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".

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Vessel's new album "Punish, Honey" & West Coast Tour with Container: Feb 4 - 7 | Pharmakon's new album "Bestial Burden" & US Tour: Jan 18 - Feb 27



Next week and later in the month, two shows of note at the done-right underground venue that is Kremwerk. The Spectrum Spools label operated by John Elliott of Emeralds has established itself as the hub of all things analog electronics, electro-kosmische and synth psychedelic, which is exactly what we can expect to hear from Container's opening set for Vessel next Thursday. "Punish, Honey" the newest released by Sebastian Gainsborough under his Vessel moniker on the Tri-Angle label is another of his collisions of melodicism, smeared noise and folded rhythm structures. His work shares company with the label’s particular brand of warped melodic misery inspired in-part as much by hip-hop’s screwed brigade as by the distorted abstractions of shoegaze. A sound epitomized in the labels roster of excellent releases by Forest Swords, Holy Other, Haxan Cloak, Evian Christ and oOoOO. It is curiously appropriate that this sound is being referred to as ‘drag’ - by degrees it all shares a weighty physicality that’s as hazily euphoric as it is crushingly abate. Or as The Guardian's Scott Wright puts it, "Inspired by Hip-Hop's Screwed Brigade, 'Drag's Heavy Atmospherics and Tormented Outlook are Pure Musical Entropy".

The third week of February sees the return of Sacred Bones artist Margaret Chardiet aka Pharmakon. After an opening set this past fall touring with the progenitors of 90's noise and Metal, Godflesh and Cut Hands she's back to perform from her newest, "Bestial Burden". Chardiet's approach to making a physical, carnally voluminous noise that harks back to Industrial music's earliest beginnings was detailed in a great interview in the October issue of The Wire. A sound the audience for Decibel 2013's "Night Vessel" showcase with Zola Jesus & Jim Thirlwell obviously didn't anticipate. Unlike much of current noise and underground tape culture's love of an obfuscated, subterranean doom, Pharmakon's music is anything but crepuscular. Decibel's unsuspecting audience was witness to a bright ultra-high definition noise, manifest with explicit compositional punctuation and performative abandon. The roar of her vocal howl mirrored by the wining, twisting torrent of contact-microphone amplified sheet metal. Her approach positioning her as a musical godchild of sorts to Japan’s performance extremophile, Masonna. Anyone who’s seen (and felt) Maso Yamazaki’s live incarnation knows what a compliment this is. Photo credit: Christopher Grady

Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne's "Two Days, One Night", Céline Sciamma's "Girlhood", Frederick Wiseman's "National Gallery" & Peter Strickland's "The Duke of Burgundy" at SIFF Cinema: Jan 30 - Feb 26



SIFF Cinema's February calendar features many of the past year's highlights (just now finding distribution). These films making the best of the year for both Film Comment and Sight & Sound, so you know you're in for the qualitative goods. Among them, the newest representation of multiple Cannes Palme d'Or winners, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne's ability to mine seemingly mundane social issues into tense, qualitative drama, "Two Days, One Night". Starring Marion Cotillard as a working-class mother who's life teeters on unraveling in the conditions of the current European economic crisis. Like all the great films by the brothers Dardenne, this is a work of seemingly straightforward cinematic realism. Their process revealing nuance and complexity of technique that translates to the screen as the audience being swept up in the drama's tide of anger, evasiveness, shame, compassion and solidarity, "The Dardenne Brothers Discuss ‘Two Days, One Night’".



We also get Céline Sciamma's tale of African-French urban camaraderie, allegiance and "Girlhood". Her film also watches as realist drama, but it's sense of a very modern tightness with the culture of the Franco-African banlieu girls who are its subject, make it something more. Ostensibly about a girl gang, Sciamma's focus is the film's protagonist 'Vic' as she falls in with a new circle of friends, sheds some of her inhibitions, restyles her fashions and builds the confidence to take charge of her own life. It's a honest, closely observed journey of urban teenage girlhood, with its nervous stretches of emptiness and boredom and its violent, playful, electric upsurges. Reviews from Cannes speaking to "Céline Sciamma Honing Her Art with the Near-Perfect 'Girlhood'".



The return of that most disciplined of documentarians, Frederick Wiseman is back this time with his observational-remove focused on the "National Gallery". Wiseman's roving eye and duration spent with it's subject make for a documentary that pays tribute to the gallery’s technical prowess and craftsmanship. Like all of his decades-spanning work, his subject doesn’t go unchallenged. The ugly history of its beautiful collection is noted, as are scenes of a Greenpeace protest against Shell, the decisions it faces with corporate sponsors and how to best represent itself while imagining ways to reach new audiences. Interestingly, the private preservation scenes yielding as much information as the public lectures that punctuate it, we get a very real sense of being "Behind the Scenes at the Museum: Frederick Wiseman's National Gallery".



