Sunday, March 16, 2014

Jonathan Glazer's new film "Under the Skin" at Landmark Theatres: April 4 - May 1



Opens the first week of April at Landmark's Harvard Exit and at SIFF Cinema later in the month! A world away from anything Jonathan Glazer has ever realized on the screen, "Under the Skin" an adaptation of Michel Faber's novel of the same name is many things; a reflection on consciousness, a tension-filled tonal piece, a psychedelic road trip movie, a study on what it is to be human, an observation of the beauty of the natural world, and a exercise in terror and genuine 'otherness'. And that's not touching on it's central premise. Which you should do whatever you can to NOT read more on the film. Going in not knowing the crux of the protagonist's origin is one of the factors that will make it's viewing a significantly more effective, discomfiting and charged experience. This being a difficult thing to do in the internet age. Made that much more difficult by it's North American premier being almost seven months ago now at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. My own 'blind' first viewing made for a disturbing, putting-together-of-the-pieces in the tradition of the best of thrillers of decades past. Thankfully, the trailer doesn't reveal these central themes, yet (tactfully) and effectively conveys a sense of it's ominous, psychedelic, predatory tone. Only be read after viewing, Jonathan Romney's double-hitter of both a Short Takes: Under the Skin and Film of the Week for Film Comment give you a sense of it's distinction and significance. Romney stating; "Glazer’s third feature fuses a cryptic stranger-in-a-strange-land narrative, guerrilla shooting approach, and a tightly contained audiovisual scheme that makes for a claustrophobically seamless and unnerving drama of self-awakening. This frightening, unearthly film is the most striking achievement yet by a director whose first two features "Sexy Beast" and "Birth" were not quite fully realized, but suggested a will to unearth the strangeness within familiar genre forms. "Under the Skin" is not only genuinely experimental but feels authentically alien—almost something that a documentarist from another world might have shot here on a field mission." Which also earned it (again) Film of the Week status in Sight & Sound along with a feature on the powerful synergy of the film's image and sound, the latter supplied by British composer Mica Levi. Doing my best to not dissipate the experience of the film's disorientation and charged surprise, another to read after viewing would be Nicolas Rapold's invocation of some of the cinematic traditions inaugurated by Stanley Kubrick, Nicolas Roeg and Andrei Tarkovsky as they relate to Glazer's "Lovely, Lethal and Out of This World" vision, which Stephen Holden calls, "A Much Darker Hitchhiker’s Guide" for the New York Times.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Alejandro "Jodorowsky's Dune" and new film "The Dance of Reality" at Landmark Theatres: March 21 - May 8 & The Grand Illusion Cinema: TBA



After decades of absence from cinema, the Chilean alchemist of the wondrous and absurd returns! This of course is Alejandro Jodorowsky, creator, author and actor in such underground classics of Magickal, allegorical, psychedelic cinema in the 70's and 80's as "El Topo", "The Holy Mountain" and "Santa Sangre". As well as author of the groundbreaking, cosmic, comedic, operatic grandiosity that are his comic book collaborations with Jean Giraud aka Mœbius, most notably that of "The Incal". Just last week the New York Times Sunday magazine heralded Jodorowsky's return with a lengthy feature and interview, "The Psychomagical Realism of Alejandro Jodorowsky". After having seemingly disappeared from the world of filmmaking -- his "King Shot" of some years ago was abandoned due to difficulty securing funding -- this past year Cannes hosted the double-hitter of both a narrative and documentary from his particular Psychomagical Universe Jodorowsky's newest, “The Dance of Reality” premiered to enthused reviews in both the Guardian, "La Danza de la Realidad is a Triumphant Return: Mixing Autobiography, Politics, Torture and Fantasy to Exuberant, Moving Effect" and The Los Angeles Times', "Chile's Onetime Cult King Still the Wizard of Weird: At 84 He Still has More Movies to Make". Almost a year later, the film finally had it's North American premier at SXSW and is to be screened at Seattle's Grand Illusion Cinema at a as-yet announced date on their Summer calendar. Closer on the horizon, opening April 25th Landmark Theatre's Harvard Exit will be showing the documentary on one of the great unmade films of the sci-fi golden age of the late-70's/80's, that of "Jodorowsky's Dune". This being another preposterously audacious project involving everyone from effects by Dan O'Bannon, to Mœbius and H.R. Giger in it's production designs, to a cast consisting of Orson Welles, Salvador Dalí and Gloria Swanson, to a soundtrack supplied by Pink Floyd, Magma and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Even in pre-production the film ran significantly over budget, Frank Herbert recalling that Jodorowsky's script would result in a 14-hour movie, stating that "It was the size of a phonebook". It's producer and financier, Arthur P. Jacobs died before the film could be completed, the rights were then sold to Dino DeLaurentiis for what would become David Lynch's own taking of liberties with the source material (significantly less than we would have seen from Alejandro!) in his peculiar, divisive, proto-Steampunk adaptation of the book. The reviews for this documentary assemblage of accounts and materials from the production have called it "A Wildly Entertaining Look At The Most Ambitious Film Never Made" in the pages of Salon, “Jodorowsky’s Dune”: The Sci-Fi Classic that Never Was" and Twitch Film's established enthusiasm for all things Alejandro is given abundant space in the two-part, "Jodorowsky's Dune Delightfully Journeys Into The Brilliance That Might Have Been".

