Over on the Midnight Stinks TikTok, I shared a gathering of my favorite vanilla scents, as per a commenter’s request. I thought I might share a blogged version as well in order to have a written account for those who are interested!
A forewarning: so as not to be too overwhelmed with possibilities, I gave myself the constraint that any scent I choose must already be found within my perfume cupboard, and it must be something a actually own in a size larger than a sample– which to my thinking at least, means that I have spent enough time with it to think of it as a favorite. Your logic on this might vary, you might have favorites that were love at first sniff, but I’m not here to debate anyone about that. You do your favorite lists your way* and I will do mine my way, so here goes!
*PS this isn’t to say I don’t want to know about your favorite vanillas! Please share in the comments!
• Dior Addict is a billowing cloud of honeyed amber and vanilla, jasmine and orange blossom with creamy tonka bean chiffon sandalwood lace. It’s femme fatale by way of baroque gothic lolita.
• Vanille Insenseeis a warm, wispy citrusy vanilla but it’s hard to pinpoint which citrus it is that’s lending a crisp, very mildly juicy aspect, but without any hint of fruit pulp or sourness or even vaguely tart. It’s like a sweet, fresh guest soap and warm towels
• Lea from Calypso St. Barth’s is a, pretty, pillowy perfume of vanilla, musk and almond; it’s not overpowering and as a matter of fact, it’s fairly delicate. Think a simple, unfrosted angel food cake. Wearing a your favorite cozy, worn-in cardigan. This stuff is hard to find and until recently, rumor has it that you could apparently get it from Montaigne Market, but they have closed their online shop. However, I hear whispers if you message them on Instagram you could purchase it in that way.
• Fleur Cachée from Anatole Lebreton is celery and shadows and green seeds and spice pods crushed on cool marble, desiccated bouquets more dust than bloom, and the skeletal, crumbling remains of frosted confections covered in cobwebs. It’s the deeply melancholic Miss Havisham of vanillas
• Tokyo Milk Arsenic has got vanilla salt listed in the notes, which enhances the more interesting aspect of the scent, something unique and green that reminfds me of fresh marjoram with slightly piney, citrusy, and vaguely musty aspects. All of this in turn reminds me of Avon potpourri Christmas ornaments from when I was young, so it feels very nostalgic. This is another one that’s hard to find, but it looks like you may be able to grab a bottle from Flutter PDX.
• Vanille Noire du Mexique is vanilla of dark, moody florals and balsamic resins that smells like the platonic ideal of a hot chocolate but there’s something a bit off-kilter about it like you’re enjoying it in a claustrophobic room with creeping yellow wallpaper, with a friend who has a mysterious green ribbon tied around her throat.
• Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Snake Oil is a luxuriant molasses-y, musky deeply sugared vanilla incense, blended with dark spices more sacred than culinary. This is a scent that lends to a sense of danger and power, and not for the faint of heart–but rather for a heart-pricked thrice under a full moon right before you take a big dripping bite of it to seal the spell in flesh and blood and death. You’re the dangerous, powerful creature in this scenario and you gotta commit if you’re going to wear this gorgeously potent thing. It looks like Snake Oil is out of stick right now, but this is one of their best-selling scents so I have to imagine it will be back sooner or later. In the meantime, peek in on their site for seasonal releases where they sometimes include Snake Oil variants!
If you signed up for Nuri McBride’s Aromatica de Profundis newsletter, then you got to see a super fun interview that I did with her recently! Nuri is a writer, perfumer, researcher, and community organizer whose professional work focuses on olfactive cultural education, aromatics in lifecycle rituals, and the preservation of traditional forms of aromatic preparations. She is also deeply interested in labor rights and power equity in the fragrance trade. She is also a wonderful friend! Thank you, Nuri, for the amazing questions, and your incredible insights and thought-provoking articles and content. (And the very lovely things you said about me!)
The above is a screenshot snippet from this month’s newsletter–you must be a subscriber in order to read it, and I highly suggest you do subscribe for more interviews like this, along with updates on Nuri’s various projects, and whatever else she might be sharing in that issue! This delightful missive is fast becoming the highlight of each new month! Be sure to sign up for the newsletter so that you, too, can receive a bit of smelly magic in your inbox every month.
Is every second of your last day of vacation an existential slog where you can’t enjoy anything and everything feels pointless, or are you normal?
Just kidding, I know everyone feels like this. (Right? Please tell me I’m not alone!)
