THE EARLY WORD: The Valerie Project

buskirkbyline.jpgBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Next week Philly will reprazent at the Jarvis Cocker-curated Meltdown Festival, to be held in London’s prestigious Southbank Centre. After a week featuring resurrected rock acts Roky Erickson, The Stooges and Devo plus Beth Orton singing Disney tunes with Pete Doherty & Shane McGowan (for sake of their health please keep those two apart) the week will climax with with the Philadelphia conglomeration known as The Valerie Project sharing the bill with the former Pulp frontman’s closing set. Originally formed for a screening at UPenn’s I-House last year, The Valerie Project will tune up for next week’s show by performing their original score for Czech director Jaromil Jires’ 1970 Gothic fable Valerie and Her Week of Wonders tomorrow night at 8pm.

Made just as pressures from the new Communist regime were snuffing out the Czech New Wave movement, Valerie, like El Topo or 2001, is another of the hallucinatory “trip” films that appeared as thevalflyerweb.jpg ’60s drew to a close. It opens with Valerie (13-year-old Jaroslava Schallerova) running through some bucolic nirvana when she stops to notice blood has dripped on a daisy. Just as Spielberg’s Carrie’s menstruation fed her psychic powers, Valerie’s burgeoning womanhood sets off powerful visions of vampires, rape and incestuous love.

Valerie is a fable whose dream logic and hand-made quality are elevated by its original, otherworldly score by Lubos Fiser, an instinctual mix of choral, classical and folk traditions which features featuring harpsichord, organ, harp and flute. Along with the film (nicely restored for a recent DVD from Facets Video), the soundtrack has also garnered newfound acclaim, receiving its own celebrated resurrection through the Finders Keepers label. With such a masterful score already attached, why would someone want to replace it?

“This is an homage to the original soundtrack; we’re not trying to compete with it or say we can do something better,” said Greg Weeks of psych folk group The Espers, who originally brought the idea of merging film and music to Exhumed Films’ Joe Gervasi. Originally there were thoughts about working with the original Wicker Man or merging with The Arkestra for Sun Ra’s blaxploitation film Space Is The Place but they finally settled on Valerie, a favorite of both Gervasi’s and Weeks’, and expanded the cast of musicians to include not just the core of The Espers but also Fursaxa‘s Tara Burke and the respected electronic musician Charles Cohen (who sadly will sit out Saturday night’s performance).

Stripping away the music Jires originally commissioned and replacing it with the Valerie Project’s score works unusually well, as band’s folky dreaminess aligns so well with Valerie’s surreal rustic fable and the film’s original post-sync sound, which never attempted to match the music with the actor’s pantomimed playing anyway. Many of the film’s pleasures involve gazing at the striking, doll-faced Schallerova as she stares soulfully through a scrim of lace, cobwebs or floating downy milkweed. The Valerie Project’s descending textures of fuzz, drone and vocals supply a living, breathing spirit to Valerie’s mystical plight.

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS with Live Score by The Valerie Project (featuring members of The Espers and Fursaxa), Saturday June 16th, at 8pm, The International House, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia PA. Info at 215 381 5125. Click for more info.

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