Sunday, February 25, 2018

King Hu's "Legend of the Mountain" at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 1 - 4



Outside of the rare retrospective such as BAMcinématek's, "All Hail the King: The Films of King Hu", the genre film of Hu Jinquan remains largely unseen in the west. More referenced and revered than screened, these seminal works have influence countless Wuxia films in the ensuing decades since their release, most notably Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Zhang Yimou’s “House of Flying Daggers". In the west there are of course the works of Quentin Tarantino, who has copped from them generously, lifting sequences and setting wholesale. The arthouse isn't immune to his spell, with a new generation of filmmakers from Hong Kong and mainland China offering reflections on Hu's legacy, as literally seen in Taiwanese Second Wave director Tsai Ming-Liang's elegiac ode to moviegoing and the city of Taipei, "Goodbye, Dragon Inn". Befitting a body of work of this influence and stature, and in a rare move for genre works Senses of Cinema have dedicated a Great Directors feature on Hu's warping and reformatting of the three tenets of 20th Century Wuxia cinema. His reconfiguring of the genre shifted the focus between the political world of the Jianghu, bewildering martial arts action, and most artfully in the case of Hu's later films, a resonant, abstract representation of Buddhist concepts. Last year saw Janus Films and Criterion produced and distributed new 4k restorations of two of Hu's masterworks in a domestic theatrical run which for many was a opportunity to see these films in the west. Particularly in the case of "A Touch of Zen". Celebrated upon it's release as the first non-mainland Chinese film to receive the Technical Grand Prize and nomination for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, Hu's epic emerged as an exemplary representation of the genre-form much in the same way that Sergio Leone’s stylized reimagining brought critical attention to the Italian Western. While we can now see his work against a very necessary and relevant context, via the wider distribution and availability of mid-Century Wuxia film, there can be no denial of Hu’s preeminence as a "Martial-arts Pioneer Who Brought Dynamic Grace to the Genre", and "A Touch of Zen"'s broader achievement and status as a masterpiece of world cinema.

Tony Williams details for Senses of Cinema, how it is that "A Touch of Zen", operates as a singular compilation of Eastern and Western stylistic features. In Hu's more sparing use of the obligatory Shaw Brothers Studio gestures, he instead accentuated shots of open vistas, great mountains, and the enveloping effect of the natural landscape. These were often set against tightly framed indoor scenes of persona drama, tension and comedy from Hu's own repertory company of familiar faces such as his onscreen avatar Shih Chun, the captivating Hsu Feng, Bai Ying, Han Hsieh, and Tsao Chien. The action playing out in whirlwind set pieces on isolated mountaintop roads and bamboo forest swordfights, delivered with visually beautiful compositions reminiscent of the director's passion for the theatre arts. The more overtly poetic elements in Hu's films are glimpsed in the intermingling of slow-motion depiction of high-flying martial arts choreography. The diffusion of light and protraction of time seen in these sequences, which then cut to shots of nature;  movement of reeds, water and trees, are suggestive of the combat moving into the realm of the supernatural. These gestures would come to characterize the director's later work beginning with "Dragon Inn", becoming more and more explicit as Hu emerged as a "Martial-arts Filmmaking Master, Who Bends Light and Arrows to His Will". As is the case made in Grady Hendrix's Kaiju Shakedown column for Film Comment focusing on the late, lost film "The Battle of Ono", the shift to the supernatural plane is what most defines the closing passages of "A Touch of Zen's Masterful Concoction of Cinematic Flavors". It is here that "Legend of the Mountain" shares much with the the director's proceeding string of films. The protracted quest of this, "Magical Mystery Marathon in Ancient China" who's road traverses a mesmerizing assembly of panoramas, intersects with supernatural encounters, and eventually leads to a series swirling martial arts set pieces, culminates in a one-of-a-kind confrontation of spiritual (and sonic) warfare. In it's new 4k restoration Kino Lorber Repertory have brought this rare, and entrancing Wuxia in a string of domestic screenings, including a four night run at Northwest Film Forum.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Elevator presents Corridor: A Festival of Light, Sound & Movement: Feb 24


