Thursday, January 1, 2015

:::: FILMS OF 2014 ::::







TOP FILMS OF 2014 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
-----------------------------------------------------------
Alejandro Iñárritu  "Birdman"  (United States)
Jonathan Glazer  "Under the Skin"  (United Kingdom)
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)
Pawel Pawlikowski  "Ida"  (Poland)
Benjamin Naishtat  "History of Fear"  (Argentina)
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; disease, 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)
Claude Lanzmann  "The Last of the Unjust"  (France)
Pedro Costa  "Horse Money"  (Portugal)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan  "Winter Sleep"  (Turkey)
Peter Strickland  "The Duke of Burgundy"  (United Kingdom)
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/Salvaged"  (Front & Follow)
Killing Sound  "Killing Sound"  (Blackest Ever Black)
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)
Andrew Liles/Nurse With Wound  "The Equestrian Vortex"  (Death Waltz)
Max Richter  "The Congress - Soundtrack"  (Milan Recordings)
Éliane Radigue 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".

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Jean-Luc Godard’s new film "Goodbye to Language" 3-D at Seattle Cinerama: Jan 12



Almost without exception, the reviews from this year's Cannes premier made Jean-Luc Godard’s "Goodbye to Language" out to be a superlative cinema event. So rejoice then that next month, "Godard's 'Goodbye to Language' Adds Prime Dates in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Washington & Seattle", with a one night, single screening presented by Northwest Film Forum at the Seattle Cinerama. By degrees described as a reinvention of cinema itself, "Ah Dieu, puns Jean-Luc Dogard", a head-scratching provocation, "Baffling, Hilarious 'Goodbye to Language 3D' Will Mess with Your Eyes and Your Head" and a vibrant sensory assault, "Goodbye to Language: Beauty Will Be Convulsive or Not at All”. Almost without exception all of those reported from the festival found themselves struggling with interpretation of it's technique and narrative concerns, yet it was unanimously said "Sunny Cannes Gets Lightning: Godard’s ‘Goodbye to Language’ Enlivens Festival". Suggesting Godard’s Jury Prize winning experiment may not be quite so epoch-making as the Marcel Duchamp work it references, but it situates him firmly, almost 65 years since his first short, within the tradition of artistic provocateur even more than it recalls his beginnings.

The combined effect of bafflement and thrill seem to jostle for position in all of the above assessments, Jonathan Romney making this struggle with it's assaultive everything-at-once barrage of image and text as the focus of his Film of the Week review for Film Comment; "Godard, or his film, may ostensibly be saying goodbye to language, but if so, it’s as if the Word is being thrown a spectacular bender of a going-away party. Propositions, allusions, sounds, images rush on in wave after wave, each building a new layer on top of—or violently erasing—what’s immediately gone before. Trying to make any sense of it all, even in the most rudimentary or provisional way, is an anguish-inducing process. What’s more, as a critic you’re aware of the armies of commentators who appear to take Godardian complexity in their stride, and of the academic specialists among them: you feel gauche even noting that all this stuff is hard to take in, when you know that there’s someone out there just waiting to point out, “And of course, you failed to notice that the two-second burst of Sibelius signals Godard’s volte-face on his previous position vis-à-vis the Lacanian Real.” Put it this way: I love Goodbye to Language and I couldn’t have missed writing about it, but part of me wishes I’d taken an Ouija instead."

Romney writes; "That’s why I was relieved, and filled with admiration, when I read David Bordwell’s enthusiastic analysis on his website, "Say Hello to Goodbye to Language" in which he dares state something that’s often considered inadmissible in discussions of Godard. That is, not only is it hard to tell what’s going on in the film in terms of narrative, but it’s also hard to make sense of the relentless flood of text. Before embarking on a useful analysis of the film’s formal qualities, and exactly why they make the film so hard to read, Bordwell refers to Ted Fendt’s extensive list of texts and films quoted or alluded to, "Goodbye to Language": A Works Cited". Fendt himself admits that knowing Godard’s sources may only be “about as useful to ‘unlocking’ the films and videos as reading a heavily footnoted copy of The Waste Land.” Still, a blockage of understanding is surely essential to an understanding of a Godard work as it is when dealing with any hermetic or gnostic text: bafflement is the first necessary step to eventual (if endlessly deferred) enlightenment."

