Sunday, August 25, 2013

Godspeed! You Black Emperor US Tour: Sept 4 - Oct 26

Quebec's anarcho-instrumental heavy rock collective return! Unfortunately, like their 2011 tour, in which they reappeared from an over a decade long hiatus, and produced the fairly stunning "Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!", Showbox has once again chosen to host this performance at it's Sodo location. That show in all it's brilliance, was made near-abysmal by the venue, it's lack of any kind of character or ambiance, and distinctly rotten acoustics. So for all my enthusiasm for their reinvigorated musical output and decades of memorable live shows... I may be sitting this one out. That said, what better way to build anticipation for Godspeed! You Black Emperor's coming September tour (especially for those who will be seeing the show in another city) than a rare and extended interview from them by Maddy Costa, "You make Music for the King and his Court, or for the Serfs Outside the Walls", presented in all it's hyper-linked political glory in the pages of the Guardian UK.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Adam Sekuler's 8 Years of Programming Excellence at Northwest Film Forum

This next season sees the final Northwest Film Forum calendar curated by Adam Sekuler. Adam's arrival in Seattle as Northwest Film Forum's programming director coincided with the end of the greatest decade of film I've personally bore witness to in the cinema. A decade where friends and myself would attend some 30-40 films annually in the Seattle International Film Festival which then encompassed kaleidoscopically diverse forms, styles and natures of film. From genre movies, to Horror, Sci-Fi and Anime, to more somber Arthouse and New Global Cinema, to Documentaries and Dramas. It was one of the greatest decades the festival has seen in it's 40 year run. With it's conclusion in the mid-2000's the void was to be filled by the visionary curatorial insight of the programming at Northwest Film Forum. If there was something written in the pages of the New York Times, Village Voice, Film Comment, Sight & Sound or Cinema-Scope, it was a good bet that between SIFF, Northwest Film Forum and the then-adventurous Landmark Theatres, there would be opportunity to see it. But this isn't about the shrinking forums and context to witness cinema in our city, it's instead an overview of Northwest Film Forum's near-decade of programming excellence. Eight years in which I saw such visionary series' as Hungary's marathon-take master of rain, time and darkness "The Harmonic Resistance of Bela Tarr" and the lesser know Japanese auteur of the familial melodrama, after Ozu and Naruse, Northwest Film Forum took a "Long Take on Mizoguchi". French New Wave outsider Rivett, without whom there would be no David Lynch or Charlie Kaufman "Lighter Than Air: The Films of Jacques Rivette", groundbreaking work from the Nordic regions, "Sisu Cinema: Nine From the Finnish New Wave" and century of sci-fi from Russian, "From the Tsars to the Stars: A Journey Through Russian Fantastik Cinema". One of the film finds of my adult life, Portugal's new master of the ultra-minimal, "Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa", the stunningly conceived retrospective of Japanese New Wave provocateur, "A Man Vanishes: The Legacy of Shohei Imamura", and another major find, the discovery of the films and installation work of the sublime Thai visionary, "The Short Films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul". A trio by Japan's incomparable Studio Ghibli, which may have supplied my most perfect moviegoing experience to date; seeing "My Neighbor Totoro" with an audience of children in "Dream Screen: Three by Miyazaki". On the polar opposite end of the spectrum, transgressive urban tales of wayward ladies and cool Yakuza in "No Borders, No Limits: 1960s Nikkatsu Action Cinema", more French New Wave wonders unnearthed in "The Labrynthine Alain Robbe–Grillet", the humor, satire and absurdity of "Miloš Forman’s Formative Films", and another great find of the decade from South America, "At The Edge Of The World: The Cinema of Lisandro Alonso". 

From other countries in Europe we got great German New Wave, "Divided Cinema: German Cinema at The Wall", the brilliant, dark, British detective procedural "Red Riding Trilogy", the return of some the greatest of South Korea's hyperviolent cinema with "Pan Chan-Wook's Vengeance Trilogy". There was more greatness from Portugal with "The Portuguese Melodies of Miguel Gomes", and stunning documentaries from one of South America's greats in "Patricio Guzman’s Chile". Not many would conceive to program a series highlighting "New York Noise: Tales From the No Wave", and wondrous Czech absurdity, decadence and surrealism of "Jan Svankmajer: The Surreal Puppet Poet". Memorable times sitting in the dark of the Film Forum include the astonishing power of the Globalization Trilogy by Michael Glawogger including "Workingman's Death", "Megacities" and "Whore's Glory", with the director presenting the films in attendance, almost moving me to tears with his daring, passion, generosity and insight. The atmospheric, sociopolitical dramas of Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan were also a discovery, both his masterpiece "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia", and my personal introduction to his cinema with "Climates" seven years before. Other notable political programming depicted the ongoing battle between Iran's independent cinema and the results of the 2009 election, explicitly Jafar Panahi's "This is Not a Film". There was also more ridiculous meta-fare to be had with Guy Maddin's pastiche of silent and early cinema, his theatrical, absurd, grandiose, "Brand Upon the Brain" screened on the massive Cinerama screen with live symphony and Maddin himself as the evening's orator. We also saw French visionnaire Claire Denis' finest film of her career to-date, "35 Shots of Rum" along with other modern wonders from central Europe, Ulrich Seidl's brutal, humanistic, "Import/Export". The world-over was represented in Carlos Reygadas' rapturous, transcendental "Silent Light", Steve McQueen's directorial debut, "Hunger" and Kiyoshi Kurosawa's move into familial psychodrama with "Tokyo Sonata". We also saw the return of what may be China's greatest living filmmaker, in Jia Zhang-Ke's "24 City", the extended roadshow cut of Olivier Assayas' "Carlos" and Gaspar Noe's redefining of the technical scope of cinema itself with "Enter the Void".

