Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Remembering David Jones (1945-2012)

This picture of actor/musician David Jones and I -- "my two favorite guys" -- was taken by Donna backstage at the Monkees concert here at Cincinnati's Aronoff Center last June 25. The news of his passing this morning hit me very personally because I've always known that I might someday have to break this news to Donna, who's loved him since 1966. She's hurting, of course, but she is taking it well and feeling fortunate for all the times we were able to meet him. She didn't expect that he, the youngest of the group and seemingly the one in most robust health (he was a horseman who rode every opportunity he had), would be the first of the Monkees to go.

We first met at a 1994 performance of GREASE in which he appeared with Brooke Shields and Sally Struthers; I pointed him out to Donna, talking with some audience members near the stage before the show began, and I watched her go down and have her long dreamed-of moment with him. I saw her speak to him, get his attention, and she said something to him that made him step forward and envelop her in his arms like it was absolutely the right thing he needed to hear at that moment. Then he walked her back up the aisle to our seats -- "you walked me down the aisle, and he walked me up the aisle" she likes to say -- and we met and he gave Donna a pre-signed photo he carried in his breast pocket and said he hoped we would enjoy the show. We did.

Since then we've met again several times, and Donna interviewed him by telephone for THE CINCINNATI POST, a dream assignment offered to her by our friends Wayne and Jan Perry. As Donna told me, a sudden heart attack was the best way for him to go -- he went in his sleep, suffered no inconveniences of old age nor long debilitating illnesses, and he continued performing and meeting his public right up to the end. I know that he had remarried to Jessica, a very young Cuban flamenco dancer, just a few years ago; he'd written and published his autobiography; he had seen his back catalogue of music with The Monkees reissued in impressively thorough and annotated sets from Rhino (thank you, Andrew Sandoval); and he was working toward a dream of building a combination theater and memorabilia museum in his adopted home town of Beavertown, PA.

Davy was incontestably the heart and soul of The Monkees, though one might argue that Micky had the more versatile voice, that Peter was the best musician, or that Mike the best songwriter. He's the one they can't do Monkees reunions without. No one is saying this yet, because it's hard enough just to lose him, but I suspect that David's passing will mean probably the end of The Monkees as well. Mike's not going back on the road in that format, and Peter and Micky as a performing duo would seem like bookends without a book. Of course, they'll all continue to play Monkees songs live, as will young and old garage bands all over the world.

There are several pics I've taken of Donna over the years with her beloved idol, including the one below, but the one I've posted above is the only one of the two of us together. We gave him a copy of our HEAD coverage on that occasion, and he signed my copy of Rhino's magnificent HEAD box set. In my experience, David -- as he referred to himself and as was his prefered billing -- was a very nice man, the most generous of all the Monkees to his fans, always the last man standing there to sign autographs. God bless him for always going that extra mile, and for making my little wife's spirit soar for all these years.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Franco's Muse: Lina Romay (1954-2012)

Tragic news has emerged today from Spain, where actor Antonio Mayans -- her co-star in dozens of films -- formally announced the February 15 death of Lina Romay, the actress and filmmaker best-known as the wife and longtime creative partner of Spanish director Jesús "Jess" Franco. A cancer victim, she was only 57 years old.

Born Rosa María Almirall Martínez in June 1954, Lina Romay -- renamed after the retired former singer with Xavier Cugat's band, who died a couple of years ago -- entered the world of cinema in a brief appearance in Jess Franco's film THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (1972) as a gypsy girl, which appears in only the Spanish variant of the picture. She came to Franco's attention as the art student girlfriend of his stills photographer Ramón Ardid, but it soon became apparent to both Jess and Lina that they were personally and creatively inseparable. Their attraction ended Franco's marriage to his script girl Nicole Guettard, who disappeared from his filmography circa 1974, returned briefly circa 1980, and died in 1996. For Franco's part, having found it difficult to reassemble himself following the 1970 accidental death of his most promising actress Soledad Miranda, he claimed to sense a reincarnation of Soledad in Lina, and she -- who never met her predecessor -- claimed to sense her presence watching over them at times, as if from within.

Her first starring role for Franco was 1973's FEMALE VAMPIRE, which exists in no fewer than three distinct variants: mainstream, erotic and hardcore. A self-proclaimed exhibitionist, Lina had no problem with performing hardcore straight or lesbian acts onscreen, and she was adamant offscreen that these were things she did in character, not as herself. The IMDb lists 118 different films to her credit, but this is hardly a complete accounting. Her filmography swells to a still larger number if we take into account the variants that exist of numerous Franco films; she also worked on rare occasions for other directors, including Carlos Aured, Erwin C. Dietrich and Andreas Bethmann. During the 1980s period when she and Franco were earning their incomes from pornographic films, she sometimes worked under the secondary pseudonyms Candy (or Candice) Coster and Lulu Laverne, accepting directorial credit for some of them.