The last five years have seen one of the most notable and striking changes to Seattle's underground, electronic, neoclassical and experimental music landscape. With the end of the summer 2015 came the final Northwest edition of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival, and in an open letter Decibel Festival's 13th year closed with programming director Sean Horton's farewell to the city. It should be noted that Horton has since announced the revival of the Decibel in 2018 in a Los Angeles iteration, with proposed Seattle satellite mini-festival to follow. In the two years following the closing of these expansive international forums, Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature, MOTOR, Patchwerks, False Prophet and Wayward Music Series have endeavored to fill the void, produced a string of memorable one-off events. Most notably, Elevator stepping up their programming for their Machine House Brewery location as well as showcases held at Kremwerk and Columbia City Theater, with curation that embraced a spectrum spanning the deep experimental underground to the sharpest of cutting edge urban sounds. Their vision represented by the diversity found in the intersection of the UK bass and club sounds of Gaika and Yves Tumor, to Julia Holter's lush interplay of jazz orchestrations, dissonant guitar and open-ended songform alongside the soaring vocalizations of Haley Fohr's Circuit Des Yeux. More experimental sounds were heard in the audio-visual tapestries of experimental filmmaker, Paul Clipson and Liz Harris' Grouper project at Northwest Film Forum, and the immersion and electronic concrete of Lawrence English with Rafael Anton Irisarri. Closing with the most striking performance in their programming history, the final of their seasonal showcases saw the collision of industrial surrealism and the dancefloor propulsion represented by the Modern Love label's Demdike Stare. Elevator's maturation in 2016 came with their expansion into exhibition and performance programming with the inauguration of Corridor Festival. Hailed as a unmitigated success in local press, it's daylong meeting of audio-visual media, installation art, music and performance fast became the city's best new festival for cutting edge sounds. Next week sees the arrival of the festival's third installment with an equally pan-media lineup held at the West Coast Printing building in the Central District. Their gamble on a daylong multimedia event in the heart of the industrial district, with a "New Georgetown Arts Festival Will 'Embrace Winter, Welcome Darkness, and Enjoy the Indoors'", filled a notable seasonal arts gap. Returning "After a Great Debut, Corridor Fest Brings Another Multimedia Spectacular to Georgetown" the following year with an equally successful event in which, "The Organizers of Corridor Festival Invite the City to Be Alone Together".

Sunday, February 4, 2018

"Winter Light: The Films of Ingmar Bergman" at Seattle Art Museum: Jan 11 - Mar 15



Its almost without exception that the work from the late 1950s to mid-1970s by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, "The Master Filmmaker, Who Found Bleakness and Despair, as well as Comedy and Hope", in his indelible explorations of the human condition, will appear on any film buff or art critics assessment of cinema of the 20th century. Look no further than The British Film Institutes' Greatest Films of All Time Poll for evidence. During those decades Bergman was at the height of his prowess, thanks initially to a string of films spanning "Summer with Monika", "Wild Strawberries", and "The Seventh Seal", made in rapid succession in under three years. These were not born out of the ether, but instead the product of an extraordinarily long apprenticeship, "Summer with Monika" (arguably his first great film), was his 10th. That the body of work that was to follow was also in severe contrast to the Neorealist school which had dominated post-War cinema, was one of it's popular strengths. Employing a analytic precision to the intellectual and existential disquiet that seemed fiercely at odds with the hedonistic nature of the times. Bergman's cinema centers around a grim obsession with an unflinching microexamination of emotional confrontation. In-part made possible by his collaborations with two great cinematographers (Sven Nykvist and Gunnar Fischer), and his team of skilled performers. Bergman literally astonished audiences with the degree to which he was willing to interrogate cruelty, death, and above all the torment of doubt. He used cinema to strip bare these central concerns of life, few directors integrating their personal turmoil into their body of work to the extent that Bergman did. An autobiographical cinema, not simply in the details of the drama drawn from experience, but also in the sense of its spiritual and artistic response to the complexities of marriage, the relation of the sexes, duplicity, illness (both physical and mental), death and the church.

His time in the theatre in Sweden as the director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm, brought to his film work a crucially interrelated set of technique and skill, and with it a devoted body of actors. These would form a locus around repeated roles from, Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bibi Andersson, Max von Sydow, and Liv Ullmann. This body of actors was central to the successful stretch of films following on the notoriety of his initial breakthrough trio of the 1950s. His star continued to shine through the following decade with an Academy Award for "The Virgin Spring", which was echoed the following year when "Through A Glass Darkly" received the Best Foreign Film award at the Oscars. What are arguably his greatest works followed in this period of the early to mid-1960s with, "Hour of the Wolf", "Winter Light", "The Silence", "Persona", and "Cries and Whispers" in 1971. With multiple series of restorations, and repertory representations, the largest body of which thanks to the work of Criterion Collection and Janus Films, his cinema has been examined and re-examined through the lens of decades. Criterion's collection of essays around these central films make for essential reading, beginning with what many consider to be his first true film, "Summer with Monika: Summer Dreaming", to "Wild Strawberries: “Where Is the Friend I Seek?”, "The Seventh Seal: There Go the Clowns", and later, "The Virgin Spring: Bergman in Transition". These essays also documenting the mid-career string of masterpieces, including, "Through a Glass Darkly: Patron Saint of Angst", "Winter Light: Chamber Cinema", "The Silence", and "The Persistence of Persona". This year sees another repertory theatrical run of his fiercest, strangest, most sensually brilliant and unclassifiable pictures, "Persona: Bergman's Enigmatic Masterpiece Still Captivates", as detailed by Peter Bradshaw in the pages of The Guardian. The restoration an aspect from Janus Films touring, "Ingmar Bergman's Cinema: A Centennial Retrospective", from which Seattle Art Museum has drawn their, "Winter Light: The Films of Ingmar Bergman".