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Brannon Braga, Steven Soter, Ann Druyan, Seth MacFarlane & Neil deGrasse Tyson's "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" to begin airing on National Geographic & Fox: Mar 9



33 years after it originally aired, next week Cosmos returns! Thankfully not a 'remake' of Cosmos: A Personal Voyage the thirteen part series co-produced by PBS and the BBC in 1980 and both co-written (along with Steven Soter and Ann Druyan), and hosted by scientist and theorist, Carl Sagan. The original, one of the greatest feats of creating a documentary narrative to the end of popularizing everything from Astrophysics to Biology, still stands as the most widely viewed PBS series in history. There's good reason for it. For all it's early 1980's aesthetic trappings, from Sagan's corduroy suits to the use of early computer animation to the soundtrack supplied by Vangelis Papathanassiou, the series is timeless in it's message and still revelatory in it's assembly of knowledge. "Carl Sagan and the Cosmos Legacy" is a daunting lineage to aspire to be a part of, much less a sequel of contemporary relevance. Rumored to be in production for some years, here we are in 2014 and the series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is finally to premier worldwide next week on both National Geographic and Fox. It's producer, longtime science advocate, outspoken opponent of trends in Science Denyism and consumer ignorance has not only funded the founding of the Library of Congress: Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive, but taken the profits of his infantile cartoon shows and is pouring them into this more grand endeavor, as "Seth MacFarlane Champions New ‘Cosmos’ Series on Fox". From early reviews the show's host, Astrophysicist, author of "Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution", "Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier" and "Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries", director at the Hayden Planetarium and presenter of NOVA: ScienceNow, Neil deGrasse Tyson is the worthy "Successor to Sagan Reboots 'Cosmos'" that we would hope for. The deGrasse Tyson interview of last year on PBS on why science, and science literacy are important to a Democracy, give you a sense of his knowledge, passion and charisma. Expect it to be the case that the show will literally deliver on his promise, "Neil deGrasse Tyson Says Long-Awaited Cosmos Sequel Tells ‘Greatest Story Ever Told’"

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hayao Miyazaki's final film "The Wind Rises" screening subtitled at Seattle Cinerama: Feb 25 & Mar 4 | Landmark Theatres: Feb 21 - Apr 10



The six month wait for the most recent from Studio Ghibli's founding director concludes with two Tuesdays-only subtitled screenings at Seattle Cinerama and a more extensive run of the subtitled print in cities across the nation at Landmark Theatres. "The Wind Rises" is notable for both being Hayao Miyazaki's final film, and it's inclusion of realistic depictions of disaster and societal tragedy, warfare, sex, and other scenes from everyday life. More so than any other previous work, the film marks a surprising break from his previous fantasy and science fiction oriented allegorical approaches to discussing social, political and eco-industrial issues. A lot has been said already on the subject of the film's fantasized telling of the life of aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi in the setting of 1930's expansionist Japan, as it recovered from the devastating Kanto Earthquake and the rise of Nationalism proceeding Japan's march toward war. The film has received some exceptional reviews from it's western premier at the Venice Film Festival, but of higher profile has been the critical response from both the right and the left, summarized in The Guardian's "Japanese Animator Under Fire for Film Tribute to Warplane Designer" and the New York Times "Hayao Miyazaki’s Swan Song Too Hawkish for Some", with the Boston Film Critic's vote spurring heated debate by a divided jury before awarding the film Best Animated Feature. Lets not forget though, that this is the author of one of the greatest anti-war mangas ever written, "Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind" and director of numerous ecological, socially conscious, complex and nuanced tales that depict morality in all of it's spectrum of grayness, particularly during times of social upheaval. Miyazaki himself recently speaking out against the Japanese right-wing, "Anime Legend Miyazaki Denounces Push to Change Japan's ‘Peace Constitution’", opposing the movement backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to change Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution and more recent developments such as the strong Nationalistic stance taken by Japan's leading LDP party. A considered response to the film and it's relevance offered by Chris Packham in his "The Wind Rises Review: Legendary Animator Hayao Miyazaki Takes a Bow" for LA Weekly: "The war rumbles over a distant horizon the myopic engineer can't see; his schematics and formulas are closer at hand, and within his field of vision. Like most of Miyazaki's films, The Wind Rises has no primary villain or Manichaean struggle between good and evil; though Jiro is bound for loss and sadness, asking a director known for his embrace of ambiguity to make a blunt, declarative political coda seems a little artless."

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Leos Carax's "Mauvais Sang" & Claire Denis' "Trouble Every Day" at Northwest Film Forum: Feb 14 - 20



This month Northwest Film Forum hosts earlier works by two greats of contemporary French cinema! The first, a look into the stylistically formative years of Leos Carax, director of 2012's most phantasmagoric, absurd, postmodernly playful, wondrous thing seen on a screen, an homage of sorts to Jacques Rivette, Cocteau and Bunuel, "Holy Motors" and over a decade previous, his inventive, divisive, controversial, adaptation of Herman Melville in "Pola X". At the young age of 25 he broke onto the French cinema scene with a film that already would hint at the audacity of his play with the narrative tropes and storytelling conventions of French cinema that would be fully realized on the screen in later works like 1991's "Lovers on the Bridge". The not-distant-future tale of "Mauvais Sang" is a more plaintive affair, describing a paranoid, Alphaville-esque future society where a AIDS-like virus is ravaging Parisian youth, seemingly engineered by a shadowy medical industry Megacorp within a maximum security highrise. Our young protagonist unable to free himself from the orbit of his father's criminal past, and the heist his compatriots have planned with him as the surrogate. But that makes explicit a film which is much more oblique than all that, the quirky mystique of it's persevering charm detailed in Dan Sullivan's review for Film Comment. My lasting memory of "Trouble Every Day" from Claire Denis, (director of last year's pitch-perfect neo-Noir, "Bastards") is that it was billed in Seattle International Film Festival 2001, as a erotic 'vampire movie', much to the horror, confusion and significant dismay of those that I saw the screening with. I had done enough reading in advance from it's coverage in the festival circuit to glean that it mapped a kind of psycho-geography to rival something out of a Thomas Pynchon novel, (and coincidentally was devouring "Gravity's Rainbow" at the time). So I was properly primed for the deepest depths of mind, bodies, perception, self, gone awry. The psychological, psychedelic, psychosexual adventures of one Tyrone Slothrop across the European post-War Zone acted as complimentary preparation for this one by Denis. But again, I'm going to leave it to Max Nelson's review of in tha pages of Film Comment to better depict the film's nimbus of bodily horrors and graphic indulgences.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

