Vampyros Lesbos is a new "sado-erotic homage to the 1971 Jess Franco film". Intrigued? We thought you might be.
We recently caught up with filmmaker Matthew Saliba to chat about all things Vampyros in our Voltcase interview (below), and for more info you can check out the official site here.
VOLTCASE VAMPYROS LESBOS INTERVIEW:
Welcomes to Voltcase, Matthew, how are things?
Awesome! I just finished doing a play called INFECTION, which was written and directed by VAMPYROS LESBOS' very own Isabelle Stephen. The play was the first of its kind to ever be put on at the Fantasia Film Festival and I had the starring role, playing an actor who arrives late to a rehearsal because he was attacked by a zombie. Suffice it to say, all hell breaks loose once I transform and start attacking the other actors in the troupe! Incidentally, before I transform completely into a zombie, my character rehearses a couple numbers of his own which include performing a strip-tease in a maid outfit and fishnets to the tune of "Piece of Me" by Britney Spears and rapping a version of the immortal "Ice, Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice. Between my numbers and my zombie transformation I still lie awake at night wondering which was more disturbing for audiences! (laughs)
So, how would you describe yourself to a stranger in just three words?
Filmmaker, Actor, Shameless Self-Promoter... c'mon, ya gotta give me at least one extra word here! (laughs)
Now, we're here to talk about your new Vampyros Lesbos project, but for those people out there new to your work, can you tell us a bit about your background and previous films?
For the past 5 years I've been slowly building a name for myself as a filmmaker specializing in films which combine elements of sado-eroticism (which is to say the erotic representation of sadomasochistic imagery as opposed to the vulgar and pornographic fashion in which it's unfortunately presented in most films) and horror. I've made four short films to date: VAMPYROS LESBOS (2008), SHE WAS ASKING FOR IT (2007), PANDORA'S PARADOX (2004) and THE MANIPULATOR AND THE SUBSERVIENT (2003), all of which have screened the world over from the Netherlands to the nether regions of the Nevada desert winning festival prizes and praise from critics and audiences alike. I'm very interested in subversive art, gender studies, sexual appropriation, sadomasochism, fetishism, surrealism and theatre of the absurd and these interests are very much reflected in my work in addition to very eclectic plots ranging from elderly women giving birth to giant toes to yours truly getting raped by cherry-red dildos! Besides being a filmmaker, I'm also an actor, a model, a playwright, a stand-up comedian, a gentleman, and a gentle man.
Moving on to Vampyros Lesbos then – where did the inspiration come from for remaking it in your own style? And did it need remaking?
I've always been fascinated with the original Jess Franco film, mostly due to the fact that it had a very interesting subtext which really hit home for me. In a nutshell, Franco's film is about a woman named Linda, who's in a bland, sexually frustrating relationship with her husband Omar, and how her encounter one night with Countess Nadine, a woman whose blend of mystique and forbidden eroticism sparks a sexual awakening in Linda which ultimately threatens Omar's masculinity resulting in his naive and self-righteous quest to "save" his wife, by murdering Nadine, and thereby eliminating the notion that a woman can receive sexual pleasure from a non-male source and returning Linda home to the "norm" which in this case is heterosexuality. Now mind you, I never had a girlfriend who was seduced by a lesbian vampire and subsequently became her lover! (laughs) But the idea of one's sexuality being deemed "un-natural" and needing to be "corrected" is certainly something I could relate to. I'm a devout practitioner of the S&M lifetsyle. I know that might not seem like such a bold statement to make nowadays, but it is for me and that's because for the longest time I was always made to feel ashamed for something I choose to do in the privacy of my own bedroom. It's taken me a very long time to feel comfortable in my own skin and confident in who I am and how I choose to identify myself sexually and in order to get to this place in my life I've had to endure the derision and in some cases ostracization of family and friends. It hurt me very badly knowing that these supposed loved ones couldn't accept me for who I am, but at the end of the day, to deny yourself of who you are is quite possibly the worst sin of all and the moment I realized this, the decision to embrace my sexuality became instantaneous. In doing so, I also learned that if my relationship with family and friends could end because of said decision (which in some cases it did), then it probably wasn't worth keeping, so fuck' em! Anyway, all this to say, watching the original VAMPYROS LESBOS brought back all of these memories and so I decided to make an homage, a thank you to Jess Franco, if you will, for making a film which really spoke to me, and the best way for me to do that, I thought, was to make a film of my own. One that told a very personal story inspired by the subtext of the original using Jess Franco's characters. There was certainly no malicious intent on my part to usurp the original at all nor was there any desire to "remake" the film per se. If anything, I think it makes a wonderful companion piece to Franco's film and if anything, I hope it makes people who've never seen the original, rent or buy it ASAP and discover one of the truly great milestones in Euro-Cult filmmaking of the 1970s.
