I was 15 years old, I wanted to place an order for VHS dubs of some
rare Exploitation films. I had been reading Psychotronic for a while at
that point, and what was once an unidentifiable urge had manifested
itself in the realization that there was indeed a universe out there of
bizarre cinema, the likes of which I had not yet known. There were
these mystifying ads in Psychotronic, packed densely with way-too-small
text and emitting an air of actual and genuine sleaziness.
had seen “Evil Dead” and “Day of the Dead” about a billion times, I had
made all of my friends suffer through whichever silent German
Expressionist film I could get a tape of, but I still felt there was …
something else out there. Something sicker, something more. The
unsavory titles that crammed the ads full were particularly indicative
of this “other world” of film. I only knew of a director named Jess
Franco through the elegant, dreamy Vampyros Lesbos and his less popular Count Dracula with Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski, but these ads seemed to have literally dozens of different Franco films.
Curiosity had reached its breaking point and I needed to order some of these tapes … “Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun” what the fuck was this stuff?
any case, in 1995 when you wanted something mailorder, you needed a
check. I filled out a sheet of paper with the films I wanted, got a
little cash together and before leaving for school one day I asked my
father for a check in exchange for the cash, so I could get some
My father had been supportive of film fandom in the
past, but after I left for school that day he opened that letter to see
exactly what kinds of films I was going to be ordering - needless to
say, that letter never got sent and I was scolded pretty hard when I got
home. I guess the ads in Psychotronic seem somewhat unwholesome to the
uninitiated. The memory of my defense is still clear in my mind: “This
movie is by a guy who directed a Dracula movie with Christopher Lee,
how 'bad' could it be!?”
As the years went by and I got old enough to make my own pilgrimages to Kim’s
in the city, I saw dozens of Franco films. Then dozens more. My
adoration for him grew - this filmmaker could hit notes of artful
composition, powerful sexuality, deep introspection, and bawdy humor in the span of a
minute - yet these notes were merely by-products. Clearly
Franco was a rare man who was actually using filmmaking the way a Jazz
musician improvises. There’s a part of the infrastructure of a “song”,
it has the melody sometimes, there’s echoes of a familiar riff, you hear
the hook now and again, but these elements are just part of that big
dizzying swirl of emotion being poured out from the soul through a horn.
Part exploration, part confession, part magic trick, all Exorcism.
feelings that are involved in my absolute love for Franco’s work are
not only hard to explain, but also somehow too personal to externally
Today though, a part of my feelings for Franco’s work
has made itself clear. If Franco’s uncountable contributions had to be
boiled down to one singular notion, if we're to name one lone factor for
which his work is valuable, it would be this -
In a world where
we’re told to walk the line or fail; in a world where we can literally
lose our livelihood, our comfort, and even our lives if we don’t adhere
to the status quo, we are given strict guidelines for what “success”
is. The acceptable parameters of “success” are dictated around us with
no room to experiment, and in desperate confusion so many of us lose the
ability to ignore these suffocating lines of distraction, the daily
battering rams that drive us into bleak repetition. So many of us are
so mesmerized that those among us who shout out are the “crazy ones”.
The thing I realized this morning, the thing I realized just now,
is that when faced with of all this, despite these enormous and
complicated pressures to conform; Jesus Franco Manera simply chuckled,
turned his back, and made another film. And then another film. And
then another film … With his incredible history of ups and downs,
deaths of loved ones and soul mates, studios and producers, money and no money and NO money, Franco never saw the option to give in. I’d have to guess that that idea never even occurred to him.
He had his own terms for “success”. His success was not born of
spite, desire for recognition, for fortune - it was never about anything
besides making that next film. Finding that new place on celluloid, no
matter what other people would think or say.
Though it goes
against our deeply ingrained idea of “success”, I’d like to offer a
personal opinion that I will hold dearly for the rest of my time here,
and that is that there is no artist more successful than Jesus Franco
Manera.And even more
gloriously, to emulate his success means to permanently enter the
terrorizing, blissful, un-ending battle of being true to yourself. No
matter what, always.
