Sunday, August 24, 2014
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 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, producing a mutagenic hybrid 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
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
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
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
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
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
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".
Sunday, July 20, 2014
Reports from Cannes by the esteemed Nick James, Amy Taubin, Gavin Smith, Dennis Lim, Nicholas Rapold and Kent Jones in the pages of Film Comment and Sight & Sound have begun to see print this month, fueling curiosity and stoking anticipation! As with ever year the festival played host to new works by some of the worlds greatest cinematic orchestrators of shock, beauty, subtle entrancement, rapture and genre-transcendence. This year's Cannes Award Winners featuring returns to form and/or subject matter from the last few decade's greats, adventurous new directions from old pros, enfant terrible's return to do their thing stirring up the critics and other directors alike, and surprising genre pics from the fringes of independent cinema. A bounty to be found in doing reading on the festival in the pages of the above institutions. The abundance of curious and atypical works suggests there are some major surprises to be had in the theater stateside in the coming year.
Covering the stupendous new 3-D reinvention of cinema itself, Jean-Luc Godard’s "Goodbye to Language" being the foremost in all the critic's picks, each and every one of the overviews above beginning with extended interpretations of it's technique and narrative concerns and without exception it's said "Sunny Cannes Gets Lightning: Godard’s ‘Goodbye to Language’ Enlivens Festival". Godard’s Jury Prize winning experiment may not be quite so epoch-making as the Duchamp work it references, but it situates him firmly, almost 65 years since his first short, within the tradition of artistic provocateur even more than it recalls his beginnings. The Palme d'Or this year went to a director who has been on the rise and rise for a decade now, so no surprise to see Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Winter Sleep" receiving the world's most prestigious cinema award. His darkness of winter Turkish stove-side epic is full of philosophic musings spun in Chekhovian fashion – especially Haluk Bilginer as the former actor turned hotelier trying to reconcile himself to old age. Awards-wise there was also Alice Rohrwacher's Grand Prix winning tale of an Italian beekeeping family, "The Wonders", (bringing to mind another great piece of familial, beekeeping Spanish cinema of decades past), held it's mysterious charms close to it's intimate core.
The film that many felt Marion Cotillard should have won best actress for, the newest exacting drama from Dardenne Brothers "Two Days, One Night", Cotillard taking on a smaller, more subtle role than her recent string of blockbuster appearances, as a woman recovering from depression conveyed in the most minimal of gestures. The best actress award instead going to Julianne Moore for her role in David Cronenberg's exploration of the hollow spaces of celebrity, ego and feel-good guru-ism, his "Maps to the Stars" a horror show at the borderline of narcissism and psychosis, ie; Hollywood. Another divisive film with a powerful central role, Olivier Assayas’ "Clouds of Sils Maria" features Juliette Binoche offering one of her most nuanced roles in recent years. Binoche, apparently brilliant in her unnerving portrayal of the psyche's refusal to accept the aging of the body. Other contenders for the Jury Prize were Michel Hazanavicius's remake of the 1948 wartime melodrama "The Search" and Naomi Kawase’s melancholic teen drama, "Still the Water". July Jung's "A Girl At My Door" received superior reviews for it's depiction of a adolescence in ruin and withdrawal. Charming all those that saw it for it's non-human protagonist, Kornél Mundruczó's "White God" is decidedly not a "Babe"-style family flick, but instead apocalyptic misadventures of a Jekyll-and-Hyde dog in an allegorical tale of revolt.
