Saturday, April 6, 2024

Neo Sora's "Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus" at SIFF Cinema: Apr 12 - 14 | "The Beautiful, Unpredictable Life of Ryuichi Sakamoto" | The New Yorker

The final chapters in the life of Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto were both profound, intimate, and generously prolific. In 2014, at age 62, Sakamoto announced that he was diagnosed with pharyngeal cancer, and would be cancelling all future engagements and focusing on recovery and treatment for the foreseeable future. After a protracted time of reduced activity and treatment, "With Cancer in the Past, Ryuichi Sakamoto Returns to His Calling". At the time also offering a series of very personal interviews on life, art and the creative will to engage with nature and existence itself, such as "Ryuichi Sakamoto on Life, Nature and ‘Time’", for The New York Times. Returning to his art, the composer produced one of the more significant collaborative works of his career for the Alejandro G. Iñárritu film, "The Revenant" alongside regular collaborator Carsten Nicolai and Bryce Dessner. Its development was mapped by Create Digital Music in their "Sakamoto and Alva Noto again Create Electronics, Scoring Masterpiece", and interviews offered by the two artists. Numerous soundtracks to prestige streaming television and film followed, amassing a quantity which have exceeded his recent album input. The significance and volume of the composer's work for cinema can't be overstated, with recent entries like, “Mubi Notebook Soundtrack Mix: Universal Meditations - The Film Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto”, and interview with The Criterion Collection, "Sonic Memories: A Conversation with Ryuichi Sakamoto", to coincide with the Criterion Channel's "Scores by Sakamoto" showcase. It was around this time that director Stephen Nomura Schible assembled a documentary about the life and work of Sakamoto, entitled "Coda". The documentary followed the composer as he recovered from cancer, resumed creating music, and assembled "async", his newest album since the diagnosis. All the while re-engaging with political activism through protests around nuclear power, following the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster.

A series of active years followed, as the composer engaged with life, produced new work, even offered the venerable New York restaurant Kajitsu, a soundtrack to accompany the experience, "Annoyed by Restaurant Playlists, a Master Musician Made His Own". In interviews like those offered at the time, "Themes and Variations: An Interview with Ryuichi Sakamoto" for GQ, and "Electronic Pioneer Ryuichi Sakamoto: 'My Great Regret is Not Reconnecting with David Bowie'", for The Guardian, Ryuichi Sakamoto had by all appearances, fully returned from the very edge of life to its social and cultural epicenter. But then in 2021, came the tragic news of a rectal cancer diagnosis. In response, Sakamoto issued another statement making it clear that he intended to continue to make art throughout treatment, "Still, I will continue to work as much as I can during treatment … From now on, I will be living alongside cancer. But, I am hoping to make music for a little while longer”. Throughout this period, Sakamoto chronicled his experiences of living with cancer in a monthly column for the literary journal Shincho, titled “How Many More Times Will I See the Full Moon?”, in reference to a quote from Paul Bowles’ novel, “The Sheltering Sky”. Over the course of which, he not only produced another collaborative piece as an audiovisual installation by Dumb Type for the Japanese pavilion at 2022's Venice Biennale, but completed his newest studio album "12", for his Commmons label and Milan Records domestically. Concurrently, Milan published their "Tribute to Ryuichi Sakamoto: To the Moon and Back", which coincided with a series of reflections and acknowledgements from a global body of artists hosted by NPR, “As Ryuichi Sakamoto Returns with '12,' Fellow Artists Recall His Impact”. In late December 2022, "Ryuichi Sakamoto Kept the Music Going with a 'Profound' Concert" while undergoing stage IV treatment, with a very public acknowledgement that it may be his last performance. This live streaming concert was assembled through astute documentation and editing finess by director Neo Sora as "Opus". The concert film premiered at the Venice Film Festival this past fall, and has finally arrived on domestic screens with a brief run at SIFF Cinema. With Sakamoto's death in March 2023, Sasha Frere-Jones wrote a moving and expansive overview of the composer's life for The New Yorker, “The Beautiful, Unpredictable Life of Ryuichi Sakamoto”. The gentle unpredictability and beauty of his life and work has been encapsulated in Neo Sora's concert film, as "a stark, emotional finale from a profound artist", Ryuichi Sakamoto offering us one last glimpse with, "'Opus’: A Parting Gift from a Master Musician“.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Midwife's "Luminol" and Ragana's "Desolation's Flower" & West Coast Tour Mar 19 - Apr 5

