Sunday, August 24, 2014

SWANS' new album "To Be Kind" & West Coast Tour: Sept 1 - 13

Next month at The Showbox, we'll finally see west coast dates with Carla Bozulich as the second leg of the North American tour! After the brutal physical endurance testing 'rock olympics' of 2011 in which Michael Gira's SWANS reformed after a 15 year hiatus, we were blessed with a third new album this past May "To Be Kind", and a tour to accompany! At the end of their previous incarnation with the grandiose heights scaled in "Soundtracks for the Blind" and "Swans are Dead", they took celestial bombast to literally epic durations and dynamic intensity. The post-reform "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope in the Sky" and the following "The Seer", albums look to scale similar heights, but in a Oroborous-like path back to itself, Gira's music has ingested it's own past, birthing a supreme amalgam from it's own DNA. One that encapsulates the totality of their trajectory from brutalist post-No Wave minimalism to Musique Concrete and extended tonal and Drone compositions to acoustic Folk and Americana. And like the albums of their previous iterations in the 80's and 90', their live realizations this decade have far, far exceeded these recorded works. Gira and company's live performance watches almost as an invocation ritual, bringing the crushing, life-affirming, visceral and transcendental effect of mind-frying, body-numbing volumes to elevate the songwriting.
This process of translating the recorded works to a marathon tectonic live experience documented in an interview with Pitchfork of earlier this year, "Michael Gira Talks about How Swans Returned without Losing Any Potency". Even more personal and confessional, the folks at The Quietus have produced a lengthy interview on the new album and SWANS 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." Yes indeed, this is the return of the band without which, there would be no Godspeed You Black Emperor, no Liars, no Grails, no Earth, no Melvins (etc, etc, etc). There is reason why anyone who favors the heavier end of the past four decades of rock, considers SWANS legendary.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ari Folman's new film "The Congress" at SIFF Cinema: Aug 29 - Sept 4

A highlight of this year's International Film Festival returns to SIFF Cinema for a weeklong run! An opening into it's labyrinth, "Ari Folman on The Genius of Stanisław Lem" acts as entry point into the complex resetting of Stanislaw Lem's "The Futurological Congress" and Folman's recontextualization of premise from the 70's work of Eastern Bloc science fiction into a modern day commentary on the shifting mediascape of entertainment and it's recourse on manufactured celebrity, identity and reality itself. Years after actress Robin Wright won a Golden Globe for her performance in David Fincher and Beau Willimon's "House of Cards,” her character Robin Wright in "The Congress" is at a career crossroads. Now struggling for roles while also caring for her two children as a single parent, she is offered a one-time singular deal; selling her digital likeness to the Studio System. Decades pass and her digital likeness, “Robin Wright” has become a global virtual celebrity. With the twenty year conclusion of her contract, her real-life paramour is invited to cross into the Restricted Animation Zone maintained and owned by the studio as a experimental new plain where the next evolution of their entertainment frontier meets experiential space. This kaleidoscopic, surrealistic future Hollywood-come-amusement-park is the frontier where one's avatar is able to generate not only their own representation, but mold the aspects of this very world being sold. When the studio attempts to utilize her in it's campaign to launch this new reality platform as a lifestyle choice beyond it's entertainment potential as a VR, the cracks in the facade begin to appear. Revolution from within the Restricted Animated Zone arise and in the midst of the melee, the animator of her own virtual self becomes her friend and guide through this psycho-Orwellian otherworld.

