Saturday, December 2, 2023

Hania Rani "Ghosts" & North American Tour: Nov 22 - Dec 10

While sharing company with modern neo-jazz chamber ensembles like Portico Quartet and GoGo Penguin, trumpeter and bandleader, Matthew Halsall, and other Gondwana Records modern classical, jazz and electronics artists, Polish composer Hania Rani has built up a considerable audience for her solo piano miniatures. Her latest for the label, "Ghosts", moves into an adjacent, aqueous abstract pop territory, with a few select tracks exploring muted vocals and diffuse song structures. The album itself mirrors the two concurrent courses of the progression of her career; she has released an album of duets for the seminal German classical label Deutsche Grammophon, composed a spare score for a documentary about Swiss sculptor, Alberto Giacometti, and issued a series of releases exploring her own brand of hush electronic chamber music. This dynamic interplay is explored in her BBC Radio 4 Profile, and while Rani has a singular fluid sound, she considers her work very much an ongoing progression, “I think I am still looking for my own voice." She says; "I started to learn from the masters, to mix what I know from classical music, from other things I listened to, and from one of my first inspirations Nils Frahm". It is this later, current neoclassical world to which her albums belong, which is cemented by the participation on her most recent recordings of Erased Tapes staples like Ólafur Arnalds, Portico Quartet's Duncan Bellamy, and indie rock artist, Patrick Watson. For all of these associations with an inward-looking brand of neoclassical chamber music, her current North American tour alongside bassist Ziemowit Klimek will be hosted in rock clubs and venues. "Just because of my classical background, I am fascinated with these a little bit more rock venues." Rani continues; "Also, there is something about a standing show that I admire. Sometimes I feel a little bit of embarrassment if people are just sitting and watching me from this very relaxed position. I know that some listeners would rather sit comfortably, but as a performer, it gives me so much energy and gives me more focus.” And while the instrumental soundscapes and tangential ballads on "Ghosts" are delicate, Rani says that's not true of her live sets; “The show is quite loud,” she notes. “We start with these extremely intense synthesizer sounds. And then I can go play the piano solo, really quietly. I need these kinds of extremes.”. Indeed, as posited by The Washington Post for her east coast dates, "Polish Musician Hania Rani’s Album is Delicate. Her Live Show Won’t Be", and the following Chicago show, "The Atmosphere was Just Right for Hania Rani’s Mesmerizing, Sold-Out Concert", we can expect more of the same from Seattle's performance next week at The Neptune Theatre.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things" and Ira Sachs' "Passages" Streaming on Mubi and at SIFF Cinema: Dec 14 - Jan 4 | "The Pleasure Principle" | Sight & Sound

As a follow-up to Catherine Shoard's 2019 editorial for The Guardian, "Cut! Is This the Death of Sex in Cinema?", Christina Newland's "The Pleasure Principle", for Sight & Sound tackles the newest Ira Sachs film, "Passages", which received an NC-17 rating in the United States due to its honest and frank depictions of sex. Such is the cultural moment that a prohibitive MPAA rating, trigger warning supplied by the exhibitor, or outright retraction and editing of material in response to poor audience reception of on-screen sex is not unheard of. Shoard's piece for The Guardian illustrates over numerous observations and citations, the reasons for this being concurrently made complicated and narrow-minded by the two sides of a polarized political landscape. Wherein sex has become that much more weaponized in its entanglement with identity and representation, and the discomfort experienced by audiences who feel their identity politics not complimentarily represented defines no small part of their enjoyment, or even acceptance, of thematic and psychological content in fiction. In the eyes of a currently influential constituency, for whom artistic merit must be allied to a certain branch of moral and political virtue, there are vast realms of the erotic, suggestive, and sexual material on screen that will not pass such demands. Regardless of said material's truth or honesty in representing the complexity of these matters in relation to life. In the case of the Ira Sachs film, what followed was an outcry in response from the domestic distributor, Mubi, and the film's director, "Director Slams MPAA Decision as ‘Cultural Censorship that’s Quite Dangerous’". Sachs speaks with Newland for the British Film Institute on the rating and the cultural and political moment that his film has navigated; "It’s really about a form of cultural censorship that is quite dangerous, particularly in a culture which is already battling, in such extreme ways, the possibility of LGBT imagery to exist”. NC-17 movies have gotten lots of attention in recent months thanks to the release of Andrew Dominik's "Blonde" a Marilyn Monroe biopic that scored Ana de Armas an Oscar nomination for best actress, and "Infinity Pool" which director Branden Cronenberg re-cut so that it could be released with an R rating. Sachs did no such thing with "Passages"."

