Release date: June 12 2006
Running time: 100m
Director: Just Jaeckin
Stars: Tawny Kitaen, Brent Huff, Zabou, Bernadette Lafont, Jean Rougerie, Roland Amstutz, Jean Stanislas Capoul, Chen Chang Ching, Vernon Dobtcheff, Andre Julien.
The latest release from Nucleus Films is Just Jaeckin’s eagerly awaited
GWENDOLINE (France, 1984). Director Jaeckin is best known for his highly
influential erotic classic EMMANUELLE (1974), and THE STORY OF O (1975),
which starred European genre legend Udo Kier. GWENDOLINE is based on Sweet
Gwendoline, who was the main character in the comic books of bondage artist
and photographer John Willie (AKA John Coutts). Coutts was born in Singapore
in 1902; he grew up in England then moved to New York where he published
his bondage and fetish magazine Bizarre (1946-1959). The comic strip was
published by Irving Klaw, one of the first fetish photographers, whose model
Bettie Page became the first famous bondage model. In Coutts’ comic
strip Gwendoline is an innocent damsel-in-distress who gets herself into
various scrapes which invariably culminate in her being tied up. The strip
is a combination of “The Perils of Pauline”, who regularly found
herself threatened by pirates, Indians, gypsies and sharks, and the naughty
1940’s strip cartoon “Jane”, who was constantly placed
in situations which resulted in the loss of her clothes. If you now add
bondage to the equation, you’re beginning to get the picture.
So how does one make the transition from a concept that could easily become sleazy exploitation into mid-1980’s mass entertainment? Well, Jaeckin chucks in a romantic lead (in the comic the only male was Sir Dystic d’Arcy), plunders Steven Spielberg’s RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), and turns it into a comedy.
The film begins on a busy Far Eastern dock where a group of dodgy seamen break open a crate and discover Gwendoline (Tawny Kitaen), and her companion Beth (Zabou) cramped inside. They have stowed away on a ship to begin their quest to find Gwendoline’s father, who mysteriously disappeared while on a mission to find a mythical species of butterfly. The pair of them are bundled off to a casino where the seamen try to sell them to the boss for use as dancers/prostitutes. By sheer luck the two heroines are rescued by a hunky but mercenary adventurer, Willard (Brent Huff), who bursts in to settle a score with the casino owner. Quickly realizing that Willard could be of some assistance, Gwendoline blackmails him into joining her and Beth on their quest and soon the trio are embarking on a daring and deadly journey into the Land of the Yik Yak, a country ruled by a diabolical dominant Amazon queen and her army of scantily-clad, fetishistic female warriors. There, Gwendoline must defeat the evil queen and prevent Willard from being forced to spawn a new race of female warriors before facing certain death.
For the film Jaeckin assembled a curious cross section of acting talent. Zabou (LA CRISE and C’EST LA VIE) was a model and actress, and Brent Huff and Tawny Kitaen are mainly known for TV work - but of course Ms Kitaen would become known as Mrs David Coverdale, and star in three Whitesnake music videos. You are forgiven if these performances passed you by; in the big-haired, soft-rock world of the late 80’s, it was extremely difficult to distinguish the female video star from the band’s lead singer. The acting abilities of the two lead characters is somewhat questionable - however, given the comic strip origins of the script, this factor can be overlooked. At the other end of the thespian spectrum is Bernadette Lafont, who plays The Amazon Queen. Lafont was a veteran of French Nouvelle Vague films, and had worked with distinguished directors such as Francois Truffaut and master of mystery Claude Chabrol; she played Jane in Chabrol’s classic, LES BONNES FEMMES (1960).
Just Jaeckin wanted to show that he could do comedy as well as erotic cinema. The comic episodes are enhanced by a superb choice of locations (a lot of effort went into pre-production). From the rather crowded, stagy set of the dock at the start of the film, the mise-en-scene progresses, via deserts, pirate infested rivers, and jungles to its marvellous fantasy finale. The last 30 minutes are a visual treat with excellent set and costume design; imagine if Ken Russell collaborated with Jesus Franco - well this would be the result. In fact, the poster depicting Gwendoline and Beth in chains resembles a scene from a Franco women-in-prison movie.
GWENDOLINE is a fantasy, comic love story; although Willard is initially selfish and money-obsessed, he can’t fail to find himself attracted to Gwendoline. It features a Benny Hill style cannibal chase, a Kung-Fu brawl and Amazon women in scanty leather armour, riding in chariots, being whipped and suffering unspeakable tortures. All this is complimented by a splendid electronic score from French Composer Pierre Bachelet, (well I’m biased as I’m a sucker for the vocoder).
Nucleus Films have provided two covers for this DVD; one rather sassy, and one that looks like a comedy adventure aimed at all the family, which is rather odd for an 18 certificate disc. My own favourite part of the extra features, purely from a nostalgic point of view, is the excellent collection of video covers, posters and press books. There is also a collection of photographs from the February 1984 edition of the French glamour magazine Lui. The pictures are part of a publicity spread that Just Jaeckin photographed with Tawny Kitaen to coincide with the French cinema release of GWENDOLINE.
Probably the most interesting addition, however, is the inclusion of a BBFC document listing cuts (3m 14s) from the proposed but abandoned 1984 cinema release. Problem areas included the use of nunchakas in the casino kung-fu incident and, of course, the spectacle of naked women being subjected to various tortures.
Now, this cult classic is finally released on DVD, uncut for the first time in the UK and loaded with extra features. To quote the Queen’s sidekick Doctor d’ Arcy - “Superb...it’s superb!”
• Double-Sided DVD Sleeve
• Widescreen (2.35:1) Presentation Enhanced for Widescreen TVs
• English Stereo 2.0
• English Stereo 5.1
• French Stereo 2.0 (with English subtitles)
• French Stereo 5.1 (with English subtitles)
• Audio Commentary with Director Just Jaeckin & Frédéric Albert Levy, moderated by Tony Crawley
• Theatrical Trailer
• UK Promo Trailer
• American 'The Perils of Gwendoline' opening credits
• Image Gallery (Posters, Stills, Press Books, Poster Art, Video Art)
• Tawny Kitaen's 1984 Lui Magazine Glamour Shoot
• Gwendoline and the BBFC (the cuts lists for the original UK 1984 cinema and video releases)
• The Perils of Just: An All New Interview with Director Just Jaeckin
• DVD 9 (dual layer) high bit rate encode for optimum picture quality.