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Noir City: Film Noir from A to B at SIFF Cinema: Feb 16 - 22


Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation are back in Seattle following last year's Noir City: The Big Knockover - Heists, Holdups and Schemes Gone Awry and the festival's return to the city in 2016, after their brief hiatus in 2015. The 16th iteration, Noir City 2018: Film Noir from A to B double bill format presents 9 "A" and "B" double bills, spanning the breadth of the original Film Noir era, 1941 to 1953. The total of 18 classic noirs are presented as a pairing a top tier studio "A" with a shorter, low budget "B" film second feature. All but one of the films in this year's Noir City will be screened on celluloid, many these bold 35mm prints courtesy of their collaborative efforts with The UCLA Film & Television Archive. The work of UCLA's Preservation Society and their annual touring Festival of Preservation offering one of the country's most, "Fascinating Windows into Our Cinematic Past". The work of the restorationists at the archive feature prominently in the LA Weekly's discussion of the expansive shift to digital distribution and projection nationwide, "Movie Studios are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital are Vast, and Troubling". In a notable year for The Film Noir Foundation, Muller took up permanent residence on TCM with a new a new programming franchise hosted by the Czar of Noir with the launch of his Sunday morning Noir Alley showcase. The platform allowing for wider exposure beyond the festival format, exploring the genre from every angle as he introduces a different noir classic each week. As a childhood devotee of Silver Age comics and the art of Jim Steranko, 2017 also saw Muller in a dream role on the printed page, further enshrining, "Noir Alley in the Pages of DC Comics". Arriving in Hollywood from across the sea, French director Julien Duvivier escaped the war at home by bringing his incredible style to offbeat studio films of the early '40s, exemplified by this anthology of supernatural tales. With a solid cast including Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Charles Boyer, Robert Cummings and Thomas Mitchel, "Flesh and Fantasy" watches as a legitimate prototype to Serling's "The Twilight Zone". Included here, "Destiny" was intended as the opening segment of the anthology, on it's strength Universal Studio cleaved off and released it the film as a 65 minute stand-alone feature. Brought together for the night, Noir City presents the four chapters of Duvivier's work in a rare screening as one complete program.

Other highlights from this year's festival program include Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 observation on the susceptibility of American small town life to the encroachment of a malevolent evil. Anchored by Joseph Cotten's mesmerizing performance, "Shadow of a Doubt" may be the director's ultimate expression of the ease with which a horror infects the banal simplicity of everyday life. In another rarity, never released on home video and long thought lost, "I Walk Alone" features Burt Lancaster as a Prohibition-era bootlegger who gets out of prison to find that his former partner is enjoying the spoils of their criminal enterprise. Revived in a new digital restoration courtesy of Paramount Pictures, can the torch singer between the two men, played by Lizabeth Scott, keep Kirk Douglas and Lancaster from their imminent and deadly feud?  Also presented in a new 35mm restoration courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Felix E. Feist's "The Man Who Cheated Himself", observes a veteran San Francisco homicide cop as he spirals into a moral morass when his married socialite lover "inadvertently" bumps off her husband. Utilizing its San Francisco locations to maximum impact, including a memorable climax at Fort Point, Feist spins a classic thriller in the James M. Cain mold. The only original screenplay penned by the legendary detective story writer Raymond Chandler, "The Blue Dahlia", made for the most famous pairing of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and a massive hit for Paramount, and in another Chandler vehicle, Howard Hawks sets up Humphrey Bogart to spar with Lauren Bacall, in one of the greatest lead parings ever to grace the screen. Infamously circuitous and twisting, "The Big Sleep" still takes significant unknotting, even when tackled by the astute and expertise of Roger Ebert in his Great Movies column. Other classic noir sourced of literary material, Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade character, perfectly portrayed by Humphrey Bogart, makes for pure gold in this search first for a missing person, and then for it's titular, "Maltese Falcon". A highlight of its director's filmography, Michael Curtiz' "Mildred Pierce", is a vehicle for the ferocious and career defining role from Joan Crawford as a hard-working housewife caught in monetary troubles as a consequence of a blackmail plot involving her daughter. Generational work ethic, class, entitlement and privilege are explored in this James M. Cain adaptation to even greater success than Todd Haines quality effort of 2011.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Drew McDowall performs Coil's "Time Machines" Tour: Feb 10 - 17


