Tag Archives: mystery

The Love Witch (2016): Psychedelia Meets Victoriana

24 Oct

Two autumns ago I watched this delicious eye-candy film called “The Love Witch” (2016) directed by Anna Biller and I loved it! Now, in these late October’s crimson leafy witchy days I find myself thinking about that film again and now I must tell you all to watch it too because it is just “wow”! It is fun, strange, sensual, vibrant, over the top and very aesthetically pleasing to watch.

I love him so much it just turns to hate
I fake it so real, I am beyond fake
And someday, you will ache like I ache…

(Hole, Doll Parts)

The main character is a beautiful witch Elaine, played by Samantha Robinson, whose long silky smooth black hair, dazzling outfits and vibrant eyeshadows catch the eye of many men in town, which is unfortunate for them because she isn’t just a witch – she is a love witch. Simultaneously, she is every man’s fantasy and his doom. Her victims just fall too much in love, and yes, ironically they die of too much love. Looking at Elaine, the way she walks the way she talks, it is easy to see why no man can resist her, there is a something magnetic about her, her figure oozes confidence and sensuality. In the opening scene, she is driving her pretty red car and explaining to us how she had to move because her former husband died a mysterious death and now she is partly blamed. She starts a new life in a small and charming little town of Arcata, California and moves into a beautiful Victorian house decorated in vibrant colours and garish designs which perfectly fit this witch’s taste. There she spends her time making spells and love potions, woodoo dolls and candles, and she also enjoys painting, tea and cake like a refined Victorian lady. After suffering from love in the past, Elaine was reborn as a witch and now she is determined to use that power to get what she wants from men, and not the other way around.

The time period isn’t strictly defined, it is supposed to be set in modern times but the aesthetic definitely draws heavily from late 1960s vibrant psychedelia and early 1970s with the Victoriana influence and the Edwardian era revival; the interior design of Elaine’s house and her costumes reflect this rich exuberant mix of styles. This film is extremely aesthetically pleasing to watch and it is what draws me to the film the most; aesthetic, if it’s the kind of world that I can imagine myself living in, if the characters are wearing the kind of clothes that I would died for, then I will watch the film, regardless of its other qualities, or lack of thereof. The aesthetic is everything.

All in all, Elaine just wants to find a man to love, and who will love her in return, but her mad intense search for this man has made her too desperate, and her witchcraft skills have made her too powerful, and so what started with an innocent understandable desire to be loved turned into a wild murderous fantasy. An officer she dated tells her in one scene in the bar “What you call love is a borderline personality disorder.” And indeed, her dark hypnotising eyes with long lashes and blue eyeshadow do have a look of madness in them. Also, she has no problem with burying people such as her unfortunate lover, she has done it before, she admits… Though it was his fault, he suddenly got so clingy and emotional after they had made love. He wasn’t the strong courageous prince charming that she is waiting for.

I am doll parts, bad skin, doll heart
It stands for knife
For the rest of my life

(Hole, Doll Parts)

“The Love Witch” feels entirely like someone’s fantasy, like an acid dreams translated into the art medium of cinema, which is wonderful! It’s a world seen through rose-tinted glasses, and it has its own logic. You know it can’t be real and these things can’t be real, but somehow you want to be drawn in and just savour all its colours and vivacity. The reason for this unique, dreamy feel to the film is probably because Anna Biller was practically its main creator; she is the film’s writer, costume designer, director, producer, art director, and editor. She wanted the film to look like it belongs to the era it was set in, and therefore the vibrant colours were used on purpose, in setting and in costumes, to emulate the look of technicolor films. Anne Biller said “I like to make films with a kind of dream logic. My films are a mix of reality and fantasy, or a mix of what is happening and what people wish was happening, or what they fear will happen.

In one scene, her poor victim Wayne, a college lecturer, takes her to his cabin in the woods, but little can he sense that she put hallucinogenic herbs in his drink and that she will destroy him. She starts undressing and he is almost blinded by the bright rainbow of her coat. Here is how the dialogue goes:

“What the hell! Your coat, it’s so bright.”

“I always line my clothing.