Last night I stayed up until 2am finishing a shawl. It’s my third time knitting this pattern and because I love it so much, I wanted an extra special version to keep just for myself. I started watching Brand New Cherry Flavor on Netflix and aside from the name which really grosses me out (it makes me think of gum and/or energy drinks, and the thought of either makes me want to barf) holy wowzers & weirdness, this is an exceptionally fun show. Writer/creatives and dreadful secrets and ooogly body horror and seedy LA magics (a genre unto itself, and one which I adore—I blame Weetzie Bat) and Catherine Keener as the most delicious witchly villain.
Anyway, I figure I’ve got 12 hours left on the countdown clock and I could either sit here in a catatonic state of anxiety or I could pin this shawl out, a task I will curse soundly all the while and detest every second of. But afterward, when I see these saffron strands of stitches stretching in the sun, I know I will be so glad did it.
Later: Okay maybe it actually only took 20 minutes to do this…!
I’ve learned that if there’s something I’m not looking forward to doing, I ask myself, “how can I make this more enjoyable?” So I poured a goblet of something icy and fizzy, I lit a cone of sandalwood incense, and while Lana serenaded me about chemtrails over the country clubs I crawled around and stuck pins in things.
The real MVP here is Diet Coke, if I’m being honest. Imagine a commercial with a brawny construction worker, wiping their sweaty brow with a chilled can of Diet Coke, except it’s creaky, moon-shaped me, and I’m not drinking from a can because I have a weird thing about that. I can’t drink from a bottle, either. I must have a glass, with ice!
Anyway, the rest of my day is now free for whatever and to keep my mind off of going back to work I’m going to write a perfume review about a fragrance I don’t like and I’m going to try not to be mean about it but I might not try very hard.
How do you power through tasks that you’d rather not be doing? What are your preferred ways of taking your mind off of the fact that you must shortly return to the real world after you’ve been on a break? Please share in the comments, if you feel so inclined!
A list of pleasing things stitching the weekend hours together, a lá OG blogger and poet Sei Shōnagun, and inspired by a recent post from poet and word witch Lisa Marie Basile. It’s been a while since I thought about these lists (my last version was 5 years ago!) and it’s always nice to take a moment and reflect on these things.
• reading flowers referred to as: “little sex-crazed jewel boxes” • coming up with a really toothsome essay idea while eating a sandwich
• a whole day of puttering; doing half a thing here; starting something there; finishing nothing
• frequent visits to the spicy African basil bush beneath the lacy fluff of crepe myrtle, where bumblebees levitate and sing.
• the smell of cardamom, the taste of pearled sugar
• a dream about an octopus caper (?)
• edging closer to the end of a project and drawing out the final pieces to savor that feeling of anticipatory contentment
• little synchronicity magics in books, via friends, a snippet of lyrics
• new whiskey glasses
• aloeswood and cedar incense
• a clap of thunder so loud it rattles the windows terribly and makes the hair on the back of my neck all wiggledy
Hello friends! I hope you’ve enjoyed a lovely summer and even if your vacation plans haven’t gone as you’d liked or maybe if you’ve not even been able to leave the house much at all, I hope you have at least been able to read a good book or two.
As we reach mid-August, I have come to the realization that I’ve still got a lot of summer reading left to get through and not a lot of time before the leap to chilly, spooky autumnal titles, so I thought I might share my reading plans and priorities for over the next month or so over on YouTube.
Here’s a list of the books I’ll be discussing if you are one of those people who likes to look at the menu ahead of time (me too, I’m those people!)
Can I be real and vulnerable (and maybe a little whingey and cringey and needy and annoying) with you all for a minute here? It’s weird and sad how the things that I put so much work into—blog posts, articles, interviews, videos—get almost nothing in the way of likes or shares or engagement on social media. But then I post something tremendously dumb, that takes zero effort, some silly meme (frogs and night soup, for example) and it blows up. I don’t mean to sound whiny or critical, but…that kinda sucks. For me and everyone who creates something and puts it out there! I can’t be the only one who experiences this?
Those of you who do peek in on my efforts—I thank you from the bottom of my heart. And of course, if you have no interest in my writings, this isn’t meant to guilt you or force you to do something you don’t want to do! But likes and comments and feedback (it doesn’t even have to be glowing!) can be so helpful and supportive and I’d really appreciate it. If you could head over to YouTube and maybe give it a thumbs up, and leave a little comment, that would be so nice! I have been blogging and writing online forever and I’ve quite used to the feeling of shouting into the void but every once in a while I guess I start feeling a little…lonely? Not seen? I don’t know. It’s a mortifying feeling to sit with and to talk about.