After the rapturous vocal invocations and dream-murmuring of Jhon Balance ceased upon his accidental death in 2004, his creative partner and ex-lover Peter Christopherson began the endeavor of constructing a final statement on the decades of their shared creative project as Coil. Work had also begun on a comprehensive archive of their recorded output, yet the "Colour Sound Oblivion" box set was to be the only publicly released artifact of this endeavor before Peter's own demise in 2010. Jon Whitney of the longstanding online music and underground culture entity Brainwashed issued a statement in 2015 establishing among other things, the ongoing continuance of his work on their shared endeavor in the wake of Peter's death. Upon the occurrence of the Brainwaves Festival in 2008 he and Christopherson began the assimilating and building of the highest quality materials available representing Coil's recorded history into the intended corpus that would become the Threshold Archives. As the entity sanctioned by Christopherson and the family of Geff Rushton, the archives released the first of their proposed series in that year. 2015 also saw other recordings released of varying and less official propriety. Foremost among them, Danny Hyde produced his personal master tapes of the legendary, rumored "Backwards" album from the British and New Orleans sessions in a edition newly remastered by Gregg Janman. Hyde's statement on the Cold Spring Records site crediting it's entombment for decades at the hands of Interscope to Universal Music's "grey men", and their legal contract concerning it's initial release. Late in his life, in a 2009 interview as part of Resonance FM's feature, "Peter Christopherson on the Hour of the Apocalypse", Coil's central figure spoke to the aesthetic and technical nature of those recordings from a decade before. In the interview he details the choice to withhold the release of the fruit born of the sessions spent in the mid-1990s following an invitation to record in Trent Reznor's New Orleans studio. The decade that followed saw the most striking stylistic shift from the duo, embracing a wider body of influences from jazz, to krautrock, psychedelia, club-oriented electronic music, eastern trance and ritualistic music, and Indian Raga. With the expansion of their sound, their roster also grew to encompass film critic Stephen Thrower and Ossian Brown, who would themselves continue such "Happy Hauntings" into related aural hinterlands as Cyclobe. At the time a quartet comprising the central constants of Peter and Jhon, who were joined by Thighpaulsandra of Spiritualized and the Julian Cope band, and Drew McDowall, who would become the only other ongoing participants in Coil. As Astralnauts making forays into "The Sounds of Blakeness", Balance and Christopherson were rarely known to look to their own past, particularly in the throes of this quintet's new body of somnambulistic Moon Musick.



This stretch of years not only saw a heightened period of musical output and stylistic expansion, but also a engaged social and philosophical impetus at work. Less hermetic than in decades past, Peter and Jhon revealed the inner workings of their "Obscure Mechanics" in a series of journeying interviews for The Wire. The half-decade that followed was prolific as Coil continued into even further-afield esoteric realms of aural exploration, generating numerous side projects and pseudonyms along the way. Their "Black Light District: A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room", the Scrying Mirror enhanced Time Machines and ritualistic Solstice series, hinting at the spectral, haunted atmospheres and semi-improvised, open ended songforms that would characterize the later Musick to Play in the Dark albums of the millennial cusp. Looking to facilitate this shift towards a more expansive embracing of diverse sounds, their shared fascination with the music of LaMonte Young would move Peter, Jhon and Drew towards a more minimal parsing of Coil, reflected in their first collaborations as "Worship the Glitch". Utilizing the techniques of minimalism toward the end of a ritual music engineered to effect the psyche and invocation of a liminal state, these collaborations led to their purest realization with the engineering of, "Time Machines: Drew McDowall On Coil's Drone Legacy". With the reissue this past winter of this singular, musical, ritualistic device within the Coil discography, McDowall has taken the opportunity to present the work in a live setting in select cities across North America. Speaking further with FACT on his legacy with Coil and brief tenure with Psychic TV, McDowall has also developed a body of current recordings, reflective of the sharp edge of these tenuous times, "Industrial legend Drew McDowall on Coil and confronting Global Crisis". For those looking to explore the 22 years of mystic, psychedelic, rapturously unique and deeply beguiling music Jhon and Peter created over the decades of Coil's existence, there is no better guide to their cultural continuum than David Keenan's "England's Hidden Reverse: A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground". More concise compendiums tend to be on the exiguous side, but few resources online balance Coil's deep plumbing of the esoteric with their occasional alignment with the cultural milieu better than Russell Cuzner's Strange World Of... feature for The Quietus, "Serious Listeners: The Strange and Frightening World of Coil". Shortly before his death, further insight was offered into the labyrinth of their lives, art and music when Christopherson  spoke on, "Living in The Back of Beyond: Coil's Sleazy Interviewed". Discussing the later years of his life in Thailand, the first of what he describes as the "Coil Codex" that would later become Threshold Archives, and the closing of his partnership with Jhon. Reflecting on their decades of transcending conventions in genre, sexuality, the cultural mores of modern Europe, and a life spent mapping the artistic and occult peripheries of a hidden England.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

