Thursday, September 1, 2022

"Thrills & Chills" series at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Aug 26 - Sept 15

Later this month, Dan Hudson, the longtime programmer for Scarecrow Video's sister theater The Grand Illusion Cinema, will be departing for his new home in Williamstown MA, and executive director position at Images Cinema. But not before he leaves us with one final film series, fulfilling a long-held aspiration to put together a volume of high quality thrillers that feature notable electronic scores. Before we get to the details of the series itself, let's talk the incomparable one-of-a-kind resource that is Scarecrow, and how if you live in the Northwest and are a fan of cinema, it's essentially your personal obligation to ensure their doors stay open for business. There truly is no other resource in North America like that offered by Scarecrow Video and their abundant catalog of obscure, foreign releases, out of print, and ultra-rare editions, and with nearly 150,000 films on offer, no singular online streaming resource can compare. A short jaunt from Scarecrow Video, the first of the films in The Grand Illusion Cinema's Thrills & Chills series, features the high style gloss and atmosphere that Nicolas Winding Refn refined in "Drive". This would be the stylebook for everything conceived by Refn, as well as a homage to one of his greatest influences, Michael Mann, and his film "Thief". It would also prove to be the mode of storytelling Refn would expounded upon in more recent works like his doom-laden collaboration with crime comics writer Ed Brubaker, and their crowning achievement that is, "Nicolas Winding Refn's dead-eyed LA Nightmare". High energy, and urban twists and turns, are channeled through a very 1990s zeitgeist sensibility in Tom Twyker's “Run Lola Run”, and a more retro soundtrack including goth and synthwave favorites like Clan of Xymox, Sisters of Mercy, Survive, Zombi, and Love & Rockets are featured throughout Adam Wingard's under-seen “The Guest”. Delivering what might be considered the pinnacle of tense 21st century urban dramas, the two directors of Good Time” and Uncut Gems”, Joshua and Benjamin Safdie have been collaborating almost exclusively with Daniel Lopatin, who's music as Oneohtrix Point Never occupies a similarly tense precipice of risk and reward.

And lastly in the series, William Friedkin, the director of "The Exorcist", took an extreme about-turn in his audacious 1977 resetting of both Georges Arnaud's novel "Le Salaire de la Peur", and Henri-Georges Clouzot's previous 1953 film adaptation, "The Wages of Fear". Friedkin enlisted the then very relevant German electronic trio Tangerine Dream to score the heat and South American Jungle delirium of “Sorcerer”. This recent new 4K scan finally "Restoring the Magic of Friedkin’s ‘Sorcerer’", and admitting viewers deeper into the  hellish Dante-like task through a series of oneiric nightmare sequences that its band of desperate outsiders and criminals on the run must traverse, against all odds. Dan Hudson's programming notes from the series launch are quoted below; “My final series for the Grand Illusion is Thills & Chills. Thrills — with some of the best thrillers ever made; Chills — with some of the finest synth and electronic scores in cinematic history. These soundtracks illustrate why “chillwave” is one of the fastest growing EDM subgenres, including Cliff Martinez’ score to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Our series will be bookended by rare 35mm screenings of Good Time and Uncut Gems. The Safdie brothers took the cinema of Scorsese and Friedkin to new heights, with perfect scores by Oneohtrix Point Never. Speaking of Friedkin, Tangerine Dream’s nail biting score to Sorcerer will have you squirming in your seats. Perhaps no other film shows the power of an electronic score to propel a thriller at breakneck speed than Tom Twyker’s Run Lola Run, presented here in glorious 35mm. And finally, Steve Moore of Zombi provided the pulsing throwback score to 2014’s lamentably under-seen The Guest. I’m really excited to see all these films with you on the big screen. If you’re wondering why this series is short on Carpenter — we just did a whole Carpenter series earlier this year! Plus maybe we’ve got a little something coming up for Halloween.”