'Recent Raves' by Claire Denis, Jia Zhang-Ke, Abdellatif Kechiche, Asghar Farhadi, Jem Cohen & Clio Barnard | Paolo Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty", Ben Wheatley's "A Field in England" & Alain Guiraudie's "Stranger by the Lake" at SIFF Cinema: Feb 3 - Mar 31



New Monday night encore screenings of notable films which received brief showings upon their release. So far, the first couple months look to be the best thing SIFF has going for it in 2014! This series of Recent Raves beginning with Abdellatif Kechiche's divisive, corporeal, adaptation of "Blue is the Warmest Color", Jia Zhang-ke's blending of his usual documentary aptitude with a newfound flare for bloodletting in "A Touch of Sin" and Jem Cohen's study on art history, the social landscape of the city and the act of observation itself, "Museum Hours". The series also features a personal highlight of last year; the mining of the European economic crisis to perfect effect as the setting for Claire Denis' darker-than-dark Noir thriller, "Bastards". There's also Ralph Fiennes' debunking of Victorian values in "The Invisible Woman", and Asghar Farhadi's return after 2012's much lauded "A Separation" with another dose of familial melodrama set within nuanced social, gender and class commentary, "The Past". Speaking of drama utilizing mechanics derived from neorealist cinema, Clio Barnard’s "The Selfish Giant" is a great new entry from the UK, as much about social class concerns as it is the life of it's wayward young protagonist. Also on the calendar for the coming month, Ben Wheatley returns after the great Occult crime thriller of "Kill List", with a unique and sinister vision of Olde Albion set during the 17th Century Civil War in "A Field in England" and Richard Linklater's 'Jesse and Celine' trilogy of films, "Before Sunrise", "Before Sunset" and "Before Midnight" are being screened as a triple-feature. Romance of a darker, inverted nature can be found in Alain Guiraudie's exploration of desire without limits, his "Stranger by the Lake" is an eerie, troubling, almost Hitchcockian thriller charged with seduction and threat. And just in time for the Oscars, a weeklong run for the highlight of SIFF's Cinema Italian Style series, a film ranked by Sight & Sound as among the best the year had to offer and given Film of the Week treatment by Jonathan Romney in the pages of Film Comment, Paolo Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty" returns thanks to it's current Academy Award Nomination.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

:::: FILMS OF 2013 ::::








TOP FILMS OF 2013 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

-----------------------------------------------------------
Paolo Sorrentino  "The Great Beauty"  (Italy)
Joshua Oppenheimer  "The Act Of Killing" (Denmark)
Claire Denis  "Bastards"  (France)
Sion Sono  "The Land of Hope"  (Japan)
Shane Carruth  "Upstream Color"  (United States)
Wong Kar-Wai  "The Grandmaster"  Chinese Cut  (China)
Verena Paravel & Lucien Castaing-Taylor  "Leviathan"  (United States)
Tsai Ming-Liang  "Stray Dogs"  (Taiwan)
Ulrich Seidl "Paradise: Trilogy" (Austria)
Jia Zhang-ke  "A Touch of Sin"  (China)
Asghar Farhadi "The Past" (Iran)
Kiyoshi Kurosawa  "Penance"  (Japan)
Bruno Dumont  "Hors Satan"  (France)
Olivier Assayas  "Something In The Air"  (France)
Jacques Rivette  "OUT 1: Noli me Tangere"  Rereleased  (France)  
Lav Diaz  "Norte, the End of History"  (Phillipines)
Ashim Ahluwalia  "Miss Lovely"  (India)
Kristina Buožytė  "Vanishing Waves"  (Lithuania)
Hideaki Anno  "Evangelion 3: You Can (Not) Redo" (Japan)
Kuei Chih-Hung  "Boxer's Omen" Rerelease (China)
Michael Cimino  "Heaven's Gate" Uncut Rerelease (United States)
Alex Gibney  "We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks"  (United States)
Rick Rowley  "Dirty Wars"  (United States)
Wang Bing "’Til Madness Do Us Part"  (China)
Pat Collins  "Silence"  (Ireland)

The past 12 months yielded great discoveries outside the expected sources and return artists creating works from beyond their established territory. A year of finding new record labels, imprints, publishers and film distributors. Authors of choice producing some of their finest writing to-date, in fields as far-flung as cultural criticism, literature, theory and even science fiction. Some of the most innovative visual art movements of decades past were given their first exhibits in the west and home-grown visionaries had retrospectives spanning the nation. 2013 was a memorable one. The growing pains of the digital age are still graphically evident in the world of film distribution, award winning films from festivals in Vienna, Toronto and Cannes have yet to screen in the United States, or even show up released digitally online. A paramount example of circumnavigation of this whole process was Shane Carruth's groundbreaking science fiction high water mark, "Upstream Color". Where rather than partnering with a distributor and licensing entity, Carruth took every imaginable aspect of the films production onto himself; direction, soundtrack, acting, writing, script and in the end, personally distributing the film both to independent theaters, and later, self-releasing it for home video. A striking inversion of this was Wong Kar-Wai's much anticipated (and even longer awaited) exploration of the changing landscape of China in the early 20th Century through the life of martial arts master, Ip Man. From it's initial 2 hour cut, screened at the Berlin Film Festival, it then was recomposed by Wong to a 130 minute release in China, to finally appear 'stateside (7 months later) in a significantly different cut thanks to the Weinstein Corporation. Recomposed, edited, reconfigured and delayed, one can't imagine in the age of digital piracy that this process has aided the film finding it's actual paying audience. The final nail being the delay in "The Grandmaster"'s home video release, now rescheduled for some as-yet specified date over a year from it's theatrical premier. The setting of the European economic crisis made for fertile ground in Claire Denis' perfectly measured neo-Noir thriller, "Bastards" and added spice to the concoction of romantic lyricism, existential melancholy and satirical play in "The Great Beauty". The spirit(s) of Cocteau, Fellini and Celine are alive and well in what might be Paolo Sorrentino's first true masterpiece. Other contenders were Tsai Ming-Liang's wonderful (and underseen) most recent, "Stray Dogs" which watched like a condensation of everything he's created to-date, here's hoping it appears in theaters stateside in the coming year. Of all the films I viewed at home it was his, and Lav Diaz's "Norte, the End of History" that were the two I most regretted viewing on the reduced dimensions of a computer monitor. The latter especially epic in it's scope and duration. In the way of archival rereleases, the mythic, ultra-obscure, 'unviewable' status ended for one of the most significant works in the whole of the French New Wave; that of Jacques Rivette's "OUT 1: Noli me Taneger" which saw a box set release this year on Absolut Medien. Criterion invested in a stunning refurbishing of Michael Cimino's infamous "Heaven's Gate", restoring the film to it's full duration and scope, breathing new life into it's standing as a lost masterwork of that decade. The documentary took massive evolutionary leaps in just the past half-century, most striking of it's new forms have been the visual essayist films issuing from the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab and their Visual and Environmental Studies department. This year's "Leviathan" and "People's Park" for sheer sensorial immersion eclipsed the massive budget and big spectacle of Alfonso Cuarón's technically brilliant, but content-slight, "Gravity". Whether it be the 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 - places of wonder, danger and mystery. Documentaries somehow got even more political, exploring the grey areas of privacy, information and war, the interrelated double-hitter of Alex Gibney's "We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks" and Rick Rowley's assemblage of half-obfuscated facts related to America's ongoing "Dirty Wars" the world over, made for provocative viewing. And this year's documentary of documentaries; Joshua Oppenheimer's exercise in memory, xenophobia and terror as Indonesia's Cold War Communist purge under the Suharto regime is reenacted (to surreal, sickening, absurd and bizarre effect) by it's perpetrators in "The Act Of Killing". It's no wonder this unclassifiable, moving, terrifying, lurid incursion into Indonesia's past was rated the number one film in the British Film Institute's annual polling of hundreds of critics, directors, curators and academics.