:::: FILMS OF 2017 ::::


TOP FILMS OF 2017 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
--------------------------------------------------------------
David Lynch & Mark Frost "Twin Peaks: The Return" (United States)
Denis Villeneuve "Blade Runner 2049" (United States)
Anocha Suwichakornpong "By the Time it Gets Dark" (Thailand)
João Pedro Rodrigues "The Ornithologist" (Portugal)
Aleksei German Jr. "Under Electric Clouds" (Russia)
Bertrand Bonello "Nocturama" (France)
Lucrecia Martel "Zama" (Argentina)
Andrey Zvyagintsev "Loveless" (Russia)
James Gray "The Lost City of Z" (United States)
Sergei Loznitsa "A Gentle Creature" (Russia)
Chu Hsien-Che "White Ant" (Taiwan)
Sunao Katabuchi "In this Corner of the World" (Japan)
Alejandro Jodorowsky "Endless Poetry" (Chile)
Robin Campillo "BPM (Beats Per Minute)" (France)
Edward Yang "Taipei Story" Restored Rereleased (Taiwan)
Hou Hsiao-Hsien "Daughter of the Nile" Restored Rereleased (Taiwan)
Louis Malle "Elevator to the Gallows" Restored Rereleased (France)
Karel Zeman "The Fabulous Baron Munchausen" Restored Rereleased (Czech Republic)
David Fincher, Asif Kapadia & Andrew Douglas  "Mindhunter"  (United States)
Albert Serra "The Death of Louis XIV" (Spain)
Agnieszka Holland "Spoor" (Poland)
Agnès Varda & JR "Visages Villages" (France)
Bertrand Tavernier "My Journey Through French Cinema" (France)
Raoul Peck "I Am Not Your Negro" (United States)
Koji Fukada "Harmonium" (Japan)

A year has now passes since favorable ratings, and public appetite for spectacle motivated both liberal and conservative media to elevate a reality TV celebrity, media mogul and real estate magnate to one of the most influential positions of power in the world. All the while, the other aspect of the dominant two party system marginalized their more viable candidate. Consequently we find ourselves in in an environment in which high and low-level attacks have been leveled at the remaining journalistic press and even the First Amendment itself. These effects amplified by the net overabundance of the 21st Century, in which media sources are decentralized, but not necessarily diversified, presenting a new set of dangers to the less digitally savvy. Between the polarization of the commercial news sources, and self constructed corridors of social media posts by like-minded individuals, America not only receives different information, as a divided nation, we perceive different realities. Yet it remains, without true journalism, there can be no Democracy. All of this will no doubt be accelerated in the changed information environment, as the end of decades of hard-fought battles conclude with the repeal of Net Neutrality. Less travel this year, both domestic and international translated as being essentially grounded here in the United States, with the noise and confusion spinning out from the fallout of the election cycle. In the midst of it all, it was a great relief to find memorable performances, festivals and exhibitions domestically. Gallery-going and the cinema played an even more prominent role, hitting near the mark of 300 films seen, it was another record setting year in catching films in the theater. A highlight in performance was the occasion of a rare Northwest visit from the world-class dancers of Company Wayne McGregor and their presentation of A Winged Victory for the Sullen's "Atomos". The most notable arts event witnessed this year was the third-annual Paul Allen funded Seattle Art Fair, initial speculation on it's inaugural launch as to the fair being another philanthropist vanity project have been dispelled. This year's fair saw an expanded body of galleries, some 84 in total, along with it's program of talks, on-and-off site performances and collateral events. The latter under the umbrella of the fair's Project series, presenting immersive and large-scale works spanning sculpture, performance, and installation beyond the art fair booth and into adjacent neighborhoods of the city. Taken with the concurrently running "Out of Sight" exhibition, returning for its third-annual survey of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest, the new curatorial team under the direction of exhibition caretaker, Scott Lawrimore, produced a national caliber event. 