After introducing me to his films back in 2005, with the mesmerizing fugue of "Tropical Malady", Northwest Film Forum was the one theater in town with the prescience to program Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Palme d'Or winning "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives". They were also the theater in town with the insight to know a W.G. Sebald "Rings of Saturn" documentary would find an audience, Grant Gee's "Patience (After Sebald)". Again they thought to book a return to the romantic postmodern lushness of Miguel Gomes' cinema with "Tabu". Yet more groundbreaking programming followed with the sensorial onslaught of Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab's Véréna Paravel & Lucien Castaing-Taylor's "Leviathan" and their touching, intimate, "People's Park", both of which had their Seattle premier at Northwest Film Forum. Film Forum also had the insight to program Peter Strickland's hauntological genre homage "Berberian Sound Studio", Carlos Reygadas' return with his otherworldly and divisive "Post Tenebras Lux", and an extended retrospective of the heartbreaking, existential, magical-realist film of the Polish auteur, "Krzysztof Kieslowski: Revelations of the Human Soul". Great genre series were also had, like a summer of Samurai Cinema featuring Masaki Kobayashi, Hideo Gosha, Hiroshi Inagaki and Kihachi Okamoto "A Man, A Blade, An Empty Road". Striking one-offs included the most poetic and hauntingly original directorial debut I'd seen that decade, Lucile Hadzihalilovic's "Innocence". We also got a rare near-comprehensive overview of the work of my personal favorite of the Japanese post-War directors. His humanistic everyday depiction of modern life was my gateway into the Japanese film of the era, inspired in no small way by "The Enduring Cinema of Mikio Naruse". And last but not least, the occasion of my fifth viewing of what's considered one of the greatest films of all-time, Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story". These all only touching on some of Adam's insight, faith in his prospective audience, and vision as a curator. His time at the Northwest Film Forum has been a true urban, community-enhancing gift to us all over the course of these 8 years. I wish him the best in his European endeavors. Personally, professionally, culturally, his presence in our city will be missed.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Wong Kar-Wai's new film "The Grandmaster" at Landmark Theatres: Aug 23 - Sept 29

Finally in theaters stateside! The much anticipated (and equally delayed) newest from Chinese auteur Wong Kar-Wai, "The Grandmaster" opens this month at the Landmark Theatres. It's release in New York coinciding with the Museum of the Moving Image's Wong Kar-Wai Series spanning his early works, where Wong's particular time-distended environments saturated with the ache of unrequited love first came to the fore, "As Tears Go By" and "Days of Being Wild" to the mid-period classics that comprised the duo of "Chungking Express" and it's more action/noir companion, "Fallen Angels" and the following string of masterpieces, the globetrotting "Happy Together" the sprawling and operatic "2046" and what many, myself included, consider the greatest single film yet of the new Century, "In the Mood for Love" in all of it's lush, time-abstracted, yearning, romance saturated glory. It should be noted, with Wong's newest what we're getting here in the 'states is a different, Weinstein Distribution created cut, one that loses some 20 minutes of content, as covered by Indiewire. Edits, that I double will improve the non-linear structure of the film, which already in it's 130 minute Chinese cut watches as both protracted in it's indulgence and paradoxically suggestive of the larger, even more epic and inclusive (Chen Chang's 'Razor' Yixiantian is grossly under-explored) film it could have been. This newest and most recent addition to the string of Ip Man biopics to have come out of China in the last three years, finds Wong back in both similar conceptual and narrative territory as his 1994 "Ashes of Time". That film suffering much in the west for multiple, incoherent, unapproved edits that were the predominant home video versions. Only recently corrected by it's 2008 re-release in a director's edit by Wong.