Newland continues in the pages of Sight & Sound; "It’s possible that a combination of factors, both culture-wide and industry-specific, have contributed to this odd moment of both the avoidance of and a fixation on sex acts on screen. Initial hesitation around on-set safety post-MeToo, and a sense of discomfort around sensitive topics, has perhaps been fueled by social media pearl-clutching and a Gen Z backlash against the idea of ‘sex-positive’ feminism." The latter is supported by recent statistics, like those highlighted in NPR's coverage "Gen Z Wants Less Sex in Their TV and Movies" of the UCLA study, which featured such descriptors as the content being found, "Icky, Pointless, and Invasive", wherein half of those polled were, "Turned Off by Onscreen Sex". Nonetheless, two high profile sex-positive arthouse films are endeavoring to contradict these trends. They arrived this year in the form of the previously mentioned "Ira Sachs Thorny Love Triangle Drama", and "Emma Stone's Sexual Adventure in Yorgos Lanthimos’s Virtuoso Comic Epic". Winning major awards at Venice and Sundance, and garnered notable praise in the cinephile press, the artists involved have made their stance in relation to on-screen sex very clear, with "Adèle Exarchopoulos: ‘Film Shoots are Like Little Summer Love Stories’, and "Lanthimos’s Poor Things Fuels Speculation of Sex Scene’s Return to Cinema". At the press conference in Venice before the film's premiere, Yorgos Lanthimos posed the question; “Why is there no sex in movies? It was a very intrinsic part of the Alasdair Gray novel itself, her freedom in everything, including sexuality”, Lanthimos said of the film’s sex scenes. He added: “It was very important for me to not make a film that was going to be prudish because that would be completely betraying the main character. We had to be confident Emma had to have no shame about her body, nudity, engaging in those scenes, and she understood that right away". In this tale of Emma Stone's recently reawakened Bella Baxter, Lanthimos draws on traditions from classic European cinema like Georges Franju’s "Eyes Without a Face", obvious references from gothic literature in Mary Shelley's legendary monster, David Lynch's depiction of Joseph Merrick, and Werner Herzog’s gloriously naive explorations of life via Kaspar Hauser, and along the way, "Interrogating Gender Dynamics and Sexuality from Nearly Every Angle". Our chance will come next month at SIFF Cinema, when "'Poor Things' Brings Hot Sex and Stone-cold Brilliance to the Screen".

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Earshot Jazz presents Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog and The Bad Plus at Town Hall: Oct 14

Marc Ribot has spent nearly four decades as a guitarist on the margins of other songwriter's albums, yet central to their composition and characteristics. The music of Tom Waits, John Zorn, and David Sylvian, have all been enhanced by Ribot's contributions. Ribot's own outfit, Ceramic Dog, has gone some way to bring him into the spotlight. Where Ceramic Dog's first album was what you might expect from a Marc Ribot power-jazz trio; long on vibrant experiment and short on predictable melodic tunes. What came next in the trio of albums , "Your Turn", "YRU Still Here?", and "What I Did On My Long Vacation", released on Northern Spy, an offshoot of the legendary New York label ESP-Disk, described a trajectory toward his own brand of noise rock and more traditional songwriting. Yet as Robert Christgau explains for NPR, "Marc Ribot Isn't Trying to Comfort Anyone", and his mid-2000s albums with Ceramic Dog rank among his most daring pieces of music. Ribot has always been a political artist, this was even in evidence in his earliest outspoken interviews as part of the bridging sounds of the New York jazz and No Wave scenes of the early 1980s, and his time as a member of John Lurie's The Lounge Lizards. He's long been a union activist on behalf of independent musicians, found himself appalled by the Trump presidenc right from the start, and stayed stupefied through the ongoing years of the pandemic. This can all be heard, sometimes in refrained song title references, or at times in explicit lyrics on the odd non-instrumental tracks that comprise "Hope" and "Connection", his two newest albums for Germany's Yellowbird. On all of these works, Ribot has enlisted the percussion flurry of Ches Smith formerly of indie outsiders Xiu Xiu, and Shahzad Ismaily fresh from his recent album "Love in Exile", a recording for the vaunted Verve imprint of glacial pacing and micro-incremental composition. Joining Ceramic Dog for their Earshot Jazz Festival performance in a double-headlining bill, are the bold quartet who are known for a series of wild jazz remodifications of everything from Aphex Twin and David Bowie, to the Pixies, and even "The Bad Plus’ ‘Rite of Spring’ Captured Stravinsky’s Vision". But The Bad Plus aren't just a avant-leaning covers outfit, their original tunes are the most significant quantity of their repertoire. For many years, the outfit was focused around being a piano trio or quartet, initially led by Ethan Iverson, and then later Orrin Evans. With the announcement in 2021 of Evans departure, their new mode features guitarist Ben Monder and tenor saxophonist Chris Speed. The three most recent albums for the Editions label, "Never Stop II", "Activate Infinity", and their 2022 self titled release bridge both of these lineups, and effectively capture the post-Iverson outfit in all their multi-sectioned, often technical puissance.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 11 - 15