To be honest, I’m really embarrassed to have written that. I hate that I’m bothered by it! But…I am. For a long, long time now. My middle sister says “Try not to hate your feelings, if you can help it. Allow yourself to experience them, And move on from them when it feels like it’s time.” So…that’s what I am doing, I guess. Thanks for having read this, if you read this. I appreciate you!
Civet from Zoologist initially smells exactly a creepy fox stole that belong to my late and equally creepy grandmother on my father’s side and which my sisters and I were horrified of when we came across it playing dress-up in her old clothes. There’s a feral mustiness that evokes the dust and musk of clothing that belongs to other people, things they packed up and haven’t worn for a long time. They’re not dirty, but they definitely of someone else’s skin. A balsamic cherry tobacco aspect with notes also reminiscent of artisanal coffee beans described by their copy as “fruity” becomes gradually apparent and what I’m smelling now is not just someone’s old blazer or cardigan, but rather an entire space dedicated to the afterlife of unwanted old clothing. It’s not just skin musk, and moth husks but whiffs of someone else’s perfume from last season, last decade, maybe much further back in time. Civet is a carefully curated thrift store of a scent and while I think I was expecting more of an immersive natural history museum’s earthy, funkiness, it’s still pretty nice. Is it for me? No. But then again, I’ve never had much luck with thrift shops.
Coqui Coqui Coco Coco is probably the most interesting coconut fragrance I have ever encountered. I don’t get suntan oil or pina coladas, which on one hand is refreshing, but on the other hand…I don’t know if I really care for what I do get from it. There’s an acrid camphorous greenness, florals in the form of an oily tuberose, a tea-like champaca flower, and a strange salty, rubbery aspect, that brings to mind slathering yourself in coconut oil on a sweaty summer day and hopping in an inner tube to float down the lazy river in a particularly unhygienic waterpark. This could be a summer scent for someone, I guess? Maybe people who make a stink about their freedoms being impeded when they are asked to vaccinate or wear a mask, and who bring their bratty brood to Adventure Lagoon in the middle of a pandemic and spend the next 12 hours screaming and spitting and peeing on everything. Ok, now that I have said that I have decided that this is the scent of the weirdly scented air freshener at the funeral home where these people’s corpses end up. Wow, this went to a dark place. Wear your masks. Get vaccinated when you have the opportunity. Don’t be the reason your local funeral home smells creepier and more crowded than it actually does. [Note: this is a review very reflective of the time during which it was written, being in August of 2021. It is my dearest wish that in a few short years, no one even knows what I am talking about.]
Moynette Paris is a gracious, creamy white floral that seems both vaguely tropical gardenia and island vanilla but also vaguely cottage garden lily of the valley, and somehow not really enough of one or the other. Despite this, its at its best in its initial stages. As it wears, while it’s still charming, in a mild “oh, you’re still there” kind of way…it becomes a little…Not dirty exactly. But rumpled? Wilted? Disheveled?It recalls for me the book To Kill A Mocking Bird, wherein Scout is talking about the oppressive summer heat in the town of Maycomb, where “Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” There’s something of clammy skin and powderyness in Moynette that makes me think of that dumb quote about how ladies don’t sweat, they glisten. I get a little peevish if I think about that for too long, and that’s eventually how this perfume makes me feel as well.
BROOD X from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Having spent most summers of my life in Florida, the buzzing drone of the cicadas provide the ambient murmuring score that haunts the landscape from sunrise to sunset, starting mid-May and sometimes lasting through October. Singing from birth until death, they’re said to once have been humans enchanted by the muses into singing and dancing for so long they stopped eating and sleeping and died without noticing. I think of them as local divinities and the spirits of this place and without their otherworldly thrumming chorus, summer doesn’t sound the same. BPAL’s aromatic ode to the emergence of Brood X is the wordless warble and urgent hymn of dew and roots, creamy floral sugarcane, sweet moss and grassy hay, and an earthy-nutty-musky-smutty hazelnut incense– and if there is any scent you might want to wear for a two week extravaganza of screaming, fucking, and dying, this is the perfume to go out in.
Comme des Garcons Jaisalmer is from the same incense series as Kyoto and Avignon, both of which I reviewed here previously but whereas I really adore those two and connected with them right away, this one is a bit slippery in terms of getting a handle on it. If it were a person, it would be reserved to an uncomfortable degree (and I am fairly reserved, but I think this person is ten times worse than me) and with a sense of humor so dry, no one can ever figure out if they’re joking or not. And then they disappear and you’re not even sure if they were ever in the room with you to begin with or maybe you imagined the whole thing. Jaisalmer is a tremendously peppery affair, with transparent woody notes, and a fleeting dusty cardamom aspects that’s surprisingly whimsical considering the restrained nature of this scent, but it’s also quite fleeting. As a matter of fact, overall, it’s a fragrance fairly it’s ephemeral in nature, so I would encourage one to spritz with abandon and get to know it, if it will ever allow itself to become known.
