Sunday, October 4, 2015
Opening for a weeklong run at SIFF Cinema, Christopher Nolan presents a new series of restorations of "The Quay Brothers in 35mm" which follows a few years on from MoMA's retrospective of their work, Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets. Although Stephen and Timothy Quay are well known in gallery circles in Europe, this was only the second show of their work in the United States. The first in 2010, was an exhibition of the Décors (the miniature stage sets used in their animations) in Parsons New School for Design's Dormitorium: Film Decors by the Quay Bros. Describing "A Universe Like Ours, Only Weirder" Roberta Smith's review of the retrospective for the New York Times, touched on the Quay's filmmography of decidedly analog, textural, interior worlds locked within the mechanisms of time, history and decay. But Christopher Nolan goes further still in describing their uncanny art of "Quay Twins: Spinning Magic from Marginalia" and the deeply cinematic microverses contained in their work.
Hermetic in the extreme, like the work of their mentor, Jan Švankmajer the dreamworlds in which their animated films are set draw from, more often than not, traditions in Eastern European literature. Bruno Schulz' "Street of Crocodiles" wherein the Quays spun their own thematically similar political allegory and the locale for Robert Walser's "Jakob von Gunten" which became the spookily somnambulistic setting of their "Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream that One Calls Human Life" and their peeling away to the tale's core, revealing of it's mysterious, metaphysical interior. All their works explore through objects, dust and decay a hidden universe of unnerving poetry that lies within forgotten, disused and abandoned spaces and the haunting echoes of civilizations past. Coded into their journeys through these worlds are apparitional encounters channeled through cryptic symbolism, often as messages issuing from beyond the pale. Theirs might be the greatest example in modern cinema of a Art of Ruins and it's in these landscapes that they chronicle their protagonist's pursuit of the metaphysical unknowable. Senses of Cinema delve deeper as they always do in a series of discussions from 2002, "Through a Glass Darkly: Interview with the Quay Brothers" and in their analysis of what many consider the Quay's defining work, one which Terry Gilliam rated among The 10 Best Animated Films of All Time, opening their "Fetish, Filth and Childhood: Walking down The Street of Crocodiles" with a fittingly haunting choice of quote from Walter Benjamin's "The Arcades Project".
Sunday, September 13, 2015
The end of Summer rolls around once again as Seattle plays host to the second-largest electronic music festival in the United States! While 2013's 10th Anniversary was a expansive summation of the festival's decade of existence, the ensuing years since have had a tighter focus, both in large scale event shows and attention to subgenre niches. This bipolar character to the programming is seen again as Decibel presents not only bigger names, larger venues and sold out dancefloor spectacles, but a return of the fringe, adventurous and unclassifiable in the form of three Optical mutimedia showcases in seated theater performance theaters. From the expanse of the five day program here is a selection from the multitudinous artists and showcases on offer by day. WEDNESDAY This year's opening event takes place in more humble environs than previous years, ReBar being a mainstay of Seattle clublife for decades they'll be hosting a Optical: Kick-Off Party featuring the kinesthetic sensory barrage of Richard Devine's modular audio-visual arsenal, including his Disturbances live patch, custom built for to the end of immediacy and on-the-fly improvisation and composition. Joining Devine will be Seattle's Further Records headmistress, Chloe Harris and her cavernous minimal techno project Raica and Hush-Hush Records' purveyor of the "night bus" sound, Kid Smpl. Across town at the Crocodile Cafe, another of Seattle's defining new labels and nights about town, Secondnature show their goods with a showcase including visiting Ostgut Ton deep-techno artists Tin Man and Cassegrain. Back again at ReBar Germany's Cocoon and Trapez labels meet Barcelona's Octopus and the hypnotic techno of label-founder Sian's dancefloor melodicism. Techno continues to dominate the night over at The Showbox with the soulful minimalism of Darkside's solo operator Nicolas Jaar and the ruminative, emotional lower BPM fluidity of his "blue wave" tech-house. THURSDAY Decibel's second night is already graced with the second appearance of Raica in an all-female led showcase of Discwomen headlined by the Planet Mu label's Jlin, a noted player in Chicago's Footwork scene. The sound's all-angles geometry of high BPM beats and frenetic sample cut-up will make an interesting contrast following the vocal soul house of Portland's Natasha Kmeto. Concurrently, the larger capacity and substantial soundsystem on offer at Neumos will be broadcasting Adam Freeland's newest collaborative guitar, drone, vocal and rhythm pulsing project with Steve Nalepa and Ry Cuming, The Acid. Sharing the Liminality bill will be the Domino label's Bob Moses and the high altitude streamlined techno of Seattle's own Jeff McIlwain, aka Lusine. A harder conceptual edge suffuses the appropriately titled Subversion showcase at The Showbox, as world rhythm and noise stalwarts Filastine with Indonesian rapper Nova, share a stage with the analog synthesis and orchestral strings of Dan Deacon. The shredded melodies, masticated beats and shuddering electro-acoustic textures of Warp Record's Chris Clark occupying a curious programming and stylistic space between the two.
FRIDAY If the previous nights weren't sufficiently representative, Friday looks to convince even the cynics. Motor kicks off the evening with cross-section of the best of the bleeding edge programming we've seen them deliver on a monthly basis in Seattle. Pulling from labels like Spectrum Spools, Giegling and Sacred Bones, they've assembled three years of sonic adventurers like the ur-industrial noise of Pharmakon's Margaret Chardiet, Container's all-hardware collision of loop and distortion and Shifted's spare textural techno. The evening continues to push the boundaries across town at Neumos, with the first of the sets from Raster-Noton's Dasha Rush, this one a DJ set in unabashed techno mode. The Lucid Dream continues with Jon Charnis' set on the darker side of the Innervision label's brand of house, seguing into the dusky atmospheres of Recondite's sleek dancefloor austerity. What will be the first of the unquantifiable nights in this year's festival hits it's peak with the Resident Advisor sponsored showcase on the sufficiently pummeling soundsystem of The Showbox theater. Beginning the set with Cygnus' analog synthesizer workout and a DJ set by Skam label maven Rob Hall, things then get serious with the chaotic rhythm counterpoint and moody ambiance of Hyperdub's Laurel Halo. The cryptic gap in Autechre's tour schedule announced in May, fell unambiguously right in the center of Decibel weekend, leading myself and others to thrill at the prospect of seeing Booth & Brown in the festival setting. It's been some years since their sprawling, stylistically encompassing statement of 2013, "Exai" which saw them looking as forward as it did back, so it's anyone's guess as to what mode we'll find the duo in come next week. Here's hoping for another glimpse into the white-hot torrent of frenetic rhythm play and skyscrapers of wrung metallic, wooden and ringing glass timbres we heard on previous tours this decade. If human endurance allows, dB Afterhours 2 features Function's thread in the interwoven tapestry of Sandwell District and more recently the Ostgut Ton imprint which he shares with the ragged techno of label-mate Marcel Dettmann.