And where did the idea for making it in still images come from? Was it purely an artistic decision?
This is basically a style that Mario Carangi (the photographer) and I have been developing for the past year or so. I met Mario last March when I was breaking into fetish modeling. I was looking for photographers to collaborate with and a lot of my friends in the scene had worked with him and had nothing but great things to say about their experiences. I took a look at his site and was blown away by the quality of his work. His work has a sensuality and artistic sensibility that so many photographers working in the scene lack. But what really struck me the most about his site was a byline he had which expressed an interest in working with anyone who wanted to tell a story. Now photographers aren't story-tellers per se, or at least they're not story-tellers in the sense that filmmakers are. Photographers can capture isolated moments that we as an audience can read a story into based on our knowledge of the context in which the picture was taken in but there's certainly no intention on a photographer's part to regale any kind of plot in their work. But what Mario seemed to be suggesting was very much a filmmaker's approach to studio photography and as a filmmaker, and moreover, a filmmaker interested in finding new and creative ways to tell stories, I was naturally intrigued. So I got in contact with him told him about an idea I had and we shot it. The end result was mixed. On one hand, the photography was gorgeous. On the other hand, there was no story, or more succinctly put, there was no director making sure the story had a clear beginning, middle and an end and that the story was properly flowing as such. But we loved working together and we gave it another go with what eventually became SHE WAS ASKING FOR IT. This was a script I was trying to get off the ground for a good three years or so but was having a hell of a time doing so due to the controversial subject matter which involved a gender reversal rape-and-revenge story in which a man is raped by two women and then goes on the brutally murder the pair in the name of revenge. This time around, I took over as director and the result was night and day. The shoot was very much treated like a film set and the end result reflected this as the pictures had a very cinematic quality to them. So much so, that when Mario and I were putting together a collage for the shoot's wrap party, we realized that if we put a fade here, a dissolve there, all timed to an awesome soundtrack, we'd have a film on our hands here! So we did that and so what started off as a photo shoot ended up becoming an award-winning film which totally blew peoples' minds due to the innovative approach in storytelling, not to mention our subversive take on the rape-and-revenge sub-genre. It was based on the success of SHE WAS ASKING FOR IT, that we decided to collaborate on another shoot, which ended up being VAMPYROS LESBOS. The only difference this time around is that we knew going into this that we were going to make a film, albeit one composed of still images. In doing so, we made a very conscious effort to shoot the film as "cinematic" as possible which is to say we shot all the stills as landscapes (widescreen), we shot on location as much as possible to give our story a sense of space and texture that you can't get in a studio, we lit our sets in a more realistic style as opposed to the studio/theatrical style of SHE WAS ASKING FOR IT and finally we shot everything in a sort of "stop-motion animation with live people" technique which gives audiences the subliminal impression that they're watching a live action film. The end result was FANTASTIC! Everyone has really responded to the film enthusiastically and Mario and I couldn't be happier!
How difficult was it casting the two scream queens Isabelle Stephen and Kitty Daly for the roles? Did you have them in mind before hand, or did you have to sit through hours and hours of female vampire auditions?