The film's head-on tackling of corporate Studio System ownership of image, manufactured identity and the virtual landscape many of us will (and do) spend our time, inspired IndieWire's Eric Kohn to posit, "Is Ari Folman's 'The Congress' The Most Anti-Hollywood Movie Ever Made?". Convoluted and substantially ideas-rich Folman's direction pushes the audience forward into projected extrapolations on the nature of self-worth, identity, endeavor and the corporate ownership of not only the landscape in which we spend out virtual time, but the 'narratives' of our lives themselves. The mutable, shifting self-generated nature of the psychoscape, somewhere between wakingness and death, a future-state of being A.O. Scott equates with, "In the Future, Life Could Be a Dream". Yet Folman's ability to future-project the endgame of corporate ownership of time and virtual space is as visionary as it is sometimes flawed. Citing it's ambitious, occasional over-reach was Xan Brooks review for The Guardian, "Ari Folman Mixes Live Action with Animation in an Eccentric and Ambitious Sci-Fi Drama". Being as philosophically questing as the work is has it's drawbacks; it would require a film of greater length and exposition to be able to represent all the facades of this multi-plain metascape and it's mirror back in the 'truth' of material reality. Folman forgoes much of this to instead tell one's woman's tale in reclaiming her life, her image and literally her 'self' from the new world's commodification of liberty. For all it's faults, including some truly terrible stilted acting, (Harvey Keitel is particularly egregious) "The Congress" makes for a more inventive future cautionary tale of life, identity, technology and society than (just about) anything we've seen since the birth of the Cyberpunk era of the 1990's. Yet it remains a conflicting experience; one which features astounding degrees of technical execution and conceptual aspiration, which are gravitationally drawn back down to Earth, prevented the heights they may have ascended by the film's less fully formed storytelling coherence. The exceptional score by neoclassical and electronic composer Max Richter also going some way to tip the scales in favor of it's strengths.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chris Marker's "Level Five" at Grand Illusion Cinema: Aug 22 - 28 | Chris Marker Retrospective at BAMcinématek Brooklyn: Aug 15 - 28

A kickback from the astounding comprehensive retrospective currently at the BAMcinématek, next week The Grand Illusion hosts one of the rarest works in all of Cyberpunk cinema, "Level Five" by one of the genre's unlikeliest voices, experimental filmmaker Chris Marker. This piece of historical inquiry is both a exercise in Marker's obsession with what he called "life in the process of becoming history" and one of his other great life-fascinations, the nature of perceiving the past and present through the scrim of technology. The film watches as a sometimes documentarist, sometimes personal, investigation into the tragic events and related atrocity surrounding the Battle of Okinawa through the labyrinthine interface of cryptic technology and it's hidden avenues. We go down the rabbit hole of this densely layered mashup of video-art, historic documentary and fictionalized webgame in Howard Hampton's review in Film Comment and further into it's depths with Nick Pinkerton's "Magic Marker" for Artforum and A.O. Scott's "It’s All Just a Game, Now Take It Seriously: ‘Level Five,’ Directed by Chris Marker".

Marker is probably best known for almost single-handedly inventing essayist film with his "Sans Soleil" and "Le Jetee" in the decades spanning the 60's to the 80's, but it's his more surrealist, explicitly political work that I've gotten the most pleasure. We had a rare thing in the man; a deeply devoted artist and cultural/political figure, working for the most part absolutely outside the commercial frameworks of his medium, who not only tackled the 'big questions' in his own eccentric fashion, but did so with a wry inquisitive sense and vibrant curiosity. An (often visionary) octogenarian intellectual who had a wicked sense of the satirical, was obsessive about the minutia of history and it's framework and really, truly loved cats. Astoundingly, he was capable of bridging all of the above and creating works reflective of this impossible confluence of real-world social consciousness and flights of fantastical fancy. One of his final films, "The Case of the Grinning Cat" perfectly encapsulates these multitudinous concerns, as poetically incisive and observational as it is cheeky and satirical. And that's not touching on his fictional alter-ego and omnipresent feline parallel-self, Guillaume-en-Égypte.

Elusiveness was one of the other constants in Marker's life, rarely photographed or interviewed, it was his work that he chose to represent himself in the world. Writer, photographer, editor, filmmaker, videographer, and digital multimedia artist. Marker remained for many years, just until shortly before his death, one of cinema’s better-kept secrets, famously reclusive and shrouded in protective layers of legend, self-generated fiction and pseudonym. To this day, two years after his death, Chris Marker the polymath remains a tantalizingly impenetrable enigma within the world of contemporary cinema. Catherine Lupton's "Chris Marker: Memory’s Apostle" for Criterion investigates Marker's representation of self and the world through one of the great constants of his work, the inwardly-turned nature of reflection and memory. Not only a prominent theme in his work, it was the embodiment of the man himself as his friends, cohorts and collaborators would often attest. The global arts community made many inspired and touching tributes to Marker in 2012. Foremost among them for me were those offered by his friends, Chilean filmmaker and documentarist, "Patricio Guzmán Pays Tribute to His Late Mentor from Another Planet: What I Owe to Chris Marker" and fellow cinema adventurers Patrick Keiller and Agnès Varda in the pages of Sight & Sound, "The Owl’s Legacy: In Memory of Chris Marker". As a more formal overview Ronald Bergan's piece for the Guardian achieves the conceptual feat of encompassing the man's many-faceted qualities, both his life and as a creative force of his times, "Chris Marker Obituary: The Experimental French Director Acclaimed for His post-Apocalyptic Film La Jetée".