The Flenser label has come to specialize in some of the newest strains of heavy rock, noise, slowcore and postpunk emerging domestically in the course of the last decade. These sounds vary widely between the roaring solar blast of shoegaze and hardcore of bands like Deafheaven and the dynamic topographic landscapes varying between a minimalist stasis and pure noise of Have a Nice Life. More recently post-hardcore outfits like Chat Pile and Kayo Dot have been enlisted into their roster, and sounds bridging lofi folk and postrock like that heard on Vyva Melinkolya's "Orbweaving" collaboration with Midwife. Embracing experimental black metal and doom, the label has released work by Agriculture and Bell Witch respectively, and Botanist, who improbably had a feature in the pages of the Atlantic, "The Brilliant Black Metal Album about Plants Wiping Out Humankind". More recent entries by Drowse, Sprain, and Planning for Burial move between all of these points with their fluid hybrids of genre. Having passed the milestone of its tenth anniversary, the label's founder Jonathan Tuite described its ethos for New Noise; “When I started the label I was intending it to be very much focused on black metal,” Tuite explains. “There was sort of a black metal scene that was happening in the U.S. at that time. I mean it had changed forms and kind of diversified a little bit. So, Tuite expanded his label’s sonic horizons and began exploring other styles. “I have sort of gone with what intuitively feels like it relates to the label. So something like the Midwife record feels like it’s part of the Flenser catalogue. It doesn’t feel like an outsider, and so part of that is like intuition for me and just kind of different sets of judgment." In some ways, it could be surmised that, "The Flenser Is a One-Man Pursuit of Quality Doom". Rather than doom as the metal genre specifically, the label's site offers "100% Gloom", "Suffer", "No Future", and "Nope" as its conceptual and curatorial variables, which it also represents in print, and heard on compilations like 2022's "Send the Pain Below". The cloistered corner of existence that the label has made its focus is audibly represented by the "ability to wrench ecstasy from devastation, to make romance out of abject pain, and to transmute specific feelings into an ineffable longing", as heard on "Luminol", Madeline Johnston’s third album as Midwife. These sounds meet the "furious drums, squalls of guitar, and guttural vocals delivered in a language of pain", of Ragana's "Desolation's Flower", as the two bands tour this spring, with a date at Seattle's Black Lodge . Update: After the Olympia, Washington date in the tour, a majority of the bands' equipment was stolen. There are now cancellations to some of the dates on the tour, and a GoFundMe has been set up for relief.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

The Films of Edward Yang at SIFF Cinema: Apr 1 - 18

In an environment brought about by the decline of the commercial and propagandistic cinema of the previous epoque, with the lifting of martial law and the growing popularity of home video, film watching became a widespread activity for the Taiwanese. In this more open, incrementally democratizing environment, the domestic Taiwanese film industry faced the new challenge of the entry of Hong Kong films into the Taiwanese market. In response to the influx of both black market product of western and Asian cinema from without, the Central Motion Picture Corporation began an initiative to support several young directors, fresh out of film school and academia. The "In Our Time" anthology, which featured four new developing talents; Te-Chen Tao, I-Chen Ko, Yi Chang, and Edward Yang, was the groundwork for what would come to be known as the first New Wave within Taiwanese cinema. Along with Hou Hsiao-Hsien, celebrated author Chu Tien-wen, Chen Kunhou and the great talent of Edward Yang, this New Wave grew largely unbridled by censorship and political interference. By contrast to the commercial melodramas, comedies, and martial arts films issuing from Hong Kong at the time, the films of the New Wave portrayed the passing of time through the everyday lives of the citizens of urban and rural Taiwan. Sharing an emphasis on duration, long shots and a focus on narrative and stylistic simplicity with the films of the Italian Neorealism, this New Wave intimately chronicled Taiwan's socio-economic and political transformation in the 1980s. Yet despite the international acclaim and festival recognition given to the leading directors of the New Taiwan Cinema, their films have rarely been shown outside of occasional festival screenings. This has remained the case until the major, and quite recent, exception of Edward Yang's "Yi Yi: A One & A Two". Winning the Best Director prize at Cannes in 2000, the film was an important testament to the movement’s collective, collaborative spirit. Edward Yang's extraordinary and unanimously praised masterpiece also marked the end of a chapter for the major talents in the movement, with Yang's passing in less than a decade after its completion.

