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THE VALERIE PROJECT (official site) is a bunch of brotherly love city dwellers who play a live score to the 1970 Czech movie Valerie and Her Week of Wonders from director JAROMIL JIRES. Included are GREG WEEKS, BROOKE SIETINSONS, and HELENA ESPVALL from ESPERS, TARA BURKE ( FURSAXA), Greg’s wife JESSICA WEEKS, and some people from FERN KNIGHT ( MARGARET WIENK, JESSE SPARHAWK, JIM AYRE). In total there were ten people, with instrumentation ranging from a harp ( MARY LATTIMORE), percussion, electronics ( CHARLES COHEN), cellos, guitars, keyboards, and wooden recorder.
The movie itself is a bewildering, surreal visual feast. It’s subtitled but the dialog is very sparse, and since I spent ~15-20 minutes trying futilely to get some photos of the performers in rather complete pitch darkness, I probably missed a couple of key bits early on. The loose synopsis involves a teen aged girl getting her first period, her bizarre grandmother, the appearance of her male friend Eagle who might be her brother, the village bishop who fancies her in a quite lustful way, cobwebbed crypts, witch burnings, magical earrings, more than implied incest, lesbianism, and her presumed father who can turn into a ferret or vampire. Got it? In some regards, it could be a distant cousin to The Wicker Man.
As a friend mentioned afterwards, the entire movie might just be an excuse for the brilliantly filmed tableaux; it’s been a while since I’ve seen a film so visually striking, and the composition and lighting were technically spot-on and really engaging. A bit of controversy might be stirred up, based on a scene containing putative animal killing and a brief glimpse of thirteen year-old Valerie’s naked breasts and later her buttocks, but this is hardly 25 cent stall/sticky floor material.
The live accompaniment was very well done. I’ve never seen this done before alongside a projected film, but the timing needs to be precise, and the ensemble never missed. There were definite regularly employed thematic elements (deep, sonorous cello when the vampire character would appear), and the use of drum and cymbals helped punctuate actions and events. The key for me was the combination of the dual cellos and Greg Week’s guitar tone. His guitar was augmented beautifully by Jesse’s bass, and the clarity of his signature Les Paul tone carried through the long and confusing chaotic scene towards the film’s close. He’s one of my favorite guitarists and rarely has a mis-step. The convergence of this musical talent and vision is another notable achievement.
According to the project’s website, this is the first in a series, so I’m looking forward to what other films they may tackle.
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