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Scarecrow Video and Grand Illusion Cinema to found The Scarecrow Project in Fall 2014

Major news for Seattle! The beginnings of Scarecrow Video's salvaging of the business and creation of a foundation for their future stability. One of the most significant cinema resources in North America is looking to sign a new lease on life, as "Scarecrow Video Seeks Second Act as a Nonprofit" and you can be a part of making that happen! Today's Scarecrow Video: A Letter from Our Owners announces their partnering with The Grand Illusion Cinema to convert Scarecrow to nonprofit status with the backing of the store's owners Carl Tostevin and Mickey McDonough who are donating their assets, namely the legendary inventory of approximately 120,000 titles. A Kickstarter campaign to fund the process of The Scarecrow Project transition begins this week. All you film lovers, if ever there was a time you were considering re-investing in the irreplaceable cultural institution that is Scarecrow, this is it.

For all the cynics, layabouts and stay-at-home viewers out there, I would argue Scarecrow Video remains (or is even moreso) relevant in the age of Netflix, iTunes and Amazon. When most online streaming services are limited to the contemporary of-this-decade hits, blockbusters, currently talked-about tv series and a smattering of 'classics' and genre and archive titles -- the largest independent video store in North America with a catalog of 120,000 titles -- is a more significant resource than ever. Especially considering a good percentage of those hundred thousand plus titles are out of print, only released in foreign countries, alternate cuts than the commercially released editions and/or are films that have been made unavailable due to licensing issues. The things that make your city something exceptional, that make it not another iteration of the suburbs or 'new urbanism's commercial sprawl, are local retailers like this, offering cultural opportunities that you cannot have anywhere else. Literally, anywhere. Physical or virtual.

Some years ago when we saw the first wave of significant gouges to the cultural face of the city, (The Neptune, The Egyptian Theater, Half Price Books Capitol Hill, Spine & Crown, Easy Street Records, Twice Sold Tales in the U-District, etc.) IFC published a piece on Seattle, calling Scarecrow and it's surrounding half-mile "The Best Film Corner in America". Locally, around this time there was sent up a rallying cry to inspire the cultural participants of our community to prioritize attending any and all art openings at small galleries, film screenings at independent theaters, give business to the remaining local book and record stores, making a point of supporting smaller, outside-the-rock-bar music venues. Stressing that if we didn't --- these things that define the urban environment from that of the suburbs --- would be hit hardest by the recession and the related/enabled land development. Here we are again, more relevant and pressing than ever. With The Scarecrow Project we're being given an opportunity to sustain and preserve an essential component of the cinema arts community before it's eroded in such a fashion as to never again be re-established.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Boris' new album "Noise" & US Tour: Jul 24 - Aug 20

Japanese heavy rockers, Boris make their semi-annual return to the 'states with a string of Us tour dates! This month's show with Master Musicians of Bukkake at The Crocodile though likely to not compare with last year's tour wherein they played the totality of their magisterial opus "Flood" alongside a second night of 'All Time Classics', still promises a night of the kind of seriously blasting of-the-sun intensity Boris consistently deliver live. The past near-decade of annual tours have seen them manifest their ever mutating mix of Doom Metal, Heavy Psych, warped J-Pop, willfully dysfunctional Bro-Rock and more recently, their own thrilling take on Shoegaze. The latter we first glimpsed on their "Japanese Heavy Rock Hits" 7" series and more recently refined on the near-perfect "Attention Please" and the more guttural Psyche assault of "Heavy Rocks". This prolific inundation cumulating in the tri-album recording/release blur of late 2011, topped with their upbeat pop-assault of the generically titled, "New Album". Following this deluge was the more atmospheric Metal-oriented tour album "Präparat" and the radio-rock riffs of this summer's "Noise". Their newest still lays the distortion on heavy, but any longtime listener will find it odd that the choice to actively appeal to commercial college-rock sensibilities is so pronounced. While it's fair to say that some portions of this (misleadingly-titled?) album sound like a mutated, swamped return to the territory they carved out with "Pink", yet unlike that album it never ascends to the kind of heights they were propelled to by the lyrical guitar squall of collaborator Michio Kurihara. As a product it's dynamic swing back down into the depths lacks the consciousness-walloping power that Boris is capable of at their best. The band themselves see this stylistic shift as just another stage in their assimilating of influences towards an all-inclusive Boris sound, in interview for The Quietus the feedback-worshiping trio state, "Noise Is Japanese Blues': An Interview With Boris".

