Vadim, Roger

Vadim, Roger (1927–2000)

(pop culture)

Roger Vadim, French director of sexually explicit films and the first person to film the classic vampire story “Carmilla,” was born R. V. Plémiannikov in Paris. He entered the French film industry soon after World War II as an assistant to Marc Allégret. In 1955 while working on an Allégret film, Futures Vedettes, he met his future wife, Brigitte Bardot. After they married he directed her in And God Created Woman (1956) and The Night Heaven Fell (1957), two films that made Bardot an international sex goddess. Those films also helped establish Vadim’s reputation as a superior purveyor of male voyeuristic sexual fantasies in wide-screen Technicolor.

After completing The Night That Heaven Fell, Vadim and Bardot were divorced and he married Annette Stroyberg, the star of his next set of films. His major production during this period was a vampire movie, Et Mourir de Plaisir, released in the United States as Blood and Roses and for which he turned to Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu for inspiration. Throughout his career Vadim searched for stories that would allow him to project his own sexual fantasies on the screen, and when he encountered the artistic presentation of an overtly sexual vampire in Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” he was quick to see its potential. The story’s potential was underscored by current releases from Hammer Films in England, which was making the world aware of the large market for bloody vampire stories.

Possibly because of the blatant sexual element of “Carmilla,” Blood and Roses was the first attempt to bring Le Fanu’s story to the screen (not including Carl Theodor Dreyer‘s Vampir, which some buffs believe is based on “Carmilla,” even though it bears little resemblance to Le Fanu’s story). “Carmilla” proved a perfect vehicle for Vadim, who was able to play with the situation of a young, sexually attractive vampire drawn to victims of her own age and gender and for whom the integration of feeding and sexual activity was the norm. Vadim’s second wife, Annette, played Carmilla, described in the screenplay as a woman possessed of the spirit of a long-dead vampire. Her victim was Elsa Martinelli, who played Georgia Monteverdi. One especially memorable scene occurred close-up as Carmilla kissed a drop of blood that had appeared on Georgia’s lip. The loosening of censorship standards in French movies by this time (to which Vadim had contributed) allowed him to capture on film some of the sexual aspects of the vampire’s embrace that Le Fanu could only suggest. Although largely faithful to the mood of the original story, Vadim did incorporate several elements of what had become the standard vampire myth. Thus, Carmilla returned to her grave each morning, and the movie ended as she rushed against the sunlight. She stumbled and fell on a wooden shaft, which pierced her heart. In the original story, her grave was discovered by the family of some of her victims, who drove a stake into her heart.

At the time Blood and Roses was released, British and American audiences were not yet allowed to see Vadim’s films uncut. Censors removed the more “offensive” scenes before Blood and Roses was released in 1961 by Paramount. Blood and Roses was Vadim’s only direct contribution to the vampire genre; however, he inadvertently made a second notable contribution through his third wife, Jane Fonda. In 1968 he cast Fonda in the starring role in Barbarella, in which he combined his sexual visions with science fiction. The sexy, space-hopping Barbarella directly inspired Forrest J. Ackerman in the creation of Vampirella, the sexy comic book space vampire whose numerous adventures became the subject of the most successful vampire comic books to the present day.

In 1971 Vadim had one last success with Pretty Maids All in a Row, starring Angie Dickinson, but by the 1970s Vadim’s one-dimensional Playboy approach to the film was passed over for hard-core pornography and sexually explicit scenes in major Hollywood movies. Vadim continued to direct through the 1980s, but his movies never again attracted the attention of his earlier work. In 1963 he wrote the introduction for an anthology of vampire stories collected by Ornella Volta and Valeria Riva. He died on February 11, 2000, in Paris, France.

Sources:

Glut, Donald G. The Dracula Book. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1975. 388 pp.
Quinlan, David. The Illustrated Guide to Film Directors. Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1984. 335 pp.
Thomson, David. A Biographical Dictionary of Film. New York: William Morrow, 1976. 629 pp.
Vadim, Roger. Bardot, Deneuve & Fonda: The Memoirs of Roger Vadim. London: New English Library, 1970.
———. Memoirs of the Devil. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977. 187 pp.
Volta, Ornella, and Valaria Riva, eds. The Vampire: An Anthology. Introduction by Roger Vadim. London: Neville Spearman, 1963. Rept. London: Pan Books, 1965. 316 pp.