REVIEW — The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)

FilmJuice have my review of Walerian Borowczyk’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne, also known as Blood of Doctor Jekyll, Docteur Jekyll et les Femmes and (somewhat generically) Bloodlust. Borowczyk is a director who has grown on me considerably since I reviewed a collection of his films back in September 2014. While I must admit that Borowczyk’s obsession with the transgressive and emancipatory nature of sex leaves me rather cold, I am still drawn to his work by virtue of its sheer uniqueness. These days, art house film is all too often a narrow and generic exercise in pandering to middle-class mores using an ever-shrinking collection of tools inherited from the Golden Age of European art house film. Reminiscent of Pasolini and Von Trier in his more expansive moments, Borowczyk’s work is strange, arresting and completely mental in a way that few contemporary directors even bother trying to emulate.

Less singular but more accessible than Blanche (Borowczyk’s best film), I describe The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne as:

Gloriously amoral and more than slightly bonkers, this is a film in which parents, society, art, science, and God are all brought low before the terrifying power of the orgasm.

As the title suggests, the film is a re-working of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that focuses on the journey undertaken by Jekyll’s fiancee Fanny Osbourne (named for Stevenson’s real-life partner). Borowczyk views Stevenson’s novella as a meditation on Victorian sexuality and the tendency of certain men to keep their vices private even from their own wives. In the world of the Borowczyk’s film, Jekyll is a repressed Victorian scientist who assumes the Hyde persona in order to satisfy a variety of transgressive urges which, if known, would completely undermine Jekyll’s social standing. The film finds Jekyll trapped between his two personae as he struggles to choose between a life of violent debauchery as Hyde and a life of privilege and power as Jekyll. Psychologically unstable, Jekyll moves back and forth between the two personae until his fiancee works out what is going on and solves his dilemma by choosing to take the potion herself and join her husband in a state of complete indifference to bourgeois morality.

Arrow films scanned the film themselves (working from an original negative with the help of Borowczyk’s original cinematographer) and it looks fantastic. Also wonderful is Michael Brooke’s discussion of the film in which he talks about seeing it for the first time in one of London’s long-lost and much-missed flea-pit cinemas. I found this discussion particularly evocative as while I grew up in London and got into film at quite a young age, those types of cinemas had completely disappeared by the time I was old enough to visit them. In fact, by the time I started visiting the West End on my own, the ‘re-development’ of Soho and Tottenham Court Road were already well under way and thinking about a Leicester Square filled with cinemas showing soft-core porn and horror is very much like thinking of some mad parallel universe… only with less airships and more films about Swedish au pairs.

I remember once reading a story about someone going to see Stalker in a cinema near Victoria station. The film started but the person sharing the story kept on being distracted by loud slurping noises coming from the row behind him. Hoping to tell whoever it was to pipe down, they turned around in their seat only to find themselves face-to-face with a man who was eating a plum whilst tossing off the bloke sitting next to him. Funny how our patterns of media consumption change… nowadays they bloke with the plum would probably be watching Avengers.


On Why I Hate Those Orange Film Adverts

Way back in the mists of time, the British mobile phone carrier Orange came up with quite a neat idea for an advertising campaign that reacted to a genuine public sentiment in a way that was not only funny but also a really intelligent piece of marketing.

In Britain, adverts for products typically appear prior to the trailers thereby forming a kind of de facto ‘buffer zone’ between the film’s advertised screening time and the point at which the film actually begins.  Because nobody wants to watch adverts when they’ve just paid over £10 for the use of a chair for a couple of hours.  Reacting to a sudden epidemic of texting and people talking on their phones during cinema screenings, Orange pitched a series of adverts to cinema chains that effectively allowed them to place an advert for phones in-between the trailers and the actual film, thereby reaching all of the people possessing the sense to not pay for the privilege of watching adverts.

The original idea was simple and effective: A series of actors and filmmakers approach the fictional ‘Orange Film Board’ in an effort to secure funding for their pet project.  However, rather than funding the projects, the good people at Orange start to suggest ways in which adverts for phones could be crudely squeezed into the film.  The moral? Don’t let mobile phones spoil your film and turn off your phone.  Boasting a very funny regular cast, some decent scripts and some great cameos, the adverts were a success and they made Orange look good for being willing to make fun of themselves whilst making a point about anti-social use of mobile phones.

Fast forward a few years and the original chairman of the board drops out of the adverts only to be replaced by a markedly less funny doppelganger.  Gradually, as the campaign grew longer in the tooth, the quality of the scripts started to decline as the adverts stopped being about great potential films ruined and started to be about terrible made-up films built around mobile phone gadgets.  It wasn’t long before the campaign changed again and the Orange Film Board was replaced by actors from real upcoming films fighting fictional battles with Orange to protect the integrity of their films.  This poses a number of problems that were not present in the original campaign:


Firstly, there is a world of difference between casting oneself as the villain who wants to spoil a potentially great fictional film and the villain who is trying to spoil a real film.  Once the film actually exists, you’re not laughing at the movie business, you’re laughing with it and that makes you smug rather than satirical.

 Secondly, there is a world of difference between casting oneself as the villain who wants to spoil a potentially great fictional film and the villain who has spoiled an incredibly shit real film.  I care about the late Roy Scheider trying to make a black-and-white noir thriller; I don’t care about whether or not someone spoils The A-Team or Gulliver’s Travels.  Those films are shit anyway.

 Thirdly, there is a world of difference between casting oneself as the villain who wants to spoil a potentially great fictional film and the villain who is spoiling a real film, as, by including a real film, you are actually engaging in a form of product placement, something that actually does harm films. It is difficult to sell the message that you shouldn’t let a mobile phone ruin your film when your advert is an example of mobile phones ruining a film through crass product placement and the co-opting of characters, actors and filmmakers for commercial ends.

In conclusion? I hate the Orange film adverts and wish with all of my heart that they would fuck off and die.

Yes, this problem is exacerbated by the fact that I habitually go to the cinema two or three times a week but I never used to hate the Orange adverts and now every time I see them, part of me wants to die but only after I have stabbed the idiots who continue to laugh at the fucking things.

I understand that these adverts help Orange shovel money at films and so help films to be made and distributed but the films that Orange uses in its adverts were (by and large) never going to struggle to get distribution anyway.  The A-Team is not some tiny indie film but a multi-million dollar Blockbuster that gets released on hundreds of screens and so, by featuring them in the adverts, Orange are just selling phones and helping Hollywood to line its already bulging pockets.  So, again, I say that these Orange adverts need to fuck off.  I hate the Orange mobile phone adverts and I wish that they would stop.

‘Ah,’ you say ‘but if Orange were to pull their campaign… how would punters get the message that they shouldn’t use their phones during the screening?’ Simple… you get your ushers to kick people out when they do and, if they complain, you do what the Alamo Drafthouse does: Take their not particularly articulate complaints and turn them into a meme.

I watch this advert and I want to give my money to the Alamo Drafthouse (who are reportedly a rather splendid chain of rep cinemas that do all kinds of seasons and interesting one-off screenings) and when I watch the Orange phone adverts, I want to firebomb their smug corporate offices. Fuck Orange, Remember the Alamo and long live the Magnited States of America!