Lancelot du lac (1974)

7.5 out of 10
Remember The Jam? Yes, of course you do! But, did you know that, in 1980, they looked to the BBC for inspiration. No? Well they did! Because, for their fifth album, they would draw upon the work of Roy Curtis-Bramwell and his iconic image grid. This was, of course, the styling that was used for the BBC Sound Effects series. It would be reproduced, faithfully, for the fifth album by the mod revivalists. The album, incidentally, would be appropriately entitled Sound Affects. See what they did there? For those not "in the know", the BBC Sound Effects albums were a series of thematically grouped foley effects. The product of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, they were released on a long playing vinyl record. This, kids, is what us oldies used to call an LP. Pronounced ĕl′pē′, they were made back when music was good. No? Anyhow, the series included, among their number, BBC Sound Effects No. 19: Doctor Who Sound Effects! How cool is that! This little gem would feature, among its esoteric track listing, prog sounding titles such Kraal Disorientation Chamber, The Interior Of Xoanon and Metebelis III Atmosphere. With these, The Orb would have a field day! Indeed, they even named one of their songs after a track from BBC Sound Effects No. 26: Sci-Fi Sound Effects. Except, all this talk of The BBC Radiophonic Workshop may leave readers wondering what a 45 rpm single from the collection would consist of. That is, of course, should such a thing exist in the first place. Which it doesn't. But, what if it did? Maybe such a record could simply consist of the sound of a horse whinny. This sounds like a winner! Ahem, possibly! And how about the sound of a magpie on the flipside? But, what on earth has this to do with Robert Bresson? Well, to be honest, not much! However, throw a few bagpipes in for good measure, and this would all be an approximation to the soundtrack of Lancelot du Lac. It is really that sparse! Not only is the scoring minimal, but it is repetitive too! Well, it would be, wouldn't it? Yet, it is making the best of the material that is available. After all, not every film can feature bespoke scoring from Ennio Morricone or Stelvio Cipriani. So, if you have a horse noise to hand, then you're going to use it, no? Ditto bagpipes. Anyhow, that is what Bresson does. He plays his horse noise every couple of seconds. The result of all this is not as bad as it sounds. Indeed, it is quite effective. Ultimately disquieting. So, incidentally, is an extended close-up of a horse's eye that Bresson uses. For, here, the camera lingers. Possibly for a second or two longer than it should! However, this allows us dwell on the significance of this more than we ordinarily would. It places a filmic Day-Glo marker over the moment. Indeed, without overdoing the anthropomorphism, it is probably fair to say that this particular horse appears to be fretting over something. Imminent bagpipes possibly. Not that any of this makes for a dull movie. Far from it! Because Bresson seems to have a plan. Here, by rejecting Hollywoodised cinematic conventions, he makes something of an anti-movie. Because, where we would ordinarily expect to find finery and grandeur, we simply get solemn, empty spaces. We get long drawn out scenes, awkward silences. We also get slightly fidgety actors who, so it appears, don't quite know what is expected of them next. But, still the camera rolls. Our inexperienced cast make shifty sidewards glances before shuffling out of shot. Yet, all this somehow seems appropriate for Lancelot du lac. However, the result of all this is not a form of realism. Instead this is a sort of an askew, slightly ethereal, Waterhouse inspired, cinematic world. For this is an Alphaville-like place. It is devoid of emotion. King Arthur may well have been sad to have lost many good knights, in a futile quest to discover the Holy Grail. He may even be pleased when he learns that his champion, Lancelot, is safe. But he doesn't show it. He shows nothing. He may even be at boiling point when he learns how Lancelot was knobbing his missus, but again, he shows nothing. You see, through all the sniping, plotting, jockeying for position and backstabbing we get only poker faces. Indeed, even a romance between Luc Simon's Lancelot and Laura Duke Condominas' Queen Guinevere manages to confine itself to talking monotonously, about the things that they either will, or won't, do to one another. It is possibly the most unromantic romance ever. It is very much from the "more peas Norma?" school of intimacy. There really is no lovey-dovey chitchat here. In truth, it all feels a little clumsy at times. Yet in its own languid, stripped-down, Pre-Raphaelite way: it works! Which is just as well really. Even as a cast of charisma-free neophytes mumble, expressionlessly, through the material. As it is with romance, so it is too with action. For this seems to be borrowed from the Bruce Lee school of fighting without fighting. So, here we are not allowed to see arrows do anything other than landing upon the ground, or piercing the bark of a tree. Yet we are permitted to enjoy extended segments that consist of little more than knights clinking about the place in armour. Indeed, aside from a particularly bloody opening, which is very much in the mould of Monty Python's dismemberment scene from their Holy Grail, almost all of the action takes place off camera. So, knights walk about, a lot, in order to convey a central premise. The result, here, is far more footage of chain-mailed arses than one would otherwise expect. Indeed, Footloose aside, seldom has a film been so reliant upon footage of legs. It is, to legs, what Tempole Tudor are to swords. Where you would expect action, we get nothing. Zero, zilch! Instead we left with something that is conjured up by our imagination in order to fill the void. It is as if, throughout, that Bresson is suggesting that if anything interesting is happening, then it is not happening here. At least not in this place and certainly not at this time. Even a set-piece tournament, in which our eponymous hero takes on all-comers is reduced to close-ups of the raising of standards, of lance-points, of horses legs, the insufferable squeaking of bagpipes and recordings of whistles and cheers.