SATURDAY The first of the official Optical audio-visual events kicks off Saturday night early with a showcase of Dark Overtones from the fearless co-mingling of genres found on London's Blackest Ever Black label. More than just a aesthetic statement, the label's character has grown in just a few years to become one of the premier imprints releasing all things darkly cinematic, electronic, issuing tech apocrypha of the cyber-occult. Alexander Lewis returns under his own name for a more boundary pushing set, further removed from the dancefloor objectives of his work as Shifted. Another return artist in this year's lineup, Russian born artist Dasha Rush delivers her second set of material as heard on last year's collision of Raster-Noton's own brand of sever tech minimalism, neo-romatic synthesizer play and the strains of early electronic modernism. As the closing act, the one-man Canadian electronic and guitar hurricane that is Tim Hecker's large discography of processed acoustic and electric sounds on the Kranky label fits the label's descriptors perfectly. It's no exaggeration of fact to call Cologne's Kompakt the seminal German techno label of the 21st Century. Label heads Michael Mayer and Wolfgang Voigt were the vanguard of minimal tech and house at the millennial cusp and have continued to push their sound and curation forward in the decades since as represented by the twofold aspects of the label heard on their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations. Long running dancefloor producer John Tejada shares the the bill with artists on the Poker Flat and Ghostly International labels, Dauwd and Agoria bridging the respective scenes and sounds found between Detroit Techno, Chicago House and indie Electronica. The latter figures almost exclusively across town at The Showbox in a showcase of Sublime downtempo beats and melodicism from the UK's Ninja Tune label and Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder imprint. By turns urban, beat oriented and suggestively jazzy, Bonobo's output makes for fine accompaniment to Taylor McFerrin's subliminal soul, nods to instrumental hip-hop and virtuoso piano playing.
SUNDAY After the wild highs of Friday and Saturday, Decibel's final night on Sunday looks to be a more quiet affair by contrast. Smartly bringing back the traditional sunlit afternoon in the open expanses that comprise Volunteer Park, this year's Decibel in the Park returns to the outdoor ampitheater-on-the-green with DJ sets by J.Philip and longtime west coast mainstay, Michael Manahan. Though a more subdued program than the previous weekend nights, it's not to say that there aren't some outstanding performances to be had, as the opening Optical 2: Viscerality showcase establishes. Under his Eskmo alias, Brendan Angelides has been exploring the intersection between chamber music, field recordings and electronic processing as an extension of his Los Angeles-based Echo Society project showcasing international artists performing original works that incorporate electronics and traditional orchestration. Angelides is joined by Northwest artists Briana Marela and the fruits of her recent songwriting venture in Iceland working with Sigur Rós associate and producer Alex Somers. After a flurry of activity in the early 2000s on labels like Kranky and Further Records, Paul Dickow's Strategy has returned with his cut-up assemblages of acoustic and electric instruments, field recordings, and distinctly dub modus operandi. Running concurrently at ReBar and The Crocodile, the urban, world and hip-hop sounds of Mad Decent and the TeamSupreme labels and by contrast, Seattle's Flammable night presenting Roman Flügel's strain of techno released on the German Klang and Dial labels. His sound speaking to his inspiration born of early formative experiences of the Warp Records and Underground Resistance nights at Sven Väth’s renowned Omen club in the 1990s. On the opposite end of the spectrum from the lower-key nature of Decibel's final night, Hospital Productions label head Dominick Fernow is performing outside the festival setting at El Corazon from his newest critically lauded collection of noise drenched Darkwave electro, "Frozen Niagara Falls". Tellingly released on the progressive Doom and Black Metal label Profound Lore, Purient's North American tour pairs Fernow with one of the all-time defining Metal acts of the 1980's-90's. This will be the second west coast appearance of Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green's Godflesh since their reformation in 2010. Those who caught last year's shows with Cut Hands, Pharmakon and House of Low Culture were witness to some of the most punishing, loud, assaulting music ever created by man and machine. We're almost assured a similar tectonic slab of sonic extremity as the cap on a week of cultural, social, auditory adventuring. By this point in the five day marathon I'm sure myself and company will be needing a good lay-down in the park, getting some sun and enjoying a trek out around the city, having seen the inside of performance halls and nightclubs over the course of nearly a week. Hopefully having found some surprises, shocks, jolts to the viscera and intellect along the way, Decibel will by then seem like a endless stream of cultural aspiration, risk and ideal, made real. And as with every year, even for all the exhaustion and wearing effects of too little time and too much music, I'm sure it will seem premature by the time it's conclusion comes. Ushering in the end of Summer here in the Northwest as it has every year for over a decade.
