A Review of Jeremy Richey’s Massive Tome on the Actor Encompassing 20 Films Released Between 1973 and 1981
When it comes to genre film culture, we live in truly remarkable times. Genre film, its directors and actors are now afforded the kind of treatment once only reserved for the mainstream or prestige players. Case in point the latest coffee table volume by Cult Epics, dedicated to Emmanuelle’s Sylvia Kristel. To be honest, I originally picked this tome up because a few months earlier I had started to do a rewatch of the Emmanuelle series. This was sparked in part by recalling the ear worm of a theme of the third film, and being curious as to how they would hold up on a rewatch given their then notorious reputation. That first film that came during second-wave feminism and was propelled into the mainstream by the current pornoshiek trend of the time, where it was socially acceptable for regular movie goers to take a peek behind the green door. I personally was exposed to Emmanuelle thanks to the Friday after Dark offerings on Cinemax, that I admittedly watched probably way earlier than I should’ve.
While revisiting the first film it was easy to understand the talent and allure of the woman at the center of this narrative, playing the title character Emmanuelle — a woman discovering herself and her sexuality through her erotic adventures. It’s a film that given today’s perception of gender identities feels a bit antiquated and even problematic at times, since most of these discoveries are thanks to a much older man sort of orchestrating them for his own gratification. Even if it was at the time striving for something that was thought to be empowering, once he orchestrates her being assaulted in an opium den I just couldn’t cosign his mission. But these films which were relatively tame in comparison to the more hardcore offerings at the time, and succeeded thanks primarily to Kristel who infuses this character with a sense of a curiosity, joy and fearlessness that draws you in. This performance is what led me to checking out Sylvia Kristel: From Emmanuelle to Chabrol, which hopes to enlighten curious cinephiles like myself that were only familiar with probably 3 out of 60 of her films.
Right off the bat, author Jeremy Richey lets us know what kind of story he is looking to tell, given Kristel is no longer with us and there are already two autobiographies that encapsulate her notable yet tragic life. It would’ve been easier to simply coast on Kristel’s sexual exploits and her well documented chemical dependencies to be the narrative engine here, but letting the work guide us and take us through her life allows Richey to add another dynamic to this idea we have of Kristel by letting her work do the talking, attempting to show the true breadth of it. Her life here is told one film at a time encapsulating 20 films that were released between 1973 and 1981, both before and after the cultural juggernaut that was the life changing event of being cast in the title role as Emmanuelle. Richey uses her roles to chart the actor’s life’s while adding some much needed context and information to her filmography.
This became shockingly apparent in my task of reviewing Naked Over the Fence, her third film and one that I found charming and containing only a few minutes of nudity, thanks to Kristel, who here plays the femme fatale pop star Lilly. There were a few blurbs on IMDB and a few sentences on Wikipedia that really failed to do this film any service in my opinion, which I thought exceeded any and all expectations and made me wonder why this film wasn’t more talked about. That’s when I pulled out Richey’s book and he had the film perfectly contextualized in its time, region, and themes. When you’re not wrapped in the personal drama, it allows this kind of dissection into what created this film, because of Richey’s chosen focus. It also allows the reader to either read the book straight through, or utilize it like a guide adding to the enjoyment of Cult Epics latest releases who are thankfully going all in and releasing most of these underseen films in new restorations.
Sylvia Kristel: From Emmanuelle to Chabrol runs about 352 pages and its semi-gloss pages are perfect bound in a rather substantial 10x1x12 hardback volume, protected with a gloss dust jacket. The all around vibe here is one of quality and care for both its subject and its presentation. What Jeremy Richey attempts and succeeds at doing is providing English fans with a Rosetta Stone of sorts to truly appreciate these films, giving us a way to really understand the historical context and metaphors that might not be obvious to even a more seasoned cinephile. Because each film its own chapter, so there’s room to really dig into each title, and re-evaluating it on its own terms. It’s a book that’s as practical as it is informative and one that belongs in every genre film fan’s collection who might be curious about the films and legacy of one of the most underrated actors who worked in French and Dutch cinema.