I recall that I really loved the sample of i Profumi di Firenze’s Ambre de Nepal I got 15 years ago and I decided to splurge on a full bottle last month. I tell you what: if nothing else, finally writing reviews on all the fragrances I own is an exercise in both recognizing and reconciling with myself how much my tastes have changed over the years. When I recently smelled this out of the box, I was immediately like, wow man, this is a real ice cream sandwich of a scent. As if you took an ancient chunk of bronzed, powdery amber resin and churned it up with rock salt, whole milk, fresh cream, and about 50 vanilla bean pods– which you’d probably have to take out a small loan for because those things aren’t cheap. And then you baked up some really squidgie brown sugar blondies with a hint of cardamom, cut them into uneven rectangles because precision is not your strong point and your glasses prescription is outdated, and then you piled your creamy frozen amber confection between two of those lopsided cookies. But you immediately wrapped them up in the freezer because let’s face it, you don’t really like sweets anymore, so why did you make this in the first place? Much like those imaginary ice cream sandwiches, now hidden behind a bag of frozen peas for eternity, this perfume probably won’t see the light of day for a long time.
Winter Nights from Dasein (out of stock) has long been a favorite of mine but I’ve struggled with how to talk about it. On the surface, it feels very similar to the treetop spiderwebs and seething silver sparks of the stars blinking in the vast darkness above the midnight blooming forest that I smell in Norne from Slumberhouse. It *is* similar to that, but I have to think about it and talk about it in different terms. It’s both the glitter of crushed emeralds and void of black tourmaline shards. If you’re a Magic the Gathering enthusiast, this fragrance is a green/black deck. The unbridled verdancy of monstrous plants and coniferous land cards that enter the battlefield tapped, alongside the option to bring all of your zombies and undead beast out of the graveyard. If none of that means anything to you, it’s a smoky cardamom cola with a dash of fir and hemlock bitters, that makes you feel like a witchly mixologist in a swanky speakeasy deep in the woods where even if you knock thrice and whisper tree-ish to the pine, the door might not open to you if it doesn’t sense the sylvan vining darkness in your heart.
Myrrh Casati from Mona di Orio opens as a sophisticated boozy cola cocktail. And while the ubiquitous rum and coke may not ring your bell as an especially high-class libation, imagine an offbeat, extravagant artisan’s interpretation of the soft drink, a concoction created with luxury materials and stellar quality essences of cinnamon, lime, lemon, orange, coriander, vanilla and nutmeg, the citrus and spices parceled out in surprising proportions and embellished with a generous flourish of pink pepper. Resinous, peppery, and effervescent, casting a spicy shadow in an art deco champagne coupe, this may have been served at a surreal dinner party hosted by an eccentric Italian heiress greeting her guests in pearls, kohl-rimmed eyes, and a fur coat with nothing underneath. She’ll whisper to you later in the evening that the secret ingredient was a scintilla of belladonna before introducing you to her menagerie of strange pets and conducting an impromptu seance. Drugged by beauty, weirdness and also maybe actual drugs, you spend a night like no other and awake with the taste of cardamom and licorice on your tongue, a veil of incense in your hair, and a necklace of love bites at your throat.
Tom Ford Soleil Blanc is a weird one. But it’s also …not? I’m having a hard time reconciling this. Imagine if you will, Dior’s Poison. Or, at least the melancholic honey-stewed, midnight-harvested orange blossoms and jasmine flowers portion of it. This delicate decoction is imported through a complicated interdimensional shipping conglomerate to a dazzling quasi-tropical paradise resort on an alien world, possibly like that seen in Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets. As you watch a colossal cerulean sunset through your sophistical glass fishbowl breathing apparatus, you enjoy an ambrosial indulgence brought to your table by a slender, iridescent being: built on a base of the lavish honeyed florals of those sumptuous earth-imports and embellished with a citrusy pineapple cognac, drizzled with warm vanilla orchid syrup, and topped with a dollop of whipped cream infused with pistachio and heliotrope. Which feels completely extra but also… essential. So the short answer is this is a Poison and Brazilian Bum Bum cream sundae. I always appreciate a scent that feels both somewhat normal, like the kind of gift you might receive from your conservative, straight-laced Virgo mother-in-law but also a little off-kilter, like you can wear it to a meeting of your furry sci-fi satanist bookclub. Not that Soleil Blanc really conjures either of these scenarios, but I guess I just mean it’s sort of the best of both worlds. Maybe the best of all worlds. It’s a treat in any world.
