Sunday, November 5, 2017

Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" & Ruben Östlund's "The Square" at SIFF Cinema: Oct 27 - Nov 23

A couplet of the jewels from this year's Cannes, as unearthed by Criterion, The Guardian, The New York Times, Sight & Sound, and the extensive coverage for Film Comment seen in Dennis Lim's "Keeping at It", Kent Jones' "A Six-Letter Word", Nicolas Rapold's "Catastrophes on Parade", and Amy Taubin's "The Speed of Light in a Vacuum", are finally seeing time on domestic screens with a monthlong run at SIFF Cinema. Foremost among them, there's been much ado both in cinema and visual art circles concerning the Palme d'Or winning, "The Square" in which director, "Ruben Östlund Turns Art World Satire into Performance-Art Cinema". Following on his observation on fear, masculinity and European middle-class woes, Östlund now "Takes Aim at Art, Sex, Money and More", in his "Lofty, Laboured Cinematic Lecture on Inequality". Set in a related class milieu, Yorgos Lanthimos' "Replays the Greek Tragedy of Iphigenia as Modernist Guignol", through "‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ Depicts Familiar Torment" as a thriller in which the movie’s subject becomes the bankrupt sterility of upper middle-class mores. Having built a solid filmography on outrageous premises, a self-conscious deadpan style, and actors skilled in a explicitly cryptic form of straight-faced absurdity, Lanthimos directs the proceedings through a vantage on the hermetic, comfortable privilege of one suburban American family, as it incrementally spins into bourgeois nightmare. But where Lanthimos' "The Lobster" adopted an ostentatiously eccentric, almost farcical mode of political satirism, with "Colin Farrell Playing a Divorced Man in a Loner-Hating Future Society", his newest foregrounds its seriousness in the form of a methodical, starkly ritualistic severity.

As is the tradition with Cannes, opinions diverge among the press. In the pages of The Guardian's coverage, "Cannes 2017 Awards: Visceral Power Overlooked in Favour of Bourgeois Vanity", Peter Bradshaw saw the festival bestow the fruits of this year's awards on a set of elegant dissections of bourgeois absurdity and vanity. In the process overlooking the more visceral power of entries seen in, "An Eerie Thriller of Hypnotic, Mysterious Intensity" from Andrei Zvyagintsev, "Joaquin Phoenix Turning Travis Bickle in Brutal Thriller" as directed by Lynne Ramsay, and Sergei Loznitsa's "Brutally Realist Drama Offering Up a Pilgrimage of Suffering". Similar observations can be found from Nick James in Sight & Sound, in which there was little consensus among critics on, "What Should have Won the 2017 Cannes Palme d’Or?". Arguing the divided nature of the awards are the product of the competition being the weakest of recent times, producing a wide open field expressed in the random enthusiasms of Pedro Almodovar’s jury. Yet there was consistency found in the consensus among critics that Lynn Ramsay's kidnap thriller, "You Were Never Really Here", Andrey Zvyagintsev’s disintegrating family drama "Loveless", and the Safdie brothers’ frenetically chaotic urban misadventure "Good Time", should have all walked away with more notice in the form of awards.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner: The Final Cut" & Denis Villeneuve's "Blade Runner 2049" at Seattle Cinerama: Sept 29 - Oct 29

In an unexpected broadening of it's scope, Denis Villeneuve's sequel to the Ridley Scott's film of 1982, "Blade Runner 2049", 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. It's elementary that women, children, replicants, and anyone so unfortunate as to be underclass "little people", in the street-speak of Blade Runner, would be so reductively commodified. The film's representation of the objectified of the body, both biological and digital, is most exemplified in the discomfiting space of the encounter between the Wallace companion product Joi, and the replicant "pleasure model", Mariette. No viewer with half-decent self knowledge could fail to register Mariette's accusatory response after the encounter. Or the explicit reinforcement of Joi's character as a simulacrum of social relations into which user's project meaning, later in the film, when we encounter her towering large from a holographic billboard. 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.

The desensitizing effects of the brutal disregard for the world, its environment and the plundering of its natural resources, are just by extension the most dominant outward signs of the setting's maladies. The inner signs of its illness are manifest through the more subtle and ambiguous aspects of daily life; a populace deeply estranged from one-another, yet seeking self validation fed by manufactured and digital companionship. Like the original, the concerns of a genetically engineered slave race workforce serving both a essential industrial, agricultural and public labor need, but also the demands of private ownership and sexual exploitation, remain the world's most troubling facet. It may be that James Baldwin is an unlikely point of perspective when discussing an interpretation of Ridley Scott, and now Denis Villeneuve and Hampton Fancher's adaptations of Philip K Dick. Yet for "Blade Runner 2049", his life's work functions with humanism and great utility. The American writer, critic and notable intellectual voice of the 1950s and 60s, remains an essential component of the Civil Rights Movement and any invested discussion of the intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in the 20th Century. Baldwin's novels and plays fictionalize fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures which thwart the equitable integration not only of African Americans, but also of women, and homosexuals, while depicting the manifesting of internalized obstacles to such individuals' quests for acceptance. His work also deals in the diminishing and humiliating effects of racism and bigotry on white culture itself.

