The author’s deep dive is out now from Cult Epics.
Jeremy Richey is proof that one cinephile truly can make a difference.
A few weeks ago I got some time with the author and cinephile to discuss his comprehensive glimpse into actor Sylvia Kristel’s career, Sylvia Kristel: From Emmanuelle to Chabrol. We dug a bit into what inspired him to take on the ambitious project of documenting 20 films and nearly a decade in Kristel’s career. What started out as a labor of love for the young author is already begining to change the narrative around the actor, who was previously best known for her work in the softcore Emmanuelle series.
Since the book was released, the conversation around Kristel and her career has begun to evolve, culminating with the recent announcement of a retrospective on her career titled The Films of Sylvia Kristel at what I can only describe as temple for cinephiles, the Metrograph in New York. This program will run from September 23rd to October 2nd and will include the following films from Kristel’s career, showcasing a full range of her work—including the more tantalizing entries.
MATA HARI: Sept. 23rd @3:50PM — Sept. 24th @3:45PM
EMMANUELLE: Sept. 23rd @9PM — Sept. 25th @9:30PM
JULIA: Sept. 25th @4:30PM — Sept. 30th @9:30PM
PLAYING WITH FIRE: Sept. 25th @6:45PM — Oct. 2nd @4:15PM
PASTORALE 1943: Sept. 30th @6:45PM — Oct. 1st @3:50PM
NAKED OVER THE FENCE: Sept. 30th @11:30PM —Oct. 1st @11:40PM
MYSTERIES: Oct. 1st @6:30PM — Oct. 2nd @6:45PM
In the meantime, read on for my chat with Richey who, thanks to his book, is succeeding at the goal he set out to accomplish:
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Congrats on the book Jeremy! So, what was your first experience with Sylvia Kristel and her films?
I first discovered her when I was a kid in the early ‘80s. I saw a photograph of her in a book that really struck me. I was aware of her growing up, just kind of going to the video store and seeing Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Mata Hari and those big box VHSs in the mom-and-pop video store in my town.
I really started to discover her in the late ‘80s as I was in my late teens when I saw Emmanuelle and Emmanuelle 2; then she really became one of my favorite actors. When I saw [Walerian] Borowczyk’s La marge in the mid-90s, it was really in that period that I knew that I wanted to do something, it was at that point that I realized, ‘Hey, this woman worked with a number of the greatest European filmmakers in history.’ I was so far away from writing a book, or even writing online at that point, but I just felt like she was a really important figure in film history that hadn’t been given her due.
What was the pitch process like, and how did the book land at Cult Epics, which seems like a perfect fit?
So, I initially announced the book in 2017. I had done some interviews for it and still wasn’t sure if I was gonna self-publish or if I was going to look for an outside publisher. I’d had some contact with Nico, the owner of Cult Epics and the editor of the book, who is also Dutch [like Kristel]. I had interviewed him in my publication Art Decades and he had been really great. Anyway, at that point, my life kind of went haywire. I got divorced and I put the book on the sidelines for a bit, and then when I restarted it a year or so later, I got back in touch with Nico. I honestly can’t remember if he got in touch with me first or if I did with him, but it just seemed like a really good fit, because I knew that he had released Frank & Eva, her first film, on Blu-ray.
So yeah, I approached him and basically told him what I was working on, and he was super interested and then it all came from there. When I first started writing the book, I never in a million years dreamed that it would be like a big, you know, deluxe hardcover coffee table book. Or that I would get to interview so many people that had been key players in her career, and that was all thanks to Nico. He was the one that arranged interviews with Just Jaeckin, Joe Dallesandro, Robert Fraisse, and Pim de la Parra, so yeah, I’m super indebted to him. It was just kind of a great lucky accident that I had known him previously from some different work.
I personally like that you stuck with her filmography to spotlight her work and side-step some of the more salacious trappings. What led you to that approach?
Well, I’ve always been disturbed in general, especially just being an American, by the kind of puritanical aspects of this country and a lot of ways that she was demonized throughout her career for Emmanuelle and a misperception about her actual career and her actual work. I’ve never been interested in a person’s private life outside of the way that it relates to their work, that’s kind of just been an ongoing thing with me. So things that have been written about her in the past always typically focus on her chemical dependence issues or her sex life or her relationships. None of that really interested me outside of the way that it might have affected the films that she made.
I really wanted to put her back into her proper place in film history and just leave all that other stuff behind. I just feel like a person’s private life is their private life, and it was really important to me to treat her and her filmography with respect. Frankly, we’ve just gotten to the point where I think so many of us have been affected by addiction in one form or another, whether it would be with friends, family, or personally.
