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Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is one of the most enchanting movies I’ve ever seen, and remains a classic favorite many years after I first came across it. Directed by Jaromil Jireš, Valerie is a 1970 cinematic gem, and is considered part of the Czech New Wave. It has been described as a surrealist horror film, which beguiles us as much as the titular character Valerie is beguiled by the many strange beings she encounters throughout her story. Jaroslava Schallerová plays a thirteen-year-old girl, Valerie, who lives in a small bucolic village with her pious grandmother (portrayed by the haunting Helena Anýžová), and after experiencing her first menstruation is launched on a strange stream of events involving magical pearl earrings, flowers, doves, nuns, priests, incestuous lovers, and a vampiric being known as the Polecat. Whimsical, nonlinear, and charmingly illogical, it is impossible to place one’s finger on what it’s about exactly. It merely resembles a fantastical dream, where everything, every object and piece of set design, is filtered through the nostalgic splendid beauty of the era. It is replete with uncanniness and absurdity at once. A fairy tale, a lullaby-like fever dream, a transgressive narrative subverting Christianity…every scene contains a memorable and striking image which is richly symbolic and nearly iconic in itself.

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Grotesque Mysticism: The Art of Zakuro Aoyama

Brazil-based Zakuro Aoyama’s highly detailed, imaginatively macabre drawings and paintings are strongly appealing to me. Reminiscent of Takato Yamamoto’s work (who is my favorite artist along with Vania Zouravliov), they are fascinatingly intricate, luring the eye in with strange phantasmal layers and concentrities of flesh-like threads. Both ethereal and carnal, the images are wickedly beautiful, conveying a sense of playfulness, of invitation, and of corrupted purity. They seem to take inspiration from old Japanese kaidan and from French Symbolism, among other things. Their delicate boldness is refined as well as sensational, permeated with a melancholy eroticism.

The molten, striated textures of the paint are tantalizingly lovely. Aoyama skillfully pairs the spectral with the corporeal. I also love the way in which he combines swirling, hazy, yet full-colored, surreal backgrounds with the precision and meticulous delicateness of his linework. The solid lushness of the color is satisfying and provides body where there is a certain quality of vaporousness and highly-wrought elegance, giving an overall effect that is both elusive and gripping. The encrustations, the enameled and elaborated nature of these visions, are abysmally intriguing.

I had previously posted about Zakuro Aoyama, but he had not yet introduced color into his work – an element which I think has added a sumptuous gorgeousness and a further depth to his art that make it even more richly eerie.

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Garden and Grave: The Tragic Naturalism of Teagan White

Teagan White’s art seems to depict the lost souls of animals. It deals with humankind’s predatory relation to nature, wherein destruction, decay, and ruin reign within us. It also explores the intertwined brutality and tenderness of the natural world and its “subtle, gentle reciprocity and wild, tragic discord through muted colors, ornamental layouts, and meticulous detail.” I find myself drawn to the empty eyes of the eerie small animals who find a resting place within these delicate illustrations – the somehow soulless yet sad, pleading, melancholy look of a mouse or a rabbit… Ever-dying and ever-undead, they seem to me to have a perpetual and voiceless appeal. I also love the ominously poetic titles of some of these works, such as Thy Bleak Moor Shall Be Stained With Blood As She Enters the Dwelling of the Dead. The elegant, naturalist perspective of Teagan’s style is infused with passion/compassion for the stricken creatures. It is a form of visual lament or dirge for the diminishing earth.

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Wrap me in your violent hair: Ruby Throat

Below is the oneiric music video for the song “Hu’u” by surrealist neofolk duo Ruby Throat. I have long admired Ruby Throat’s haunting, slowly sad melodies accompanied by KatieJane Garside’s lullaby-like, dreamy voice, which is filled with so much vulnerability that it is the ideal vehicle for a ghostly ballad or dirge. A voice draped with shimmering, trembling cobwebs… The quietly aching, mournful, both chilling and tender quality of their song speaks of bygone longing and obscure personal tragedy. It is described as “recall[ing] the etherealness and fragility of English folk music and the deepest black heart of Gothic Americana.” This title is off their album Stone Dress & Liar Flower, and also appears on Baby Darling Taporo.

