Sunday, September 28, 2014

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 5 - 9 | Seattle Polish Film Festival at SIFF Cinema: Oct 10 - 19

After the exceptional program this past July, Northwest Film Forum hosts the second half of Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema. This stunning series of 21 films representing the experimentation, style, innovation, substance and form of the Polish Film School of the 1950's-60's, and the later films they influenced. Curated by Scorsese these new 4K digital restorations, in many cases assembled from multiple prints of the original negatives, involving hundreds of thousands of manually retouched stills, weeks of painstaking work and terabytes of data. This second batch of 7 of the 21 films presented in collaboration with the Seattle Polish Film Festival running the following week at SIFF Cinema.

Notably the series plays host to Krzysztof Zanussi at The Scarecrow Video October 9 for a Q&A session from 4-5:30pm before presenting his "The Illumination" at NWFF and again in-person for the screening of "The Constant Factor" at SIFF Cinema the following night. The five day program also includes Andrzej Wajda's Palme d'Or winning tale of the Polish solidarity movement, hybridized with real footage of the strikes, "Man of Iron". The swashbucking, kabballistic, comedic, surrealist-puzzlework adventure of Wojciech J. Has', "The Saragossa Manuscript". Poland's great humanist director of the following generation, Krzysztof Kieślowski and his tale of synchronicity and lives intersecting, "Blind Chance" and film that contributed to the overturning of the death sentence on Poland, and later became a pivotal aspect of his groundbreaking "Decalogue" series, "A Short Film About Killing". Jerzy Kawalerowicz's own story of lives intersecting, brought together enroute to an isolated village by his "Night Train". And Andrzej Wajda's pivotal "Ashes and Diamonds", the film that more than any other came to define the movement with it's tough-as-grit protagonist caught between the retreating Germans and the coming Russian occupation, allegorical as it is political, Noir as it is Neorealist, a film that depicts a Europe in ruin, both geographic and existential.

Digging deeper there's an abundance of reading available on Andrzej Wadja's cool as ice political Noir, "Ashes and Diamonds" and the swashbuckling Alchemical surrealist adventure, (there are too few opportunities to use those three words in succession) of Wojciech Jerzego's "The Saragossa Manuscript". On the series itself, NPR hosts an interview discussing Scorsese's time at The Polish National Film, Television, and Theatre School in Łódź, the genesis of the series and restoration project and many of the film's shared themes of tragedy, resilience, comedy, "Martin Scorsese Takes Poland's Communist-Era Art Films On The Road" and Max Nelson's "Rep Diary: Scorsese’s Masterpieces of Polish Cinema" coverage at Film Comment during the series' premier screening at Lincoln Center earlier this year.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Decibel Festival of Electronic Music: Sept 24 - 28

The end of Summer rolls around once again as Seattle plays host to the second-largest electronic music festival in the United States! Last year's 10th Anniversary was a spectacular summation of the festival's decade of existence, drawing on their years of genre-diverse programming to assemble a lineup that encompassed their past highlights and sonic future to come. That diversity 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 6 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 Gala takes place in the melting fiberglass and metal forms of Frank Gerhy's Experience Music Project with a minimalist melodic techno lineup including Ghostly's Lusine, Natasha Kimeko and Sabota. As well as the first of two performances by the ascending Max Cooper, this one billed as his 'Emergence' set in the OPTICAL 1: Kinesthesia audio-visual showcase. If his "Human & Inhuman" of this past year are any indication, expect this to be one of multiple festival highlights from Cooper. A showcase that would alone make for a strong opening salvo from Decibel considering that the bill is fleshed out Ghostly's The Sight Below and Young Turk's Arca & Jesse Kanda. Concurrently upstairs at the EMP, the always excellent Resident Advisor has assembled their own showcase of including Warp Record's Lunice and XL's Kaytranada. Across town at the ReBar, darker and denser forms of sonic matter have been assembled into the aptly titled Pitch Black showcase including New York's Black Asteroid, the techno dread sounds of Blackest Ever Black and Hospital Records maven, Vatican Shadow, and Sandwell District's Rrose. Warp Records is further represented up the hill at Neumos, The BassDrop showcase hosting Guillermo Scott Herren's groundbreaking hip-hop electronica fusion project Prefuse73, alongside urban beats from San Francisco's Ana Sia and Seattle's own WD4D. 