Nuri Bilge Ceylan's new film "Winter Sleep" at Grand Illusion Cinema: Jan 2 - 15



Finally here stateside and opening for a two week run at the Grand Illusion Cinema in early January! A director who has been on the rise and rise for some time, it came as no surprise to see Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Winter Sleep" receive this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes. Turkish cinema has been invigorated by this singular figure over the past decade, one who made his vision a heady mix of the plumbing of the personal, spiritual and political set against stark, expansive natural beauty. Ceylan's telling of increasingly nuanced moral tales reached a peak with 2012's atypical police procedural "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" one that watched like a twofold quest, "One Search for a Body, Another for Meaning". Returning to similar territory, this darkness of winter Turkish stove-side epic is full of "Philosophic Musings Spun in Chekhovian Fashion" focusing on the sedentary years in the life of a former actor turned hotel-keeper reconciling himself to old age.

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. Much of the film's character is inspired by the theatre and filled with moralistic digressions explored explicitly in long, stagey discussions. No surprise then to see recognition given to Chekhov, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and Voltaire in the roll of the end credits. A convincing portrait of a vain, deluded, yet intensely charming man in decline, the structure is wide-ranging, with an undertow of several concurrent subplots. But for all it's engagement of questions of conscience, social responsibility, class, authority and self-deception, "Winter Sleep" is a drama of words rather action. We are given several striking outdoor sequences in the otherworldly beauty of the surrounding Cappadocian Steppes, these like breaths of air in the claustrophobic intellectual smothering that frame them. The vast majority of Ceylan's film takes place in the stone cave-like rooms of the hotel where our protagonist has essentially dug himself a shelter from the world. Surrounded by literature, criticism and philosophy, his only constant with the community outside his door through the pulpit of the editorial column he writes for the local paper, it is a "Rocky Kingdom of a Man With Petty Cares" in a hibernating sleepwalk through the final acts of his life.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Deafheaven & Lesbian West Coast Tour: Dec 2 - 4 | Pallbearer & Sólstafir West Coast Tour: Dec 2 - 19



The heavy rock end of the post-Black Metal spectrum continues to grow as a genre, encompassing melodicism and atmospheres lifted from Shoegaze and Spacerock punctuated by blistering eruptions of Metal drumming, riffs and noise. A sound reflected in the wallop of 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. 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. 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. Their excellent "Sunbather" album even garnering attention on NPR, where Lars Gotrich spoke of it's blistering sound, "Viking's Choice: Enter Deafheaven's Exhilarating 'Dream House'". Their live shows theatrical in extremis, and made affordable to all as Redbull Sound Select will be hosting Seattle's performance at Chop Suey on the west coast leg or their tour with Gloom-metalers Lesbian. Along with Krallice and Agalloch, Pallbearer represent the darker, heavier school of Blackness issuing from the Profound Lore label, a branch of a growing sound and scene that Brad Sanders detailed in his piece for The Quietus, "Untrue And International: Living in a Post-Black Metal World". The article acting as an excellent opening unto the dark passageways of this genre's multitude of representations. Pallbearer and their Icelandic tour-mates Sólstafir only a fringe of this global subgenre, theirs a sound as "Blessed By The Sabbath: Pallbearer Interviewed" and inclusive of everything from Neurosis to (as you'd expect) Black Sabbath in their approach to psych-leaning Metal. These two December shows representative of the fertile territory opening in the wake of Scandinavian Metal this past decade.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Winged Victory For The Sullen's new album "Atomos" & West Coast Tour with Hildur Gudnadóttir: Dec 9 - 16



The rarity of Stars of the Lid performing in the United States makes any opportunity to witness them or their associated solo endeavors and side-projects an event. In fact, their last west coast tour took place over 6 years ago with only midwest and east coast dates celebrating last year's massive Kranky Records 20th Anniversary. So when we have Adam Wiltzie of Stars of the Lid on a brief west coast tour of his collaborative project with Dustin O'Halloran, its a uncommon occasion to hear their live representation of these inner landscapes of lamentation, beauty, ascendancy and decay. Like Stars of the Lid, their music as A Winged Victory For The Sullen departs from the majority of Neoclassical orchestral music for it's sheer abstraction. Points of reference can be heard in the massing minor-key broodings of the German Romantic composers, a passage of a Gustav Mahler tone poem from one of the movements of his symphonies, or even the melodic shading of Claude Debussy's "Symphonique".