As it has for the past decade, Scarecrow Video played an invaluable role as a vector for moving pictures from around the globe, an especially considerable resource for those of us enabled by all-zone/region Blu-Ray players. This year's Seattle International Film Festival hosted a better turnout than the past couple year's selections, though still not on par with previous decades where SIFF often dominated the field by screening a majority of the year's highlights over the course of the festival. Thankfully, the SIFF Cinema and Film Center substantially filled in the blanks, bringing advance screenings, rare prints and numerous exclusive screenings. With indie cinemas closing around the nation, it was that much more important to support the local theater opportunities such as the Landmark Theatre chain, the Grand Illusion Cinema and what's proven itself to be the paramount indie screen in Seattle, Northwest Film Forum. Many of the best films seen this year, when they did come to the theater, had runs that lasted no more than a week. Others were never to to appear again outside of an initial festival screening. Again proving the wisdom of getting out there, seeing the city and prioritizing the art/music/film that we're fortunate to have in our urban cultural crossroads.

This year, rather than the unseen, often international festival award-winning films that never made it over here stateside in theaters, as home video releases, or even a less-desirable appearance online streaming, ("Snowpiercer", "The Wind Rises", "Under the Skin", "Goodbye to Language", "The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears", "The Dance of Reality", "Manuscripts Don't Burn", or "The Congress" anyone?), I've assembled a list of runners-up. These for all their merits (many of them I felt were equivocal to the content of the list above) either fell a bit shy, were redundant within their respective director's ouveur, or simply weren't as strikingly 'different' as the works above. All of them worth the time, and some even revelatory by degrees, these were good films that simply fell short of the distinction of those that made the top rated list:

Sergey Loznitsa  "In The Fog"  (Russia)
Cristian Mungiu  "Beyond the Hills"  (Romania)
Steve McQueen  "12 Years A Slave"  (United Kingdom)
Chris Marker "Le Joli May" Rereleased (France)
Alain Guiraudie  "Stranger by the Lake"  (France)
Naomi Kawasi  "Hanezu"  (Japan)
Abdellatif Kechiche  "Blue is the Warmest Color"  (France)
Clio Barnard  "The Selfish Giant"  (United Kingdom)
Don Hertzfeldt  "It's Such A Beautiful Day"  (United States)
Joel & Ethan Coen  "Inside Llewyn Davis"  (United States)
Libbie D. Cohn & J.P. Sniadecki  "People's Park"  (United States)
Thomas Vinterberg  "The Hunt"  (Denmark)
Ben Wheatley  "A Field in England"  (United Kingdom)
Shinya Tsukamoto  "Kotoko"  (Japan)

:::: ALBUMS OF 2013 ::::




TOP ALBUMS OF 2013 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
--------------------------------------------------------------
Tim Hecker  "Virgins"  (Kranky)
Ben Frost  "Black Marrow"  (Ethermachines)
Mika Vainio  "Kilo"  (Blast First)
Boris  "Präparat"  (Daymare Recordings)
Emptyset  "Recur"  (Raster-Noton)
V/A  "The Outer Church"  (Front & Follow)
Rene Hell  "Vanilla Call Option"  (PAN)
Kevin Drumm  "Earrach"  (Hospital) 
Autechre  "Exai" Japanese Edition (Warp)
Metasplice  "Infratracts"  (Morphine)
Fire! Orchestra  "Exit!"  (Rune Grammophon)
Arve Henriksen  "Places of Worship"  (Rune Grammophon)
Éliane Radigue  "Ψ 847"  (Oral) & "Adnos" Reissue (Important)
Bernard Parmegiani  "De Natura Sonorum" Reissue (Recollection GRM)
Edward Artemiev  "Solaris - Soundtrack" Reissue  (Superior Viaduct)
V/A  "...and Darkness Came"  (Headphone Commute)
Pye Corner Audio  "The Black Mill Tapes Vol. 1-2"  (Type)
Forest Swords  "Engravings"  (Tri Angle)
My Bloody Valentine  "mbv"  (MBV)
Grouper  "The Man Who Died in His Boat"  (Kranky)
V/A  "The Great Beauty" - Soundtrack  (Decca)
Rafael Anton Irisarri  "The Unintentional Sea"  (Room40)
The Stranger  "Watching Dead Empires in Decay"  (Modern Love)
Vatican Shadow  "Iraqi Praetorian Guard"  (Blackest Ever Black)
Demdike Stare  "Test Pressing Vol. 1-4"  (Modern Love)