As detailed in Kent Jones, "Yi Yi: Time & Space" for Criterion, in many ways Yi Yi summarizes Yang's lasting contribution to World Cinema. The film showcases the dystopian imbalance and accelerated growth towards modernization that are central themes of both Senses of Cinema's Great Directors feature Jonathan Rosenbaum's excellent, "Exiles in Modernity: The Films of Edward Yang". Guided by his acute sensitivity to the familial and spacial structures that enclose and trap the lives of his characters, Yang depicts their inner and outward struggles that often erupt through lives of frustrated creativity. The deeply restless searching of the struggling creators and ethically conflicted entrepreneurs that recur through Yang’s films, personify the longings, humor and earned wisdom of the generation who witnessed the profound socio-cultural transformation brought on by Taiwan's economic boom. While retroactively earning Films of the Decade selection, and inclusion in the Greatest Films of all Time poll by the British Film Institute, The New Yorker's Greatest Independent Films of the 20th Century, as well as the BBC's global poll of 177 film critics and Film Comment's End of the Decade Critics' Poll, only in recent years has it been the case that cinema culture has, "(Re)Discovered the Elusive Master Edward Yang". Crowned by the recently restored tale of "Coming of Age in Taipei" that is the magnum opus, "A Brighter Summer Day", these recent retrospectives showcasing the strength of his seven ambitious feature films. Most notably, Film Society at Lincoln Center's, "Desire/Expectations: The Films of Edward Yang", Harvard Film Archive's, "Chronicles of Changing Times: The Cinema of Edward Yang", the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles, and Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive. Concurrent with these four retrospectives, SIFF Cinema will be presenting "The Films of Edward Yang" with a selection of Yang's feature works, including the "Modern Planning" of "Filming and Forgetting Taipei'', depicted in 1985's "Taipei Story". In new restorations from Janus Films, these retrospectives have presented pivotal life points of the "Displaced, Disaffected and Desperate to Connect" of this generation, with rarely seen "Mahjong", and "A Confucian Confusion" bracketing the three major works on offer. More than an examination of, "Where Taipei Ends and Imagination Begins", this trio of films chronicle the development of "Edward Yang's State of Flux", particularly in the case of his intimately biographical portrait of, "One Couple’s Promising ‘Taipei Story,’ Slowly Undermined".

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Pham Thien An's “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 6 - 10

Winner of the Camera d’Or at last year's Cannes Quinzaine des Cinéastes, Pham Thien An's “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” is first and foremost a gorgeous film, thanks to the measured cinematography of Dinh Duy Hung. Taking in the natural beauty of rural Vietnam with exquisite detail, from mountains shrouded in fog, to nighttime visions of hallucinogenic phosphorescence, the ligerings passages of unperturbed nature create an ethereal quality to the film's narrative. Through extended passages of long shots, one of the pleasures of this "Meditative Mourning in Vietnam" is that it demands, and then rewards the viewer giving themselves over to the lingering attention and precise pacing of the film's structure. After a motorbike accident results in the death of his sister-in-law, the film's protagonist, Thien, takes on the responsibility of his young nephew Dao, returning to their rural hometown for funeral services, and to deliver Dao to his relatives in the countryside. Playing this month at Northwest Film Forum, An's first feature-length film follows its protagonist at an unhurried pace through the numerous detours along the course of his expedition. This becomes a journey of a multifaceted nature, moving through stages of grief, bonding with his young nephew, as "A Wanderer on a Spiritual Quest" Thien revisits his personal questions of faith, the community, and religion that he left behind in pursuing an independent life in the city. Having returned to his rural origins, Thien begins a pilgrimage through memory, past friendships and lost loves, engaging in conversations on death and faith along the way. Punctuating his journey, Thien's dreams increase in vibrancy and frequency, increasingly blurring the border between the real and the imagined, resulting in, "Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell: A Jewel of Slow Cinema is a Wondrous Meditation on Faith and Death". The film Justin Yang called, "One of the Best Movies of this Year" in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, starts as a search for the protagonist's brother, but then shifts its focus to the complexities of assimilating the presence of death in life, and the value of faith in this process. The film's spiritual sojourn establishes a contrast with Thien's urban life, presenting solitary travel as the essential zone in which to discover the time, and self, in which to begin the process towards the absorption, and acceptance, of life's unknowable mysteries.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Wim Wenders’ "Perfect Days" and "Anselm" at SIFF Cinema: Feb 16 - Mar 21