No other woman gave quite as much of herself to the fantastic cinema as Lina Romay. The sprawling filmography of Jess Franco can be divided, unevenly and much in her favor, between the films he made Before Lina and With Lina; she became so synonymous with his work, as its focus and behind-the-scenes facilitator, that an After Lina period seems frankly unimaginable. As Franco's muse, Lina inspired as many as 150 or more films, and in many of them she withheld nothing of herself from his voracious camera -- body or soul. Theirs was an ideal meeting of exhibitionist and voyeur, both giving generously to one another in one of cinema's most provocative love stories. As the years passed, Lina changed and her body changed, but it never mattered to Franco, who continued to star her and film her as if she were the most desirable woman on earth. This is not to say that Franco's adoration of her was blind; on the contrary, Lina became a skilled actress under his tutelage, acquitting herself admirably not only as vampire women and nymphomaniacs, but in roles requiring the deft touch of a light comedienne. She could carry a film without dialogue; she could be funny, tragic, insanely desirable, shocking, even embarrassing in ways that left one admiring her bravery. On the two occasions when she ended a film by screaming -- LORNA... THE EXORCIST (1974) and MACUMBA SEXUAL (1980) -- she showed she could chill the blood like no one else, on the strength of her performance alone.

In Brian Horrorwitz's ANTENA CRIMINAL, a documentary about the filming of BLIND TARGET (2000, one of their lesser pictures), a candid illustration of their 40-year union emerges as Franco loses his temper when a scene continually goes wrong. He scolds a young actress and upsets himself to the point where he had to leave the set and sit down for a smoke in another room. Horrorwitz's camera holds on his attempt to recompose himself, and we see Lina find him, lean into him and stroke his head calmingly. It is the most privileged glimpse of their private selves we have, unless we count Lina's unbilled presence on the evening in February 2009 when Franco's career was rewarded with the Goya Award. During this presentation, Lina wheeled her husband onstage to generous applause, held his microphone as he accepted the honor, and bowed to kiss his head. The moment becomes even more poignant if we realize that, though they had been lovers and collaborators for 35 years, on the evening of this life achievement recognition they were technically newlyweds.

I never met Lina, but I always imagined we would meet someday. It is unthinkable to me that Jess, now in his early 80s, has survived her. On the occasions I've written to him, it was Lina who responded to me on his behalf, and she was always very sweet and appreciative. I last heard from her on April 28 of last year, when she and Jess responded to my enthusiastic VIDEO WATCHDOG review of Mondo Macabro's LORNA... THE EXORCIST: "Dear Tim, We are very much touched by your opinion of Lorna. Not a lot of people understood the film ("another Jess Franco sex film"). Thank you. Take care, Jess & Lina."

Those who admire the work of Jess Franco cannot help but become deeply involved in it, which means that, in the course of our exploration, we end up seeing more of Lina than we see of any other actress -- seeing more of her, and seeing more OF her -- so the news of her premature death strikes us in an uncommonly personal place. As the incarnate center of a filmography I take very personally, I had and will always have a great affection for her. Anything I have ever heard or learned about her -- including the only extensive interview she ever granted, to Kevin Collins for his booklet THE LINA ROMAY FILE: THE INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF AN EXHIBITIONIST -- only confirmed what her work onscreen led me to suspect. I remember Kevin telling me that, at the time he recorded the interview, he asked Lina to sign something and she responded "Me?" She had starred in at least 100 films and no one before Kevin had ever asked Lina Romay for her autograph. This changed as she and Jess subsequently flew to different points around the world, including America, to make various convention appearances.

Jess Franco and Lina Romay were more than a team; they were an indivisible creative force for roughly 40 years. My heart goes out to my favorite living director at this time of most terrible loss -- to him, to me, to us, to cinema.

Monday, February 13, 2012

VIDEO WATCHDOG Nominated for 8 Rondo Awards!

The ballots for the 10th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards were made public tonight, and we're proud to announce that VIDEO WATCHDOG and its contributors have been nominated for eight (8) Rondo Awards in five (5) different categories this year! Our nominations are...

Best Magazine of 2011
Best Article:
• 'The Green Slime Are Coming! The Green Slime Are Here!' by Bill Cooke, VIDEO WATCHDOG #162. An 'old school' Watchdog comparison of the film's U.S. and Japanese versions.
• 'Scouting the Singularity,' by Thomas A. Foster, VIDEO WATCHDOG #165. How dreams of a tech leap forward for mankind has been supplanted by films of apocalyptic hysteria.
Best Interview:
• Tanya Constantine: 'My Father, Eddie Constantine,' by Tim Lucas, VIDEO WATCHDOG #163. A daughter reveals the man behind Lemmy Caution in this wide-ranging talk.
• Mimsy Farmer: 'The Mimsy Farmer Experience,' by Mark F. Berry. VIDEO WATCHDOG #162. Extensive talk with star of dragstrip films, Four Flies on Grey Velvet and more.
• June Lockhart: 'On She-Wolf of London,' by Tom Weaver, VIDEO WATCHDOG #160. Actress looks back on one of her earliest roles with laughter and some chagrin.
Best Cover:

• VIDEO WATCHDOG 163 by Charlie Largent
Best Blog of 2011:
• Video WatchBlog   Scaled back, but Tim Lucas' musings are still worth the wait.
To see the lists of other nominees and to cast your vote by e-mail, including write-in votes for some of the most coveted categories, visit the Rondo Awards webpage here.