Sunday, August 14, 2022

The 59th Venice Biennale & Cecilia Alemani's "The Milk of Dreams": Apr 23 - Nov 27

The Venice Biennale will once again be the most significant exhibition I will see this year. Returning for its 59th installment after a two year delay, Cecilia Alemani, the New York-based Italian curator had more than the usual prerequisite time to prepare her curatorial work. Even with the additional years involved in it's assembly due to the global pandemic, "Venice Biennale Curator Cecilia Alemani Doesn’t Want to Do a ‘Coronavirus Bienniale’", and has offered a lens of the world that instead more representative of, "A Curator’s Vision for a Post-Pandemic Venice Biennale". The centerpiece of which being the large pavilion of the city's mariner rope making factory of the Arsenale and the nearby Giardini. Her extended research has produced another unusually coherent show, which in addition to the global overview of new art, also presents a deeper frame of reference in showing historic work, often by surrealists such as Ithell Colquhoun, Dorothea Tanning and Remedios Varo. Such artists prefigure Alemani's preoccupations in contemporary work; the body in transformation, metamorphosis, and non-gender specific perspectives on form, in many ways it could be said that this installment is "The Women's Biennale", in doing so Alemani has produced, “A Venice Biennale Informed by the Pandemic, that Spotlights Women". Both The New York Times' “Looking Inward, and Back, at a Biennale for the History Books”, and The Guardian's "The Guardian View on the Venice Biennale: Sensuous and Serious", highlight the great achievement of spanning the historic, the contemporary, and a volume of work that is to be experienced “with the fullness of the body”, as expressed by Alemani to The Guardian. Even the video and media-focused installation works are said to have a material feel, sometimes in the setting in which they are shown, such as P.Staff's mirrored kaleidoscope of colors that channels its violent subject matter. Cinders, burnt wood and accompanying olfactory characteristics fill Switzerland's pavilion, dedicated to Latifa Echakhch's massive figurative sculptures in the environment of "The Concert". Or in the case of the elaborate earth maze by Colombian artist Delcy Morelos, already focused on the terra, in which she enhanced the sensory experience by engaging the olfactory senses through tobacco, cocoa, cloves and other spices in the soil.

Collaborative works also feature largely in the main exhibit, and this year's Golden Lion went to Sonia Bonce for her showcasing of black female vocalists in her pavilion for Britain. Alberta Whittle representing the Scotland pavilion talks of her accomplices, from dancers, musicians and historians who have contributed to her film, the Polish pavilion features a series of extraordinary patchwork frescoes by Małgorzata Mirga-Tas that was assembled with fellow sewers. In the way of the major awards, two special mentions were awarded this year to the following national pavilions, France, for their "Les rêves n’ont pas de titre", and Uganda, for "Radiance: They Dream in Time". With Best Artist of the international exhibition going to Simone Leigh from the United States, the Silver Lion for Best Young Artist awarded to Ali Cherri also in the international exhibition, a pair of special mentions were given to Lynn Hershman Leeson and Shuvinai Ashoona, and this year there were also awarded two Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement, which went to German artist Katharina Fritsch and the Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña. Among the 58 countries represented in the National Pavilions, and 30 Collateral Events to be found throughout the city, there are innumerable sculptural works, performances and installations of note. Highlights from which include a Ha Chong-Hyun retrospective, and the massive sculptural paperworks of Chun Kwang Young, in collaboration with architect Stefano Boeri presented together as "Times Reimagined" in the Palazzo Contarini Polignac. This year, the Norway pavilion is dedicated to the Sami people of the arctic circle, the Japanese pavilion wholly as an audiovisual installation by Dumb Type and Ryuichi Sakamoto, and the archive exhibition "Impossible Dreams" fills the whole of the space dedicated to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum of Taiwan. Nearby in San Marco, there's the light-mirroring steles of Heinz Mack, and the Mexican pavilion represented by Naomi Rincón Gallardo's "Vermin Sonnet". There's also the Canadian pavilion focused on the work of Stan Douglas, and Pedro Neves Marques' multiple screen audio-visual installation "Vampires in Space" at the Portugal Pavilion. “Human Brains: It Begins with an Idea” curated by Udo Kittelmann and Taryn Simon is at the Fondazione Prada, and the Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia hosts an exhibition of Anish Kapoor. The fifth edition of MUVE Contemporaneo at Palazzo Ducale presents Andselm Kiefer, and an exhibition on the island of Giudecca of the 20th Action Painting by Viennese artist Hermann Nitsch.

