I first saw Alain Siritzky at the Carlton Hotel bar during the 1996 Cannes Film Festival after my partner pointed him out.
“That dude made Emmanuelle,” my partner said.
I could only spot the back of a gleaming scalp peeking over a red couch.
I’d been pitching documentary projects (rather desperately) without sleep for the past 48 hours and my brain was on caffeinated overdrive. Emmanuelle was the first mainstream erotic movie to have become a global franchise. I had to meet who ever sat behind the red, royal upholstery.
I thought of an erotic angle to my documentary (every other angle had failed) and walked over. I was the classic, sweaty, run-of-the-mill indie producer kid who was trying too hard.
Luckily Alain Siritzky was sitting alone. I introduced myself a bit nervously and asked if I could tell him about my idea. He seemed delighted and asked me if I wanted to share a cup of tea with him while he waited for his wife.
He looked like a small, pleasant French man. But underneath his calm was hiding the intellectual mischievousness of Salvador Dali – sans the whiskers.
I instantly forgot my project. Instead I told him how my father introduced Emmanuelle to me as a sex-education tool when I was 13. The VHS tapes were known as “Emma” because the title had worn from overuse.
“Yes, this is quite common,” Alain chuckled matter-of-factly.
I asked him if anyone had ever calculated the number of teenagers who reached manhood with the help of Emmanuelle. He took a sip of his tea and looked at me with the spitting image seriousness of Dali.
“Over one billion, Jan.”
Alain became my friend and mentor that day. Later as some of my projects got a nudge more serious, he came and pitched me some of his. When I moved to L.A. in 2004, we formed a company or two together. While my ideas were often a bit “too far ahead of their time,” he still managed to be two decades ahead of me.
Alain Siritzky’s fame is multifaceted and often misunderstood. He was instrumental in creating the first multiplex theatres in France. He came up with new revenue streams that changed the landscape of theatrical exhibition. He is even responsible for bringing popcorn into theaters in France, an idea that the French intellectuals snickered at first but not for long.
Alain eventually bought control of the Emmanuelle brand and created more than 80 sequels that became more and more fantastical. Using Roger Corman’s production ideology, these films were profitable from day one. The ideas and stories usually materialized on a breakfast napkin and were ready for shoot by noon. But they were still a small part of Monsieur Siritzky’s universe.
On Saturday noon, 11th of October 2014, Alain passed away in a hospital in Paris, France. He was 72.
Alain’s last idea was to revolutionize the independent filmmaking industry by shortcutting the Hollywood gatekeepers with an online channel that would directly hook indie filmmakers with the audience. I went on a few pitches with him. The big shots rolled their eyes with wonder at this man, not sure what planet he was from.
The answer was staring them in the face. Alain was from his own planet – where fantastical is what you have for lunch.