“You have two selves. Dark and quiet that you show the world… who do you give that to? the Rainbow?”

I give the rainbow to you. Right now. And she throws the rainbow-lined coat to him and proceeds to take the rest of her clothes off.

Now let’s take a look at Elaine’s to-die-for gorgeous costumes! Here is what Anna Biller said about them:

It’s all stuff that I fantasize about wearing, outfits I would wear if I was that put together. I used to put a lot of time into my own wardrobe, but since I’ve been making films I’ve put a lot of that energy into film wardrobes instead. I love vintage-inspired clothing, and I used vintage patterns to create her wardrobe. I wanted her to look really stylish, but also to be dressed how I imagine a 1960s witch would dress. I know some girls who dress like Elaine, and I love the way they dress and do their makeup.” She also says: “I wanted the costumes to come from Elaine’s romantic self-fantasies. I made a lot of them, and also a lot of them were vintage.

I love the emphasis Biller put on the costumes and how they are symbolically connected to the story:

I like for the costumes to match sets or to be harmonious with them, so in the scene when Elaine is driving her red car I put her in a red dress with red accessories. Her dress is short and casual, since she is driving and it’s daytime. She is wearing a moonstone pendant, since that’s an occult piece of jewelry. She changes costume for the next scene in the tearoom, since that’s a pink room and features ladies in hats, so for that scene she wears an appropriate Victorian-style peach dress with a hat trimmed with flowers. Trish for that scene also wears a peach outfit, but hers is a pantsuit because she is a businesswoman. In the last scene at the bar, I have Elaine in a long dress which is in a Victorian style but feels defiant and witchy because it’s in a theatrical red polyester. I put her in this dress because she is defying Griff in this scene, and I wanted her to wear something that shows her power.” (read the whole interview here.)

I love that Biller designed the costumes to correlate to the scenes, so the colour and cut of Elaine’s dress can tell us much more than we might assume at first. On two different occasions Elaine is having a tea party, first with her friend Trish in a Victorian-style tea room where she is seen wearing a dusty peach-pink dress and a pink hat, and the other time she is at home alone painting and she made tea and cake and is seen wearing this delicate yellow and white dress. In these scenes, she is not a groovy vixen out to get her net victim, no, she is a delicate princess waiting for her prince charming to show up at her doorstep with flowers and chocolates. These two dresses show the influence of late Victorian and Edwardian era on design and fashion of the late sixties and early 1970s, I already wrote about it here. Pink and yellow tea dresses, like a delicate rose and primrose, sweet and nonthreatening. Here is what Anne Biller says about these outfits:

The tea outfits were all vintage finds, but I had to do a lot of alterations to make them right. I looked for vintage Gunne Sax dresses specifically, wanting to give Elaine the look of those vintage Bradley dolls with the big eyes, and of the prom girls, bridesmaids, and Wild West gals you’d see in movies from the ‘60s and early ‘70s. The scene itself was inspired by an actual tea room I visited once where all the ladies wore hats trimmed with flowers, and pastel colors. I really saw Elaine in that setting, with all of her princess fantasies.” (more here.)

Now, at the end, my question is: how can I steal her wardrobe, and where may I apply to live there, in such a pretty Victorian house in sunny California in some undefined era which looks a lot like sixties????

Book Review: The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

20 Apr

I have just finished reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel “The House of the Seven Gables” and even though the first chapter bored me, I ended up loving the book and I couldn’t resist writing a little book review!

Cliff House, San Francisco, USA, 1906

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Gothic novel “The House of the Seven Gables”, first published in April 1851, is set in a small town in New England and follows an old family Pyncheon. The first chapter is set in Puritan times and tells us about the witch trials and the beginning of the family feud between the rich Pyncheon family and the Maule family. We find out that the now dark, gloomy and decaying house with seven gables was built on ground wrongfully taken by Colonel Pyncheon from Matthew Maule, after the latter was accused of practising witchcraft and therefore executed. All other chapters are set in the mid nineteenth century and follow the house and the family in their not-so-glory days. The only resident is an old spinster Hepzibah Pyncheon who, due to financial problems, decides to open a shop in the spare room in the house. This causes her great anxiety and aggravation because she has led a reclusive life and is now forced to get in touch with the world. She says: “The world is too chill and hard, – and I am too old, too feeble, and too hopeless!” She has a stern and serious personality but is good at heart. Here are more quotes about her:

…here comes Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon! Forth she steps into the dusky, time-darkened passage; a tall figure, clad in black silk, with a long and shrunken waist, feeling her way towards the stairs like a near-sighted person, as in truth she is.” (ch 2)

So–with many a cold, deep heart-quake at the idea of at last coming into sordid contact with the world, from which she had so long kept aloof, while every added day of seclusion had rolled another stone against the cavern door of her hermitage–the poor thing bethought herself of the ancient shop-window, the rusty scales, and dusty till.” (Ch 2)

And yet there was nothing fierce in Hepzibah’s poor old heart; nor had she, at the moment, a single bitter thought against the world at large, or one individual man or woman. She wished them all well, but wished, too, that she herself were done with them, and in her quiet grave.” (ch 3)

A tenant lives in the house as well, a young daguerreotypist called Holgrave: In the second chapter he is introduced as a “… respectable and orderly young man, an artist in the daguerreotype line, who, for about three months back, had been a lodger in a remote gable.” Even though he is quite young, twenty one or twenty two, he already had many experiences in life, worked different jobs, studied different things, from dentistry to photography! And he has secrets of his own… One day Hepzibah’s brother Clifford returns after serving thirty years in jail for the murder of his uncle; don’t worry, he isn’t a murderer, he was wrongfully convicted. Clifford’s character is a mix of childlike naivety and cheerfulness, and dandyish sophistication and a great love of beauty. Then, Hepzibah’s young, pretty and hard-working cousin Phoebe arrives from the countryside. Her vivacious and cheerful personality brought smiles to people’s faces, and flowers started blooming in their hearts, as well as in the garden behind the house. Suddenly, the house isn’t so gloomy and solitary any more!

Photo found here.

A lot of things happen in the novel, and yet the story is developed slowly, intensifying the intrigue and bringing in mysteries about the house and making you think about the layered personalities of the characters, and the big role that the past plays in their lives. There is a contrast between the oppressive atmosphere of the house and the freedom of the garden with roses and sunshine, idyllic scenes take place there; just like in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The house is almost a character for itself; it’s practically the only setting and the characters seem to be drawn to it by some strange power. Old portraits on the walls seem alive and the spirit of Alice Pyncheon, a pretty girl who lived there and died, haunts the old chambers. It is said that the flowers growing on the roof of the house grew there because Alice threw some seeds in the air just for fun. It’s the details like these that made me fall in love with the story. So, in short, the things I loved about the book, and what I think you might enjoy too; dark atmosphere with lots of secrets, eccentric characters, the house, mingling of past and present… Also, the story about a family’s past and connected to one house, reminded me of Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and Isabel Allende’s book “The House of the Spirits”. I love novels like that, and if you know any that are similar, do tell!

Roses, photo found here.

And now some lyrical passages that I loved:

Phoebe Pyncheon slept, on the night of her arrival, in a chamber that looked down on the garden of the old house. It fronted towards the east, so that at a very seasonable hour a glow of crimson light came flooding through the window, and bathed the dingy ceiling and paper-hangings in its own hue. (…) The morning light, however, soon stole into the aperture at the foot of the bed, betwixt those faded curtains. Finding the new guest there,–with a bloom on her cheeks like the morning’s own, and a gentle stir of departing slumber in her limbs, as when an early breeze moves the foliage, –the dawn kissed her brow. It was the caress which a dewy maiden–such as the Dawn is, immortally–gives to her sleeping sister, partly from the impulse of irresistible fondness, and partly as a pretty hint that it is time now to unclose her eyes.