This year’s international group show, "The Milk of Dreams", takes its title from a fairytale by the British-born Leonora Carrington, who is at the heart of an intensely eerie mini-survey to rival the huge surrealism blockbuster at the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation in Dorsoduro. There are capsules such as this throughout, as detailed through Artforum's "Chimerical Romance", "Say it with Bolts!", and "Thought Experiment", some of which are historic and even scholarly, others span the spaces from outsider art, to cyborgs, and vibrantly lifelike mannequins, all of which seen in this context express an air of late-flowering surrealism. The Milk of Dreams” says Alemani, focuses on three themes; “the representation of bodies and their metamorphoses; the relationship between individuals and technologies; and the connection between bodies and the Earth”. In doing so, it dances between primordialist and technological imaginings, creating hybridized possibilities of human form and consciousness “becoming-animal,” “becoming-machine,” and “becoming-earth”. Further reporting for The Guardian, Adrian Searle is our chaperone to its wonders and marvels, the beautiful and the terrible, the celebratory and the morbid all fill the 59th Venice Biennale. Which as Searle points out is in some ways business as usual, but this year there are no billionaire oligarch yachts moored by the Giardini and there is less opulence and ultra-wealth spectacle and celebrity all-round. The Russian pavilion is closed (the curators resigned) and Ukraine has a large presence both in their pavilion and in the various spaces between those of the other nations. These pavilions and main exhibition that comprise the global art overview, situated the ancient and decrepit and historic palazzos, the lush sunlit Giardini and glorious Arsenale and Forte Marghera of Venice, are better for it, as laid out in Searle's compendious, "Cyborgs, Sirens and a Singing Murderer: The Thrilling, Oligarch-free Venice Biennale".

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Claire Denis' "Both Sides of the Blade” at SIFF Cinema: Jul 15 - 21

Broadly thematically varied, from explorations of masculine camaraderie, observations on the post-Colonial landscape of both Africa and Paris, to sharp-edged gender relations, neo-noir thrillers, and bizarre science run amok, Claire Denis' filmography navigates the spaces between traditional narrative and more structurally adventurous cinema. Her films have consistently fashioned an interplay of the gravitational pulls inherent in each of these corresponding genres. Denis is herself a complex and irreducible intellect, as made clear in recent interviews on both gender representation in Cannes, and the wider field of women artists, "Claire Denis: ‘I Couldn’t Care Less About the Weinstein Affair'", and for the Irish Times, "‘We are Normal People. Even Though We are French’". Recent representations of her craft can be seen in 2008's masterpiece on class, race and urban life, conveyed through light and motion that was "35 Shots of Rum", and 2014's ominous neo-noir crime thriller, "Bastards". The latter bringing its audience deep into the nightmare of one family's decomposition from the inside with their brush with power, corruption and an immoral French elite. In a sense all of her work can be seen as, "Family Films of a Very Different Sort". Another constant of her work, one that she shares with the best of her peers, (think David Lynch, Steve McQueen, Apichatpong Weeraseathakul) is the elliptical nature of it's narrative and visual structure. Looping back on itself, projecting ahead, fusing impression, experience and dream, these structural and thematic signatures are abundantly detailed in Nick Pinkerton's Claire Denis interview for Film Comment and Senses of Cinema's "Dancing Reveals So Much: An Interview with Claire Denis". More recently, in her crowning point from Cannes 2017, she delivered a subtly pointed observation on contemporary French life in, "Let the Sunshine In". This elegant, eccentric relationship comedy of ideas on middle age, expressed itself with an almost inscrutable sophistication, "Un Beau Soleil Interieur: Juliette Binoche Excels". Taking a typically dynamic about-turn, Denis then produced her first explicitly science fiction work to-date with "High Life" featuring a much larger production, special effects, lead stars in Binoche and Robbert Pattinson, and a screenplay by Nick Laird and Zadie Smith, the following year.