These considerations play in tandem with Philip K Dick's own lifelong exploration of the dehumanizing effects of propaganda, class engineering, corporate technocracies, labyrinthine bureaucracies, authoritarian governments, and the isolating effects of media saturation, gross materialism, and oppressive urban conditions. Dick's work also finds itself concerned with the nature of reality in increasingly technologically altered perceptual spaces and parallel realities. Between the two points of concern explored by Dick and Baldwin, the media theory of Marshall McLuhan also serves as an important point of reference is described the arch along which the world we live could travel to find itself at the destination of "Blade Runner 2049". It is no coincidence that this trio of writers, theorists and critics produced their most notable work in the environment of the Civil Rights era. In-part as a response to the unchecked and accelerating mid-20th Century development of the Military Industrial Complex, but also the birth and first flourishes of the mediascape which would come to touch every home, every day, on every occasion, as the eventual technological mediating of experience. Framed by these real world considerations, what Rolling Stone then called, "The Most Brilliant Sci-Fi Mind on Any Planet" 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 body of work by a 20th Century 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 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 being both spectacular and profound, all the while remaining sinuous in it's malevolence and disregard for human life. In working through Philip K Dick's central, humanist query, along its course, Denis Villeneuve's film comes to find itself a worthy sequel 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.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

All Monsters Attack at Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 20 - 31 | Dario Argento's uncut "Suspiria": Oct 26 - 27 & Terrore Giallo! series at Northwest Film Forum: Nov 1 - Dec 20 | Goblin "The Sound of Fear" Tour: Oct 25 - Nov 11

There isn't enough in the way of All Hallows' Eve theme programming and revival series in the local cinema. Which is a shame as this is truly the season for genre film and it's frights, disorienting surrealism and crepuscular atmospheres. Thankfully, Scarecrow Video steps up with their October screening room calendar and curated Halloween selection of domestic and international horror, sci-fi and genre movies. And this year, the Psychotronic Challenge returns for it's second installment, daring viewers to select a new theme category for every day in October. One of the longest running, and most consistently satisfying of the local theater series has been The Grand Illusion Cinema's monthlong All Monsters Attack calendar of horror, creature features, classic thrillers, sci-fi, and cult cinema. This year's installment features a set of the core genre gems that audiences have come to expect, with a side of European works from the fringe. Looking back, the citywide cinematic offering saw a great set of films exploring desolate worlds, classic Japanese horror, a vampiric romaticism double feature and a night of music from a maestro of Italian horror. Also in the way of previous Halloween seasons of note, the local arthouse cinemas presented a small abundance on the theme of the haunted house in 2015, and 2013 saw no small number of invaders from beyond. This year, thanks to The Chicago Cinema Society and their discovery of a uncut 35mm print of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” that had sat in a storage room of a derelict theater since it was last screened in 1978, Northwest Film Forum will host the two night stopover in Seattle. Following on its heals, Film Forum has also programmed a finely-tuned monthlong series of "The Italian Masters of Shock and Gore", with a selection of Yellow Cinema gems, aptly titled, "Terrore Giallo!". That same week also sees the Italian progressive rock legends Goblin make a return to Neumos, for another of the stateside tours since their reactivation in 2005. The quartet came to greater prominence within Giallo circles in the late 70s with a string of scores to Dario Argento's now classic "Profondo Rosso", "Tenebrae", and the aforementioned, "Suspiria". Seen in fragmented and recombinant lineups in the last decade, this current iteration of the band on their domestic "Sound of Fear" tour, does not include in it's numbers, keyboardist Claudio Simonetti. Rounding out the selection, SIFF Cinema do their bit with a one-night screening of John Carpenter's influential "Halloween", followed by a weekend run of George Romero's classic "Night of the Living Dead". Which, it should be noted, this year the director who birthed the very genre of the living undead on film, passed away, "George Romero, Father of the Zombie Movie, Dies at Age 77". It should also be said that the year also saw the loss of one of the greats of American genre cinema, and progenitor of the modern horror film, with the death of "Tobe Hooper: The Director Who Took a Chainsaw to Wholesome Family Life".

Sunday, October 1, 2017

French Cinema Now at SIFF Cinema: Sept 28 - Oct 5 | Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 6 - 9

The week sees the opening of Seattle International Film Festival's annual French Cinema Now series at SIFF Cinema. This year's program largely concerned with functional Eurodramas, little else on offer speaks to the exceptional quality of Agnes Varda's most recent investigation of place and identity, "Visages Villages". In the course of her humble, quietly groundbreaking, nearly 60-year career, this highlight of Cannes stands out as one of her most profoundly personal and exuberantly populist works. Much like her quietly triumphant, "The Gleaners and I" it watches as a tour de France that is both a romp and a meditation on photography, cinema, cultural identity, community and mortality. Additionally, the film is also a document of the unexpected kinship between anonymous 33 year old visual artist JR, and the octogenarian Left Bank auteur. Inspired equally by JR’s large scale photographic portraits produced in his mobile photo booth, as the locales they aspire to have a visual dialogue with, Varda enlists her counterpart for an impromptu cross-country road trip through France. At once poetic and naked truth, like director's best work, the documentary essay shape-shifts before one’s eyes, once again, "Agnès Varda, People Person, Creates a Self-Referential Marvel". Much in the way of Vardas' essayist documentary, it could be argued that the most overtly personal of his works, "Those Movies, Himself: Bertrand Tavernier’s Tour of French Cinema" essentially watches as an autobiographical account of his apprenticeship as a cinephile. If you are fascinated, as Bertrand Tavernier is, by generations of filmmakers as adaptable in their own different ways as Jean Renoir, Jacques Becker, Jean-Pierre Melville, Claude Sautet, and Edmond T. Gréville, then stylistically "Taking Film Lovers on an Incredible 'Journey' Through the Past", may be simply a form of historically minded generosity, inspiration, even humility. His three hour "My Journey Though French Cinema" is a non-chronological consideration of the above director's work and their shared era of French history. We join Tavernier’s personal assessment of the films and directors that influenced him, punctuated with insights into the lives and times of friends and mentors within the world of French cinema, set against the tumultuous events of mid-20th century Europe. The Guardian's review equating the shared journey with Taverier as documentarist and guide, "Like Cracking Open the Lid of a Cinematic Box of Delights".