THURSDAY From strength to strength, the second day of Decibel arrives with two audio-visual showcases, the first at the acoustically primed Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya, OPTICAL 2: Huminary features the second, explicitly ambient set from Max Cooper after the previous night's Emergence set, along with Bathetic's Survive and 4AD songstress, Alice Boman. Across town at the EMP, OPTICAL 3: Playful Discord sees Decibel playing host to multiple highlight's from previous year's programming, with another dose of the deranged synthesis of Daniel Lopatin's Oneohtrix Point Never, the return of Uwe Schmidt's AtomTM future-1980's vision 'HD/AV' and the hardware meets digital fusions of dynamic electronica and heady melodicism from Raster-Noton's Kangding Ray. From evidence supplied in Decibel 2012, the Modern Love label and it's roster mainstays, Andy Stott and Demdike Stare, are delivering some of the strongest, deepest and darkest post-techno being made on the planet. It's no hyperbole to say these guys are at the vanguard. The body-impacting nature of their beats have hit a perfect equilibrium with some of the densest subterranean atmospheres being created in contemporary electronic music. These complimenting/contrasting poles are explored even more explicitly in their collaborative Millie & Andrea project via their take on traditions drawing from UK bass music and jungle. Over at the Crocodile, the decades-running Ninja Tune label brings their contemporary take on urban sounds and beats, equally influenced by hip-hop, dancehall, tech-house and dubstep, their showcase feature's the forerunner of contemporary dubstep-fuion, Martijn Deijkers's Martyn project, PlanetMU's FaltyDL and the UK's Letherette. Fittingly, in the deepest, darkest hours of the night, Dubscured plumbs the depths of low end atmosphere pushing through until sunrise. An all-star cast from the deeper end of the bass, beats and delay culture of minimal techno informed by the techniques of dub, both Canada's Tomas Jirku and Chain Reaction label artist Fluxion, were there at the genre's inception. For those who never sleep, Hot Flush label's Recondite proceeds Uwe Schmidt's stylistic lexicon on even further display, as AtomTM delivers a decidedly different set from his previous Optical performance. 

FRIDAY Again in the acoustically primed setting of the Nordstrom Recital Hall, a single OPTICAL 4: Static Memory opens the weekend's proceedings with Nine Inch Nail's Alessandro Cortini debuting a suite of 9 analogue synth pieces originating from a musical language outside that of the pop culture knowns of his band with Trent Reznor. Cortini's adventurous analog atmospherics are complimented by Deru & Effixx' 1979 project and Tri-Angle label's meeting of Haxan Cloak's production and Altar Of Plagues frontman, James Kelly's take on doom-electronica as Wife. An evening largely launched by dancefloor and bigger club events, the Hardware showcase at EMP hits a nice balance between atmosphere and the physicality of bodily compulsion. Epitomized by Simian Mobile Disco and their all-live hardware performance of their newest album, "Whorl", this is a more challenging, performative tangent of their sound. Another vanguard of the minimal techno and electronica explosion of the late-90's, Robert Babicz has moved from his granular synthesis work on Mille Plateaux to a distinct tech-house sound of recent years, current live sets bridging both the dancefloor and experimentation of decades past. The Ostgut Ton label showcase bridging similar territory, the label's Marcel Dettmann is equally at home on the dancefloor as enveloped in tapestries of timbral percussive nuance. Seattle's own rising star, the Hush Hush label expresses it's curator, Alex Ruder's founding concept to a 'T'; music for late-night headphone-nodding urban ambulation, what Ruder himself has coined the "Night Bus" sound. A fittingly self-descriptive genre, the label's roster of urban, hi-hop informed atmospheres has seen a year of excellent press and strong releases, particularly from Kid SMPL and Edward Haller's Slow Year project. 

SATURDAY Launching right in with Polish composer Michal Jacaszek's elegiac, haunting neoclassical compositions, I can think of no better way to begin a Fall Saturday afternoon than the OPTICAL 5: Ghostly International showcase at the Triple Door. A through-and-through solid bill filled out by the dub-influenced minimalism of Canada's Loscil and California's composer of guitar miniatures, Christopher Willits. Ghostly's SMM imprint has assembled some of the world's finest craftsmen (and women) working in this hushed little sonic sequester. The Dance Nostalgic showcase at the Showbox looks to do exactly what the title premise suggests, a night of the contemporary body of Italo-disco and early synth-wave inspired works like Ghostly's Com Truise and Norway's Hans-Peter Lindstrom with his own brand of. Speaking of nostalgia, it's been many, many a year since we've received a new transmission from Detroit-come-Canada's wonderboy, Richie Hawtin. His new live album, "EX", the first in over 11 years sees him rounding off the hard darkly gothic edges of 2003's "Closer", returning to a form more similar to his late-90's work for this soundtrack dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum New York. Here's hoping we get a substantially powerful and transparent soundsystem at the EMP capable of delivering the austere dynamics and spacial qualities of Richie Hawtin & Friends. It's kind of astounding that we've already had a decade of dancehall, dub, ragga and two-step informed urban electronic sounds from Steve Goodman's Hyperdub label, but the advances made by Burial, The Bug, DJ Rashad and Goodman's own Kode9 project are already a half-decade in the past. His recent compilation series, simply titled Hyperdub 10, not only reflects on this decade come and gone, but paths forward for the UK bass sound. Expect to hear representations of both when Goodman himself hosts 10 Years of Hyperdub at The Crocodile. 