Peter Strickland's filmmography to-date has been short but memorable, "Katalin Varga" was a highlight of SIFF 2009 and his sophomore feature "Berberian Sound Studio" ranked with both Sight & Sound and Film Comment among that year's best. It's postmodern exercise is both a homage to the stylistic excesses of the genre and a disquieting period piece set within Italian cinema of the 1970's, making for "A Bold Evocation of the Eras of Both Analogue Sound and the Italian Giallo". Strickland being no novice when it comes to soundwork either, particularly in relation to the more avant-leanings of Modernism's past. He sought out Nurse With Wound's Steven Stapleton for the soundtrack and engineering on his first feature after having spent the last decade in a process of discovery, immersed in mid-Century improv, early electronic music and modern composition.

The fruits of which are graphically evident, his filmmography listens like a best-of of the current British sonic explorers in the 'Hauntological' hinterlands. James Cargill of Broadcast supplying the soundtrack to his second feature and again recruiting Andrew Liles of Nurse With Wound for the sound design for the fictional film-within-the-film, the brilliantly titled, "The Equestrian Vortex". The title sequence from which stunningly realized by designer Julian House of the Ghost Box label. For his newest recruiting soprano and multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira and Faris Badwan of The Horrors as Cat's Eyes, who have produced a hauntingly somnambulistic chamber music, complimentary to the film's kinky fetish of texture and form.

Sensuality, eroticism and the lure of the intimate sublime move the viewer down the twisting psychological pathways of "The Duke of Burgundy", becoming a journey deep into the territory of the atmospheric psychodramas of Roman Polanski, David Lynch and Dario Argento. This exploration of lives being tragically, inextricably, bound up in possession and control, of sadomasochism as theatrical arena, watches like "Mulholland Drive" meets "Persona" by way of "The Killing of Sister George". The culminating effect producing "A Sensual Utopia Driven by Ritual and Release". A fetish-bed depiction of the sequestered world of role-playing between a youthful paramour and the midlife angst of her employer, both becoming increasingly subsumed into their roles, "The Duke of Burgundy Holds the Viewer as Riveted and Exposed as a Butterfly Pinned to a Board".

Thursday, January 1, 2015

:::: FILMS OF 2014 ::::







TOP FILMS OF 2014 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
-----------------------------------------------------------
Jonathan Glazer  "Under the Skin"  (United Kingdom)
Alejandro Iñárritu  "Birdman"  (United States)
Aleksei German  "Hard to Be A God"  (Russia)
Jim Jarmusch  "Only Lovers Left Alive"  (United Kingdom)
Mohammad Rasoulof  "Manuscripts Don’t Burn"  (Iran)
Andrey Zvyagintsev  "Leviathan" (Russia)
Paul Thomas Anderson  "Inherent Vice"  (United States) 
Alain Resnais  "Je T'aime, Je T'aime" Rereleased  (France)
Chris Marker  "Level Five" Rereleased  (France)
William Friedkin  "Sorcerer" Rereleased  (United States)
Alejando Jodorowsky / Frank Pavich  "The Dance of Reality" & "Jodorowsky's Dune" (Chile)
Wojciech J. Has  "The Hour-Glass Sanatorium" Rereleased  (Poland)
Tommy Lee Jones  "The Homesman"  (United States)
Hiroyuki Okiura  "Letter to Momo"  (Japan)
Ari Folman  "The Congress"  (Israel)
Richard Linklater  "Boyhood"  (United States)
Celine Sciamma  "Girlhood"  (France)
Wes Anderson  "The Grand Budapest Hotel"  (United States)
Peter Strickland  "The Duke of Burgundy"  (United Kingdom)
Claude Lanzmann  "The Last of the Unjust"  (France) 
Pawel Pawlikowski  "Ida"  (Poland)
Lisandro Alonso  "Jauja"  (Argentina)
Tim Sutton  "Memphis"  (United States)
Laura Poitras  "Citizenfour"  (United States)
Diao Yinan  "Black Coal, Thin Ice"  (China)

Much like every year in the past decade, the past 12 months yielded great discoveries outside the expected sources and return artists creating works from beyond their established territory. 2014 was that much more a quest than usual to find new record labels, imprints, publishers and film distributors. Seminal auteur television, the series that began it all, announced a return. Authors of choice producing some of their finest writing to-date, in fields as far-flung as cultural criticism, literature, theory and even science fiction. In science news, we've finally quantified the residual evidence of the Big Bang and it's establishing of the known universe, new revolutionary materials were discovered and one of the most audacious and far-reaching energy plans in human history was begun. Some of the defining visual art movements of German culture in the 20th Century had major exhibits in Los Angeles and New York, large-scale installation and sculptural work will be seeing new expansive representation in the United States, Brooklyn hosted an extensive exhibition of one of the 21st Century's more controversial figures as well as the defining voice of the Left Bank movement, in his first-ever comprehensive retrospective at BAMcinématek. And in political news, 2014 was another year of disclosures concerning the ongoing effects of the Patriot Act following the events of 2001, and the influence of that era's legacy on others and ourselves as a nation.

