Cinema Blue Talks to Max Pecas
This interview was first published in Cinema Blue No. 5 circa 1976. It is reproduced here as published.
Now meet the writer-producer-director of ‘Felicia’ and ‘Obsessions’, the man who has created his own legend and high-interest export style in soft-core sex films since the French Fifties, and who is now showing the amateur French porno-ists how it should be done.
Interview by Tony Crawley.
Would you ever let your stars make love – really copulate – in your films ?
Max Pecas: Yes, I would. In certain circumstances…
Mme. Pecas: Jamais! Never!
Max Pecas: Oh yes. But only for beauty. I never deal in the vicious… But in France, you know, it is known among some of us that in two or three important films, some big directors have their actresses making love really…
Mme. Pecas: No, Max! Really…?
Max Pecas: And I do mean very important No. 1 directors… and I do mean one very famous actress indeed. But no names, eh?
– Cinema X interview, 1972
Four years later and they’re all doing it. Fucking on film. Well, not the very important No. 1 names, perhaps. Not just yet. But porno has definitely arrived in France. Porno is definitely being made in France – definitively in certain stratas – and selling tres bien, merci indeed to the United States. Back in Paris, however, war is being waged upon the French pornographers. By the very government whose cessation of screen censorship created the porno niche. Giscard’s boys are a little late. The so called hard-core revolution is all but over. Porno has levelled out. It is accepted. By those who dig it, want it, or can take it or leave it. By those who don’t, including the loud-voiced hypocritical handful, and in France there’s an awful lot of handfuls of hypocrisy. And, of course, it’s also accepted, eagerly, as if a licence to print blue banknotes, by just about everyone who thinks he, she or it can make a feature.
First call I make during any film researching visit to Paris is to Max Pecas, in his smart office suite just up Escalier B in a Champs Elysees office block. Max is patron, producer, scenarist, director and chief salesman, for his own highly lucrative production combine, Les Films du Griffon. A regular king of the soft-core sex circuit, since first following Vadim’s BBreakthrough lead and getting ’em off and getting it on in the late 50s. For my franc, Max is also the fella who influenced Russ Meyer’s switch from daffy, beach ball bouncy comedy nudies to heavy sex-dramaturgy. The Pecas influence on Radley Metzger is also more than apparent. Metzger used one of Max’s finest acting finds, Anna Gael, in his Paris made ‘Therese and lsabelle’ hit, and is now using Max’s first porno star, the delicious Beatrice Harnois, in his latest slice of the Big Apple blues…
Naturally enough, given his erotic line of work, there have been many women in Max’s life. All on the screen though. He insists that none could bewitch him more than his career. This began in 1959 when arriving in Paris from a brilliant university career in the South, where he hails from. Max, for instance, is the guy who found and made an instant BB-copy star out of West German blonde and former London au pair, called Elke Scheltz. That was in his second film, ‘Daniela By Night’, and its follow-up, ‘Douce Violence’, in 1960. And that was Elke Sommer that was. She shot over to Hollywood and has been sheer winter ever since.
Pecas went on and found a host, indeed a considerable horde of other like-lookers, like legged and like breasted (bare, of course) wind up sex dollies for his fans to euphemistically suckle upon. Few ever made it to the big time. Their shapes are more remembered than their names. They steamed pretty good, though during the warm French 60s. Sophie Hardy, very much a ’64 French Monroe lookalike in ‘Le baie du desir’; ex-Playboy centrefold Donna Michelle, removing everything, staples included, to make it in ‘La nuit la plus chaude’. Denise Rolland and Madeleine Constant, two Pecas regulars ever since, arrived as two of the ‘Cinq filles en furie’, in 1963. Pecas films rarely had just the one leading nude lay – Fabienne Dali, Marie-France Mignal, Nicole Merouze were the other trois in this one. Marie-Christine Weill was the hot ’66 offering in ‘Lapeur et le desir’ with Vera Valmont as the other bird…
‘Stars,’ goes the Pecas philosophy, ‘I don’t like. I make stars. I don’t use them. I like virgins, you set. That is, of course, virgins of the cinema.’ Pause for one swift chorus of Cherry Ripe, Cherry Ripe and we’ll continue…
Hungarian born Anna Gael, superbly succulent, now Britain’s Lady Weymouth, wife of the heir to the Marquis of Bath, turned up and on – mais oui – in ‘Espions a Vaffu’t; so did Claudine Coster. And as the 70’s clicked into a continuation of the full-frontal shape, Max developed the winsome vulnerability and erotic appeal of the young Sandra Jullien in ‘Je suis une nymphomane’, and a kind of an about face sequel, ‘Je suis frigide… pourquoi?’ Another German find, Astrid Frank, starred in ‘Les Liaisons particulieres’, with Nicole Debonne. Chantal Arandelle Club Privee, which also boasted Anne Libert, the girl known as the porno-BB even then, three years before French porno arrived. And it was Valerie Boisgel, Danny Danyel and Tania Busselier living it up with call-boys in ‘Sexually Yours’.
