Sunday, May 10, 2015

Seattle International Film Festival: May 14 - Jun 7




It's that time of the year again! SIFF once again arrives bringing a spectrum of cinema from across the world. This year, like the string of years since 2008, sees a qualitative diversity-dip in the percentage of foreign cinema, arthouse, auteur and all things challenging, cutting edge, progressive or adventurous. These were content agendas that once had prominence within the festival, making it of a caliber to challenge Toronto and New York. Those times, I fear, are officially over. That said, this year's fest isn't as painfully ommissive as 2011 or 2010 for that matter. We saw a period of relief from the lackluster programming described above which waned a bit in 2012 and 2013 suggesting a further trend in that direction. For last year's festival, their 40th Anniversary was celebrated with what seemed to be a renewed vision as their strongest programming in almost a decade. Nonetheless this year we're again seeing that same glut of middle-ground contemporary romances, clever quirky dramas for the sub-Sundance sect and a lot of filler seemingly there to entice some imagined Northwest demographic out of their Bellevue hobbles and inner-city condos.

By way of example, two west coast festivals that have produced smaller, yet significantly more qualitative festivals have established a standard that can clearly be seen from year to year. The San Francisco International Film Festival concluding just this week features not only a diverse body of work, ranging from commercial entertainment to the experimental, embracing both award winning auteur works, genre film and potential indie breakouts. A cross section of the programming can be seen in their selection of Dietrich Brüggemann's award winning "Stations of the Cross", Tsui Hark's martial arts adventure, "The Taking of Tiger Mountain", another award winning and critically lauded festival highlight in Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's "The Tribe", the rising star of Alice Rohrwacher and her most recent, "The Wonders", visual and comic artist Dave McKean's second directorial effort, "Luna", Sergei Loznitsa's highly priased documentary, "Maidan" and extreme Asian cinema is represented with Tetsuya Nakashima's "The World of Kanako". Our neighboring city to the south, though smaller in scale and less urban in some sense, has a strong showing in their Portland International Film Festival again this year. It should be established that with each of them concluding some time before, the content of in each of these festivals was made available to the programming directors at SIFF. They simply made choices otherwise. Which begs the question, what kind of thinking is behind choosing to not program something like Pedro Costa's Film Comment and Sight & Sound year-end charting, "Horse Money"? Or thrilling documentary insights into modern China like J.P. Snaidecki's "The Iron Ministry"? Smaller, developing directors and fringe cinema is also represented in PIFF with works like Tudor Christian Jurgiu's "The Japanese Dog", Mipo O's "The Light Shines Only There" and Nghiem-Minh Nguyen-Vo's "Nuoc 2030". Both producing festivals of a caliber that SIFF has seemingly un-learned as they continue to go astray of the kind of vanguard seen in the international festival circuit of our neighboring cities.

But there remains a handful of legitimate, original, challenging, crafted cinema to be found in here too. Seattle International Film Festival in the past has existed as a focal-point of visionary cinema curatorialship, with the resources, funds and legacy to be hugely influential. This year I found some 15 or so films of interest, curiosity or gravitas that I plan to attend, running the spectrum from directors of note, archival restorations and new developing artists. As a consequence the majority of the titles listed below are simply films of curiosity, rather than considered essential viewing. Not the least compelling year on record, but not one even approaching the par established with SIFF's own stellar run spanning the decade of 1997-2007. I continue to be enthused about their home at the SIFF Cinema Uptown and expanded screens between the newly acquired SIFF Cinema Egyptian and Film Center. Their curation for these year-round venues has exhibited the scope of SIFF, with this year's Recent Raves series suggesting a visionary path forward for the cinema. Unfortunately the 41st Seattle International Film Festival doesn't continue this high standard.

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Saturday, May 16
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10:00 AM - Hiromasa Yonebayashi "When Marnie Was There"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
WHEN0516

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26797


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Saturday, May 16
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12:30 PM - Emeric Pressburger & Michael Powell "The Red Shoes"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
REDS0516

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26798

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Saturday, May 16
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6:00 PM -  Setsuro Wakamatsu "Snow on the Blades"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
SNOW0516

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Saturday, May 16
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9:30 PM - François Ozon "The New Girlfriend"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
NEWG0516

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26801

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Saturday, May 16
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12:00 AM - Corin Hardy "The Hallow"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
HALL0516

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Sunday, May 17
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4:30 PM - James Benning "Natural History"
SIFF Film Center Festival
NATU0517

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Sunday, May 17
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7:00 PM - Bill Morrison "Beyond Zero: 1914-1918"
SIFF Film Center Festival
BEYO0517