In programming a festival of diverse yet qualitative content, the current body of the Seattle International Film Festival could take a page or two out of the per-capita seen on offer in this year's Orcas Island Film Festival. In the unlikely setting of the rural beauty of the San Juan islands, chief programmer Carl Spence, has produced a 30-odd-film program in their 4th year to rival that of its Seattle goliath. Much too much on offer to cover here, but it should be noted that the program features northwest premiers of two of Cannes' most notable highlights. Foremost among them, there's been much ado both in cinema and visual art circles concerning the Palme d'Or winning, "The Square" in which director, "Ruben Östlund Turns Art World Satire into Performance-Art Cinema". Another crowning point from Cannes, Claire Denis delivers a subtly pointed observations of contemporary French life in, "Let the Sunshine In". This elegant, eccentric relationship comedy of ideas on middle age, with an almost inscrutable sophistication "Un Beau Soleil Interieur: Juliette Binoche Excels". Running through the shortlist, other highlights from the weekend's curation review as a essential assessment of the notable releases of the past half-year. The festival's program including, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Before We Vanish", Robin Campillo's "Beats Per Minute", a second opportunity to witness Agnes Varda's "Visages Villages", Alain Gomis' "Felicite", Ai WeiWei's "Human Flow", Fatih Akin's "In the Fade", Richard Linklater's "Last Flag Flying", Agnieszka Holland's "Spoor", Sean Baker's "The Florida Project", Aki Kaurismäki's "The Other Side of Hope", Joachim Trier's "Thelma", and Todd Haynes' well reviewed adaptation of Brian Selznick's illustrated children's novel, "Wonderstruck".

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's new album "The Kid" & US Tour: Oct 11 - Nov 4
| Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda at Chapel Performance Space: Oct 19

Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda return to the Chapel Performance Space after their cancelled 2015 date on the "Ke i te Ki" tour, extended Issue Project Room residency and touring Voices & Echoes festival of 2013. Though of two different generations they share a deep interest in the documenting of sonic environments and the exploration of site-specific happenings. As an early sound-art pioneer in the 1960's, Akio Suzuki on recordings like "Na-Gi" has documented his investigations into the sonic character of select locations and generating responses engaging with their acoustic topography. His ongoing work in field recordings and acoustic observation continues into the present day with the soundwalk project, "Oto-date" translating as "sound-point" in Japanese, in drawing a course through the urban scape, Suzuki defines listening locations in the city and invites audiences to stop and observe carefully at given points on the map. Having created numerous soundwalks at various festival, public garden and gallery settings across the world including the UK's cutting-edge AV Festival, 2015's Borderline Festival in Greece and the School of Creative Media, Hong Kong. It's in these site-specific works that his sonic explorations overlap most-explicitly with that of electronic composer and visual artist Aki Onda. The decades-spanning "Cassette Memories" project and ongoing multiple volume series compiled from a “sound diary” of field-recordings and travels collected and assembled in live performance by Onda in both indoor and outdoor locations across the world. His extensive touring of the project, building it's body of sonic materials and locations as a essayist work in-action was documented last year by Michael Snow in the pages of Bomb Magazine.

It's been a notable year for electronic composer and Berklee School of Music graduate, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Following the gloriously nuanced night of experimental modular synthesizer work at Kremwerk this past summer, wherein she delved further into the territory mapped out in her critically hailed "Ears", she returns for a second tour at Barboza on the heels of "The Kid". In the course of the last year, Smith's meeting of pop songwriting and explorative analog synthesis were heard in such prestigious settings as David Lynch's Festival of Disruption, the 2016 edition of Moogfest, NTS Live and The Broad's Nonobject(ive): Summer Happenings series in Los Angeles. Working outside of more traditional album and live performance settings, Smith was also selected to soundtrack the “Explore The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” video series, commissioned by google in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Her performances of this year have revealed a unexpected polarity. On one end, a newfound penchant for songwriting bearing no small relation to the feminine synthpop's great progenitor, Kate Bush. On the other, pure analog synthesis exploration and sound painting as heard on her collaborative volume, "Sunergy" in the RVNG labe's FRKWYS series. The meeting sees Smith in a setting alongside one of the most notable women in early modular synth exploration, the duo "Making Sounds with Suzanne Ciani, America's First Female Synth Hero". Talking on Don Buchla and his inventions, the San Francisco Tape Music Center and his Memorial Concerts of this past year, Ciani and Smith share not only their memories of the man but also how creations guided their lives, "His Instrument Gave Me Wings: Remembering Synth Inventor Don Buchla".