I mostly think TikTok is a bunch of nonsense and massive amounts of fremdschämen and I will die before I ever do a stupid dance, lip-sync to a tired movie cliche, or relay an idiotic anecdote or keto recipe in a twee robot lady voice, BUT I just heard someone talk about trauma in a way that I’d never heard before and I will never forget.
How it’s not an illness but an injury, that it’s not our fault but it’s our responsibility to heal ourselves, and in this way, we hopefully do not bleed on people who didn’t cut us.
These are probably not novel concepts and the person was probably paraphrasing from something they read as opposed to sharing a personal epiphany, but whatever–I take inspiration whenever and wherever I can.
And if even one small helpful, useful, or valuable idea can be gleaned from such a cesspool of dumbness today, well, I bet there will be one tomorrow, too. Sometimes I think these sites and apps are designed to make us stupid(er) and (more) complacent, and I get such a thrill out of the people who cheat the system and do something smart with them.
And listen, I am not looking to shit on your good time. If you enjoy whatever, enjoy it. My opinion of your favorite thing means nothing. I’m just some person throwing some words into the void.
But if you’ve got some inspirational, informational, or edifying TikTok accounts that you learn from or which you find motivational or thought-provoking, please share them in the comments!
Today: a guest post from my Best Good Friend! If you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, you’ll have seen mention of this exceptional human from time to time, my dearest friend in all the world, my ride or die, sibling of my heart, whom I have known and been perpetually awe-struck and inspired by for over twenty years now.
I am so pleased for many reasons that they have written this review to share with us, but mainly because one: I love their writing and I would love to see more of it (hint, hint, BGF!) and two: I love Love LOVE hearing about people’s passions and obsessions.
There are not many full-length reviews here at Unquiet Things and there is an appalling lack of Adam Driver-related content, but who knows, perhaps this could be the start of something! I don’t know what exactly. Don’t hold me to anything.
Anyway…take it away, BGF…!
It took 48 hours since I first experienced the fever dream of Annette to process it, to try and divine and parse my feelings and eke out a feeble attempt at committing words to virtual paper. But at the very least, before all else, a word of warning: Annette is not for everyone.
So, may we start?
This is a movie that I have been waiting to see for far too long. Over nine years in the making, it is my Holy Trinity of what most consider, in the kindest of terms, odd: written and composed by cult art band Sparks, directed by chain-smoking Frenchman Leos Carax, and starring Adam Driver: Fathers, Son, and Holy Adam. These are my biases. In my mind, it was to be a damn near religious experience of innate weirdness.
I have read many reviews by now, both before and after watching this film, and have been met with an inevitable divide spanning adoration to vitriol. The best commend Driver for his performance, most try to liken it to La La Land and A Star is Born, the bad force it through a woke lens of social media-friendly commentary, and at absolute worst, a mere rant of a middle-aged man who worked at Fox News for 10 years – I wouldn’t deign to call that drivel a review though.
But the wide range of divisive reviews illustrates this one common idea: this movie is not for everyone. And the more I try to explain it, try to prepare people for it, the more it feels like I am one of those snooty l’artistes gatekeeping a precious masterpiece of intellectual creation blah blah blah – almost trying to convince them not to watch it. So far, it has only emboldened people to want to see it all the more, yet bearing the expected and inevitable mixed results. Please believe me when I say with deep sincerity that I have only the utmost of good intentions. I want people to love this movie, but I know that most simply won’t. And that’s OK. But I have this misguided sense of duty to the Holy Trinity to tell a friend or strangers to see this film. Please ignore the fact that the movie literally asks the audience to do so as the credits roll.
If you haven’t heard of the band Sparks, have no idea what lurks in the band’s 50 years of bubbling just beneath the surface of mainstream pop culture musical journey, this musical may not be for you.
If you have never heard of Leos Carax, have no reference for French arthouse cinema, this film may not be for you.
If you are only familiar with Adam Driver’s more mainstream work, content to fill your fantasies with Saturday Night Live skits and lamenting the loss of Ben Solo (both of which I am excruciatingly guilty of), this experience may not be for you.
At the very least, one should prepare themselves by watching Edgar Wright’s documentary The Sparks Brothers, (which gives a good primer of what the music of Sparks is all about, without really telling you anything about Sparks at the same time), Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, to get a sense of the director’s style, and Adam Driver in… well, anything. Because it’s Adam fucking Driver.