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27335

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Monday, May 18
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7:00 PM - James Whale "The Old Dark House"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
OLDD0518

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26808

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Monday, May 18
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7:00 PM - Yukun Xin "The Coffin in the Mountain"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
COFF0518

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26974


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Tuesday, May 19
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9:30 PM - Esteban Roel & Juanfer Andrés "Shrew's Nest"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
SHRE0519

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27196

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Wednesday, May 20
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7:00 PM - Sergey Parajanov "The Color of the Pomegranates"
Harvard Exit
COLO0520

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26899

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Thursday, May 21
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4:30 PM - Kutluğ Ataman "The Lamb"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
LAMB0521

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26816

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Thursday, May 21
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9:30 PM - Joshua Oppenheimer "The Look of Silence"
Harvard Exit
LOOK0521

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26902

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Friday, May 22
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6:30 PM - György Pálfi "Free Fall"
Harvard Exit
FREE0522

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Friday, May 22
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7:00 PM - Oren Moverman "Time Out of Mind"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
TIME0522

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26986


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Friday, May 22
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12:00 AM - Rodney Ascher "The Nightmare"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
NIGH0522

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26822

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Saturday, May 23
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11:00 AM - David Gordon Green "Manglehorn"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
MANG0523

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26826

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Saturday, May 23
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1:15 PM - Christian Braad Thomsen "Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands"
Harvard Exit
FASS0523

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26906

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Saturday, May 23
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5:30 PM - Matthias Bittner "War of Lies"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
WARO0523

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27063

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Saturday, May 23
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8:00 PM - Szabolcs Hadju "Mirage"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
MIRA0523

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27132


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Saturday, May 23
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9:45 PM - Fabrice Du Welz  "Alleluia"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
ALLE0523

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26827

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Sunday, May 24
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11:00 AM - Satyajit Ray - The Apu Trilogy  "Song of the Little Road"
2:00 PM - Satyajit Ray - The Apu Trilogy  "The Unvanquished"
4:30 PM - Satyajit Ray - The Apu Trilogy  "The World of Apu"
AMC Pacific Place 11
SONG0524 / UNVA0524 / WORL0524

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27218
http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27219
http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27220

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Sunday, May 24
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9:15 PM - Alan Mak & Felix Chong "Overheard"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
OVER0524

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26832

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Sunday, May 24
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12:00 AM - Craig Denney "The Astrologer"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
ASTR0524

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26833

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Monday, May 25
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9:30 PM - Shim Sung-bo "Haemoo"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
HAEM0525

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27369

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Thursday, May 28
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4:00 PM - Daniel Garcia & Rania Attieh "H."
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
HHHH0528

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26996


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Thursday, May 28
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6:00 PM - Robert Siodmak "The Dark Mirror"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
DARK0528

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26991

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Thursday, May 28
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8:00 PM - Max Ophüls "Caught"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
CAUG0528

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26992


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Friday, May 29
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9:30 PM - Lee Kwang-kuk "A Matter of Interpretation"
Harvard Exit
MATT0529

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26929


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Saturday, May 30
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9:45 PM - Anucha Boonyawatana "The Blue Hour"
Harvard Exit
BLUE0530

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26934

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Sunday, May 31
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12:00 PM - Chad Gracia "The Russian Woodpecker"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
RUSS0531

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27083


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Sunday, May 31
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7:15 PM - Christian Petzold "Phoenix"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
PHOE0531

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26858

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Sunday, May 31
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8:30 PM - Batin Ghobadi "Mardan"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
MARD0531

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27157

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Monday, June 01
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7:00 PM - Ousmane Sembène "Black Girl"
Harvard Exit
BLACG0601

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26941


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Tuesday, June 02
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4:00 PM - Matthew Heineman "Cartel Land"
Harvard Exit
CART0602

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27133

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Tuesday, June 02
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9:15 PM - John Pirozzi "Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
DONT0602

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27015

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Wednesday, June 03
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6:30 PM Pan Si Dong "Cave of the Spider Women"
7:30 PM - Ho Meng Hua "Cave of the Silken Web"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
CAVE0603

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27094

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Wednesday, June 03
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9:30 PM - Fatih Akin "The Cut"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
CUTT0603

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26867

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Friday, June 05
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7:00 PM - Naoki Kato "2045 Carnival Folklore"
SIFF Film Center Festival
20450605

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27327

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Friday, June 05
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7:00 PM - Crystal Moselle "The Wolfpack"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
WOLF0605

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26871


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Saturday, June 06
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9:30 PM - Jonas Arnby "When Animals Dream"
Harvard Exit
WHEN0606

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=26978

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Sunday, June 07
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12:00 PM - Hao Zhou "The Chinese Mayor"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
CHIN0607