(…) When Phoebe was quite dressed, she peeped out of the window, and saw a rosebush in the garden. Being a very tall one, and of luxuriant growth, it had been propped up against the side of the house, and was literally covered with a rare and very beautiful species of white rose. A large portion of them, as the girl afterwards discovered, had blight or mildew at their hearts; but, viewed at a fair distance, the whole rosebush looked as if it had been brought from Eden that very summer, together with the mould in which it grew. The truth was, nevertheless, that it had been planted by Alice Pyncheon,–she was Phoebe’s great-great-grand-aunt…” (Chapter 5)

Alice Pyncheon and her piano, perhaps? Photo found here.

Perhaps my favourite quote from the book, about Alice Pyncheon, which also shows the lyrical beauty of Hawthorne’s writing: “As he stept into the house, a note of sweet and melancholy music thrilled and vibrated along the passage-way, proceeding from one of the rooms above stairs. It was the harpsichord which Alice Pyncheon had brought with her from beyond the sea. The fair Alice bestowed most of her maiden leisure between flowers and music, although the former were apt to droop, and the melodies were often sad. She was of foreign education, and could not take kindly to the New England modes of life, in which nothing beautiful had ever been developed.” (Ch 13)

I hope I’ve managed to intrigue you to read the book. Oh, and by the way, this is my 400th post!

Laura Makabresku – A Macabre World of Dreams and Melancholy

10 Nov

Stillness, quiet melancholy and spider-web fragility of the world Laura Makabresku has created in her photographs keep haunting me for weeks now. I discovered her photographs slowly, one by one, and each intrigued me because it seemed to tell a story, without a clear beginning or ending, like a frozen moment in time that leaves your wondering and daydreaming.

Polish photographer Laura Makabresku is completely self-taught and she sees photography as a diary-medium to portray her feelings and her inner world; this makes me even more intrigued. Her photographs are easily recognisable by their dreamy beauty. Still, by gazing at them one after another, one can sense the changing moods: innocent sleepy chambers where long-hared maidens reside in their flimsy gowns of wistfulness and reverie, easily thorn by the sharp claws of reality. Ophelia-maidens trapped in cages of silk, birds and fawns are their only companions. Pale feminine ideal, porcelain muses easily shattered by rays of light. They seem lonely and mute, yet their hair whispers softly of darker secrets underneath their porcelain skin… From their muteness arises the melody of Chopin’s Nocturnes, at times deeply melancholic, at times shiveringly passionate. While some photos resemble David Hamilton’s dazzling mix of innocence and eroticism, the others portray the gruesome and bloody side of fairy tales and folklore; pale arms adorned with cuts, wrists with drops of blood, dead birds, dried flowers and lace doilies soaked in old perfume… If you’ve read real fairy tales, and not the naff Disney-versions, you’ll know how darkly imaginative and disturbing they can get, and I think Makabresku captures that mood well. The fairy tale fabric of her dreamy scenes is woven with a thick Slavic atmosphere of silence and mysteries. In some of her photos, I feel the dreariness and mystique of the Polish fields and meadows that Chopin wrote in one of his letters. At other times, I feel an oppressive and claustrophobic Kafkaesque mood. Her photos simply evoke so many ideas, dreams, memories… These are just my impressions, now I will leave you to enjoy the pictures!

 

Dark coat, a lock of hair with a ribbon, a bird peeking from the pocket: if this doesn’t intrigue you, I don’t know what does! Just looking at her photos gives me story ideas.

And here is a link to her website: http://lauramakabresku.com

John Everett Millais – The Vale of Rest

3 Dec

Painting ‘The Vale of Rest’ isn’t as famous as Ophelia, nor as vibrant and richly coloured as Mariana or The Blind Girl, but it is certainly one of Millais’ most atmospheric paintings, and also the one whose mystery can’t be solved despite all the details, symbols and hints, typical for early Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Roman Catholic nuns on a graveyard in the dusk of an autumn day. Mood of mystery, anxiety and secrecy.