Without any understanding of these things, there is a good chance you may not enjoy this movie. I suspect this was the case for the man who made a show of leaving barely halfway through the spectacle.
It’s risky to go into something like this with no context. If your tastes live solely in the mainstream (and there is nothing wrong with that!) you may find yourself armed only with references to current culture, and that would only be scratching the surface. And anyway, not everything needs to be dismantled through the lens of current events.
To blatantly steal one of the myriad text message conversations with one of my favorite wordsmiths and owner of this delightful blog (another bias I admit), “I think when writers are struggling to make sense of something they try and find an angle, and a lot of times that angle is how does this relate to people right now. I feel like current events might be the lazy way to go about it though.”
That said, there is a certain thrill to running headlong into something with no real context, or perhaps just an inkling of interest, enough to compel you into a theater in the middle of a pandemic. It is an achingly arduous feeling to have expectations completely subverted if not utterly destroyed into a beautiful mess. As one viewing companion noted, “It is an unpleasant thing to watch. I can’t stop thinking about it.” Said companion only had me as their guide, and I wantonly led them blindly into the A – B – Y – S – S, mostly for my own twisted pleasure of watching them watch the movie.
For those whose only draw to this movie is the raging force that is Adam Driver, there is plenty to slake your thirst. Driver spends a good amount of time in various states of undress, if that’s what you need. But you may find yourself curling in cringe as you watch your crush writhe maniacally on the ground, telling tasteless “jokes” as he jaunts across the stage in a garish green bathrobe and underwear, or pantomime tickling feet with his tongue. His commitment to the role is what truly shines, as expected, and his uncanny ability to at best make you sympathize with the devil, and at worst, relate to him, is unsettling and masterful.
Sure, there are other players in this sinful saga, each delivering powerful performances of their own: Simon Helberg’s depiction of The Conductor was a breakthrough moment, Marion Cotillard delivers the most realistic depiction of someone using a toilet while singing and smoking, and the gut-punching performance of young Devyn McDowell, who goes toe-to-toe with Driver, chewing the scene and Driver’s character up before spitting them out in a cathartic and harrowing harmonic release. But this is very much Adam Driver’s film.
For those whose interest is sparked by Sparks, I suspect there to be a split among you as well, as only hardcore fans claim to appreciate every twist and turn of their musical oeuvre from glam rock to glorious 80s synth-drenched pop to orchestral chant, and everything in-between. This is probably Sparks’ darkest musical foray, where several times during my initial viewing I found myself wondering, “who hurt the Mael brothers?” But their ironically literal humor and penchant for repetition is not lost.
The movie’s opening song lays out exactly what is to come. There’s singing and dying in minor keys, and yes, they’ll kill for you. Over and over again. It sets the stage, reminding you that none of this is real. These are actors putting on a show for you, a show in which the director not so kindly advises you to not react at all during the movie, and hold your breath until the end. Oh, and don’t fart.
Throughout the film it is difficult to reach any semblance of suspension of disbelief, it is all too surreal and yet NOT surreal enough. Somehow, the series of mechanical puppets depicting the title character of Annette and coital crooning just makes sense. It is a difficult film to reach into and break through. Seemingly nearly impossible to relate to, but daring you to try. It can feel as though it’s dancing on the razor’s edge of SNL satire, avant-garde cinema, terrifying reality, and sheer ridiculousness. At times it feels downright indulgent. It is meant to make you uncomfortable. It is a black mirror, reflecting the viewer’s own experiences.
At the surface, it is a convoluted social commentary of an age-old Hollywood story of star-crossed lovers, celebrity gossip, exploitation, abuse, toxic masculinity, the list goes on – take your pick.
If you dare to dive deeper. you may just find yourself dismantling your existential existence to the core if you let it. In one scene, Adam’s character Henry McHenry breaks the fourth wall after muttering that he must never cast his eyes towards the abyss before looking directly to the camera, and straight into your soul, as he scrutinizes his audience, finally murmuring “Lady, that’s quite an abyss you’ve got.”
As much as the story unfolds itself to you, it also leaves it up to you to synthesize and decode it. Did that really happen, or was it just a twisted fantasy? Who was this film made for? Why can’t I get these songs out of my head? Am I really turned on right now? Why did he become a comedian? Why do I hate myself so much? What’s your fucking problem?
This is where the true beauty of Annette can be found, and one that has so far been missed in every review I’ve read: it will give you as much as you’re willing to take, a choose-your-own-adventure of emotional exploration. There is no wrong way to view this film, even through the lens of disdain. Because as much as people love to debate art, and well, everything, it is my humble opinion that what makes art great is whatever moves you, in any way – if you have a reaction to it, if it makes you think about it, makes you feel something.
