Friday, April 26, 2013

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

A lot of times when watching a surrealist film it’s a lot like watching a dream, but when viewing the Czech fantasy/horror Valerie and Her Week of Wonders it really feels like I’m the one that’s dreaming, wondering when someone is going to wake me. Here, the thoughts and images of the subconscious mind pervade, and the effect is that of surrealist automatism applied to film making. Saying the film is beautifully dreamlike, disorienting, and hallucinatory should not be mistaken as fan-boy code for a beautiful looking inept film with a messy plot. It’s actually quite the artistic achievement. The music and imagery are magical, to say the least, and the events are the stuff of dreams and nightmares of the child’s mind in the early stages of maturity, the accumulated fantasy-influenced imagination gathered during childhood coupled with the fears and wonders of a young girl’s coming-of-age.

The plot centers entirely around thirteen year old Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová) and her first day (or week, I can't quite tell) of being a woman. She loves flowers, birds, and fruit, and her safety and security are connected to her magic earrings given to her by her mother, whom she knows to be deceased along with her father. She lives with her Grandmother (Helena Anýzová), and frequently consoles with a boy named Orlik (Petr Kopriva), whose creepy father, the Weasel (Jirí Prýmek), a boogeyman and one of the antagonists of the story, is a dead ringer for Nosferatu. Her world is like that of a fairytale, and her innocence and purity as well as her own wellbeing are threatened by a lecherous religious leader, Gracián (Jan Klusák), and vampires. Thankfully she has those magic earring pearls.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Baba Yaga (1973)

Comics have had their fair share of controversy, dating back to the ‘40s and ‘50s, most notably with the book Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham in 1954, where mature comics were practically demonized and said to contribute to juvenile delinquency. Wertham’s status as a respectable child psychologist gave his book merit, resulting in a national boycotting of comics, and so the Comics Code Authority seal-of-approval came about. The seal was used on the cover of comics to assure parents that the stamped comic complied with the censorship standards and guidelines set forth by the Comics Magazine Association of America. Nevertheless, this restriction put numerous comic companies out of business, and the industry took a huge blow.

Italy had its own comic code stamp introduced in 1962, known as the “Garancia Morale” seal-of-approval. However, when the comic series Diabolik was created by sisters Angela and Luciana Giusanni of the Astorina publishing house in 1962, they avoided being restricted by the boundaries that adhering to a moral stamp-of-approval would cause by declaring outright on the cover that the material was for adults. Ultimately, the dark, murdering antihero Diabolik was a huge hit and numerous similar title characters (usually with a K in the title) sprang up, such as Kriminal, Mister X, Sadik, and Satanik, and the fumetti neri genre eventually became increasingly more violent and erotic. It ultimately grew to be very controversial, so much as to create moral panic, with the publishers of Diabolik eventually facing criminal charges.

The fumetti neri genre that started with Diabolik, nonetheless, paved the way for adult themed comics. One of the most popular controversial Italian comic artists of the time was Guido Crepax, and the erotic comic series he’s most known for, Valentina, was adapted to film by Corrado Farina as Baba Yaga, a cult Eurohorror that’s a real surreal oddity.