In cinema the growing pains of the digital age are still graphically evident in the world of film distribution. Award winning films from festivals in Vienna, Toronto and Cannes topping both Film Comment and the British Film Institute's annual overviews have yet to screen in the United States, or even show up released digitally online. One can't imagine in the age of digital piracy that this process has aided the films in finding their audience. More worrying, the lack of genuine cinema available on most streaming resources, particularly with Netflix phasing out the diversity offered in their physical media. Resources like Fandor and Mubi may become the only platforms through which (paying) online viewers will have access to the true scope of the past twelve decades of moving pictures. As much as it was a strong year for new cinema, some of the real revelations came from decades past, the highest concentration of which was had in the two weeks of the Northwest Film Forum hosting Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema. A series of 21 films representing the experimentation, style, innovation, substance and form of the Polish Film School of the 1950's-60's, and the later films they influenced. Curated by Scorsese these new 4K digital restorations, in many cases assembled from multiple prints of the original negatives, involving hundreds of thousands of manually retouched stills, weeks of painstaking work and terabytes of data, were loaded with epiphanies. Not least among them, seeing for the first time the endless intricacies and depth of the built worlds framing Wojciech J. Has' surrealist masterpieces. Another archival release and restoration, that of William Friedkin's most audacious work in a career not lacking in audacity, "The Sorcerer" solved a lifelong cinema-mystery.

There were major dividends for those taking risks in contemporary cinema as well, maybe foremost among them, the meta-narrative membrane of Alejandro Iñárritu's "Birdman" through which, life, art and the creative act itself engaged it's audience in a dialog on the subjects of media influence and ubiquity, celebrity and the finicky nature of pop culture status, squandered potential and creative resurrection. Iñárritu's film digests Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" as material for a cycle of internal returning and mirroring of the Carver story in the life of it's fictional protagonist, Riggan Thomson as played by Michael Keaton, who surpasses expectations and then some. Among it's other strengths is its humorous and unabashedly playful analysis of popular culture and higher art, of artist and celebrity, of enrichment and entertainment. The film itself acting again as a intermingling of all of the above, it's fluidity captured in a illusory single-shot structure that's as tricky and fun as the concepts explored. Lacking in the self-aware trappings of what is unquestionably the finest film Iñárritu has ever created, the posthumously completed "Hard to Be a God" by Aleksei German was another fully realized world unto itself, though this one hermetic in nature. 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, filth covered faces, warts and all. Like a Pieter Bruegel painting made real. That so few had opportunity to behold this endlessly rich and grotesque vision of interstellar colonization is one of the great art-oversights of the year. German's film was the polar flip-side of the shared premise with the sanitary (and significantly more sane) vision offered in Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" blockbuster

Speaking of science fiction dealing with colonization and interstellar contact, this year's best 'space' film was set here on Terra. Jonathan Glazer's adaptation of Michel Faber's novel of the same name captures on the screen the novel's many facets; a reflection on sentience, a tension-filled tonal piece, a psychedelic road trip movie, a study on what it is to be human, an observation of the beauty of the natural world, and a exercise in terror and genuine 'otherness'. The austerity and discipline with which he translated "Under the Skin" to the screen speaks of a bold belief in his audience's capacity to observe, reflect and interpret. For this he rewards with one of the more beautifully spacial films to be be seen yet this century in all of science fiction. The whole of it's time on screen imbued with a sense of being pared back to the essential, it's spare cinematography matched in a synergy with it's score and sound design, the latter supplied by British composer Mica Levi. The whole feeling authentically alien, effortlessly experimental, almost something that a documentarist from another world might have shot as a haunting media essay of the field mission. We also saw a double-punch of a director's return after decades of silence with the tragi-comic, surrealistic "The Dance of Reality", his yarn of the familial and political taken together with Frank Pavich's documentary of the epic development and collapse of one of sci-fi's most legendary unmade films, "Jodorowsky's Dune", proving if ever there was a doubt, Jodorowsky is still a visionary. Other memorable and richly constructed realities (plural) were seen in Ari Folman's pan-media "The Congress", itself an adaptation of another Eastern Bloc science fiction author of the 1960's. Like German, Folman loses much of the content of the original Stanislaw Lem novel, instead making it his own inquiry into the nature of ownership and identity as a decades spanning quest in a corporate fabricated psycho-Orwellian wonderworld.