SUNDAY After the wild highs of Friday and Saturday, Decibel's final night on Sunday looks to be a relatively subdued affair by contrast. Not to say that there aren't some outstanding performances to be had, as it's opening event OPTICAL 6: Erased Tapes at the Triple Door makes clear. Going on 7 years now the UK's Erased Tapes has been host to the finest in neoclassical, minimalist electronic ambient, abstract folk and songwriting the world over, it's roster including some of the first recordings by Ólafur Arnalds, Peter Broderick and Nils Frahm. Seattle's own Decibel and Substrata festivals have been at the forefront of bringing their music to a wider domestic audience. Last year Decibel itself hosting two nights of collaborative works by Frahm, Broderick and Arnalds at Benaroya Hall. The label returns with a showcase of relatively new faces including the (dubiously-named) collaborative project between German electro-acoustic composer Greg Haines and Portland's Peter Broderick, making more substantial bass and rhythm-based compositions with Martyn Heyne as Greg Gives Peter Space. Representative of the label's new voices, the showcase also hosts the return (after opening for Nils Frahm this past March) of Douglas Dare's orchestral electronic hybrid-songwriting, and Ryan West's analog-sourced abstract dance music project, Rival Consoles. What will act as the closing night party to my ears, the Friends of Friends label showcase at the Crocodile features a 6 artist lineup of urban LA sounds sharing a kinship with things like Flying Lotus and his Brainfeeder imprint. Deru & Effixx return with a collaborative set outside of their 1979 moniker, it'll be particularly revealing to see how their approach to performance and composition differ in each of these distinct contexts. The urban styles, rhymes and rhythms of FoF will likely being the last aural environ I find myself in, at the end of a 5 day odyssey. By this point, 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 course of the 5 previous nights. 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 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 13, 2014

This is No Roadside Picnic: Fungal Intelligences, Slippery Time & Mutagenic Horrors in Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy

It's been quite some time since I last dedicated space to a contemporary novel, not since the last major books by Wu-Ming, Lethem, Bolaño and Wallace, in fact. So here we are with a new trilogy penned by the author of such inventive post-human Dante-esque sci fi works as "Veniss Underground", the rich world building mythic cultures of "City of Saints and Madmen", and the Biopunk Noir of the award winning "Finch". Jeff VanderMeer has in this new trilogy of books, invented himself once again as a more nuanced, rich and possibly more mature voice in the world of New Weird Fiction', a genre of which he has been the vanguard for over a decade. Lauded by both those in the shared post-Cyberpunk genre fiction landscape (BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow being a particular champion), as well as the larger literary community, his newest has met with outstanding reviews from the likes of Adam Robert for the Guardian, "Weird Fiction Comes of Age: VanderMeer Completes his Haunting Trilogy", Nial Alexander for TOR, "The End is the Beginning: Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer" and Scott Hutchins for the NYT, "Deciphering a Lost World: Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer".

Released as three novels over the course of this past year, "Annihilation", "Authority" & "Acceptance" collectively comprising the The Southern Reach Trilogy. Like many of his past works, the world his protagonists populate in this trilogy is one of technological advancement and great and often terrifying biological wonders and diversity. The latter usually set in motion by the former. No exception here, as Lydia Millet's review for the LA Times, "Jeff VanderMeer's 'Annihilation,' Fungal Fiction Grows on You" suggests this is a changed Earth, where a mysterious geographic, biological and potentially metaphysical 'Zone X' presents both enticing and repelling wonder and horrors. His approach to these subjects, Kirkus Reviews and Publisher's Weekly both cite Lovecraft, Borges and the Strugatsky Brothers' "Roadside Picnic" as entry points into this fantastical, thematically and narratively warped world in their respective reviews. A world tinged with Poe-like unease and microbiological, pulsing, indecipherable, metaphysical(?) workings outside human comprehension. An incomprehension inflated on the reader's end by the novels own non-linear structure, wrongfooting preconceptions that have built up from their attempts at interpreting Zone X in the first volumes. By the end of the trilogy VanderMeer has managed to avoid the banality of the literal and artfully opaque both, while generating some genuine emotional charge along the way. That the Southern Reach Trilogy has found a fully realized, satisfying and substantial manner of paying off so much mysteriously tense apprehension, high-science, existential unknowns (and suggested metaphysics), is no small feat. In addition, as a post-read enhancement, VanderMeer himself is supplying an ongoing series of annotations to the novels posted at LitGenius.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hiroyuki Okiura's new film "A Letter to Momo" at Landmark Theatres: Sept 5 - 25 | The Legacy of Studio Ghibli & The Future of Japanese Animation

Years after it's Japanese release, Landmark Theatres hosts a brief subtitled run of Hiroyuki Okiura's "A Letter to Momo", winner of the Grand Prize at the 2012 New York International Children's Film Festival and Best Picture the same year at the Future Film Festival. NYICFF's presenter, GKids having picked up the rights to US theatrical distribution, beginning this month domestic audiences will finally get to see Hiroyuki Okiura's touchingly poetic, "‘A Letter to Momo’: A World that Teaches and Tugs". The film's style and approach to visual storytelling is both contemporary in it's sparsity and technique and more traditional in it's pacing and richness of character focus and emotional nuance. Quite literally, there hasn't been work of this quality issuing from the major studios in Japan ("Ghost in the Shell"'s Production I.G gave life to Okiura's vision) since the establishing work of the now-legendary Studio Ghibli in the 1980's. The film's lush minimalist palette expresses the expansiveness of the islands of southern Japan where, after the death of her father, quiet, inwardly looking Momo Miyaura and her mother return to live with their uncle and aunt. In this setting Okiura tells a (largely) subdued, personally transformative adventure of the young protagonist. Wherein we witness Momo evolve through her pre-adolescence, face tribulations, adjust to life outside the city and come to terms with challenge, disappointment, hope, change, responsibility and mortality. There's good reason it made Film Comment's best of the year issue, with David Filipi citing the unavoidable qualitative associations with Studio Ghibli, ranking "Momo" high on the list of "Essential Animation: The best in 2013".