Reflecting the further changing economic and cultural landscape of Seattle two regional festivals which had previously brought an international scope to the city had closing and transitional years in 2015. That year saw the final installments of the region's two dominant festivals of electronic, neoclassical and experimental music. The final Northwest edition of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival came and went, and in an open letter Decibel Festival's 13th year closed with programming director Sean Horton's farewell to the city. Horton has since announced the revival of the Decibel in 2018 in a Los Angeles iteration, with proposed Seattle satellite mini-festival to follow. In the two years since the closing of these expansive international forums, Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature, MOTOR, Patchwerks, False Prophet and Wayward Music Series have filled the void, produced a string of memorable one-off events. Elevator's maturation in 2016 into exhibition curation with the inauguration of Corridor Festival was hailed as a unmitigated success in local press. It's daylong meeting of audio-visual media, installation art, music and performance has evolved into the city's best new festival for cutting edge sounds. Certainly moreso than Paul Allen's less successful migration into music and media with the launch of Upstream. Though there were gems buried even here, with showcases curated by Kremwerk and False Prophet, offering up sets by Boy Harsher, Not Waving, Pye Corner Audio and JLIN. The end of the summer season saw the shuttering of the Elevator monthly, yet it's programmers will continue the festival into 2018, promising an equally forward thinking festival of light, sound, and movement from the media and performance underground this coming February.

For the larger part of global cinema, the digital age is still proving to be at a narrow impasse rather than the promised plateau of abundance, which many are learning to navigate. Particularly evident in the world of film distribution, though footing has been found on some of the growing independent streaming platforms. Award winning films from festivals in New York, Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Hong Kong, Seoul, Cannes, Paris, London, Toronto and Cannes topping both Film Comment, Cinema-Scope and the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound annual overviews, have yet to screen in the United States. Or even show up streaming online. So count yourself fortunate that you live in a international city if you do, as more and more of the world's greatest film aren't to be found for purchase, rent, streaming or even download (legal or otherwise). Both this year's Seattle International Film Festival and 2016 showed stronger programming than the less than memorable selection of years before, which was disheartening after the exceptional year had in 2014 for their 40th Anniversary. Their year-round programming at SIFF Cinema compensating for the oversights of the festival, bringing advance screenings, rare prints and numerous exclusive screenings to their three cinemas including the Film Center and recently restored Egyptian. The second-run Recent Raves series being the best thing SIFF had going until it's suspension at the end of last year. Here's hoping for it's return in 2018. With indie cinemas closing around the nation, it was that much more important to support the local theater opportunities. Particularly with the subsuming of Sundance Theaters into the corporate AMC chain and the fast-shrinking and now single remaining regional theater of the independent Landmark Theatres. Our own Northwest Film Forum had a strong calendar year, in stiff competition with the programming seen on the longest running independent screen in this town, The Grand Illusion Cinema. In a succession of years, this micro-sized theater in Seattle stepped up to fill the growing theater void after strengthening their nonprofit partnership with Scarecrow Video. Many of the best films seen this year, when they did come to the cinema, had runs that lasted no more than a week. Others were never to appear again outside of an initial festival screening. One can't imagine that in the age of digital piracy that this process has aided films in finding their audience. Again proving the wisdom of getting out there, seeing the city and prioritizing the remaining opportunities that we're fortunate to have in our urban crossroads. Even so, no small percentage of these films even avid theater-goers living in urban centers didn't get to see. Making the almost singular resource that is Scarecrow Video, recipient of the 2016 Stranger Genius Award, that much more irreplaceable.

More worrying is the dearth of global cinema and critically lauded works available to view on the dominant streaming resources. In a span of a half decade, it's become graphically apparent that, "For Cinephiles, Netflix Is Less and Less an Option". Which stands in stark contrast to the abundance offered in the annual overviews seen above. The diminishing of both quantity and diversity on the platform has been further accelerated by the phasing out their physical media catalog. For a microcosm, look to the fact that less than 1/15th of "Spike Lee's list of 86 Essential Films" are available to view on Netflix. The per-capita is even more poor when one examines any of the selections made in the global poll of 900 critics, programmers and academics for the British Film Institute's, "The 50 Greatest Films of All Time". And don't think to go to Hulu or Amazon as an alternative, despite their claims. As a product, resources like Fandor, Mubi, and FilmStruck have risen as the online destination of choice for film lovers. The trio of platforms becoming the foremost streaming resources through which online viewers have access to the true scope of the past twelve decades of moving pictures. In the case of FilmStruck, Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection launched an endeavor wherein the vast libraries under the purview of the two institutions, containing thousands of classic, foreign, and arthouse films invested in a "Streaming Service that Places a Big Bet on Cinephiles". Facilitating particularly valuable programming and distribution, all three platforms have stepped into the international festival arena. The fruits of their curation and criticism offered throughout the year in their respective digital magazines, Notebook, Streamline and (the now shuttered) Keyframe. In many ways "Mubi: A Streaming Service with a Ticking Clock" coming out on top.