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hans-Joachim Roedelius at Chapel Performance Space & US Tour: Sept 25 - Oct 31

This month Wayward Music Series and Patchwerks host one of the most notable figures to originate from the explosion of Krautrock's propulsive minimalism of the late 1970s, a wave of experimentalism that birthed Can, Neu!, Amon Düül II, and Ash Ra Tempel. The latter half of the decade also saw a concurrent generation of German electric invention in minimal and synthesizer explorations from the likes of Popol Vuh, Asmus Tietchens, Conrad Schnitzler, Harald Grosskopf, Harmonia and members of Cluster working both in and out of solo modes. Both of these facets of the burgeoning German experimental music scene detailed by Jon Savage, in the pages of The Guardian's, "Elektronische Musik: A Guide to Krautrock". For converts of the sound, original editions and even official reissues have been scant going on decades, but recent overviews like Soul Jazz' "Deutsche Elektronische Musik" and Light in the Attic's recent foray into shared territory with, "The Microcosm: Visionary Music of Continental Europe" have brought new attention to their explorations. Further timely unearthing of these Kosmische explorer's work, the early works of Asmus Tietchens have seen a handsome series of reissues from Bureau B, and Harmonium received a lavish box set repress of their central albums on Grönland Records, the first official release of it's kind in decades. Likewise, this past year also saw the official reissue of a lavish assembly of music by the trio of Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Dieter Moebius, and Conrad Schnitzler as the Cluster 1971 - 1981 box set. In an interview for for Perfect Sound Forever Roedelius chronicled the intersection of this most notable outfit within the Krautrock and Kosmnische scenes as an outcome of his and Schnitzler's founding of the Zodiak Free Arts Club. The venue acting as a attractor and confluence of the existing minimalist strain of psychedelic rock, performance art and theater and what Roedelius calls "free jazz meets electronics". A regular of the venue, Dieter Moebius became the third element in their improvised music theater trio, then named Kluster.

As a follower of Joseph Beuys and the Fluxus movement, Schnitzler found other like-minded galleries and museums receptive to hosting their explorations in sound and performance. Thus began what what Roedelius refers to as Kluster's "somewhat endless European tour of improvised shows" in 1970. Though Schnitzler came to depart from the trio, his contacts within the music world brought Moebius and Roedelius into the influential sphere of producer Conny Plank. This fortuitous meeting would be a catalyst in further cementing the disparate aspects of the existing Krautrock and Kosmische sounds into shared culture, producing notable cross-pollinations like that of Harmonia. Intersecting in the space between the repetitive motoric vocabulary of Michael Rother's work in Neu! with Moebius and Roedelius' freeform synthesizer explorations, Harmonia could be considered the genre's sole supergroup of a style. Documented in Alex Abramovich's "The Invention of Ambient Music" for the New Yorker, their open-ended freeform performances in gallery and theater spaces following the release of 1975's "Deluxe", attracted the attention of British producer extraordinaire Brian Eno. The shared solidarity in musical exploration and synthesis would culminate in September 1976 in an 11 day stayover in Forst Germany where Eno lived and recorded with Harmonia, producing the material that would become "Tracks and Traces". Bridging of the German Elektronische and Krautrock scenes with the then developing sounds heard further west in Great Britain, this work would proceed Eno's influential production in the pop world on his trio of albums for David Bowie. The meeting also acting a catalyst toward his own collaborations with Moebius and Roedelius; Eno's now canonical "Music for Films" and first volume in the ambient series, "Music for Airports" followed directly on the heels of the collaborations spawned by this meeting of "Cluster & Eno" and their second album, "After the Heat". A accelerated period of productivity for the British producer, the quartet of epoch defining ambient albums in this chapter of "The Discreet Music of Brian Eno" culminating in 1982's "On Land". What the ambient series shares with his German contemporaries Eno himself would describe in the pages of Sound on Sound magazine as, "A Fervent Nostalgia for the Future".

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Edward Yang's "Taipei Story" at SIFF Cinema: Aug 18 - 20

In an environment brought about by the decline of the commercial and propagandistic cinema of the previous epoque, with the lifting of martial law and the growing popularity of home video, film watching became a widespread activity for the Taiwanese. In this more open, incrementally democratizing environment, the domestic Taiwanese film industry faced the new challenge of the entry of Hong Kong films into the Taiwanese marked. In response to the influx of both black market product of western and Asian cinema from without, the Central Motion Picture Company began an initiative to support several young directors, fresh out of film school and academia. The "In Our Time" anthology, which featured four new developing talents; Te-Chen Tao, I-Chen Ko, Yi Chang, and Edward Yang, was the groundwork for what would come to be known as the first New Wave within Taiwanese cinema. Along with Hou Hsiao-Hsien, celebrated author Chu Tien-wen, Chen Kunhou and the great talent of Edward Yang, this New Wave grew largely unbridled by censorship and political interference. By contrast to the commercial melodramas and martial arts films issuing from Hong Kong, (see Shaw Brothers Studio for reference), the films of the New Wave portrayed the passing of time through the everyday lives of the citizens of urban and rural Taiwan. Sharing an emphasis on duration, long shots and a focus on narrative and stylistic simplicity with the films of the Italian Neorealism, this New Wave intimately chronicled Taiwan's socio-economic and political transformation in the 1980s. The second New Taiwanese Cinema movement of the 1990s produced a generational doublet of young directors who picked up the torch left behind in the wake of the New Wave of the decade before. With an eye to the International Festival Circuit, this second generation of non-commercial arthouse cinema built upon the foundation of the movement that proceeded them. In a filmmography of beguiling, often time-distended works, no other Taiwanese director has advanced the art to the extent of Tsai Ming-Liang. Roger Clarke's "The Incomplete Tsai Ming-liang" for The Guardian, and Senses of Cinema's Great Directors feature detail the subjects of longing, time, connectivity and estrangement explored this singular body of work. Crediting the trailblazing work of the New Wave's first generation, the director spoke in 2010, "On the Uses and Misuses of Cinema" for an audience at Taiwan's National Central University.