As the director of "Tokyo Ga", few western directors are more qualified or capable to present an account of the daily pleasures and travails of modern Japanese life than Wim Wenders. For what The Guardian called, "Wim Wenders’s Zen Japanese Drama is His Best Feature Film in Years", he has teamed with the incomparable talent of Kōji Yakusho, this year's winner of Best Actor at Cannes, to "Explore a Quiet Life in Tokyo". Through the ambient urban charm of their film, "Perfect Days", Wenders and Yakusho follow the daily rituals and unexpected encounters of Hirayama, a middle-age staff member of The Tokyo Toilet project, in the Shibuya district of the city. As he motors from location to location, listening to predominantly American classic rock on cassette, each of his 17 destinations present new daily alterations and quiet moments of urban situations and social contact. The minimalism of the role, and the focus drawn away from revealing narrative background in relation to the character's personal history were some of the more attractive aspects to its lead, “Limited Lines and Background? Kōji Yakusho Saw the Potential of ‘Perfect Days”. For the spareness and ascetic minimalism of the role, “Japan's Versatile Veteran Kōji Yakusho Won Best Actor at Cannes”. In the place of a biographic tale of Hirayama, we instead observe the continuance of the character's daily rituals and repetition, and the unexpected variables that develop along the course of the days and weeks involved. It is in this way that the film is clearly another of the director's explorations of, "‘All My Films Deal with How to Live’: Wim Wenders on Herzog, Spirituality and Shooting a Movie in 16 Days". In addition to the role, and the fulfilling personal and spiritual components found in exploring it, the film's lead also reflects on the public works project and the world class architects and designers behind it, “‘If God is in Everything, that Includes Toilets’: Kōji Yakusho on Cleaning High-art Restrooms in Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days”.

The city of Tokyo and Shibuya district enlisted such notable names as Fumihiko Maki, Junko Kobayashi, Kashiwa Sato, Kazoo Sato, Kengo Kuma, Marc Newson, Masamichi Katayama, Miles Pennington, Nao Tamura, NIGO®, Shigeru Ban, Sou Fujimoto, Tadao Ando, Takenosuke Sakakura, Tomohito Ushiro and Toyo Ito, to design and realize the accessibility, utility, and pleasure of this public space work. The conception of The Tokyo Toilet project expressed in a statement from The Nippon Foundation; "Japan is known as one of the cleanest countries in the world, and even public toilets have a higher standard of hygiene than in much of the rest of the world. However, the use of public toilets in Japan is limited because of stereotypes that they are dark, dirty, smelly, and uninviting. In cooperation with the Shibuya City government, The Tokyo Toilet project has renovated 17 public toilets in Shibuya to make them accessible for everyone regardless of gender, age, or disability. The toilets were designed by 16 globally recognized architects and designers, who are using their design and creative skills to address social issues". A very different large-scale work of a private, rather than public, work will be explored the following month at SIFF Cinema. The singular unearthly landscape of Anselm Kiefer's 200 acre La Ribaute located in Barjac southern France, home to, "Some of the Most Extraordinary Artworks of the Last Century" is the subject of  "Anselm", Wender's second film of last year. As we journey "Into the Black Forest with the Greatest Living Artist", in the highest technological rendering available 6K, 3D, and Atmos Sound, Wender's presents these works, and some of their construction, in his "Reverent 3D Portrait of Artist Anselm Kiefer". This is framed alongside philosophical musings and the artist's observation's on the century that birthed them, and the resulting, "Artwork that Took 30 Years and 200 Acres to Create".