Unlike the "Streaming Rabbit Hole Worth Falling Down" represented by Fandor and FilmStruck, each offering a vast catalog of thousands of titles, Mubi watches as a online cinema of sorts, with a new film featured every day. In addition to the monthlong selection of titles on offer, Mubi has engaged in special programming with festival series, director highlights and movement and genre overviews. In just the past year showcasing such luminaries as Jean-Luc Godard, Seijun Suzuki, Raul Ruiz, Andrei Tarkovsky, Anthony Mann, Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman, John Boorman, Mario Bava, and Michelangelo Antonioni. The platform upped the standard further in 2016 with their "It's About Time: The Cinema of Lav Diaz" feature on the Filipino director's rarely screened, extended duration film, which stood for many cinephiles as the streaming event of the year. Forging into new territory, Mubi's Special Discovery series has showcased new films selected from the world's most prestigious festivals, spanning works from established directors alongside some of the boldest new talent emerging on the scene. It's first year encompassing such diverse and original works as, the quotidian urban dream-drama, "Out of Time: Damien Manivel's 'Le Parc'", "Scarred Hearts", a follow-up from Romanian New Wave director Radu Jude's award winning "Aferim!", Léa Mysius' Cannes premiering debut feature, "Ava", and Nikkatsu's relaunch of it's legendary Roman Porno tradition, with new films by Sion Sono and Akihiko Shiota. The most striking of the series' offerings issuing from Russia, including an intimate observation on the fall of the Soviet Union from the first-person vantage of Moscow's streets, "Don’t Let Them Deceive You: Sergei Loznitsa’s 'The Event'", and one of the most notable prize winners from as reported by Olaf Möller for Film Comment on the Berlin International Film Festival. Which came in the form of a work by the son a late Russian auteur. Produced a film of epic ambition that delivers an allegorical full century from the Bolshevik revolution into it's vision of near-future science fiction as a, "Slow Cinema of the Apocalypse: Aleksei German, Jr.'s 'Under Electric Clouds'".

For all the talk in recent years of auteur television in the United States, exemplified by Noah Hawley's adaptation of the Coen Brother's property, "Fargo", Vince Gilligan's "Breaking Bad" and Nic Pizzolatto's "True Detective", three solidly constructed series which characterize the positive examples of this competent, complex and atmospheric television spanning season-long developmental arcs. To date, my vote has gone not to American or British television, but to the French and Australian. Bruno Dumont's by turns morbid and comedic, "Acid Black Comedy Set in Small-Town France" of "Li'l Quinquin", which watched as a elusively beguiling, subconscious, suggestively surreal crime drama set in the isolated farming community near Calais. The other, Jane Campion's notably more stoic approach in "Top of the Lake" to a missing persons drama in rural New Zealand, in which the Australian director constructed a paranoid and deeply cinematic, "Serial Television as Epic Poem". Both exemplary of a developing subgenre of style, the longform format exploiting the structural benefits of, "When TV Takes its Time". That all changed this year with the arrival of the newest set of "Serial Killer Variations" found in David Fincher's "More Chatter than Spatter", FBI period procedural, "Mindhunter", and the revisiting of David Lynch and Mark Frost after 25 years in, "Twin Peaks: The Return". Cause to rejoice, it's been a long and circuitous path from "How ‘Twin Peaks’ Got Lost, and Found Its Way Back", now arriving in the midst of the abundance of cinematic, director-driven television. Rather than a recreation of the concerns, technical form and approach of the original, the new miniseries advances the art beyond the standards of what one would expect even in the current environment of longform streaming content. All the while also joyfully exhibiting Lynch's love of film, in its numerous nods to cinema history.

The whole of the 18 episodes delivering a experience that watches like nothing else, it is truly "Beautiful, Grandiose, Cryptic, and Punishingly Tedious: That's Why Twin Peaks is So Beguiling". For those who were following the new miniseries as it aired, an assembly of critical interpretation, enhancement and viewing aides were thankfully documented by Criterion via their ongoing "Twin Peaks Returns" column. Expert and insightful weekly recaps can also be found on Mubi, The New York Times (concluding with a serving of weekly "donuts") and The Guardian, for those looking to delve deeper during their viewing. The miniseries also offering relevant connective tissue, thematically and technically bridging the spaces between and following on the events of the theatrical, "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me". Though Booed at Cannes and the target of frustrated Twin Peaks fans and critics upon its release, the film has since gained a reevaluation with context and distance. Pieces like Calum Marsh's "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is David Lynch's Masterpiece" and Alex Pappademas' "Anatomy of a Fascinating Disaster: Fire Walk With Me" have become increasingly more common. The past year also saw the further expansion of the film's narrative with the revealing of the long-rumored footage cut from the film after its Cannes premier. This can finally be seen in the bonus material offered on Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, and the new Criterion Collection 4k restoration. Lynch spoke with The Guardian on the eve of its release, exuberant at the opportunity to return to the content and reassemble a narrative from their fragmented form. Editing the whole of the deleted scenes from the film into a stand-alone viewing experience featuring 90 minutes of previously unseen footage as The Missing Pieces.

