September 25, 2007

Jean-Claude Carrière's Frankenstein

There’s a Luis Bunuel Blog-a-Thon underway at Flickhead this week, where you are greeted with a picture of Bunuel dressed as a nun. Right away, you know this is going to be good. I’ll be clicking through all the posts there, I can’t wait.

I had come to think of Bunuel as a filmmaker of the past, but in this new age of political intolerance and re-fanaticized religion, I think Bunuel is as relevant today as he ever was. His work might even be newly required viewing.

My contribution to the Bunuel Thon is, admittedly, borderline. I almost called this post “Luis Bunuel Meets Frankenstein”, but that would be stretching it. Yes, there is a Bunuel/Frankenstein link, albeit a flimsy one. Perhaps, in the spirit of Bunuel himself, I could call it a surrealistic link, in the sense of “irrational juxtaposition”.

Here goes: When he was starting out as a young writer, Luis Bunuel’s close friend and frequent scriptwriting collaborator, Jean-Claude Carrière, penned a series of Frankenstein pulp paperbacks under the house name of Benoit Becker, for the French Fleuve Noir imprint.

A handful of writers used the Becker byline for crime, horror, fantasy and even mildly erotic novels. Readers must have been amazed at Benoit Becker’s range! Carrière’s six Frankensteins, published in 1957-59, were very popular and the original printings with their lugubrious Gourdon covers soon became highly sought collectibles. In 1972, Aredit published digest-sized comic book adaptations of the novels.

Carrière’s Frankenstein series is set roughly a hundred years after the events of Mary Shelley’s book and follows an unstoppable, bloodthirsty Monster as it treks murderously across Europe. Its favored method of mayhem is to rip out a victim’s throat with his bare teeth. Though cover and comic book illustrators depicted the Monster as a typical Karloff flat-skulled type, Carrière describes him as a grey-skinned giant with long black hair and phosphorescent yellow eyes. He has also given the Monster a name, the ominous sounding “Gouroull”, evoking gorillas and ghouls.

Soon after his stint as a horror pulp writer, Carrière met Jacques Tati and began his involvement with films. In 1961, The Anniversary, his co-writing/directing/producing collaboration with Pierre Etaix won them an Oscar for Best Short Film. In 62, Carrière was hired by Luis Bunuel to script The Diary of a Chambermaid. The two men became instant friends and lifetime collaborators.

Look at Carrière’s filmography on IMDB. It’s mind-boggling...

Six films with Bunuel, including Belle de Jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and That Obscure Object of Desire. Scripts for Hector Babenco’s At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and Rappeneau’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Collaborations with Godard, Schlondorff, Malle and Wajda. A scriptwriter’s Cesar for The Return of Martin Guerre and an Oscar, with Philip Kaufman, for The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Carrière also wrote commercial blockbusters like Borsalino and Viva Maria, and even a couple of Jess Franco movies, The Diabolical Dr. Z (aka Miss Muerte) and Attack of the Robots, with Eddie Constantine. Goya’s Ghosts, written for Milos Forman, is currently playing in theaters. The two men had previously collaborated on Valmont.

Carrière was also an occasional actor in Bunuel's and other films. One of my favorites is L’alliance (The Wedding Ring), a film about premonition and paranoia that straddles fantasy and the psychological thriller, written by and starring Carrière, opposite Anna Karina. And still, there's more: As a playwright, Carrière worked with Jean-Louis Barrault, Nagisa Oshima and Peter Brooke. He has written songs for Jeanne Moreau and Juliette Greco. As a book writer, he has collaborated with the Dalai Lama. Did I say "mind boggling"?

For all his lofty successes, Carrière never repudiated his Frankenstein novels, good-humoredly calling them “horrors of youth”. In 2003, he participated with other former Fleuve Noir horror writers and cover artist Michel Gourdon in a conference at the Pompidou Center in Paris. Excerpts from the novels were read by Edith Scob, the haunting star of Franju’s Eyes Without a Face. Oh, to have been there!

Carrière often joked with Bunuel about writing the director’s biography. Bunuel would insist that it should be “full of lies”. In the end, as a final collaboration, Carrière ghosted the Bunuel memoir, “My Last Sigh”.

Here’s a wonderful, touching remembrance of Bunuel by Carrière, on Flickhead, and here’s a good interview with Carrière. Jean-Marc Lofficier at Cool French Comics has a page about Carrière’s Frankenstein series.

My follow-up post, a review of Carrière/Becker’s The Step of Frankenstein, is here.


RC said...

ripping out the victims throat with his that's beyond mary shelley for sure! wow.

i was unaware of this work...but that's really interesting. I think the covers with the fading out frankensteins are very artful!

rob! said...

jeez, those covers are beautiful. Paintings--good! Fire--bad!

Pierre said...

Nice to see you guys react to the covers. I've written a little bit about artist Michel Gourdon in my follow-up post. It's up now.

Flickhead said...

This is a creative approach to Buñuel, since Carrière was instrumental in helping to shape the filmmaker's last decade of work. I plan to read this and your other post more thoroughly once the blogathon has simmered down and there's more time to absorb everything.

Thank you very much for joining in!

Pierre Fournier said...

I have to say I was a little apprehensive about the indirect link, approaching Bunuel from left field as it were, but then I thought, hey, how appropriate. I hope these posts are entertaining. I think Bunuel himself would have been amused that his young friend Carrière went all the way from punching out Frankenstein pulps to collaborating with the Dalai Lama!

I had a blast doing this. Thanks very much for running the Bunuel Blogathon.

Thom said...

This is another good post, Pierre. Your blog is starting to convince me that there's a Frank connection to everything.

I like that Carrière had the guts to actually name the creature. I think Karloff growls something like "Gouroull!" when Igor comes after him with that torch in Whale's film. Maybe that's the insipiration?? :P

Pierre Fournier said...

Thanks, Thom. Yeah, Frankenstein is ubiquitous and the subject is inexhaustible.