An auteur who's work apparently pushed Nuri Bilge Ceylan to the wire, offering serious competition for the Palme' Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Leviathan" took away the best screenplay prize for his weighty and damning fable of contemporary provincial Russia. It's being said that Bennett Miller’s best director prize for "Foxcatcher" was won almost exclusively for the performances he coaxed from his leads, as were the charms of Mathieu Amalric's darkly erotic adaption of a Simenon murder mystery, "The Blue Room". Another feature that was powerfully actor-driven, Mike Leigh’s "Mr. Turner" biopic of the great Romantic painter is a wickedly gruff late-life tragicomedy and class critique. The Argentinian director of the glacial and expansive, Lisandro Alonso's films are predominantly wordless, allowing the physical journeys of his protagonists and the terrain they travel through to hypnotically evolve over lengthy stretches. It seems an ideal confluence of style and theme that his "Jauja" is as much a 19th Century quest for a runaway daughter as it is a mythological land of abundance. Abderrahmane Sissako's elegant refutation of fundamentalist Islam, "Timbuktu" has been described as poetic as it is brutal, and many of the festival's attendees bemoaned it not taking away the festival's major prizes for it's eloquent, complex and even compassionate accusation.
Wem Wenders returns with a new documentary exploring forty years in the life of photographer Sebastião Salgado and his traveling of the continents of the world, depicting an ever-changing humanity, "The Salt of the Earth". Another return for that most disciplined of documentarians, Frederick Wiseman is back with his observational remove focused on "National Gallery", paying tribute to the gallery’s technical prowess and craftsmanship, interestingly, the private preservation scenes yielding as much information as the public lectures that punctuate it. Cannes also offered genre treats in the form of Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata's "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya", Takahata taking on the traditional Japanese folktale of an ethereal offspring born of bamboo, and her waning in the feudal caste environs of her new human home. Rendered in a lush watercolor palette, it's stylistic distinction sets it apart from much of the studio's recent output. There was also quality science fiction to be had in David Michod's Australian outback set, "The Rover". Michod's desolate chase thriller puts a post-apocalyptic spin on his exploration of violent masculinity and is one of the few films of the fest currently playing in US theaters. Horror was also represented by David Robert Mitchell’s tail-chasing nightmare, "It Follows", which proved to be both smarter than you’d think – and a good bit more terrifying than festival-goers expected. Reports from the festival unanimously conveying that Mitchell collectively transported an entire roomful of viewers into a parallel (tension-filled, anxiety-ridden) world of the filmmaker’s imagination. Whether it be Godard in 3-D or American Independent Horror, what greater feat than that could be asked of any work of cinema?
Saturday, July 12, 2014
David Lynch and Mark Frost's "Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery" released on Blu-Ray: Jul 29 | 22nd Annual Twin Peaks Festival: Aug 1 - 3 | "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" at Seattle Art Museum: Jul 31
For those that read the initial reviews of "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" at Cannes in 1992, and found that we were to get a significantly truncated cut of the film in theaters stateside, the decades-long wait to has come to a close. Years since David Lynch made clear his intentions to release a significant amount of deleted scenes from the film this past May it was announced that the entire series and 90 minutes of previously unseen footage from the former will be given a hi-definition restoration and transfer packaged together as "Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery". Not only revealing the larger world of Twin Peaks cut from the cinema prequel to the series, it promises to present facets of the series and promotional content never before seen, the contents of which obsessively documented by Nick Newman in his piece for FilmStage, "Twin Peaks’ Reborn With David Lynch-Approved Blu-ray Box Set". Though 'Booed at Cannes' and the target of frustrated Twin Peaks fans and critics who almost universally were expecting a continuation of the series' quirky balance of small town rural oddity, the film has since gained a reevaluation with context and distance, with pieces like Calum Marsh's "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me Is David Lynch's Masterpiece", increasingly more common.