Saturday, September 12, 2015
There's reason why in their selection of his Fontainhas Trilogy for deluxe box set treatment, the Criterion Collection referred to Pedro Costa as, "One of the most important artists on the international film scene today". But as Akiva Gottlieb's "A Cinema of Refusal: On Pedro Costa" for The Nation makes clear, the Portuguese director has no lack of champions. At the time of the trilogy's completion he was honored with retrospectives at both the Tate Modern and Anthology Film Archives, and most recently, New York’s Lincoln Center. This came on the heels of the Cannes premier in 2006 of "Colossal Youth" which elevated him to the most widely heralded new filmmaker of the past decade in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma, Cinema-Scope, Senses of Cinema and Film Comment. The Criterion release, and touring arthouse retrospective "Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa" which brought the Fontainhas project to a wider audience, describes the very heart of the paradox that anchors his work: the idea that a cinema of such austere, formalist pacing and technique, can be the most democratic use of the medium imaginable. It is in this balance of form and content that Costa has established his art's moral imperative. In his discovery of the sequestered barrios and slums of Lisbon, and their dark alleys and crowded homes that appealed to him aesthetically, the predominantly Cape Verdean immigrants that populated their unlit labyrinths disarmed him with their directness and fortitude. In his interview for Film Comment he describes how it was that his exposure to this dilapidated sector of Lisbon also prompted him to re-examine his relationship with cinema as a vehicle to affirm the existence of the dispossessed, and began refining his form to match the starkness of a human struggle that went on there day in, day out, removed from view.
Costa turned to moviemaking at a period in his personal life when Portugal itself was coming to grim terms with its colonial legacy. It was in part from this context and his unorthodox ways of watching the work of the 20th Century masters, among them Yasujiro Ozu, Straub-Huillet, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, and Jacques Tourneur, that Costa found a vocabulary with which to confront his country’s past. Classifications don't easily adhere to his films: they are formalist, yet they pulse with poetry, humility life and warmth; they are ascetic but also deeply expressive; they are glacially patient and yet possessed of a natural, flowing sense of rhythm. All of these figure in his return to the winding streets, ruinous interiors, alleys, dark hillsides and literal underworld depicted in "The Turning of the Earth: Pedro Costa's Mesmerizing Trance Film" as well as the Fontainhas everyman, Ventura José Tavares Borges. Who was last seen in the short film "Sweet Exorcism" as part of the Centro Histórico anthology, from which "Horse Money" takes a particularly oneiric passage. The reviews from it's premier at the Locarno Film Festival where it won best director, described this "Surreal Voyage Into the Past" as Ben Kenigsberg's review for the New York Times calls it, as a haunting disembodied "Existential Ghost Story that Will Get Under Your Skin". Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week review for Film Comment and Cinema-Scope's interview with the director, "L’avventura: Pedro Costa on 'Horse Money'", are our guides to Lisbon's "Elliptical and Mysterious" rhythms of the afterlife as Ventura wends through the city representing disparate periods of his life. From the youthful Cape Verdean immigrant picked up by the Portuguese revolutionary army in the hillsides. To the now shaking hand, grey-haired man in his later years, ascending from below the earth to wander the corridors of a hollow institutional facility. Drifting through a lifespan of adversaries, lovers, dreams and remembrances.
Saturday, September 5, 2015
Next week at Chapel Performance Space Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda return to the west coast with "Ke i te Ki" after 2012's extended Issue Project Room residency and Voices & Echoes tour. Though of two different generations they share a deep interest in the documenting of sonic environments and the exploration of site-specific happenings. As an early sound-art pioneer in the 1960's, Akio Suzuki on recordings like "Na-Gi" has documented his investigations into the sonic character of select locations and generating responses engaging with their acoustic topography. His ongoing work in field recordings and acoustic observation continues into the present day with the soundwalk project, "Oto-date" translating as "sound-point" in Japanese, in drawing a course through the urban scape, Suzuki defines listening locations in the city and invites audiences to stop and observe carefully at given points on the map. Having created numerous soundwalks at various festival, public garden and gallery settings across the world including the UK's cutting-edge AV Festival, this year's Borderline Festival in Greece and the School of Creative Media, Hong Kong.
It's in these site-specific works that his sonic explorations overlap most-explicitly with that of electronic composer and visual artist Aki Onda. The decades-spanning "Cassette Memories" project and ongoing multiple volume series compiled from a “sound diary” of field-recordings and travels collected and assembled in live performance by Onda in both indoor and outdoor locations across the world. His extensive touring of the project, building it's body of sonic materials and locations as a essayist work in-action was documented last year by Michael Snow in the pages of Bomb Magazine; "On a trip to Morocco in 1988, Onda started using a Sony Walkman to collect sounds. Without having a specific purpose in mind, he simply desired to have recordings of environmental noises that he found interesting. In the next decades, as his bank of sounds enlarged, he began to find ways to use his collection in real-time performances. Cassette Memories became the evocative title of this ongoing project in which these memories become the building blocks of a concrete musical entity. That he personally recorded the sounds gives his mechanically produced palette an idiosyncratic aspect. The sounds are not pictorial or representational, but they are not abstract or pure either." Update: Due to Visa delays and typhoon conditions in Japan, the Seattle date in this tour has been cancelled.
Saturday, August 22, 2015
Somehow topping the monthlong citywide New York exhibit that was Banksy's “Better Out Than In" in Fall of 2013! Making for yet another grand gesture in a career of celebrity (and controversy) for the anonymous artist, this month his largest and most audacious exhibit yet "Dismaland" opens as a “family theme park unsuitable for small children” on the Somerset seafront. Cryptic and shrouded in secrecy during it's construction, local residents were led to believe that the installations being built in a disused former tourist swim center called Tropicana, were part of a film set for a Hollywood crime thriller called "The Grey Fox". Instead when it opened they found themselves with, "Banksy's Dismaland: Amusements and Anarchism in Artist’s Biggest Project Yet" which Banksy has conceived as “A showcase for the best artists I could imagine, apart from the two who turned me down.” as his offering in "the latest addition to our chronic leisure surplus." The map depicting the galleries, rides and subversive installations of "Dismaland: Inside Banksy's Dystopian Theme Park" details the thematic sections featuring works by 58 contributors including Damien Hirst and Jenny Holzer that have been installed across the 2.5-acre site. Another of Mike Ross' massive truck sculptures balances precariously in the air, Julie Burchill has rewritten a 21st Century iteration of Punch & Judy, Darren Cullen has installed a pocket money shop offering loans to children at an interest rate of 5,000% and Jimmy Cauty of British art-pranksters (and notorious money burners) The KLF, presents his contemporary spin on the fantasy village, complete with 3,000 riot police.