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Chelsea Wolfe's "She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She" & North American Tour: Feb 27 - Mar 30

A true genre hybrid for the times, the music of Chelsea Wolfe has absorbed, distorted and recontextualized post-goth, electro-industrial, doom metal, modern neo-folk and indie singer songwriter forms into her own maximal sound. Her contemporaries more closely reside within the doom and hardcore scenes of the last two decades chronicled in The Quietus' Columnus Metalicus. This cultural association was further affirmed by contributions to her recent string of albums from members of the post-shoegaze outfit True Widow, labelmates Russian Circles, and the collaborative album,"Bloodmoon: I" with Converge. As The Guardian review suggests, "Converge & Chelsea Wolfe: An Explosive Combination", it is an album in which Converge's rampaging post-hardcore has been brought to a deadening crawl, sacrificing speed for a slower, more melodic, and often weightier battering of sound and song. It is in this dynamic between this lumbering crawl, and the brief blistering explosions of hardcore bombast that the album defines itself as something singular. As a foretaste of this album, her most recent quartet of releases run a gamut that suggests the hybrid of the sounds and genres touched upon throughout the releases that precede them. Beginning with the most coherent fusion of all of her previous work with the new addition of electro-industrial sounds heard on 2013's "Pain is Beauty", the string of following albums for the Sargent House label would disassemble this hybrid into their particular genre components. Beginning with 2015's "Abyss", which again focused on the electro-industrial, post-punk and gothic rock aesthetics, the following "Hiss Spun" shifted its weight toward a doom metal sound, enlisting members of Converge and the post-metal band Isis to lend additional weight. With 2019's "Birth of Violence", the sound had again found a new genre focus in the neo-pagan and dark folk sounds coming out of central Europe. On the new label home of Loma Vista, this year's "She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She" again looks to reassemble all of the constituent genre forms into a cohesive whole. Where the last decade of releases for Sargent House stressed individual genres, shifting their focus from album to album. This new work, heard on tour this month with a date at Seattle's Neptune Theatre, aims to be an amalgamation of all of these forms into a singular style. It's also an album of exploring a familial heritage of touching on "different realms", as The New Yorker suggests in their "Chelsea Wolfe’s Eclectic Hauntings", through Wolfe's time spent with her elders, as a journey in which "Chelsea Wolfe Embraces Her Inner Wisdom". This lengthy peregrination has brought her to a point wherein, "Chelsea Wolfe says Witchcraft and Sobriety Informed Her Latest Album". With the fruitful harbor she has found in a new state of being populated by the subjects of her Favorite Sh*t, for Revolver, "On Archery, Oracle Cards, Cape Dresses and More".

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Kristin Michael Hayter's "SAVED!" & North American Tour: Jan 25 - Mar 2

Over the course of its five year span, power electronics composer, pianist, and classically trained singer Kristin Hayter's devotional music inspired Lingua Ignota remained an outlier within the post-black metal and industrial noise music cultures with which she shared much musical geography. In The Quietus' "Fire, Prayer & Curses: Lingua Ignota Interviewed", she plumbs its 12th Century sources of ecstatic inspiration where they meet in an urgent and ferocious record on the subject of the unsayable, the unspeakable, and the traumatic repression of abuse. Yet more than just a "Extreme Music Reckoning with Misogyny", on her third album "Caligula" for Profound Lore, Hayter adds that Lingua Ignota is not just about catharsis, but also transformation and retribution. Last year the transformative journey of Lingua Ignota's particular vein of cathartic ritual concluded, as Hayter announced that her "Lingua Ignota Project is Coming to an End". This was owing to the considerations the artist describes in her statement to Pitchfork; "I have been making a lot of changes in my life, and my music needs to change in tandem. I will be retiring all music I’ve made up till now after my upcoming tour and a few unannounced special performances in spring of 2023. I am proud of what I have accomplished so far and I look forward to what the future holds, I am in no way leaving music behind and will continue to build this world, but this world will look different." After a  span of personal and creative tumult, heightened by the complexities of the pandemic, Rolling Stone maps how, "Canceled Gigs, Postponed Surgery: How COVID-19 Upended Kristin Hayter's Year". Hayter’s final album as Lingua Ignota, "Sinner Get Ready" for the Sargent House label, featured Appalachian instruments and televangelist sermons, and a shift into more explicit tackling of religious fundamentalism and revelation. The following series of tours and distinct performances concluded in 2023, and coincided with the founding of the Perpetual Flame Ministries label, along with KW Campol of the band Vile Creature. Continuing along the spiritualist thematic trajectory of the final Lingua Ignota album, the label released "SAVED!" under Hayter’s own name. The review for The Quietus establishes that this is an album of death-like release and majestic rebirth, "Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter: Would You Be Free from the Burden of Sin?". Driven by a sense of leaving everything behind, "SAVED!" thematically burns the fuel of the grand secessionist spirit, aspiring towards a state of revelation, passing through death into a state of being refashioned and remade in grace. Through a mix of gospel standards and new original music, this month Hayter invites us to join in her baptism of purifying devastation, with a date at Seattle's The Neptune Theatre.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

