Nov 7, 2013

Lost in New York (1989)

While it is safe to say that I am not exactly the biggest fan of French ‘fantastique’ artsploitation auteur Jean Rollin (Le Viol du Vampire aka The Rape of the Vampire, Les Raisins de La Mort aka The Grapes of Death), I have found some value, if only in aesthetic terms, in some of his cinematic works, with Perdues dans New York (1989) aka Lost in New York certainly being a strikingly singular and soothingly surreal work among the froggy fetishist filmmaker’s innately uneven cinematic oeuvre. Essentially the whimsical result of director Rollin having the opportunity to visit New York City while taking two of his beauteous actresses along with him and shooting a variety of improvised yet meticulously stylized scenes and later coming back to France to shoot the rest of the film, Lost in New York—a short yet sweet filmic fever-dream-within-a-fever-dream that is just under an hour at 52 minutes length—is undoubtedly one of the director's most, if not most, personal works, which is rather ironic considering it lacks the horror and gore the filmmaker is best known and revered for. Described by Rollin himself as “an anthology of all the themes and obsessive images I have used in my films” which had ultimately “brought to an end what had been started within the previous 13 films,” Lost in New York was somewhat rather strangely made for French television, although it is surely impossible to tell that while watching the film, as a work that is a sort of superlatively surreal celluloid travelogue tone poem depicting both urban NYC and rural France at their most oneiric and otherworldly. Working from the idea to “improvise a theme” of “two young women separated and desperately looking for each other” while cruising NYC with his two youthful dimestore divas, Rollin ultimately concocted at a celluloid dream that is just as rooted in the subconscious as conscious, if not more so, though Lost in New York ultimately manages to be a shockingly literate work of sub-avant-garde celluloid that makes fitting references to both the world of cinema and literature. More arthouse-addled than erotically excessive, Lost in New York is a celluloid testament to the fact that although Jean Rollin eventually became a degenerate pornographer to pay the bills, at heart, the filmmaker was a somewhat serious artist who found his greatest source of inspiration in the form of beautiful and bewitching women. A sort of celluloid dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream about an old woman who reminisces how she and her friend are magically transported from the unpopulated seaside of Northern France to the diversely and densely populated streets on New York City, only to become separated, Lost in New York is like Rollin’s celluloid equivalent to his countryman Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) aka Céline et Julie vont en bateau, albeit nowhere near as innately impenetrable, but certainly just as overly self-indulgent and rightfully so!

 During the beginning of Lost in New York, one is introduced to a sad and overly nostalgic elderly French woman named Michèle who lives in a rather decrepit and poor rural area and who has nothing left in her life aside from her magical memories. While grasping a primitive looking wooden charm she calls the “Moon Goddess” that her semi-blind eyes can barely see, Michèle tells a tale about how she met her sort of spiritual sister and best friend Marie, a “magic little girl” from the coal region of rural Northern France who had no one to play with, hence her hysterical crying, until her empathetic little friend came along. After the two little ladies discovered the wooden Moon Goddess idol, it enabled them to travel from their quaint French rural village through both space and time, ultimately taking them to New York City and transforming from little girls into beautiful young women. Using the magical world of film and literature as a guide, elderly Michèle explains that the Moon Goddess took them on a journey, “where the young girls from Picnic at Hanging Rock Disappeared, where Errol Flynn takes Micheline Presle in The Adventures of Captain Fabian, ” but also the celluloid realms of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) and Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1960) aka Les yeux sans visage, among various other works. Not surprisingly, reference is also made to Jean Rollins’ films by Michèle, who narrates, “We were inside the music box of “The Living Dead Girl” and “hidden in the clock of The Shiver of the Vampires, which opens at the stroke of midnight behind the theater curtain of The Naked Vampire.” As stated by an unseen male narrator, “In New York City, this ghost city, in a present which is not the real one, Marie and Michèle run towards each other, entering deeper into the mysteries of New York’s streets, buildings and blocks,” but inevitably they lose one another and must fight all by their lonesome against the bitter realities of life, especially those of the multicultural hellhole which is the Big Rotten Apple, which includes lesbian thieves and a gigantic yet largely invisible Chinese community that represents a subculture within a subculture in a deracinated postindustrial wasteland where everyone is doing their damnedest to survive. Naturally, the world of Lost in New York is also somewhat sensually supernatural as testified by the narrator’s remark, “With the parting of the day comes the hour of magic. The most beautiful appearance, more sumptuous than the black night, is of the white woman vampire who will haunt the New York night,” and the timely appearance of said nocturnal Aryan bloodsucker. Indeed, while nowhere near as graphic as some of Rollin’s more (in)famous celluloid works, Lost in New York features the occasional unclad female body (mostly some sexually unappetizing black broad) and even the occasional death, which happens to Michèle when she is forced to fight an aggressive switchblade-wielding bull-dyke chick whilst lost in NYC. Just as the little girls manage to find one another again after morphing into young adults and being transferred to and lost in New York City, so will they be reunited at the conclusion of Lost in New York as elderly women, ultimately morphing into little girls again and thus coming full circle in life. As the narrator states at the conclusion of Lost in New York, “The path that Michèle and Marie enter is forever sealed. You only go there once, never to return.” 