Yet despite the international acclaim and festival recognition given to the leading directors of the New Taiwan Cinema, their films have rarely been shown outside of occasional festival screenings. This has remained the case until the major, and quite recent, exception of Edward Yang's "Yi Yi: A One & A Two". Winning the Best Director prize at Cannes in 2000, the film was an important testament to the movement’s collective, collaborative spirit. Edward Yang's extraordinary and unanimously praised masterpiece also marked the end of a chapter for the major talents in the movement, with Yang's passing in less than a decade after it's completion. As detailed in Kent Jones, "Yi Yi: Time & Space" for Criterion, in many ways Yi Yi summarizes Yang's lasting contribution to World Cinema. The film showcases the dystopian imbalance and accelerated growth towards modernization that are central themes of both Senses of Cinema's Great Directors feature Jonathan Rosenbaum's excellent, "Exiles in Modernity: The Films of Edward Yang". Guided by his acute sensitivity to the familial and spacial structures that enclose and trap the lives of his characters, Yang depicts their inner and outward struggles that often erupt through lives of frustrated creativity. The deeply restless searching of the struggling creators and ethically conflicted entrepreneurs that recur through Yang’s films, personify the longings, humor and earned wisdom of the generation who witnessed the profound socio-cultural transformation brought on by Taiwan's economic boom. While retroactively earning Films of the Decade selection by the British Film Institute as well as the BBC's global poll of 177 film critics and Film Comment's End of the Decade Critics' Poll, only in recent years has it been the case that cinema culture has, "(Re)Discovered the Elusive Master Edward Yang". Crowned by the recently restored tale of "Coming of Age in Taipei" that is the magnum opus, "A Brighter Summer Day", these recent retrospectives showcasing the strength of his seven ambitious feature films. Most notably, Film Society at Lincoln Center's, "A Rational Mind: The Films of Edward Yang" and Harvard Film Archive's, "The Taiwan Stories of Edward Yang and Wu Nien-jen", have presented the totality of Yang's feature works, including that of the urban struggles of "Modern Planning" depicted in 1985's "Taipei Story". Bridging two pivotal life points of the "Displaced, Disaffected and Desperate to Connect" in a single generation,  these two works chronicle the development of this arthouse master, particularly in the case of his intimately biographical portrait of, "One Couple’s Promising ‘Taipei Story,’ Slowly Undermined".

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lav Diaz's "The Woman Who Left" at Northwest Film Forum: Aug 9 - 10

Much was said at the time concerning 2014's epic re-imagining of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" by the 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 with it's theatrical distribution the following year, as Film of the Week for both Sight & Sound and Film Comment. Unlike the larger body of Lav Diaz's work, this four hour color feature diverged from what's come to be called Slow Cinema in that "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 film's inner and outer landscapes, guided by "Rays of Humanity in a Vile World: ‘Norte, the End of History,’ a Dostoyevskian Fable". More than any other work, it can be seen as a culmination of Diaz’s long engagement with the Russian novelist, as the most fully realized of his "Dostoevsky Variations". What the director most shares with the Russian novelist is is in the tone, attitude, and sensibility of his films; the gravitas, unrestrained philosophical questioning, cryptic humor and brief outcroppings of melodramatic tendencies all manifest in similar fashion. Where "Norte, the End of History" differs most in regard to the great Russian novel, is that Dostoevsky's relentless manhunt is replaced with an existential quest through massive, unpopulated landscapes and dark city streets of the Filipino island of Luzon.Returning to Russian literature for inspiration and the general structure of its social and ethical concerns, "The Woman Who Left" is another of Diaz's addressing of the operations of poverty, postcolonial malaise, corruption, social injustice and failing rural communities in his home country. Loosely based on a resetting of Leo Tolstoy's “God Sees the Truth, but Waits", this winner of the Golden Lion at last year's Venice Film Festival was among Film Comment's Best Undistributed Films of 2016, operating as both a closely tied personal tale, and a larger social narrative as an "Epic, Intimate Tale of Injustice".

In interview with The Guardian, and Cinema-Scope, Diaz has asserted that much of his work is the exploration of historic epochs, whether the years under Ferdinand Marcos, or colonization under Spain, acting as a contextualization and critique, he hopes to depict the effects of the country's vicious cycle with power through the lives of its populace. Among a small body of directors found across this archipelago nation working independently, Diaz is without the backing of any studio, often relying on outside international festival funds to tell their stories of modern life in their developing country. Working in a neorealist style, often in long takes and extended duration, he and compatriot Brillante Mendoza have made their life's work documenting a time rife with conflict and change. In the face of the ascension of Duterte to the presidency, "Filipino Filmmakers Continue to Shed Light on the Forgotten", yet there is some question whether as to how long they will will have the freedom to document and explore such subjects. Here for a brief two day run at Northwest Film Forum, this Guardian and Film Comment Film of the Week pick finds itself in an environment abundantly receptive to the director's challenging duration, political content and technical form. This past year saw the Film Society at Lincoln Center host "Time Regained: The Films of Lav Diaz" as the first American retrospective of the director's work, and in another first, an online retrospective hosted by "Mubi: A Streaming Service with a Ticking Clock". Included in this cinephile streaming event of the year, "It's About Time: The Cinema of Lav Diaz", Mubi has programmed the ten hour "Evolution of a Filipino Family", the eight hour "Heremias" from 2006, the documentary "Storm Children: Book One", 2011's "Century of Birthing", 2008's award winning "Melancholia" and contender for masterpiece among the director's durational narrative works, the 2014 Locarno Film Festival winner, "From What is Before".

