Barbet Schroeder started his production company Les Films du Losange at the precocious age of twenty-three, in order to release and promote the early films of his friend, the renowned French New Wave filmmaker Eric Rohmer -- the two having met during the period of Rohmer’s editorship of the journal Cahiers du cinema, soon after Schroeder first arrived in Paris. Born in Tehran and raised in Colombia until the age of eleven, It had always been Schroeder’s intention to become a film director in his own right one day and his first self-produced film, “More”, released in 1969, turned out to be the prelude to an extremely diverse career which saw the early manifestation of an offbeat European art house sensibility brought to bear first on the controversial 1976 film “Maîtresse” and then on a string of Hollywood thrillers which would get gradually more mainstream, beginning with “Single White Female” in 1992. Recently, he directed an episode of the acclaimed U.S. drama “Mad Men”. Earlier in his career, Schroeder also directed the 1973 documentary “General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait” about the life of the infamous genocidal Ugandan dictator, which was made with the subject’s full participation and offers a unique insight into his peculiar psychology. Schroeder’s debut feature “More” stands today as a visually true time capsule summary of the end of the hippie dream, beautifully photographed from natural light sources by Rohmer’s cinematographer Néstor Almendros, and made in the twilight shadow of the May ‘68 Paris uprising. The film is also particularly evocative for fans of Italian ‘70s genre cinema since it features the slightly-built but bewitching American born actress Mimsy Farmer in the first instance of the kind of role which rapidly defined a screen persona for her after her string of appearances in cult gialli of the period, starting soon after in 1971 with Dario Argento’s third feature, “Four Flies on Grey Velvet” (in which she was allegedly cast because she closely resembled Argento’s first wife!) and including such tainted treasures as Armando Crispino’s weird and violent “Autopsy” and Francesco Barilli’s twisted tale of paranoia and cannibalism “The Perfume of the Lady in Black”. Farmer reportedly didn’t enjoy either her character in “More” or her iconic status as Italian doyen of brittle, blonde, tomboyish beauties with a penchant for the dark side, but she was happy to get the work all the same.
“More” was birthed from an original short story of Schroeder’s in which the author imagined a possible alternative scenario for himself through documenting his own true-life infatuation with a Parisian heroin addict, and how it might have facilitated his own addiction if he hadn’t had sufficient distractions to prevent him from following her down a similar path. The striking lime-washed house in which most of the middle section of the film takes place atop an idyllic, rocky, sun-drenched cliff in Ibiza, Spain, surrounded by vivid, light-dappled blue sea, is actually the same house Schroeder himself lived in during the fifties, and the sinister Dr. Ernesto Wolf (Heinz Engelmann) -- the elderly German drug pusher who plays such a pivotal role in the relationship between callow German Mathematics student Stefan (Klaus Grünberg) and American femme fatale Estelle Miller (Farmer) -- is based on an ex-Nazi Schroeder claims was living down the road at the time he was there! With its dope-soaked-era capturing photography and an eclectic and mood defining soundtrack, especially composed in two weeks by a post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd, “More” is a provocative, slightly awkward, semi-improvised modern day recasting of the Icarus myth, in which the heroin-induced allure of sexual freedom and lack of responsibility represented by Estelle’s enticing gamine luminosity, attracts the addictive, sun worshipping personality of the film’s often unlikable male protagonist like the doomed character from the Greek myth, and similarly results in his own flight from being a lost seeker on student-crowded Parisian streets towards casual crash-and-burn destruction from heroin addiction, alone and suicidal on the sparsely populated island resort so relentlessly baked by a remorseless sun.
According to Mimsy Farmer in an extensive interview examining her career given to Mark Berry and featured in issue 161 of Video Watchdog magazine, the screenplay, ostensibly written by Schroeder and Paul Gégauff, was really a springboard for what became a collaborative effort, which was the main thing that attracted Farmer to participaton in this small-scale project that cost very little to make but took Cannes by storm upon its initial release. Mimsy Farmer even receives a screen credit alongside Gégauff and Eugene Archer, for re-writing much of her dialogue, although she apparently still felt many of her scenes were ‘corny’. This was one of the first movies the actress made upon her tentative return to the cinema, having earlier briefly become disillusioned with the Hollywood career which had developed through her flimsy roles in US TV to a series of appearances in AIP backed Drive-in B features such as “Riot on Sunset Strip” and “Wild Angels”. Farmer is quoted as feeling uncomfortable with the hippy subject matter of “More” and felt Schroeder’s attitude to drugs was naïve (‘”More” seems to suggest that if you smoke a few joints you’re automatically going to become a drug addict,” she’s quoted as saying in Berry’s interview) and she disliked her character, claiming that this is what accounts for her sullen, cold, sometimes indifferent persona in certain sections of the film. Nevertheless, she is by far the most entrancing thing about the work (Almendros’s camera clearly utterly adores her), and after having recently come from being first a client at and then a worker in the ‘Hollywood Hospital’ near Vancouver -- which proscribed a course of supervised LSD trips accompanied by classical music as its treatment for its patients’ psychiatric problems -- no one could have been better placed to be seen at the centre of a film that is clearly fascinated by the very sub-culture it simultaneously uses as a metaphor for wilful self-destruction.
