THE VALERIE PROJECT accompanying the screening of VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS as part of the Images Festival at the Royal Theatre (608 College West), Wednesday (April 9), 10 pm. $15, stu/srs $12. www.imagesfestival.com. Rating: NNNNN
it’s not unusual for a musician to have an interest in cinema, but Greg Weeks’s film fascination – particularly with bizarre thriller-chillers from the late 60s and early 70s – runs deeper than most.
The night before I caught the Espers main man mixing tracks for his forthcoming solo album, the freak folk firebrand was hosting a rare screening of the Mexican nunsploitation classic Alucarda, The Daughter Of Darkness (aka Sisters Of Satan) in his hometown of Philadelphia.
Sooner or later, Weeks was bound to figure out a way to bring together his passion for subtitled lesbian vampire flicks and fuzzed-out guitar solos. What it took was seeing the visually dazzling lost gem of the Czech new wave, Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders. Jaromil Jires’s surrealist fairy tale isn’t something that’d regularly play at your neighbourhood rep cinema, but it just so happens that Weeks’s pal Joseph Gervasi of Exhumed Films had a 16mm print lying around. Gervasi also had a concept for a series of multimedia presentations that would become the basis of the Valerie Project.
“When I heard about those Exhumed Films guys screening rare prints of obscure 70s movies in this rundown old theatre in Pitman, New Jersey, I had to check it out,” says Weeks. “I got to know Gervasi, and when he came to the Espers’ Planetarium show and saw how the visuals were being used with the music, he pitched the idea of having Espers perform live soundtracks to underappre-ciated films like Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders. I was all for it, but some of the other members couldn’t agree on whether we could pull it off. So I grabbed the Espers people who were into the idea and formed another band.”
The Valerie Project’s self-titled debut for Drag City, the haunting song cycle that Weeks’s 10-piece psychestra whipped up as an alternate score to Jires’s masterwork, is much more than your typical soundtrack collection of short and disjointed cues – it all hangs together remarkably well as a stand-alone piece. Perhaps best of all, the creative use of analog synths and various electronic effects along with cello, flute, harmonium and autoharp gives the whole production a strangely contemporary feel.
This may seem heretical, but I actually prefer the Valerie Project’s dramatically trippy alternate score to Lubos Fiser’s quaint original (recently reissued by Finders Keepers), but that could be due to his heavy-handed use of glockenspiel.
“The original soundtrack is absolutely captivating, and it was nice to hear that to motivate us. Our idea was to create an homage to the Fiser score.
“Watching the film without any sound is a very different experience, and you come away with a different sense of the characters and how the scenes flow. It’s visually stunning as it unfolds layer after layer, and it strikes some chords with what’s happening in the world right now both socially and politically.
“Also, I felt the film’s back-to-the-land aesthetic has a strong relationship to what’s going on in the new folk movement of people who are breaking away from overbearing technology and moving toward more natural surroundings and natural instruments. It’s a more community-oriented view, rather than an individualistic and solipsistic way of looking at things.”
Of course, any attempt to update or reinterpret a work of art will arrouse the ire of those who are firmly against any such tampering with the creator’s vision. You can just imagine the sternly worded e-mails being composed right now by angry film purists shocked and appalled that the Images Festival would have the audacity to screen a brilliant 35mm print of Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders with an alternate soundtrack when the director-approved original score, complete with dialogue and foley track, exists and is available.
“So far we’ve only run into a little bit of trouble, and that was limited to two people in San Francisco who felt that it was an artistic crime to mess with what a director had obviously spent a lot of time creating,” says Weeks. “I can understand that point of view, but we approached this project as a tribute and as a means of getting this great movie out to a much wider audience.
“The archive print of Valerie being shown in Toronto is absolutely stunning and blows away the DVD version currently in circulation. People interested in seeing the film the way it was meant to be seen should come to the screening purely for the visual experience… regardless of how they feel about the soundtrack.”
Creating an alternate soundtrack to an obscure Czech new wave film is only the beginning for the Valerie Project according to Greg Weeks, who is already working on the next piece:
As if the Valerie Project's new solo album and an Espers recording wasn't enough to keep Weeks busy, he's also collaborating with a long lost artist from freak folks past: