Tag Archives: Decadent Cinema

Amy Hesketh, Part Two: Sex and Art

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

Here is the second installment of my interview with Amy Hesketh, producer/director/actor and founder of Decadent Cinema.

For newcomers to her work, Amy is a native New Englander. Her professional film career began under the tutelage of  Pachamama Films’ Jac Avila.

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Yes and No

My talk with Amy Hesketh continues. The subject turns to a staple of her films: nudity.

Do the actresses take on the amount of nakedness they are comfortable with?

Yes and no, Amy responds and cites Maga, the singer in Barbazul, as a prominent example. The actress, Paola Teran, was open to whatever Amy wanted and had no personal issue with baring it all.

However, the screenplay had a determining factor built in.

barbazul01093712-2Like Blubeard’s other women, Maga is murdered. In the scene, she’s wearing a great-looking outfit, Amy says, which offered a practical benefit.

“I was doing my own effects and it helped that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time making the wounds in front of her,” as would have been required were she totally nude.

But that’s only part of the story. Amy explains that the film “had a lot of palettes” and as the director, she pays a significant attention to color and how it relates to the composition of a shot.

“Essentially when you look at the frame, there’s a certain amount of color in the composition, so if she (Maga) were nude there, she clashed a little bit [because] purple is her color and I didn’t see enough of it in the rest of the shot, so I needed it there because otherwise my palette would be off.”

As for the writer Jane, her color is pink, Amy adds, a good thing since she ended up playing the role herself.

“My skin is fine, it went with the palette.”

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Consequently, after a number of test shots, nudity was a fit for Jane’s character.

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The Storyboard

Once the basic narrative and characters are in place, how do they shape the finished film?

To begin with, Amy has a vision for her production which includes the film’s palette and mood. Often she relies on storyboarding, a popular technique used by fiction writers, cartoonists, playwrights, and others.

Then as the plot line takes shape the characters will go their own way. Often conflicts come out of a character’s back story which opens the door for further creativity.

“When I’m writing, a character becomes real and fleshed out. Obviously the actor’s interpretation becomes slightly different, so I tend to go with that,” Amy says, because she doesn’t want to force any cast member into “an unnatural performance.”

Her style is to let things find their own direction, a flexibility not every director possesses.

The payoff is a worth it.

“There are a lot of wonderful surprises when you’re shooting a film, so if you can go with that and learn how to write it in and direct it, then you have something magical, something beautiful and spectacular that comes out of it,” Amy concludes.

Speaking of characters, Amy’s work appears to use location as an animated character. Is that an accurate assessment?

“Absolutely, I generally use locations as characters. [In Barbazul] the hacienda is a character in the sense that it is the patriarch/matriarch. It’s the glue that holds everything together. It represents the oppression of the past,” Amy says.

In Ollala another old house is center stage. My guess is the upcoming Pygmalion may also have one.

“I often have old houses in my films because I find them to be this oppressive force,” Amy says.

“It’s the weight of history. It’s something I’m constantly pushing back against with my films so it’s often a character in my films, a character in my life.”

Rabbit Hole

What is her most difficult challenge when she’s in front of the camera?

“The hardest thing for me with a character is losing myself in the character,” which in her view can become risky considering the types of dramas Pachamama/Decadent Films produces.

Amy understands that her productions can be a gamble when it comes to its effects on the actors. As director she must assume some responsibility for any negative outcomes the cast might suffer as a result of filming.

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“So if you’re [the director] leading this person down a rabbit hole that is not nice, it’s your responsibility to care for them afterwards, make sure that they are alright and can get out of it. It often takes a lot more work than leading them into it,” Amy declares.

Of course for Amy, she is often her own director and that presents further issues.

1505228_10151835599527882_1712782730_n“I haven’t really had much help with that in my films, so that’s the hardest part for me. I’ll chose these characters so in order to portray them I have to travel to very, very dark place inside myself. And getting out of that becomes this terribly hard work, rather difficult and painful work to create other pathways.

“The most difficult part for me is getting back to myself and be in a positive space, to be happy and not to be in a dark miserable place.”

I mention her role in Maleficarum where she is tortured and crucified in the name of religion.

It took her two months to climb out of that abyss, Amy recalls.

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The Eroticism of Torture

Finally, we talk about her fan base and I offer that part of her following must be BDSM fans who relish the eroticism of her torture scenes.

Are these fans attracted to her work because of it’s perceived pornographic slant?

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Amy replies she doesn’t know much about pornography and doesn’t consider her films to fall under that umbrella. But she knows some fans may see her performances that way and she’s okay with their interpretation because there is “a certain niche market of people” out there who follow her.

dbd00490414-2“Yeah, I have a whole fan base that buys my films. It’s pretty much split down the middle between [S/M fans] and cinephiles who like art films.”

Amy welcomes all points of view and when it comes to the fetish crowd, she states, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that either. It’s marvelous. I wish we weren’t so condemning [of them].”

Amy ‘s final thought ties everything together with a bit of wisdom.dbd00552817-2

She remembers the words of a professor she at Bard College where she got her undergrad degree. He related a point he learned from one of his profs: when it comes to stimulating the mind, “If it’s not sexy, it’s not art.”

Amy Heskeths’s films are certainly art, and she is superbly sexy. . . and an absolute delight to talk with, I might add.

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Amy can be found on instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

To purchase Amy’s films, check out Vermeerworks.

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Barbazul, Part One: Cut Off Her Head

by Rich Moreland, September 2016

At Jac Avila’s recommendation, I watched Amy Hesketh’s Barbazul, a Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema production. The film is a thought-provoking drama that dances between erotic horror and a psychological thriller.

In this first installment of a four part review, we take a look at the original story.

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The fairy tale as we know it today is a product of the Golden Age of Hollywood, cleaned up by the Disney people so as not to offend. But what about the original tales? They come from all cultures though the ones we’re most familiar with have European roots that reach across the continent.

The most popular stories come from the Brothers Grimm, who lived in Germany in the 1800s. But there are early well-known versions from France via Charles Perrault, a 17th century lawyer who turned his hand to writing. He specialized in morality tales and penned stories such as Mother Goose, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and the subject of this review, Bluebeard.

0_942da_3d44e4ec_origWhat we forget is this. Perrault’s narratives are grisly in nature. Little Red Riding Hood is stalked by a sexual predator when she ventures alone into the woods. Don’t we warn our children about strangers?

In Sleeping Beauty, the prince revives his beloved, they marry and have two children. The mother-in-law (Queen Mother) is not pleased and demands the children and their mother be cooked and served well done.

When that culinary plan falls through, she prepares to toss them into a vat of “vipers, snakes, and serpents,” Perrault writes. Her vengence will be satisfied and the little slithering rascals will enjoy a pleasant, but perhaps overly crowded, feast of their own.

Keeping all of this in mind, let’s take a further look at Bluebeard, a tale of dripping blood and curiosity that went too far.

The Dropped Key

Bluebeard, as the story goes, is a man “so ugly and frightening that women and girls fled at the sight of him.” Nevertheless, this man of means marries the youngest daughter of a “high-class lady” using his wealth to woo her with “picnics and parties.” The outcome is a May-December marriage.

Illustration by Gustave Dore

Illustration by Gustave Dore

Later Bluebeard takes a trip and leaves his wife the keys to the house with instructions to stay away from a certain room “at the end of the gallery.” Bluebeard’s warning reflects 17th century thinking. Women were expected to act within established boundaries and ask no questions.

“Open everything, go everywhere, but I forbid you to enter that little room,” he says, promising she will a pay price if she disobeys.

Not surprisingly, curiosity gets the best of the young woman and she searches out the room despite knowing punishment awaits her. “The temptation was too strong for her to resist,” Perrault writes.

Unlocking the door, she discovers the floor “sticky with clotted blood.” Reflected in this glistening pool were “the corpses of several women, hanging up along the wall.” They were Bluebeard’s previous wives “whose throats he had cut, one after another,” Perrault tells the reader.

Illustration by Hermann Vogel

Illustration by Hermann Vogel

Terrified, the bride drops the key which is quickly doused in the red stuff. She tries to clean it repeatedly, but it becomes “enchanted” and the stain never goes away.

When Bluebeard returns, the girl is quickly outed by the bloody key. Pressed for an explanation, her denials are unconvincing, sealing her fate.

“You will take your place beside the ladies you saw there,” he shouts, but does concede her a little time before his cutlass will do its work.

All seems lost though the lass does have a chance. She entreats her sister to keep watch for their brothers who are due to arrive at any moment. Desperation sets in as the final hour creeps closer and closer. But good fortune intervenes. The brothers break in just as Bluebeard is “ready to cut off her head.”

The day is saved and the young wife, despite her disobedience, becomes “mistress of all his belongings” because Bluebeard had no heirs.

A Paltry Pleasure

Perrault leaves the reader with the moral of the tale. “Curiosity has its lure,” he says, but it is a “paltry kind of pleasure and a risky game.” Simply put, this episode is the fault of the young bride who doesn’t understand her place in the household.

But, it is a fairy tale, uncomplicated and straight forward. Explanations for cruel behavior are unneeded in a patriarchal society. In the 1600s women were to do as they were told.

In her film, Barbazul, writer and director Amy Hesketh explores what is unsaid in Perrault’s narrative. She builds a back story around each of the wives and offers the viewer a surprising and chilly ending that leaves more questions than it answers.

In doing so, she explores the mind of a killer in ways unimagined in the Frenchman’s time.

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Artfully done, Barbazul gives the initial impression of following Charles Perrault. The young wife, Soledad, like Perrault’s creation, is the subject of the film, or so it seems. But that is not Amy Hesketh’s intention.

You see, Barbazul is about Bluebeard and his attempts to exorcise his demons. The film is a strange, dark, psychological journey of man who has a personality disorder at best and is a serial killer at worse.

One more point.

Bluebeard is a misogynist in Perrault story, we suppose, but there is no convincing explanation. Does Amy’s film verify that label for her Barbazul and does that define his murderous inclinations?

In the next three posts, we’ll take a look.

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Jac Avila, Part Three: The Body in Pain

by Rich Moreland, August 2016

My thanks to Jac avila for sharing his views on film making and culture. I look forward to reviewing more of his work in the future.

All photos in this and the preceding posts are courtesy of Pachamama Films and Decadent Cinema. Vermeerworks is their distributor.

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Jac and Amy on the set of Justine

Jac and Amy Hesketh on the set of the upcoming film, Justine

A Set of Values

In Jac Avila’s films there is a distinct theological undercurrent. In helping us understand how it complements his work, Jac begins with a snapshot of religion and society.

“Catholicism in South America and most of Europe, particularly Italy and Spain, is more a part of culture than religion,” he explains. For many of the faithful, it’s “a set of values,” a good mixture of  belief with “plenty of mythology” tossed in, “most of it not taken seriously.”

“However, when one grows up inside Catholicism, one is taught to love that culture,” he declares, though it “tries unsuccessfully, to repress a large part of one’s humanity, like sexuality.”

Of course, Christianity is closely linked to suffering . . . a natural human state. But, then again, so is sexuality. Is there a connection?

Blood Sacrifice

“In Catholic culture, the body in pain plays a crucial role with Christ at the center,” Jac continues. It’s really “blood sacrifice as redemption.”

This idea dates back to the Early Middle Ages as the church was making the transition from its birth in the Roman Empire to its place as Europe’s centralized institution.

But we need to remember that crucifixion, the ultimate “body in pain” statement, was around long before Christianity. That Christ and some of the Saints were crucified is more coincidental to their condemnation during Roman times when dying on the cross was the established demise for society’s outcasts and outlaws.

Roman times. Mila Joya in Dead But Dreaming.

Mila Joya’s character faces death in Dead But Dreaming’s flashback to Roman times.

From there, the diabolical combination of torture and death moved out of the Roman Empire into the next historical period.

“In medieval times this (The Body in Pain) symbol took over. Executions were cruel and public, so was penance,” Jac reminds us.

Incidentally, the public fascination with death lingered into the 19th century as Jac illustrates in Dead But Dreaming when the Irish traveler is garrotted before onlookers.

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Jac then cites the distinction between the Catholic and Protestant interpretation of sexuality.

“Catholic imagery is full of The Body in Pain, a beautiful body, always, either male or female, almost nude or totally nude, with an expression of bliss in the very moment of martyrdom.”

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Elaborating on the visual impact of a crucifixion, Jac explains, “The school I attended was full of those images. Beautiful paintings expressing exactly that. Catholicism is far less repressed sexually than Evangelical, Calvinist, Lutheran Christianity.”

He follows that thought with a quick history lesson.

“The framing of the body in medieval Europe, was intrinsic to the historical moment.  Humanity was moving from an agrarian culture to the beginnings of city culture. Social interactions were changing dramatically. The image of the body as symbol became pervasive,” he says.

Jac regards the 12th century (1100s) as a pivotal time in the emergence of the body as art.

“The Church had the most power in influencing most everything,” he notes, which lasted until the Renaissance, a time “when art flourished and thought was liberated by Thomas de Aquinas (Catholic theologian and Scholastic) when he gave some long overdue importance to humans.”

For the most part, Medieval art is purely religious with Christ “an overpowering figure taking up the entire frame,” Jac suggests.

In other words, man is not celebrated. The heavenly bliss of eternity and the proper way to get there occupied Medieval artists, who, incidentally, never signed their work.

By the Renaissance, change was on the horizon. The ideals of humanism were infused into culture, at least in the Italian City-States where money patronized the arts. The result? Art and literature achieved a secular focus.

As for art’s theological representations, Jac gives us this example. We see the Virgin Mary as “a real woman breast-feeding a child,” a cultural broadening influenced by Aquinas.

And somewhere along the way, our sexual fascination with crucifixion and suffering took hold.

Feminism

So, what about the sacred feminism popular in pre-Christian cultures?  I suggest the Church patriarchy had some issues with this idea. Jac spins it less severely.

“Catholic doctrine did not do away with the Divine Fem all together. Mary was and is an object of worship almost equal to God, she’s more accessible; she is the mother. But yes, women were repressed of course, but so were men. The great fear is the true liberation of mankind. We’re all afraid of freedom. I don’t think we’d know what to do with it.”

Mila Joya and Amy Hesketh in Maleficarum's execution scene, a reminder of the Church's fear of witches.

The Church’s fear of witches and it’s repression of women in Maleficarum’s execution scene.

I agree with the repression/freedom argument. Certainly the Church did not abide heresies and especially witches and warlocks. By the 15th century the Inquisition (the subject of Jac’s film, Maleficarum) was holding court. Credit Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella for making sure everyone toed the religious line.

The Church court extracts a confession from Amy's character in Maleficarum.

Inquisition torture extracts a confession from Amy Hesketh’s character in Maleficarum.

Regardless, Jac steps up his defense of the Sacred Feminine.

“In Catholicism women have a high place because of the Virgin, The Mother of God herself. Catholicism is not as patriarchal as it may seem to be. What we may be expressing is that women, just like men, have the same or more capacity to suffer for humanity.

“In that sense, female martyrdom gets equal treatment… or better yet, takes the main role. The strongest character in Catholicism is Saint Eulalia. She’s crucified twice.”

Of interest is that the original St. Elulia, the reference in Jac’s film Martyr discussed in a previous post, was, according to legend, a teenage virgin tortured and crucified on a St. Andrew’s Cross.

Carmen Paintoux

Carmen Paintoux in Martyr.

So there we have it. Do the images from Jac’s films energize the sexual question?

The Guignol Again

Despite the Church’s efforts, the uneducated retained their superstitions and out of this, particularly in Central Europe, phantasmagoric visions and stories emerged of evil forces beyond human control.

“As you know, most of the horror stories, like vampires, come from the old tales of old Europe, which come from far back in time,” Jac points out.

Veronica Paintoux

Veronica Paintoux as the Lamia.

And as we move from Medieval into modern times, with stops for the Enlightenment and Romantic Periods, superstition and the supernatural forces that go bump in the night linger in the human psyche.

It’s not a leap to understand that our world is still fascinated by cruelty, especially sexual torture, and can’t look away.

Our repressed blood lust comes to life with vampire stories and today’s slasher films which tap into horror as it emerged out of the Victorian Age into modern Europe.

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But we don’t need the fantastic to energize our sexual interests. Human depravity played out realistically on a stage will do.

th“The Grand Guignol has its roots in that period of time where executions were performances for the masses. That’s why Guignol was also described as the Theatre of Cruelty,” Jac explains.

In fact, the Parisian stage and the fascination with crucifixion fuel the star power of Amy, Mila Joya, and the Paintoux sisters, Carmen and Veronica.

Brew the mixture of history, religion, and sex into a cauldron of savagery and sadism and what emerges is a new version of the erotic horror genre that is distinctly Jac’s and Amy’s, Olalla being the latest in a line of powerful films.

Framing the Body

“Not everything medieval was cruelty, of course,” Jac continues.

“There was a nurturing, serene, body sharing space with a conflicted body torn by desires, fantasies and that other body, the one in pain, dismembered, racked, whipped. The education of the masses by framing the body became all important.”

Mila Joya tortured in Maleficarum

Mila Joya’s character exemplifies “the body in pain” in Maleficarum . . .

Finally, the native Bolivian offers these comments on Amy’s Hesketh’s approach to her acting.

“As far as Amy’s performance in the films, like in Dead But Dreaming or Olalla I can say that those scenes are the way they are because of the stories. This goes to the Body in Pain discussion. The body as a central symbol in culture, but as it was seen in medieval culture, where much of the representations we have now originate.”

Maleficarum's roasting scene.

. . . As does Amy Hesketh in the film’s roasting scene, a particularly difficult and emotional shoot.

That is where Amy seduces the camera like no other actor.

To reassure the fainthearted, Jac leaves us this note about female performers in his films. Yes, they illustrate the Grand Guignol stage, as noted above, and all its perceived brutality, but there is more.

“Acting in these movies is, in a sense, empowering. The actress has complete control over her body, mind, and soul, to do anything she wants to do.”

That in itself is an empowering feminist statement.

Amy, Jac, and Mila.

Amy, Jac, and Mila . . . artists, innovators, and a new film intelligensia.

 

 

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Jac Avila, Part One: A Working Relationship

by Rich Moreland, August 2016

Recently I’ve reviewed two erotic horror films, Dead But Dreaming and Olalla, products of the independent film companies, Pachamama Films and Decadent Cinema.

This post begins a three-part series on actor/producer/director Jac Avila whose business imprint is Pachamama Films.

Here he discusses his professional relationship with Amy Hesketh.

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Martyr

Jac Avila and I have some common theatrical interests, among them the Parisian theater of fear and terror, the Grand Guignol. Pachamama’s take on the horror genre is influenced by the Guignol stage.BarbazulJac001tiny

“We’re very much inspired by Grand Guignol,” Jac tells me. Since the 1990s, the producer/director has shot “a series of performance videos” that reflect the theater’s unique stamp on shock and violence.

As his evolution in film progressed, Jac’s work drew the attention of Amy Hesketh, who was building her own erotic on-screen resume.

MartyrPosterSmall2One of his films, Martyr or The Death of St. Eulalia (2002), became the catalyst for the their artistic collaboration. Though it was made in New York, (Jac maintains dual residences in NYC and La Paz, Bolivia), Amy saw the movie in South America in 2005.

“It made a huge impression on her and that’s when she decided to join me in this adventure,” he recalls.

At the time, Amy was more into photography than modeling, Jac explains, and had aspirations to write and direct.

Martyr stars Carmen Paintoux, a French actress, whose history with Jac dates to the 1990s. The themes of Christian sacrifice, sadomasochistic relationships, and suffering drive the film and captured Amy’s interest.

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Subsequently, Jac began a working relationship with Amy, who picked up acting again. She joined French performers, Carmen and Veronica Paintoux, to create a new and innovative indie film narrative.

Amy’s first feature as writer and director was  Sirwiñakuy, a tale involving an older man and a younger woman in a BDSM relationship. “She wanted Veronica to play the lead character,” Jac mentions.

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Later films like Barbazul, Dead But Dreaming and Olalla, saw Amy step in front of the camera. Not unusual, he adds, because Amy “puts herself in the more difficult roles” much to the delight of her fans.

In the movies I’ve seen, Amy dominates the lens. I asked Jac about her motivation to play parts which appear, at least on the surface, to be masochistic. Jac has some suggestions, but makes it clear he cannot speak for her entirely.

Catharsis

“The characters she plays appeal to her, yes, and at the same time scare her,” he begins.

Jac mentions Justine, a character in a film by the same name yet to be released. It’s based on the de Sade novel, so the sadomasochistic corruption of the innocent steps forward as one would expect.

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Due to Justine’s “religious stubbornness” Amy doesn’t have a glowing opinion of the girl as she appears in the novel, Jac remarks. In fact “Amy thought she was an idiot.” However, he adds, “as in any art, a part of us is in those characters and a part of our experience is expressed in them.”

“In some cases it becomes cathartic,he believes.

An interesting thought which I think is clear in Amy’s portrayal of Olalla and her role in Maleficarum, a film involving witch torture.

According to Jac, “Amy plays what appears to be submissive roles, although I see them more like women in peril type of characters, they do not submit, they are forced into their particular ordeal. I can even say that some do not go quietly into their ‘doom.’”

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As heroines, Justine and Olalla are united in that respect, but by different circumstances. Perfect, I might add, for Amy Hesketh’s talent.

How much more of that talent we will see on-screen may be waning because Amy is now concentrating on writing and directing. But she has an impressive resume as an actress.

“The way she prepared herself for her roles in the movies we made is impressive,” Jac remarks.

Bodies and Minds

That brings up another topic which needs clarification. Amy Hesketh and the other actors in the Pachamama troupe, Mila Joya and Veronica Paintoux, in particular, are whipped, tortured and crucified. So, are they the darlings of the BDSM crowd who might flock to see their films?

Sirwinakuy0012-300x389“I don’t think our films fit into what would be the traditional BDSM genre, except perhaps for Sirwiñakuy, which is about an S&M relationship, and Pygmalion, that has those elements too,” Jac observes.

As a director and actor himself, Jac notes that everyone in the troupe gets to “display different personalities in different filmswhich is diverse enough to move beyond the dominant/submissive formula.

“When they do get into their characters, they do go into them with intensity and completely, they become those characters for the time of the shooting. In other words, they do put their bodies and minds into them.”

Then he offers up a dose of reality.

tumblr_litvpumDNz1qhi6wuo1_500“I can also say that they do suffer, physically and mentally, during the difficult scenes. The whippings hurt, the crucifixions are very, very uncomfortable and even painful. There’s a lot of real suffering going on. I do not think that any of them enjoy that, they put up with it for the art.”