North of Seattle, one of the region's most compelling cinephile events returns to the pastoral setting of the San Juan Islands. As an example of festival programming featuring diverse and qualitative content, the current body of the Seattle International Film Festival could take a page or two from the Orcas Island Film Festival. While running only five days, and featuring less than one tenth of the films on offer during the three weeks of SIFF, the regional micro-festival is an exemplar representation of contemporary programming. In the unlikely setting of the rural beauty of the San Juan islands, chief programmer Carl Spence, has produced a small 35 film program to rival that of its Seattle goliath. One might marvel "How this Remote Spot in Puget Sound Attracts Such High-caliber Fare", yet it is all the work of co-founders,Jared Lovejoy and Donna Laslo, producer Marc Turtletaub, and of course the curatorial work of Spence. This year, the lineup has garnered the attention of the mainstream media and rated one of the 10 Best Film Festivals in the US, and local press have dubbed it as, "Orcas Island Film Festival is Our Cannes". As the Seattle Times states, this "Orcas Island Film Festival: Small Fest, Big Movies" draws largely from this year's Cannes Film Festival, alongside a number of the notable films from this year's Venice, Sundance, and Toronto festivals, and re-presents them in a smaller, more intimate setting. In another standout installment with a remarkable lineup, this year three of the major films from Japan appear in the festival, which include the endearing and soulful goodbye from veteran animation director and head of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki. As reported in The Guardian, "Miyazaki’s Last Movie is a Fitting Swan Song", and thanks to Carl Spence, "How Do You Live?", receives a very early west coast screening within the festival.

After the brilliant set of films from Ryûsuke Hamaguchi in 2021, he returns this year with a "Enigmatic Eco-Parable that Eschews Easy Explanation", in "Evil Does Not Exist", and Japan's master of the quiet melodrama switches up tone and genre once again, Hirokazu Kore-eda's "Monster", is a "Hydra of Modern Morals and Manners". As the director of "Tokyo Ga", few western directors are more qualified or capable to present a tale of the daily pleasures and travails of Japanese life than Wim Wenders. Wenders here teams with the incomparable talent of Koji Yakusho, this year's winner of Best Actor at Cannes, to "Explore a Quiet Life in Tokyo" through the ambient urban charm of "Perfect Days". After a string of masterful, philosophical films, including a Palme d'Or winner, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's newest "About Dry Grasses", is "An Absorbing Drama of a Teacher-Pupil Crisis". On the subject of Cannes most notable award, this year's winner "Anatomy of a Fall", from Justine Triet, "Compels as an Author Accused of Her husband’s Murder". Pivoting away from his depiction of the life of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, François Ozon has apparently delivered one of the great comedies of the year with, "The Crime is Mine", and a different register can be found in "Fallen Leaves", and the gentle tide of Aki Kaurismäki's "Deadpan Comedy with Springtime in its Heart". In an unexpected turn of genre and setting, after his Haruki Murakami adaptation, Vietnamese-born French director Tran Anh Hung serves "The Taste of Things", in "A Belle Époque Tale of Meaningful Meals". One of the most anticipated films from Cannes, Alice Rohrwacher's "La Chimera", follows an Englishman's plundering of Italy’s historical artefacts alongside a bizarre gang of followers in an, "Uproarious Period Adventure that Teems with Life".