In her observation on the diminishing of content in the modern era that might traverse such complex and charged territory, Catherine Shoard selects “The Fearless Cinema of Claire Denis” as the antithesis to these trends. Expressly the depiction of sex, sexual power and psychology in the director’s newest, "Claire Denis on High Life, Robert Pattinson, and Putting Juliette Binoche in a “F*ckbox”. The film’s sexual and corporeal focus on a unflinching exploration of "The Fleshy Frontier", and past traditions in related is cinema are considered in John Semley's piece for The Baffler. These multifaceted bodily, sexual, and psychological tensions also succinctly delineated in Charles Bramesco’s review, “High Life: Orgasmic Brilliance in Deepest Space with Robert Pattinson”. Which brings us to her two current films of this year and last. Born of the much-delayed adaptation of Denis Johnson's "Stars at Noon", and the numerous complexities of the film's long gestation, including its star Robert Pattinson having to leave the project over schedule conflicts, "Stars at Noon" finally arrived at Cannes of this year where it was awarded the Grand Prix. This "Languid Tale of Sex, Lies and Intrigue in the Nicaraguan Heat", is in many ways a compelling companion for "Both Sides of the Blade". This earlier film is a much more intimate production with a smaller cast and setting, all of which made necessary by the pandemic. In the interim of the year between films, born of conversations between Denis and its lead actor Vincent Lindon, they produced an subtly radical film within the traditional parameters of the bourgeois marital drama. Its premiere at the Berlinale contributed to a wider theme of, "Women Dominate Berlin Film Festival Awards as 'Alcarràs' wins Golden Bear", wherein it was said that "Berlinale 2022: Life is Beautiful". Discussing "Film Comment Interview: Claire Denis on Fire", the director touches on the simplicity and intimacy of its production, and her utilizing the year of the pandemic to create a film with Vincent Lindon and Juliette Binoche, and a small crew, crafting in the end, "Claire Denis’ Many-Faced Love Story".

Monday, July 4, 2022

Seattle Art Fair at Lumen Field Event Center: Jul 21 - 24

With the passing of Paul Allen in 2018, the future of Allen's founding of numerous cultural and arts institutions, and significant philanthropic contribution to the city, were all made less certain. By 2020, it was made clear that Vulcan would no longer be investing in their cultural branch, with the explicit message sent by the shuttering of their arts and entertainment division, and the layoff of all related staff. This would of course translate as "Vulcan Closes its Arts + Entertainment Division, which Includes Cinerama and Seattle Art Fair". Producing a cascade of concerns related to arts funding and the venues under Vulcan's purview. Most significantly, the Seattle Cinerama, one of only three movie theaters in the world still capable of showing three-panel Cinerama films, and project 70mm celluloid, which to-date remains in limbo. The Seattle Times editorial of last year called for an investment intervention, "Seattle Needs a Hero to Save Beloved Cinerama". Seattle Art Fair has weathered the shuttering of Vulcan Arts more evenly, as a co-producer of Seattle Art Fair since its beginning, Art Market Productions announced in 2021 that they would continue as sole owner and producer. In advance of the Seattle Art Fair's inaugural success in 2015, 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 with an emphasis on the 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 ArtNews "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" on the occasion of the fair's second year. Continuing the trend of atypical and non-traditional gallery works, the fourth annual Art Fair presented Mark Pauline the founder of Survival Research Laboratories, joining influential science fiction author Bruce Sterling in conversation. The author and the outsider artist, technologist and robotics specialist have intersected on previous occasions, notably 20 years prior in the pages of Wired, for "Is Phoenix Burning?". The cultural and economic landscape that Pauline operates in now is quite different than that of the early 1980s, presenting a new set of challenges to his performative art. So there's logic at work in that Pauline would now align himself with gallery culture, and the contextualized space of it's presentation. As Wired said, "artistic respectability doesn’t so much beckon as envelop", in response to The New York Times' "Fire-Breathing Robots Bringing Anarchy to a Chelsea Art Gallery". The 2018 installment also saw artistic director, Laura Fried, succeeded by Nato Thompson. For ArtNews, Thompson went on to explain the approach in his curatorial statement, for the 2019 edition which featured works and talks by the Center for PostNatural History, largescale video artists Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib, architecture and installation creators, Bigert & Bergström, and choreographer Morgan Thorson. Nato Thompson returns as the artistic director for Art Fair's sixth's installment the final weekend in July, which will feature an expanded body of galleries, more than 80 in total, along with on-and-off site discussions, projects and and open studio events held around the city. Concurrently, and much in the way of the excellent Out of Sight exhibition which brought attention to the local art scene, this year the Forest for the Trees four day event in which, "100-plus Artists Convert Pioneer Square Building in Seattle into Huge Art Festival" will also be something to behold. Photo credit: Lisson Gallery