The Liberating Part

Of course, Pachamama/Decadent productions have their share of naked female flesh that some viewers may consider to be on the border of softcore porn.

Jac presents his take on that interpretation by referencing the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and its counterculture.

The films of that era represented “an explosion on the face of Catholicism,” he notes. They were a part of the “cultural movements of the time,” in which new artistic and strident voices captured the day.

“In Europe and South America the rallying cries were the movements of liberation from whatever people felt they needed liberation from. Soon, in both worlds, the sexual revolution took over.”

With that, Jac Avila is blunt.

“Nudity in our films is the liberating part. People are still traumatized by nudity, it baffles me, so we put in on their face, warts and all.”

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That is good news for all of his and Amy’s fans.

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Jac Avila can be found online at jacavila.blogspot.com.

All Jac and Amy films are distributed by Vermeerworks.

 

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Olalla, Part Five: The Portrait

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

This post wraps up a few details about Olalla as I’ve interpreted the film.

Here we consider the portrait’s importance in the story and take a look at some of the cinematography.

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Gothic

OlallaPoster800The central image in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Olalla” is the portrait in the English soldier’s bedroom. It presents “a woman, still young” whose body is “very slim and strong.” Yet, she is “marred by a cruel, sullen and sensual expression,” the Englishman notes, and he fears the lady may still exist “in the body of some descendant.” Nevertheless, he is drawn to her.

In the film, the portrait travels across time. It is in Roberto’s bedroom in the 1885 setting and then in Nathan’s in the modern era.

At one point, Nathan, who is the final incarnation of the house guest, gives credence to the Englishman’s apprehension. He gazes at the woman’s face and it fades into Olalla’s, a bit of blood dripping from her mouth.

Like the English soldier who is “haunted by cries of pain” in the night, Nathan hears Olalla’s whimpering coming from her room. Could it be that Felipe is his sister’s abuser in Stevenson’s mind? Amy Hesketh lets us in on that secret in her updated version of the story.

Later, Nathan wants to photograph Olalla using his tablet. She resists at first, but gives in, and the photo reveals much.

First, her image is there, questioning the traditional (Bram Stoker) interpretation that vampires aren’t reflected in mirrors. Then, there is Olalla’s comment that she appears pale, perhaps denying any self-recognition that she is vampiric. Nathan counters her remark with the word “gothic,” an interesting concession to Stoker.

That strikes a chord with Olalla because she responds with one the film’s major themes. “I want to look normal.”

A test for angle and shadowing.

A test for angle and shadowing.

The portrait and the photo solidify the Olalla story. Both have the same shadowing that mutes the left side of the face. Olalla, like her ancestor, is crushed by a past she cannot escape. It’s the darkness that has engulfed the family for generations.

Coincidentally, there is a portrait of Christ immediately to the left (from the camera’s perspective) of Olalla’s ancestor. This foretells a cinematic ending that magnifies the conflict between suffering for sin and yielding to evil.

The images are together

The images: the soldier, Christ, and the ancestor

To bring all the images together, there is one more picture in the room, a soldier taken in profile. It’s a tribute to Stevenson’s original English officer, though the photo is of Victorian origin that fits with Amy’s interpretation of the Olalla back story.

As an aside, there is one more observation concerning Nathan’s tablet. Like the flat screen TV in the apartment Olalla shared with her boyfriend, the tablet is modern technology. However, the family hacienda lives in another era as we’ve seen. Only when someone from the outside, like the boyfriend or Nathan, appears in the narrative does Olalla experience what she desires, the freedom to break away and be “normal.”

Then, in a never ending cycle of entrapment, she kills off her chances of escape with deadly fits of blood lust.

Feeling Alive?

Throughout the film, the camera captures important details that help us interpret the story. Here are a few examples.

Olalla is frequently barefoot, understandable since uncle Felipe derides her as a “stupid little girl” confined her to adolescence. In the family’s presence, Olalla’s body language assumes the awkward posture of a child. Her hands and her feet are restive in an atmosphere that clearly makes her uneasy . . . as children often are among adults.

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In the living room, a glass curio cabinet is filled with bric-a-brac, much of it religious, such as the porcelain Madonna and angels.

Can we assume the family’s blood-thirst clashes with a faith they’ve long put on the shelf? Or, are the religious relics merely socially acceptable trinkets for display, not to be taken seriously? On the other hand, perhaps their blood cocktails are more sinister . . . a perversion of the blood of Christ celebrated in church ritual.