And if you’re open to exploring those feelings, great art can tell you a lot about yourself. If we can find any way at all to relate to Henry McHenry, it’s that we will be haunted day after day after day.
So I take back what I said earlier. If it was only one of the Holy Trinity to lure you in, or even none at all, Annette is something I believe everyone should experience, at least once, and I suspect most will get that chance when it hits the courtroom of America’s consciousness via Amazon Prime on August 20.
Annette, like all art, should be for everyone. But that’s wholly up to you to decide if you’re ready to cast your eyes upon the abyss.
Speaking of Sparks, I would be remiss if I didn’t share some of my favorite Sparks songs and albums. Their genre-defying career will surely offer something for everyone to discover and love. It’s difficult to curate a concise list, as I’m one of those fans who has never met a Sparks song I didn’t like, if not love. But if this is to be your introduction to the band, there’s perhaps no better place to start than a couple of their most popular and accessible tomes:
Kimono My House
The energy on this album is solid throughout. It’s fun and endearing and will have you belting along with each note with unbridled glee.
This electronic masterpiece was produced by the legendary Giorgio Moroder, otherwise known as the “Father of Disco.” You may think disco sucks, but I dare you to deny the infectious grooves and cheeky lyrics.
With hundreds of songs to choose from, it would be impossible to choose even a top 10. But I can, at the very least, share those songs that I always come back to time and time again. And I do so with no context.
And finally, I humbly submit some of my favorite songs from Annette, and I warn you not to listen to them until you’ve seen the film, as it will spoil it for you. Sadly, the released soundtrack is only a selection of songs, and some favorites are woefully missing. Here’s hoping a more complete collection will be released in the future. It’s also worth noting that the versions that appear on the soundtrack are different than what you hear in the movie. The soundtrack is of course produced and recorded in a studio, while the movie was recorded live on set.
This interview has been a long time coming! I initially met the Century Guild gang way back in July of 2019 –in a visit to Los Angeles detailed here over at Haute Macabre– when I traveled out west to hang out at that summer’s Oddities Market. Among a teeming throng of dark-hearted weirdos crammed together in a subterranean goth disco chamber (it wasn’t really, but that’s how it looks in my memory!) and an incredibly mind-boggling array of artisans and vendors, I somehow found myself making my way back to the beautiful oasis of the Century Guild booth, adorned and embellished with gorgeous Nouveau and Symbolist works, and which felt like a balm to my senses in the midst of a midnight maelstrom.
We had the loveliest chat, I purchased a gorgeously ominous Syphilis print, and promises were made on my part to feature them in an interview, as I was so absolutely fascinated by what this gallery/museum/archive is doing with the artwork they share through the books and prints they offer.
…and to sum up, two years later, here we are! Better late than never, right? I think so, anyway. See our Q&A below wherein we chat, about the contemporary relevance of 19th-century aesthetics and ideals, becoming more sensitive to the world around us through the myriad feelings that art arouses in us, and the importance of art in our quest for spiritual connection in a universe so vast, ageless, and unknowable.
Who/what is Century Guild and what is your aim? As part of that, your mission references creating “a bridge of understanding between the aesthetics and ideals of the late 19th century and the present.” Can you elaborate on that for those of us who may not be familiar with those aesthetics/ideals, and can you speak to their contemporary relevance?
Century Guild was founded in 1999 as an art gallery specializing in works from 1880-1920, with a focus on Art Nouveau, Symbolist Art and German Expressionism, and over the last 20 years we have expanded into a museum, archive, and publishing company. We began publishing books as a way to share the artworks in our collection with a wider audience and to foster an understanding of how the aesthetics and ideals from that time period are reflected in our society today. For example, every part of the contemporary art world has been influenced by the work of Alphonse Mucha, and we want to show our audience how and why that happened. Art Nouveau was based on the idea that Nature provides a powerful inspiration for aesthetics, and Symbolist and Expressionist Art were based on an idea that I think is well articulated in a quote from The Little Prince, “what is essential is invisible to the eye”. As it relates to these art movements, it’s the idea that suggesting something through dreamlike or nightmarish visuals is more powerful than a perfectly accurate representation.
What draws you to the particular style of art that Century Guild resurrects/represents in terms of Art Nouveau and Symbolist artworks? What is it that you hope people will learn or take away from these works?
For me, the artworks act as a doorway into awareness about ideas larger than the world I inhabit on a daily basis, especially the idea of being connected to Nature and to History: that people a thousand or a hundred years ago felt and thought very much, if not exactly, the same things that we do today. My hope is that by sharing these works we help others walk through that doorway. When people become sensitive to art that reflects an internal landscape, they look at other people and animals and recognize that they experience joy and suffering just as we do, and recognize how important it is to connect with society in a meaningful way.