Pushing the envelope even further, one of the stylistically transcendental films of the year dates from 1996. Given theatrical distribution for the first time since it's creation, Chris Marker's densely layered Cyberpunk mashup of video-art, historic documentary and fictionalized webgame, "Level Five" watches like a sometimes academic, sometimes personal, investigation into the tragic events and related atrocity surrounding the Battle of Okinawa. All told through Marker's cypher Catherine Belkhodja via the labyrinthine interface of cryptic technology and it's hidden avenues. And where would the discussion of experimentation in form and content be be without Jean-Luc Godard? The coded depths of "Goodbye to Language" certainly approach a density nearing that of his personal, polemic and political endeavor at reclaiming cinema's history from the 'conventional wisdom' of popular culture, "Histoire(s) du Cinéma". No question, there's an equally deep body of historic, political, literary, theoretical and philosophical works cited and the everything-at-once barrage of image and text are an occasional sensory thrill, but it does not put these to great utility. And ends falling far short of "Histoire(s)" melancholic majesty. This year also saw the passing of one of the 20th century's greats, the incongruity 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. One of the great unseen films of the late 1960's, without which there'd be no "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", Resnais' "Je T’aime, Je T’aime" paints a cubist portrait of a rather ordinary European man made into something more than 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.

Expansive landscapes both natural and sociopolitical were explored in what were the greatest films to date by two directors who I have been personally following since their first forays into making narrative cinema. Having studied under Tarkovsyk's protege, Alexander Sokurov, the undeniable richness of Andrey Zvyagintsev's storytelling abilities in "Leviathan" are on bold display in this spiritual and political protest against a modern-day life in post-Soviet Russia, a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. The title not only a biblical reference and one to the massive carcases seen on the shores of the Barents Sea, but the monstrous forces of corrupted government influence against which men such as the film's protagonist can only offer stoic resignation, not unlike a modern-day Job. Turkish cinema has also been invigorated by a singular figure this past decade, one who has also made his vision a heady mix of increasingly nuanced personal, spiritual and political moral tales set against immense natural beauty. Winner of the world's most prestigious cinema award, the Palme d'Or, "Winter Sleep" may be his most explicit bringing together of these elements in a singularly claustrophobic Sartre-ian observation. No question, the Existentialists would have a field day with Ceylan's depiction of a man putting on the act of trying to please everyone, maintaining a tenuous grip on his own dignity and all the while using his intellectual distance to undermine those close to him. Landscapes of quite a different nature were the setting for Jim Jarmusch's tale of passions spanning the centuries in "Only Lovers Left Alive". The uninhabited buildings and empty lots of nocturnal Detroit and the music and light filled streets and alleyways of Tangier, places expressive of it's protagonist's Adam and Eve. There's definitely something to be said for life as an eternal Vampire in which one has all that time to read every book ever written, listen to every great record ever made, see all the films we can never hope to squeeze into a human lifetime, all the while endlessly traveling the world. Through the eyes of these immortal aesthetes, he reflects on the planet's dominant species, one who's boundless imagination is shackled by war, commerce and pettiness. His richest film since 1995's "Deadman", it stands as a love poem to the great visionaries, authors, artists, musicians, inventors, thinkers and tinkerers throughout history who have made the world greater by their defiance of the status-quo.

As it has for the past decade, Scarecrow Video played an invaluable role as a vector for moving pictures from around the globe, that this considerable resource was given a new lease on life by their establishing of a foundation for their future stability was long overdue. This year's Seattle International Film Festival hosted a memorable turnout, many calling it the strongest festival selection in over a decade. Their year-round theaters SIFF Cinema substantially filled in many of the remaining blanks, bringing advance screenings, rare prints and numerous exclusive screenings to their three cinemas including the recently renovated Egyptian Theatre. Their second-run Recent Raves series being the best thing going outside of the festival. With indie cinemas closing around the nation, it was that much more important to support the local theater opportunities such as the fast-shrinking and now halved Landmark Theatres, the Grand Illusion Cinema now in partnership with the Scarecrow Project and what's proven itself in previous years to be the paramount indie screen in Seattle, Northwest Film Forum. Many of the best films seen this year, when they did come to the theater, had runs that lasted no more than a week. Others were never to to appear again outside of an initial festival screening. Again proving the wisdom of getting out there, seeing the city and prioritizing the art/music/film that we're fortunate to have in our urban cultural crossroads. This year, rather than the unseen films that never made it over here stateside in theaters, as home video releases, or even a less-desirable appearance online streaming, I've assembled a list of runners-up. These for all their merits (many of them I felt were equivocal to the content of the list above) either fell a bit shy, were redundant within their respective director's ouveur, or simply weren't as strikingly 'different' as the works above. All of them worth the time, and some even revelatory by degrees, these were good films that simply fell short of the distinction of those that made the top rated list:

David Cronenberg  "Maps to the Stars"  (Canada)
Frederick Wiseman  "National Gallery"  (United States)
Pedro Costa  "Horse Money"  (Portugal)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan  "Winter Sleep"  (Turkey)
Benjamin Naishtat  "History of Fear"  (Argentina)
Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne  "Two Days, One Night"  (Belgium)
Ben Russell & Ben Rivers  "A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness" (United Kingdom)
Mike Leigh  "Mr. Turner"  (United Kingdom)
Alain Guiraudie  "Stranger by the Lake" (France)
Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez  "Manakamana"  (United States)
Agnieszka Holland  "Burning Bush"  (Czech Republic)
David Michôd  "The Rover"  (Australia)
Philippe Garrel  "Jealousy"  (France)

:::: ALBUMS OF 2014 ::::




TOP ALBUMS OF 2014 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
--------------------------------------------------------------
Ben Frost  "AURORA"  (Bedroom Community)
Jacaszek & Kwartludium  "Catalogue des Arbres"  (Touch)
Otto A. Tötland  "Pinô"  (Sonic Pieces)
Anjou  "Anjou"  (Kranky)
Hildur Guðnadóttir  "Saman"  (Touch)
Bohren & The Club of Gore  "Piano Nights"  (PIAS)
A Winged Victory for the Sullen  "Atomos"  (Kranky)
Kemper Norton  "Loor"  (Front & Follow)
Leyland Kirby  "Intrigue & Stuff Vol. 4"  (HAFTW)
Thomas Köner  "Tiento de las Nieves"  (Denovali)
Matthew Collings  "Silence is a Rhythm Too"  (Denovali)
Josef Van Wissem, Jim Jarmusch & Sqürl  "Only Lovers Left Alive - Soundtrack"  (ATPR)
Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza  "S/T"  (Superior Viaduct)
Lawrence English  "Wilderness of Mirrors"  (Room40)
Mica Levi  "Under The Skin - Soundtrack"  (Milan Recordings)
The Bug  "Angels & Devils"  (Ninja Tune)
Sunn O))) & Ulver  "Terrestrials"  (Southern Lord)
Nothing  "Guilty of Everything"  (Relapse)
Nisennenmondai  "N"  (Blast First)
Godflesh  "A World Lit Only By Fire" (Avalanche)
Bushman´s Revenge  "Thou Shalt Boogie!"  (Rune Grammofon)
Max Richter  "The Congress - Soundtrack"  (Milan Recordings)
Éliane Radigue  "Naldjorlak I II III"  (Shiiin)
Valerio Tricoli  "Miseri Lares
"  (PAN)
Kevin Drumm & Jason Lescalleet  "The Abyss"  (Erstwhile)

Much like every year in the past decade, the past 12 months yielded great discoveries outside the expected sources and return artists creating works from beyond their established territory. 2014 was that much more a quest than usual to find new record labels, imprints, publishers and film distributors. Seminal auteur television, the series that began it all, announced a return. Authors of choice producing some of their finest writing to-date, in fields as far-flung as cultural criticism, literature, theory and even science fiction. In science news, we've finally quantified the residual evidence of the Big Bang and it's establishing of the known universe, new revolutionary materials were discovered and one of the most audacious and far-reaching energy plans in human history was begun. Some of the defining visual art movements of German culture in the 20th Century had major exhibits in Los Angeles and New York, large-scale installation and sculptural work will be seeing new expansive representation in the United States, Brooklyn hosted an extensive exhibition of one of the 21st Century's more controversial figures as well as the defining voice of the Left Bank movement, in his first-ever comprehensive retrospective at BAMcinématek. And in political news, 2014 was another year of disclosures concerning the ongoing effects of the Patriot Act following the events of 2001, and the influence of that era's legacy on others and ourselves as a nation.