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27107


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Sunday, June 07
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2:30 PM - Sergei Eisenstein "Que Viva Mexico"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
QUEV0607

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27103

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Sunday, June 07
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5:00 PM - Peter Greenaway "Eisenstein in Guanajuato"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
EISE0607

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27031

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Sunday, June 07
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8:45 PM - Alberto Rodríguez "Marshland"
SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
MARS0607

http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=345&id=27271


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Chiho Aoshima's "Rebirth of the World" at Seattle Asian Art Museum: May 2 - Oct 4 | "Classic French Film Noir: Honor Among Thieves" at Seattle Art Musuem: Apr 2 - May 21



The Japanese urban art underground finally hit the larger US museum-going audience and critical regard with exhibits throughout the mid-2000's assembled by the KaiKai KiKi collective and it's cultural figurehead, Takashi Murakami. Who's "Little Boy: The Art of Japan's Exploding Subculture” exhibit and and more recently the Brooklyn Art Museum's “©Murakami” retrospective covered in the New York Times "Watch Out, Warhol, Here’s Japanese Shock Pop", that brought Japan's Otaku-generation anime, design, sculpture, video art to a larger western audience. But it was the proceeding "SuperFlat" touring exhibit that introduced many people to the blissfully macabre transposition of dream and waking world seen in the vibrant surrealistic work of another KaiKai KiKi member, Chiho Aoshima. Her large scale murals and video pieces exhibited a enraptured contradiction in palette, style and subject matter the Los Angeles Times called, "Chiho Aoshima: At Once Childlike and Monstrous". For those who missed it at the time, a decade later her jubilant psychedelia has returned to Seattle for the Asian Art Museum's exhibit, "Rebirth of the World".

Seattle Art Museum's cinema programming also deserves a mention, as this past season's calendar has been filled with quality repertory and archival works, beginning with a series by one of the defining voices of Italian neo-Realism, "Blowing Up Cinema: The Art of Michelangelo Antonioni". Including the masterful existential puzzlework of "L'Eclipse", the urban feminism of "Le Amiche", the part murder mystery, part postmodern gender commentary classic "Blow Up", another great classic in the form of the tragically hip, haunting observation on the modern disaffected and shattered romances, "L'Avventura" and the surrealistic experimental narrative of alienation and unease set against France's modernist industrial landscapes, "Red Sands". Concurrently SAM has also been running a "Classic French Film Noir: Honor Among Thieves" series, often starring the ineffable cool of Jean Gabin, in seminal genre establishing, and even later color neo-Noir by many of the great names who worked in the style, including Jacques Becker, Louis Malle, Jean Becker, François Truffaut and the master of them all, Jean-Pierre Melville. The nine titles in the series spanning almost four decades of cinema from the genre, "Golden Marie", "Honor Among Thieves", "Bob the Gambler", "Elevator to the Gallows", "The Finger Man", "Army of Shadows", "Le Cercle Rouge", "One Deadly Summer" and "Confidentially Yours".

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Peter Brötzmann with Hamid Drake & William Parker at Seattle Art Museum: May 13



One of towering figures of the post-BeBop Jazz landscape, the 'saxophone colossus' Peter Brötzmann, who graced cover of the The Wire twice last year with a series of bold and impassioned interviews as well as a Primer for the magazine, is back at Seattle Art Museum with two other major players in modern Jazz. The legendary percussionist for many of the groundbreaking albums of the last four decades, Hamid Drake, and upright bassist and Jazz polymath, William Parker as part of Earshot Jazz' excellent Spring season programming. An ideal introduction to the man and his work can be had in Bernard Josse's, "Soldier of the Road" on Peter Brötzmann and his role as a pivotal figure in shaping the contemporary Euro Free Jazz scene. It does exactly what a music docu should do; iterate the cultural/political context that gave birth to he movement, explore it's various philosophies, depict the movement's cast of major players and show them in action. Namely Brötzmann with a rotating cast spanning half a century of players and collaborators. From his accounting his earliest childhood memories of German occupied Prussia and then Russian occupied Prussia and at a young teenage year, realizing his love of art stemming from a freedom that opposed the Nationalism and Fascism that inspired the war. Later to his taking up the Clarinet and painting and packing himself off to art school... only to land right in the middle of the BeBop and Hard Bop scene and then later at the vanguard of the Free Jazz movement.