Friday, October 6, 2023

All Monsters Attack at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 1 - 31 | The Month of Scarecrowber at SIFF Cinema: Oct 2 - 30

To my mind, the months of October and November could always do with more in the way of programming around Halloween season genre film and its disorienting frights, crepuscular surrealism, and discomfiting atmospheres. Thankfully, Scarecrow Video annually steps up with their curated Halloween section of domestic and international horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and psychotronic selections. The Psychotronic Challenge also returns in its eighth installment, challenging viewers to select a new theme category for every day in October from the deep trivia of the cues on offer. While we're here, let's talk the incomparable one-of-a-kind resource that is Scarecrow. Essentially it's this simple; if you live in the Northwest and are a fan of cinema, it's your personal obligation to ensure their doors stay open for business. For horror and genre aficionados, there is no other resource in North America like that offered by Scarecrow and their abundant catalog of obscure, foreign releases, out of print, and ultra-rare editions, and with 150,000+ films on offer, no singular online streaming resource can compare. Scarecrow Video themselves have programmed a series of films at SIFF Cinema spanning the month, which they have designated as "Scarecrowber". The twelve films on offer span classic Hollywood studio era classics like Jacques Tourneur's "Cat People", early American independents represented by Herk Harvey's "Carnival of Souls", Kathryn Bigelow's genre subversion found in "Near Dark", Stuart Gordon's psychedelic H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, "From Beyond", and the unforgettable international arthouse horror of Andrej Zulawski's "Possession". In previous years, the annual citywide cinematic offerings for the months of October and November have seen 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 recent Halloween seasons of note, the local arthouse cinemas presented an abundance on the theme of the haunted house in 2015, and 2013 saw no small number of invaders from beyond. 2017 was heavy on 1970s psychedelic and psychological horror from Europe, particularly from the era of abundance seen in the subgenres of French Fantastique and Italian Giallo. 2018's programming was highly attuned to American 1980s horror, as was the case with the 2019 installment, alongside a bold mix of decades of classic European, Asian, and Italian genre material. Making a return after the long pandemic hiatus, 2021 also diversified with a strong set of films that never saw a theatrical release during the 2020 season. Back again in 2022, with a diverse set of films running the gamut from silent era horror, 1970s and 80s psychotronic wonders, and 1990s big budget gothic spectacles.

One of the longest running, and most consistently satisfying of the local Halloween series has been The Grand Illusion Cinema's month-long All Monsters Attack calendar of horror, creature features, classic thrillers, sci-fi, and cult cinema. This year's slate includes new and returning genre classics and recent releases, among them is a set of invasion films from William Cameron Menzies and his 1953 "Invaders from Mars", and Rob Lieberman's "Fire in the Sky" from four decades later. In the convoluted franchise with William Friedkin's legendary original, and the troubled notoriety of Paul Schrader's remake, William Peter Blatty delivered a sequel to his own novel with "Exorcist III". With William Friedkin's passing earlier this year, Peter Bradshaw wrote in the pages of The Guardian, "William Friedkin Created Unforgettable Horror and Pleasure with Equal Brilliance", and The Grand Illusion presents two of his later, overlooked works with 1990's "The Guardian", and "Bug" from 2006. A highlight from previous year's programming returns with a memorial night for Seattle's most dedicated cinephile, music lover, and man-about-town, William Kennedy. Before his passing in 2021, Bill wished for nothing more than his friends and cultural compatriots to join together for a screening of the director's cut of David Cronenberg's classic body-horror techno thriller, “Videodrome”. A second earlier Cronenberg is also on offer, with the director's "Rabid", which followed his breakout infestation classic of two years before, and supplied Marilyn Chambers a potent vehicle for some of her first mainstream film work. The two films from the early 1960s on offer each epitomize the best of their respective genres. As Maitland McDonagh writes in "The Innocents: Forbidden Games", Henry James' tale of the sinister things hiding behind Victorian decorum, in Jack Clayton’s hands, "The Innocents" becomes one of the screen’s most refined works of psychological horror. Adapting Lafcadio Hearn's Japanese traditional supernatural and folk tales, with "Kwaidan", Masaki Kobayashi assembled one of the most meticulously crafted supernatural fantasy films ever made. A rulebook on style and atmosphere, Geoffrey O’Brien's "Kwaidan: No Way Out" details its creation for The Criterion Collection. On offer in this year's series, a set of newly minted contemporary horror is also represented by Stephen VanderpoolMichelle Garza Cervera, and Joe Lynch's "Tearsucker", "Huesera", and "Suitable Flesh", respectively. The latter having the pedigree of beginning as another of the Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli projects based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

