Sunday, January 8, 2012

Patrick Keiller's new film "Robinson in Ruins" at Anthology Film Archives: Jan 12 - Jan 18

Other than Grant Gee's "Patience (After Sebald)" I can think of no other documentary (or film essay as these are increasingly called) that captures the sense of an individual, a community, history itself, disappearing into the landscape it occupied. Haunting in the deepest, most literal sense. I came to "Robinson in Ruins" through the circuitous path of edition 17 of the Tate Papers the essay specifically on this work and The Military Pastoral Complex which then led to Patrick Keiller and his third documentary in the Robinson series and the corresponding three year research project "The Future of Landscape and the Moving Image". Judging from the heady mix just implied by the titles of those essays alone, I knew the film was going to be a work not easily quantified, much less summarized. After seeing it, that's a task I still find beyond me. Somehow others have done it (and pretty brilliantly) in the pages of Sight & Sound and the Guardian UK. Both of which noted the correlation I saw with the shared territory of saturating nostalgia, melancholy and surrealist blurring of personal fiction and history found in the 'haunted landscapes' of W.G. Sebald. Chances to see it have been nearly as elusive as it's subject. The film played in last year's New York Film Festival and again this month in that city of cities as part of the Patrick Keiller Retrospective at Anthology Film Archives, but I fear that most others like myself, will have to make due with the UK release by BFI Films since Robinson's final exploration has yet to find distribution stateside.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

:::: FILMS OF 2011 ::::


Raúl Ruiz "Mysteries of Lisbon" (Portugal)
Terrence Malick "The Tree of Life" (United States)
Pedro Almodóvar "The Skin I Live In" (Spain)
Lars Von Trier "Melancholia" (Sweden)
Takashi Miike "13 Assassins" (Japan)
Hiromasa Yonebayashi "Arrietty: The Borrower" (Japan)
Andrew Ross "Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times" (United States)
Göran Hugo Olsson "The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975" (Sweden)
Tomas Alfredson "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" (Sweden/United Kingdom)
Werner Herzog "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" (Germany/France)
Masahiro Shinoda "Pale Flower" Restored/Re-released (Japan)
David Cronenberg "A Dangerous Method" (Canada)
Patricio Guzmán "Nostalgia for the Light" (Chile)
Michael Madsen "Into Eternity" (Finland)
Martin Scorsese "Hugo" (United States)
Rafi Pitts "The Hunter" (Iran)

The past 12 months again yielded great discoveries outside the expected sources and return artists creating works outside their established form, a year of finding new record labels and film distributors, authors of choice returning with some of their finest writing to-date, making connections between screenplay, director and soundtrack that were previously inconceivable; 2011 was a good one. Some of these combinations generated exciting, unexpected new hybrids of styles, genres, sensorial vocabulary and narrative voice. Malick returned from his usual hiatus of many years with one of his greatest visual and sonic narratives ever constructed, though highly imbalanced in it's chapter-content, "Tree of Life" still stood as a work of moving-pictures storytelling of a nature that just about nobody in american cinema even attempts. Lars Von Trier returned with a stunning, cosmic, spectacle of nihilistic wish fulfillment in the form of "Melancholia" and Raul Ruiz' final film, a labyrinth of timelines, characters, intrigue, history, class struggle and the world imbued with magical possibility as seen by a child in the 19th Century period piece that was the masterwork "Mysteries of Lisbon" ...and Takashi Miike reigned in some of his more absurd indulgences and delivered what is easily one of the most powerful, visually precise, yet traditional of Samurai films of the past couple decades in "13 Assassins". And lastly, who could have predicted that Scorsese would make not only a children's fantasy in the form of the adaptation of the young-adult novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" but that it would be a holiday hit ranking in attendance alongside the glut of CG-fart jokes, cynicism and video game tie-ins flooding the market as the standard in offerings for the younger set. So thank him and the consistently artful, richly complex moral/emotional beauty of Studio Ghibli and their "Arrietty" for offering genuine stories about the world in which we live, as the fantastic.

As it has for the past few decades, Scarecrow Video played an invaluable role as a source for moving pictures from around the globe, an especially considerable resource for those of us enabled by all-zone/region Blu-Ray players. This year's Seattle International Film Festival hosted only one or two of the films listed above, as opposed to previous years, where SIFF dominated the field by screening most of the best films of the year during the course of the festival. By contrast, SIFF's offerings were their weakest this year of many a decade, so good thing for the independent cinemas here picking up the slack. With indie cinemas closing around the nation, it was that much more important to support the local theater opportunities such as the (newly expanded to four screens!) SIFF Cinema the Landmark Theatre chain, the Grand Illusion Cinema and what's proven itself to be the paramount indie screen in Seattle, Northwest Film Forum. Many of the best films seen this year, when they did come to the theater, had runs that lasted no more than a week. Others were never to return to the cinema again or as a domestic DVD/Blu-Ray release or even online in any digital context, official, bootleg or otherwise. Again proving the wisdom of getting out there, seeing the city and prioritizing the art/music/film that we're fortunate to have in our urban cultural crossroads.

