We keep in time with it as we dance to life’s obligations. We drum our fingers to it when all else slows to drudge, we unleash our feet to it when all else is quickens to thrill.
Writing, too, has its rhythms. They can be the water flowing through a setting, the heartbeats of two characters meeting, the dialogue where all that is important is left unsaid.
The narrative rhythm quickens and slows with every story, every writer.
And sometimes there is that rare, beautiful moment where the rhythm of one story inspires another.
While both the original 1970s Italian film and 2018 film take place in a dance studio, that is about all they have in common. (If interested, click on for Red Letter Media’s thorough dissection of both the original and the remake.) As I am going to speak of the 2018 film’s soundtrack, let’s focus on the latter, where a young Mennonite American woman feels she must, she must, join a West German dance troupe that is secretly run by a coven of witches. As she grows more entwined with the magic of the school, the psychotherapist of a dancer missing from that same troupe investigates what he believes to be supernatural goings-on behind the studio’s doors.
(Oh, and that elderly psychotherapist gentleman is played by Tilda Swinton, who is also playing one of the teacher-witches. This was actually a controversial point in the press, as she didn’t admit to playing this role until after the film premiered. Just watch this little snippet of the character moving, and you just feel the age of him, the weight of this mystery upon him. Bloody amazing, that Swinton.)
And there is indeed magical goings-on behind the studio doors. The witches need to prepare a vessel for one who claims to be of the Three Mothers whom the coven worships. How do the witches prepare such a vessel? With dance.
All their magic is empowered by dance. Every choreographed movement of the female body, especially a group of female bodies, helps build their power to control, summon, bespell.
So what better way to bespell the audience than with a magical score? Thom Yorke of Radiohead weaves synth, piano, and dancing rhythms through much of the score. Sometimes we are given only sound, such as in “A Storm That Took Everything.” Like a storm outside, the world is noise, dissonant, clashing, overwhelming. (I wish I had more than an Amazon sample to give you, but Yorke limited which tracks could be on YouTube, dammit.)
Sometimes the dancing rhythm takes center stage even when characters are not dancing. “Belongings Thrown in a River” is an excellent example of this. You can just feel the 3/4 time, always used for waltzes, pull you into a hypnotic 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3. Even when no witches can be seen, even outside and away from the studio, there is a power reaching out to our characters from afar.
A longer sample I can share of magical rhythms comes in “Volk,” the song played when the dancers perform what they think is a recital while the teacher-witches prepare Mother Suspiriorum’s entry into their chosen vessel, the Mennonite Susie.
The tinkling high synth that sinks down takes us, the listeners, down to the rhythm. Feel the 5/4 time, otherwise known as quintuple meter. It’s unnatural, this rhythm. It’s not one to be walked to, to run to. It is its own…until just after two minutes, and then the rhythm changes. Constantly halted, that synth, pausing you, pulling you, pushing you, a jerking dramatic control so like a puppeteer with his marionettes.
So like these dancers and their bewitching teachers.
But no song bewitched me like Yorke’s own “Suspirium.”
Again, the 3/4 time, but here with piano, a distant organ, later a flute. The rhythm is the melody is the rhythm. One feels prone to dance a walk in silence as the lyrics invoke a haunted hope of an impossible waiting, just ahead.
This is a waltz thinking about our bodies
What they mean for our salvation
With only the clothes that we stand up in
Just the ground on which we stand
Is the darkness ours to take?
Bathed in lightness, bathed in heat
All is well, as long as we keep spinning
Here and now, dancing behind a wall
When the old songs and laughter we do
Are forgiven always and never been true
When I arrive, will you come and find me?Songwriters: Thomas Edward Yorke© Warner Chappell Music, Inc. For non-commercial use only. Data from: LyricFind
Or in a crowd, be one of them?
Wore the wrong sign back beside her
Know tomorrow’s at peace
It is through this song I found the rhythm of a story to another girl, one also drawn to a place she cannot yet understand, where her fate is entangled with past bloodied and forgotten in the snow.
It was 8:30 at night, and Grandmother still wasn’t dead.
Chloe tapped her box of Winston cigarettes against her nyloned knees, cold and impatient. Sitting at the top of the stairs hurt made her ass hurt, but the stairs started near Grandmother’s room, where Mom sat with the others. Chloe did not want to be too far from Mom, not when she sat so still and quiet in a room where Death was due to arrive at any time.
Chloe redid her headband to keep her black hair out of her eyes, and then leaned backwards to peer through the doorway again.
Nothing had changed. A heavy, ornate lamp sat on the bedside table with a thin orange shroud draped over its shade to dim the light. The bed stood high with wooden globes for feet, globes carved into precarious connections along the frame and headboard. The blankets on the bed looked like cast-off ball gowns, all bright colors in expensive fabric stitched with gold. Gold was everywhere in that room. No shroud could hinder the light from finding the gilded edges of crucifixes, mirrors, chairs, fireplace. Old family portraits of white people sitting stiffly cover walls papered in some sort of leafy green paper. The paper is cracked and peeling in places, just like Grandmother.
A portrait taken of this generation would be very, very different.
I’m still working out some of the history and time-frame for this story so that, God-willing, come November I can launch myself into Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon.
I should also warn you all I may very well drag you into the forest around the Crow’s Nest during my month-long stay in this story-world. Stay tuned to upcoming posts about that. 🙂
Speaking of writing endeavors, Super-Proud Mom Me is getting out of the chair so Blondie can tell you all about her current writing project. Take it away, Blondie!
Thanks, Mom! I’ll take it from here. Hello, everyone! I’m Blondie, if you don’t know already. Now, my story is called Alley Heroes. A wolf named Thor needs to defeat the evil Loki. Where is it? Oh, it takes place in Milwaukee, and the magical land of Valhalla.
Methinks my daughter has been influenced somewhat by her Basher Mythology book. 🙂 Here’s her introduction. Love this girl! xxxxx
It was a typical day in Milwaukee, or what you call typical. Under a pretty rosebush, Thor was born. What?! No, No, not the Norse god Thor! Well, maybe, but any who, let’s continue, shall we? SO, then, Thor’s parents left him behind when humans came. Thor grew up in the city alleys where it was perfect camouflage. Then it happened. What?! WHAT DO YOU MEAN, “SO, WHAT HAPPENED?” WELL, TURN THE PAGE!
Speaking of books, indie author and reviewer Colin Garrow was kind enough to review my novella Night’s Tooth. I’m so honored!
A mix of classic western and fantasy, Jean Lee’s novella is set on the edges of her Princeborn universe (see Fallen Princeborn: Stolen). Her use of language is delightful, with an unusual writing style that’s as clever as it is original. The characters are an interesting lot, too, (like the Sherriff with the squirrel-tails moustache). Drop them all into an atmospheric Clint Eastwood-type setting, and there’s plenty of action to keep the reader guessing what’s coming next.
I hope you’ll check out his site…and, well, my books, too. Night’s Tooth is only 99 cents, after all!
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
We’ve just enough time before All Hallow’s Eve to explore spaces lost and forgotten, frightening and small. I’ll share a peculiar corner of Wisconsin before we run for the small spaces, where we must hope the smiling man of the mist will not find us….
Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!