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Northwest Terror Fest at Neumos & Barboza: Jun 30 - Jul 2

Last encountered in their 2019 edition, Northwest Terror Fest returns the first weekend of July to Neumos and Barboza. As with many festivals and arts events, the 2020 edition was postponed with the intent on returning when the global pandemic abated. This fourth installment arrives after its successful first set of years, showcasing some of the most potent sounds from the heavier end of the 21st century issuing from the mutating offshoots of black metal. The related global scene's ongoing and burgeoning development has come to encompass melodicism and atmospheres lifted from shoegaze and spacerock, eruptions of heavy psych rock, industrial drumming, electronic atmospheres, and pure experimental noise. The expansiveness of this sound is further detailed in Brad Sanders' essential overview, "Untrue And International: Living in a Post-Black Metal World". Beyond this primer, deeper reading and curation from this spectrum can be found in the past decade of excellent selections in The Quietus' Columnus Metallicus column, covering releases dominantly sourced from labels like, Hydrahead, Ipecac, Deathwish, 20 Buck Spin, Sargent House, Profound Lore, Season of Mist, Roadburn, Flenser, Neurot and Relapse. An all-things-metal festival with a previous Southwest iteration, Terror Fest's three days host a lineup featuring no small quantity of metal issuing from this particular low-lit landscape of black and doom metal mutations. Initially launched under the opportunity to, "Bring Warning to America: An Interview with Terrorfest founder David Rodgers", Rodger's wider curatorial vision for the festival, was detailed in Decibel's, "It's Good to Have Goals and Dreams Can Come True", and in a 2019 interview, the festival's co-organizer Joseph Schafer describing how "The Third Time (Is Still) the Charm". This year's lineup encompasses everything from gloaming atmospheric ambiance and doom riffs, blistering thrash and hardcore, and heavy psych rock, dark pagan and neofolk explorations. Making for a cross-genre spectrum of metal sounds and weighty atmospheres to be heard in sets from almost forty acts, in six showcases, spanning three nights.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

David Cronenberg's "Crimes of the Future" at SIFF Cinema: Jun 3 - 23

When the competition and program for this year's Cannes Film Festival was announced, it read like "The Alpha Auteurs Lining Up for a Post-Lockdown Party", as The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw put it. Among them, it was as though "David Cronenberg has Practically Become Bionic Now", with his newest work as a expansion and summation of his decades-spanning volume of film that pushed the conceptual and sensory relationship to the body, by delivering us his "Post-Pain, Post-Sex Body Horror Sensation", that is "Crimes of the Future". There's a logic to Cronenberg first conceiving the film's premise at the end of the 20th century; in which humankind has spontaneously mutated to generate new organs and alter itself in response to a changing toxic and synthetic environment. Among the other byproducts of this not-too-distant future is that the human body has become so changed, and amorphous, that pain is nearly extinct. It was that era, from the mid-1990s to the earliest 2000s that Cronenberg most clearly defined his brand of cerebral, carnal cinema, expanding on the initial plumbing of the future-body seen in "Videodrome" and "Dead Ringers", the decade before. Through a set of films, David Cronenberg fleshed out his preoccupations with the human body and the ways in which it would come to intersect with the social mechanisms and advanced technology of the modern world. The underground society of deviant sybarites, where machinery and injured appendages collide in “Crash”, and the mind deranging high stakes enhanced-reality gaming of “eXistenZ", both felt disturbingly prescient, and feature an unnerving, and enticing eroticism that draws you into their Ballardian intellectual premises.