 Which brings us back to "The Grandmaster" and it's sharing of Ashes sense of dreamlike, sprawling, non-chronological narrative meanderings. Mind you, these are often deeply visually poetic and serve the films ambiance, but do little in the way of lending coherence to the ebb and flow. A premise touched on in both Olaf Möller's and Nick James' coverage of the film's western premier at this year's Berlin International Film Festival. This case of narrative rambling obviously being more a question of editing, so surprising then to find this film is the work of his longtime editor, William Chang. Much of the martial arts is otherworldly, as someone who's long since grown to tire of Hong Kong's penchant for wirework and feats of gravity-defying choreography, I found it physical, engaging and often wow-inducing in it's sleigh of hand, glide of feet, intimate impact with the body. This shifting seen throughout the film from the balletic, to the kinetic to the sublime being the focus of Manohla Dargis' "Style and Kinetics Triumph in a Turbulent China" for the New York Times. A handful of the set pieces are phenomenal environs for these extended exhibitions of almost metaphysical prowess, the Golden Temple and the 1940 Japanese occupation train station, being most striking. Zhang Ziyi particularly moves through these scenes with grace and power. It's a shame then that we're not being brought this cascade of colors, texture, light, surfaces, bodies and spaces in motion, that are so much a part of what makes up Wong's cinema, by a cinematographer of the caliber of "2046"'s Lee Ping Bin or that of the height of his art "In the Mod for Love", shot by the masterful Christopher Doyle. What we have in their absence is simply gorgeous, and often immersive in it's lushness, but lacking the expected impact and sensory dynamicism. From Wong Kar-Wai though, this is almost enough.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

"Tokusatsu: Special Effects Museum" at MoMA Tokyo | Seattle Asian Art Museum presents "Monster Attack! Japanese Creature Feature Classics": Aug 23 - 30

Now this doesn't happen every day, or year, or decade... a major western news source has a feature on Tokusatsu, and not in the New York Times art pages, but the front page International section. The article's attention focused on the current traveling exhibit, assembled by special effects director and animator, Shinji Higuchi with aid from Studio Ghibli and Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs for MoMA Tokyo. The exhibit, Tokusatsu: Special Effects Museum featuring among other things, decades of painstakingly elaborate sets, costumes, aircraft models, sci-fi devices and technology, designs, schematics, storyboards and monsters of course, no shortage of monsters. The stunningly executed trailer for the exhibit, a set piece for Hayao Miyazaki's apocalyptic God Warrior as featured in his post-Ecological Collapse manga "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind" received attention on BoingBoing and Twitch earlier this year, and rightly, as the headline suggests, it features a "Giant God Warrior Appearing In Tokyo". Director under which the exhibit's curator Shinji Higuchi collaborated, the work of Shūsuke Kaneko will be gracing screens in Seattle, with the Asian Art Museum's summer film in the park showings of some of the finer contemporary examples of the Tokusatsu arts, the pyrotechnic and physical, "Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack" and the stunning urban landscapes, destruction and scale of "Gamera 3: The Awakening of Iris". Both films providing spectacle competing on a level with what CG could offer at the time, and in the sense of physicality, often eclipsing it. As to be expected in the digital era, the industry is shrinking, with few young directors coming in to advance it's arts, and only two major studios making regular Tokusatsu features, which is the focus of the previously mentioned New York Times' "Rubber-Suit Monsters Fade. Tiny Tokyos Relax."

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My Bloody Valentine's new album "MBV" & US Tour: Aug 16 - 25

So here we are, 2013, and My Bloody Valentine releases the generically titled "MBV" within a year of the equally delayed and nearly as anticipated re-released, remastered, "Loveless" & "Isn't Anything" & "Singles Collection" the latter reissues having their own particular, circuitous, and drawn out tale of release through a labyrinth of legal complexities with Sony. Best described in his interview for Quietus, "Not Doing Things is Soul Destroying" and a surprisingly in-depth piece for Pitchfork as well, "The Strange Saga Behind My Bloody Valentine's Remasters". Which in the end is nothing compared to the greater epic of "MBV's" creation though a relocation, rebuilding the studio, a meticulous, obsessive, perfectionist work ethic and the dangers of Chinchilla ownership as detailed in Mike McGonigal's 33 1/3 book about "Loveless". All of that, to then bring you an album that sounds, for all intensive purposes, as though it's a direct train of thought issuing from just years within "Loveless" release. Nothing so groundbreaking as that album's prime moving forward of the genre, or the harsh rock leap into the dark of "Isn't Anything", but a continuance, and an updating of the line of thought began two decades ago with those releases. Here they are again, to rock you live louder and longer (objectively it can't be argued) than you ever thought a bass, two guitars and a drum kit ever could. My Bloody Valentine's North American Tour, wherein thankfully, their Seattle show has been relocated from the megamall venue that was the WaMu Center, to the Showbox Sodo. The improved, but still regrettable acoustics of the new venue may make no difference with this one though, as their thunderous, terrifying noise... well, you'll not be hearing anything but MBV, for at least a few days, during and after.