And then the 60's hit and there's not only players on both sides of the Atlantic, but audiences and collaborators from England, to France to Belgium to Germany and a inquisitive young audience, who might not necessarily 'get it' but are looking for the unheard and the liberating. Ad to that the corresponding movements in the visual arts, notably Fluxus and Brötzmann is right there in the fray of things making a strong connection with the ethos of the movement. From the Punk Rock noise and fury of the Machine Gun albums to the equally powerful 80's lineup that was Last Exit to his later years, still as fiery, still as invested, still blasting away on his horn. But as the documentary depicts, with an equilibrium tempered by his lifelong love of walks in nature, photography, botany and his deep passion for isolated individual time in the studio working on graphic works and abstract landscape painting very much of the German Neo-Expressionist school. All of this balanced with time spent touring and collaborating with some of the fieriest, loudest, most dynamic and adventurous players in the world; Evan Parker, Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark, Fred Van Hove, Paal Nilsen-Love, Joe McPhee, Michael Wertmüller, Michael Zerang, Johannes Bauer... most of whom now make up Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet. This is how one weathers decades, becomes all bearded and grey and remains a fiery passion with depths of deep contemplation and at the front of a vanguard most of the world can't even begin to approach. As a live, physical, auditory performance he transcends all the words said and written above. By far.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Liturgy's new album "The Art Work" & US Tour with Lightning Bolt: Apr 15 - May 18



Many of us will remember the Lightning Bolt tours of the early and mid-2000's where their particular frenetic performative driving percussion and eruptive guitar were on manic display. Shows that not only spilled off the stage, invading the dancefloor, bathrooms, hallways and in the case of the No Gallery performance here in Seattle back in 2003 taking over a one block area of Capitol Hill until the police arrived. Throughout the 2000's they became something of an 'event' band operating on their own terms; made records when they wanted to and continued a almost situationist refusal to perform on any traditional stage or platform (with all the greatness and disasters that entailed). The inside perspective on their methodology and independently defined performance ethic offered by frontman Brian Chippendale's discussion with The Quietus, "Lightning Bolt Interview: Earthly Delights & The Quest For The Mask". This April and May they're back to tour with their most recent manifestation of hyperfrenetic mania, "Fantasy Empire" displaying the same human tornado frisson and impact, but with a more detailed, tooled  musicianship. It's less a fiery blur and more a detailed depiction of explosive aggression. The near-perfect bill of them and fellow Thrill Jockey artists led by Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, the frontman and “dogma director” of transcendental black metal band Liturgy who's vein of ultra-mathy brutalist rock that resembles little else in a genre than continues to expand beyond it's Black Metal origins. Liturgy occupying a far-flung branch of a growing international heavier school of blackness that Brad Sanders detailed in his piece for The Quietus. The article acting as an excellent opening unto the dark passageways of this genre's growing stylistic variances. Their music deeply invested in aesthetics and a philosophical, sensorial agenda, it's a rare form of metal that the Brooklyn-based band conveys through "Moral & Aesthetic Truths: An Interview With Liturgy". Their most recent, literally titled, "The Art Work" they've produced their most explicit representation of these ideas in action, making for a divisive work that has polarized the underground metal world. With it's dragging, rough and deeply ur-human guttural qualities the album is brought to life through vocal chants entrenched in stylistic references stemming from a myriad of genres. Combined with their straining, arduously orchestrated guitar work, the density of the textures and grandeur of it all verges on the exhausting. Live it should be oppressive in the best possible way.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lisandro Alonso's new film "Jauja" at Northwest Film Forum: Apr 17 - 23



Seattle has had the fortune of hosting rare screenings of Lisandro Alonso not only in the festival circuit, but a workshop and complete retrospective of the director's work, "At the Edge of the World: The Cinema of Lisandro Alonso" during his residency at Northwest Film Forum in 2009. In a series of interviews with Senses of Cinema, Alonso discusses his way of looking at and framing the world -- the physical nature of time and characters that inhabit it -- on the screen in a way that favors the enveloping integrity of the environment and the immediacy of moments within. Ranked in Sight & Sound's year-end poll, "Jauja" which opens next week at Northwest Film Forum not only features the unlikely paring of the producer and star power of Viggo Mortensen, but the 19th Century period setting in the aftermath of the Conquest of the Desert of the 1870's during which the Argentinean army attempted to drive all indigenous peoples out of Patagonia. Mortensen playing the Danish military engineer Gunnar Dinesen in search of his runaway daughter, making "Jauja,’ a Desperate Odyssey in the Argentine Desert". Ostensibly the film's premise has parallels with Joseph Conrad's "Nostromo" in it's associations of imperialism, place and setting and John Ford's "The Searchers" in it's commentary on conquest and xenophobia. In a sly nod of recognition, Alonso's discussion with Senses of Cinema asks "'Who’s John Ford?': An Interview with Lisandro Alonso". More than just a quest for his daughter and her disappearance into the landscape, Film Comment's interview and film of the week review, "Into the Unknown: Lisandro Alonso Travels Back in Time to Find a Way Forward with Jauja" places time as integral to the texture and force of the film. And as it progresses, by increments "Jauja" gradually shifts emphasis as Dinesen advances up the mountain, from the historical to the mythical to the Oneiric. Journeying into a space which is maddeningly impassable to a man of his logical mind; riding his horse over it's great expanses, the land offers up nothing of his daughter's whereabouts. By turns becoming an adventure in texture, scale, light and by the film's conclusion, even time. Like the film's protagonist, we travel through terrain, places and eras where the viewer registers the signs but cannot read them; they abstract interpretation and confound the rational eye.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Kranky Records Showcase and West Coast Tour with Loscil, Marcus Fischer & Simon Scott: Apr 12 - 18