Related, in that not only does it focus on the work of the groundbreaking studio and it's visionary founders, but posits where the future of non-commercial animation in Japan may arise, the massive Studio Ghibli Special in Sight & Sound made for essential reading. Featuring many-page sections exploring both the studio's creation of a animation storytelling form of often astounding beauty and richness, their global success, and the most resent news of their struggling to find new directorial voice and a modern-day successor to Hayao Miyazaki. Indicative of this impasse, this summer "Studio Ghibli Announces a Break in Production" while they reassess their current financial state, creative objectives and possible new directions for the studio. The Sight & Sound Special on Ghibli also features chapters dedicated to various highlights of the studio's past, the historic and creative legacy they drew from and the future of the medium as a distinctly Japanese artform. As well as sections dedicated to, Drawing On the Past: Kurosawa, Swallows and Amazons, Russian landscape painting, Moebius, manga and his wartime childhood: Miyazaki’s world is composed of an astonishing variety of elements. Lessons from the Master: Two of Miyazaki’s long-term collaborators – supervising animation director Kosaka Kitaro and producer Suzuki Toshio – offer their insights into working with the great director. The King is Dead: Now that Miyazaki has announced his retirement, where are the Japanese animators who can carry on in the same tradition – and where are the ones who can start something new? And lastly, a gorgeous gallery of environment work and studies from Hayao Miyazaki's final film, The Landscape Art of "The Wind Rises".

Sunday, August 24, 2014

SWANS' new album "To Be Kind" & West Coast Tour: Sept 1 - 13

Next month at The Showbox, we'll finally see west coast dates with Carla Bozulich as the second leg of the North American tour! After the brutal physical endurance testing 'rock olympics' of 2011 in which Michael Gira's SWANS reformed after a 15 year hiatus, we were blessed with a third new album this past May "To Be Kind", and a tour to accompany! At the end of their previous incarnation with the grandiose heights scaled in "Soundtracks for the Blind" and "Swans are Dead", they took celestial bombast to literally epic durations and dynamic intensity. The post-reform "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope in the Sky" and the following "The Seer", albums look to scale similar heights, but in a Oroborous-like path back to itself, Gira's music has ingested it's own past, birthing a supreme amalgam from it's own DNA. One that encapsulates the totality of their trajectory from brutalist post-No Wave minimalism to Musique Concrete and extended tonal and Drone compositions to acoustic Folk and Americana. And like the albums of their previous iterations in the 80's and 90', their live realizations this decade have far, far exceeded these recorded works. Gira and company's live performance watches almost as an invocation ritual, bringing the crushing, life-affirming, visceral and transcendental effect of mind-frying, body-numbing volumes to elevate the songwriting.
This process of translating the recorded works to a marathon tectonic live experience documented in an interview with Pitchfork of earlier this year, "Michael Gira Talks about How Swans Returned without Losing Any Potency". Even more personal and confessional, the folks at The Quietus have produced a lengthy interview on the new album and SWANS explicitly spiritual, transcendental nature of their live incarnation, "This is My Sermon: Michael Gira of Swans Speaks". From which Gira is quoted; "I hope there's a spiritual quality, but it's not a denominational kind of thing, it's an aspiration towards some kind of realization, or breathing the air that the spirits breathe, or going somewhere that is bigger than myself when I conceive these songs. It's a great feeling. I think The Stooges had a kind of abandon and release, if you listen to Fun House. But electric guitar music has the ability to do that to people, and it's also like the Master Musicians Of Jajouka, where they just keep going and you lose your mind but find it simultaneously. That's sort of the idea. My personal spiritual beliefs are irrelevant. Music is the practice." Yes indeed, this is the return of the band without which, there would be no Godspeed You Black Emperor, no Liars, no Grails, no Earth, no Melvins (etc, etc, etc). There is reason why anyone who favors the heavier end of the past four decades of rock, considers SWANS legendary.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ari Folman's new film "The Congress" at SIFF Cinema: Aug 29 - Sept 4

A highlight of this year's International Film Festival returns to SIFF Cinema for a weeklong run! An opening into it's labyrinth, "Ari Folman on The Genius of Stanisław Lem" acts as entry point into the complex resetting of Stanislaw Lem's "The Futurological Congress" and Folman's recontextualization of premise from the 70's work of Eastern Bloc science fiction into a modern day commentary on the shifting mediascape of entertainment and it's recourse on manufactured celebrity, identity and reality itself. Years after actress Robin Wright won a Golden Globe for her performance in David Fincher and Beau Willimon's "House of Cards,” her character Robin Wright in "The Congress" is at a career crossroads. Now struggling for roles while also caring for her two children as a single parent, she is offered a one-time singular deal; selling her digital likeness to the Studio System. Decades pass and her digital likeness, “Robin Wright” has become a global virtual celebrity. With the twenty year conclusion of her contract, her real-life paramour is invited to cross into the Restricted Animation Zone maintained and owned by the studio as a experimental new plain where the next evolution of their entertainment frontier meets experiential space. This kaleidoscopic, surrealistic future Hollywood-come-amusement-park is the frontier where one's avatar is able to generate not only their own representation, but mold the aspects of this very world being sold. When the studio attempts to utilize her in it's campaign to launch this new reality platform as a lifestyle choice beyond it's entertainment potential as a VR, the cracks in the facade begin to appear. Revolution from within the Restricted Animated Zone arise and in the midst of the melee, the animator of her own virtual self becomes her friend and guide through this psycho-Orwellian otherworld.