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Segovia Amil

The following is poetess Segovia Amil’s “Genesis Cries” video, directed by Amil and filmed by Laura Pol (original here), paired with the haunting Goëtia by Peter Gundry. I am captivated by the melancholy expressiveness of this film, her hands, her wraith-like garments, the unforgiving landscape, everything.

Amil also has perhaps one of the most distinctive faces among poets, an intensely vivid, simultaneously severe and extravagant beauty – the bone structure of a harrowingly lovely ghost.

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Because I Loved Her: A Review of Relic (2020)

Relic is a beautifully thought-provoking, empathetic horror film, and a promising directorial debut from Natalie Erika James, who also co-wrote the screenplay. It is a specimen of that rare horror movie which is also heartbreaking and emotionally disturbing in more subtle ways than straightforward horror, venturing outside the regions of pure terror. At the same time that it is viscerally and conceptually scary, it is also incredibly sad and ultimately an emotional narrative. Thus, despite the fear and dread it provokes, it has a quiet core, which is humanly sad and fraught with existential horror. Relic has a steadily building sense of chilling foreboding, an achingly haunting quality, and a subdued sense of devastation. Eerie, desolate, and atmospheric, deprived of ghosts but invested with emotional weight, it possesses a somber, grave, rending passionateness. What it has to reveal, and what it treats of, is more dreadful than any monster or gruesome murder could be. It also shows imaginativeness in terms of what a horror movie could be a vehicle for, demonstrating a fresh sense of possibilities for a genre which often lacks emotional complexity or depth.

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The Somnambule

{ I have put away the despairing flesh of childhood
Entombed my unnamed, availless years
Within driest flowers, cracked spines of books
And a stone with a soul of blood,
Sloughing off some fine plum-black cocoon
Or chrysanthemum bloom
And I had myself a waking dream
The dream felt white,
Like old bones
And hurt softly as rain.
}

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Unbearably Lovely: Photography by Kristamas Klousch

The self-portraiture of Kristamas Klousch has had an enduring fascination for me. Enigmatic, alluring, and almost painfully intimate, her portraits of a self-described “strange little wolf-girl residing deep in the forests and cities of Canada” are often blurred, double-exposed, over-shadowed and seemingly encroached upon by time and imperfection. The decaying and spectral beauty of these images is extremely nostalgic. Taking inspiration from classic self-portraitists such as Francesca Woodman, Cindy Sherman, and Sarah Moon, Kristamas’ work harkens back to such vintage analog photography, and has immense individuality, every shot being touched with emotion, atmosphere, dreams, and attended with all the ghosts of subjective experience. They are eerie, disturbing, moody, distorted, fervidly beautiful and otherworldly – filled with an almost sinister sadness.

The myriad, muse-like, ever-changing face is partly obliterated and obscured over and over, but retains the vividly evocative ability of the most memorable visages. Having a phantasmal and nebulous quality, these images are yet charged with an emotionality that seems mercilessly to pierce through to the private and intimate regions of being. They resemble daguerreotypes capturing intense moments of interiority, of childhood and adolescence and womanhood, the bizarre deliciousness and agony of so strangely inhabiting one’s body – precious tintypes which have been warped with the emotions like the presence of a ghost. The decay has bloomed on them, frosting them with shadows in so mysterious a manner. They faintly give off a scent of crushed flowers. The poetic quality and experimental nature of Kristamas’ photography appeals to me like a lingering ache, like a mossy cabin, like fallen leaves, like a cross blazing from the wall, like lipstick with the redness of wounds, like a lost glove, like a dress that I loved as a child.

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“They will not exhaust it, for its matter is inexhaustible.”

{She sailed beneath a sky of lilacs, each cluster of which was heavier and more charged with anguish than the word “blood” at the top of a page.}

{Where do the angels’ progeny now meet?….I turn to my youth; I fall asleep in it. I try to revive it by kissed lepers, canonized guts, flowers condemned mirthlessly by notorious councils, in short an entire legend which is called Golden, the even more overwhelming miracles with which [we] teemed…}

{It is not to be wondered at that the most wretched of human lives is related in words that are too beautiful.}

—Jean Genet, The Miracle of the Rose