All of which, you’ll have to agree, makes Max Pecas a good man to check out the current French screen scene with. Any current French scene! Besides, he always keeps a brown, stone bottle of Dutch export Jonge Jenever tucked away in one corner of his office fridge, just for me. Xclusive, you might say. A stab at his telephone buttons, some rapid French to his secretary next door, and the bottle is on his desk almost before the stills of his newest productions, and we sit back and do our best to understand each other’s franglais as we check out… well what’s new in booze and broads.
While he had to deal with a phone call, I found myself studying the stone bottle more closely than usual. The 35% proof De Kuyper booze came, so the label attested, with ‘the certification of Purity, Quality and Merit of the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene, London’. Much the same could be said of Les Films du Griffon. More sensual than raunchy, upper middle-class scenarios, middle-age dreams of just above teenage moppets – of how sex should have been for the mid-age viewer, if only.
They’re easy to mock (as, in fact, José Bénazéraf loves to do), but they sell up a storm abroad, no matter what happens to the titles. As I write, a British distributor – who should be nameless! – is thinking of releasing ‘The 1001 Perversions of Felicia’ as ‘The Indiscretions of a Schoolmaster’… akin to re-naming ‘Lolita’ as ‘Humbert’. Not that you can disguise a Pecas movie that way. His work has a familiar look to it (he mistook ‘familiar’ for a reference to his family; he now has two sons working for him on his set. Michel, 30, is his editor, and Marc, 22, his second-assistant director).
All Pecas films, old and new, have what is called these days, the ‘Emmanuelle’ look. Max found it first. Plenty of rich gloss and trappings. Simply splendid women. Pretty (too pretty) leading men. Lots of pink and red hues’ to the sex scenes. All a trifle unreal then. Matching the usually bourgeosie folk he has experimenting with all manner of sexual games. Today such games have to be for real in the French sex film business. And, Max, like any film maker worth his colossal export sales ledger, is keeping up with modern traits and demands. ‘To say that I’m very happy about the arrival of pornographic would not be very true. But one must, all the same, live with one’s time.’
And vie a la mode nouveau is pretty damned good. Hot as hell. Real raunchy, for once. ‘Felicia’ and ‘Obsessions’ are two porno features of a distinctly Radley Metzger class. And who can say better than that. In the title role of Felicia, Beatrice Harnois is Lolita in the living (fucking / sucking) flesh, making the Big Apple family look like arthritic geriatrics. And there’s a swimming pool fellatio scene that beats almost anything Radley Metzger managed to scorch the screen with in terms of sexual beauty and erotic bliss in Pamela Mann. Rebecca Brooke (a Euro-pseudonym for a Metzger star, incidentally) sits above an underwater pool light at one point, with the soft focus glare illuminating every fair fringe and majora and minora of her vivacious vulva. Thereafter, she floats on the water, legs apart, as co-star Jean Roche swims into place and sucks at where the water laps most. Later, bien sur, positions are reversed. A stunning spectacle. ‘And shot in 16mm,’ says Pecas. ‘But I defy anyone to notice the change from 35mm to 16mm.’ As if anybody bloody cares . . .
Both of Max’s new movies, his true bleu debuts in fact, are terrific. But then, he had, no doubt, experimented earlier, shooting export-only hard-core footage for his earlier French triumphs… Mais non, he never had, and he’s not about to juice them up that way now, either. Until 1975, if actresses had fucked in French movies, it wasn’t in Pecas films.
If his new movies are good, and oui, he readily agrees that they are, it’s all a matter of experience and professionalism. ‘Felicia I made in two versions. Soft and hard. It is, in both, always a love story. A petite fleuer bleue romance. Obsessions, which is not my own story for once, I have merely adapted it for the screen, is far more a complete exercise in hard-core. And an experiment in a way. I wanted to say: Voila! Here’s how it should be done. Made in a few days, yes, okay – two weeks. But still with quality.
Too many people here, they say you can make pornographie with a little budget. And fast. Well, I don’t know how to make films with a low budget. And I don’t want to. That is to sacrifice certain qualities. ‘Obsessions’ may be complete hardcore, but it has all the quality that is associated with my films, non? All the beautiful dresses and decors. All my good crew – 20 technicians or more. To get such quality on screen, believe me, you have to pay for it.’
Cue enough for the obvious query. What does Max Pecas, recently hailed to his lasting amusement as the father of the French sex film industry, what does Papa think of the average French porno ? Not, it seemed, one hell of a lot. Apart from the proven successes, ‘Exhibition’ and ‘Pussy Talk’, it’s all rip-off time. With cinema itself as the maimed victim.
‘For years, we’ve tried – I’ve tried and others with me – to open the door, little by little. Now, suddenly, people have burst open the door. Not in a good way. Just for the money. Everybody tries to make erotic – well, porno – films because they think that for just a few dollars they can earn a million. Completely false! Cinema is a very expensive profession. One cannot make miracles, great movies with little money. It is simply not possible. People are proving that every day, non ?