The month of April will see both a Kranky Records showcase in Portland featuring Benoit Pioulard, Ethernet and Loscil, as well as a west coast tour spinning out of the Northwest dates with Marcus Fischer and Slowdive's Simon Scott. Most of us came to know Chicago's (now relocated to Portland) Kranky as the home of space and post-rock in the 1990's, everything from Low, to Labradford, to Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Stars of the Lid have found an audience through the label in decades past. In the time since they've become one of the defining American imprints for abstract electronic, drone and neo-classical music. Concurrently forays into ambient neo-folk like the work of Portland's Liz Harris as Grouper and Thomas Meluch's Benoit Pioulard project have been a rich vein they've also mined. A sound epitomized in the ambient idyl of "Sonnet", Meluch's venture into extended tone sculpting released earlier this month. The west coast tour through the latter half of April features a lineup including the solo venture of Slowdive's drummer and sound designer, Simon Scott. One only need hear the jazz-inflected, Angelo Badalamenti-like doomscapes of his excellent "Bunny" on the Miasmah label to recognize that his work is a significant entity outside the context of the formative shoegaze band. With "Below Sea Level" on John Wozencroft's Touch and Taylor Deupree's 12K label he further established his sound in the company of abstract guitar and electronics composers like Christian Fennesz and Tarantel's Jefre Cantu-Ledesma. Scott's labelmate Marcus Fischer who put in a finely detailed, melodic performance at the inaugural Substrata Festival has continued to develop his vocabulary of pointilist electronically processed acoustic and environmental sounds. The two making complimentary framing for the long-established Kranky artist Scott Morgan and his Loscil project. "Sea Island" released last winter, sees him extend the subterranean bass and open expanses of his melodic electronic music into even further abstraction and scale. Performed as an audio-visual multisensory experience, Loscil has reached a point of near total synergy of image and sound with this current live incarnation.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

David Robert Mitchell’s new film "It Follows" at SIFF Cinema: Mar 20 - Apr 23



It's extended run indicative of it's success, David Robert Mitchell’s anonymous nightmare in pursuit "It Follows", has been getting just about nothing but exceptional press since it's premier at last year's Cannes Critic's Week. The film's partial period setting, desolate urbanism and slow unspooling mark it as a very different variation on the sub-genre of, "A Shape-Shifting Horror Stalks a Teenager". But Mitchell's film is less concerned with the shock and hysteria of the pursuit, than it is an inexplicable scenario in which the faceless nobody-and-everyone-at-once nature of the pursuer hides it's omnipresence in anonymity, everyday and mundane. Wired's "What Makes the New Horror Film 'It Follows', So Damn Good" describes the 'holy trinity' of director and screenwriter David Robert Mitchell, the teen protagonist as convincingly played Maika Monroe, and composer Rich Vreeland aka Disasterpeace, who supplied the retro game soundchip and synth-centric soundtrack. Pivotal to the film is it's sex-positive set up, one that's rarely explored in this honest a framing with teen films, to which it adds it's own compellingly sinister moral twist. Riffing on contemporary urban legends in the post-Ringu horror climate, the film places it's victims into the additional conflict of conscience and survival; when a victim is killed by the malevolent following presence, it will shift its attention back to the last link in the chain. Making it a question of survival by condemning others in the extension of said chain. Literally placing a human shield of bodies between yourself and the pursuing curse. Jonathan Romney's film of the week review for Film Comment focuses on the tone and milieu as significant aids in giving substance to both the character of the film and the viewer's suspension of disbelief. The cinematic ambiance of it's setting in and around Detroit enhanced by menacing, naturalistic use of steadicam and convincingly gutted, desolate urban locations. It's greatest strength though, is that Mitchell smartly chooses to keep us at a remove from our and the protagonist's knowledge of the pursuers true origin. The titular 'IT' of the curse travels in a straight line -- albeit a reversible one that runs both ways -- theoretically heading back to a single point of origin. But it's an origin that can never be located or pinned down because Mitchell retains that IT is a figure of unknowable, absolute indeterminacy. It's not for nothing that one of the supporting characters is seen absorbed in her reading of Dostoyevsky throughout.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

"Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien" at Northwest Film Forum, Grand Illusion Cinema & Scarecrow Video: Mar 19 - Apr 7



What will likely prove to be the repertory cinema event of the year begins the third week of March with both The Grand Illusion and Northwest Film Forum presenting the touring retrospective of one of the defining voices of the Taiwanese New Wave, "Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien". Named director of the decade in a polls conducted by Film Comment and The Village Voice at the close of the 20th Century, the Museum of the Moving Image, "Hou Hsiao-Hsien: In Search of Lost Time" and their symposium introduction still stands as the most succinct tacking of the paradox of this revered, yet rarely seen director: "It’s worth questioning, however, what Hou Hsiao-Hsien's admittedly rarefied brand of art cinema means to filmmaking and film history—even history itself —if he's not being seen anywhere but on the festival circuit. Just how can we support such grand claims for his importance, when he’s preaching to a ready choir and often empty pews? The answer is easy: wedding political filmmaking with a technique at once naturalistic and highly aestheticized, Hou Hsiao-Hsien has made films that wrestle variously, and either directly or metaphorically, with personal and national histories, the struggles between Taiwan and Chinese nationalism, the encroachment of capital on an ever-evolving way of life, and, most recently, the legacy of cinema itself. 'Essential viewing' couldn’t be more aptly applied to the works of any other living director,".



Kent Jones' chronicling of Hou's ascendency for Film Comment, from cult phenomenon to arthouse favorite and established auteur over the decade of the late 80's to 90's, "Cinema with a Roof Over its Head: Hou Hsiao-Hsien" probes the complex factors involved in how it is that a director as critically lauded as Hou Hsiao-Hsien remains largely unseen to this day. Foremost among them is that Hou's depiction of time and space conveyed through depth, color and hypnotically repeated motifs eschews being quantified through populist criteria. Even those outfitted with an understanding of the past half-Century of Asian film, where western paradigms can occasionally be applied to fill in our gaps in knowledge, in the case of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's filmmography the bridge to meaning still requires intellectual effort. A facilitative resource in bridging that expanse, the Senses of Cinema archives host a in-depth Hou Hsiao-Hsien spotlight featuring lengthy and analytic articles on the active visual minimalism of his cinema, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Optics of Ephemerality", his homage of sorts to Yasujiro Ozu's love of "Situations Over Stories: Café Lumière & Hou Hsiao-Hsien", the nuanced depiction of different eras through "The Complexity of Minimalism: Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times" and his intimate observations on the tribulations of modern, urban, Taiwanese women, "Hou Hsiou-Hsien’s Urban Female Youth Trilogy". The night before the series' kickoff, Scarecrow Video will be presenting a rare screening of the director's early feature "The Boys from Fengkuei" as part of their concurrently running sidebar of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's lesser known works. The film will be introduced by local critic and Asian cinema scholar Sean Gilman, and as with the rest of Scarecrow's monthly Screening Room calendar, admission is free. Considerately, memberships at both Northwest Film Forum and The Grand Illusion apply to ticket purchases at either venue for the full series.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Paul Grimault & Jacques Prévert's "The King and the Mockingbird" at Northwest Film Forum: March 19 - 22



Later this month a rare screening of Paul Grimault's "The King and the Mockingbird" will have a brief four-day run at Northwest Film Forum. Based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep", while mixing in a bit of Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels", the urban underbelly of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis", the oppression of the working class in Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times", a villain straight out of a satirical Stalin-esque cult of personality and the subconscious detours found in the animated Max Fleischer adventures of the 1930s-1940s. Ad to this the design and setting influences of surrealist painters Giorgio de Chirico and Yves Tanguy, who was a collegial friend of the author of the film's screenplay. The complexity of this mid-century animated masterwork's influences is exceeded by it's storied decades-long production. Paul Grimault with the author of the proto-Noir classic, "Port of Shadows" Jacques Prévert on writing duties, began work on the project in 1947, after various disputes that ended production their producer released the film in an unfinished form, without either's permission. At which point it's real epic begins, Grimault spent 10 years in legal battles acquiring the rights to the film and another 20 raising the money to complete it as he and Prévert had envisioned. Decades later, it was finally finished and released in 1979 in France and central Europe with very little to no international distribution. Seen upon it's 1979 release by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata it has been credited as "The Film that Inspired the Founding of Studio Ghibli", with Ghibli returned the favor in 2012 with their own restored Japanese release and distribution of the film under the title, "Ōu to Tori". The North American premier of this new restoration came at last year's New York Film Festival with a run following at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Very favorable press at the time from The Village Voice, Time Out and the New York Times going some way to describe this bold hybrid of social commentary and satirical opulence, sci-fi polish, Swift-ian adventure and a lyrical and poetic tale of liberation at it's core, "Grimault's frames do the opposite of those that imprison film's escaping lovers; the director invites us in, to play and dream."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Aleksei German's final film "Hard to Be A God" at Northwest Film Forum: Feb 20 - 23 | Aleksei German Retrospective at Anthology Film Archives New York: Jan 31 - Feb 10