In music it was another unusually convoluted path to the year's more memorable sounds released. Digital distribution has certainly freed up some of he channels of access and stages of separation between producer and audience, conversely it's also made what was in the past the locus of curatorial vision; the record label, less a reliable go-to. No question, the well curated label is still the best bet at finding more of related sounds when you're attuned to their frequency, it's just not quite the end-all that it once was. That said, in the way of cutting edge electronic music Tri-Angle, Blackest Ever Black, PAN, Touch and Front & Follow all delivered catalogs of quality, often groundbreaking work this year, proving the record label can still be a defining tastemaker amidst the multitude of channels in which to discover new music. Archivel releases played a notable role in defining the year in sound. The rather astounding catalog of titles that the San Francisco Bay Area label, Superior Viaduct has managed to assemble included yet more of Edward Artemiev's striking scores for the mid-period masterpieces of Andrei Tarkovsky. The second edition of soundtracks from the label being for the allegorical science fiction of "Stalker" and autobiographical, "The Mirror". The label was also home to the official reissue of Alice Coltrane's virtuoso improv album, "Monastic Trio" and the criminally rare first LP by 1960's avant-garde Italian ensemble Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza then led by Franco Evangelisti and composer Ennio Morricone. The reissue bounty continues for France's sound sculptor of the sublime and austere, Eliane Radigue with unreleased gems from the era of her feedback and modular synthesizer compositions on the Alga Marghen label. And early Buchla pioneer Morton Subotnick's catalog of groundbreaking extended compositions for synthesizer have seen high quality vinyl editions thanks to Karl Records reissue campaign. On the subject of Modular Synthesizers, the most comprehensive documentary to date on their creation and the genres of music the instruments of Don Buchla and Robert Moog inspired were mapped in Robert Fantinatto and Jason Amm's "I Dream of Wires".

Of course it was a year of contemporary of-the-now sounds as well. Significant among them, Ben Frost has taken a substantial leap into electroacoustic chamber music of the most brutally visceral nature. "AURORA" marks a ramping up of his use of distortion and pure noise in array with effects and software manipulation of acoustic and electric sounds, with the driving force of live drumming and orchestral bells rooting this gale force sonic tornado to the Earth. Reports of it's realization live with dual drummers give credence to the kind of power behind Frost's vision. A sound I've been attuned to for a couple decades now, this 'Power Ambient' has gained a body of distinct voices in the field to warrant it being quantified as a genre unto itself. Pieces like FACT Magazine's "Power Ambient: The Sound of 2014 (If You Were Listening Closely)" leading the charge with albums by Lawrence English, Killing Sound, SUNN O)))'s Stephen O'Malley with Oren Ambarchi & Randal Dunn and of course the above-mentioned Ben Frost. Cinema inspired some of the most richly sustained atmospheres heard all year. The perfect Alchemical Marriage of experimental lutist Josef Van Wissem with director and guitarist Jim Jarmusch and their Doom-Folk ensemble, Sqürl produced molten meditations as accompaniment to the director's observation on the greatness of human imagination through the aeons as told by Vampires. Topping year-end charts across the globe this year, British composer Mica Levi's riveting, stark score to to Jonathan Glazer's suspenseful study on the beauty of the natural world, what it is to be human, and the terror of genuine 'otherness'. And then there was that omnipresent figure of underground cinema scoring, Max Richter, who teamed once again with Israeli director Ari Folman to express an even more surreal, elegiac and distant vision of a possible future.

In the way of power, and visceral, physical sonic experiences, I feel that even those who witnessed them in the heyday of the 1980's and 90's, particularly the "final" tour of 1997, Swans Are Dead, could never conceive that Michael Gira and his expanded near-orchestra of electric amplification and percussion would not only return in force, but expounded upon what has come before. His three post-reform albums "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope in the Sky", "The Seer" and this year's "To Be Kind" have not only marked out new territory, but in a Oroborous-like path back to itself, Gira's music has ingested it's own past, birthing a supreme amalgam from it's own DNA. One that encapsulates the totality of their trajectory from the 1980's to present. And like the albums of their previous iteration, their live realizations this decade have far, far exceeded these recorded works. The Quietus hosted a lengthy interview on the new album and the explicitly spiritual, transcendental, rapturous nature of their live incarnation. Equally unlikely in the way of the heaviest of sounds from decades past, Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green's Godflesh reformed with a new album "A World Lit Only By Fire" and a nationwide live tour to play some of the most punishing, loud, assaulting music ever created by man and machine alongside compatriots Pharmakon and William Bennett's Cut Hands. Of the extended family of artists revolving around Broadrick and his post-Godflesh projects of the early 2000's, it has been Kevin Martin and his matchless "Political Ragga Stomp" of The Bug that has had the greatest longevity. Fusing Hip-Hop, Dub, Reggae and a brutalist noise Metal grind, his music is a powerful, impassioned, venomous, inspired, soulful tale of unity in the face of what Martin describes as "global markets dividing the urban experience between dilapidation and the curse of luxury apartments that has infested everywhere". This premise of the opposing forces of violent refusal and enveloping embrace of community are at the heart of Martin's current work, The Bug a vehicle for his personal sonic warfare of cerebral assassination and physical hits.

