Sunday, November 4, 2012

Morgiana (Juraj Herz, 1972)

Is there anything more Goth than watching your annoying sister slowly die while creepily stroking a Siamese cat? Actually, I'm not really asking a question, I'm simply stating a fact. Oh, you could try looking for something that oozes a purer, more unadulterated form of Goth. But you needn't look no further than Iva Janžurová, who plays "Viki," in the excessively dainty yet stylishly morbid Morgiana; the Gothiest hunk of Gothiness that has ever Gothed in front of my tired Goth eyes. Which is saying a lot. I mean, I've seen the Sisters of Mercy live in concert. Sure, it was the late '90s and I left midway through the show because the buckles on my winklepickers were pinching my feet like something fierce, but I made the effort; no matter how misguided and sad it might have been. In hindsight, I should have gone to see Rhea's Obsession instead, who were, if memory serves me correctly, playing at Lee's Palace on the very same night. (Wait a second.) Okay, before you ask, yes, I'll admit, going to see the Sisters of Mercy in the late '90s was kinda lame. And... (No, what I wanted to ask you was: What kind of name is "Viki" for someone who purportedly oozes so much unadulterated Gothiness?) Excellent question. You see, her name is actually Viktoria (a Goth-friendly moniker if I ever heard one), but her fair-haired, non-Goth sister, Klára, insists on calling her "Viki." Now, is that any reason for her to try to poison her? Of course it is. Don't you see what she's doing? She's trying to undermine her Goth cred. And I don't have to tell you, but a Goth without the proper credentials, is a weak Goth, and, some might say, a tepid Goth. In other words, I saw Viktoria as the victim of the piece, not the villain. All she wanted was to be treated with respect, and to have the moderately handsome lawyer in the tailcoat notice her refined beauty. But Klára wouldn't have any of that. In fact, the reason the attention was not forthcoming was because Klára had already distracted the moderately handsome lawyer with her curly red hair,  propensity for smelling flowers, and less extreme approach when it came to applying eye makeup. Most lawyers, moderately handsome or otherwise, will always choose to penetrate the vagina that is attached to the sister who is more impaired in the meshugana department.   
It's a sad state of affairs, but most men tend to lean towards sunny and warm, as supposed to dark and weird, when it comes to courting a mate. It doesn't matter that Viktoria (Iva Janžurová) and Klára (Iva Janžurová) are identical twins, their personalities and their sense of style are completely different.
Lacking the exploitative elements I've grown accustomed to over the past couple of years, Morgiana bypasses sleaze and tawdriness for elegance,  scenes that are drenched in dreamlike atmosphere, and, of course, the occasional implementation of point-of-view shots that are shot from the perspective of a precocious Siamese cat. 
Opening at the funeral of their father, Viktorie and Klára are told what their inheritance will be: the former gets the residence of "Green Flute" and and assortment of jewels, while the latter gets everything else. That's right, if Viktoria didn't have enough reasons to murder her sister before, she's got plenty now. After that seed of evil is planted in our heads (why did Viktoria's father snub her in his will?), we're treated to the sinister sounds of Luboš Fišer, as his combination of eerie flute work and monotonous drumming accompany the equally sinister opening credits (shots of colourfully bizarre paintings are shown intermittently).
As Klára is getting ready for bed, staring at herself in the mirror, as usual, Viktoria, who is wearing a red slip, sticks her gorgeous visage in her bedroom door and tells her sister that her face annoys her. Okay, before you say, "Oh, no she didn't," and accuse Viktoria of being a troublemaker, you should know that Klára's face is annoying. But don't they have the same face? Yeah, I guess. However, while Viktoria is always pursing her lips–you know, like a normal person, Klára is constantly giggling like a brainless twit.
The following morning we get our first view from the point-of-view of Viktoria's cat, Morgiana. Hey, that's the same name as the movie. Very observant, my doltish friend. Anyway, the flute from opening credits accompanies Morgiana as she make her way to the breakfast table where Klára is currently sitting. Even though we know Viktoria is up to something, our attention is focused squarely on her sea green eye makeup and red lipstick outlined with black, as this is our first clear view of the work of art that is Viktoria's face. Reducing me to a puddle of pure giddiness, Iva Janžurová's makeup in Morgiana was too much for my on the cusp of being gay brain to handle at times. Realizing that this only her second scene, and that the movie has just started, I quickly composed myself, and prepared to be immersed in what will surely be the makeup event of the year.
You really get a sense of their contrast in styles during an afternoon garden party, as Klára is playing with swans and flirting with Glenar (Petr Čepek), the moderately handsome lawyer I was telling you about earlier, while Viktoria lurks in the shadows, popping out every once in a while to make the occasional catty comment. Feeling sorry for her sister, Klára instructs Glenar to talk with her–you know, humour her, make her feel better. Listening to their conversation from the aforementioned shadows, Viktoria overhears Glenar tell Klára that he'd rather be with her and that he doesn't like Viktoria. What the fuck? He doesn't like Viktoria?!? Insanity.
Seeking advice from a tarot card reader, Viktoria is basically told that the queen of hearts is standing in her way. And you don't have to be a genius to figure out that Klára is the queen of hearts. The dramatic music can only mean one thing: it's time for Viktoria to go down to vial store to pick up a receptacle that is suitable for containing poison. If I was in the market for a vial, one that came with a swanky carrying case, I would have gone straight to Siren Clothing on Queen West, as I distinctly remember seeing vials for sale there. Unfortunately, they closed in 2005, so my vial needs aren't as secure as I thought they were. At any rate, getting back to Viktoria for a second. Sporting one of her trademark black lace dresses, Viktoria watches her sister smelling the roses in the garden; we'll soon learn that Viktoria prefers the smell of cut flowers.
It only makes sense that filmmaker Juraj Herz (Ferat Vampire) would include a scene where Viktoria is putting on her iconic makeup, as he knows the audience is dying to know how she applies it. After she's done putting her makeup on, Viktoria is changing into some Goth-friendly attire, when all of a sudden, she notices that one of the masons working on the exterior of the house is peering into her window. Covering herself almost immediately, the mason reacts indifferently to the sight of Viktoria's supple body. This, of course, angers Viktoria, as it appeared that she had deliberately allowed the mason to catch a peek at her supple body. Much like people nowadays, who seem to go out of their way to let complete strangers to view images of their unclothed junk, Viktoria was hoping to attain positive reinforcement pertaining to her body. But sadly, the reinforcement she received wasn't even close to being positive.
Oh, and when I said that Viktoria was "changing into some Goth-friendly attire," I didn't mean to imply that the clothes she changing out of were not Goth-friendly, as everything about Viktoria is Goth-friendly. What I should have said was that Viktoria was changing into some clothes that were even more Goth-friendly, making sure to put the emphasis on "more."
After poisoning Klára's water during breakfast, Viktoria and Morgiana head back to Green Flute to await the results (the poison apparently takes time to work). When she arrives at her residence, Viktoria is greeted by her staff, who are all young women with reddish hair. The other cool thing about her staff was the fact that they all wore blue hosiery, blue gloves, blue puffy shirts, and these dark green dresses; in other words, very chic, in a rustic sort of way. As you might expect, Viktoria starts wonder if the poison she used to kill her sister was actually poison. Agonizing over this quandary (she has a feeling the person she bought the poison from might have cheated her), Viktoria decides to test the poison on the dog belonging to one of the help's kids.
As the poison starts to slowly take effect on her sister (symptoms include: an abnormal desire to ingest liquids and strange hallucinations), it would seem that Viktoria is suffering from a bit of poisoners remorse. Or is she? It's true, I don't know what compelled her to go down to the beach in order to throw a large rock at the head of one of her servants, but it must have something to do with the guilt she feels over poisoning her sister. If it doesn't, well, I would still date her in a heartbeat. Yeah, like I would totally date her. More like worship the ground she walks on. In fact, I would be honoured if Viktoria took the time out of her busy schedule to poison me. As it's been a long standing dream of mine to be murdered by a woman who wears an excessive amount of eye makeup.
When the blackmailers start coming out of the woodwork, you know the shit is about to hit the proverbial fan. Shut the front door! How dare you sully Viktoria's name by associating her with a fan that is about to be covered with globs of fecal matter. I'm sorry. As all hell begins to break loose (that's better), Viktoria's paranoia seems to go into overdrive. Whether placating blackmailers who wear fingerless gloves and sort of look like Sharon Mitchell, or being repeatedly forced to walk along windy cliff faces in inappropriate clothing, Viktoria has got her work cut out for her.
Convinced for the duration of the film that Iva Janžurová was performing alongside her twin sister, let's call her, Anezka Janžurová, I was shocked to discover that there was no Anezka. That's right, Iva plays both sisters. Now, I wasn't shocked because I felt tricked or anything like that (the sisters rarely appear onscreen at the same time). I was shocked because Viktoria and Klára are so dissimilar to one another. Sure, they have the same face. But like I said before, things like, fashion, makeup, temperament, attitude, and body language played a huge role in creating two distinctly different characters. It's a testament to Iva Janžurová's talent as an actress that she was able to pull off such a feat so effortlessly.
Using camera angles shot from the point-of-view of a Siamese cat, featuring a dainty wardrobe (costumes by Irena Greifová) that seemed to come directly from the mind of a sullen teen who has been reading nothing but Charles Baudelaire for two weeks straight, crazy eye makeup (the lipstick is pretty kooky, too), trippy nightmare sequences, and a stunning lead performance, Morgiana is like watching a novel. Except instead of words, it uses sounds and images to tell its story. In other words, you could call it a filmed novel. Replete with Goth-approved clothing and surrealistic imagery, this fanciful tale of two vastly different sisters will tickle all right pleasure receptors on those who like their costume dramas to have a malevolent edge to them.


