Thursday, February 19, 2009


What would the work of Jean Rollin have sound like, if he had had not been a cinematographer but a Black Metal fan?

Perhaps something like the shadowy French band Moëvöt.

In the sixties and seventies, French filmmaker Jean Rollin directed a series of obscure and odd art-horror films. Most of Rollin's films are charmingly amateurish, largely improvised, poetic vampire films. His aesthetic predilections ran counter to the Nouvelle Vague movement that dominated the French arthouse cinema of the era, as he was always more attracted to 'outmoded' traditional French cinema. The films are a strange amalgam of on the one hand an anachronistic form of Black Romanticism and and on the other hand exploitation cinema: his films feature declamatory speeches, 'theatrical' acting and 'poetic' tropes, as well as (sometimes crude) sex and violence. Jean Rollin's films are not successful as horror films (they are never truly frightening), but they succeed as filmic explorations of a Surreal, almost mythological and very personal iconography.

From the chapter on Rollin in Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs 1994 book Immoral Tales. Sex and Horror Cinema in Europe 1956-1984:

"In the guise of a 'horror' film a series of unconnected images was being shown: women drinking from a huge jar of blood, a game of skittles played by a blind woman, a vampire queen emerging from the sea, a marriage of vampires taking place in the old Grand Guignol theatre, two lover being sealed inside a coffin... and so on, up to the final image of the hero, cradling his lover's body in his arms in the deserted Place de la Bastille, and reciting from ancient pulp author Gaston Leroux. To cap it all, the film was laced with splashes of nudity, ridiculous dialogue that seemed to be made up as the actors spoke, and had a cast who were killed off at the end of the first half hour and then came back to life for the final fifty-minute play-out. (...)

[Rollin's] films are based around images and sequences of images, not around the logical, point-by-point exposition of a screenplay. The genesis of many of is films is a particular place that catches his attention or a specific image. Other images then follow, and often the screenplay is an exercise in linking the pictures that come almost ready formed to his mind. (...) His ideal is to find images that are strong enough in themselves to need no final explanation. To him, the need to explain takes away the power of the images."

Moëvöt is the work of a French musician known only under the pseudonym Vordb Dréagvor Uèzréèvb. Very little is known about Vordb. Possibly his name was Stéphane Z, possibly he hailed from the (rather provincial) town of Bergerac in the Dordogne. What seems certain is that Vordb was one of the leading figures of a collective of Black Metal bands called 'Les Légions Noires' ('The Black Legions'). Moëvöt is likely to have been only one of Vordb's many projects, others being Brenoritvrezorkre, Dzlvarv, Susvourtre, Torgeist, Vzaeurvbtre, Dvnaèbkre and (the best-known) Belkètre.

It cannot be said with certainty how many demos Moëvöt brought out. Some internet sites list up to twelve demos, but only two demos can definitely be attributed to this project: Voryathre (1993) and the impossibly named Ézléýfbdréhtr Vépréùb Zùérfl Màzàgvàtre Érbbédréà (1994).

Why do I associate Jean Rollin's films with Moëvöt's music?

Certainly there's more to the association than the mere fact that both artists are French.

Perhaps it seems odd to compare Rollin's poetic, highly intertextual films to the extreme and sometimes primitive genre of Black Metal. But even if Vorbd was part of the Black Metal scene, the music on the Moëvöt demos is not Black Metal in strictu sensu. Grimly buzzing guitars and blast-beating drums are conspicuous in their absence. Underlining this absence, we find choir-like singing, melancholic acoustic guitar chords, macabre Carnival of Souls-like organ playing, and extremely cinematic 'found sounds' of footsteps, children, church bells, birdsong. The only Black Metal element in the music are the agonized, rasping vocals, which are used only sparsely. If Rollin's films were explorations of a Surreal and very personal iconography, Moëvöt's music travels into the intimacy of Vordb's idiosyncratic musical-mental landscape.

One of the reasons I associate Rollin's films with Moëvöt's music is that there is something anachronistic about Moëvöt's Black Romanticist music. Both Rollins films and Moëvöt's music tap into "... the revolutionary energies that appear in the 'outmoded' - in the first iron constructions, the first factory buildings the earliest photos, objects that have begun to be extinct, grand pianos, the dresses of five years ago, fashionable restaurants when the vogue has begun to ebb from them." (Benjamin). The sex and violence in Rollin's films relate to their outmoded context as the Black Metal vocals relate to the other elements of Moëvöt's music.

Both Rollin and Moëvöt worked under severe budgetary constrains, but manage to turn this to their advantage: Rollin by harnessing the energies that emerge in the 'outmoded', Moëvöt by using the primitivity of the recording technology to explicitly introduce "...the technical frame, the unheard material pre-condition of the recording, on the level of content." (K-Punk)

Like the films of Jean Rollin, the music of Moëvöt is charmingly amateurish and largely improvised. The music lacks rhythm, structure, development. The music is based around musical motifs and sequences of motifs, and not based on a logical composition. One senses that for Moëvöt, the power of the motifs would be taken away if they were to be integrated into a conceptual construction.

I end this post with the juxtaposition of two YouTube videos of Moëvöt's music with the same number of trailers for Rollin's films. This collocation of videos is strong enough in itself to obviate the need for any further rationalization.

It is time to sleep, perchance to dream.

In einem Friedhof - Errance (Moëvöt)

Le Frisson Des Vampires
(Jean Rollin, 1971)

Zurghtapre-Chant d'Eternité I (Moëvöt)

La Rose De Fer
(Jean Rollin, 1973)

Post scriptum

This is the 400th post of this blog. The very first post was published on August 14th, 2006. It announced: 'This blog has been inspired by my visit to the exhibition "Undercover Surrealism" at the Hayward Gallery in London. The blog is intended to contain doctrines, fine arts, ethnography, variety. Expect dusty things, ethnographies of one-man-Cthulhu Cults, confused concepts, black and blackened musics, untruths.'


Robert said...

this is without doubt my favourite blog, and i wish you another 400 posts

fantastic stuff!

Anonymous said...

Hi valter,

About a month ago you wrote about "Night and Black Metal", with a quote from Merleau-Ponty's "Phenomenology of perception". Could you kindly give me the pages where Merleau-Ponty discusses the night, which page the quote was from? Would appreciate it, thanks.

ps. very interesting blog!

valter said...

Thanks Robert and NN!

The quote comes from Merleau-Ponty's 'Phenomenology of Perception', Part 2 (The World As Perceived), Chapter 2 (Space). In my 'Routledge Classics' edition it's on pages 330-331.