Cannes Film Festival has earned the admiration of film lovers for showcasing the finest in auteur films. But for the last 60 years, the Cannes Market has provided economic oomph to the annual seaside unspoolings, with fare perhaps less artsy, but with its own special aesthetic pleasures.
Cannes Palme d’Or winner (and 2019 Fest competitor) Quentin Tarantino has waxed poetic about one of the market’s most emblematic and distinctive film companies, Crown International.
“I’ve been lamenting the fact that exploitation movies don’t exist anymore, but they do, they’re just on television,” Tarantino told Movieline in 1994. “‘Baywatch’ is as good as any Crown Intl. movie,” said Tarantino, “but without the nipples. You get all the breasts, you just don’t get the nipples…”
Founded by Newton “Red” Jacobs in 1959, the same year the market was officially launched, Crown Intl. enjoyed decades of buoyant bazaar triumphs, reaping the benefits first of the thirst for ’60s exploitation fare. Crown was first propelled by low-budget biker pics and horror-monster-terror thrillers that fit the needs of America’s genre-craving film fans.
Crown’s heyday was under the leadership of Jacobs’ daughter Marilyn Tenser and her husband, Mark Tenser. After the relaxation of censorship limitations, Crown self-financed and distributed dozens of pics packed with an abundance of de rigueur teen pulchritude in randy formulaic comedies with titles like “My Tutor,” “The Babysitter,” “My Chauffeur” and “The Pom Pom Girls.” But there were also grandly exotic sci-fi outings like 1980’s “Galaxina,” with Dorothy Stratten at the beginning of her tragically brief film career.
Since the death of her husband last year, Tenser is now virtually the sole survivor of the Crown glory days, but continues to oversee the brand’s catalog as well remakes, aided by Crown attorney Scott Schwimer.
“I was born into the business,” recalls Tenser, but she credits her late husband with providing the leadership and vision that culminated in a long run of profitable titles. “Mark was brilliant and resourceful. He knew how to produce a film and he knew how to comport himself in the day to day business of Crown.
“We would start with the question ‘What will sell?,’ which leads to the question, ‘What is a good title?’ Then we would get an artist to create key art and then get a writer and then get a script and then shoot the movie. We always financed everything in-house. We called our own shots. We didn’t ask anyone for permission. We did it!”
Tenser recalls that one of the films currently on the top of the firm’s remakes list, “Galaxina,” was born out of Mark and Marilyn’s mutual admiration for two very different sci-fi films of the ’60s and ’70s.
“Mark and I liked ‘Barbarella,’ especially the financials of ‘Barbarella,’” says Tenser of the Roger Vadim cult classic starring a very young and very scantily clad Jane Fonda. “And we also liked ‘Star Wars,’ especially the critical acclaim.”
Tenser recalls casting Dorothy Stratten “when she was still working at a Dairy Queen in Vancouver. We signed her green card to come and work in the United States.”
And “Galaxina’s” glam-rocker-meets-B-movie queen distinctive look was also a homegrown affair: “I modelled her after myself!” laughs Tenser. “Look at her! She wears her hair the same style as me, it’s the same color, everything’s the same!”
And as for the timeless appeal of those Crown titles, they’re still a favorite of Tarantino. According to one Crown staffer, “We’re always pleased to make sure Quentin gets our best 35mm prints when he shows Crown Intl. films at his theater.”