Sinful Dwarf, The (1973)

5.5 out of 10
Even before the quirky montage of mechanical toys has accompanied the credits, we have already witnessed one child kidnapping. But, there had been others. Indeed, over time, a number of girls had been lured inside by Olaf, the charismatic, toy-obsessed, midget son of the landlady. With his manic stare, drooling, and menacing grin, he would appear upon the street, clockwork dog in tow, shuffling with the aid of his cane. "There are more toys...", he would suggest, before pausing for dramatic effect. He would then add a sinister sounding "...inside!". Then, slowly, but surely, a young, pigtailed, wide-eyed innocent, would be led from the streets. Peter was about to embark upon a career as a driver. It was his first day and he had been instructed, by his employer, to make his way, post-haste, to Paris. Peter, played by Tony Eades, was to collect a consignment of teddy bears for a local toymaker who was known as Santa. Such was the urgency, that he wouldn't even be able to go home and pack a few things. There was no time. He could call his wife. Then, he would have to be on his way. Of course, had Peter known that the operation was no more than a cover for the transportation of heroin, it is unlikely that he would have ever got involved. After all, he was no smuggler! Because, even though he and his wife Mary had fallen on hard times, he was, first and foremost, a writer. It is just that, with no one seemingly willing to take up his scripts, the couple had been forced to endure a life in Copenhagen's filthiest apartment. Thus, it came to pass that they were brought, accidentally, into the orbit of Jack Black's doppelgänger: the pervy, fun-sized, Olaf. Also his mother: the flamboyant Lila Lash. Lila, played by Clara Keller, was a book in herself. Now gin-soaked, this former vaudevillian would still regularly perform Marlene Dietrich type routines for her friend. These would even feature costume changes. Sadly, though, like the long lost grandeur of the former nightclub she called home, her paint was peeling and her beauty long faded. But, was the place really that bad? Because, figured Peter, while Lila was eccentric and her son a little creepy, it was a roof over their heads. Besides, the place gave him the chance to pursue his writing career. Mary, on he other hand, had misgivings from the outset. For her, there was something that didn't quite seem right. All night long she would hear the comings and goings. What were these strange noises? Another alcohol fuelled performance from Lila? If that was the case, though, why did these sounds appear to come from the attic? This was certainly most odd! However Anne Sparrow's Mary, while curious, didn't dwell on this too much. After all, it wasn't as though the place was a cover for a brothel, slavery ring and drug den, was it? Oh, wait.... You see, unbeknown to Mary there was a hidden room. It was buried deep within the attic. There, behind bars, two girls were kept prisoner. Living by candlelight, and sleeping upon filthy, sex-soaked mattresses, their raison d'etre was to service the Johns. "Press the bell...", Olaf would tell visitors. Then, pausing, grinning manically, he would add a dramatic "...when you have finished". Here Torben's performance is exceptional and he really manages to convince. Clearly enjoying himself, he spits and glowers. He is as spellbinding as he is rancid. The little fella deserved awards for this! Confined to Olaf's twisted shooting gallery, with a shit-stained toilet for company, the girls are beaten, abused and regularly banged up with heroin. Any dissent is met by Olaf's cane and gynecological punishments at the hands of the piano playing midget. Directed by Vidal Raski, The Sinful Dwarf is far from your ordinary horror tale. Because the film, in essence, is a very, very, dark fairy tale. It is like a suburban Brothers Grimm, brought into the twentieth century and sexed-up for the aware audience. Albeit with Women in Prison undertones. It is also, occasionally, a bleak experience. It also possesses a certain surreal and nightmarish quality. It is as the scoring switches from a mix of clockwork toy noises and weird boings, to a more poliziottesco style tempo, that the film reveals the blackness of its heart. For, the girls, when they go to work, seem to love it. Indeed, in a spirited defence of the treat-them-mean school, they go at it like nymphomaniac bonobo. This is Stockholm Syndrome, Copenhagen style! Sadly, there is something especially dispiriting about seeing the women, who had been beaten and enslaved, portrayed as so enthusiastically engaging in sex with the punters. Nevertheless, the film easily shifts its gears from crime film, to dwarfsploitation, to horror film and ultimately to porno. Though its hard to figure out who the hell is going to enjoy watching stoned, miserable, supposedly teenage girls, having sex in grotty apartments. Students maybe?

