Directors: Just Jaeckin, Shuji Terayama and Walerian Borowczyk
Severin Films

The same year producer Pierre Braunberger worked with director Walerian Borowczyk on his anthology film IMMORAL WOMEN, he came up with the bright idea of producing another anthology film uniting three noted creators of sexual motion pictures: Just Jaeckin (EMANUELLE, THE STORY OF O), Shuji Terayama (writer of the controversial THIRD BASE), and Borowczyk. As with many anthology films, it is an uneven feature with enough highlights to at least warrant a viewing by the curious.

In Just Jaeckin’s “Island of the Sirens”, a blustery sailor is accidentally knocked overboard by his sail and washes up on a deserted island. His frantic SOS signals are soon eliminated once he encounters a quartet of topless native girls who dote on him day and night. But it seems that they may have more in store for him than he could possibly imagine…

Known for a highly influential pair of films (the globe-trotting EMANUELLE and the S&M love story STORY OF O), one can’t help but be disappointed by Just Jaeckin’s contribution to this anthology. It is beautifully photographed on a lush island locale and features four topless women servicing a (who also has no issues with nudity), but there’s a certain something missing here. None of the sex sizzles, though there is some palpable tension and eye-opening gore come the finale. There are none of Jaeckin’s personal touches, and ultimately it feels like he’s phoning it in for a paycheck (which is natural, as he was simply a hired hand). The best part of “Sirens” is Laura Gemser, the ever-photogenic beauty who could make any lackluster feature come alive when she stepped in front of the camera. Her mesmerizing smile, sharp cheekbones, flowing raven-black hair, and lithe figure are bound to hypnotize even veterans of her charms. Though she has no dialogue (aside from a bit of gibberish) as one of the sirens, she is an appreciated presence throughout the segment. Why do you think Severin chose her as the DVD cover girl? In an amusing side note, when Gemser figures into the violence near the end of the story, viewers will be reminded that Gemser did a similar scene in Joe D’Amato’s EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD the following year. Aside from the impressive photography and picturesque locales, as well as an exciting climax with an additional plot twist, “Island of the Sirens” is a rather pedestrian, if not mildly enjoyable affair saved throughout by the divine Ms. Gemser. One thing is for sure: it’s the most straight-forward exploitation film of the three presented here.

Our second story, “The Grass Labyrinth”, is a much more artistic and beautiful entry, from director Shuji Terayama. Terayama would soon direct the cult erotic film FRUITS OF PASSION 2 years after working on this segment. Young Akira is searching his village for the second verse of a nursery rhyme his mother told him as a child. It all stems back to his encounters with a strange woman in his youth who lived in the barn behind his home; his mother advises him that she is a nymphomaniac witch who lost her mind waiting for the man of her destiny, but he hears from others in the village that she was a former servant who had an affair with his father, leading the mother to keep her locked away in the barn. Akira’s mother learns of his meetings with the woman, and ties him to a tree, painting the nursery rhyme all over his body so that the “witch” can’t tempt him any longer. As he remembers various events from his past and becomes obsessed with finding the answer to the riddle of the nursery rhyme, Akira begins seeing visions of a children’s ball, pregnant women, and various morbid and outrageous characters, alluding to a possible incestuous relationship with his mother and her subsequent suicide.

Terayama’s film is one undeniably bizarre experience, and just when you think you have figured out what is going on, another seemingly random sequence pops up out of nowhere. One can never be sure what is dream, what is reality, what is past, what is present. It’s the type of artistic endeavor that film students dissect and analyze, and no one interpretation can be confirmed as the most accurate. This can’t possibly sound like much fun to some viewers, but it’s actually so full of bursting psychedelic colors, midgets, shadowy lighting, and symbolism run rampant that it succeeds as an almost brilliant mindfuck more than anything else. Whatever Terayama is trying to say with “Grass Labyrinth” (dead-on title, too), it is a very personal and stimulating work that at least proves Terayama had a wonderful visual eye for striking tableaus and setpieces. Surprisingly, considering the film was shot in Japan and noting the country’s censorship of pubic hair, there are a few instances of full-frontal nudity from both men and women here. Believe it or not, this is based on a novel (!). I imagine it read like Virginia Woolf (in other words, quite confusing and oblique).

The final story, “L’Armoire”, is a rather simple story of a depressed gentleman who takes to the rainy streets of Paris and enters a burlesque house, where he offers a dancer double her salary to spend the night with him to cure his heavy loneliness. He soon learns that the working woman he has hired for the evening isn’t the piece of flesh he anticipated. Walerian Borowczyk’s story is the shortest of the film’s troika, but it is easily the best and most rewarding. Considering his reputation as a director obsessed with sensuality and controversial subjects, there is only a brief, very tame sex scene here, instead allowing the script to focus on the interplay between actors Yves-Marie Maurin and Marie-Catherine Conti. Maurin’s character is interesting; while the audience is originally sympathetic towards him because of his depression and loneliness, we soon learn that he considers his pick-up not only entertainment, but a low-class piece of trash whose emotions he can play with. Conti gives an especially strong performance as the dancer/prostitute with a story and a secret that gives her unexpected humanity. It’s no surprise that she continued to work in films over the next several decades, and is still acting in films and television. As per usual, Borowczyk’s soft-focus photography is exquisite, but it is his very personal direction of this well-written story that proves he was far more than a classy pornographer.

PRIVATE COLLECTIONS, taken from original vault elements and presented in a 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer, looks simply splendid! The first two segments are crisp and clear, with “Island of Sirens” looking especially scrumptious with the abundant greens and reds, and the psychedelic lighting schemes of “Glass Labyrinth” are a marvelous kaleidoscope for the senses. “L’Armoire” looks the least solid, but blacks are deep and the image is still bright and beautiful. The French language track is wonderful, with the excellent soundtrack music and dialogue coming through loud and clear; the English subtitles are spot-on. An English dub is also included, but stick with the French track.

In a brief video interview, the disc’s only supplement of note, director Just Jaeckin discusses how he became involved with the project (a favor for his friend, producer Pierre Braunberger) and his memories of shooting on the beautiful island location and actors Roland Blanche and Laura Gemser. He understandably doesn’t think much of the film, as he had no personal investment in the production. Watch for a cute cameo from Jaeckin’s dog! Well-written bios of Jaeckin, Terayama, and Borowczyk, all penned by one of my biggest influences as a writer, Richard Harland Smith, as well as the original theatrical trailer, polish off the disc. (Casey Scott)