The film's head-on tackling of corporate Studio System ownership of image, manufactured identity and the virtual landscape many of us will (and do) spend our time, inspired IndieWire's Eric Kohn to posit, "Is Ari Folman's 'The Congress' The Most Anti-Hollywood Movie Ever Made?". Convoluted and substantially ideas-rich Folman's direction pushes the audience forward into projected extrapolations on the nature of self-worth, identity, endeavor and the corporate ownership of not only the landscape in which we spend out virtual time, but the 'narratives' of our lives themselves. The mutable, shifting self-generated nature of the psychoscape, somewhere between wakingness and death, a future-state of being A.O. Scott equates with, "In the Future, Life Could Be a Dream". Yet Folman's ability to future-project the endgame of corporate ownership of time and virtual space is as visionary as it is sometimes flawed. Citing it's ambitious, occasional over-reach was Xan Brooks review for The Guardian, "Ari Folman Mixes Live Action with Animation in an Eccentric and Ambitious Sci-Fi Drama". Being as philosophically questing as the work is has it's drawbacks; it would require a film of greater length and exposition to be able to represent all the facades of this multi-plain metascape and it's mirror back in the 'truth' of material reality. Folman forgoes much of this to instead tell one's woman's tale in reclaiming her life, her image and literally her 'self' from the new world's commodification of liberty. For all it's faults, including some truly terrible stilted acting, (Harvey Keitel is particularly egregious) "The Congress" makes for a more inventive future cautionary tale of life, identity, technology and society than (just about) anything we've seen since the birth of the Cyberpunk era of the 1990's. Yet it remains a conflicting experience; one which features astounding degrees of technical execution and conceptual aspiration, which are gravitationally drawn back down to Earth, prevented the heights they may have ascended by the film's less fully formed storytelling coherence. The exceptional score by neoclassical and electronic composer Max Richter also going some way to tip the scales in favor of it's strengths.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chris Marker's "Level Five" at Grand Illusion Cinema: Aug 22 - 28 | Chris Marker Retrospective at BAMcinématek Brooklyn: Aug 15 - 28

A kickback from the astounding comprehensive retrospective currently at the BAMcinématek, next week The Grand Illusion hosts one of the rarest works in all of Cyberpunk cinema, "Level Five" by one of the genre's unlikeliest voices, experimental filmmaker Chris Marker. This piece of historical inquiry is both a exercise in Marker's obsession with what he called "life in the process of becoming history" and one of his other great life-fascinations, the nature of perceiving the past and present through the scrim of technology. The film watches as a sometimes documentarist, sometimes personal, investigation into the tragic events and related atrocity surrounding the Battle of Okinawa through the labyrinthine interface of cryptic technology and it's hidden avenues. We go down the rabbit hole of this densely layered mashup of video-art, historic documentary and fictionalized webgame in Howard Hampton's review in Film Comment and further into it's depths with Nick Pinkerton's "Magic Marker" for Artforum and A.O. Scott's "It’s All Just a Game, Now Take It Seriously: ‘Level Five,’ Directed by Chris Marker".

Marker is probably best known for almost single-handedly inventing essayist film with his "Sans Soleil" and "Le Jetee" in the decades spanning the 60's to the 80's, but it's his more surrealist, explicitly political work that I've gotten the most pleasure. We had a rare thing in the man; a deeply devoted artist and cultural/political figure, working for the most part absolutely outside the commercial frameworks of his medium, who not only tackled the 'big questions' in his own eccentric fashion, but did so with a wry inquisitive sense and vibrant curiosity. An (often visionary) octogenarian intellectual who had a wicked sense of the satirical, was obsessive about the minutia of history and it's framework and really, truly loved cats. Astoundingly, he was capable of bridging all of the above and creating works reflective of this impossible confluence of real-world social consciousness and flights of fantastical fancy. One of his final films, "The Case of the Grinning Cat" perfectly encapsulates these multitudinous concerns, as poetically incisive and observational as it is cheeky and satirical. And that's not touching on his fictional alter-ego and omnipresent feline parallel-self, Guillaume-en-Égypte.

Elusiveness was one of the other constants in Marker's life, rarely photographed or interviewed, it was his work that he chose to represent himself in the world. Writer, photographer, editor, filmmaker, videographer, and digital multimedia artist. Marker remained for many years, just until shortly before his death, one of cinema’s better-kept secrets, famously reclusive and shrouded in protective layers of legend, self-generated fiction and pseudonym. To this day, two years after his death, Chris Marker the polymath remains a tantalizingly impenetrable enigma within the world of contemporary cinema. Catherine Lupton's "Chris Marker: Memory’s Apostle" for Criterion investigates Marker's representation of self and the world through one of the great constants of his work, the inwardly-turned nature of reflection and memory. Not only a prominent theme in his work, it was the embodiment of the man himself as his friends, cohorts and collaborators would often attest. The global arts community made many inspired and touching tributes to Marker in 2012. Foremost among them for me were those offered by his friends, Chilean filmmaker and documentarist, "Patricio Guzmán Pays Tribute to His Late Mentor from Another Planet: What I Owe to Chris Marker" and fellow cinema adventurers Patrick Keiller and Agnès Varda in the pages of Sight & Sound, "The Owl’s Legacy: In Memory of Chris Marker". As a more formal overview Ronald Bergan's piece for the Guardian achieves the conceptual feat of encompassing the man's many-faceted qualities, both his life and as a creative force of his times, "Chris Marker Obituary: The Experimental French Director Acclaimed for His post-Apocalyptic Film La Jetée".