Saturday, August 5, 2017

João Pedro Rodrigues' "The Ornithologist" & Koji Fukada's "Harmonium" at Northwest Film Forum: Aug 2 - 6 & Aug 23 - 24

Returning after it's screening in the Seattle International Film Festival, João Pedro Rodrigues newest stood as a highlight of the festival, evoking the best of classic surrealism in the vein of Luis Buñuel and contemporaries like Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The protagonist's journey through this "Portuguese Filmmaker’s Erotic Phantasmagorias" that is, "The Ornithologist" forces him into intimacy with a pervasive incoherence, the unconscious and the metaphysical. "Cast Adrift on a Surreal Journey", the titular ornithologist finds his quest to document the avian populations of a mountainous jungle region in northern Portugal confounded by a series of events that waylay his progress. Swept away by dangerous rapids while traversing the course of the film's central river, he finds himself the captor of two lesbian religious pilgrims. Stripping his body of clothes and roping him to a tree, their recreation of the martyrdom of San Sebastian marks just the beginnings of his troubles. These encounters repeatedly heighten the gulf between man and beast, by turns more alienating in it's description of the mysterious ways in which man and nature communicate across the gulf of understanding. Couched in an overpowering sense of serenity, a tone that prevails amid a proliferation of bewildering Christian and pagan allusions, his journey comes to echo that of the Portugal-born Anthony of Padua. Eventually these metaphysical scenarios develop into an inescapable setting, entrapping the film's "Super-Ornithologist: João Pedro Rodrigues’ Birdman", in a darkly troubling metamorphosis.

Nearly two decades have elapsed since the Japanese cinema explosion of the 1990s. The directors who led this wave; Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Naomi Kawase, and Takashi Miike, are still among the industry's most high profile faces on the international festival circuit. Concurrently, a new generation of filmmakers from Japan are starting to make themselves heard. This year saw the domestic release of Shunji Iwai's disorienting urban drama, "A Bride for Rip Van Winkle", Ryusuke Hamaguchi's 5-hour domestic tranquility stunner, "Happy Hour", rising indie animation figure, Makoto Shinkai obliterating the box-office competition with “Your Name", and Koji Fukada taking home the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes for “Harmonium”. In many regards, this "New Wave of Japanese Filmmakers Matches the Old", yet "Fukada’s Filmmaking is a Breath of Fresh Air", in part due to the groundwork laid down by fellow producers, festival programmers and film distributors with the 2012 establishment of the Independent Cinema Guild. It's in this funding and distribution market that Fukada has been able to produce his darkly pessimistic take on the concerns that comprise modern Japanese life. As is the case with earlier films in the director's filmography, "Harmonium" pivots on the arrival of an unexpected guest who is curiously welcomed and given a job in the home and workshop of his former friend. Stoic yet seductive, the guest ingratiates himself with the household's apprehensive wife and their pre-adolescent daughter. It is not long before it becomes clear that, "In ‘Harmonium,’ a Family has Let the Wrong One In", and in a dramatic turn of events their lives are revealed to have held secrets that are irreconcilable with the home and marriage they deceptively once led.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

David Lynch's "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" released on Criterion Collection: Oct 17 | "Twin Peaks: The Return" Airing on Showtime: May 21 - Sept 10 | "David Lynch Movie Night" at Seattle Art Museum | 25th Annual Twin Peaks Festival: July 28 - 30

For those that read the initial reviews of "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" from Cannes in 1992, and found that we were to get a significantly truncated cut of the film in theaters stateside, the decades-long wait to has came to a close in 2015 with the release of the "Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery". Now to be rereleased this fall by The Criterion Collection in an upgraded 4K restoration overseen by the director, the only notable remaining "missing piece" is the integration of the excised footage into the cut as screened at film festival on the Riviera some 25 years ago. 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. The director made good on his promise editing these deleted scenes from the film into a stand-alone viewing experience featuring 90 minutes of previously unseen footage as The Missing Pieces. Along with both seasons of the original series these were given a hi-definition restoration and transfer packaged together in the lavish box set edition. Not only revealing the larger world of Twin Peaks cut from the cinematic prequel, it present scenes from the series and promotional content, the details of which documented by Nick Newman in his piece for FilmStage, "Twin Peaks’ Reborn With David Lynch-Approved Blu-ray Box Set". Though Booed at Cannes and the target of frustrated Twin Peaks fans and critics upon its release, the film has since gained a reevaluation with context and distance, with pieces like Calum Marsh's "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me Is David Lynch's Masterpiece" increasingly more common. With the cinematic expansion of it's narrative offered by the Missing Pieces the film watches as a connective thread between the first two seasons of the original and the current Twin Peaks: The Return miniseries. Allusions to both the Latin American connection, David Bowie's errant FBI Agent Philip Jeffries and the relationship these bear to the Lodge Entities seen in the meeting space depicted above an anonymous convenience store are all expanded upon. There is also a epilogue sequence cut from the theatrical version featuring events that follow immediately on the conclusion of the second season. Cause to rejoice, it's been a long and circuitous path from "How ‘Twin Peaks’ Got Lost, and Found Its Way Back" arriving in the midst of the abundance of cinematic, longform television. Rather than a recreation of the concerns, technical form and approach of the original, the miniseries advances the art beyond the standards of what one would expect to experience even in the current environment of longform streaming content. While also joyfully exhibiting the director's love of film, in the series' numerous nods to cinema history.