The book does, however, have quite a bit of biographical information, too. But I really wanted to try to maintain a distance from her personal life unless it played directly into the films that she was making and her other work, her music, her writing, or her painting. I mean, she was a very multifaceted individual, much more so than she’s ever been given credit for previously.
I didn’t even know she sang until I watched Naked Over the Fence and I was just floored by her performance as a popstar and I wondered if she did her own singing. Then I went to your chapter in the book on the film, because when I started to write the review up, there was literally nothing about this film on the internet.
How did you track down some of this stuff? You’ve got stills, you’ve got posters from all over the world gorgeously reproduced. You’re quoting production notes and press kits from other countries and you really do your best to give a very contextual picture of these films. What was your research like for this project?
It took several years as far as the research goes. I think I ended up with over 4,000 Dutch articles that I was sifting through, and then there were French materials and a lot of English materials for when she attempted to come to Hollywood in the late ‘70s. As far as the images go, that was all thanks to my publisher Nico at Cult Epics; I worked with him, searching down things and securing things, but he was integral in getting all of those images and getting the rights for the cover photograph we have. A lot of the rare images in the book, it was us getting on eBay and dealing with different sellers and driving particular overseas sellers crazy trying to get this stuff.
I owe Nico everything as far as all of that goes, because it would’ve been outside of my financial means, because the book has hundreds of images and rare lobby cards and posters and so forth. So the research took several years to compile.
Let’s talk about that contextualization of a lot of the stuff you pulled out for the book, because a lot of people when they write books like this, they’re sometimes guilty of looking back and recontextualizing. You’re pulling the actual reviews and interviews from the time that they were released. So we’re able to get the actual story of how these films were envisioned, and received by the critics and by the audiences at the time.
You even go as far as to dig into the cultural influences at the time, which I found fascinating. Like how Naked Over the Fence features Karate and pinball! You mention in that chapter they were there because those were huge trends in the Netherlands at the time, so someone could read that chapter on the film in your book and can truly appreciate some of these films and meet them where they live.
It was important to me to make sure that readers understood the actuality of the situation as each film came out, because of how her films had been treated in the years since, with disdain, and that they got bad reviews, and they weren’t worth seeing. So it was really important to me to point out that [that] wasn’t the case at all with a lot of these films. You mentioning the karate and the pinball, I really wanted it to be a history book as well.
So it was important to me to point out that none of these films were made in a vacuum. They were made in the times that they were made, meaning that they were connected to the period in which they came out. It’s just fun for me as far as the research goes, to not just look at it as a piece of art or a movie made in a vacuum. I wanted it to give the reader a sense of its surroundings and cultural significance that created it.
Finally, what’s the most surprising bit you learned from writing this book and your research that you didn’t know before?
Oh yeah. I mean there were a lot of the films that [Kristel] either turned down or was offered or auditioned for and didn’t get the role. I mean, a lot of those I wasn’t aware of.
My favorite part of the research was going through the Dutch material and just reading through that, because she gave so many interviews in that period that just hadn’t been read in decades and a lot of them had never been translated before. So yeah, so there was just literally tons of information that I didn’t know or only knew partially.
And of going back to what you were saying earlier, several years ago when you would go online to read about her on her Wiki page or whatever, and it was just pathetic the way that she was described and how inaccurate it was. There was a myth that appeared in the late ‘70s when she came to America that she had never gotten a good review, you know, all of her work had been really greeted with disdain. And that was just, just not the case. I tried to show that in the book, quoting contemporary reviews from overseas and she’d gotten a lot of positive attention.
It was really wasn’t until the late ‘70s, when she did attempt to come to America, and that was really when that kind of misogynistic bully culture kind of came into play with her. It affected a lot of actresses from that period—Rainbeaux Smith being another one, that they were unfairly demonized because they had taken off their clothes in a movie. I mean, you still can go online and you read descriptions of her as being a pornographic actress and that’s just not at all [true], because I’ve made this comparison before that you never see somebody like Kim Basinger described that way, even though she had done similar things early in her career. But there’s something about the American perspective of European actresses, especially from that period and like, a lot of younger people just don’t understand.
In the early ‘70s you could call something pornographic that could be very soft by today’s standards. I really have tried to separate her from that term, because if you say “pornographic” today, people automatically think of hardcore pornography, and that was so far away from anything that she did. You can watch an episode of Game of Thrones that has more explicit content than anything that she ever appeared in, and that was another reason that I really wanted to just research the book as much as I could, to get a more realistic perspective for her career and her work in the ‘70s, the number of quality films and amazing artists that she worked with.
I mean, there were just so many facets to her career, so I’m really glad that some of that is becoming more apparent to people.
Richey’s book is available now from Cult Epics.