The Czech Surrealist film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divů, 1970) is a film that, once seen, cannot be forgotten. Like a fever dream, the film is filled with inexplicably seductive imagery that haunts the memory long after one has left the theatre. Like Angela Carter’s Company of Wolves, this strange, hallucinatory coming-of-age tale draws on folk imagery and traditions to tell the sometimes nightmarish, topsy-turvy tale of titular Valerie and her adventures. Whether dream or nightmare, the film remains one of the highest accomplishments of the burgeoning Czech New Wave.
Greater still is Lubos Fiser’s exquisite score, which has finally been restored to print by the lovely people at Finders Keepers. Time Magazine praised Fi‰er’s “austere purity” in a review way back in 1971, and, listening to this soundtrack so many years later, I can’t help but agree. The music has a revelatory simplicity and ineffable grace.
Espers’ Greg Weeks, an ardent fan of Fiser’s score, has nevertheless been inspired to create one of his own, done in collaboration with a slew of like-minded musicians (Fern Knight’s Margaret Wienk, Jesse Sparhawk, and Jim Ayre; Fursaxa’s Tara Burke, Weeks & Helena Espvall-Santoleri from Espers, among others). The Valerie Project has already performed the score as an accompaniment to the film in London (as part of Jarvis Cocker’s Meldtown fest), in NYC (at Jonas Mekas’ Anthology Film Archives), and in Philly (where many of the musicians reside). More shows are planned for the fall (including one at the Museum of Modern Art in NY), and the fall should also see the official release of the score in its entirety on CD. (That awaits confirmation, but I believe that Drag City will be doing the honors.)
I’ll let the group’s intentions speak for themselves:
“The Project Series started with a simple concept; that of recontextualising the filmic meaning and impact of a particular work through the substitution of a newly composed soundtrack. The new soundtrack is meant to be performed live to a sound film, with the original soundtrack turned off or the original music removed. This element is unique in that most live film soundtracks are perfromed to silent era films.Of course, the genesis of the project came more out of a complete infatuation with Jaromil Jires’ 1970 dream poem than from any intellectual conceit. The film’s relevance to a new generation of folk musicians (and to the re-emerging nature aesthetic within youth culture and society in general) made it an obvious choice when early in 2006 I was approached by Joseph Gervasi to present a music-to-film event at Philadelphia’s International House.
So what relevance does an obscure Czech New Wave film about a thirteen year-old girl’s coming of age have on modern society in the 21st century? Well, themes of religious turmoil, sexual awakening, filial complexity, doppelgangers, vampiric entities and shadowy evils pocketed within the beauty and resplendence of the natural world make it more relevant than ever, seems to me.
It should be noted that the underlying impetus of The Project Series is to reconnect the world to itself. Valerie is a film partially born from of a complex folk tradition, centuries of provincial culture. As global borders expand and cultural homoginization ascends, it is important that artists spread the heritage and uniqueness of pre-21st century cultural identity, so that such identities can be discovered, valued, and hopefully preserved by a modern global culture that tends to forget the learned wisdom of its past.
Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders is the first film in The Project Series.”
For more on the group’s upcoming plans and performance schedule, visit their web site.
I leave you with four songs: two from Fiser’s original score, and two from The Valerie Project’s very first performance on September 18, 2006.