From Canadian micro-publisher, Spectacular Optical, comes their newest book, LOST GIRLS: THE PHANTASMAGORICAL CINEMA OF JEAN ROLLIN. Having just finished a successful crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo, Shannon spoke with Spectacular Optical owner Kier-La Janisse and LOST GIRLS editor Samm Deighan about the inspiration behind the book, the influence of director Jean Rollin and the importance of having all female contributors.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Kier-La and Samm, thank you so much for speaking with us today about the book LOST GIRLS: THE PHANTASMAGORICAL CINEMA OF JEAN ROLLIN. To start things off, Kier-La could you tell us a bit about your publishing company, Spectacular Optical, and what your inspiration was in creating it?
Kier-La Janisse: Spectacular Optical began its life as the online journal for the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, where I used to work. But I think as the articles I was writing or commissioning for it started veering away from what the festival needed the site to do – it was revealed that most of our readers were overseas, whereas their goal was really to use the site as a rallying point for local audiences. The festival director decided he didn’t want to continue with it, but offered me the site/url etc to keep. I spent a year trying to think of what to do with it as I didn’t really have the time to just maintain a website, so I started looking into grants for print magazines, and found that the Canadian content requirements were much less stringent for book publishing than magazines. So I decided to rechristen it as a micro-publishing company, and hit up my own publisher Harvey Fenton of FAB Press (who published “House of Psychotic Women”) for a lot of advice about whether or not it would work. He has been a huge help to me all along the way, along with my friend Josh Saco who runs Cigarette Burns in the UK but is also an experience printer. So he advised me in the pre-press department. And of course the whole thing would fall apart if I didn’t have the most diligent managing editor on earth, Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com. Paul really keeps it all together and is a real watchdog on the quality of the books from an editorial standpoint. We still have to do a couple more books before we are eligible to apply for some publishing support in Canada, so for the meantime our model has been to pre-sell the book through a crowdfunding campaign that covers the initial printing costs. So far we’ve been very lucky!
As for the curatorial vision of Spectacular Optical, basically if it is a book I wish I could write myself (but don’t have the time, talent or knowledge), then I will publish it. And my tastes are all over the place, but are also pretty niche within those places. I think if people want to pitch me a book, they should look through the last couple years of the website – as we do keep articles going up there throughout the year – and that’ll give a good idea as to the kinds of things that pique my interest. Generally the intersection between genre film and things like experimental film, music and animation. Years ago I heard about a woman writing a book about disembodied hands in film, that I don’t think ever got written – that is a book I have been waiting decades for. I would publish that book.
NC: Where did the idea come from to do a book on Jean Rollin? Samm, how did you originally become involved in this project?
Kier-La Janisse: When Samm mentioned that she was going to start working on a book about Rollin’s films, all written by women, I begged her to let me publish it! I’m sure many publishers would have taken it, which is why I’ve been trying to do some extra special promotions and such so she feels she made the right choice. I have been a fan of Rollin since the late 80s and had him as a guest at the first festival I ever ran, CineMuerte in Vancouver. I later went to visit him in Paris and stayed over at his wife Simone’s house, who had an apartment across the courtyard from him. We kept in touch off and on over the years before he passed away. But in his lifetime his films were never properly respected. They had their small army of fans, but it was really small – he was one of those directors every genre fan had heard of – largely due to the efforts of champions like writers Pete Tombs, Peter Blumenstock and Caroline Vie, the latter of whom always covered his films for Fangoria – but few really engaged with his work. So to see people finally starting to come around to his unique film world is really great – I just wish he was alive to see it!! Beyond that, Samm can tell you the genesis of the project, as it is her baby, her vision and she curated all the contributors.
Samm: I’ve been a huge fan of Rollin’s work since I discovered LIVING DEAD GIRL as a teenager and I made sort of a retrospective of his career in zine form not long after he died, so in a way it seems inevitable that I eventually took on a larger scale Rollin project. The actual book grew out of a random, quick online conversation between a few Rollin fans and the suggestion to open it up into an edited collection (rather than writing a book solely on my own) was something I thought would be an interesting challenge.
NC: How has Jean Rollin been influential in your body of work?
Samm: I would say that he makes the kind of cinema I most enjoy watching and writing and thinking about. He’s often regarded as a horror director, but really belongs more in the realm of the “fantastique,” so there are few rules, lots of freedom, and plenty of surrealism.
NC: When it came to picking the contributors for LOST GIRLS what was important for you to look for and how did you got about picking the contributors?
Samm: I have the fortune to edit a magazine (Diabolique) with a female editor in chief and a number of talented female film critics on staff, so the project more or less began with me reaching out to them and to Kier-La, and sussing out the interest level in other writers. It just kind of grew from there to word of mouth recommendations for specific writers and/or I contacted people whose work I already admired, but I also really made an effort to reach out to some newer writers. I felt like it was important to have a range of voices involved.
NC: Why do you think it’s important to tell the story of Jean Rollin and his work?
Samm: Because like a lot of other European cult directors, such as Walerian Borowczyk or Jess Franco, he’s neglected and is often lumped into this unfortunate category of low budget shlock that I think is demeaning. I want to see a lot more intelligent, well-researched analysis of these kinds of films, so spearheading a project like this seemed like a great place to start.
NC: What would you like to see readers take away from LOST GIRLS?
Samm: I want people to think of his work with the respect and intelligence it deserves. I’d also like to see fans and critics move away from pigeon holding Eurocult directors, and certainly Rollin. I think this is one way that it’s important that the book’s writers are all women, because we are all specifically qualified to talk about how he deserves to be seen as much more than a director of misogynistic exploitation films.
For more information on Spectacular Optical and LOST GIRLS: THE PHANTASMAGORICAL CINEMA OF JEAN ROLLIN, visit www.spectacularoptical.ca.