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Scarecrow Video and Grand Illusion Cinema to found The Scarecrow Project in Fall 2014

Major news for Seattle! The beginnings of Scarecrow Video's salvaging of the business and creation of a foundation for their future stability. One of the most significant cinema resources in North America is looking to sign a new lease on life, as "Scarecrow Video Seeks Second Act as a Nonprofit" and you can be a part of making that happen! Today's Scarecrow Video: A Letter from Our Owners announces their partnering with The Grand Illusion Cinema to convert Scarecrow to nonprofit status with the backing of the store's owners Carl Tostevin and Mickey McDonough who are donating their assets, namely the legendary inventory of approximately 120,000 titles. A Kickstarter campaign to fund the process of The Scarecrow Project transition begins this week. All you film lovers, if ever there was a time you were considering re-investing in the irreplaceable cultural institution that is Scarecrow, this is it.

For all the cynics, layabouts and stay-at-home viewers out there, I would argue Scarecrow Video remains (or is even moreso) relevant in the age of Netflix, iTunes and Amazon. When most online streaming services are limited to the contemporary of-this-decade hits, blockbusters, currently talked-about tv series and a smattering of 'classics' and genre and archive titles -- the largest independent video store in North America with a catalog of 120,000 titles -- is a more significant resource than ever. Especially considering a good percentage of those hundred thousand plus titles are out of print, only released in foreign countries, alternate cuts than the commercially released editions and/or are films that have been made unavailable due to licensing issues. The things that make your city something exceptional, that make it not another iteration of the suburbs or 'new urbanism's commercial sprawl, are local retailers like this, offering cultural opportunities that you cannot have anywhere else. Literally, anywhere. Physical or virtual.

Some years ago when we saw the first wave of significant gouges to the cultural face of the city, (The Neptune, The Egyptian Theater, Half Price Books Capitol Hill, Spine & Crown, Easy Street Records, Twice Sold Tales in the U-District, etc.) IFC published a piece on Seattle, calling Scarecrow and it's surrounding half-mile "The Best Film Corner in America". Locally, around this time there was sent up a rallying cry to inspire the cultural participants of our community to prioritize attending any and all art openings at small galleries, film screenings at independent theaters, give business to the remaining local book and record stores, making a point of supporting smaller, outside-the-rock-bar music venues. Stressing that if we didn't --- these things that define the urban environment from that of the suburbs --- would be hit hardest by the recession and the related/enabled land development. Here we are again, more relevant and pressing than ever. With The Scarecrow Project we're being given an opportunity to sustain and preserve an essential component of the cinema arts community before it's eroded in such a fashion as to never again be re-established.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Boris' new album "Noise" & US Tour: Jul 24 - Aug 20

Japanese heavy rockers, Boris make their semi-annual return to the 'states with a string of Us tour dates! This month's show with Master Musicians of Bukkake at The Crocodile though likely to not compare with last year's tour wherein they played the totality of their magisterial opus "Flood" alongside a second night of 'All Time Classics', still promises a night of the kind of seriously blasting of-the-sun intensity Boris consistently deliver live. The past near-decade of annual tours have seen them manifest their ever mutating mix of Doom Metal, Heavy Psych, warped J-Pop, willfully dysfunctional Bro-Rock and more recently, their own thrilling take on Shoegaze. The latter we first glimpsed on their "Japanese Heavy Rock Hits" 7" series and more recently refined on the near-perfect "Attention Please" and the more guttural Psyche assault of "Heavy Rocks". This prolific inundation cumulating in the tri-album recording/release blur of late 2011, topped with their upbeat pop-assault of the generically titled, "New Album". Following this deluge was the more atmospheric Metal-oriented tour album "Präparat" and the radio-rock riffs of this summer's "Noise". Their newest still lays the distortion on heavy, but any longtime listener will find it odd that the choice to actively appeal to commercial college-rock sensibilities is so pronounced. While it's fair to say that some portions of this (misleadingly-titled?) album sound like a mutated, swamped return to the territory they carved out with "Pink", yet unlike that album it never ascends to the kind of heights they were propelled to by the lyrical guitar squall of collaborator Michio Kurihara. As a product it's dynamic swing back down into the depths lacks the consciousness-walloping power that Boris is capable of at their best. The band themselves see this stylistic shift as just another stage in their assimilating of influences towards an all-inclusive Boris sound, in interview for The Quietus the feedback-worshiping trio state, "Noise Is Japanese Blues': An Interview With Boris".