Banksy himself creating some 10 new works for the exhibition, including the Cinderella Pumpkin Crash at the centerpiece castle, a grizzly accident with the heroine and horses splayed out and the paparazzi madly snapping away. Other highlights depicted in The Guardian's "A Theme Park Unsuitable for Children" photo essay include a broken down police van with extended escape chute, a model boat pond loaded with corpses and massed crowds of asylum seekers fleeing strife in the Middle East and Africa. To even enter the Dystopic theme park requires going through a cardboard mock-up of airport security, guards insisting that "all squid be left behind". Banksy funded the entirety of the exhibit, with a 4,000 tickets a day limit at the defiantly low cost of £3 each, there is little chance of recouping costs or making a profit over it's 36 day duration. Running until September 27, the bemusement park also plays host of a series of concerts on Friday nights. The music roster including, Sleaford Mods, Peanut Butter Wolf, Kate Tempest, Pussy Riot and Massive Attack by degrees all deal in work that tackles political themes and urban stratification, class frictions, the fallout of globalization and ecological destruction found throughout the park. The show's curator himself interviewing Killer Mike and EL-P for The Guardian, "Banksy meets Run The Jewels: ‘The Bravest Artists have Always been Graf Artists’".
Sunday, August 9, 2015
The documentary continues to take major evolutionary strides, some of the most striking of it's new forms in the 21st Century have been the visual essayist films issuing from the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab and their Film, Visual and Environmental Studies Departments. The vanguard of this observational cinema can be seen in the work of the department's Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel and Libbie D. Cohn and their "Leviathan" and "People's Park" of 2012 and 2013 respectively. Whether it be the effect of time-distention in Montana's rolling grasslands as imbued by "Sweetgrass", "Foreign Parts" self-made enterprise of the Willets Point industrial zone, the gondola-aided pilgrimage to the venerated "Manakamana" temple in Nepal, the cosmic space-like depths of night off the New England coast, or a summer afternoon in Chengdu China, Cohn, Sniadecki, Paravel and Castaing-Taylor presented these locales as though seen through the eyes of an off-worlder. The Earth as a place of wonder, danger and mystery. This is a cinema that is tangible, time-specific and very much about our place within it all. Both Dennis Lim's New York Times piece, "The Merger of Academia and Art House: Harvard Filmmakers’ Messy World" and Irina Leimbacher's "The World Made Flesh: Toward a Post-Humanist Cinema" for Film Comment go some way to convey the richly political, anthropological, physical, auditory, visual, experience of their singular body of work.
Later this month The Grand Illusion will be screening their foray into the landscape of China via the rails of "The Iron Ministry". Filmed over three years on what will soon be the world's largest railway network Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab associate, J.P. Sniadecki traces the interior of a country on the move as they pass through extended rural stretches punctuated by massive industrial and agricultural endeavor and some of the world's densest urban enclaves. Adding to his long project documenting Chinese public places that have rarely been screened outside film studies and museum retrospectives like MoMA's Chinese Realities / Documentary Visions and Harvard Film Archive's Ghost Towns and Steel Rails: J.P. Sniadecki in China, Sniadecki edited tens of hours of footage into a concentrated 82 minute kaleidoscopic sensory experience that's by turns observational, engaged, assaultive and humane. He spends as much time talking to the passengers about social issues as he does creating a removed audio-visual blurring of three years of time spent on the state run rail system into an impressionistic environment of sights and sounds. This vacillating between engagement with it's subject and the ambient drift is detailed in "Chinese Society Takes on Metaphorical Dimensions in 'The Iron Ministry'", IndieWire notes Sniadecki's approach is significantly more critical of its setting than many of the Sensory Ethnographic Lab projects with which it has a kinship, yet the result again is that he turns the chaos of modern China into dense, frantic poetry. One which A.O. Scott's New York Times review praised as, "Neither boring nor confining, which is just to say that it’s not a long trip through a faraway country. It’s a work of art: vivid and mysterious and full of life." and Cinema-Scope's Jordan Cronk called, "An undeniably virtuoso accomplishment. More importantly, as an empathetic portrait of perseverance, it’s a humane, often illuminating transcontinental chronicle."
Saturday, August 8, 2015
This week Northwest Film Forum presents a one week run of Joshua Oppenheimer's companion piece to his award-winning surreal work of documentary reenactment, "The Act of Killing". Returning to the subject matter of the Indonesian purges of 1965-66 in which over a million alleged Communists were massacred following the failed coup and ensuing lockdown by the Suharto regime. It watches as a revealing, bizarre, surreal, disconcerting, humorous, (yes if you have a conscience, you'll laugh, in the most terrible way) exhibition of those who perpetrated one of the most brutal of the Cold War purges of Communist citizens in all of South-Eastern Asia. One abetted, like many of them at the time, with aid from the United States. The real-world events beyond nightmarish in their scope. Further reading on Oppenheimer's incursion into Indonesia's past to be found in Nick Bradshaw's "Building My Gallows High" in the pages of Sight & Sound, Stuart Klawans' "The Executioner’s Song" for Film Comment and Carrie McAlinden's drawing of parallel's with Walter Benjamin’s philosophies of historical awakening, "True Surrealism: Walter Benjamin and The Act of Killing". Where "The Act of Killing" peered into history's enabling of genocide via xenophobia, Cold War politics, economics, racial hatred and superstition, his "The Look of Silence" is a more intimate, personal study of the family of Adi Rukun, whose brother was killed in the purges, as he quietly confronts the killers and their leaders. Oppenheimer had begun to gather stories from victims’ families as far back as 2003, but found that his subjects were threatened and feared for their lives. Anticipating repercussions, he then shot “The Look of Silence” before the first film was released and at the advice of human rights activists, has not returned to Indonesia since.