André 3000, Carlos Niño and Nate Mercereau's "New Blue Sun" released Mar: 22 | Cord Jefferson's "American Fiction" at SIFF Cinema: Jan 4 - Feb 22

Approaching the subject of the new album by André 3000, Carlos Niño and Nate Mercereau, actor Jeffrey Wright spoke on the related themes explored in his and Cord Jefferson's film, "American Fiction", the adaptation of "Erasure" by Percival Everett currently playing at SIFF Cinema. Wright talks on the subject of audience expectation and suppositions about black artists in popular culture, particularly when working within genre and artistic subcultures, "Jeffrey Wright Speaks on Finally Being up for the Best Actor Oscar: ‘I was Frustrated, but I’m Not Frustrated Now’". Considering the example set with André 3000's "New Blue Sun", the collaborative album with Carlos Niño, Nate Mercereau, Surya Botofasina, and Matthewdavid, the album itself expressing a sense of being, "A Conversation Between Carlos Niño, André 3000, and Nate Mercereau". Wright highlights this work as a prime representation of the freedom of an artist to work outside of preconceived alignments with genre and form; “What I’m suggesting is there’s a level of toxicity that exists now that I don’t think existed then … just the nature of the tone: there’s violence, there’s misogyny, there’s self-orientation, there’s a materialism that is so intense now. Maybe that’s reflective of the times but there’s also an absence of originality. It seems so conformist to me. There was a lot of weird backlash when André 3000 put out that flute record. Weird commentary, like, ‘What is he doing?’ But God, you know, how beautiful for him. He got to play and put out what he felt within. That’s what it’s all about". In this bold turn down a new stylistic avenue, André 3000 adorned his exploration of a new music and instrument with his jazz contemporaries gathered from the 21st century body of musicians who are currently "Rewriting the Rules of Jazz". This specific set of contributors for "New Blue Sun" were sourced largely from the International Anthem label, and the sound heard on a series of collaborations by Carlos Niño & Friends. Most recently represented by his albums "More Energy Fields, Current", and last year's "(I’m Just) Chillin’, On Fire" to which The Guardian responded, "What is this? A full orchestra? A small string ensemble? An Indo-jazz fusion band?". Expressed on a variety of drums and cymbals, triggering real-time effects and electronic tones and textures, Los Angeles multi-instrumentalist and producer Carlos Niño has created a chameleonic electro-fusion voyage with jazz rigor. On the eve of their current US tour, "André 3000 Brings His Solo Album 'New Blue Sun' to the Stage, and There Are No Words", the artist speaks with NPR on the liberating effect of the music and the sources of its inspiration, "André 3000 Opens Up About 'New Blue Sun,' his Daring New Solo Album". The trajectory to this destination further mapped in conversation with The Guardian, "André 3000 on His Surprise Flute Album: ‘It’s Pure Excitement’".

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Noir City Festival: Darkness Has No Borders at SIFF Cinema: Feb 16 - 22