Other sounds from the heavier end of the spectrum heard in the year, the 21st Century offshoots from Black Metal continue to grow as a genre, encompassing melodicism and atmospheres lifted from Shoegaze and Spacerock punctuated by blistering eruptions of Metal drumming, riffs and noise. What may be the epitome of this sound and where it's currently headed can be heard in the dynamic solar magma of guitar riffs and rhythm-play of Deafheaven. Oathbreaker, the fuzzed-out blast of Nothing and their fusion of metal drumming and Spacerock blur as heard on the "Guilty of Everything" album of last year, and in the more Mathrock angularity of their related offshoot, Whirr are other prime examples. On the fringe of the genre, taking the sound down more melancholy paths, there's the crushing Shoegaze blues of True Widow. With labels like Hydrahead, Ipecac, Deathwish, Sargent House, Profound Lore and Relapse playing host as purveyors of all things heavy. And here we are, cycling all the way back around to Spacerock and Shoegaze. This past year we were not only witness to the return of LOOP after decades of it's founder Robert Hampson claiming if you weren't there to witness their staggering volume and endurance-testing live performances in the 1990's, then you'll never quite know what the band was about. But easily topping LOOP's revival in way of the improbable, after 20 years of silence, the announcement that Slowdive would be performing a one-off at the Primavera Sound Festival thrilled all those who missed them in their initial incarnation. Even more inconceivable, in the wake of the massively received event, the band recognized the ongoing dedication of their fanbase in interview with The Quietus, and what followed in rapid succession was a North American tour.

The festival context often not only being the highest concentration of sounds heard in the course of the year, but often supplying opportunity for the most memorable as well. This year's fourth iteration of Substrata Festival in the acoustically primed environs of the Chapel at the Good Shepherd Center offered a small intimate festival setting in which to hear international names like Pan Sonic's Mika Vainio deliver a powerful, motoric set of rhythm and cascading noise. Koen Holtkamp 's modular synthesizer solo set outside of his usual context as one half of the ambient pastoral duo Mountains, was sonically rich and the festival's knock-out dead surprise came from another hardware based synthesis performance. Evan Caminiti of the duo Barn Owl explored a body of new work that exceeds all of his recorded output to date. Ryoji Ikeda's return to the west coast after a many year absence was as memorable as his groundbreaking work a decade before. Still otherworldly in their visceral all-sensory engagement, his live multimedia performances still feel more akin to a phenomenological event, than a performance wrought by human hands and minds. The annual Decibel Festival, in it's 11th year obviously recognizing the unmissable status of their own 2012 Modern Love label showcase, by again pairing the dream-team of Andy Stott and Demdike Stare who are on a couple year roll of delivering some of the strongest, deepest and darkest post-techno being made on the planet. It's no hyperbole to say these guys are at the vanguard. The body-impacting nature of their beats have met a perfect equilibrium with some of the densest subterranean atmospheres being created in contemporary electronic music. These qualities they share with Altar Of Plagues frontman James Kelly and his take on doom-electronica as Wife. The "Human & Inhuman" albums by Max Cooper were realized as bold multimedia and dance performances, and one of the rising star producers of contemporary pop, Arca brought his own vision of liquefied sound and form to the stage and screen. But it was Michal Jacaszek's haunting neoclassical chamber compositions with piano and bass oboe accompaniment that stole the festival, and possibly the whole year in live music heard.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Andy Stott's new album "Faith in Strangers" & West Coast Tour with Kowton: Jan 22 - 27



Andy Stott most of us know from his breakout album of 2011, "We Stay Together" on the UK's Modern Love imprint and as one of the highlights of Decibel Festival these past two years. First in 2012 alongside label-mates Demdike Stare's manifestation of all things Italian Giallo and French Fantastique in their live score to Jean Rollin's surrealist erotic-horror classic "La Vampire Neu" and this past summer in a second shared label showcase with the duo. Both occasions delivering some of the most assured, abstract, darkly rich post-techno being made on the planet. The physicality of their beats have hit a perfect equilibrium with some of the densest subterranean atmospheres being created in contemporary electronic music. These complimenting/contrasting poles are explored even more explicitly in their collaborative Millie & Andrea project via their take on traditions drawing from UK Bass music and Jungle. As a date in his current west coast tour Andy Stott solo next month at Neumos won't compare with such genre-bending showcases as those, but it's bound to be another of his corporeal/cerebral warping of dance music into a body-impacting spacial environment, a process detailed in his interview for FACT, "Tearing Up the Rulebook: Making Mistakes is the Most Exciting Thing You Can Do". Stott's previous full length, "Luxury Problems" making The Wire's 2012 Rewind and the essential British mag hosting a significant interview with him that same  year. His newest, "Faith in Strangers" released at the tail end of November was equally well received and charted with many of the institutions in the know as part of their year end wrap-ups. Boomkat, FACT Mag, The Quietus and Resident Advisor all enthusiastic in their significant praise.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Paul Thomas Anderson's new film "Inherent Vice" at Landmark Theatres: Dec 19 - Feb 5