While he was born after the bloodshed, Adi is marked by it, as is his diminutive mother, their contained humiliation, fear and rage we only witness in brief glimpses as it surfaces in the course of this quest of, "'The Look of Silence' Confronting Individuals and Ideology of Indonesian Massacre". What we see of the encounters are, for the most part, unnervingly calm and conversational. Adi making use of his background as a obstetrician while asking questions, his professional bearing enabling his gentle, insistent manner of interrogation. In intimate, sometimes even theatrical and boastful detail, regional military authorities, neighbors, even relatives and friends show the blood on their hands, and acknowledge as much. A few go further, telling of how they drank their victims’ blood, a established superstition believed to save them from the madness that afflicted some of their colleagues. When pressed, the village's retired militia members say they were fulfilling the mandates of their superior officers, while the regional politicians who profited grossly from the murders and the acquisition of land, insist that the slaughter was the spontaneous expression of popular will. As seen in the American interview footage of the time, some even going as far to suggest the “Communists” offered themselves up, asking to be killed as punishment for their transgressions. The nightmare of these accounts is framed by a simmering, hypnotic tone matched by Adi's outer countenance as we observe his reviewing of Oppenheimer's footage. As noted in both Film of the Week reviews for Film Comment and Sight & Sound the silence of the title is echoed by moments in which Oppenheimer cuts out sound from the footage and replaces it with the insistent ambiance of jungle noise, as in the eerie night shots that bookend the film. It's one of his documentary's great strengths that Oppenheimer opts for these intermittent moments of composure and beauty to offset the horror. Conveying a sense of life’s tenaciously continuing on in the shadow of atrocity, injustice and grief.
Sunday, July 12, 2015
Inaugural Seattle Art Fair at CenturyLink Event Center & "Out of Sight: A Survey of Contemporary Art in the Pacific Northwest" at King Street Station: Jul 30 - Aug 2
There's been a lot of speculation as to what form the inaugural Seattle Art Fair will take, with no small supply of skepticism expressed in local circles concerning it being another of Paul Allen's pet cultural projects, both for the good and the bad. Amidst all the regional dialog, there's a confounding dearth of national or international reportage to be found outside pieces like Brian Boucher's "Why Are Gagosian, Pace, and Zwirner Signing On for the Seattle Art Fair?" and The Observer's "Paul Kasmin and Pace Gallery Join the Inaugural Seattle Art Fair". Both of which are more discussions of the art market and the inclusion of some of the gallery world's international power players, than insight into the fair's content and curatorial mission. Sponsored by Paul Allen's Vulcan with Max Fishko of Art Market Productions as programming director, the fair's press release makes it out to be half-commercial gallery, half-curated exhibition, featuring some 60 galleries representing local to international dealers with an emphasis on the West Coast and Pacific Rim. The fair has also drawn several Asian galleries, including Kaikai Kiki and Koki Arts from Tokyo, along with Gana Art of Seoul and Osage Gallery from Hong Kong. In addition to the participating galleries of stature and the artists they represent, the "Thinking Currents" wing is to be a signature exhibition of video, film and sound work exploring themes related to the cultural, political, and geographical parameters of The Pacific Rim, curated by Leeza Ahmady, director of Asia Contemporary Art Week. The Fair's other facet will be a series of lectures and temporary exhibitions by individual artists at locations across the city at indoor and outdoor venues. The inclusion of citywide off-site projects and events inspired in-part by Allen's experiences visiting biennales around the world, particularly as he claims, that of Venice.
Concurrently running across town, the collateral event at King Street Station "Out of Sight: A Survey of Contemporary Art in the Pacific Northwest" curated by the quartet of Kirsten Anderson and Sharon Arnold of Roq La Rue and Length x Width x Height along with Seattle artist Greg Lundgren and Sierra Stinson, founder of Vignettes for Vital 5 Productions, is a 24,000 square-foot survey of contemporary art that reads like a who's-who of the best work seen about the city in the past decade. That near-comprehensive list of Northwest talent includes; Julie Alexander, Julie Alpert, Megumi Shauna Arai, Rick Araluce, JD Banke, Baso, Crystal Barbre, Joey Bates, Jared Bender, Gretchen Bennett, Gala Bent, Zack Bent, Colleen Bratton, John Brophy, Jazz Brown, Bette Burgoyne, Tim Cross, Casey Curran, Sue Danielsen, Jack Daws, Jed Dunkerley, Warren Dykeman, Debbie Faas, Leiv Fagereng, Julia Freeman, Erin Frost, Neal Fryett, Scott Foldesi, Klara Glosova, Mandy Greer, Colleen Hayward, Laura Hamje, Robert Hardgrave, Julia Hensley, Jesse Higman, Jeff Jacobsen, Claire Johnson, Ken Kelly, Patrick Kelly, Izzie Klingles, Kirk Lang, Michael Leavitt, Rich Lehl, Margie Livingston, Francesca Lohmann, Amanda Manitach, Chris McMullen, Jennifer McNeely, Katie Metz, Steven Miller, Ryan Molenkamp, Scott Musgrove, Matthew Offenbacher, Joe Park, Mary Ann Peters, Jason Puccinelli, Cheyenne Randall, Tivon Rice, Ashleigh Rose Robb, Serrah Russell, Sail, Joe Schlicta, Rafael Soldi, Kellie Talbot, Polina Tereshina, Barbara Earl Thomas, Chris Thompson, Kimberly Trowbridge, Joey Veltkamp, Redd Walitzki, Tariqa Waters, Casey Weldon, Chandler Woodfin, Robert Yoder, Claude Zervas and Jennifer Zwick.