A searing sun bleaches out the Iberian sky while (The) Pink Floyd fill the soundtrack with their most eerie, discordant quicksilver musical abstractions, and the trendy lower case font lettering of the film’s opening titles appears superimposed; from here we dissolve into an encounter with a gloomy grey European motorway sagging under torrential rain, and are introduced to German student Stefan Brückner, who is hitchhiking his way to Paris with a British lorry driver. Stefan provides periodic snatches of voice-over throughout the rest of the film, but here the penniless Mathematics graduate soliloquises about his search for freedom: Paris in ’69 would seem the perfect place to find such an adventure.
Stefan wanders aimlessly for a time among dope-smoking bearded Parisian hippies in afghan coats, amid much strumming of acoustic guitars in crowded coffee bars; eventually the lost adolescent is befriended by a young thief called Charlie (Michel Chanderli) and the two embark on a series of criminal misadventures culminating in a visit to a hippie hash party in a flat dominated by a wall-sized Roy Lichtenstein and furnished in 18th century antiques. While Charlie ransacks the coats and purses of the doped up revellers as they groove away to the Floyd’s “The Nile Song”, Stefan falls instantly in love with a thin, blonde, intelligent looking girl whom he follows into the kitchen to share a margarita with, despite earlier being mysteriously warned off her by a reticent Charlie (a red rag to a love-struck bull if ever there was one!). The attraction is certainly not founded in scintillating conversation as their first encounter demonstrates: ‘So, what’s Charlie doing?’ asks Estelle. ‘Nothing,’ mumbles Stefan. ‘What are you doing?’ she persists. ‘Nothing, what’re you doing?’ ventures back Stefan. ‘Nothing,’ she replies, staring into space. Nevertheless, Stefan manages to extract Estelle’s address and has the perfect excuse to visit her when he discovers that Charlie has stolen two-hundred francs from her purse while he was ‘distracting’ her with his engrossing conversation in the kitchen!
Estelle’s tiny shoebox of a flat overlooks a bustling Paris street-corner and is strewn with discarded clothes and underwear, is cluttered with dirty week-old breakfast things and is full of prog rock LPs left scattered across the carpet. Fascinated by the fact that Stefan has returned her money with interest (Charlie and Stefan completed a successful burglary the night before), the dishevelled blonde dresses in front of him to the strains of “Cymbaline” and introduces the innocent Stefan to his first self-rolled marijuana joint (‘it’s going to be legal in five years, too’) – the first stage of a roller-coaster ride through every form of drug available from hash to LSD and eventually heroin – and eventually seals the deal by allowing him to make love to her. Stefan follows Estelle to Ibiza, at that time a sun-soaked idyll for the hippy community. At first he can’t find her at the hotel address she left him; she disappeared two days ago, he’s told. But eventually he tracks her down to the lavish villa of an enigmatic German émigré called Ernesto Wolf, whom a contact in a local café claims is not only the owner of the hotel and several bars on the island, but also an ex-Nazi! (‘There are lots of strange groups on this island,’ says the acquaintance. ‘No one knows where they come from, or where they go.’) Despite Stefan being already jealous of the circumstances surrounding her involvement with the aged martinet, Estelle refuses to clarify their relationship. ‘She’s always been a part of his crowd,’ Stefan is later told, but the precise nature of their involvement remains unclear. Estelle repeatedly rejects Stefan then runs to him for consolation, and pretty soon the confused lad is completely under her thumb. ‘Sometimes I love you, sometimes I don’t,’ she whispers. The first part of the sentence is the only part of it he will listen to though. For his part, the frustrated Stefan tries to control this sullen wayward nymph with violence, repeatedly striking her whenever she won’t submit to his will, and losing most of the sympathy the viewer might have had with his callow obsession.
Eventually, Stefan manages to lure Estelle away to the other side of the island where he has rented a small isolated house on top of a sun-kissed island cliff. Unknown to him though, she leaves having just stolen a package containing two-hundred doses of ‘horse’ from Dr Wolf’s desk drawer. The two of them escape to a seemingly simple rustic life of naked sunbathing on the blazing rocks while a cassette deck spools out yet more Pink Floyd warbling, and the occasional discreetly veiled daytime three-in-a-bed romp when Estelle’s comely best friend Cathy (Louise Wink) comes a visiting.