Another extraordinary year of sonic adventurers, live sounds heard and albums released! Like 2012, the past twelve months saw more significant works past half-Century of Early Electronic Music found their way back into the world. Probably the single most momentous announcement of last year in my mind, was that of SUNN O)))'s Stephen O'Malley establishing his Recollections GRM reissue imprint. In the second year since it's initiation he has since released the mathematically powerful expression of geometry and sound that is Iannis Xenakis' "GRM Works 1957-1962", early electronic's organic aural engineer, Bernard Parmegiani and one of his many masterpieces, "De Natura Sonorum" and François Bayle's "L'Expérience Acoustique". We also saw the first time in the west, official release from the master recordings of Edward Artemiev's striking scores for the mid-period masterpieces of Andrei Tarkovsky. Both "Solaris" composed on the one-of-a-kind visual synthesizer The ANS, and the dual soundtracks for the allegorical science fiction of "Stalker" and autobiographical, "The Mirror". The reissue bounty continues for France's sound sculptor of the sublime and austere, Eliane Radigue now with not only an unreleased gem from the era of her feedback compositions "Opus 17", but more works in print thanks largely to the work of Important Records, including one of the highlights of her whole recorded career, the powerful and austere "Adnos" trilogy. And early Buchla Modular Sythesizer pioneer Morton Subotnick returned again just years after witnessing it's previous iteration at Unsound for a sublime performance of his still evolving "From Silver Apples of the Moon to a Sky of Cloudless Sulphur".

Of course it was a year of contemporary of-the-now sounds as well. Significant among them, Tim Hecker has taken a substantial leap into pure electroacoustic composition with his newest, "Virgins". A application of his usual array of effects and software manipulation of acoustic and electric sounds, this time in relation to a full-bore chamber ensemble including Iceland's Ben Frost. It's a powerful tide of sound that was made that much more thrilling for it's surround sound realization as part of the touring Immersound series. Frost himself was busy globally touring in various collaborative contexts, from Random Dance's "FAR" to acting as both composer and director with Mirella Weingarten on their adaptation of Iain Bank's groundbreaking science fiction novel, "The Wasp Factory" for the stage. My Bloody Valentine reappeared after a 15 year hiatus, finally releasing the album that has been promised since the genre creating "Loveless" of the 1990's. Decades now outside the context of it's initial conception, "mbv" was still a preeminent expression of their singular sound. Seattle Symphony's new conductor Ludovic Morlot and his late night [untitled] series have brought modern composers into symphony's lexicon after almost a decade of being remiss in their performance of contemporary works. To date the series has seen played host to a who's-who of 20th Century Modernism including György Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, Giacinto Scelsi and Olivier Messiaen's massive (exceedingly rare in it's performance) symphonic work, "Turangalîla". The Tri Angle label had another year of delivering some sensuous, warped atmospheres and beats, what's being called the 'drag' sound best epitomized by Holy Other's hazy rapture, his live set exceeded expectations by far. Haxan Cloak's deeper exploration of stripped down minimalism and bass on "Excavation" and Evian Christ's set in the XLR8R showcase were other notable transmissions from the imprint. The pinnacle of their year came with Forest Swords' weighty, lumbering beats and disembodied choral chants on "Engravings", which marked a very welcome return for Matthew Barnes. The label find of last year, London's Blackest Ever Black figured largely in two of the year's best live events, that of the return of William Bennett's Cut Hands project after his bludgeoning set of last year in the Modern Love label showcase, and the "Black Noise" showcase in the 10th Annual Decibel Festival featuring Oren Ambarchi, The Sight Below and a absolutely crushing, immense, audio-visual performance by the UK's Raime in collaboration with Dakus Films. Substrata had another year of surprises and reaffirmations of ambient, neoclassical and experimental music being far from static, the perfect fusion of all these forms was heard in Jacaszek's performance for harpsichord, bass oboe and electronics. Japan's formost heavy rockers, Boris returned to the 'states with a tour of double-headers, many cities being graced with multiple-day performances of their bipolar Psych Rock and Pop hits and heavier Metal and Doom, atmospheres and a gorgeous tour only album to boot! Post-Punk legends Wire chose one city to recreate their Drill festival and curiously it was Seattle, New York's Issue Project Room celebrated Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plane with a month of the world's premier Modern Composition, Improv, Jazz and Experimental artists and Chicago's Kranky label had their week of 20th Anniversary celebrations in their home town.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Hideaki Anno's "Evangelion 3: You Can (Not) Redo" at Grand Illusion Cinema: Jan 10 - 16