What proved to be the greatest science fiction vision seen on the big screen this year, may also very well come to be considered the most notable work of technological speculative fiction this decade. In an unexpected broadening of it's scope, Denis Villeneuve's sequel to the Ridley Scott neo-noir of 1982 finds itself concerned with the larger social implications of the established world borrowed from Philip K Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Rather than just a work that, as some have posited, is misogynist in regard to its depiction of women, it is instead the totality of the world of the film, and the locus of its values which are an examination of pervasive denigration, humiliation and the diminishing of human value as a whole. As Tim Hayes puts forward in, "Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s Hallowed Sci-Fi Classic Burns Bright with Uncomfortable Questions", to lumber the film with the task of fixing society rather than interrogating it first, is small minded. It supposes that art should present answers rather than questions, turning the imperative of supplying a moral vantage into a prerequisite for the audience's fulfillment and satisfaction. These concerns are essential biproducts of the investigation central to the life's work of what Rolling Stone then called, "The Most Brilliant Sci-Fi Mind on Any Planet". Through volume of perception shifting, politically multilayered work, Philip K. Dick pursued his singular inquiry into, "What constitutes the authentic human being?", extrapolating a body of science fiction that would become among the most influential in all of popular media by the turn of the century.

It's very probable that there is no other corpus by a 20th Century science fiction author as indirectly instrumental in Hollywood's transformation of popular storytelling as that of Dick. So it is that the author's regard extended to the variation in setting and theme that Ridley Scott, Hampton Fancher and his production team brought to 1982's "Blade Runner", for it remaining true to his fundamental examination of human authenticity. A line of inquiry further stressed in a setting of even greater complexity, isolation, and dehumanizing stratification found in Villeneuve and Fancher's expansive sequel. "This Gigantic Spectacle of Pure Hallucinatory Craziness" remains at it's core, focused on the dominant question of Philip K. Dick's life work. Whether the qualities of it's stunning visual realization, or the complexity of it's philosophical inquiry, resonate with the times sufficiently to earn the film the status of a "future classic", remains to be seen. Regardless of it's popular reception, this tale of the shattering and reconstruction of one underclass being's worldview while, "Hunting Replicants Amid Strangeness", fluidly traverses states of being visceral, spectacular and profound. All the while remaining sinuous in it's malevolence and disregard for human life. In working through Dick's central, humanist query, along its course, Denis Villeneuve's film comes to find itself a worthy successor to Ridley Scott’s original. In concurrence with Jonathan Romney, in a time in which belated sequels to classics ought never to work, (or even be made for that matter), Blade Runner 2049 feels like a slow, enigmatic, elusive hallucination of a movie, miraculously realized. 

While a strong year for contemporary cinema, some of the greater revelations came from decades past. The highest concentration of which was seen delivered by the work of institutions like Criterion Collection, Eureka / Masters of CinemaCurzon Artificial Eye, and Kino Lorber, who continue to fund the restoration and rerelease of some of the past century's greatest film. The fruits of which have found screens and audiences throughout the world thanks to the work of long-lasting and legendary distributor, Janus Films. This shared vision brought Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation World Cinema Project to both big screens and small, the first volume of which, "In Six Neglected Films, Expressed a Universe of Yearning". The second volume featured among other notable works from around the globe, another rarely seen aspect of the filmography of Edward Yang and his tale of, "One Couple’s Promising ‘Taipei Story,’ Slowly Undermined". The early works of Yang and his collaborator and Taiwanese New Wave contemporary, Hou Hsiao-Hsien can both be described as new form explorations of, "Heartache and Confusion of Adolescence from an Arthouse Master". Something of a renaissance for these director's work in the west, the "Baffling, Beautiful and Newly Restored" films of these two auteurs have been further capped this year by the first-ever theatrical run of Hou's "Daughter of the Nile". Independent distributors like Strand Releasing, Cohen Media Group, Music Box, Cinema Guild, Film Movement, and Grasshopper, brought both groundbreaking new cinema and repertory classics to homes and theaters in the US. Smaller British and American reissue imprints like Shout! / Scream Factory, Twilight Time, Arrow / Arrow Academy, and the newly launched Indicator, specializing in genre pictures and fringe works by directors of note, unearthing multitudes of lost and rare gems.