Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jess Franco's Macumba Sexual (1981)

Jess Franco's Macumba Sexual (1981) is a powerful and creative corruption of Bram Stoker's Dracula tale with Lina Romay playing the Jonathan Harker role, Robert Foster in the Mina Harker role; Jess Franco in a Renfield/Van Helsing role; and Ajita Wilson, as Princess Tara Obongo, substituting for the Count. The authors of Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco see the film as a "reworking" of "(Vampyros Lesbos, 1970, the first--and perhaps only one--of its kind: a sun-sea-and-sex art vampire film.) Here the seaside is replaced by a desert, and the vampire theme by voodoo and witchcraft." I do not disagree with Obsession's authors. However, I do believe Macumba Sexual is more than a mere "reworking" of Vampyros and shares a stronger tie to Stoker's novel, which Franco adapted to screen previously in 1969 as El Conde Dracula which he "intended to be the most faithful adaptation to date" with Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski, Soledad Miranda, and Maria Rohm, for example. Macumba's genesis seems a hybrid of the themes in both Vampyros and Dracula with the result being a looser adaptation of Stoker's narrative with the typically strong obsessive Franco themes and atmosphere. Interestingly, Franco during his featurette interview included on the Severin disc of Macumba Sexual describes Ajita Wilson as "a kind of female Christopher Lee," who was very tall and "very much deep inside alive...She wasn't an actress. She was a presence." The Spanish production company, Golden Films, gave Franco complete freedom to shoot Macumba as he wished as long as Franco completed the film within budget limitations. Perhaps this freedom subconsciously inspired Franco's creative imagination and combined with Wilson's powerful presence and the atmosphere of Macumba's shooting location, the Canary Islands (which Franco describes as "fantastic"), Franco was let go to create this gem. In the Canary Islands, as Franco relates, there is a strong population of people from Senegal from whose culture Franco was able to find genuine art (such as the islands' statues) and artifacts to create his atmosphere. The iconography is not Christian churches and crosses but voodoo elements and their deities.
In shadow against the backdrop of the sun with her hands held high above her head, Princess Obongo introduces Macumba Sexual. Obongo is beckoning. Alice (Romay) writhes on her bed, absorbed completely in a dream where she meets Obongo in the desert. Alice awakens startled and seeks comfort from her writer husband (Foster). The two are vacationing, and Alice gets a poolside telephone call from her boss who summons her to complete a real estate transaction with the Princess at a slightly-deserted and nearby town. Alice meets the mentally disabled innkeeper (Franco) at her destination, and he speaks in slight gibberish, cryptically a warning about, a disavowal of, and an inducement to see the Princess. Alice and the Princess soon meet.Macumba Sexual is a continuous juxtaposition of voodoo and sexual imagery, equally powerful and provocative. The film is layered with seduction. Obongo's beckoning of Alice through Macumba is an elaborate act of such. Through esoteric and powerful iconic imagery combined with Franco's compositions, the viewer becomes seduced also. The imagery of Wilson's Princess with her two collared male and female nude slaves whom she lets slip upon on an unsuspecting Alice is appropriately jarring and terrifying during Alice's nightmare; yet it is no less unsettling when Alice cordially first meets the Princess and requests a bath. The Princess's two slaves appear to attend to Alice's needs, both looking identical to Alice's nightmare imagery yet standing upright and affectionate (in a different way). Alice's husband succumbs to the Princess's power, and with her two slaves, she has her way with him, ending with a willing Foster allowing himself to be collared as her other two.The ritualistic sequences involving Wilson amongst the desert backdrop are haunting and beautiful. Franco attends to quite a bit of detail to the Princess and her icons, specifically a white phallic statue, as she engages in behavior simultaneously worshipping, beckoning, and sexual. Franco relates his perception and knowledge towards voodoo: "Macumba is when you ask for the protection of a god. And a god which is not an occidental god but a kind of little god from the--from the waters, from the forest. There are some gods there and you ask for their help and their protection. And sometimes you ask also the destruction of your enemies." It's unknown to me how Franco's later relation of his view of voodoo informs the depiction within Macumba Sexual, but it's interesting. The reappearance later of the Princess's statue (a deity?) in a powerful sexual sequence with Alice is a consummation (of what the Princess reveals to Alice near the end of the film). The graphic sex scene is also a consummation of the themes and the juxtaposing imagery within the film, creating one. The Princess holds both a supernatural and a truly human sexual and seductive power. As to which Alice finally succumbs to is unknown: Obongo reveals to Alice her intentions with words, yet with their body language and behavior, the two speak to something else.Macumba Sexual is the very definition of intoxicating, and Franco's imagery is dreamlike and disorienting.Within the first paragraph, the quotes within the second and fourth sentence are taken from Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco. All quotes and objective facts about the production, beginning with the sixth sentence of the the first paragraph and continuing throughout this entry, are from Franco's interview featurette on the Severin DVD release of Macumba Sexual.

1 comment:

Mr.LargePackage said...

Great review, Hans. It has been a long time since your last entry. Have been searching for a vault to raid or a quiet resort town to visit?
I have done both. And that is large and in charge.