I for one found it at the time of it's release to be the metaphorical icing on the cake. Though not the theatrical epilogue to the series that many of us hoped for, on the big screen it watched like a more pure condensation of Lynch and Frost's central themes unadulterated by willfully eccentric surrealism and quirky intrusions from awww-shucksville. With the film we got back to the essence of the story's concerns after the series' meandering half-season of guest directors and their poor attempts at aping all things Lynchian. (Tim Hunter of "River's Edge" fame was a nice exception within all of that, his episodes still hit the right notes and dig deeper into the heart of the world Frost/Lynch created). Hunter aside though, it's only the Frost/Lynch episodes that really catch the spirit of the series and it's magic-in-a-bottle concoction of mystery, melodrama, myth, ambiance and tone. It's truncation due to ABC's cancellation and Lynch's hurried reconciliation of the series in two episodes is still as abstract, brutal, emotionally dissociative and heartbreaking to watch as it was over two decades ago. The film acting as a reconciliation of sorts to the abrupt and dramatically tragic series' end. For it's 20th anniversary, Alex Pappademas of Grantland returned to the prequel with fresh eyes and decades distance and finds it less a departure, and more true to what David's cinematic world and it's concerns are really about, making for an, "Anatomy of a Fascinating Disaster: Fire Walk With Me".
The release of these new restorations coinciding with this year's 22nd annual Twin Peaks Festival, held as it is every year since 1993 at the locations featured most in the series itself, the towns of North Bend and Snoqualmie. The three days of the festival consisting of the annual movie night, site tours and celebrity dinner and Q&A with select members of the series' cast and creators. For this year's iteration guests include; Sherilyn Fenn (Audrey Horne), Jennifer Lynch (author of the Secret Diary of Laura Palmer), Chris Mulkey (Hank Jennings), James Marshall (James Hurley), Kimmy Robertson (Lucy Moran), Wendy Robie (Nadine Hurley) and Charlotte Stewart (Betty Briggs), with the annual tradition of surprise guests (past years have included Ray Wise and co-writer Bob Engels). And inaugurating the festival as they do every year the Seattle Art Museum hosts their Lynch-themed night, "Twin Peaks/David Lynch: Coffee, Cherry Pie & The Dark Night of the Soul" with a screening of the new hi-definition print of the feature length film!
Sunday, July 6, 2014
For the fourth year in a row, Seattle plays host to this literally exceptional, four day mini-festival (three nights of performances, and a unique two day field recording workshop and retreat conducted by Mountains' Koen Holtkamp) of precisely curated sounds by Rafael Anton Irisarri. Sounds spanning the heavier and more substantial end (being the Sub in question) of the ambient, neoclassical, psych, electronic, immersive-avant spectrum. Held in an intimate setting with a explicit audience in attendance (no loud rock bar and hangers-on here) and a dedicated sound engineer. Exactly as a festival of these sounds, with the corresponding audience and venue should be curated, hosted and assembled. Substrata also bringing together in their annual catalog associated aesthetics, visual art, theory and photography. This year's festival playing host to: Mika Vainio - Julia Kent - Koen Holtkamp - Sanso-Xtro - Markus Güntner - Evan Caminiti - Mamiffer - Carl Hultgren - Anticipating this year's iteration will be as memorable as those that proceeded it!
From the Substrata site: "Substrata 1.4 is the 4th edition of Seattle’s intimate sound and visual art weekend happening July 17 – 20, 2014. "At its nucleus: an all-ages live performance program, workshop, and field recording trip within the beautiful Cascade region of the Pacific Northwest. The idea behind Substrata is to explore varying perspectives of scale though the use of sound, composition and visuals. It features three live performance showcases featuring accomplished and internationally renowned artists working within the cutting edge where structural abstraction meets physical dynamics. The performance program focuses on live electronic music: applying technology to a concert setting while incorporating traditional and non-traditional instruments. The workshop explores dilemmas within the sound arts community; the field trip engages participants and performing artists in deep listening exercises and mobile recording on site."
"Our goal is to create an immersive weekend experience that engages the audience in a dialog with the artists that goes beyond the constrains of traditional performer/listener interactions. Each showcase is curated to distinctly portrait different takes of the potency of minimalism, varying between weighty combinations of tonalities used to sculpt out atmospheric ambiance, or powerful dynamic structures made up of the subtlest filigree of sonic building materials. By creating compositional spaces dealing with a sense of mass, along with openness of structure, the perspective of scale and the listener’s place in relation is shifted to allow for greater a sense of place beyond the environ of the performance in the interplay of the moment and physics of the larger world. In all, Substrata is an event that fosters appreciation for our natural surroundings and creates meaningful interaction between artists/participants while exploring a new locality."