But it is around this time that Stefan learns from Cathy that Estelle is (and has been the whole time he’s known her) a heroin addict -- a fact she’s previously concealed by lying about the true nature of the marks on her forearm -- and one day he finds her strung out on junk on the coastal rocks underneath the blazing Ibizian sun. Soon, Estelle resumes her role as tempter and disarms Stefan’s disgust at the drug by seducing him into trying it with her: ‘People who take horse want to escape from life; people who smoke weed or take acid want to intensify their lives. Hippies put down people who are on horse while junkies put down the little fools who think they’ve discovered the world. Hardly anybody mixes the two – they both lead completely different ways of life,’ she says, persuading him that they are a different breed in their willingness to try any experience or any drug once.
But after just one fix, Stefan wants more and more of the stuff. Their dabbling with danger is represented by the two shown playing with a saucer-full of lethal mercury. Pretty soon the two are concocting all sorts of druggy recipes, mixing up hash, pot, nutmeg, Benzedrine and banana-peel. However, the idyllic days of drug-soaked sun worship are about to end. Wolf has been keeping tabs on them the whole time and forces Estelle to come back to him on threat of his bringing in the police, while Stefan is now also forced to work for him as a barman in one of Wolf’s clubs, covertly pushing heroin concealed in matchboxes under the counter. As summer turns to a wind-blasted Spanish winter, Estelle and Stefan’s relationship deteriorates further; in their tiny hotel room, where Stefan passes the time sucking on an opium pipe while Estelle paints childish watercolours surrounded by the hippy décor of sheepskin carpets and oriental-style rugs hung on the walls as exotic drapery, they attempt to replace heroin with LSD, taking to the hillside at twilight to indulge in Buddhist chanting as the sun goes down. But when Estelle has a bad trip and becomes convinced Stefan is evil, the beginning of the end is nigh. Charlie turns up again to try and save the spiralling-to-oblivion Stefan from himself and, most of all, from Estelle -- ‘ do you know how many guys she’s destroyed already?’ – but it is too late; both are back on the heroin and a jealous Stefan finally manages to get Estelle to explain her relationship with the German drug pusher who’s got them both in his thrall. When she finally leaves for good, the end comes quickly for Stefan, and in an almost casually offhand manner.
The dialogue is mostly in English but with occasional bursts of German, French or Spanish. Some actors have clearly been dubbed into English but the film is essentially an English language one despite the feel of European cinema it engenders from its production credentials. The BFI have previously released the film on DVD with a non-anamorphic print. This duel-disc release improves on the past one on a number of fronts. First of all the new HD master, available on the Blu-ray disc in the set and on the new DVD, looks considerably sharper and lusher than its non-anamorphic predecessor. It may not be up to the same standard as most other recent BFI releases but it probably won’t be bettered on any other future version. The film appears in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio with an improved 2.0 audio track which, although there are a few instances of unwanted noise during the course of the film, is generally much better than the past effort. Another improvement comes with the inclusion of removable subtitles rather than burned-in ones for those portions of the film not in the English language, and the option of English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing should one require them. The film also appears to be uncut, with past omissions from the soundtrack listing the ingredients of Estelle and Stefan’s drugs recipe now restored; and the scene depicting Estelle’s meticulous preparation of Stefan’s first fix now seems to be included here uncut as well. Both the Blu-ray version and DVD version includes a battered trailer for this and two other Barbet Schroeder films in the BFI’s collection, “The Valley” and “Maîtresse” but only the DVD includes the seventeen minute featurette “Making More” in which Schroeder returns to the house in Ibiza where a large portion of the film was shot (and in which he spent a number of the years of his adolescence), to talk about the shooting of the film and its reception, particularly in France where it was immediately banned upon release.
“More” is a flawed but strangely evocative film which takes a detached view of the hippie counterculture and of drugs in general, largely foregoing attempts to cinematically represent the experience of getting high or being strung out for a mellow, quiet air of impending tragedy which is foreshadowed from the very start, despite its doomed protagonist narrating most of the events of the film. Some of the acting is mannered and uneven but Farmer gives one of her best performances despite her misgivings about the subject matter. The giallo queen spends most of the movie attired in scanty or flimsy costumes when she’s not completely naked, and the film also features a rare example of male full-frontal nudity from the era, which was considered provocative in its day. The film has clearly dated rather heavily but remains fascinating nonetheless for anyone interested in this period of history, and is an especially essential purchase for Farmer's legion of fans. Well worth seeking out, this is a vastly improved upgrade from BFI’s previous DVD release which also comes with a lovely booklet of writings and profiles and interview extracts by the likes of Emile Bickerton, Brian Greene, Bella Todd and Maitland McDonagh.