From the early 1980s and late 1990s, we get two very different takes on John William Polidori and Bram Stoker's favorite immortal entity. The first, Tony Scott's 1983 adaptation of the novel of the same name by Whitley Strieber, starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon, was a rare genre film which exhibited an earnest and refined style, and contained a notable arthouse cast. While "The Hunger" was poorly received at the time of its release, it has since garnered a cult following within the nascent goth and glam rock cultures. The two vampire films on offer couldn't be more unlike; as a marriage of martial arts, dark fantasy, comedy and a sendup of exploitation films of the 1970s, through the lens of a Marvel comics anti-hero, Stephen Norrington's "Blade", gave Wesley Snipes one of his great roles. As part of the Grand Illusion's 16mm Centennial Celebration Series, Sprocket Society will host two nights of Danger!! Scare Films on 16mm, and a Bert Gordon double feature, presenting "Earth vs. the Spider" and a secret second film and shorts, all presented on celluloid, of course. A one-man trash cinema powerhouse, no horror genre series would be complete without a Joe Dante film or two. In this case we get the late 1970s nature unbound creature flick of "Piranha", and one of Dante's few commercial breakouts, which effectively signaled the end of the 1980s, "Gremlins 2: The New Batch". Sharing more than a little of the sensibility of the latter Dante, Bob Balaban's 1980s materialism satire, "Parents", also fittingly describes the tail end of the Reaganite zeitgeist. Going out swinging, All Monsters Attack then concludes with a bi-polar pendulum arc between what is rightly considered the most terrifying film of the 20th Century, Tobe Hooper's 1974 "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", and Nobuhiko Obayashi's 1977 unhinged kaleidoscope of absurd haunting nonsequiturs, "Hausu". Referred to by Chuck Stephens in his essay for Criterion as; "eye-poppingly demented, jaw-droppingly inventive, Japanese pop culture at its most delightfully unhinged extreme", this is more than just the story of "The Housemaidens" in an unwelcoming home. Peter Bradshaw's 2017 eulogy in The Guardian for, "Tobe Hooper: The Director Who Took a Chainsaw to Wholesome Family Life", acts as an effective summation of his life and art. Yet, none of the rest of that body of work quite ascended to the dizzyingly unconstrained heights, and unmerciful perfection, of his first feature length film.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Slowdive "Everything is Alive" & US Tour: Sept 25 - Oct 15

This past decade has curiously become the locus of the nascent 1990s spacerock and shoegaze sound, with not only new albums, and tours, but improbable bands reforming and reactivating after decades of silence. We were not only witness to the third domestic tour since their reformation by My Bloody Valentine but the first new album in 22 years, "MBV" which finally manifested after years of legend and rumor. Equally unexpected, the return of LOOP after decades of its founder Robert Hampson claiming if you weren't there to witness their staggering volume and endurance-testing live performances in the 1990's, then you'll never quite know what the band was about. 4AD label dreampop confection, Lush also joined their ranks. Spring 2016 saw the band's first live shows in 20 years since the unexpected death of friend and drummer, Chris Acland, Miki Berenyi, Emma Anderson and Phil King spoke with The Quietus for their "Mad Love: An Interview with Lush". An era for the band that both initiated and concluded within the course of the single tour cycle. To only be reborn in-part, as Piroshka the following year. Marking a similar path, these ranks were also bolstered by the immensely influential Ride, who themselves have multiple new records and tours this past half-decade. All of which pursuing courses forged down precluding pathways by Scottish dream-pop progenitors Cocteau Twins, and the later British bands following in the druggy astronomical haze of Spacemen 3. This set of compatriots in shared sound fast became a who's who of the best of UK underground rock of the early 1990's. The most improbable of them all, was the announcement that Slowdive would be performing a one-off at the Primavera Sound Festival in 2014. Following in the wake of the massively received event, the band recognized the ongoing dedication of their fanbase in interview with The Quietus, "There Seems To Be A Lot Of Love Out There: A Slowdive Interview". Finding an enthusiasm for performing and writing again, suggesting the very real possibility of a reformation as the "Slowdive Reunion Expands with More Shows, Possibility of New Music" and following in rapid succession, "Slowdive Announce North American Tour, Reunion".