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Alain Resnais' "Je T'aime, Je T'aime" at Northwest Film Forum: Aug 15 - 17

In tribute to the great French auteur, for three nights only Northwest Film Forum will host his rarely seen (and singular, in every sense) science fiction exercise of 1968, "Je T'aime, Je T'aime". This past year saw the passing of one of the great incongruities in the French New Wave, it's technician of time and space, Alain Resnais. A director who unlike most caught up in the tumult of the zeitgeist never did away with the more refined elements of perfection in crafted cinematography, exacting editing, gorgeous environments and professional actors, but instead chose to make his revolutionary mark elsewhere. Taken together, Peter Harcourt's "Alain Resnais: Memory is Kept Alive With Dreams” for Film Comment along with the New York Times' "Alain Resnais, Acclaimed Filmmaker Who Defied Conventions, Dies at 91" and David Thompson's obituary in the pages of Sight & Sound, "Alain Resnais: The Most Unpredictable of the French New Wave Directors Mixed High Intellectualism and Irreverence" make for an ideal introduction to the man and his art.

Resnais, most of us know for his groundbreaking post-War drama, "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" wherein the protagonist's hope and guilt are written large in the landscape of the Japanese aftermath. Their romance caught up in the larger global concerns, the anguish of past, present, and future; the need to understand exactly who and where we are in time. Kent Jones' "Hiroshima Mon Amour: Time Indefinite" for Criterion supports Eric Rohmer's claim from a July 1959 Cahiers du Cinéma panel, stating that "Hiroshima Mon Amour" would come to be seen as "the most important film since the war, the first modern film of sound cinema.” It is this great work alongside what's considered the centerpiece of his career, "Last Year at Marienbad" that define Resnais' position in the canon of post-War film. Of all of Renais' filmography, Marienbad foregrounds place in a self-reflecting prism that counterpoints image with sound, past with present, and stasis with movement to set up an induced tension between our responsibility to remember and the impossibility of doing so within such a narrative construct. The marvels and complexity of this 1961 dream-labyrinth of a film, deciphered in Mark Polizzotti's "Last Year at Marienbad: Which Year at Where?", for Criterion.

With "Je T'aime, Je T'aime", Resnais has constructed an equally abstracted take on science fiction much in the vein of Chris Marker's tale of a man traveling between past and present in his classic, "La Jetée". And like Marker's vision, it focuses on the inconsistencies of perception that arise when technology warps the very fabric of our rooting in time. A.O. Scott's review for the New York Times specifically plumbing the nature of the protagonist's unresolved romantic past, as he relives "Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime: Fragmented Frames of the Love That Was, Taunting Yet Poignant". And in the pages of Film Comment, David Gregory's Rep Diary: Je T’aime, Je T’aime digs into the mechanics of how Resnais' cubist portrait of a rather ordinary European man is made into something more than the commonplace nature of his life and failed loves. Through the director's puzzlework abstraction of remembrance, perception and hope, it emerges as a paradoxical rush of simplicity and grandeur. The cumulative effect of it's stylistic distinction further enhanced by Krzysztof Penderecki's haunting minimalist score. Among the rarest in all of Resnais' ouvreur, "Je T'aime, Je T'aime" has just been given a new restoration, and 35mm prints have been circulating theaters this year. For fans of this most adventurous era in cinema, it's one not to miss!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Beyond Modal Realism: The Interpenetrating Comic Dimensions of Grant Morrison's "The Multiversity"

Eight years in the making, this month The Multiversity arrives! Beginning as far back as the conclusion of his "Seven Soldiers of Victory" megaseries, Scottish comics scribe Grant Morrison began to make cryptic statements about a larger, Cosmological, multiple-Universe spanning meta-Comic, a project that by 2009 had become known as "Grant Morrison’s ‘Multiversity’". The book promising to bridge the diverse fictional worlds that have existed in DC Comics' history of rewriting their continuity multitudinous times via whatever current marketing campaign, crossover event or 'Crisis' of universal perspective that the publisher had established in it's 70+ years of serialized storytelling. Morrison then became engrossed in writing what may prove to be the major superhero opus of his career, in the form of a award-winning 7 year Batman story which even managed to weave into it's fold his own take on a crossover Cosmological "Final Crisis". In addition to just about every major DC character, this multi-dimensional event book encompassed in it's sprawling conceptual expanse the groundbreaking work of Jack Kirby's Fourth World creations of the 1970's. In the midst of this flurry of protracted activity, Multiversity seemed to sink further and further into the realm of the hypothetical. A very brief synopsis of the meta-threat implied by glimpsing the Haunted Universes contained within it's pages was seen in Rolling Stone's "Grant Morrison: Psychedelic Superhero". Come 2012 and the one-off Morrison-Con celebrating all things Grant along with a select body of artists and writers including Jonathan Hickman, Robert Kirkman, J.H. Williams III and others working on the future of progressive, innovative and genre-warping works in the comics medium. The big news of the festival came during an interview held in the 'Future of the Third Millennium' panel, in which it was established that not only was the book well and very much alive, but new "Hi-Resolution Frank Quitely Artwork from Multiversity" was revealed.

