Monday, March 26, 2012

A Rose for Natalie Perrey (1929-2012)


We are now already nearly four months into 2012 and much of my past year has been spent in deep contemplation of -- one might say in communion with -- the late Jean Rollin. In the course of studying, enjoying and empathizing with his films, I have come to a better appreciation of the fact that his films, however personal they were, were not simply the work of one man, but of a special group of people who were somehow consecrated to his dreams, who encircled him like the participants in a great séànce and helped conjure his fantasies into being on celluloid.

Foremost among these remarkable people was the lovely lady pictured at the left, Natalie Perrey, who passed away sometime today of undisclosed causes, just one month after her 83rd birthday. The news reached me like a ripple in the pond of communication: I was informed by her friend Daniel Gouyette, who had known and adored Natalie since they worked together on DRACULA'S FIANCÉE (1999); he received the news from titles designer Jean-Noël Delamarre, a ripple nearer the center, who had worked on films with her even before Rollin entered their mutual picture, since the short film BARTLEBY (1970). He was "Nat"'s companion for many years.

Writing about Rollin has pulled me closer into the orbits of these people, close enough that I can feel a sense of personal loss. Thanks to Daniel, Natalie and I were able to exchange little salutations of mutual appreciation, like this sweet photo of the two of them, which Daniel sent after they read my Rollin essay for the booklet included with the first round of Redemption Blu-rays. (Look closely and you will see in Daniel's hand Natalie's keepsake of Rollin, the Iron Rose itself.) Or the photo further down, which shows Natalie and Daniel posing with the then-current issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG. These were dear to receive then, and they are all the more precious now.


Daniel and I spoke on the telephone last week and he finished our long talk by urging me to come to Paris "while it's still here -- not while you're still here," he clarified, "but while this Paris is still here." I knew what he meant and, already, much too suddenly, that Paris is no more. A diminished Paris now stands in its place because this lady is gone. I am not just speaking of someone who worked on some horror movies, but of a great facilitator of the art of her time, someone who was a member of the French Resistance at the age of 12, someone who spent the two weeks prior to her last birthday in a hospital because she was mugged and fought back. As Daniel told me while relaying the incomprehensible news of her passing, "She fought against injustices all her life. She was so different from the people who were just hanging around... She was special." He also stresses to me that she wasn't to be mourned; she wouldn't want that. So I am thinking of all the news she has to share with Jean.

Daniel's interviews with Natalie can be found on the Redemption Blu-rays of THE NUDE VAMPIRE, THE IRON ROSE and LIPS OF BLOOD, and she will be back with more stories to tell in the next batch.



Natalie began working in films in the late 1960s, after raising a family. (The French actress Cyrille Gaudin, who played the title role in DRACULA'S FIANCÉE under the name Cyrille Isté, is her daughter.) She started out as a costumer on Jean-Pierre Bastid's Hallucinations Sadiques (1969), moved up to script supervisor on Bastid's short BARTLEBY and then served as a production assistant on Rollin's THE NUDE VAMPIRE, in the course of which she was recruited to act. An attractive woman of 40, she was asked to play a little old woman in the film's penultimate scene, and was somehow able to then inhabit a role she would still be playing in Rollin's La Nuit des Horloges almost a half-century later. She worked with many different directors -- Bastid of course, Jean-Pierre Mocky, Jean-François Davy, Pierre Unia, Gérard Vernier, Claude Mulot and others -- but her devotion to Rollin was unique.

She was a production assistant on THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES, then she advanced to script supervisor and assistant director on many other films while also playing important, typically maternal roles. She is the woman who lays flowers on the grave of the two lovers in THE IRON ROSE, the protagonist's mother in LIPS OF BLOOD, the mother in NIGHT OF THE HUNTED, the schoolteacher in THE TWO VAMPIRE ORPHANS, the sorceress in DRACULA'S FIANCÉE, and she is one of the principal characters in La Nuit des Horloges, serving as a kind of pallbearer for Rollin himself. The IMDb lists 21 different acting roles under her name, and it is by no means a complete list. And in addition to playing these roles, she was assisting with costumes, securing locations, organizing the shoots, distracting graveyard attendants with bottles of wine. She was the perfect example of the kind of person who seldom receives acknowledgement from writers and historians, but without whom the movies could not exist -- because dreamers can't do much of anything by themselves. Those of us who love Rollin's films feel indebted to him, but he surely felt indebted to her. She was the backbone and sometimes the very sinew of his filmography.

Natalie's most visible accomplishments were not necessarily her most notable. She also had two original screenplays produced, both erotic in nature: Rollin's FLY ME THE FRENCH WAY with Joëlle Coeur, and Didier Philippe Gérard's s Les Hôstesses du sexe with Karine Gambier. In 1977, she became a film editor with Jean-Pierre Mocky's Le roi des bricoleurs and she continued to work in this capacity until her final editorial job in 2007.


What Natalie Perrey's passing brings to mind is that what was true of the places in Rollin's films at the time he made them -- that they belonged to the past, being torn down in some cases almost as soon as he filmed them -- is becoming true of the people and faces in them. To think of Natalie speaking to camera about the absent director in La Nuit des Horloges will doubtless become doubly poignant now that she shares his mysterious absence. With her death, Rollin's life's work takes its intended next step away from the status of fantasy toward becoming not so indistinguishable from the former realities that reside in our memory. Like a bubble within a bubble, or as Edgar Allan Poe described it, while writing about a beach we might now call "Rollinesque"...

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

In order of their appearance, the above photographs are the copyrighted property of Grégory Pons, Véronique D. Travers, Véronique D. Travers and Daniel Gouyette, and appear here with their kind permission.

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous5:16 AM

    Hi,

    I can't express how grateful I am for this post.
    I was hugely fortunate to know her, and working with her has been a one of a kind experience.

    She was a weird, amazing and strong little person, she made us feel old in comparison to her, and inspired me personnaly to keep up in hard times (and movie industry sur gets you to know what a hard time is...).

    I empathize with every word you wrote, and though I only got to know her briefly and recently, I feel very blessed I did, and very sad I didn't make more of it.

    Regrets always come with mourning, yet with this special one it comes with the knowledge that a whole piece of cinema history is gone and not coming back to tell you more about it.

    Thank you so much, I hope her family and close ones get to read that and know she was very much loved and will be sorely missed.

    M.

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  2. Anonymous2:43 PM

    J'ai connu Nathalie quand j'étais petite, elle travaillait près du café que tenaient mes parents dans le 15ème. C'est une femme que j'adorais quand j'avais 10 ans. Elle me fascinait. Elle était si gentille. Je la trouvais si belle, avec ses robes, sa féminité incroyable, sa chevelure, ses bijoux, son parfum... C'est drôle, la vie, ces derniers jours, j'ai beaucoup pensé à elle... Je l'ai évoquée à un ami. Je viens d'apprendre son décès et malgré toutes ses années qui ont passé, je pleure... J'ai dix ans aujourd'hui. Laura Martin

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  3. Tony Crawley2:54 PM

    Bravo! Great tribute. (Ditto for Lina Romay.

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  4. Charles Lonberger8:52 AM

    She was more than an assistant of. She was a contributor to, unique and irreplacable.

    Like Rollin, she will live forever.

    ReplyDelete

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