One of the great films of the year, if not the decade, finally sees distribution and a miss-it-and-lose four day run at Northwest Film Forum later this month. After stunning audiences at it's premier in film festivals around the globe last year, the posthumously completed "Hard to Be a God" by Aleksei German returns heralded by a retrospective at New York's Anthology Film Archives. These rare screenings of his handful of films making for, "A Small Batch from Life’s Work". Based on the Strugatsky Brothers novel of the same name, German (who died during the film's post-production in 2013) retains so little of the original's science fiction frame that his film becomes the closest thing to a Medieval Cinema Verité documentary; mud, incessant rain, fog, tides of sewage and disease, innards, decaying structures, the ruined facades of buildings and people. A world dominated by the downward tug of gravity and matter, pulling everything into the grave. Like finding oneself inside the nightmare torrent of a Pieter Bruegel painting made real. We're witness, often in first person, to human development the protagonist's civilization has already long, long overcome, "Hard to Be a God: A Man from the Future Who Walks Through a Cultural Past".

Set during civil and religious conflict enabling petty power grabs on the part of Barons and regional lords, the film follows the armor-clad Don Rumata, who the planet's populace believes to be the baronial offspring of a Pagan God, as he makes his way through the sweaty, embittered, superstitious, farting, primitive, hysterical, stupefied, madding crowd. The extreme tumult of the setting and the viewer's vantage in the midst of the grotesque, absurd, carnivalesque misery drown out any clear grasp of Rumata’s obscurely defined mission, or what's left of it. We're witness to a Conrad-like scenario in which the 'civilized' foreigner has been eroded away by the conditions of his acclimation to the alien place and time. What remains of his identity and lost ideals roll off his tongue as philosophical musings on power, exploitation and the downward nature of influence. The ingrained awareness that nothing can save these people from themselves... but time. IndieWire's coverage of the film's premier goes some way to describe it's monumental achievement, "Why A Visionary Work Over a Decade In the Making has Dominated the Rotterdam Film Festival".

Rumata as Earth's representative of a different path taken, must endure this world divorced from it's own Renaissance, yet seemingly on the cusp of civilization winning out over barbarism. Perhaps his own presence, and the influence of his perceived Godhood is one of the factors in the perpetuation of the savagery of the Middle Ages. The film becomes a thought experiment asking us to consider what society might be today had the Renaissance never taken hold, and if as emissaries of a cultured world, we have a place, much less a responsibility in it. Or, if as it seems through Rumata's pulling up of roots and disembarking from his civil war-torn kingdom at the film's end, the degeneracy, sludge and filth of Arkanarian Medieval existence might just continue uninterrupted for all eternity. These final scenes, the first breath of space amidst it's claustrophobic deluge offer perspective, insight and in the end, resignation. A singular cognizant rumination on this understanding, a breath of comprehension within it's flailing melee and strife. It's with this statement on the Universe delivering what will come, unnoticing and irrespective of the human experience, that "The Dark Master of Russian Film", leaves the world.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Bang on a Can Marathon with Eyvind Kang, Shabazz Palaces, Jherek Bischoff, Scrape and Red Fish Blue Fish Ensemble performing Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" and Steve Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians" at Henry Art Museum & The Moore Theatre: Feb 14 - 15



The renowned day-long modern composer performance series comes to Seattle next week at Henry Art Museum and The Moore! What's come to be known as the New Music movement largely centered around late 20th and 21st Century American composers, Bang on a Can have been it's performance locus as the sound's highest profile contemporary ensemble with "A Quarter-Century Of Banging, and Still as Fresh as Ever". Their status enhanced for not only tackling some of the Century's more notoriously difficult composers, but also pieces of exceptional duration in their marathon performances. To quote, "Since the marathon's inception in 2007, it has included an astounding range of revolutionary music and musicians, from John Cage to John Zorn, from minimalism's godfather Terry Riley to Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, from the 30-voice Finnish shouting choir Huutajat to the hyper-mathematical brutality of Iannis Xenakis, from the political sophistication of composer/pianist Frederic Rzewski to the high energy strumming of Japan's Kazue Sawai Ensemble, from the eastern minimalism of Arvo Pärt to the brainy rituals of Karlheinz Stockhausen, to the turntable manipulations of artist Christian Marclay".