This year's edition of the annual festival titled, Noir City: Darkness Has No Borders, finds Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation returning once again to Seattle's historic Egyptian Theatre. This marks the third installment since returning from a pandemic hiatus with the Noir City: 15th Anniversary Edition, and Noir City: Dark City in 2022, the latter inspired by Muller's bestselling book "Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir". At the time of the newly expanded publishing of the book, Muller spoke with NPR's Terry Gross, plumbing the genre's "Celebration of Cinema's Double Crosses and Doomed Characters" that populate "The Lost World of Film Noir". Previous to the hiatus, the festival presented Noir City: International Edition II, which continued the programming last seen in the first of the Noir City: International Editions, with geographically framed sets and quartets of films originating from far flung corners of the world. Earlier editions such as the Noir City: Film Noir in The 1950s program which tracked the beginning of the decline of the American studio system, and into a fresh cinematic landscape where the genre was to be refashioned, both subtly and radically, for a new generation. Other iterations have been formatted in a Film Noir from A to B presentation involving "A" and "B" film double bills, in both low budget and high production value features. On other occasions, the program has been focused thematically, such as the year that featured Noir City: The Big Knockover - Heists, Holdups and Schemes Gone Awry. Outside of the annual festival, in 2017 Muller took up permanent residence on TCM with the launch of his Saturday night Noir Alley showcase. Now in its fifth year, his show has become a central component of how "Turner Classic Movies Is Changing. And Trying to Stay the Same", yet the venerable platform has been under fire from its larger corporate umbrella. Last year, Warner Brothers Discovery gutted the leadership team of Turner Classic Movies, following which, a group of famed directors then came together to "Fight to Save Turner Classic Movies". This resulted in a surprising reversal, in which, "TCM to Include Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson Taking Active Role". Muller's weekly selections and introductions on Noir Alley act as more than just a showcase for the Film Noir Foundation and their partners at The UCLA Film & Television Archive, but instead a global overview of the social concerns, look, sound, aesthetic, and feel that define the Dark Passages of film noir. This year's touring festival presents a lineup of 18 films in Seattle, thematically framed in a statement from the Film Noir Foundation; "In a move taken in opposition to the nation's current wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, the venerable Noir City film festival has declared "Darkness Has No Borders". The weeklong festival will feature a dozen thematically linked double bills, pairing foreign language films with movies made in the United States and United Kingdom".

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Jonathan Glazer's "The Zone of Interest" at SIFF Cinema: Jan 19 - Feb 15

After receiving a six-minute standing ovation at its premiere at Cannes, wherein the film won the Grand Prix, and garnering numerous five-star reviews, Jonathan Glazer's newest vision arrives at SIFF Cinema. Based on Martin Amis' novel of the same title, "The Zone Of Interest" is in a sense a chronicle of the family life of Rudolf Höss, the commandant at Auschwitz, and one of the engineers of Hitler's attempt to exterminate all Jews in Europe. The Höss family live in close proximity to the ongoing genocide and the workmanlike efficiency of the industrial machine which Rudolph oversees. The sounds of this machinery of mass extermination are ever-present, with only occasional intrusions of morbid clouds of smoke, and material from this industrial eradication factory washing downstream through idyllic rivers of the Polish countryside. As a product, there is a profound lack of sentimentality to the setting and the film's representation of its larger historical context. The film's two stars have spoken on the dichotomy of its experience, "‘This is a Film to Make us Unsafe in the Cinema. As We Should Be’: Sandra Hüller and Christian Friedel on The Zone of Interest". The depiction of the close correlation of domestic life and mass-murder speaks to the intimate relationship the Höss family have with the destruction of a people and European culture. They profit off of the eradication in chilling and unspeakable ways, as stated by Robert Daniels for, "It is the sanitation the film performs, which speaks to the now, in a way few Holocaust films have done before". There have been many films on this most horrifying of chapters in human history. From "The Son of Saul", to "The Painted Bird", to "Night and Fog", all asking to some extent for the viewer to bear witness to unfathomable humiliation and suffering of the National Socialist's regime of dehumanizing brutality. Where Jonathan Glazer, and to a similar extent Amis' novel differs from these, is that it does more than simply ask viewers to witness. As addressed in The Guardian's interview, "Jonathan Glazer on his Holocaust Film The Zone of Interest: ‘This is Not About the Past, it’s About Now’". This discomfiting work, expressed through an immaculate sense of visual aesthetics delivers the viewer into an antiseptic, even pastoral at times, visual environment which stands in stark contrast to the debasement and horrors happening off-screen. It is between these two points which the film's cast found the space, and frame of mind necessary to depict, "The Family Life of the Nazi Commander at Auschwitz", and specifically, in the pages of The New Yorker, the plumbing of "How Sandra Hüller Approached Playing a Nazi". Peter Bradshaw's review from Cannes places the film in a tradition of representing the horror of these events indirectly, like Claude Lanzmann and Michael Haneke before him, and in a striking coda sequence presents a vision from our present-day future, delivering the most powerful blow in, "Jonathan Glazer's Chilling Holocaust Drama".