Saturday, July 11, 2015
The summer issues of Sight & Sound and Film Comment have landed, and with them their respective overviews of this year's Cannes Film Festival and it's four major aspects; the Competition and this year's award winners, the Camera d'Or, Critics Week and the Director's Fortnight. Covered in-depth by some of the most established names in film journalism, including Amy Taubin's "Setting Sun: Despite Glorious Films the Specter of the Death of Cinema was Never Far" on cinema-as-film's diminishing role seen at Cannes. With the DCP becoming the established projection norm at the world's premier film festival, even for great auteurs who's work continues to be shot on celluloid. There was also some question concerning vision and programming when superior Hollywood crowd-pleasers like George Miller's "Mad Max: Fury Road", though a masterfully edited and kinetic sensorial onslaught, was still being cited as one of the truly great films seen by the festival's 11th day. With many of the initial offerings by expected directors quite-good-but-minor, or left out of competition entirely in the Director's Fortnight, Gavin Smith asks if these conditions are simply a sign of the times, or is art cinema on the ropes, "Sins of Omission: With Obvious Exceptions, La Programmation Wasn't Great". His sentiment mirrored in the New York Times coverage by Manohla Dargis "At Cannes Film Festival, Good Sometimes isn’t Enough". Further plumbing the divide between the delights of quality entertainment and the richness of art cinema, Laura Kern 's "Slumming It: Days and Nights in the Market" explores the festival's underbelly of low-profile, indie, pulp and genre treats running the spectrum of savage horror films, sleazy thrillers, sci-fi oddities, and other assorted uncharted questionables.
Transcending what Smith referred to as those "quite-good-but-minor" works, Jacques Audiard's "Dheepan" tackles migrant integration in central Europe in his characteristically workmanlike and absorbing fashion as a highly charged thriller. Yet many felt it being awarded the Palme d'Or was a snub to greater films seen. Other highlights include Yorgos Lanthimos Jury Prize-winning Kafka meets H.G. Wells allegory, "The Lobster", the best Best Actress award going to Todd Haynes adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's "Carol" and the Un Certain Regard prize graced Grímur Hakonarson's tale of brotherly hatred between hermit farmers in "Rams". In the same program, Romania's Corneliu Porumboiu earned the Talent Prize for his "The Treasure" and the Directing Prize went to Kiyoshi Kurosawa, apparently back on form with a altogether different spin on the Japanese ghost tale. Kurosawa's exploration of modern unease has taken a more refined turn since 2008's "Tokyo Sonata", a path he continues down with "Journey to the Shore". Rounding out the prize selections, the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize went to Dalibor Matanic's "The High Sun" and the festival's cinematography award, the Caméra d'Or to César Augusto Acevedo for "La Tierra Y La Sombra". Not prize winning, but no less notable for it, Jia Zhang-Ke's "Mountains May Depart" continues his commentary on China's shifting cultural-economic alignment as a extremely ambitious, albeit microcosmic depiction of that nation's rapid transformation. Japan's mainstays of contemporary arthouse familial drama, Hirokazu Kore-eda and Naomi Kawase delivered "Our Little Sister" and "An", with varying degrees of success.
More significant works were relegated to out-of-competition status due to their inclusion in the richly populated Director's Fortnight section this year. Among them were Arnaud Desplechin's intricate memory piece, "My Golden Days" and Philippe Faucon's "Fatima" based on the first person prose of Fatima Elayoubi. Other stand-outs include Stéphane Brize's bleakly dispassionate monitoring of an unemployed European everyman (for which Vincent Lindon won the Best Actor prize) in, "The Measure of a Man" and Ida Panahandeh brought fresh insight to the familiar subject of divorce Iranian-style in, "Nahid". The title of the long anticipated Kent Jones documentary says everything you need to know going into this one, "Hitchcock-Truffaut" is as intelligent and lively as you could hope, filled with memorable images to accompany the historic series of encounters as well as revelatory commentary from David Fincher and James Grey, among others. In disappointing turns, having fallen so far from one film to the next, Paolo Sorrentino's "Youth" apparently gave viewers a sense of what it must have been like to be cast out of Eden after having ascended to the sublime and rapturous heights of 2013's, "La Grande Bellezza". Another disappointment, though one that could be seen coming in the tipping of the balance at "Enter the Void"'s conclusion, Gaspar Noe's "Love" was a somewhat flaccid affair who's highlight was solely the gorgeous cinematography expressed through Benoit Debie's steamy, luminous palette. Almost as disappointing after the late-career surprise of "Paranoid Park", nothing favorable has come out of the festival concerning Gus Van Sant's "The Sea of Trees".
Saving the best for last, the four films delivered this year by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, László Nemes and Miguel Gomes have been received with unparalleled enthusiasm across the festival's reportage. For Film Comment, there was Kent Jones' "Wonders to Behold: A Few Films Touched with Greatness Can Make All the Difference" on the sublime perfection of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's eight-years-in-the-wait period piece and Dennis Lim's reveling in Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Miguel Gomes' further refinement of their storytelling art, "Daydream Believers: Two 21st-Century Trailblazers Stole the Festival’s Thunder". Their sense of wonder at established auteurs on fabulous form was mirrored in the pages of Sight & Sound by Nick James' "Cannes: Hunting Season" and Isabel Stevens' "Cannes: An Affair to Remember". The four pieces focusing on Hou Hsiao-Hsien's sumptuous and oblique Best Director-winning spin on the wuxia genre, "The Assassin", László Nemes’ Grand Prix-winning Holocaust drama "Son of Saul" and Miguel Gomes' audacious three-part modern refashioning of folk tales from the Islamic Golden Age, "Arabian Nights - Volume 1, The Restless One" & "Arabian Nights - Volume 2, The Desolate One" & "Arabian Nights - Volume 3, The Enchanted One". Like Scheherazade, Gomes apparently has pulled out every storytelling trick in the book to span the film's epic 6 hour duration: prologues and epilogues, prolix voiceovers, obtuse framing devices, abundant on-screen titles and nested narratives within narratives. A director who's whole filmography deals in mystic parables couched within modern life, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Cemetery of Splendor" may lack wandering spirits in the night of the Thai jungle this time around, but it's mixing of the political, historic and the spiritual is told through a literally dreamy central metaphor. Sleep acting as a mysterious, uneasy bridge between the two worlds, the protagonists lead the viewer into a heightened sensory exercise of hypnotic motion and hushed sound as we observe their ambulations through neon-lit psychedelic jungle and Escher-like mazes of modern shopping complexes. All the while simultaneously turning increasingly Oneiric as it's political inflections sharpen.