Sinfonía erótica (1980)

6.0 out of 10
"My husband is not homosexual", protested Martine de Bressac. However, she wasn't really getting it. For things were different now. In fact, there had been loads of changes around the place. For example, who was that strange bloke that she had noticed to be wandering about the house? Was he a helper? Because, it may have simply been that her husband needed a hand around the place. After all, it was a large house. You see, Martine, here played by Lina Romay, had been away. She had been committed by her husband. So, for the past few years, she had attended a clinic. There she had received treatment for what was, allegedly, syphilis inspired lunacy. However, now cured, she was convinced that things could get back to normal. Sadly though, life is seldom so straightforward. For, at home, something seemed amiss. For example, where on earth did she think her husband was going at night? Surely all that late night sneaking about really should have set alarm bells ringing? Because, as she was tucked up in bed with her glass of milk, her husband, the Marqués Armando de Bressac, was further along the corridor. He was with his new friend. Even when she discovers Amando at one of his late night rendezvous, he continues as though this was reasonable enough. He simply invites Martine to watch. Apparently he believes that she can learn something from watching his boyfriend, Flor, as the pair go at it like a couple of Hooray-Henry vacuum cleaners. Besides, played by Armando Borges, he is one of those foppish, new-fangled, libertine fellows. It's what they do! They love it! So, Amando urges her to join in. After all, it is the nineteenth century! What we begin to notice though, is that Amando has a wicked streak. He can be incredibly mean. You see, he believes that others only exist for his pleasures. So, what we experience is a mixture of cruelty and erotica. But what do you expect? We are talking about a Jess Franco sexploitation film here! It should come as no surprise to discover traces of De Sade. After all, this is a frequent theme throughout the work of the Spanish auteur: Eugenie de Sade, Justine, Venus in Furs, Philosophy in the Boudoir and so on. Besides, with a title like Sinfonía erótica, it was hardy going to be a family movie. One should always come to Franco's films with the expectation that things will turn extremely weird. For, they often do. Quickly! Here again, in Sinfonía erótica, this is precisely what happens. Indeed, things really start to go awry when a nun is tossed into the mix. You see, while the debauched dandies are out for a stroll, they discover a nun lying in the undergrowth. She is unconscious, bruised and bloody. So, upon finding a comatose nun, what are a they to do? Well, precisely what any amoral, Sadean, aristocrats to do in this situation: they take Norma the Nun home! However, even after they have safely tucked her up in bed, they can't help themselves! In order to wake her, the pair attempt what could best be described as a form of alternative, massage-based, therapy. However, to the uninitiated, this would probaby resemble a quick fumble under her habit! It is effective though. By the time Norma the Nun is fully awake, the lads are rubbing away like a pair of Aladdins at a lamp auction. The sweaty, panting trio then merge into a single, slobbering mass of humping, trembling flesh. They are all lost in the moment. And the nun? She likes it! Loves it, in fact! Of course, all this should begin to feel a little familiar to the formally virginal, sexual neophyte novice. Because, as it happens, she is played by Susan Hemingway and this was not her first awakening under the Franco wimple. She'd been here before! Because Jess would cast her as the the wide-eyed, innocent, Maria Rosalea, in the colourful nunsploitation flick, Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun. Now, however, she was older, wiser, and going through it all again! Anyhow, following Norma's sexual initiation, Martine decides to pay her a visit. She appears to be all concerned and stuff. So, with trust established, Norma explains that it hurts. Martine helpfully replies that it doesn't have to be this way. Certainly not when it is being done with another woman! This, then, becomes the cue for yet more sexual shenanigans. Martine, too, gets to indulge in a little tongue topiary around the good sister's ornamental garden. Again, the nun loves it! One starts to get the feeling that all this could have been the beginning of a wonderful love rectangle! Alas, it wasn't meant to be. For, three decide that four's a crowd. The nun can stay. Martine has to go! Plots are hatched. What is interesting to note is how the film attempts to illustrate Martine's mental state throughout. For example, dialogue is often conducted off camera, while the attention is often drawn to the seemingly inconsequential. So as things begin to unravel we see leaves fall and oceans glisten. We focus on seabirds, distant castles and statues. All in a lovely, Joe D'amato-esque, soft focus. Voices are echoes, and the languid, serene plotting is in tune with Franz Listz, Piano Concerto No.2. Yet, when Norma begins to place drugs in poor Martine's milk, the film crackles to life. At this point we are moving into vintage Franco territory. We get to experience the wild, erratic, trademark zooms, the close-ups and the obtuse camera angles that the director would typically use to create his askew cinematic world. As Martine starts talking to herself, she begins touching herself into a frenzy. She rubs vigorously, threatening to remove every trace of fur from her undercarriage. Mania grips the movie. Surely, death must follow! The familiar is rendered strange and staircases are shot with Dutch tilts. We accompany the descent of Martine as the movie begins to party like it's 1969.