Interview with Michel Lemoine (part 1)
Posted by: Frederick Durand , 11/21/2001, 14:48:36
Here's for you the 1st part of an interview I did with genre great Michel Lemoine.
If you enjoy it, I'll post parts 2 & 3 in the future.
Interview with Michel Lemoine (october/december 1997)
Conducted and translated from french by Frédérick Durand
New updated final version of the text
F. D. : In 1972, you have directed a film titled Le Manoir aux louves (The film was retitled Les chiennes (The Bitches) by the french distributor. A translation for the original would be The Manor of the She-Wolves.), that contained some fantastique (supernatural) scenes. They were cut, to allow a distribution of the film. A short-film gathering these cut scenes exists. What could you tell me about it ?
M. L. : The fantastique scenes were cut because of the distributor, who also changed the title to rechristen it Les chiennes. I have edited the remaining scenes for this short-film, but I'm surprised that you're aware of it. To my knowledge, the film is still at Éclair (the laboratory of the film). It lasts about 15 minutes.
F. D. : On june 2nd, 1995, there was, at the Cinémathèque-République (Paris), a tribute to Michel Lemoine. I'd like to know how was that evening... What was the critical reception of Les week-ends maléfiques du comte Zaroff/Seven Women for Satan/Seven Women for the Sadist ? Is there a possible dialog with the public of the 90s, and a real understanding of the 60s and 70sfantastique films for those viewers who are accustomed to something different, because of the world-wide domination of the american big-budget movies in which the special effects are often privileged, much more than the creation and the reflexion ?
M. L. : When I received that phone call from the Cinémathèque to ask for my presence during a tribute, I was stunned, and I believed it was a joke ! They screened Planets against us and Les Week-ends maléfiques. For the reasons that you give, I was worried about the reception that I would receive. I even invited none of my friends ! But it was marvelous. When I saw that theater full of young people, I got a terrible wind up. First, it was Planets against us, so different from the actual sci-fi films. The public followed the projection almost religiously. Of course, they laughed during some scenes or during some old-fashioned dialogs, but they often applauded. I had a long discussion with them, during the entract. It was one of the most sympathetic moments of my carreer, as we were on the same wave-lenght. We laughed a lot, and we were at the same time touched by the lyricism and a certain poetry thay they found in that « campy film ». They talked about it with a certain nostalgy to not have lived these years. I told them my outings in the 60s, at midnight, from the theaters that were specialized in that kind of movies, like the « Midi-Minuit », where, sat on a bench, in the street, we could talk of fantastique cinema during long hours... It was the same thing with the public, at the end of the Week-ends, where, on the sidewalks, I wasn't able to answer to all their questions... We stayed for hours, like so many years ago. With all my heart, I owe an extraordinary moment to the public of that tribute-evening.
F. D. : Your most recent cinematographic apparitions were in the films of Norbert Moutier (Dinosaur From the Deep, 1996) and Quélou Parente (Le Marquis de Slime, 1995). How was the shooting of these films from underground filmmakers ?
M. L. : Regarding the film of Quelou Parente, my friend Jean-Claude Rohmer (One of the journalists, in the 60s-70s, of the mythic french film magazine Midi-Minuit Fantastique devoted to eroticism, surrealism, and fantastique. BTW, if any of you are looking for issues of these very rare mags, I have many of them for sale or trade) asked me one day to receive a director who wanted to shoot with me. For a long time, I no longer wanted to act anymore, but to my surprise, I opened my door to a very young blonde girl, so enthusiastic, so passionate I couldn't refuse. It was an oniric shooting, sometimes from 7 hours P.M. to 7 hours A. M., in the Père Lachaise cemetery, where the nocturnal atmosphere of these tombs, lightened by the special effects team formed of 25 young persons, full of enthusiasm, applauding after each take, was surrealistic.
As for Norbert Moutier, it was simple. I went to his book store B.D. Ciné, in Paris, and he set his usual trap, that he used for many filmmakers friends, french or american. He was shooting the end of one of his films, and he asked me to act for some instants. How could I tell no to this « madman of cinema », about who one could one day write a film ? Actually, he has just directed a new film in New York, under unthinkable conditions.
F. D. : You have worked three times with Howard Vernon (on Jess Franco's Succubus/Necronomicon ; on Adrian Hoven's Castle of the Creeping flesh ; on Les week-ends maléfiques du Comte Zaroff). Vernon is another special personality of the fantastique...
M. L. : Howard Vernon is a very great figure of the fantastique. After the shooting of Necronomicon, Adrian Hoven hired us, Howard Vernon and me, for a film in Vienna. My friendship, my admiration, my complicity with Howard Vernon is at the origin of Week-ends. His only presence on a set created a climate where everyone was in a state of extraordinary hypertension : he was cold as ice and burning as hell ; insensible and warm ; sinister and extraordinary funny. It was a solitary genius, whose decency and modesty hid a deep sensibility. Howard, I was so lucky to know you.
Interview with Michel Lemoine (parts 2 and 3)
Posted by: Frederick Durand , 11/27/2001, 16:33:53
As promised here's the remaining part of the Michel Lemoine interview. I'll soon post the Dardano Sacchetti and Rollin interviews. Look for them... and enjoy.
F. D. : What could you tell me about a film titled How short is the time to love ? It's supposed to be your first film.
M. L. : During the shooting of many films, in Italy, like La Vengeance du Masque de Fer/La Vendetta del maschera di fero or Ercole Contro Moloch/Hercules against Moloch, the shooting lasted many weeks, sometimes three months, and between the scenes, I passed many hours in my caravan. That's how I began to write screenplays that I gave to some assistants of young directors, allowing them to use and sign them with their name. During the shooting of the Franco films, I wrote How Short is the Time to Love. I told the subject, an evening in Munich, to the young producer of these Franco films, Pier A. Caminecci, who asked me to come in Berlin to rewrite it. He allowed me to direct the film, under the condition that he would sign the direction... I accepted, not knowing that when the film would be over, he would take his role very seriously, that he would direct new scenes without my knowledge, and redo the editing. The film was finally a series of adventures and misadventures, but I don't regret it at all, because it brought me a lot of things. It was Janine Reynaud, my ex-wife, who starred in the principal role.