For followers of the band, after the breakdown of the mid-1990's, the last thing one would expect to hear is that it's their overlooked final album created in mid-rift, "Pygmalion", which stands out as an obvious point of stylistic reference amidst the sonic concoction of this new live incarnation. This was made all that much more surprising for Neil Halstead's often-expressed sentiment that that era of his music was definitively closed and it was his 4AD released project Mojave 3 and solo work that would be his larger legacy. Halstead is not the only member with a vital and prolific post-breakup creative arch away from the path carved by Slowdive. The work of drummer and sound designer, Simon Scott is equal to the group's sonic summits. One only need hear the atmospheric, jazz-informed ambient tonescapes of his excellent "Bunny" for the Miasmah label for it to be made clear that the adventurous pop Scott created with Halstead, Rachel Goswell, Nick Chaplin and Christian Savill, decades before was a point of entry, rather than a final destination. In 2017, all members of the band reassembled for the first new recordings in 22 years on the magisterial and surprising "Slowdive", for Bloomington Indiana label, Dead Oceans. This album singularly giving momentum to, "The Unlikely Renaissance of Slowdive", ascending to heights of popularity never previously seen by the band, riding the wave of the "Jewel-like, Spacious Return" of their sound. The development of this new work detailed for Stereogum by guitarist, Rachel Goswell "The Only Goth in the Village", who along with Halstead, was the primary architect of 1995's "Pygmalion", stating that his time out the group dynamic was all important, offering; "It's poppier than I thought it was going to be,". "When you're in a band and you do three records, there's a continuous flow and a development. For us, that flow re-started with us playing live again and that has continued into the record". After multiple Us tours, and five years, they return to this process for "Everything is Alive", which Neil Halstead speaks with NPR on the subject of their new album, and the coming tour of "Exquisite Songs from the Comeback Kids of Shoegaze".

Sunday, September 3, 2023

"Dark Dreams: The Original Film Noir Series" at SIFF Cinema: Sept 27 - Nov 30

A major setback to repertory cinema in Seattle came in early 2021, with the elimination of the position that Greg Olson held as film programmer at Seattle Art Museum for half a century. By removing Olson as the programmer of the longest running film noir series in the United States, and author of definitive books on the subject of David Lynch, Seattle found that the "Fate of SAM Film Series Unclear as Museum’s Longtime Film Curator Laid Off". It should also be noted, that in addition to the loss of Olson specifically as one of the most influential programmers of his generation, the position has remained unfilled at Seattle Art Museum. Now almost three years later, the programmer and author brings the longest continuously running series of its kind to SIFF Cinema. Following on the heels of the successful relocation of his relaunched Fellini retrospective, “Life is a Feast: The Cinema of Federico Fellini" earlier this year, SIFF Cinema Egyptian will play home to, "Dark Dreams: The Original Film Noir Series". Now in its 44th installment, the series opens with two all-time classics from Billy Wilder. The first of which features Gloria Swanson in a career great in "Sunset Boulevard", and Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in Raymond Chandler's brilliantly subversive adaptation of "Double Indemnity", from the novel of the same name by James M. Cain. The series continues with two solidly constructed noirs from the classic studio era by Robert Siodmak and Roy William Neill in "Criss Cross", and "Black Angel". From this same period, Nicholas Ray delivered one of the most darkly hued and nuanced of noirs, "In A Lonely Place", featuring career-defining heights for both of its stars, Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. A more conspirational and paranoid brand of 1970s color neo-noir infuses the world of Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston in Roman Polanski's "Chinatown". Swinging to the other end of the spectrum, if there ever was a comedy neo-noir, it would be Joel and Ethan Coen's "The Big Lebowski", and diametrically opposite, the brother-director team adapted the terse pragmatism of Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men", starring Tommy Lee Jones in one of his most memorable roles. Ending in solidly psychological thriller territory, the series concludes with "Eyes Wide Shut", the final film by Stanley Kubrick. One which takes its inspirations as much from Arthur Schnitzler's "Rhapsody: A Dream Novel", as it does the great cinematic dreamer of the late 20th century, David Lynch. On this subject, early in the new year we can anticipate the second major book from Greg Olson on Lynch, with the publishing of his, "Black Coffee Lightning: David Lynch Returns to Twin Peaks", focusing on the expansion of the world of Twin Peaks since the release of the 2017 miniseries.