Taking this into consideration, we are inclined to believe that the crucifixion of Olalla’s mother, who committed no crime, was an act of redemption that gives the family a pass to be their wonderfully deviant selves.

Olalla and Nathan talk among the images within the cabinet.

Olalla and Nathan talk among the images within the cabinet.

Nathan and Olalla are united in one respect. He tells her that he has seen so much death that he can’t “feel alive anymore.”

The reality of that statement is ready to be tested by the family who is itself a reflection of his thought. Soon the party will begin and a table neatly organized with napkins, glasses, and the like is prepared. The arrangement is a set-up for a violent end: a pistol is centrally positioned among the dinner ware.

Nathan’s arrival is eagerly anticipated as one would the daily farmers’ market where fresh fruits and vegetables tempt the taste buds.

A Few Words about the Production

Olalla is a finely crafted film. Numerous close-ups connect the viewer with the characters. Additionally, Amy favors overhead and high angle shots, putting the family in a metaphorical fishbowl that invites us to watch their goings on with a mixture of macabre humor and pathos. Cinematographer Miguel Inti Canedo’s work is impressive.

A superb example is Olalla’s first appearance in the long hallway. It’s shot in single point perspective from high above with her a small figure at the opposite end moving toward the camera.

Later when Uncle Felipe overpowers Olalla, he binds her in a crucifix posture that references her mother’s death. The overhead shot tells us she may someday suffer a more grisly fate than a few beatings to reestablish her submission.

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Nearing the end of the film, another overhead shot shifts the focus to the pitchfork crowd in the 1880s. Notice that the whip marks on Olalla’s mother replicate the strokes inflicted on a tied down Olalla. Mother and daughter are forever united.

Oh yes, don’t forget that the Englishman’s final memory of Olalla in Stevenson’s story. He sees Olalla “leaning on the crucifix;” Amy puts her put on it.

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Olalla is a horror film, of course, but one that does not rely on special effects. Nonetheless, there is one spectacular moment when Jac Avila’s editing steps forward to show the fires that consume Olalla.

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A note for anyone who doubts the versatility of indie film projects. Everyone does everything. Actors do make-up, take on the jobs of PA’s, build sets, capture the film grabs (production stills) and operate technical equipment when needed.

A director has many jobs!

A director has many jobs . . .

It’s the closest thing we have to neighborhood theater, a truly refreshing experience.

Which includes set construction . . .

Which includes set construction . . .

And speaking of performers, Jac Avila’s and Amy Hesketh’s Pachamama/Decadent Films is also an acting troupe. Revisit the second post in this series for the names of the talented people who do their very best to make every film a first-class production.

A celebratory moment!

A celebratory moment!

The Budget

Finally, indie productions must deal with the bane of budgetary restrictions. Considering that, Olalla is exceptional. Though the outdoor sequences are not elaborate, they more than adequate to supplement the story.

10417775_10153193597846840_8578639109230206091_nOn the other hand, the indoor shots of the family hacienda in modern times are the real driving force of the film.

By comparison, the 1800s flashback scenes emphasize the family’s once wealthy position that Stevenson establishes in the original story.

Their home is well-appointed.

Also, the church that becomes Olalla’s last refuge is visually impressive. Both are awash in color.

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Because I mainly review films in an industry that operates outside mainstream Hollywood, I’m well aware that talented directors rarely have the money to bring their projects to the screen in the fashion they’d like.

Despite whatever financial hurdles they face, Amy Hesketh and Jac Avila create narratives that are intriguing interpretations of timeless stories produced with an innovative modern feel. As a team, they and their troupe deserve the highest accolades.

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There is on more post to come. It centers on Amy Hesketh’s performance in Ollala.

To learn more about Amy and Jac, visit their twitter accounts at @Amy Hesketh and @Jac Avila.

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Olalla, Part One: A Half-Lingering Terror

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

Olalla is an erotic horror film from Pachamama Films and Decadent Cinema. The movie is written and directed by Amy Hesketh. The dialogue is a combination Spanish and English and comes with the option of closed captioning.

Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story by the same name,  Amy’s adaptation weaves Stevenson’s tale into a visual narrative so compelling that I believe it is worthy of academic study.

Though I don’t use a rating system for my reviews, I highly recommend Olalla.  The film is available from Vermeerworks and Amazon.

In this first post, we look at Olalla from a back story perspective.

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1991712-gfRobert Louis Stevenson published “Olalla” as a short story in 1885. It’s the first person account of an unnamed English officer wounded in war, most likely Napoleon’s 1807-1814 Peninsular Campaign in Spain. The soldier recuperates at a “residencia” belonging to a once noble family.