Unquestionably a more sentimental than sordid cinematic work that wallows in nostalgia and imagination in a decidedly literate yet nonlinear manner, Lost in New York is a phantasmagorical film that reminds the viewer that “Fantasies die at dawn,” but with every new day there is a new dawn, even when you’re old and lonely and feel that you have experienced all that life can offer. Featuring a number of dichotomies, including the cinema world vs. the real world, youth vs. old age, timelessness vs. temporality, the rural and organic vs. the urban and manmade, innocence vs. defilement, etc., Lost in New York is certainly a work that demonstrates that even though Rollin was a hack pornographer in his 50s at the time of directing the film, he had yet to lose his appreciation for the fantastic and imaginative, as if he was still holding on to a part of his youth. In that sense, Lost in New York is a strangely positive and uplifting work as a sort of surrealist fairytale for adults who need a bit a relief from the disillusionment, pessimism, and apathy that comes with living and learning. Indeed, if I have ever gotten anything out of viewing of Jean Rollin flick, it was most certainly the phantasmagoric playfulness and arthouse fantasy of Lost in New York, a celluloid work that manages to be both cinematically reflexive yet tastefully (and even childishly!) sentimental in a transcendental sort of manner that is nothing short of true movie magic in an age of cultural and spiritual darkness. Indeed, while featuring an authentic footage taken by Rollin in NYC, the Big Apple of Lost in New York is certainly not the same place I had traveled to about a decade or so ago, but a place of pernicious otherworldly phantoms and pestilence that seem not much more real than a Disney movie as an outsider’s depiction of a place and time that has been endlessly depicted cinematically, but not in such a classically classy and even ‘gothic’ manner that brings mysticism to a metropolitan nightmare that usually inspires misery and misanthropy. A sort of cinematic swansong to Rollin’s classic auteur signature as a filmmaker who clearly realized he had reached his peak as a filmmaker and decided to become totally self-indulgent one last time, Lost in New York is certainly the director's most ambitious achievement as a cinematic artist who had fallen from auteur grace. Featuring an exceedingly ethereal and completely complimentary musical score by Rollin collaborator Philippe d' Aram (Fascination, The Living Dead Girl), Lost in New York is a must-see film for anyone interested in the art of celluloid, but especially people like myself who previously thought that Jean Rollin had not even the slightest inking of artistic talent. Ironically, I discovered the film after coming upon a music video by happenstance for the song “I’m God” by Italian-American hip hop producer Clams Casino featuring scenes from Lost in New York. Needless to say, it was the first and likely last time a hip hop artist gave any sort of artistic recommendation to me.

-Ty E

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