Friday, September 1, 2023

"Dust of the Material Universe: Piotr Szulkin's Apocalypse Quartet" at The Beacon Cinema: Sept 1 - 22 | "The Last Years of Soviet Cinema" | The Guardian

The Leonid Brezhnev era of the Soviet Union was, in Mikhail Gorbachev’s words, “the period of stagnation”. However, the new emphasis on stability gave a paradoxical prominence to youth uprising as a symptom and cause of personal and social unrest, and the generational expression of alienation. Social deviance was far more prominent in 1970s Soviet cinema than during the decades before; look no further than the Czech New Wave for reference. In the following decade, Glasnost under Gorbachev accelerated this preexisting predilection, rather than initiated, a stark view of Soviet reality and its expression in the arts. Until recently, the films of the USSR’s last decade were mainly a specialist cinephile interest. But this has begun to change, starting with retrospectives like "Generations: Russian Cinema of Change" at the Barbican, London in 2019. This gave an exhilarating introduction to nine major films by young late-Soviet directors, as covered in The Guardian's, "'There are No Different Truths': The Last Years of Soviet Cinema". The retrospective made clean that Polish cinema of the decade had its own aesthetic, political, and thematic detractors. These followed on the groundbreaking generation of films that came in the late 1960s and 70s, as represented in the extensive restoration undertaking by the Polish Film Institute of, "Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema". This era Scorsese spoke further on with The Guardian at the time of the restoration project, "My Passion for the Humor and Panic of Polish Cinema". In the ensuing decade, Polish cinema went through a brief period of creative oppression, following the Polish political crisis of 1968, which had strong parallels with the concurrent movement of the Prague Spring.

Writer, director, screenwriter, novelist, theatrical director and painter, Piotr Szulkin was born of this time, before the waves of Perestroika would come and sweep away all the restrictions and socio-political prejudices of the Soviet era in the mid-to-late 1980s. His body of work filtered 20th century philosophy and Polish medieval literature through speculative fiction, neo-noir, and grotesque, sometimes comically absurd allegories. Best known for his tetralogy of wildly iconoclastic science fiction films, "Golem", "The War of the Worlds: Next Century", "O-Bi, O-Ba: The End of Civilization", and "Ga-ga: Glory to Heroes'', Szulkin regularly faced censorship from the Communist regime of the late 1970s and early 80s for his unabashedly political works. Whether viewed as existential tales, absurdist parables, or premonitions about society’s hostility and inclination towards totalitarianism, Szulkin's films continue to resonate with truth about our modern-day world. The Lincoln Center overview of his work in 2015, "Sci-Fi Visionary: Piotr Szulkin" offered a selection of new digital restorations and imported film prints, as well as the rare, "Interview: Piotr Szulkin" for Film Comment. From this, and the new restorations offered by both Vinegar Syndrome and Radiance Films in the form of Piotr Szulkin's Apocalypse Tetralogy, and The End of Civilization: Three Films by Piotr Szulkin respectively, this month The Beacon Cinema has programmed, "Dust of the Material Universe: Piotr Szulkin's Apocalypse Quartet". Eschewing critics of the time referring to him as a science fiction filmmaker, Szulkin himself called his genre, "asocial fiction", revealing his dismay at modern society's destruction of community. Which by no means was limited to the communist era. In as much as what came before it, Szulkin's work can be read as a criticism of media-driven consumerism as well. And as Michał Oleszczyk writes from, "Things to Come: Piotr Szulkin’s Homespun Apocalypse", is not far removed from the worlds depicted by his western contemporaries of the 1980s, such as those seen in the films of David Cronenberg and Terry Gilliam.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

SWANS “The Beggar" & US Tour: Sept 2 - Oct 1

After two rescheduled tours due to the extenuated factors of the global pandemic, Michael Gira returns in September with another new iteration of his towering rock band, SWANS. Having led the outfit through numerous manifestations over the decades since its inception, including a brief phase as the folk ensemble The Angels of Light, change and transfiguration have been one of their great constants of Michael Gira's lifelong music endeavor. The cartography of this four decades-spanning terrain was mapped for Exclaim in Dimitri Nasrallah's "Michael Gira: from SWANS Uncompromising Sound to Ethereal Angels of Light", and in greater detail and intimacy by friends, fellow musicians and peers in Nick Soulsby's recently published oral history of the band, "SWANS: Sacrifice and Transcendence". 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 magnitude. The post-reform precision and (relative) brevity of 2010's "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 2016's "The Glowing Man" ascend to, and even expand upon similarly Homeric heights. "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 its own DNA. One that encapsulates the totality of their 40-plus 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 it came to pass that SWANS produced 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 conjured an, "Enduring Love: Why SWANS are More Vital Now than Ever".