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 are following the new miniseries, an assembly of critical interpretation, enhancement and viewing aides have been thankfully documented by Criterion via their ongoing "Twin Peaks Returns" column. Expertly 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. Returning to the subject of the film; I found myself among the minority of fans of the original series who considered "Fire Walk With Me" to be the metaphorical icing on the cake at the time of its release. Though not the theatrical epilogue to the series that many viewers had hoped for, on the big screen it watched as a condensation of Lynch and Frost's central themes unadulterated by quirky small town americana, willfully eccentric surrealist intrusions, and soap opera tropes. It marked a forceful return to the essence of the story and it's concerns after the guest directors of the second season and their often hollow attempts at replicating all things Lynchian. (Tim Hunter of "River's Edge" fame was an exception. His episodes still hit the right notes while expanding the world Frost/Lynch created). Hunter aside, the Frost/Lynch directed episodes still watch as though on a higher operating level than much of the series' content. They are almost without exception, the singular Twin Peaks magic-in-a-bottle concoction of myth, small town drama, suggested surrealism, tone and ambiance. Its truncation due to ABC's cancellation and David's hurried reconciliation of the series is still as abstract, brutal, emotionally dissociative and heartbreaking to watch as it was over two decades ago. "Fire Walk With Me" can be seen as a reconciliation of sorts to the series' abrupt and dramatically tragic conclusion. For it's 20th anniversary, Alex Pappademas of Grantland returned to the prequel with fresh eyes and decades distance and finds it less a departure, and more true to what David's cinematic world and it's concerns are really about, making for an, "Anatomy of a Fascinating Disaster: Fire Walk With Me". This next week also sees the 25th annual Twin Peaks Festival held as it is every year since 1993, at the locations featured most in the series itself; the towns of North Bend and Snoqualmie. The three days of the festival consisting of the annual night of film screenings, site tours and celebrity dinner and Q&A with select members of the series' cast and creators, which for this year's iteration includes; Charlotte Stewart, Kimmy Robertson, Sabrina Sutherland, Sherilyn Fenn, James Marshall, Al Strobel and others, with the annual tradition of surprise guests (past years have included Ray Wise and co-writer Bob Engels). Proceeding the festival as they do every year, the Seattle Art Museum hosts their, "David Lynch Movie Night: The Art Life & Wild at Heart" with a screening of the new documentary on the artist's early life and the 1990 Cannes Palme d'Or winning feature length film.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

SWANS with Okkyung Lee final dates of West Coast Tour Aug: 22 - Aug 27

Next month The Neptune will host SWANS on the final tour of their current iteration alongside experimental cellist, Okkyung Lee. Having led the towering rock outfit through numerous manifestations over the decades since it's inception, including a brief phase as the orchestral folk ensemble Angels of Light, change and transfiguration have been one of their great constants of Michael Gira's lifelong music endeavor. After the physical endurance-testing rock olympics of 2010-2011 in which Michael Gira's SWANS reformed after a 15 year hiatus, we were blessed with a fourth and final album in this current half-decade of reinvention and creative metempsychosis. At the end of their previous incarnation with the grandiose heights scaled in "Soundtracks for the Blind" and "Swans are Dead", they took celestial ascension and physical bombast to literally epic durations and dynamic intensity. The post-reform precision and brevity of "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope in the Sky", the more variegated and nuanced "The Seer", the extended forays heard on "To Be Kind" and rapturous hypnoticism of last year's "The Glowing Man" scale similarly Homeric heights heard two decades past. "Michael Gira on ‘Dangling Off the Edge of a Cliff’ for SWANS Epic Final Album" for The Observer maps the musical trajectory's Oroborous-like path back to itself, as SWANS of the 21st Century has birthed a supreme amalgam from it's own DNA. One that encapsulates the totality of their 35 year trajectory from brutalist No Wave minimalism to Musique Concrete and extended tonal and drone compositions to electric rock, psychedelia, blues, folk and Americana.