Another protracted silence followed until April of this year, when it was announced that finally, finally a date had been set and "Morrison to Unleash 'The Multiversity' in August". A month later DC Comics presented their solicitations for the Summer's books including the first two issues of The Multiversity, along with a grand, preposterous synopsis by it's author living up to the years of speculation and the book's near-mythic status: "Prepare to meet the Vampire League of Earth-43, the Justice Riders of Earth-18, Superdemon, Doc Fate, the super-sons of Superman and Batman, the rampaging Retaliators of Earth-8, the Atomic Knights of Justice, Dino-Cop, Sister Miracle, Lady Quark, the legion of Sivanas, the Nazi New Reichsmen of Earth-10 and the latest, greatest Super Hero of Earth-Prime: You! But even with a multitude of alternate worlds to choose from, where every variation is possible, can anyone hope to prevail against the onslaught of ultimate evil and undying hatred in the unstoppable form of a one-time cosmic defender with unimaginable powers?! Join us, if you dare, for the beginning of The Multiversity!" If all of that isn't sufficient to pique your love of the comics medium -- and the audacity of the expanse of imagination, word and image that only this serialized medium can capture -- an even more in-depth plumbing of Multiversity's Quantum breadth came last year during a media event in LA, covered in MTV's "All Becoming Starchildren: An Evening With Grant Morrison". Closing this out, a detailed map of the Multiverse and the final word before the series' launch from this year's San Diego Comic-Con! Wired's interview with Morrison makes it clear we're looking at the DC Universe through the lens of Superstring Theory and the Music of the Spheres as devices in his expansion on decades of previously posited alternate-universe storytelling. Appropriately titled, "Multiversity Turns the DC Universe Into a Quantum-Theory Freakfest", it establishes a multitude of universes populated by personages and concepts Comics Alliance calls, "Vampire Batman, Hypnotic Induction, And God: Grant Morrison Talks ‘The Multiversity’".

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Richard Linklater's new film "Boyhood" at Landmark Theatres: July 25 - Sept 4

After having skipped it in SIFF due to the madding crowds and knowing Richard Linklater's newest, "Boyhood" would be making a return run at Landmark Theatres outside of the festival, I have a good bit of expectation built for what I'm anticipating will be to my mind, his first great film. Much like the work of Paul Thomas Anderson, I've seen many of his past decade and a half of films in the theater, rarely inspired, never satisfied, yet left with a sense that there was some significant substantive cinema voice at the core of the work. P.T. Anderson finally hit the equilibrium with 2012's "The Master", producing a work greater than his previous attempts at replicating the intellectual soul of Altman, Kubrick and Malick. This time I feel it's Linklater's moment to shine. The premise of his newest brings to mind images of young men on the verge of adolescence and maturation crafted by other directors throughout the history of cinema, François Truffaut’s "The 400 Blows" is a parallel as are many of the young protagonists in Gus Van Sant’s cinema, his surprisingly genuine teen skate drama "Paranoid Park" could be considered a counterpoint. Where the theme of Linklater's film isn't anything new under the sun, a intimate portrait of a Texan boy could just as well be artfully crafted by any number of contemporary independent directors, "Boyhood" is less about what it means to be a child developing into a young man, than it is an evocation of another major theme in the director's work; Time. And not just time as a narrative device of overarching philosophical concept, but this time, the present moment, and what it means to be alive right now on the entry into the 21st Century. Holly Willis for Film Comment explores the film's capturing of the now, not only as the environment in which the film's protagonist gestates, but the social, familial, technological and cultural forces that inform the Zeitgeist and shape the nature of how "It’s About Time: Linklater’s 'Boyhood' Spans 12 Years, but it’s Always in the Moment". Time explored through everyday events, often mundane in their particulars, yet these aren't movie children and parents with formulaic arcs and storybook solutions, but characters whose honest, raw hurt and moments of casual grace carry the quiet shock of what it's like to live life in modern America as though "Growing Up in Real Time: Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ Is a Model of Cinematic Realism".

The incremental stages and events so insignificant and everyday, that it's easy to lapse out of the awareness that you're witnessing them transpire over 12 consecutive years in the life of it's protagonist Mason (quiet and inward-looking as convincingly portrayed by Ellar Coltrane), who’s age 6 at the film's opening and 18 and on his way to the tribulations and adventures of college and adulthood at the film's conclusion. In between, he goes to school; argues with his sister, (again a smart, often precocious character as expressed by Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) and watches his mother, Olivia struggle with work and (largely alcoholic, controlling, loud self-important) men while paying the bills, moving from home to home and ascending toward her teaching career and independence. And every so often, the estranged father Mason Sr. (convincingly a layabout 'cool dad' portrayed by Ethan Hawke), roars into the children’s lives in his GTO. Mason's destination, literally on the road to college life, the last of the children to leave mom's protective nest is seemingly the focal point of this audacious exercise in duration and real-time observation. By the time of the film's closing scene, the weight of all these incremental, small life events accumulates a weight, a little of the substance of life experienced. We've lived alongside Mason and his family not only for the film's duration, but more than a decade of his tribulations, questing, achievements and development, making this the most successful of all of Linklater's endeavors to depict life, "Moment to Moment: Why Richard Linklater Makes Movies". This audacious duration experiment earning Ashley Clark's Film of the Week cover feature on the August Sight & Sound, the issue also containing my personal favorite of the recent interviews with the film's director, "The Long Conversation: Richard Linklater on Cinema and Time".