The Vale of Rest 1858-9 Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896 Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1894 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01507John Everett Millais, The Vale of Rest, 1858-59

Dusk of a late Autumn day. Poplar trees are looming on the horizon. Tombstones coated in moss; names of the dead nearly erased with time, their lives now mere legends. Sky dazzles with purple, vanilla yellow and pink-lavender shades as chillness descends in this walled enclosure. A contour of a low chapel with a bell. Two Roman Catholic nuns. One digging a grave, the other – observing with a worried look on her face, and clutching a rosary in her hand. Art critic Tom Lubbock said of the painting: ‘Corpses, secrets, conspiracy, fear. It’s a picture that pulls out all the stops.’ The whole scene evokes mystery. Why is the nun digging a grave? Is it a burial, or an exhumation? What secrets are they hiding, and whose body lies in the cold, dark soil. Then the subject of Catholic nuns – still an object of scepticism in Victorian Britain.

a-vale-of-rest-2

Millais intended this painting to be a pendant to Spring or The Apple Blossoms (1856-59) where the subject of death is only hinted, but here it is fully exposed. There’s a skull on the nun’s rosary, and in the sky there’s a purple cloud vaguely shaped like a coffin – a harbinger of death, according to a Scots legend. As if the sight of a graveyard in the dusk isn’t unsettling enough, Millais incorporated these little morbid details. As you can see, the Pre-Raphaelite paintings are like books, you can read them by observing the details and symbols, which can always be interpreted in a different way.

a-vale-of-rest-1

Although he had carried the idea of painting nuns in his mind for some time, Millais ventured into painting this scene one night in late October in 1858, when the appearance of the sky, shining in gold and purple shades, was especially pleasing to him. He had to work with his brush quickly because, as it goes in autumn, sky is beautiful and vibrant for one moment, and a second later all is dark and cold once again. Still, the idea occurred to him earlier, while on his honeymoon in Scotland in 1855. His wife Effie recalled: ‘On descending the hill by Loch Awe, from Inverary, he was extremely struck with its beauty, and the coachman told us that on one of the islands were the ruins of a monastery. We imagined to ourselves the beauty of the picturesque features of the Roman Catholic religion, and transported ourselves, in idea, back to the times before the Reformation had torn down, with bigoted zeal, all that was beautiful from antiquity, or sacred from the piety or remorse of the founders of old ecclesiastical building in this country. The abbots fished and boated in the loch, the vesper bell pealed forth the ‘Ave Maria’ at sundown, and the organ notes of the Virgin’s hymn were carried by the water and transformed into a sweeter melody, caught up on the hillside and dying away in the blue air. We pictured, too, white-robed nuns in boats, singing on the water in the quiet summer evenings, and chanting holy songs, inspired by the loveliness of the world around them…‘ (source)

a-vale-of-rest-3

Millais painted the sky, trees and shrubs sitting just outside the front door, in the garden of Effie’s family at Bowerswell, Perth. Effie said: ‘It was about the end of October, and he got on very rapidly with the trees and worked every afternoon, patiently and faithfully, at the poplar and oak trees of the background until November, when the leaves had nearly all fallen.‘ The grave and the tombstones were painted a few months later at Kinnoull old churchyard in Perth. There’s a funny story connected to it. So, as Millais was painting at the graveyard daily, two strange or ‘queer’ bachelors, known by the names ‘Sin’ and ‘Misery’, noticed him and assumed that he made a living by painting the graves of deceased persons. So, they brought him wine and cakes every day, to reward his everyday hardships.

a-vale-of-rest-4

To end this post, I have to say that Millais is, in my opinion, the master of painting dusks and capturing moods and psychological states in a lyrical way; in Mariana, he portrayed her longing and loneliness, and even here you can sense a certain tension, or a deeper emotional connection between two nuns, even perhaps a game of power; while one is digging, tired, with rolled up sleeves, the other sits calmly, though her direct gaze at the viewer reveals anxiety and worry. Millais perfectly captured the colours of an autumn dusk; even softening the gold and purple, according to Effie. In ‘The Vale of Rest’, he perfectly captured the mood, just like he did in his painting ‘Autumn Leaves’, 1856.

Still, after analysing this painting, and observing its every detail, every symbol and every brushstroke, I can’t solve the mystery behind it. Perhaps it was never meant to be solved, but enjoyed. And I certainly did; drowned in its dusky mood and morbid, doomy beauty.