  1. omigod omigod omigod omigod omigod

  2. Seeing Sisters of Mercy at any point is cool. seeing Fields of the Nephilim on their reunion tour is a different story however.

    I've known about this one for awhile. Thanks for inspiring me to tilt my loins in it's direction.

    The gothiest thing I've ever heard was when a friend of mine in high school told me she once injected embalming fluid and advised me not to do the same. Like that would've ever even occurred to me. I might pound a couple of brewskis, but that's as far as it goes.

  3. I had my first kiss ever in a 17th century New England cemetery when I was a teenager. And my favorite song at the time was Sonic-Youth's "Secret-Girl." That's maybe the only thing more goth than this film.

  4. @Thomas Duke: You weren't there, man (late '90s Sisters of Mercy show), it was lame. ;)

    I just watched (and by "just watched" I mean a couple of months ago) a Traci Lords slasher flick where her entire performance reminded me of the singer from Fields of the Nephilim (with a little Stevie Nicks thrown in there for good measure).

    Tilt, baby, tilt!

    No offense to your friend, but that's not the "gothiest" thing you ever heard, that's the stupidest. ;) Though, it is kinda cool, in a "let's inject liquid eyeliner because we saw Divine do it in Female Trouble" sort of way.

    @ido: Call me dim, but for a second there I thought you traveled back to 17th century New England to receive your first kiss. Now that's goth.