The albums and live performances of this past decade, spanning 2010-2018, were 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". 2018 was to see another of these metamorphosis for the band, as Gira took a second brief hiatus to reconfigure SWANS. Issuing a statement through his Young God Records site, the author and musician has established this period as an interstice between iterations of his dominant musical project. SWANS last return and reformation after a 15 year hiatus, in which they became remanifest in the most powerful and expansive iteration to date, there was no doubt that their return after this much more brief hiatus would be one of renewal, reinvention, and creative metempsychosis. So here we are again, with this newest formation, following on the hypnotic and repetitive krautock-inspired grooves of 2019's "Leaving Meaning.", in which Gira enlisted Australian avant-jazz luminaries, The Necks, organist Anna von Hausswolff, and Icelandic electronics sculptor, Ben Frost, to enhance their tapestries of sound. The tour for that album was disrupted and eventually cancelled altogether, with Gira releasing a statement about the next work in progress and the fruitful recording sessions held in Germany. The album that came from those sessions, "The Beggar" would finally be taken on tour, and enlisted many individuals from the band's previous lineups, including; longtime percussionists Larry Mullins and Phil Puleo, Angels of Light bassist and keyboardist Dana Schechter, Ben Frost again in a more prominent role as "sound manipulator", and mainstays of the band's 21st century incarnation, Kristof Hahn and Christopher Pravdica. Of the sonic topography found on this "Dark and Unsettling, Purifying and Beautiful" album, Gira has said that "My vision changes according to the unfolding of random events found in the music that we play together", and as with each release before it, "SWANS Just Keep Swimming" towards some unknown and distant horizon.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Boris and Melvins “Twins of Evil” US Tour: Aug 24 - Oct 14

Showing no signs of a sedentary codification of their sound, or a deceleration of their recording or touring schedule, Boris sessions for the 2017 album "Dear" for the Sargent House label generated nearly three albums of new material. Following on this prolific period, in rapid succession they then delivered, "LφVE & EVφL" as well as a set of domestic LP reissues for Jack White's Third Man Records in 2019. In the trio of years since, they released the stellar "NO" on their own label, a collaboration with post punk band, Uniform, and the dub-inspired release, "W" both for Sacred Bones. Not satisfied with two albums titled "Heavy Rocks", they then created a third this year for Relapse Records, and this fall, "Boris Announce Tour with Melvins" spanning late August to mid-October. Indeed, from this evidence it's clear that, "For Boris, Heavy is a State of Being". The most recent tour marks a decade of semiannual domestic visits to North America in which they have manifested an ever-mutating mix of doom metal, heavy psych, warped J-pop, willfully dysfunctional indie rock, and even their own thrilling take on dreampop and shoegaze. The latter we first glimpsed on their "Japanese Heavy Rock Hits" 7" series, which was then refined on "Attention Please", from which they then pivoted to the guttural psyche assault of the second "Heavy Rocks". This prolific inundation culminating in the tri-album recording release of late 2011, topped by their upbeat pop-assault of the generically titled, "New Album". Following this deluge was the more atmospheric Metal-oriented tour album "Präparat" and the mainstream riffs of 2014's "Noise", with its pronounced college-rock sensibilities. The band themselves perceive this stylistic shift as just another stage in their assimilation of influences towards an all-inclusive Boris sound, in an interview for The Quietus the feedback-worshiping trio state, "Noise is Japanese Blues': An Interview with Boris". The sonic realm which they have created for themselves was first carved out with 2005's "Pink", and the brand of lyrical guitar squall of collaborator Michio Kurihara heard on the companion album "Rainbow". Typical of the abundant recording sessions which have produced each album, the recent domestic reissue of "Pink" features a previously unreleased companion album of "Forbidden Songs". Comprising overflow from this era that ended up on the cutting room floor, their interview for Invisible Oranges delves into this phase of high production and new inspirations. The March 2016 issue of The Wire recaps the trio's decades-long recording and touring process, which brings them back into contact with legendary noise extremist Merzbow on the 150 minutes of new music appearing on the interchangeable double LP set, "Gensho". Its depths sounded by Masami Akita in his interview for The Quietus, "Razor Blades in the Dark: An Interview with Merzbow", which acts as a preface of sorts for their second studio album collaboration "2R0I2P0", released in 2020 on Relapse.