The highly anticipated adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's "Inherent Vice" by Paul Thomas Anderson makes it's way to the Landmark Theatres chain after it's premier in this summer's New York Film Festival. Much of the festival coverage making it the focus of analytic pieces aiming more at the 'can't miss' nature of the two artists vision in a shared vector, titles like Los Angeles Times' "Inherent Vice' and the Contemporary Cult Hit" pretty much say it all. P.T. Anderson has gained no small amount of notoriety since his stepping away (or sideways) to the period-centric magic realist comedies of his Millennium films. Most notably with his aping Stanley Kubrick and Terrence Malick in "There Will Be Blood" and the more successful maturation seen in his tackling of Scientology and the post-War American psychological landscape in "The Master". Yet in no way does Anderson's cultural status even begin to approach the near-mythic held by one of contemporary literature's most cryptic and compelling figures, that of "Thomas Pynchon and the Myth of the Reclusive Author".

Both the author and his works can be impenetrable, and it's as though Anderson smartly recognizes Pynchon‎ can't really be squeezed into the constraints of cinema anyway, so why make a conventional narrative film? Instead we get a bounty of moment-to-moment depictions of life in slow-motion unfolding, running the gamut of dope fugue, epiphanous reveals, tense interrogations, paranoid immobility and love's confessional surrender. Pynchon’s novel set in 1970's California has been condensed with a good eye for the essentials amidst a typical abundance of content on offer in the book. Ditching a extended drug trip and Vegas subplot only mentioned in passing, while retaining the novel’s sociopolitical aura, sharp banter and convulsive hilarity. All of this through a diffuse atmosphere of memories, connections and recollections spinning a tapestry of intuition, paranoia and "Dream Horizons and Phantom Vibes of 1970 California", that may or may not accurately reflect the world and the (often eccentric) characters that populate it. Marking a return to the comedic spirit of his earlier work, he also branches into new territory, weaving a complex hierarchy of power, politics, television, wealth, corruption and influence underpinning the American dream. The effect is one where Anderson interpreting Pynchon watches like you would imagine the Coen Brothers' adapting Vonnegut, it's all "Noir Days of Sun, Los Angeles Smog and Marijuana Haze".

Alejandro Iñárritu's new film "Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" at Landmark Theatres Oct 24 - Jan 8 | SIFF Cinema: Dec 19 - 24 & Sundance Cinema: Jan 9 - 22



Finally seeing wider distribution throughout the Landmark Theatres chain, a weeklong run at SIFF Cinema and at Sundance the following month! Alejandro Iñárritu's "Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" pivots on a significant literary figure of the 20th Century, that of Raymond Carver. Rather than an adaptation, Iñárritu's film digests "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" as material for a cycle of internal returning and mirroring of the Carver story in the life of it's fictional protagonist, Riggan Thomson played by "Micheal Keaton as a Former Screen Star, Molting on Broadway". This relationship of the real-world literary work and it's fictional realization for the theatre (within the film) is representative of "Birdman" as a whole, and what many are calling a cinematic equivalent of 'breaking of the 4th wall'. It's more accurate to see this complex interweaving of fiction within fiction, and our observation of a film-as-fiction encapsulating them both as a permeable membrane in which realities pass and intermingle. Brilliantly "Iñárritu Turns ‘Birdman’ into Risk Central" by constructed a flexible space out of film itself, where the observer's relationship to content is fluid throughout. It is this extended state of constantly adjusting, being made to reassess where we stand in relation to the "reality" of what's on screen, that's one of the film's great joys.

Among it's other strengths is its humorous and unabashedly playful analysis of popular culture and higher art, of artist and celebrity, of enrichment and entertainment. The film itself acting again as a intermingling of all of the above, it's fluidity captured in a illusory single-shot structure "In 'Birdman,' Broadway's St. James Theatre plays itself" that's as tricky and fun as the concepts explored. "Birdman" is many things; a backstage farce, a satire of media influence and ubiquity, a portrait of celebrity and the finicky nature of pop culture status, a drama about squandered potential and importantly, it's about creative resurrection. It's in this spirit of being being impelled to redefine oneself at a crossroads, in a state of total crisis, that Riggan Thomson is transformed into something new. Negotiating a minefield of self-hatred and neediness, remorse and blind rage, all the while as the megalomania of his previous celebrity-self knocks at the door of his psyche, Keaton's realization of Riggan's self destruction and rebirth surpasses expectations and then some. A total sight to behold, and one of the most inventive, multifaceted, smart and outright fun works of film in many a year, it's no wonder Film Comment's review is titled, "A Wing and a Prayer: The Dazzling Technical Tour de Force from Alejandro G. Iñárritu".