Opening in theaters stateside with a weeklong run at the Grand Illusion Cinema! The genre-defining cultural phenomena of the late-90's anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion finally hits it's stride with the third film in the planned Rebuild tetralogy. Where the first "Evangelion 1: You Are (Not) Alone" was heavily redundant in it's striving to recreate the series scene-for-scene, only by it's conclusion making the higher standard of it's animation apparent and suggesting new takes on existing scenarios. The Second film, "Evangelion 2: You Can (Not) Advance" though expanding on the series' characters and world, felt like a collage of old and new lacking in the self-assurance to take the story to the heights it could. Not quite gelling into anything more than a 'best of' assembly of signature scenes from the television series, it felt like a pendulum swinging from one dynamic scenario to the next, lacking in the quietude, introspection and space that defined Hideaki Anno's take on character development. So far the Rebuild watched like (somewhat melodramatic) fan service for the already-converted. Which brings us to "Evangelion 3: You Can (Not) Redo". First off, it's immediately apparent Anno's Studio Khara have stepped up the animation on this one, as it's opening scene is technically brilliant, in a manner the previous two only suggested at. Not only the action sequences, but the sense of scale, desolation and expansiveness seen in "You Can (Not) Redo" are immense, often thrilling, and occasionally downright surreal. If you've invested in the previous two in the cycle and came up wanting, this film goes some way to make up for the Rebuild's shortfalls, introducing new content beyond both the series' and previous theatrical film's narrative. Desolation is the core of the story itself, as the film takes place some 15 years since the events of the 'Third Impact' initiation seen at the closing of the previous film, "You Can (Not) Advance". The narrative's larger themes, that of shame, guilt, resignation and an encompassing yearning to rectify history's wrongs though cosmic (and I do mean cosmic) redemption play out across the fragile, already broken persona of the series' protagonist Shinji Ikari. Making the tellingly-titled "You Can (Not) Redo" a film decisively for those already indoctrinated in Anno's soul-searching, existential, morbid, crushingly patriarchal (in a very Japanese sense) world that is equally gorgeous, touching and at times totally celestial in it's reverie. If you've not watched the series, even the previous two installments in this Rebuild cycle won't allow you to navigate the complexities of the physical/metaphysical world of "You Can (Not) Redo" and the characters that populate it. Designed to both resolve untethered aspects of the original series' closing chapters and the 1997 theatrical re-write, "The End of Evangelion" this third chapter of the Rebuild, along with it's closing epilogue "Evangelion: Final" may yet prove to be the definitive conclusion to Evangelion viewers were denied almost two decades ago.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Wire presents Drill: Seattle at Barboza, The Crocodile & Neumos: Nov 21 - 23



The third week of November brings three nights of post-Punk legends, Wire as hosts of their very own marathon Drill: Seattle. Enlisting contributing performers for their 'Pinkflag Orchestra' and opening acts as Earth, Helmet and Chastity Belt, this is going to be a thrilling recreation of some of the highlights from their Drill: London of last year, including a night of the aforementioned Pinkflag Guitar Orchestra, the collaborative realization of their album "The Drill" and Wire's secret 'unannounced' opening bill for another undisclosed band. The venue/theme  lineup looking something like THURSDAY at Barboza: Earth, Pillar Point, Wire/Drill. FRIDAY at The Crocodile: Helmet, By Sunlight, FF. SATURDAY at Neumos: Chastity Belt, Vestals, Wire/Pinkflag Orchestra. Any one of these evenings having the potential to do some legendary rocking, particularly Thursday and Saturday's realizations! For as much as groundbreaking work like 1977's "Pink Flag" and 1978's "Chairs Missing" are three decades removed, Wire continued to both innovate, warp, mutate and play with pop music's parameter's, creating through the 80's and 90's unclassifiable post-Punk/electronic fusions like "154" and such striking achievements as my own personal (absolutely unprepared for) introduction to their sound, 1987's "The Ideal Copy" and the gorgeously lush orchestrations of "A Bell is a Cup". To then later move into early IDM pop fusions as WIR with "The First Letter" and it's companion the "So and Slow It Grows" EP featuring collaborations with LFO and the Orb, all the way back around to the present day, as a rocking trio on albums like the 2001 - 2007 "Read & Burn" series. Rounding out their massive, influential corpus are abundant solo works, some of which the pinnacle of the whole discography, Bruce Gilbert's brilliant "Music for Fruit" comes to mind, as does the DaDa inspired experimental pop-Concrete of Dome's "1-2" & "3-4". Theirs is a legacy that's beyond quantification. It's safe to say there'd be no opening of the floodgates of music's mathy post-Rock revolution like we saw in the 90's without them. And that's the least of their achievements!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Image Comics delivers Jonathan Hickman's "East of West", Brian K. Vaughn's
"Saga", Joe Casey's "Sex", Mark Millar's "Jupiter's Legacy", Brandon Graham's
"Prophet" & Ed Brubaker's "Fatale" as a bumper of creator-owned works in 2013