Lastly, the unseen films by a few directors of note that never made it over here distributed stateside (at least not 'yet') or even made a less-desirable appearance as an online release. I suspect a number of these would have made the list, if I had an opportunity to see them:

Sion Sono "Himizu" (Japan)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" (Turkey)
Jafar Panahi "This is Not a Film" (Iran)
Pema Tseden "Old Dog" (Tibet)
Béla Tarr "The Turin Horse" (Hungary)
Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne "The Kid with a Bike" (France)
Steve McQueen "Shame" (United Kingdom)
Guy Maddin "Keyhole" (Canada)
Masahiro Kobayashi "Haru's Journey" (Japan)
Huang Weikei "Disorder" (China)
Alexander Sokurov "Faust" (Russia)
Asghar Farhadi "A Separation" (Iran)
Gerardo Naranjo "Miss Bala" (Mexico)
Julia Loktev "The Loneliest Planet" (United States)

:::: ALBUMS OF 2011 ::::


Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto "Summvs" (Raster-Noton)
V/A "The Tree of Life - Soundtrack" (Lakeshore)
Elaine Radigue "Transamorem - Transmortem (1973)" (Important)
Deaf Center "Owl Splinters" (Type)
Jacaszek "Glimmer" (Ghostly Intl.)
Tim Hecker "Ravedeath, 1972" (Kranky)
Ben Frost & Daniel Bjarnason "Solaris" (Bedroom Community)
V/A "Music for Merce Cunningham (1952-2009)" - Box Set (New World)
Nils Frahm "Felt" (Erased Tapes)
HTRK "Work (Work, Work) (Ghostly Intl.)
Richard Skelton "The Complete Landings" (Sustain-Release)
Mountains "Air Museum" (Thrill Jockey)
Leyland Kirby "Eager To Tear Apart The Stars" (HAFTW)
Andy Stott "We Stay Together" (Modern Love)
NHK "YX aka 1CH aka SOLO" (Skam)
Boris "Attention Please" (Sargent House)
Boris "Heavy Rocks" (Sargent House)
Liturgy "Aesthethica" (Thrill Jockey)
Vladislav Delay "Vantaa" (Raster-Noton)
Cyclo "ID" Book/CD-Rom Edition (Raster-Noton)

A curious thing has transpired in the past two years, and in-particular this past year in my listening habits; I've dramatically decreased my listening of music on the go, though headphones and on the ipod and have more and more, made dedicated home listening on the Hi Fi just about my singular source context of sonic input. Interesting in the age of seemingly most-everyone doing the inverse, and the home hi fidelity dedicated stereo being a thing of the past in most music consumers lives. Even at 320kps and above, the MP3 doesn't deliver on the level of the old 16bit 44mhz CD, and yes, lossless FLAC and WAV can bring you some real listening benefits... assuming you have a quality digital-to-analog converter and a very high end pair of headphones to compliment. Otherwise, even the 'outmoded' CD format (not to mention the LP and a quality turntable combination) is still kicking fidelity ass over all of the laptop/ipad/iphone/pod listening that has consumed more and more listeners. And even then, with a quality DA and a multiple hundreds of dollars headphones and headphone amp... you don't have true stereo reproduction and stereo image in as extension of the more abstract, intangibles of your listening experience. Even then, with quality gear and tech, your largely hearing a detailed, finely tuned, precise representation of the 'surface' of the work... and that's where my shift in listening has become most pronounced. I'm less interested than ever in the 'surface' of the experience... but more the overall space, ambiance, physicality, abstraction and intangibles that come of sound-in-space. Good thing then that the music that I've most occupied myself with these past few decades is largely concerned with replicating, molding, defining and manipulating those intangibles!

Continuing from the films list above... in the year of sounds there were many works that took the ears to exciting places, and that did so in distinct, expressive and adventurous ways. Particularly at the strange crossroads where modern classical, lo-fi folk, musique concrete, improv, metal, ambient, 'noise' and avant jazz traditions are all meeting as hypermodern, as-yet unnamed genre mutations. The bizarre math-rock, hardcore, avant-noise meets metal rumblings of the new Liturgy stands as a good example, as does the disorienting fusion of hip-hop, noise and electronic minimalism that was Kouhei Matsunaga's NHK release. To these ears Keohei's unquestionably the one of the more adventurous visionary torchbearers for the post-Warp era of beat-oriented electronic music of this past decade. His works have almost consistently been on par with the most advanced of the late-90's/early-00's Warp visionaries - it's no wonder he's found a home on labels like Skam and Raster-Noton and last year saw him in collaboration with both Autechre's Sean Booth and Mika Vainio of Pan(a)Sonic.

Live sonic adventures were heard around the Northwest, and all across the continent in it's major cities. And good thing for the travel too, as this year (for the first time in two decades) I didn't attend Earshot Jazz Festival due to the serious dearth of compelling Avant performers. Also, with Decibel Festival not really looking to challenge as much in their exploration of the 'fringe' and non-dancefloor oriented sounds, good thing Substrata Festival had the foresight to see the void not filled and choose to be even more conceptually exacting and theory/aesthetics oriented in their hosting and curation. Between Substrata and New York City's increasingly adventurous Unsound Festival, I was wanting for nothing in exceptional, dynamic, powerful live realizations of neoclassical, ambient, instrumental, electronic, sensorial experiences in fitting, complimentary, sometimes almost dreamlike, settings. Special note to Morton Subotnick's surround sound audio-visual "Silver Apples of the Moon" with Lillevan and Ben Frost, Daniel Bjarnason and Sinfonietta Cracovia performing "Solaris" both at Lincoln Center during Unsound. As well as the Decibel highlight of Simon Scott's brilliantly abstract guitar work in collaboration with the deep, gorgeous, vague immensity of his perfectly complimenting visual artist Tana Sprague. Oren Ambarchi bringing the heavy and resonant (as usual) for Substrata along with Nils Frahm delivering some of the most, nimble, dynamic, emotionally crushing works for prepared piano that I've heard in my life. Deaf Center in a cathedral at Midnight and Olafur Arnalds at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco were easily worth the travel as well. Metal brought it this year too, with Wolves in the Throne Room descending deeper and deeper into crepuscular Doom sounds beyond category and Boris, returning (again!) to bless us with the joyous insanity of their hyperfrenetic Psych-Metal-Shoegaze whirlwind.