Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders (1970) – Duality Through Sound and Vision (Part 3).

Part 1. Part 2.

Belief And Ritual.

The power of belief and its will in the distortion of reality is one of Valerie‘s more crucial cinematic aspects.  This isn’t simply a belief in the sense of a religious doctrine and all of the aesthetics that accompany it, but the moral belief of the main character whose fantasies dictate the narrative ruptures within the film.  However, religious material does play some key role in the defining of an almost oppositional force to Valerie’s new found sexual awakening and this greatly affects the visual and musical artefacts.  The staunchness of such a belief system is set out to be the status quo from the opening of the film but intertwines throughout the narrative progression suggesting that the moral evolution of the main character (and any individual for that matter) is a complex and nonlinear process.

This system is represented chiefly by the character of the hypocritical priest, and the musical accompaniment that hints towards more theology based motifs stem from this character’s own make-up.  This priest visits the town with an entourage alongside the travelling players and tries to seduce Valerie.  When she fights off his attentions, he later has her publically burned as some sort of heathen (though not before she magically escapes as in most magic-realist of ways).  In one sense, all of these ideas stem from one basic concept; that there is a need for some sort of symbolic code for the guilt of sexuality.  There are few more effect and poignant forms this can take than religion.

Yet this aesthetic and narrative symbol is also encoded within the musical score and it is telling how such ideas manifest.  Interestingly, the musical forms show a progression of ideas that are telling in their placement of Valerie’s timeline of self-discovery.  Even though the melodies of the piece, The Magic Yard, accompany both the opening credit titles, the closing credit titles (albeit rearranged in a modulated key and slowed down tempo) and various scenes throughout the film, it seems to be represent the tail-end of this evolution, at least in the context of the religious material.

In this piece, there are vocals of children singing in the style of a hymn or prayer but, by the end of the film, the same lyrics are being sung by adults.  Yet, the music suggests that this is out of place and that, actually and in contrast to the surface suggestions, the lyrical content is evolved from somewhere further ahead in the narrative.  The vocal styling upon repeat viewings suggest that they actually stem from a piece named The Sermon; this is the most overtly religious piece of the score and is built from the speaking of a Catholic Mass.  Why this occurs later on and not initially earlier is perhaps more down to Valerie’s understanding of the world rather than a misreading.  She is unaware of both the hypocrisies of religion and the power of sexuality at the beginning of film.  Both, however, exist before she becomes aware of them (perhaps even a priori) and so when The Sermon occurs on the soundtrack, it acts almost like a race memory, though one that is enslaving and eventually shown to be contradictory to Valerie’s character.

This reaches its climax during the aforementioned scene of Valerie being burned at the stake for being a witch/not agreeing to sleep with the priest.  The music highlights belief but not through simply acknowledging the aesthetics of Catholicism but by creating a ritualistic chant.  This chant is appropriately performed by low male voices; voices which eventually mix with the final performance of the The Magic Yard (which is labelled And The Last) to balance out the identity of Valerie’s awakening.  Ritual seems to be only minor to Valerie as a film but underneath its attention to the fantastical, many of its scenarios seem to hint at some form of repetitive notion leading to one final goal.  In other words, the whole film seems ritualistic with the final outcome being the changes that have taken place within Valerie herself.

The fact that she is sacrificed within the narrative also speaks of this, especially as she is almost reborn through her escape from the fire.  Even the idea of blood dropping onto the daisy hints, at least aesthetically, to some form of ritual and as all of the film’s happenings stem from this moment, it could even be read that puberty itself is some form of naturalistic ritual of the body.  Valerie becomes almost possessed by the thoughts that her hormones are creating though this is in itself a little too cold and scientific for a reading of such a fantastical work.

The sense of this is again built through its music though more in the placing of the compositions than the actual material of them.  Even though the soundtrack is built up from over twenty different pieces of music, themes and melodies come back and forth, sometimes modulated but often building up a great sense of journey and destination as the film progresses.  More than just simply borrowing some of the aesthetics from Catholicism (as well as questioning some general points of criticism), Valerie builds into a final, ritualistic summation of the main character’s sexual journey; one that was abated by religious belief but also one that ironically also resembles a theological gesamtkunstwerk in its structural whole.

Part 4.

Adam Scovell

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