Well, originally we were going to go with the same cast we had for SHE WAS ASKING FOR IT. However, there was the fear that due to certain similarities in the plots (two women sexually humiliating a man and getting killed for it in the end), audiences might simply regard VAMPYROS LESBOS as SHE WAS ASKING FOR IT 2 with vampires if we kept the same cast. So with that in mind I opted to go with different choices for the roles of Linda and Countess Nadine. I met Isabelle Stephen through my collaboration with Sv Bell on his last feature, RISE OF THE GHOSTS. Isabelle is absolutely the most genuine, warm and kind person I've ever had the pleasure to deal with. She's also one of the most talented actresses Quebec has to offer and so I saw VAMPYROS LESBOS as a chance to finally work with someone I so greatly admired as a performer and as a human being period. The only problem was prior to VAMPYROS LESBOS, she had worked on a film called SEDUCTION OF EVIL which had a very strong lesbian vampire theme. While Isabelle had a blast working on the project, she also expressed a desire to move away from those kinds of films and focus more on projects that challenged her and gave her strong dramatic characters to play which would show audiences her wide range as an actress. She's also made it clear through her website that she's not interested in doing "pornographic-style nudity." She then asked me what the script I was planning to give her was about! (laughs) Thankfully, when she read it, she was totally into it and when we met up in person to discuss the subtleties and nuances of the story and the character of Linda and more importantly, how I planned to shoot the now (in)famous finale, she saw VAMPYROS LESBOS as exactly the kind of the project she was looking for. As far as Kitty Daly goes, well she wasn't the original choice for Countess Nadine. I originally had another actress in mind who totally fit the dominant and erotic qualities I wanted in my Nadine. Unfortunately, she had to bow out of the project which resulted in me frantically searching for another Nadine. Isabelle recommended Kitty to me and while I was initially unsure whether she could do it (the pictures Isabelle showed me didn't really portray Kitty as being very "tough"), upon meeting Kitty in person I was blown away by her presence (not to mention her beauty!) and any doubt of whether she could pull it off was thrown out the window the minute I saw a twinkle in her eye when I was describing the scene in which her character gets to physically dominate my own! (laughs) She's a phenomenal person and a real natural actress and I consider it a blessing if not a destiny fulfilled that she ended up becoming my Countess Nadine.
How do you find the Internet as a promotional tool for your work? Is it a good way of exposing your stuff, or is it just another way for people to steal (sorry, share) your work online without you knowing?
Oh the Internet's been amazing to me! Any shred of notoriety I've managed to finagle for myself has to be credited to the Internet. Through MySpace, Facebook and especially YouTube, I've been able to share my work with audiences all over the world. There's rarely a day that goes by where I don't get a message through one of my Internet networking profiles from someone telling me how much they enjoyed my work. The locations from which some of these messages come from are absolutely mind-blowing! I get a lot of e-mails from places like Turkey and the Middle East telling me how much they love my first film THE MANIPULATOR AND THE SUBSERVIENT (I get that a lot) and how they watch their DVD copies of it all the time. That's just insane! I don't even own a DVD copy of that film, how the hell did they got a copy??? (laughs) I use the Internet primarily for networking and promoting myself as an artist. I make it a point to update my sites on a daily basis promoting the hell out of whatever it is I'm working on at the time. I also make myself readily available to anyone who may wish to contact me be they festival programmers wanting screeners, filmmakers looking their cast their next projects (as an actor, MySpace and Facebook rock as they're perfectly suited for uploading demo reels or in some cases entire films, which I proudly post for anyone looking to see what I can do as a performer) or simply anyone wishing to drop me a line to say hi and I always answer all my messages. As far as people stealing my work online, well I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, at this stage in my career, I'm interested in finding, building and sustaining an audience for my work more than anything else, so perhaps I'm not so inclined to mind when I see, for example, that my latest film VAMPYROS LESBOS was recently uploaded on BitTorrent. The way I see it, that makes my film available to a public far greater in numbers than it would be had I simply restricted it to whomever happened to catch it at a film festival or bought a copy on DVD. On the other hand, as a self-employed artist, or rather, someone hoping to become a self-employed artist at some point, I want to be able to make a living selling my work and so at some point or another, if and when my work starts catching on and I stand to make a considerable amount of money from it, or at least enough to live off of, I may have to take certain measures to ensure that my work isn't illegally distributed online. Of course by that point, ideally my films would be distributed by a big ol' fancy distribution company with a legal department that would handle all that! (laughs)
If you were interviewing yourself, what question would you ask yourself? And what would the answer be?
"I read somewhere that you're working on a musical called REQUIEM FOR A SCROTUM. What's up with that?"