In interview with The Quietus, "Wings Of Desire: An Interview With Dustin O'Halloran" talks further on their fusion of the electric guitar's swooning melodic drone with O'Halloran's piano playing and these subterranean streams of classicism that flow through the music, giving albums like "Atomos" their stately weight. Their earliest works though more informed by 90's space and noiserock, the suggestion of scale and drama of these classical influences can still be heard in "Ballasted Orchestra" and "Avec Laudenum". Where A Winged Victory For The Sullen departs from these origins is in the more central position the piano plays, and it's here that O'Halloran's contribution is apparent. Together with the abstract melodicism of Icelandic cellist and minimalist composer, Hildur Gudnadóttir's exploration of the cello, as heard on this year's excellent "Saman", the night at The Triple Door is bound to be one of this year's more memorable occasions of contemporary chamber music. Photo Credit:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Bug's new album "Angels & Devils" and US Tour with Wolf Eyes: Oct 8 - Nov 15



Kevin Martin returns to the 'states for a monthlong tour with Wolf Eyes and Actress in tow! It's been many years since the bass-dub-ragga-MC-noise onslaught of The Bug and the weight of his matchless "Political Ragga Stomp" as coined by the Soul Jazz label was heard in Seattle. An equation wherein the bass is low the rhythms mad and the voice of man is chanting to time, energy, passion, hope, justice, retribution and love. A sonic assault comprised of equal parts reverb, delay, echo, noise, voice and bass. At unrelenting volumes. Martin's newest is a further exploration of the extremities previously witnessed on his "Pressure" and "London Zoo" albums, a record of myriad worlds and voices, a response to and escape from a world that "seems to be sliding in all directions". A focal point amidst times of great disunity, where global markets seem to be dividing cities between what Martin describes as "dilapidation and the curse of luxury apartments that has infested everywhere". His is a music of powerful, impassioned, venomous, inspired, soulful unity. This premise of the opposing forces of violent refusal and enveloping embrace are at the hear of Martin's current work, in his "The Bug: Sonic Warfare" interview for Resident Advisor, he links the idea behind the new album to man's unending struggle with positive and negative impulses. It's also an expression of his personal relationship as a listener. On the one hand, he desires for the club experience to be "annihilating" and on the other, he craves the "quiet zone", the psychological headspace in everyday life in which to reflect.

These bipolar extremes of confrontation and community are what give life to "Angels & Devils" who's body and mind are probed by The Quietus in their interview with Martin, "Cerebral Assassination & Physical Hits: The Bug Interviewed". Martin speaking passionately about decades of sounds from the weighty end of the spectrum, from finding inspiration in Brian Eno's production on "Low", to Adrian Sherwood's  legendary remix of Einstürzende Neubauten, to the physicality of what Surgeon does with techno forms. Going deeper, for The Wire's cover feature he mapped the through lines of his many metamorphoses, from GOD's car-crash improv of the 80's to King Midas Sound's dread-infused cosmic dancehall, even getting into the nitty-gritty of technique and hardware in, "The Bug: Portal of Modular Worship" and flavor-tested by Derek Walmsley for his, The Bug: Invisible Jukebox. These interviews spanning the arch of decades, all the way back to Martin's earliest collaborations with Justin Broadrick and their ensuing alchemical fission a product of his experiments as GOD finding a compatriot in Godflesh and their growing fascination with the weighty rhythms and hooks of dub and hip hop, giving genesis to the peerless millennial hip hop of Techno Animal. Album art: Simon Fowler / Cataract

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lav Diaz's "Norte, the End of History" at NWFF: Nov 14 - 20 | Ben Russell & Rivers' "A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness" at NWFF: Nov 15 | The Garden of Earthly Delights: Three films by Ben Russell at Grand Illusion Cinema: Nov 17 | Magic Lantern: Time as a Character in Contemporary Film at Frye Art Museum: Nov 16



Much has been made of last year's epic re-imagining of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" by the vanguard director at the forefront of Filipino cinema. Not least of which it ranking on notable Films of the Year lists, cited as a highlight of Cannes, and since it's distribution this year, as Film of the Week for both Sight & Sound and Film Comment. Unlike some of the director's previous work, his newest diverges from what's come to be called 'Slow Cinema' in that Lav Diaz's "Norte, the End of History" is as much a dynamic personal fiction with the ebb and flow of a narrative drama, set within the duration and structural expanses of Slow Cinema's spacial ambiance. This vantage from the perspective of the interpersonal is the force that moves the viewer through the larger existential and natural landscapes, guided by "Rays of Humanity in a Vile World: ‘Norte, the End of History,’ a Dostoyevskian Fable". Where Dostoevsky's novel comes into play is in the tone, attitude, and sensibility of Diaz’s film; the gravitas, the unrestrained philosophical questioning, the cryptic humor, the sometimes melodramatic tendencies.