Set in a haunted post-collapse Athens that troublingly mirrors the darkened, waste strewn streets, and huddled figures occupying the shadows of many of the major cities of the world during the current coronavirus pandemic, much of "The Horror, the Horror of Crimes of the Future", dedicates itself to talky context-building exposition. Attentive to the intricacies of cultural labor, and the appetites, needs and utility that would arise from a wholly different relationship to the body where people cut each other in public "desktop surgeries", Cronenberg envisions a shift in the human paradigm with new bureaucracies, artistic, and political mores. Much of the film is dedicated to the workings of this world, making for one of his densest, dialog-heavy and sometimes pedantic, overtly literal outings. But "Crimes of the Future" eschews these trappings by offering instead a kind of intellectual road map of these existential questions, and two guides to its future terrain in performance artists, Saul Tenser and his co-creator and lover, Caprice. Together, the duo have spun the process of these body-altering surgeries into a performative exhibition. Perhaps making sense of his transforming body, and expunging its unwanted futuristic developments, the mystical and sensitive Saul, and the sophisticated and savvy Caprice, are making sense of this new world in which they tenuously exist. Together they are spinning narrative and meaning amidst a sweeping upheaval of form and a time of volatile unpredictability. The film posits that this might be the highest calling of art in such times, and an opportunity to inquire isn't missed in the "Film Comment Interview: David Cronenberg on Crimes of the Future".

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Olivier Messiaen's “Des Canyons aux Étoiles” at Seattle Symphony: Jun 2 & 4

Returning after his tenure concluded with the 2019 season, Ludovic Morlot will be conducting another rarity from the body of Olivier Messiaen's haunting and beautiful works, with “Des Canyons aux Étoiles” at Seattle Symphony the first week of June. It is worth noting that, as was the case for the St. Lois Symphony, for this performance Messiaen's musical vision will be additionally enhanced by projections from Deborah O'Grady. Seattle Symphony is itself rebounding from a series of setbacks at the beginning of the year, with a 2022 calendar that promises the usual abundance of classics and a measure of modern contemporary work. Ludovic Morlot's tenure as music director and conductor concluded with the arrival of his successor, Thomas Dausgaard for the 2019-2020 season, and saw the realization of a final set of projects Morlot had envisioned. These included the staging of Heiner Goebbels' "Surrogate Cities", and the inaugural event at the state-of-the-art Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center. This opening was billed as a Contemporary Music Marathon spanning 24h hours, featuring exclusively the work of modernist, New Music, and avant-garde composers. While 2019 marked the end of his tenure at Seattle Symphony, since his arrival in 2011 Ludovic Morlot launched numerous modern music initiatives. Alex Ross positing that from the week of his debut, the conductor not only stepping out with a strong start musically, but a reshaping of the orchestra's image, effectively and in many ways, the "Symphony’s New Leader Took Seattle by Storm". Not least among his accomplishments, the late-night [untitled] chamber music series which reintroduced contemporary works back into the symphony's lexicon, after almost a decade of being remiss. Morlot also brought a higher profile and further prestige to the city with his commissioning of "John Luther Adams Pulitzer Prize Winning 'Become Ocean'" which was recorded with the Seattle Symphony in 2013. As well as the premiere of "Become Desert" in 2018, which completed Adams' cycle. Yet the seasonal [untitled] program may prove to be Morlot's greatest contemporary music contribution during his tenure. The series' installments cumulatively reading as who's-who of 20th and 21st Century avant-garde and modernist visionaries. Included in its breadth were such works by such notable (and rarely performed) composers as George Crumb, György Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Terry Riley and Giacinto Scelsi. Other high points include 2015's performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen's groundbreaking electro-acoustic, "Gesang der Jünglinge", and the series' initiation with the realization of Olivier Messiaen's massive symphonic work, "Turangalîla".

