man director uses to convince his actresses to act out his fantasy.
Paula (Carmen Montes, Snakewoman) is suspected of killing her lover Paula (Paula Davis), an exotic dancer. A police officer (Lina Romay, Mansion of the Living Dead) interrogates Paula but gets no straight answers. Paula unsuccessfully tries to seduce another police officer and then successfully dances naked for the camera for a few minutes. In a lengthy, slow motion flashback we see the two Paulas dancing slowly, making out slowly, undressing each other in slow-motion and ever so slowly rolling around together on the floor. Then, finally, we find out if Paula really killed Paula. Or do we?
I like seeing naked women dance in front of the camera as much as the next guy, but Franco's style makes it look cheap, tawdry, and dull. The women aren't required to demonstrate any acting skills. A few times you can catch them pausing to look past the camera for instructions. The camera maintains a lazy, low position with an upward tilt most of the time. It's a position that looks as though the cameraman (Franco) is simply reclining on his couch. The chosen angles and the video effects applied to the image do not always put the women's bodies in a flattering light.
Franco makes exactly the kind of movie he wants to make, which I understand and respect. He films what turns his crank and he doesn't compromise for mainstream tastes. Okay, all the power to the old perv. However, considering his massive output over the years, it's hard to excuse glaring filmmaking faults. The film was shot entirely in one room standing in for a handful of sets but it looks like exactly the same room. There's a threadbare story in this film but Franco puts no effort into making the narrative work. When the cops arrive at the beginning to take Paula away for questioning, there's nothing to signal to viewers that they are cops. They don't have uniforms, they don't display props, they don't speak "cop talk" and they don't behave like cops. When the video shifts to the flashback portion of the story, there is nothing to really indicate that we're seeing an event in the past. Sure, an experimental video doesn't have to have all the trappings of a standard feature film, but if it's being presented as a story, it should hold together with a structure that's more thoughtful than simply a random series of clips.
The most interesting visual trick in the video is footage of Paula Davis performing what may be a belly dance (I assume, but it's hard to tell since she only moves in slow motion). One half of the screen is a mirror image so Paula is sometimes merging with her own image or other times she's a double image. Sometimes she has three breasts, other times it's a mono-boob. It's a trippy visual and it's really neat for about five minutes. Of course, Franco lingers on and returns to this footage for much, much longer.
The best element of this audiovisual experience is the audio. Using music by the late Austrian pianist/composer Friedrich Gulda, the jazzy score provides contrasting accompaniment to the languid visuals. The music gives life and sizzle to the slow and repetitious images. The music is sexy and exciting while the visuals are not. The soundtrack almost makes the video bearable. Maybe with something to help set the proper psychedelic atmosphere, this DVD could be the thing to let play in the background if you have not really much else to do but sit back on the couch.
The video quality varies between dreamy and ugly but that's probably Franco's intention. The image is cast in a yellow-orange tint and the picture detail is passable. The video is slowed down so the movement on screen and the overall picture quality is never totally smooth. Different scenes have different video effects applied to them. Sometimes it's very grainy, then other times the contrast is shallow and colors are pale, then later there's a blurring effect. Skin tones also vary from natural to ghoulish. The stereo audio does a good job of presenting the music but the dialogue has a poor overdub quality to it. There's about half an hour's worth of interview footage with the director talking about this movie and his views on contemporary filmmaking.
Jess Franco devotees, how can you pass this one up? He's definitely a filmmaker who doesn't make films for everyone. Now, I don't want to speak for everyone, but Paula-Paula isn't for me.
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