Clear lines can be drawn between the characters of Fabian as our academic yet alienated Raskolnikov and Magda the avaricious pawnbroker Mrs. Ivanovna, and while it’s not clear in many of the supporting characters who is which of the novel's equivalents, much of the film’s first half feels like a direct transposition to a Philippine setting. And more than any other work, it can be seen as a culmination of Diaz’s long engagement with the Russian novelist, in this the most fully realized of his "Dostoevsky Variations". Fabian is embittered law student who has dropped out for vague reasons, which hasn’t stopped him from eloquently and endlessly debating with friends and former professors. Like Raskolnikov, Fabian believes in a sentiment-hating, results-oriented, pseudo-Nietzschean philosophy; and like Raskolnikov, he longs to put his philosophy into practice in the most radical way possible. The deed done, the film diverges significantly from the text, Dostoevsky’s relentless manhunt is replaced with an existential and at one point self-destructive quest through massive, unpopulated landscapes and dark city streets of the Filipino island of Luzon.



That same weekend at Northwest Film Forum in the way of Slow-er Cinema of time and space, the ethnographic explorations of Ben Rivers collaborative work with director Ben Russell and their Film of the Year list charting "A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness". The film featuring the performance and music of Robert A.A. Lowe of Lichens and OM, as a man on a quiet quest for Utopia: first in an Estonian commune, then alone in the European woods, and finally in the unlikely setting of a Black Metal concert. An expansive experimental work, in Film Comment's Interview: Ben Rivers and Ben Russell we see the process by which the two directors having crafted a sumptuous visual and sonic experience that is several things at once: the primitive, the transcendental, even a metaphor for cinema itself. The nature of the directors shared fusion of technique and form should come as no surprise to those familiar with Rivers' highly regarded documentary-drama fusion "Two Years at Sea" and where it is the case that in much of his work, "Little Happens, Nothing is Explained" this is a personal, reflective, observational, inward and outward looking cinema of time. Coinciding with Russell's attendance at NWFF for his workshop on Psychedelic Ethnography across town The Grand Illusion will be screening a rare evening of his shorts, "The Garden of Earthly Delights: Three films by Ben Russell".

Along with all of the above, the third weekend in November also marks the final of Robert Horton's monthly Magic Lantern screening and discussion series at The Frye Art Museum. After a decade-long tenure at the museum the Film Comment contributor will be closing out his time as host and moderator of the series with their annual Critics Wrap in December. This weekend's program is the final of the regular screenings, and a exceptional theme has been selected; Time as a Character in Contemporary Film. Through excerpts from the work of directors working either in duration-based cinema (Bela Tarr, Andrei Tarkovsky, Tsai Ming-liang), or narrative which utilizes time as a structural element (Aleksander Sokurov, Jia Zhang-ke, Richard Linklater), Horton will present and discuss these representations of time-focused cinema and the significance of their technical and psychological objectives in the age of the post-MTV quick cut.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ryoji Ikeda's "Superposition" at The Met NYC, Walker Art Center Minneapolis & UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance: Oct 17 - Nov 7



Ryoji Ikeda, the sound artist who in the late 20th Century redefined the parameters of what digital composition could be with his "Matrix" series while touring with multimedia theatre group Dumb Type bringing their visceral explorations of perception, time, light, sound and the body to (literally) sense-stunned audiences around the world. This couple year span was a rare stint of international performances from Ikeda and the Kyoto based theatre group exhibiting two major works on the subjects of mortality, "OR" and that of memory, "Momorandum". In the ensuing decade since, Montreal, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have played host to exhibits, installations and performances of his work, but very little in the way of other west coast opportunities. San Francisco's Recombinant Media Labs being one of the only exceptions, and even then, that was some eight years ago.

Since 2011 we've seen a reversal on this dearth of live activity, with New York hosting his awe inspiring "The Transfinite" installation at the Park Avenue Amory inspiring many viewers to "Voyage into the Cosmic Minimalism of Ryoji Ikeda". This fall New York City again finds itself as the focal point for his work in North America, with an exhibition of his visual work at Salon94 a performance at The Met of his current evolving audio-visual representation of research into the subatomic wold, "Superposition" coinciding with Prix Ars Electronica awarding Ikeda a residency at CERN and Ikeda's "Test Pattern" gracing the screens of Times Square every night at the stoke of midnight. New York won't be the only ones witnessing these sublime exercises in what the New York Times called, "Putting Cold Data in the Service of Language and Music" as Minneapolis' always progressive Walker Art Center presents "Data Swarms & Physical Sound: The Cerebral and Bodily Art of Ryoji Ikeda" and UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance hosts their own live representation of his singular lexicon of "Superpositions and Hyphens".