The Guardian's John Doran postulates how its come to pass that SWANS have produce the best work of their career so far. Where so many other bands of a similar vintage have retread familiar ground, revisiting the formula of past successes, Gira and company chose to instead stake everything on a fresh roll of the dice. They took a genuine gamble on creating new art rather than trying to recapture past glories and in doing so, they have conjured an, "Enduring Love: Why SWANS are More Vital Now than Ever". The albums of this decade are the fruit of an extended, ever-evolving recording process, "A Little Drop of Blood: Michael Gira of SWANS Interviewed" for The Quietus describes the often arduous writing, rehearsal, touring and recording in a dynamic creative systole and diastole. The undertaking of then translating these recorded works to a marathon live experience documented in an interview with Pitchfork of 2014, "Michael Gira Talks about How SWANS Returned without Losing Any Potency". Even more personal and confessional, The Quietus have produced a lengthy interview on the explicitly spiritual, transcendental nature of their live incarnation, "This is My Sermon: Michael Gira of SWANS Speaks". From which Gira is quoted; "I hope there's a spiritual quality, but it's not a denominational kind of thing, it's an aspiration towards some kind of realization, or breathing the air that the spirits breathe, or going somewhere that is bigger than myself when I conceive these songs. It's a great feeling. I think The Stooges had a kind of abandon and release, if you listen to Fun House. But electric guitar music has the ability to do that to people, and it's also like the Master Musicians Of Jajouka, where they just keep going and you lose your mind but find it simultaneously. That's sort of the idea. My personal spiritual beliefs are irrelevant. Music is the practice." And like the albums of their previous iterations in the 1980's and 90s, the live realization of this practice has far exceeded their corresponding recorded works. Gira and company's live performances this decade have watched as almost a ritual of invocation. Bringing with them the visceral and transcendental effect of mind-frying, body-numbing volumes to elevate all. Photo credit: Samantha Marble

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Seattle Art Fair at CenturyLink Center: Aug 3 - 6 | Out of Sight at Schoenfelds Building: Aug 4 - 27

In advance of the Seattle Art Fair's inaugural success, there was abundant speculation as to the nature of the exhibit local philanthropist Paul Allen and the organization he had assembled with Max Fishko of Art Market Productions, would be bringing to the city. At the time there was little that offered insight beyond the press release, which made it out to be half-commercial gallery, half-curated exhibition, featuring some 60 galleries representing local to international dealers and an emphasis on the West Coast and Pacific Rim. The majority of the dialog focused on the fair's relation to the art market, with Brian Boucher's "Why Are Gagosian, Pace, and Zwirner Signing On for the Seattle Art Fair?" and The Observer's "Paul Kasmin and Pace Gallery Join the Inaugural Seattle Art Fair" leading the discussion. With later pieces like Seattle Times "High Art Meets Deep Pockets at Seattle Art Fair", as well as the New York Times recap, "Seattle Art Fair Receives a Boost From Tech’s Big Spenders", and Art News "Why the Seattle Art Fair Is Important for the Art World", positioning the event in relationship to the moneyed local tech industry. All of which were little more than discussions of the art market and the inclusion of some of the gallery world's international power players. For insight into the curatorial direction and work to be featured, one had to rely on regional media in which there was no small supply of skepticism expressed concerning the fair being another of Paul Allen's pet cultural projects, both for the good and the bad. The extent of the fair's scope became apparent opening weekend with favorable coverage in both the New York Times and Artforum. The exhibitions and galleries drawn from Asia were among the three day event's greater successes. In addition to the participating galleries Kaikai Kiki and Koki Arts from Tokyo, along with Gana Art of Seoul and Osage Gallery from Hong Kong, the "Thinking Currents" wing curated by Leeza Ahmady, director of Asia Contemporary Art Week produced a premier exhibition of video, film and sound work exploring themes related to the cultural, political, and geographical parameters of the Pacific Rim. With Kaikia KiKi head, Takashi Murakami returning for the fair's second installment, programming his own satellite exhibition "Juxtapoz x SuperFlat", for Pivot Art + Culture. As covered by Trinie Dalton in, "Pacific Objects", for Artforum, "Seattle Art Fair and Out of Sight made a Return" with the fair's successful second year.

Returning the first weekend in August for it's third edition, this year will feature an expanded body of galleries, some 84 in total, along with it's program of talks, on-and-off site performances and collateral events around the city. These under the umbrella of the fair's Project series, presenting immersive and large-scale works spanning sculpture, performance, and installation. The Projects offering a platform for presentations beyond the art fair booth and into adjacent neighborhoods of the city, the latter the focus of Art News' "Seattle Art Fair Adds Daily Dialogues and Special Projects, Featuring Jenny Holzer and W.I.T.C.H.". Laura Fried returns as artistic director, along with the core dealer committee of local gallerists, James Harris and Greg Kucera, and the big players from Los Angeles, represented by William Hathaway of Night Gallery and New York's Lidia Andich of Gagosian Gallery, Robert Goff of David Zwirner  and Elizabeth Sullivan from Pace Gallery. Notably, in the way of influential presenters, "Roberts & Tilton are Among New Galleries" returning from their inclusion in last year's program. Preeminent arts entity, Gagosian are back after an absence in 2016, and United Talent Agency, who represent work by rebel artists of the past 30 years, including Mike Kelley, Joe Bradley, Nate Lowman, Elizabeth Peyton, and Raymond Pettibon, will mark their first participation in an art fair. Also in it's third installment, Out of Sight returns in a new exhibition space at the historic Schoenfelds Building for its annual survey of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. With a new curatorial and production team under the direction of exhibition caretaker, Scott Lawrimore of Lawrimore Project. Current Director of the Jacob Lawrence Gallery, Lawrimore is joined by this year's curatorial team of Greg Lundgren, S. Surface, Justen Siyuan Waterhouse, Holly Palmer, and Benedict Heywood. Credited as "The Real Seattle Art Fair is Out of Sight" in local press, last year's exceptional program was a collaboration between Sharon Arnold of Bridge Productions along with Seattle artist Greg Lundgren and Sierra Stinson, founder of Vignettes for Vital 5 Productions. Offering a counterpoint to the global vision of the Seattle Art fair, this 22,000 square-foot survey of contemporary art read like a who's-who of the best work seen about the Pacific Northwest in the past decade.