Remnants

When he arrives, the officer learns the remnants of the family consist of a mother who is “sunk in sloth and pleasure,” a “very cunning, very loutish” son named Felipe, and a daughter, Olalla, whose presence is felt but not seen.

Upon first encountering Felipe, the soldier finds him to be “a child in intellect [and] stunted in development.” He also describes him as secretive, perhaps being more than he seems. All the while, the daughter remains a mystery.

During his stay, the Englishman notices a portrait of a woman in his bedroom. She appears, by way of her antiquated dress, to be “long since dead.” Nevertheless, she is striking in an ominous way, causing the soldier to remark that “to love such a woman were to seal one’s own sentence of degeneration.”

As time passes, the portrait begins to “cast a dark shadow” on him. He is thankful the woman is “safe in the grave,” then comments, “And yet I had a half-lingering terror that she might not be dead after all, but re-risen in the body of some descendant.”

Reacting to his uneasy feelings, the officer concludes the ‘family blood’ seemed to be “impoverished,” probably from inbreeding, and accounted for the strangeness of Felipe and his mother.

How they are connected to the portrait remains vague, but the soldier’s lengthening stay at the residencia reinforces his growing anxieties.

Bestial Cries

The Englishman eventually meets Olalla and they develop a rudimentary friendship.

The story’s turning point occurs when the soldier cuts his hand opening a casement window. Seeking help he approaches the mother only to have her fall upon him and bite his hand “to the bone.” He fights her off but she pounces again “with bestial cries” similar to those that had previously awakened him in the night. Felipe and Olalla appear and rescue him.

With the Felipe’s assistance, the soldier departs the home to find shelter in a local village. While there, he engages the old padre and asks about Olalla and her family. Not a good idea, apparently, because the village atmosphere becomes toxic for the Englishman. The residents avoid his presence which he attributes to their superstitions. Eventually, he strikes up a conversation with a “gaunt peasant” and learns that a villager died at that “house of Satan” where the family lives, though how and why is unknown. The soldier dismisses the story as more superstition.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

The officer and Olalla meet a final time on a pathway that has a crucifix at its summit. Olalla has stopped to pray.

She thought he had gone, she says, and urges him to do so because the longer he stays the closer death stalks him and her family. Olalla knows the locals are aware of his love for her and that is dangerous.

When her prayers are finished, Olalla implores the Englishman to look up at the “Man of Sorrows.” She mentions the “inheritors of sin” and how everyone must endure a past “which is not ours.”

Though he is no Christian, the soldier is struck by her message. All sacrifice is “voluntary,” he laments, and “pain is the choice of the magnanimous,” so it’s “best to suffer all things and do well.”

Moving on, the Englishman heads “down the mountain in silence.” He turns to look back and sees Olalla “still leaning on the crucifix.”

Is this a Vampire Tale?

Victorians loved enigmatic storytelling because it protected sensibilities and forced uncertainty upon the reader. For example, there’s Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Is it a ghost story about possessed children or just the fertile imagination of a young governess who is a psychological wreck?

On the other hand, when Bram Stoker’s Dracula is published about the same time as James’ work (1897-98) subtleties are put aside. The vague becomes obvious.

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We know Dracula’s bites are metaphors for the erotic and necessary to accommodate Victorian temperament, but the rest is pretty straightforward, a fantasy complete with fangs, a sun phobia, no reflections in mirrors, and on and on.

Hollywood has made a fortune on the Stoker model.

With Stevenson’s “Olalla,” we are left with a burning question? Is this a vampire tale or just a story about a deviant family of blood fetishists mixed with religious overtones and village superstition? Challenging, of course, because none of the standard Stoker’s mechanisms are in place and rightly so since Stevenson’s narrative predates Stoker by over a decade.

My inclination is go with the fetish explanation because everybody’s got one of some sort or another. But, of course, that won’t keep you up all night ready to cringe at the least gust of cold wind or that strange creature crawling up the wall of your bedroom.

The Grand-Guignolth

As for Amy Hesketh’s adaptation of Stevenson’s Victorian imagination, well, it’s pure Amy which means it’s innovative and terrific.

One more thought, I’m guessing Amy is a fan of Paris’ Theater of Horror, the Grand-Guignol (1897-1962), where amorality, brutality, sex, and insanity crept onto the French stage with just the right infusion of gore.  No supernatural here, it’s all realism at work.

As Amy Hesketh fans know well, she relishes whippings, crucifixions, rack torture, and burnings too much to rely exclusively on the supernatural as her literary modus operandi. Realism is her performance art and what stands her tall in the crowd of horror directors and storytellers.

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Having introduced Robert Louis Stevenson, we’re now ready for the next post on this marvelous film. We’ll take a look at the vampire question a little further.

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