Written by: Christopher O’Neill on April 3rd, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 2007
Director: Ezra Allen Gould
Writer: Ezra Allen Gould, Greg Hittelman
Cast: Charles Koutris, Dita Von Teese, Zalman King, Casey Anderson, Ryan Williams
DVD released: April 27th, 2009
Approximate running time: 72 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1:33:1 Fullscreen
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo English
DVD Release: Salvation Films
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £12.99
SAINT FRANCIS is a low-budget shot-on-video feature that earns admiration in ambition rather than its execution but nonetheless does possess a distinctive rough charm all of its own. The story unfolds against the underbelly of an excessive lifestyle and it reflects this seamy milieu by peppering the narrative with nervy drug dependency, unpleasurable sex-for-money, and power struggles within both the internal family dynamic, and the external criminal community. With the dialogue mostly comprising of nonsensical junkie speak, ball-breaking machismo and self-serving evangelist preaching, plus a gaudy montage of imagery from security cameras, television screens and distortion filters, there is little that is naturalistic about SAINT FRANCIS: It absorbs you into an unpleasant narrative that is infected by the drug-addled mind of its lead character and it is due to this logic that one can often forgive the shortcomings in the underdeveloped screenplay.
Although there are flaws throughout that make the film appear occasionally amateurish – awkward transitions between scenes, a third-person narrator that only occurs when necessary to clear up plot confusion, and at least one obvious instance of post-synced sound – there are elements where the low-budget aspects of the production adds to rather than hinders the result. The editing style is insistent, fragmented and unsettled which, especially for the first twenty minutes, creates an unconventional rhythm that simultaneously strings the principal characters together into the complex narrative while also establishing an uneasy atmosphere that runs throughout the film. Set design is minimal and the lack of extras populating the sparsely decorated rooms (particularly noticeable in the nightclub scenes) illustrates a sense of alienation. In addition, the crude video effects (one of which seems to be sourced from a down-graded VHS tape) create an otherworldly quality ideal for the nature of the material.
From a marketing point of view, the masterstroke of SAINT FRANCIS is that it boasts the feature film debut of the “Queen of Burlesque” Dita Von Teese. Famous for her sultry stage performances and photo spreads, there has been much anticipation of the film to reveal if she can act. Von Deese is most effective in the early scenes when, as a tough-minded madam of a prostitution ring, she delivers a poised, no-nonsense performance that suits the character well. The later scenes, however, fair poorer since Von Tesse is unable to convey the heated emotions generated by the melodramatic third act. Most of the nudity is left to the other female performers in the picture, although Von Deese does occasionally appear in some fetching costumes. One wishes – especially given the hallucinatory nature of the film – that the filmmakers exploited the physicality of her stage persona more since she exudes a commending presence in her burlesque show that, in SAINT FRANCIS at least, does not fully transfer over to screen. Far more credible is Charles Koutris in the lead role of Francis, believably playing an innocent destroyed by vulnerability and excess, while Zalman King demonstrates that he has lost little of the intensity he brought to his 70s film roles in pictures such as SOME CALL IT LOVING and BLUE SUNSHINE.
Shot on digital video, SAINT FRANCIS comes to DVD framed at 1:33:1 fullscreen. Although the packaging lists that the feature is “Widescreen 16:9 Enhanced” this is a misprint and only the disc menu and a bonus trailer for KILLER’S MOON are presented like this. It would appear that fullscreen 4:3 is the correct ratio for the film and this framing looks fine. There is occasion grain and sometimes the picture appears a bit too dark, but this would seem to be the fault of the original camera elements rather than the transfer. One problem I had with the review copy I saw was that the film would pause at the beginning of each chapter’s marker point. It is a minor distraction but annoying nonetheless, and unfortunately it seems that the discs that will be hitting the streets will carry this fault (note that I viewed the PAL Region 0 disc, the American DVD may not display this error).
The sound is presented with only one audio option, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Music sounds fine while the dialogue is hindered slightly by the occasional limitations of the film’s original location recording but this is never distracting.
Like the main feature, the three deleted scenes on the disc are presented fullscreen. These sequences are mainly of interest to anyone who found the erotic content in the film itself lacking, as it presents longer takes of scenes already in the final cut. Most explicit is the ‘Shower Abduction’ footage, which appears only fleetingly in SAINT FRANCIS. Here, the sequence plays for almost six minutes and features constant female nudity. ‘Dita Von Teese watches a porn shoot with Kaylani Lei and Julia Ann’ features a different cut of a scene already in the film and adds little to the content. ‘Erotic scene with Stormy and Stephanie Swift’ plays for seven minutes and is basically the unedited ‘B’ camera footage found in a scene present in the film. Also included on the DVD are two trailers (featuring a tiny amount of footage not found in the final cut) and a music video for ‘The Devil Is Laughing’ by Jon Ben Berger, which is matted to a letterboxed ratio and is from a fair quality video source. Also included are trailers for other Redemption releases, one of which – Jean Rollin’s NIGHT OF THE HUNTED – is squashed from 1:85:1 to a distorted 2:35:1.
While SAINT FRANCIS suffers from low-budget rawness and may pale in comparison to similarly themed films such as MOHOLLAND DRIVE and Jeremy Kasten’s remake of THE WIZARD OF GORE, it is still an effective picture in its own right and makes a welcome DVD release from Redemption Films.