In the cemetery of the heart: film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s poem “The Garden”

In the cemetery of the heart: film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s poem “The Garden”

Strange blossoms, sunken pathways, déjà vus: Patrick Müllers adaptation of the poem The Garden is a hike through H.P Lovecraft’s most personal garden.

by Patrick Müller

Since my youth I have been fascinated by Spanish moss, which hangs down the trees in the South of the USA. If you shake it, bugs will fall out. It seems to me like the evil curse of the South to me. At the same time, it looks beautiful, as if it is mourning. Maybe because of the eventful history? One does not know. When I set off on a big trip across the USA in 2019, I finally had the opportunity to film the moss, which I also knew from the horror films by Lucio Fulci that I saw shortly before the trip (L’aldilà or Paura nella città dei morti viventi).

The whole time I had various film ideas buzzing in my head – a poet in New Orleans even wrote a poem for me about moss. Somehow, while traveling through the enchanted South, I always had to think of Lovecraft’s poem A Garden (also knows as The Garden). When we stopped in Savannah, Georgia, in April, one thing led to another. The Bonaventure Cemetery, located on the Wilmington River, immediately seemed to me to be the right place to film Lovecraft’s intimate painting of his heart. The cemetery was built shortly after the American Civil War on the site of a former plantation and, with its ancient graves, is considered one of the most beautiful in the United States. You can see many broken columns that symbolize the premature end of a young, auspicious life, rusty gates, stone angels and a fairytale, eerily beautiful backdrop of mighty oaks covered with moss.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, born in Providence in 1890, was a torn man all his life. He channeled his pathological fears of the unknown in a USA that was massively changing due to industrialization, he who described himself as a “man of the 18th century”, in horror stories and myths. There are also many poems, essays and countless letters. Today he is considered to be the most important author of fantastic horror literature of the 20th century and has influenced numerous successors with the Cthulhu myth he invented.

When Lovecraft wrote the poem The Garden in April 1917, he had already had a few blows of fate behind him: after losing his father at the age of three, his grandfather had died in 1904, as a result of which the family soon fell into poverty and he cound not continue his school career. In 1919 his mother died of psychological problems and the marriage to the seven years older Jewish Sonia Greene in 1924 also fell apart because of financial difficulties.

In the poem he strolls in a gruesomely beautiful landscape of himself, which reminded me very much of the film Carnival of Souls by Herk Harvey from 1962.

I shot on Super 8 Ektachrome from Kodak, which I bought on my trip from a store in San Francisco. The camera is a Minolta 401XL, which conjures up a picturesque bokeh when the aperture is open, which can be seen in some shots of lilies in the film. Although I originally took a tripod with me, I found the best subjects when I leaned against a tree with the camera or placed it entirely on the stone graves on the ground. Filming was a bloody affair: on my trip through the southern states, I had never seen so many mosquitos as in this cemetery.

It wasn’t until after filming that I noticed that one of Fulci’s most famous films, Paura nella città dei morti viventi, was also being shot at the Bonaventure Cemetary. There it is called Dunwich Cemetery, which in turn is an allusion to the fictional location of Dunwich in Lovecraft’s 1929 novella The Dunwich Horror.

I found the Jewish part of the cemetery interesting, the stone entrance gate with Hebrew script can also be seen in my film. I also filmed angels and other religious symbols that are contrasted with the text. Lovecraft was an atheist, but these images find their place in the dream-like framework of inner self-reflection.

When I had shot the three Super 8 cassettes, I wanted to have them developed and digitized in the USA right away. When we passed the Moby Dick town of New Bedford, I brought them to Cinelab in person, who immediately gave me a very friendly tour of the company and showed me their new developing machine for E6 processes, which they have been using again for a few weeks.

The intense, unusual color is, on the one hand, to a minor degree the result of Cinelab’s Xenia scanner and, on the other hand, the image from the Minolta camera generally has a bluish tint. I also used a strong neutral density filter because of the sun. I liked the color immediately because it reminded me of two-strip Technicolor, as Lovecraft might have seen in the cinema in the 1920s.

Two months later, I contacted the musician Wellenvorm in Chemnitz, Saxony, with whom I had already successfully worked on another Lovecraft adaptation two years earlier: The Colour Out of Space. This time, for The Garden I wanted sounds from beyond. The music should also reflect Lovecraft’s ailing, torn personality. For the first time, Wellenvorm used a trautonium and composed the music especially for it.

The Trautonium was developed by Trautwein in the twenties of the last century. The Haustrautonium in particular was intended for domestic music. Only a few units were built and then it was over again when the Nazis seized power. Oskar Sala then had a two-manual one, that is quite large, called Mixturtrautonium, with which he set Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds to music. Hitchcock was even with him in Berlin and had it demonstrated to him.

As a speaker I was able to get Bernhard Plank, who spoke Lovecraft’s text congenially with his sonorous voice. Bernhard, like me, is an avid film maker and I know him from meetings at the international film fair in Deidesheim. The title and poster motif was drawn by the artist Björn Candidus from Cologne, who translated Lovecraft’s text into his own graphic worlds. The Garden was the film on which I worked the most with a wide variety of different artists.

Immediately after completion, the happy journey to festivals began. Im Oktober 2019 feierte The Garden seine Weltpremiere auf dem H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon, bei dem auch der Regisseur Richard Stanley anwesend war und seinen neuen Film Color out of Space vorstellte. After a stopover at the Kerry Film Festival in Ireland, it had its German premiere at the 33rd Braunschweig International Film Festival. As part of the Müller/Wellenvorm film concert, it was recorded live in front of a large audience (Q&A). After a few festivals in the USA, he was shown in Spain at the Caligari. Festival Internacional de Cine de Terror and won the prize for the Best Experimental Film. Then he was presented at the largest poetry film festival, the 11th Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin.

He received an Special Mention at the 38th Tous Courts Festival in Aix-en-Provence: “THE GARDEN is a truly magnificent creation, given life thanks to Super 8’s incredible plasticity. Its almost square format, its shallow field, its fine granulation, the vibrations of a handheld camera, and its famous mini dust. In echo, a wonderful poem by Lovecraft, carried by a voice-over of great finesse and great depth and wrapped in bewitching musical layers. The images are not simple illustrations but rebounds, reminiscences that open onto a magical space. Between garden and cemetery, a delightfully romantic stroll, the dream of a lost heart.

Der Kurzfilm The Garden wurde als Bestandteil des Bonusmaterials von Richard Stanleys Film Color Out of Space (Die Farbe aus dem All) in Deutschland bei Koch Films und in Spanien beim Label À Contracorriente Films auf Blu-Ray veröffentlicht.

More about the filmmaker on his website

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