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Low Culture

Low Culture Podcast: Jeanie Finlay On Lola Montes
Luke Turner , July 6th, 2021 08:11

It's a cinematic Low Culture podcast this month as Jeanie Finlay speaks to us about Max Ophüls' 1955 film Lola Montes

Jeanie Finlay portrait by Jo Irvine

In this month’s Low Culture podcast, exclusively recorded for our Low Culture and Sound & Vision tiers, we speak to one of our favourite filmmakers, Jeanie Finlay, the artist responsible for The Great Hip Hop Hoax, Sound It Out, Orion: The Man Who Would Be King, Game Of Thrones – The Last Watch and Seahorse – The Dad Who Gave Birth.

Jeanie’s picked Lola Montes, which she describes as “An absolute banger of a film”. The film is Max Ophüls’ 1955 retelling of the life of Lola Montez, who was a courtesan, a lover of Liszt, inspired a revolution, and caused scandal across Europe. The film is set in a circus big top, with Peter Ustinov as the ringmaster, with grandiose sets, extravagant costumes, and lavish interiors. Yet the film was a flop when it came out, and has only be reclaimed in recent years. With Jeanie we explore what makes the film such a spectacle of camp, explorations of narrative structure, and how it relates to her own work.

It’s a film relevant today, according to Jeanie, as “it could be any number of women in the spotlight – it’s a tale as old as time”, with the character of Lola seen in anyone from Kim Kardashian to Britney Spears. Is it a feminist film? “You bring to it what you want to seek,” Jeanie says, “I see her as a cigarette smoking heroine, always independent, she takes and leaves her lovers as she sees fit, she seems to have a lot of agency, but when you find her later on in the circus, she’s fallen on financial ruin.”

But essentially it’s a film about who owns the narrative of someone’s life, and who gets to tell it, especially in the age when a star like Lola Montez has access to millions through social media. “We’re at a really interesting point when it comes to self-authorship,” Jeanie says.

Also in this month’s Low Culture podcast, Luke Turner and Alannah Chance give their Low Culture tips, from a record of recordings of a US artist talking in his sleep, to the cosmic new one from the Transcendence Orchestra. You will be able to check out the forthcoming retrospective of Jeanie Finlay’s work on documentary platform True Story in August. Thanks as ever to our producer Alannah Chance, and all our subscribers for funding this podcast.

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