I come from a generation of readers who saw the launch of Image Comics as a continuation of the flashy, surface and largely empty late 80's/early 90's Marvel Comics work under a creator-owned banner. To give a sense of Image's original position in the comics' landscape during that decade, they elicited the chapter in Grant Morrison's history of the superhero genre, "Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human" being titled; "Image vs. Content". This is particularly appropriate considering the criminally woe-begotten behavior of Image's co-founder, Todd McFarlane, in the years since. I'm going to spare you the details, but for just one example of many, see Neil Gaiman's blog for reference. Two decades later they are a very different entity altogether. 2012 not only marked their 20th Anniversary but a striking chain reaction of new books, heralded by a new ownership team under the aegis of "Walking Dead"'s Robert Kirkman and executive director, Eric Stephenson. This new direction has produced a cornucopia of new works by some of the current-greatest names in both mainstream and indie comics. Of special significance among these, Jonathan Hickman, straight off his exceptional four year run on "Fantastic Four" over at Marvel, (where he wrote the most advanced, cosmological and heartfelt story Marvel's 'first family' has seen in three decades) has brought along his collaborator on that book, Nick Dragotta. Think a Moebius style pre-Apocalyptic Western set in future America with massive landscapes, the ultimate of anti-heroes, metaphysical influences jostling with high-technology and a prophecy unfulfilled, and you'd have "East of West". Which now on it's seventh issue, already shows promise as being the book of the year. Brian K. Vaughn who many of you know from his lengthy post-Societal Collapse gender-epic "Y The Last Man" for the Vertigo imprint is back with a Universe hopping, interspecies love, technocratic, Joss Whedon-like in tone, space "Saga" with award winning artist Fiona Staples. Joe Casey's newest book with Euro comics artist, Piotr Kowalski, depicts a urban megalopolis, where our hero has hung up his mask and cape, retired from public life and adjusting to being a regular citizen in a world of crime, corruption, sin and "Sex". Casey digging deep into some of the costume/play/fetish involved in that world paradoxically juxtaposed with it's puritanical vigilante-ism. For anyone who's ever given thought to the weird, warped world of those who dress up superhero and act out being arbiters of justice, and found it a bit 'off', this one's going to be fun. On a related postmodern tip of examining the superhero genre from a as-yet unexplored angle, Mark Millar has come upon one of his rare quality ideas, that of the next generation of youth. After mom and dad (analogs for Wonder Woman and Superman) have saved the world innumerable times in the 20th Century, what kind of lives could they lead that would possibly compare? Celebrity media events? Charity balls? Fashion shoots? Product endorsements? The superhero youth of today lack their own cause when faced with "Jupiter's Legacy". Frank Quitely illustration work being about 70% of this books euphoria factor. It's been much, much, much too long since we saw the majesty of his art on a semi-monthly basis. If ever there were illustrative/fictional worlds positioned somewhere between Hayao Miyazaki's "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind", Ridley Scott's first "Alien" and (again, here's this point of reference) Jodorowsky's weirdo organic Cabalistic space epics, Brandon Graham and Simon Roy's "Prophet" would be it! Lastly, there's the book that brought me over to Image in the first place. Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips award winning Noir/Detective/Crime/Pulp renditions on "Incognito" and "Criminal" have been further expanded to include Weird Science, Ritualistic Magick and... yeah, well... Nazis, as "Fatale" keeps digging deeper and deeper into the 20th Century's most disturbed and disturbing historic fringes. From Hollywood's underbelly, to the Method Church to corrupt Cops and Mobsters and now back around to Nazi metaphysical divisions and the book's unexpected exploration of the 16th Century and Pioneer era America, they've created a prefect-pitch nightmare of Lovecraftian noir. That these works have all issues from he Image imprint, is both surprising, and welcome. Especially with DC and Marvel in the course of this past year choosing flash-in-the-pan commercial gimmicks and redundant reboots over the benefits of trusting in their creative teams to build substantial storytelling within their fictional universes. Their loss. Readership will go where talent, creativity and the rich rewards of artists who are invested in the depth and value of their work is not only appreciated, but the desired objective. The 'big two' have sacrificed this in a illusory market grab that will temporarily (at best) only reward their pockets. Me? I'm glad to have no part in it at all with the completion of both Jonathan Hickman's familial Cosmic Odyssey spanning the whole Marvel universe and Grant Morrison's seven year plumbing of the depths (and heights) of the world's most popular comic franchise. Thank you Image for boldly stepping into the forum of even higher quality graphic arts storytelling! Your timing has been perfect.

Marvel to reprint Alan Moore & Neil Gaiman's "Miracleman" in 2014



Straight from New York Comic Con! Easily the biggest news in the world of comics in a decade? Two? Marvel will be reprinting Alan Moore and Neil Gaimain's groundbreaking 1980's-90's superhero book, Miracleman in 2014! First published serialized in the pages of the UK's Warrior Magazine, then reprinted in the US via independent publisher Eclipse Comics finally sees the light of day after decades of being relegated to the obscurity of then small print runs and the current labyrinthine legal morass (see below) that it's been mired in since Eclipse's bankruptcy in 1993. The book significant for not only being Moore's first work published stateside concurrently with his run on Swamp Thing for DC at the time, but also Neil Gaiman's 'big break' as it were, after being personally selected by Moore to follow his 16 issue run. Lending the book even greater significance, it is regularly cited as the first postmodern superhero book, all the self-awareness, real-world realism and socio-political consciousness that implies. A startling, inventive approach at the time for it's meta-recycling of the original 'Golden Age' material from the 1950's into a contemporary, epic re-contextualization. Without this book, the ground it broke and the raising of both it's author's profiles within American comics, there might not have been a "Watchmen" or a "Sandman". Certainly not as the late-80's 'British Invasion' and the founding of the Vertigo imprint and the creative revitalization of comics as a medium they enabled. It's that important a comic. What makes this announcement even that much more notable, not only will "Miracleman" be restored from original art negatives, and printed to higher standard than it was originally published, but Neil Gaiman has announced he will complete his then-unfinished story with original artist Mark Buckingham. Ideal points of entry into this work include Julian Darius' meticulously researched "Why Miracleman Matters" and the immensity of his methodical ongoing re-read, analysis and annotations project for SequentialArt. As a companion piece, sci-fi publishing giant TOR, have a series dedicated to the same endeavor, Tim Callahan's The Great Alan Moore Re-Read: "Miracleman" - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3  - Part 4. These both touching on the genuine groundbreaking graphic arts adventure and exercise in narrative innovation more readers will now be able to partake in for the first time in almost two decades!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Claire Denis' new film "Bastards" & Andrei Tarkovsky's "Nostalghia" at Northwest
Film Forum: Nov 15 - 21 | Edward Nikolaevich Artemiev, "Solaris" & The ANS



Two essential pieces of cinema come to Northwest Film Forum this month, the first a classic by a 20th Century master, Andrei Tarkoysky's "Nostalghia", the second a contemporary classic-in-the-making, Claire Denis' "Bastards". Thematically all over the place, from libido monstrosities gone amok, to male camaraderie in the French Foreign Legion, to post-Colonial aftermath in both Africa at at home in modern day Paris, one of the only constants of Denis' filmography is that it all navigates the space between traditional narrative and more structurally adventurous cinema. At times not quite hitting the balance between these two forms, such as 2005's "The Intruder" she just as often nails it in a manner exceeded by few in all of modern filmmaking, like that of 2008's near-masterpiece on class, race, urban life, light and motion that was "35 Shots of Rum". Another constant of her work, one that she shares with the best of her peers, (think Lynch, McQueen, Pen-Ek) is the elliptical nature of it's narrative and visual structure. Looping back on itself, projecting ahead, fusing impression, experience and dream, "Bastards" brings it's audience deep into the nightmare of one family's decomposition from the inside with it's contact with power, corruption and an immoral elite. Making for what Eric Hynes amusingly calls "Family Films of a Very Different Sort", the atmospheres of tension, suspicion and threat alluded to by the trailer are mined to mind-altering effect. This is a film more than just a tale of what Manohla Dargis calls "Families, and Money, With More Than One Complication", and instead a richly atmospheric, complexly structured neo-Noir thriller of the first rate. These themes explored through the abundance of words lavished on and about the film in Nick Pinkerton's Claire Denis interview, Max Nelson's review and Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week pick for Film Comment.