I get excited about the fact that I don't know everything. It'll occur
to me that my life is filled with impacting discoveries, and before
each one of those discoveries I had no previous attachment to whatever
it was that impacted me so. And therefore I'm always in that position, constantly finding out about things that move me, things to be obsessed with, and things to be fascinated by.
latest big one is the amazing Rosaleen Norton. An Australian artist
born in 1917, she became enchanted by the Occult and the Weird at a
young age and embraced these qualities with her own fierce
individuality. It was this steadfast embrace of following one's heart
that the conservative atmosphere of Australia in the 1940's would not
allow for, and Norton's story is unfortunately laced with tragedy.
"Moon", circa 1955
her teen years she discovered 'WEIRD TALES' and became inspired enough
by its Weird Fiction to create a few macabre tales of her own. Norton
didn't stay writing for long however, drawing and painting quickly
became her artistic voice. I assume she appreciated the art of Virgil
Finlay, and clearly a myriad of religious and occult imagery. However,
her work isn't too readily comparable to anything. In the 40's her work
hung on coffee shop walls of the town she lived in, King's Cross. It
was a bohemian getaway from the staunch and uptight surroundings of
Australia at the time, and was said to be not unlike New York City's
Untitled , circa 1943
practiced self-hypnosis, and drew under its influence, creating images
existing in other dimensions that she claimed to gain sight of. She
also experimented with drugs, using them as well to tap into other
worlds; and using them in her own specialized practices of Black Magic.
Dubbed "the Witch of King's Cross", a name Norton at first jovially
embraced, she became a celebrity of sorts. She was open about
denouncing Christianity and about being a Witch. At first it increased
the public's knowledge of her (not her work), but after a while it did
wonders to tarnish her reputation as an artist; and worse yet put her on
the Australian government's radar as a threat to decency.
may seem incredible, but Rosaleen Norton went to court time and time
again regarding her artwork. She was fined, she had paintings and
drawings confiscated, police showed up at her exhibitions and took
paintings off the wall claiming obscenity - perhaps worst of all, she
had paintings ordered to be destroyed by the Australian government. Her
exhibitions were precious few, the art world simply wouldn't take her
seriously (save for a handful). This rejection pained her, she felt
that her work was valid and should be seen, so she didn't stop working.
Even though it became a major impossibility to her art shown in a
gallery, the coffee house walls still displayed her work. Much of her
life in the 1950's and 60's was lived in poverty, and she and her young
poet lover were even arrested for squatting when she had no other place
to live. These are only glimpses of her whole story.
it's a quite naked thought, the life of Rosaleen Norton is a perfect
metaphor for how one can follow her heart to the bitter end and see no
reward for it in her lifetime. It isn't easy being ahead of your time.
The battle to listen to your heart no matter what people will say or do
to you is a constant one, a battle most people give up fighting from a
very early age now. Rosaleen didn't. It was a thankless job that she
suffered for, but she never gave up.
"Rosie with Snake", circa 1960
the quality of these images: They are all taken from "The Occult
Visions of Rosaleen Norton" which is a catalog for a posthumous
exhibition of her work. Keith Richmond (an Australian who champions
Norton's work, and has done much to preserve her legacy) wrote the
excellent text outlining her life, however the images in the book suffer
from low resolution digital photography and are mostly too
blurry/pixelated to really enjoy! The three best pieces, which are also
three of my favorites, are here to enjoy as well as some great photos
of Ms. Norton, who is incredible to look at. I kind of have a crush on
her. The wonderful Creation Books is releasing a comprehensive Norton
book at the end of this year, and will without a doubt be the most
thorough and accessible tome on her yet. I have some other pieces
coming that will go up soon, when Part 2 of "the Incredible Weird Tale
of Rosaleen Norton" is ready.