Sunday, July 5, 2015
Later this month SIFF Cinema presents the directorial debut from the auteur at the heart of Taiwanese Cinema's Second Wave and programming director for the recent series of brilliant restorations of Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien by Central Motion Pictures, Tsai Ming-Liang has positioned himself at the vanguard of what's come to be known as the 'Slow Cinema' movement. From 1992's breakout film, "Rebels of the Neon God" Tsai would enrich his neon, spacial, melancholy vision of life in Taipei and Malaysia into a filmography of refined longing. It watches as foreshadowing of his stylistically established work of the later 1990's like "The River" and award-winning existential poetry of the early 2000's, "What Time is it There?" explored in interview by IndieWire for their "Cities and Loneliness: Tsai Ming-Liang's 'What Time Is It There?'". By this point having distinguished a cinematic voice of his own, he became the focus of Jared Rapfogel's excellent essay for Senses of Cinema, "Tsai Ming-Liang: Cinematic Painter". Yet some of Tsai's strongest, most characteristic work was to follow. 2003's deeply nostalgic meditation on time, cinema and the city, entirely set within a dilapidated theater in Taipei, "Goodbye, Dragon Inn" ranked on The Guardian's "10 Best Films about Films" and was the focus of of Senses of Cinema's Great Directors feature as well as Roger Clarke's "The Incomplete Tsai Ming-Liang" for Sight & Sound. Clark's classification of Tsai as "contemporary cinema's best poet of loneliness" came to fruition in the Malaysian night ambulations of 2006's "I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone" A.O. Scott's "Once Upon a Mattress, a Tone Poem Made Up of Moods" details it's yearning nocturnal quest for a sense of connectedness among the urban underclass.
Moving into an increasingly formalistic minimalism, 2013's "Stray Dogs" watches like a first feature-length effort at a new approach to dramaturgy. One that resembles neither traditional cinema or video art, but incorporates durational, editing and pacing considerations from both. This shift was first seen in his short digital works of recent years, the Tsai Ming-Liang & Lee Kang-Sheng Shorts showcase at the Rotterdam Film Festival pointing toward a new narrative hybrid from the director. More work has followed in this style, with the feature length 'walking' films that began with 2014's "Journey to the West" featuring Lee Kang-Sheng reprising his role as a Buddhist Monk traversing the western world on foot. “Rebels of the Neon God” tells a slighter, somewhat more conventional story than many of the films above, yet there's no mistaking it for anyone else’s work. Already fully formed in many ways, this early feature from two decades past contains many of what would become his trademarks. The unabated presence of water, the fraught family dynamics, the observational pacing, the lingering eroticization of the body, the directionless nighttime ambulations, the strange mixture of moodiness and slow-burn almost silent-slapstick, and of course, the presence of Tsai’s regular lead, the airily emotive Lee Kang-Sheng. New York City was the place to be this past April, Film Comment's Film of the Week review and Chen Huei-Yin's interview with the director coincided with Film Society at Lincoln Center's debut of the new restoration, running concurrently alongside the complete retrospective of Tsai's feature-length work at the Museum of the Moving Image.
Saturday, July 4, 2015
Roy Andersson's new film "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence" at Northwest Film Forum: Jul 17 - 23
Last year's Golden Lion winner at the Venice Film Festival finally comes to the Northwest Film Forum for a weeklong run. The sixth film in almost 45 years by Swedish auteur Roy Andersson caries on from the macabre spectacle of the bizarre that made his Cannes Jury Prize winning "Songs from the Second Floor" so singular a work of cinema in the late 20th Century. The fantastical surrealism of Fellini, the wide-open alien austerity of Kubrick, the humor of Terry Gilliam and an impeccable sense of timing set within Andersson's own particular obsession for elaborate artificial worlds. Where "Songs from the Second Floor" was a genre-film defying observation on society's yearning for end times, 2007's "You, the Living" saw him move into territory that was more personal and anecdotal, yet retained his fixation with the macabre and absurd. This sensibility of dry, depressive, philosophically inflected humor strikes a balance that truly has no peers in contemporary cinema. After another many-year stretch, "Roy Andersson: Calling It as He Sees It -- in Great Detail" with “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” which like the proceeding films of this trilogy, consists of a series of episodic accounts that illustrate, mostly, the futility and absurdity of life. What Andersson perceives as his humble attempt at depicting the human experience, tragedy, wonder, regret, hope, folly and all.
We see this world through a detached stationary camera, observing characters from a tactful distance as they sigh, complain, move through the landscape at glacial pace, treating one another with indifference, oblivious cruelty, weary civility and occasional tenderness. Populated by deathly palefaced men in drab institutional suits, women in tattered vintage gowns and too much rouge and an array of other hapless souls, the recent trilogy of features by Andersson have unfolded like a series of preserved dioramas of human life. Set within massive, elaborate stage sets, these airless chambers are works of engineering, construction and lighting unto themselves, fitting then to see It's Hard to be Human a retrospective of his life's work this past Spring hosted at the New York Museum of Arts and Design. Since it's premier in last year's Venice Film Festival, his newest has been extolled as one of the finest in all of his spartan, decades-spanning oeuvre, Xan Brooks' coverage of the festival for The Guardian hailing it as, "The Glorious Metaphysical Burlesque of Roy Andersson's 'A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence'". While the New York Times' A.O. Scott ponders why it is that Andersson is such a master of moving us to laugh at the misery and distress of others in his, "‘A Pigeon Sat on a Branch': Roy Andersson’s Rumination on Life".
Another major film from the year's international festival circuit lands at Northwest Film Forum this month! To call Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's "Deaf-School Drama, Shocking, Violent and Unique" as Peter Bradshaw's review for the Guardian states, is something of an understatement. From it's outset, "The Tribe" establishes that there is to be no spoken dialog in the film, nor are there to be any subtitles to translate the exchanges between the characters, which takes place entirely in Ukrainian sign language. This may read as something of a daring gambit, or even bold gimmick, but Slaboshpytskiy's meticulously distanced camerawork and determinedly opaque dramaturgy is so explicit, and fully integrated ethical choice, that the viewer is immediately infected with a vicarious, voyeuristic curiosity. It becomes something of a sinister game to parse out the remorseless methodology and indoctrination of the young protagonist into the world of the film's crumbling state boarding school for deaf adolescents. One needn't be able to sign to be able to comprehend the film's setting and it's own complex hierarchy exerting it's influence through numerous demonstrations of humiliation and power, these are crystal-clear.