No surprise to see the champion of all things modern classical, Alex Ross author of the excellent "The Rest is Noise" has been following the marathon performances from their first year, at the time his "Very Big Bang" was the larger public's introduction to their distinct modus operandi, as was his reporting as the classical writer for The New Yorker in pieces like "Bang Theory" from last year. The focus often being the cross-genre and disciplinary nature of their live incarnation, "Bang on a Can Marathon Fuses Classical, Experimental and Rock" the duration aspect of the day-long performances being less what distinguish them than the diversity of their selections, "From Roars to Rhythmic Mallets, a Day for Savoring Exploration". For Seattle's performance at The Moore the night's 6 hour program will feature the music of Eyvind Kang, Shabazz Palaces and Jherek Bischoff with Scrape in addition to Red Fish, Blue Fish and Bang on a Can's realizations of seminal New Music works including the quietly groundbreaking "Music for Airports" by Brian Eno and Steve Reich's landmark "Music for 18 Musicians". Photo credit: Ayumi Sakamoto

Andrey Zvyagintsev's new film "Leviathan" at Landmark Theaters Jan 23 - Mar 12 | Mike Leigh's new film "Mr. Turner" at Sundance Cinema: Jan 30 - Mar 5 & SIFF Cinema: Mar 16



February continues to be a quality-dense month for cinema, with two of last year's greats featured prominently on both Sight & Sound and Film Comment's year-end overviews finally seeing distribution. Landmark Theatres bringing around Andrey Zvyagintsev's critically acclaimed "Leviathan" for an extended run after it's Academy Award nomination. I have been personally following Zvyagintsev since his  directorial debut, "The Return" had it's west coast premier at SIFF a decade back, and his "The Banishment" and award-winning "Elena" expanded on the strength of that original impression. Having studied under Tarkovsyk's protege, Alexander Sokurov, the richness of Zvyagintsev's storytelling abilities are on display in this spiritual and political protest against a modern-day life in post-Soviet Russia that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. The title not only a reference to the massive carcases seen on the shores of the Barents Sea, but the pervasive forces of bought and paid for government and religious institutional cronyism. Forces against which men such as the film's protagonist can only offer stoic resignation, it watches like a modern-day biblical tale of Job set within the Putin era. The stratification of a Russia literally living within the ruins of the Soviet era is both the film's dramatic and visual theme, one of stark, ruined spaces and corrupted infrastructures, "Andrey Zvyagintsev Navigates a Tricky Terrain". It's a given the current political climate in Russia would make such a film one of, "Applause in Hollywood but Scorn at Home". And much like "Elena" Zvyagintsev's newest rides a balance between polemic and mystery, tackling earth-bound social issues, but hovering around the film's expanses there is the unease of a deeper spiritual faultline running through the worldly drama. 



Currently showing at Sundance Cinema and later next month as part of SIFF Cinema's Recent Raves series, Mike Leigh's first period film in many a year is a biodrama as much about the man and his work as the era which he translated to canvas, "As if the Artist Put His Brush to Each Take: ‘Mr. Turner’ Aims for Visual Accuracy". Leigh's approach to the period setting is to produce a seamless environment of muted light, shrouded horizons, natural expanses and the squalor of early industrial era urban life. His success evident from "Mr. Turner"'s onset, the film opening in the Dutch countryside at last light, Turner in silhouette working on a canvas, the canal and windmill bathed in the light of the waning, incandescent sun. The tone of the scene matched to perfection by regular Leigh collaborator Gary Yershon's minimalist score that forever hovers on the edge of focus, sounding like an echo of Turner's paintings itself, "To Set The Mood In Period Drama, a Composer Paints Around the Emotions". Leigh known for his focus on the quirks and mundane dramas of everyday people, it's a pleasure to see his art translate to this intimate and quietly funny character study. Complimenting the film's attention to period realism, it's pleasures also come from the rare artist biopic that avoids the trap of mythologising its subject. Dispelling with notions that Joseph William Turner's personality, behavior or appearance might embody the picturesque, effervescent, romantic qualities of from his paintings of moonlight seascapes, atmospheric ruins or countryside sunsets, the film gives us a much richer portrait of a man. Instead we get a touching, sad, beautiful tragicomedy and class critique as Mike Leigh's vehicle for "Savouring Mr. Turner".