Ah yes! Well, once upon a time I was in fact contemplating making a musical called REQUIEM FOR A SCROTUM. The story was about the bitter relationship between a Welsh hippopotamus named Mr. Flip and his singing penis, Lucile. They constantly fight and bicker and are generally very nasty to each other. During a session with a therapist, they both come to the conclusion that they're better off separating from each other and the best way for them to do this is for Mr. Flip to get a sex change operation. As the operation takes place, the doctor decides to liven the very tense mood in the room by playing some music. To the shock and awe of everyone, Mr. Flip's penis starts singing! Everyone is blown away by Lucile's beautiful voice and encourage it to go off to Hollywood and become a star. The penis takes their advice and upon being severed from Mr. Flip's pelvis Lucile does just that and becomes a huge sensation! Meanwhile, Mr, or should I say, Ms. Flip struggles with his new found femininity. He realizes that being a woman isn't what he thought it would be. He's also trying to get over the loss of his penis. It doesn't help that it's on the cover of People, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone and all over Film and Television. Mr. Flip then decides to swallow his pride and flies out to Hollywood and reunite with his estranged manhood. Will they get back together? Will they live happily ever after? You'll have to wait and see! The film was to tackle themes of transgenderism and how we live in a society where we now possess the technology of not only being able to mend broken bones, alter facial imperfections and so on, but we can also change our very sex, which completely changes our definitions of masculinity and femininity. It also changes the very way we look at ourselves as human beings. If we can completely alter ourselves to the point where we become an entirely different sex, do we lose something of our humanity in the process? Are we getting to the point where we are becoming less human and more like Frankenstein's monster? So for the longest time, yes I was planning this to be my next film. I love musicals and have always wanted to make one and thought this would be it. Three things ultimately stopped me from going forward. One, the idea was so fucking stupid! Two, the question I'd always get from people who were able to get past the singing penis part was, "So, Matt, are you basically saying that transsexuals and transgenders are modern day Frankenstein monsters?" That always stopped me cold as that wasn't my intention at all and given the controversy I thought SHE WAS ASKING FOR IT and VAMPYROS LESBOS were going to strike up among radical feminists (who curiously enough ended up becoming some of the films' biggest supporters), the last thing I needed was another activist group coming after me! (laughs) But perhaps the final nail in the coffin was when George Hardy (a.k.a. the Dad from TROLL 2) turned down the role of the singing penis' slimy Hollywood agent. I struck up a friendship with George through MySpace last year when we tried organizing a TROLL 2 screening here in Montreal. When I told him about my idea and that I planned to fly him in for the role and put him up somewhere in the city, he said, "Wow, what an offer... can I get back to you on this?" (laughs) He's a super nice guy and while he never officially turned down the role, he pretty much said no and when even the Dad from TROLL 2 doesn't want to be in your film, that's when you know it's time to go back to the drawing board! (laughs)
So, what are your plans for the rest of the year? Any exciting new projects you want to let us know about?
You bet! My next project is called FRANKENSTEIN UNLIMITED, a feature-length anthology-style film composed of 10 independently produced shorts by Quebec's Masters of Horror: Sv Bell, King-Wei Chu, Matthew Forbes, Martin Gauthier, Stephane Gauvreau, Al Kratina, Maude Michaud, Isabelle Stephen, Steve Villeneuve & Hugo Bissonnet (who are co-directing a short) and yours truly. I launched the idea last Fall clearly inspired by the MASTERS OF HORROR series on Showtime. Quebec has a very exciting and eclectic horror scene, which I'd even compare to the Italian horror scene from the mid-60s to the mid-80s and so I thought it would be great to bring all of these wonderful talents together and have each filmmaker create his/her own unique vision of Frankenstein using the themes of the original novel as inspiration. Audiences are really in for a treat as the stories and genres tackled by the filmmakers are as diverse and exciting as the filmmakers themselves. We have someone like King-Wei Chu who's a huge fan of the Shaw Bros. kung-fu films and the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone and found a way to create a hybrid of the two styles in his film FLESH FOR KUNG-FU which was shot on location in Hong Kong! We have someone like Martin Gauthier whose film MR. FLUFFENSTEIN makes wonderful use of the absurd, deadpan style of humour made famous by the British. Then of course, you have yours truly who's making a sado-erotic, film noir homage to the Jess Franco film, THE DIABOLICAL DOCTOR Z. It's going to be another "photomontage-style" film only this time, it will be shot in black-and-white and rotoscoped to mimic the artwork of the classic 1950s line of E.C. Comics (TALES FROM THE SCRIPT, WEIRD SCIENCE, etc.) I'm planning to have the film ready for next Summer, but in the meantime, anyone interested in learning more can look us up on MySpace and Facebook.
And finally, the question that we ask everyone that appears in Voltcase - what does the word 'Voltcase' mean to you?
It refers to the CASE made for the transmission of thousands upon thousands of VOLTS of electricity into anyone who doesn't purchase a DVD copy of VAMPYROS LESBOS now available for sale! Did I mention I'm a shameless self-promoter? (laughs)