‘So the majority of porno films, are poor. Because the actors entering this new game aren’t actors at all. The technicians aren’t technicians. The directors aren’t directors. And the producers – well, I don’t even like to call them producers… None of them are professional. Amateurs! They don’t understand the first thing about cinema. That cinema is a distraction. The basis of a good film is a good story. One tells a story, one gives spectacle to the people. Our porno films miss this point entirely. Everyone’s too busy rushing ahead, breaking their necks as we say, trying to be first to show this, that – everything! To put in as much as possible in their films. Sex, that is. Not story. Never a story. They mistake cinema for a money making machine ‘They forget – well, perhaps they don’t even know – that cinema is a profession. If I decided tomorrow to launch a rocket to the moon, I would not know how, and I would cause a lot of trouble and probably great harm. I exaggerate a little, perhaps, but that is what these people, these amateurs are doing to our cinema.’
Sour grapes as the kids have cottoned on to Papa’s brass ring? Not quite. There’s a lot of truth in the Pecas declaration. The harm has been caused, and that is why the French government are stepping in with their heavy new taxes on porno movies – to stifle the shamateur smut pedlars, fouling the good name of French sex. In the meantime, everyone suffers.
Pecas is not all denunciation, however. He understands the amateurs and sees some hope from their efforts, however much he detests their lack of film craft. ‘I say a lot against them, but I don’t hold it against them. Maybe it is normal that the people starting the French porno cinema recently were not people from within the industry. They are, if you like, similar to the pioneers we, the French and the English, sent to our colonies. Hardly the cream of society. Just anybody. Yet they created our colonies, our ex-colonies, for us. So yes, the porno cinema is rather like that. A banc d’essai for a lot of people who’d like to make films, have never done so before and don’t know how it is done. Little by little, they’ll be eliminated by the new tax. Then, the professionals only will make the films. So, well, all right, it might be thanks to them, these amateurs, that we will be able to make quality porno films later on.’
What means quality to Max Pecas? Everything! First, the subject, the scenario; then the actors, technicians; finally a good director to meld it together. A good director with a bad story never made a good picture, he maintains; though a bad director with a good story, can have a passable movie.
Actors rate high with Max, unlike his huge rival across town, on the other side of the Etoile, José Bénazéraf. Acting in porn is boring – that’s José’s philosophy. ‘Bodies are what’s requiied. Souls. Strength.’
Pecas, though, cast both his porn openers with professionals. Not that it’s easy to find them, far more difficult than simply chatting up actresses to strip in his earlier erotic fare. ‘When porno started to see the light here, it was done with people who weren’t actors as I say. Just boys and girls accepting to do some hardcore. I manage to obtain actors because as I also keep on saying, it always comes down to the same thing – how good is the story? A good scenario will interest good actors.’
And stars? What big French stars will maybe enter the porno stakes? ‘I doubt if any will agree. First of all, we don’t have any great stars in France now. By stars, I mean names. We have nobody today. There was Brigitte Bardot, of course. Since then there has been another Brigitte Bardot and another… Anyway porno is not in the mentality of the Latins. I think. In America, I have seen very good’ quality actors accepting some hard. It does not hurt their career. They make hard, then a Western, maybe a thriller a comedy. In France, well, throughout Europe, the stars are more catalogued. And they’re afraid to do porno.’
How about the stars Max made, would they have accepted porn if that was around when he discovered them? ‘Never! Elke Sommer – no, never! Sophie Hardy, non! For the same reason, I do not envisage adding new hard-core scenes to my recent films. Take Je suis nymphomane, for example. Sandra Jullien and the other actors, they would never agree to it. Well, you know that…’ (True enough. Sandra Jullien once told me it was the actress’ job to make simulated sex appear real. And that’s all she would do. Certainly she would never fuck forthecamera. ‘Iam an actress, not an animal!’)
‘That film worked very well,’ added Max. ‘But if released today – nothing! Everything has changed. Terribly. And if porno is required, we must do it well. Good stories. Again I say it!
Max sees no vast threat from Giscard and company, once the dust has settled. ‘The politic of the government is a liberty of expression. But that does not mean you can throw anything on the market. That has been happening, which is why the government takes these harsh measures, to eliminate those people who do not understand the profession they are meddling with. So if you want my position today, yes, I’m going to continue in erotic cinema, perhaps even porno-graphique. But of quality, always. For the moment though, I wait. Now it is too hot. One must let all this cool down a bit, to see clearly…’
Thus speaks the writer-producer-director with two very hot cakes in his porno distribution oven. He can afford to rest. Meanwhile, what of his wife, who had been so earnestly shocked four years before when hearing that a certain important actress did actually fuck in her likewise major movies? How does Mme. Pecas view hubby’s new bleu wares like Felicia? ‘It’s business!’ said Max. ‘My wife thinks it is a professional matter. She knows, she understands it’s business. So there is no problem.’
As for his sons, I bet they’re tickled . . . bleu.