Orchestrator of Storms
Dir. Dima Ballin & Kat Ellinger (2022)
A documentary about the misunderstood life of cult director Jean Rollin.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Heading to Arrow Player, the streaming service run by boutique film outlet Arrow Video, in February is Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin. The film discusses the life of the cult filmmaker in a way that’s never been done before, delving into the artistry behind the man and the beauty and poetry of an erstwhile exploitation filmmaker. The film makes a fantastic argument that Rollin was not the French Russ Meyer, but rather a man who sought to create real, actual art and suffered accordingly.
I have to admit, Rollin is one of my blindspots in European horror. I’ve seen a few of his films, but the gothic, almost Hammer-like quality of his films never appealed to me as much as some of his contemporaries. His work always felt slightly inaccessible, though any run-ins with his films never left me with the impression that he was making them just to display tits and gore, a reasonable assumption due to the eroticism present in most of his work. There was a surrealist bent to his work as well, though, like if Salvador Dali had made vampire films instead of his weird-ass art. Ironically, I fucking love Dali and the type of art he creates, and this documentary makes the case that perhaps I should dig a little deeper into the near-forgotten French master of the absurd.
Rollin is an excellent example of the dismissive nature that film critics often take towards the entire horror genre, and perhaps the best example of why that way of looking at the medium is absurd to say the least. Viewing film as solely the realm of the auteur and their demonstrable art is ridiculous, and the ever-growing chasm between audience scores and Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes verdicts seems to prove the point. Also of consideration is the notion that artists are often not appreciated in their own time in general, with dozens of examples of what we today view as masters of their craft dying penniless and unknown in whatever locale they were unlucky enough to live. The “starving artist” archetype is often used as a denigrating term, meant to dismiss the struggles of certain people because of the work in which they choose to partake. However, art is art, and while all art isn’t appreciated by all people, all art is appreciated by some people. Rollin’s work is no different, and thankfully modern film scholarship is beginning to take seriously his decades-spanning career of a unique, interesting, and often batshit insane filmography.
A victim of bad timing and a bad location, Jean Rollin’s began his film career during the French New Wave, an artistic renaissance of French film that was far more concerned with politics and drama than cemeteries and the undead. At one point he was so disillusioned with the film industry that he turned to filming pornography, desiring films that were easy to finance and sell. He maintained his sense of style throughout, continuing to create Dadaist and Surrealist art that stands the test of time if only it is viewed critically and without dismission. Orchestrator of Storms does a fantastic job of telling the sad and strange story of this legendary director, appreciating his work for what it is (and the influence it has had on those since) rather than the way it fit into current society.
It’s an interesting documentary about a lesser-known horror director, one whose work is only starting to become known to more mainstream horror fans. If you’re a student of horror history, it’s definitely one you’ll want to check out. Jean Rollin’s career stretched almost five decades and was hugely influential on modern horror despite his relative anonymity. Horror documentaries are always fun no matter the subject matter, but it is rare to come across one that most fans aren’t already largely familiar with. By exploring the life and career of Jean Rollin, Orchestrator of Storms will help expose the next generation of horror lovers to auteurs they might otherwise miss out on experiencing.
Who this movie is for: Horror documentary fans, European art/horror lovers, Film scholars who need to lighten the fuck up
Bottom line: Jean Rollin lived a fascinating life and is a huge part of French horror and the horror genre in general. For those who live and breathe horror, it’s well worth a watch. If you’re a Rollin fan or would like to learn more about the roots of the genre that you love, check out Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin, streaming in February on Arrow Player. Check out this film and the entire February lineup on www.arrow-player.com. If you’re interested in checking out the works of Jean Rollin, I highly recommend grabbing some of his films on bluray or DVD through Kino Lorber at www.kinolorber.com. They’ve got a great selection under the Redemption line, and you can pick up most of his best films directly through their website.