I love how (in a 2012 interview) you compare the manifesto for the Art Nouveau movement to a treatment for 1999 Wachowski movie The Matrix; I think contemporary cultural examples like that really bring concepts into such sharp relief for people who are just realizing their initial interest in a style of art. I’m curious if, in the ensuing years since you made that comparison, there are any other moments in modern cinema that have the same feel/appeal for you?
That quote is referring to the inception of the Art Nouveau movement- artists at the time were certain that the manifestation of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th century meant that humanity was doomed to be completely disconnected from Nature, all because of something as seemingly innocuous today as a factory that was built on the outskirts of their small town, or something equally marginal when compared to today’s technological overlap. They were limited in the scope of their vision by the time period and had no idea how far it would go. Other modern creations that have the same sort of impact on me have been more forward-looking; the Invisibles graphic novels by Grant Morrison stand out as one example, and I think that the Wachowskis adaptation of Cloud Atlas did the same- they remind us that our understanding of humanity and Nature is even larger than we comprehend, and that we’re constantly on the precipice of some form of larger understanding. Which of course hearkens back to other schools of thought adjacent to the Art Nouveau movement; nothing is new, but just a spiral that moves upward and outward.
You currently work with contemporary artists such as Gail Potocki. What drew you to her work? What do you look for in such collaborations with living artists, or is this an unusual circumstance?
I met Gail back in the days before social media, on a bulletin board called ArtMagick. She would always reply if someone posted a question about Symbolist artists, and when we started chatting we discovered that we lived just a few miles from each other! Gail had mentioned that she was a painter, and when she showed me her work I was floored. Gail was the first artist I had met whose paintings could stand up in the environment created by the fantastic turn of the century artworks in the gallery, in fact, it actually eclipsed everything else in the room! The only other artist who I’ve had that specific experience with is Dave McKean. I love when an artist’s work connects with me in the manner of these earlier movements but takes the ideologies into a modern place. For example, later this year we’re stretching our aesthetic boundaries into more Modern and Folk territories with a book of contemporary art that I’m very excited about, titled Temple of Medusa.
I believe Century Guild’s most recent project/release was Le Pater, a series of mystical illustrations exploring occult themes; images about which the artist, Alphonse Mucha, described to a New York reporter as “the thing I have put my soul into.” This sounds like an incredibly heady viewing experience! Is there anything you might like to share about the project?
(And to backtrack, what is it about the manifesto for the Art Nouveau movement, this connection between art and nature and spirituality, that appeals to you on a personal level? And what is for you, a prime example of this manifesto and connection reflected in a piece of art?)
What appeals to me is the eternal quest of understanding what our larger spiritual universe is and how we fit into it, and a powerful example of this connection is explored in Alphonse Mucha’s Le Pater.
The hardcover that was published in 2019 is a massive tome; I designed it specifically to look like a book you’d see in an archaic library. The book presents Mucha’s Le Pater in its entirety and gives an introduction to mysticism and an overview of magickal ideas in aesthetic form. It examines occult thinking in art from Albrecht Dürer through the Salon de la Rose+Croix, and provides information that allows the reader to decipher the complicated symbolism in Mucha’s Le Pater artworks. Mucha was a devout Mason and student of mystical thinking, and his Le Pater artworks present a very modern, androgynous depiction of God that was celebrated in some quarters and censored in others. The complete artworks in Le Pater were impossible to see outside of museums before we published our book in 2019, so we’re really excited about the Kickstarter project we have going right now to publish the expanded paperback edition. Le Pater is one of the most important artworks of any era, and I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone with an interest in beautiful art or the occult.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: this question was originally posed in the beginning months of the pandemic]
I’m almost afraid to ask this question of anyone right now, considering the global pandemic we’ve all been experiencing, but is there anything coming up that we can look forward to from Century Guild? Any ideas percolating for future releases on the horizon, perhaps, when the world rights itself?
The expanded paperback edition of Le Pater: Alphonse Mucha’s Symbolist Masterpiece and the Lineage of Mysticism is the most important thing that we are doing in 2021- we all agreed that as the world rights itself there is nothing more important we can do as an institution than put artwork and ideas out into the world that foster communication and connectedness. The Century Guild motto is “Think and Read”, which is based on an emblem that Mucha created for the back cover of Le Pater. If people do those two things, the first fervently and the second meaningfully, the world can’t help but be a better place.