F. D. : What about Adrian Hoven's Party with Death ?
M. L. : Adrian Hoven, if I'm right, asked me to play a monster in his film... But I may be wrong as I've never had the pleasure to see that film.
F. D. : Are you interested in the fantastique from a long date ?
M. L. : My interest for the fantastique has deep roots in me... It exists from my first perceptions of life. It lives in me, and I could talk about it during many hours. Life would be uninteresting without it, it would be vegetative. I don't think, like the protagonist of The Rope (which I've incarnated for a theatrical adaptation), that we are superior beings, but we are certainly different, as our relations with the unreal give us a « luminous » vision that places us in a different world, in which we can recognize by instinct those who are a part of that world. I had, during the shooting of Planets against us, an extraordinary period, thanks to director Romano Ferrara. For some time, I was in a second state of mind, I felt like I really was the alien of the film... I never had that sensation again, except, maybe, a little with Jess Franco or Adrian Hoven.
The roots of my passion for the fantastique comes from my own experience. When I was a young actor, I would read papers, magazines and books about the unreal, about that other subterranean life I was feeling in all the pulsations of my heart... It gave an explanation and a real sense to my life. In the past, I had sought an outlet, a derivative to that organized and bourgeois society I was living in, a society I had no interest for, as it didn't give any explanation, any solution for all those who refused to accept the established norms.
F. D. : You worked with Antonio Margheriti during the sixties. How was he ?
M. L. : An intelligent and humoristic man, Margheriti wanted to conduct the italian cinema in the tradition of the american productions, despite the lack of budget allowed by the italian producers for that kind of films. Margheriti was marginal in the italian industry of the time. By many aspects (cameraman, namely), he was close to Mario Bava.
F. D. : Your films have obvious literary qualities (poetic dialogs, references to literature and to a romantic fantastique tradition), it's stunning to see that you've never published any books or short stories. Did you ever write a play, a novel ?
M. L. : Of course, I've written many beginnings of novels, of plays, but I prefer the cinema because of its short cuts and its close-ups, often more expressive than a long discourse.
F. D. : Regarding your other less known roles, you have played in an anthology titled « L'appel ».
M. L. : I have co-written the screenplay, and collaborated to the direction with Tilda Thsamar, a beautiful and talented argentinian actress. She produced the film, but she had disappointments with it, as the italian distributor didn't honor his contracts.
F. D. : (At the time of the interview, Michel had a project to make a film version of a novel by Alain Venisse. Alain was the photograph on many films of François Truffaut, Boisset, but also on many films of Michel Lemoine. Alain is a true connaisseur of european B-movies, he has written, along with Alain Petit and Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, for the « cinema-Bis » section of Vampirella (french edition), in the 1970s. Many of his novels were published in the book collection directed by Jean Rollin in 1995-1996, « Frayeur ». The book that Michel wanted to adapt at the time was Dans les profondeurs du miroir (In the Depths of the Mirror), a thriller about a cursed mirror that creates dangerous dopplegangers. I consider it as a good novel, loaded with references, that would make an interesting screenplay. The book is dedicated to André Ruellan, the novelist who wrote Le Seuil du vide/Threshold of the Void, extraordinarily adaptated for the cinema in 1971 by Jean-François Davy, starring... Michel Lemoine !
Sadly, it seems that Michel had lost interest in the project. I can understand it. I think he would have needed to have some enthusiastic fans to support him. As I don't live in France, I couldn't play that role, unfortunately.
I must point out that it is something that really plays a role with directors like Michel or Jean Rollin. Young fan Véronique Djaouti played an important and not very known role in motivating Jean Rollin for his last films and books. Jean is always to first to reckognize it.
Another fact that didn't help was that Michel was attacked and BEATEN by robbers just in front of his parisian flat in Paris, at the beginning of 2001. He was hospitalized, has to go throughout a process of reeducation. His nose was broken, etc. He is going better now, but it has been a very difficult time for him. The guys also hit his girlfriend, gorgeous Nicaise Jean-Louis (seen in James Bond and LE GENDARME ET LES GENDARMETTES).
Anyway, here's what Michel told me about his project, at the time :
M. L. : I have many problems pertaining to finance, because the french producers seem allergic to the fantastique. They are wrong : all the young people I meet, all those who write to me are passionate with it. Despite my great desire to direct this film, I have not reunited enough money at this time, even if my budget is minimal. I have however discovered some interesting actors for the film.
F. D. : There were recently a special projection, in a french Cinémathèque, of Bénazéraf's Sin on the Beach... You were there.
M. L. : It was a great success, in a theater full of young people. In the 60s, Truffaut liked the film a lot, and Les cahiers du cinéma (an intellectual and powerful french magazine) had published an excellent review of it. But Bénazéraf is a solitary wild character. He refused to be involved in a group, as he didn't want to lose his freedom.
F. D. : What where the most interesting roles in your career ?
M. L. : Of course, the theater with the roles of Lennie in Of mice and men, in The Rope ; the films with Planets against us, Massacre au soleil, Milord l'arsouille, Les filles sèment le vent, Sin on the Beach, Les possédés du démon/Delitto allo specchio, Arizona Bill, Criminali della galassia/Wild Wild Planet, Castle of the Creeping Flesh...