Beginning with the first day as a new student is inducted into a secret world of teenage gangs, predatory violence and crime. Within minutes it's established that the dominant boys in the squalid institutional dorms are running rackets behind the facade of the officially state-sanctioned sales of trinkets on trains. Left to their own in the decrepitude of urban Kiev, this is the most innocent of the ritualized practices they engage in. Their daily lives something of a real-world contemporary to Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange" in that it shares a post-adolescent world nearly devoid of any adult presence, where the youth at the lowest tiers of society's set of rungs are left to make their own way, to deign what the world is as they see fit. Sharing the austerity and rigor of Europe's great quiet confrontationist, Michael Haneke, the squalor of poverty amidst the erosion of the European economic community's social structures seen in the films of Ulrich Seidl, and the ghostly traces left behind of the late-Soviet era's influence throughout Cristian Mungiu's films, Slaboshpytskiy has crafted a work deserving of it's widespread critical acclaim. Rightly hailed in The BFI's 20 Best Films of 2014 and Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week reviews for both Sight & Sound and Film Comment, where it was celebrated as the most intrepid, surprising, inventive and disturbing film seen in Cannes Critics Week last year.
Sunday, June 7, 2015
The Venice Biennale is unquestionably the most significant exhibit I'll witness this year, possibly this decade. Spanning the months of May through November the citywide international event is currently in full swing, with this year's visual art program thematically titled "All the World's Futures". For it's 56th installment, programming director, Okwui Enwezor has assembled what looks to be a fairly stunning spectrum of sculptural, painting and installation work, with a focus on larger scale pieces in the Biennale's Arsenale and adjacent Giardini. The top prize, the Golden Lion for Best Pavilion went to Adelina Cüberyan von Fürstenber for her assembly of The Armenian Pavilion situated on the Island of San Lazzaro the work exploring the notion of “armenity,” which in her words encapsulates concepts of “displacement and territory, justice and reconciliation, ethos and resilience”. With Best Artist of the international exhibition going to US artist Adrian Piper, the Silver Lion for Best Young Artist awarded to South Korea's Im Heung-soon and Lifetime Achievement going to Ghana's El Anatsui. The Guardian's Adrian Searle navigates the miles of string, rotating trees, entire shops and spacial labyrinths of work describing the world’s socio-political past, present and future, laid out as this year’s compendious, "Venice Biennale: The World is More than Enough" with Natasha Morris sidebar covering "Iran Pavilion Goes Back to the Future". The New York Times' Randy Kennedy focusing on the programming's incitement to engage, "The Venice Biennale Shows its Political Stripes" and a feature detailing Joan Jonas' "Mirage" traveling to Venice after it's run at MoMA.
Enwezor's programming for "All the World's Futures" constructed around the premise of a Parliament of Forms, in which layers of the three intersecting curatorial filters; Garden of Disorder, Liveness: An Epic Duration and Reading Capital represent a constellation of parameters, through which to imagine and realize a diversity of practices. Heavily politicized, the content represented through the application of these filters have resulted in a vital cross-dialog of the political and economic. A month into the exhibition, the result has already been seen to give new life to the Situationist-like unifying of diverse fields of theoretical disciplines into a modern and comprehensive critique of the effects of Religious Fundamentalism, Oppressive Regimes, Oligarchy, Advanced Capitalism and Globalization. The Biennale's national pavilions have long-acted as cultural outposts of the countries they represent and when those countries are engaged in cultural, economic and even armed conflict with their neighbors, be it the global hotspots of the carnage in Syria or Russia's recent power grab, Venice becomes a platform for geopolitical frictions. The resulting manifestation seen in this year's Biennale range from the tensions of the Middle East to Marx-ian protest of the monetizing of art as investor's commodity to dialogs on the erosion of privacy using the very tools of the espionage industry to the wry reversal of Russia's incursion into the Ukraine.
What is arguably world’s oldest and most important international exhibition attracts an unstoppable force spanning 53 countries and 136 artists, it's character, vision and charisma, witnessed in Artforum's traverse of Venice, "Back to the Futures". And depicted in all it's pictorial glory by The Boston Globe's Big Picture, highlighting "Untitled Trumpet" by German artist Katharina Grosse, "The End of Carrying All" by Kenyan's Wangeti Mutu, the massive sculptural works of Russia's Irina Nakhova, "Speculating on the Blue" an installation by Flaka Haliti, a new video-opera by British filmmaker Peter Greenaway, "Occupations/Discoveries" by Brazilian artist Antonio Manuel, the 9,216 LCD panels of the "The Portrait of Sakip Sabanci" video installation by Turkey's Kutlug Ataman, the cavernous crepuscular space of Japan's Chiharu Shiota's and her installation "The Key in the Hand", "They Come to US Without a Word" video installation by Joan Jonas, 'The Green Mirror' paintings by British artist Chris Ofili, the massive 'Untitled' paintings of Germany's Georg Baselitz, "Reisefieber" by Polish artist Dorota Nieznalska at the 'Dispossession' exhibition at the Palazzo Dona Brusa, the courtyard of the the historic Palazzo Pisani Conservatory overflowing with Shigeru Ban's ephemeral "Pavilion of Light and Sound", the immersive spacial and liquid environments of "Our Product" by Pamela Rosenkranz, "Revolutions" by French artist Celeste Boursier-Mougenot, "Giardino dell'Eden" by Portugal's Joana Vasconcelos, new installations by Italy's Marzia Miglior, the immersive video installation "Factory of the Sun" by German artist Hito Steyerl and "Haiti 18°48'05'N 72°23'01'W'" a panoramic film projection by C.T. Jasper and Joanna Malinowska. To cite just a few, of the multitudinous.