Saturday, July 5, 2014
'Recent Raves' by Jonathan Glazer, Jim Jarmusch, Errol Morris, Godfrey Reggio & Steven Knight at SIFF Cinema: Jun 30 - Aug 4
Easily the best thing SIFF has going for it outside of the festival, it's previous season featuring much of this year's finest cinema. This Monday night series of encore single-screenings has been reinstated after a brief hiatus! So far, the first month of listings on the new calendar of Recent Raves looks to be starting things off stellarly. Opening the series we have Jonathan Glazer's brilliant, austere sci-fi road movie exploration of human nature as seen through the gaze of the other, "Under the Skin". Which Jonathan Romney in Film Comment's Film of the Week review hailed as; "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 this British director. "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." Further reading in the New York Times (which reveals much, and is recommended only after viewing) would include 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 vision.
Another near-unmissable moment from the past year in film, the return of one of Jim Jarmusch's finest works in recent history, "Only Lovers Left Alive" which rather than a prototypical vampire flick is instead an observation on the greatness of human imagination through the aeons. Jarmusch speaks enthusiastically in the in-depth interview with Sight & Sound's Nick Pinkerton on the premise of being an eternal vampire; living a life in which one has all that time to read every book ever written, listen to every great record ever made and seeing all the films we can never hope to squeeze into a human lifetime, while endlessly traveling the world. The conversation also touching on his current obsessions and passions, which include Nicholas Ray, Nikola Tesla, Tangiers, Christopher Marlowe and whether or not a certain William Shakespeare was all he’s been claimed.
On the analytical real-world end of the spectrum, America's great objective documentarist Errol Morris offers a methodical self-revealing portrait of Donald Rumsfeld. The film's title being a nod to our nation's rush to war in the wake of September 11th and the following use of knowingly questionable intelligence to justify the cost to America in lives and resources, "The Unknown Known". Filled with paradoxes, quibbling definitions and semantics, as with much of his work, Morris allows his subject to reveal itself rather than take an accusatory stance. As the camera prowls through seemingly endless library stacks of files and typewritten words and memos coming back to the defining theme of it's title phrase "The Unknown Known": those things that are readily apparent yet not acknowledged. Jennifer Dworkin's review for Film Comment focuses on it's subject's depiction of itself; does Rumsfeld really believe what he says, or as it seems on the screen, does he genuinely lack all reflective ability?. The absence of evidence of any such capacity may not be evidence of its absence. The film leaves the question open while digging into something stranger: Rumsfeld’s extraordinary and profound indifference to his own credibility.
In spaces between the asceticism of pure documentary and more artistic visual essay, Godfrey Reggio's ongoing collaboration with Philip Glass is a black and white meditation comprised of only seventy-four shots of faces, hands and landscapes, suggesting our changing relationship to our environment, one which is increasingly being mediated by technological interface, "Visitors". With no overall narrative arc to imagery that might be described as a very sophisticated Rorschach test with an environmentalist subtext, the poeticism of duration and unfolding that it allows makes this is one of the more successful of Reggio's recent social, ecological, political observations. Stephen Holden describes this "slow parade of faces" as menacing rebuke to our noblest technological aspirations in his review for the New York Times. Lastly, a film that delivers more than it's central structural conceit would suggest, Steven Knight's depiction of a night in one man's life as events unhinge themselves in chain reaction of collapse. Depicted in real-time and almost exclusively shot in the interior of an automobile, the audience is in for the longhaul as "Locke"'s life becomes a 85 minute focused struggle against entropy. Making the viewer play passenger as it's protagonist drives toward a terminus revealed gradually through a succession of phone conversations with various alternately aloof and loquacious relatives, deeply disturbed co-workers and a panicked mysterious woman. All the makings and trappings (in a confined space) of Noir on the road.