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Alain Resnais' "Je T'aime, Je T'aime" at Northwest Film Forum: Aug 15 - 17

In tribute to the great French auteur, for three nights only Northwest Film Forum will host his rarely seen (and singular, in every sense) science fiction exercise of 1968, "Je T'aime, Je T'aime". This past year saw the passing of one of the great incongruities in the French New Wave, it's technician of time and space, Alain Resnais. A director who unlike most caught up in the tumult of the zeitgeist never did away with the more refined elements of perfection in crafted cinematography, exacting editing, gorgeous environments and professional actors, but instead chose to make his revolutionary mark elsewhere. Taken together, Peter Harcourt's "Alain Resnais: Memory is Kept Alive With Dreams” for Film Comment along with the New York Times' "Alain Resnais, Acclaimed Filmmaker Who Defied Conventions, Dies at 91" and David Thompson's obituary in the pages of Sight & Sound, "Alain Resnais: The Most Unpredictable of the French New Wave Directors Mixed High Intellectualism and Irreverence" make for an ideal introduction to the man and his art.

Resnais, most of us know for his groundbreaking post-War drama, "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" wherein the protagonist's hope and guilt are written large in the landscape of the Japanese aftermath. Their romance caught up in the larger global concerns, the anguish of past, present, and future; the need to understand exactly who and where we are in time. Kent Jones' "Hiroshima Mon Amour: Time Indefinite" for Criterion supports Eric Rohmer's claim from a July 1959 Cahiers du Cinéma panel, stating that "Hiroshima Mon Amour" would come to be seen as "the most important film since the war, the first modern film of sound cinema.” It is this great work alongside what's considered the centerpiece of his career, "Last Year at Marienbad" that define Resnais' position in the canon of post-War film. Of all of Renais' filmography, Marienbad foregrounds place in a self-reflecting prism that counterpoints image with sound, past with present, and stasis with movement to set up an induced tension between our responsibility to remember and the impossibility of doing so within such a narrative construct. The marvels and complexity of this 1961 dream-labyrinth of a film, deciphered in Mark Polizzotti's "Last Year at Marienbad: Which Year at Where?", for Criterion.

With "Je T'aime, Je T'aime", Resnais has constructed an equally abstracted take on science fiction much in the vein of Chris Marker's tale of a man traveling between past and present in his classic, "La Jetée". And like Marker's vision, it focuses on the inconsistencies of perception that arise when technology warps the very fabric of our rooting in time. A.O. Scott's review for the New York Times specifically plumbing the nature of the protagonist's unresolved romantic past, as he relives "Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime: Fragmented Frames of the Love That Was, Taunting Yet Poignant". And in the pages of Film Comment, David Gregory's Rep Diary: Je T’aime, Je T’aime digs into the mechanics of how Resnais' cubist portrait of a rather ordinary European man is made into something more than the commonplace nature of his life and failed loves. Through the director's puzzlework abstraction of remembrance, perception and hope, it emerges as a paradoxical rush of simplicity and grandeur. The cumulative effect of it's stylistic distinction further enhanced by Krzysztof Penderecki's haunting minimalist score. Among the rarest in all of Resnais' ouvreur, "Je T'aime, Je T'aime" has just been given a new restoration thanks to Kino Lorber and Film Desk, with 35mm prints circulating in theaters this year. For fans of this most adventurous era in cinema, it's one not to miss!