More difficult to codify, the later masterpiece by Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky, probably best known for his mid-period allegorical science fiction films, "Stalker" and "Solaris" the latter a fairly true, yet more yearningly romantic and metaphysical adaptation of the novel by Stanislaw Lem the former's screenplay written by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, loosely based on their novel "Roadside Picnic". But beyond these few genre-film vehicles, Tarkovsky's cinema was a deeply personal exploration of the question of existence itself, from the semi-autobiographical "Mirror" to later works like "Nostalghia" which was made in exile, with Tarkovsky leaving Russia for what he then hoped were more conducive climes for his work in mainland Europe. Even then the Soviet influence was strong on his work, most apparent in 1983 when "Nostalghia" premiered at Cannes, Soviet authorities prevented the film from winning the Palme d'Or, the Cannes committee in response awarding the work both Best Director and the FIPRESCI Prize. Tarkovsky's later-life battle with these influences, even in exile, documented in Peter Lang's "Border Crossings: Mapping Identities in Modern Europe". This new restored print thanks to Kino Lorber screening to great praise in last year's New York Film Festival 50th Anniversary Retrospective and earlier this year as part of BAM Cinématek's Russian Cinema Now series. An overview of his films defining role in modern cinema and the indelible effect of these works probably best conveyed by Senses of Cinema's Great Director's feature on Tarkovsky. For those looking to explore his work further, the Nostalghia site hosted by the University of Calgary being one of the deepest and most well-maintained archive of essays, images, criticism and related media to the the Russian director's work. And with Kino, Criterion and Artificial Eye seemingly in competitive overdrive to release, refurbish and represent his staggering decades-defining works, this is a very good time to discover these films indeed. Criterion also playing host to a series of essays by some of the world's foremost film critics, including Phillip Lopate's "Solaris: Inner Space", J.Hoberman on Andrei Rublev and Dina Iordanova's, "Ivan’s Childhood: Dream Come True". The new century also seeing a number of significant works in print related to the Russian auteur, Black Dog Publishing's substantial "Tarkovsky" and more recently the hauntingly beautiful collected Polaroid work of the director himself, Thames & Hudson's "Instant Light: Tarkovsky Polaroids".  Image, space, time and narrative making up the larger substance of the body of Tarkovsky's work, but their distinct audio design, aural atmosphere and soundtrack scores are essential, defining elements of the whole. Almost exclusively composed and designed by Edward Artemiev and sometimes collaborator Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, one of their most memorable works, that of the "Solaris" score, constructed on the technological/cultural obscurity that is Evgeny Murzin's ANS Synthesizer. Currently housed in the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture Moscow, this Photoelectrichesky Sintezator Muziki named after Murzin's favorite composer, Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin even among the rare and few ‘graphical sound’ synthesizers built in the 20th Century, the ANS is a genuine one-of-a-kind... or more accurately, one of two-of-a-kind. There's no better a overview on it's wonders, creative history and strikingly anomalous nature than Max Cole's piece of last year, "Synth-Aesthesia: Soviet Synths And The ANS". This Fall sees the first-ever official sanctioned release of the "Solaris" score on LP in the west. Sourced from the original masters and authorized by the estate and Tarkovsky's son, on the justly-named Superior Viaduct label.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Tim Hecker & Christopher Bissonnette Immersound_SEA at Chapel Performance Space: Nov 8 | Morton Subotnick & Lillevan perform "From Silver Apples of the Moon to a Sky of Cloudless Sulphur" at Town Hall: Nov 9



What will likely be some of the music/live highlights of the year, the second weekend in November features performances by Canada's electronics and electric guitar noise sculptor, Tim Hecker and mid-Century early electronic composer Morton Subotnick. Both making 'immersion' the focus of their live actualizations, more than just a conceptual statement of intent with the work, they will both feature live multi-channel surround sound mixes of their works. The host for Seattle's Christopher Bissonnette and Tim Hecker installment in the Immersound series, Montreal's Shibui-Oto collective will be presenting the night's work in 6.1 surround, their philosophy of designing experiential spaces and environs described in the Immersound mission statement. This approach will particularly benefit Tim Hecker's newest, "Virgins" realized with a larger ensemble of performers, including Iceland's Ben Frost over the course of multiple recording sessions, it's a torrential, squal of mangled, multitude of disembodied instrumental voices, which should be made that much more outstanding in a multi-channel context.



Of even greater cultural/historic significance, Morton Subotnick's contribution to early electronic music, almost exclusively for/with the Buchla Electronic Musical Instrument designed by Don Buchla for the San Francisco Tape Music Center was cemented with his seminal 1967 piece "Silver Apples of the Moon" and later pieces like 1978's, "A Sky of Cloudless Sulfur". The exception to much electronic music at the time, which was predominantly composed from Musique Concrete tape-manipulated sounds and Sine-wave generators, Subotnick was among the first to work in the real of pure electronic sounds. For deeper reading on the context, time and technology, RBMA's Key Tracks feature by Subotnick himself goes some way to describe the projection of future forms and and the invention of the technology of their creation at San Francisco Tape Music Center and contemporaries at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. For Seattle's performance at Town Hall he presents the same hybrid of these two works as seen at Unsound Festival in 2011. A multimedia collaboration with media artist Lillevan "From Silver Apples of the Moon to a Sky of Cloudless Sulphur" was not only a highlight of that year's festival, but I'd say up there somewhere in the totality of my personal experience with live audio-visual performance. Both immersive and environmental as well as bracingly dynamic and visceral, it is one of those rare synergies of sound and image that create a complete sensory experience, one that's as 'of it's time' as it is startlingly contemporary.
Photo credit: Adam Kissick