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Gaspar Noé's "Vortex" and "Lux Æterna" at SIFF Cinema: May 6 - 12 & The Grand Illusion Cinema: May 20 - 26

Coined by critic James Quandt in the pages of Artforum as a term to reference a series of French transgressive films that developed around the cusp of the 21st century, the talk around New French Extremity has largely receded from wider discussion in the cinephile world. While the recent diminishing of its significance and the lessening of a volume of work contributed to the general corpus of the subgenre, the matter is far from solved as a closed movement. Many of the genre's earliest innovators have since gone on to become auteurs, producing a body of work diverging, yet still in relation to their films of the late 1990s and early 2000s. These all shared a set of components in common, though they mixed and accentuated these in varied ways and perspectives; what can be found in common is a recurrence of an unflinching presentation of physical brutality and sexuality, often in violent eruptions intersecting with everyday life. These were predicated through psycholigical stuggles with inner urges that were bracketed by the implications, or lack thereof, behind sexual encounters. These would be depicted as the destruction and subsequent construction of new identities through violent catharsis, which would often reveal a relationship to, gender, political, or class roles or constraints being unbound. These commonalities can be seen in the dramatic developments and depictions of interpersonal relations across a relatively wide spectrum of themes that describe the best of this subgenre. The seven films below are widely considered to be representative of the whole. From the countercultural knife's-edge of Virginie Despentes' screenplay for Coralie Trinh Thi's "Baise-moi", the slasher horror of Alexandre Aja's "High Tension", the rare genre film entry from Claire Denis seen in "Trouble Every Day", Catherine Breillat's unflinching explorations of sexual power dynamics and gender in "Romance", Gaspar Noé's revenge drama, "I Stand Alone", to the sexualized violence and bodily horror of Pascal Laugier's "Martyrs", and the rural society in a downward spiral of degeneracy as depicted in Fabrice Du Welz's "Calvaire".

Gaspar Noé left an indelible impression on a large swathe of western audiences with 2002's "Irréversible". Yet even Roger Ebert would argue that "the film's structure makes it inherently moral; that by presenting vengeance before the acts that inspire it, we are forced to process the vengeance first, and therefore think more deeply about its implications." While also stating that "Irréversible" is a movie so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable." Ebert expressly draws attention to the space between these contradictions, and in doing so he rightly defines this as the zone in which the cinema of Gaspar Noé lives. This is the space in which the director would take an even deeper dive with 2010's "Enter the Void". In response to which, Chris Norris' review for Film Comment, may be the only concise interpretation that made its way to print; "Noe calls the film's genre psychedelic melodrama, but it also falls into the much older tradition of void tales, whose tellers run from Dante, to Dickens, to Poe to Thornton Wilder. But the feeling I found in the wake of "Enter the Void" was an ineffable sense of devotion to craft, experience, perception, consciousness, whose only meaning is likely in the topography Thorton Wilder saw gazing into Bardo: a land of the living, and a land of the dead, bridged only, and tenuously, by love." Which brings us to Noé's most recent set of films, the love of cinema itself, and the talent of the intrepid explorers he's enlisted with Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg as our guides. Recent interviews for The Guardian with the independent French cinema icon have Dalle proclaiming, "‘I love Christ Because He Invented Bondage’", and Gainsbourg establishing her stance in relation to challenging art, "‘Everything Now is So Politically Correct. So Boring’". It is through the grace and dedication of their performances that we enter into the shrine of cinema that is "Lux Æterna". Love of a much more universal, and inevitable, nature is on display in Noé's other film of this year. The once enfant-terrible of French cinema has teamed with horror great Dario Argento, and New Wave actress Françoise Lebrun, to craft a disarmingly compassionate, yet unflinching film about mortality in "Vortex", as "A Stunning Split-screen Descent into Dementia". Justin Chang states in his review for the Los Angeles Times, "Gaspar Noé is Up to His Old Tricks, and Some New Ones, with ‘Vortex’ and ‘Æterna’", "[Vortex] is a bone-deep sensory immersion that never feels merely sensationalist, anchored by two performances of astonishing commitment and emotional power." Yet the film's director and the elder Italian maestro have a much more candid assessment of their work and its reception in the pages of The Guardian, "‘As Soon as People See a Penis in the UK, They Think They’ve Seen the Devil'”.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

“World of Wong Kar-Wai” Retrospective at SIFF Cinema: Jun 4 - 7

At the height of the global pandemic, in December 2020, Janus Films brought the "World of Wong Kar-Wai" to home screens across North America, in new 4K restorations and previously unseen alternate cuts. Presented as streaming virtual theatrical screenings  “World of Wong Kar Wai Retrospective Arrives at Lincoln Center”, and was available through Film Society at Lincoln Center's Virtual Cinema. Nearly a decade had elapsed since the last retrospective of its kind, held at New York's Museum of the Moving Image in 2013. Much in that way of that retrospective, Janus Films' new series focuses on Wong's cinematic language lifting time-distending characteristics from noir and romantic cinema, amplified by an almost existential ache of unrequited love, which first came to the fore in 1988's, "As Tears Go By", and was expanded upon in 1990's, "Days of Being Wild". Following on the boom years of Hong Kong cinema spanning the late 1980s to end of the 1990s, Wong Kar-Wai set himself part in the field of alternative cinema that developed as the mid-1990s Second Wave, alongside such figures as Ann Hui and Yim Ho. On the heels of his first two efforts, he produced the mid-period classics that comprised the duo of "Chungking Express" and it's more kinetic Hong Kong action and noir-inspired companion, "Fallen Angels". These internationally recognized early films were on the cusp of a string of masterpieces that garnered massive accolades in the global festival circuit, the first of which was seen in 1997's globetrotting "Happy Together". What came next astounded even those familiar with the pleasures of Wong's early filmmography. The duet of films that comprise the sprawling and operatic "2046" and what many, myself included, consider one of the greatest single films of the new century, "In the Mood for Love", in all of it's lush, time abstracted, romance-saturated glory. Topping my personal Films of the Decade list of the first ten years of the 21st Century, "In the Mood for Love" continues to be untouchable to such a degree as to be in a class of its own. It is so precise, tangible and sublime a work of cinematic art as to be one of only three films in the top 100 from the 21st century in The British Film Institute's "Greatest Films of All Time" poll. Not only gaining in recognition as the years pass, it was met with an enthusiastic embrace at the time of release from the global film community, and recognized as the first masterpiece of the new century in the pages of The Guardian, New York Times and Village Voice.

Around this time, hailin the work Wong Kar-Wai brought to cinema screens over the last ten years in tales of modern living, urban alienation, and forlorn love in a dazzlingly intimate, fluid, poetic and fragmented formal register, Senses of Cinema presented their Great Directors feature. Further enshrining "Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood For Love: Like a Ritual in Transfigured Time", and "2046: A Matter of Time, A Labour of Love". It should be noted that the cascade of colors, texture, light, surfaces, bodies and spaces in motion, that are so much a part of what make up Wong's cinema, have been supplied by the cinematographers Lee Ping Bin, and the masterful Christopher Doyle. These qualities are particularly evident in "The Hand" from 2004's portmanteau film "Eros", here in an expanded cut, which Roger Ebert hailed as the most notable success of the anthology. In the following years there have been many projects in development, particularly the long-gestating "The Grandmaster" based on the life story of the Wing Chun martial arts master Ip Man, which finally saw the light of the big screen in 2013, in three differing theatrical cuts. The superior of these, the Chinese mainland cut, was screened at The Beacon Cinema in 2019, and watches as something much more than the average martial arts film, but instead a showcase of "Style and Kinetics Triumph in a Turbulent China". This cut being a more substantial representation of Wong's vision of Ip Man, and particularly the intertwined life and legacy of Wudang Chuan masters Gong Yutian and Gong Er, set against the outbreak of the tumultuous period of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Which touches on the multiple readings of Wong's body of work in general. While the most common pathway into his cinematic world is taken by the romantic inner route, such as The New York Times, “In Need of a Film About Romantic Possibility? Try ‘In the Mood for Love”, there's also a deeper historic, external reading as offered by The New Republic's “Wong Kar-Wai’s Masterpieces of Political Uncertainty: The Upheavals of Hong Kong’s History Lie Just Beneath the Surface of His Greatest Films”. Sixteen months have elapsed, the conditions that required its virtual release have abated, and the "World of Wong Kar-Wai" arrives at SIFF Cinema this June. Giving Northwest audiences the opportunity to consider this body of cinematic work through whichever of these two lenses, as they should and essentially be seen, on the big screen.