Tuesday, October 2, 2018

All Monsters Attack at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 11 - 31 | Shock & Awe: Reagan-Era Horror at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 3 - Nov 3

There isn't enough in the way of All Hallows' Eve theme programming and revival series in the local cinema. Which is a shame as this is truly the season for genre film and its frights, surrealism, and disorienting, crepuscular atmospheres. Thankfully, every year Scarecrow Video steps up with their October screening room calendar and curated Halloween selection of domestic and international horror, sci-fi and genre movies. This year, like previous, their Psychotronic Challenge returns for it's third 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, lets 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 (regardless of genre, era or style) it's essentially 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 Video and their abundant catalog of obscure, foreign releases, out of print, and ultra-rare editions in the depths of their archive. With nearly 130,000 films on offer, there is no singular online streaming resource that can compare. 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 a an abundance on the theme of the haunted house in 2015, and 2013 saw no small number of invaders from beyond. Last year 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.

One of the longest running, and most consistently satisfying of the local Halloween series has been The Grand Illusion Cinema's monthlong All Monsters Attack calendar of horror, creature features, classic thrillers, sci-fi, and cult cinema. This year's installment features the  kind of core genre gems that audiences have come to expect, straight from the horror golden age of the late 70s through early 90s, alongside a small selection of 1930's studio masterworks. This year's set of offerings include Dominique Rocher's valiant attempt at breathing new life into the zombie genre, "The Night Eats the World", Kathryn Bigelow's late-80s cult favorite western/vampire genre mashup "Near Dark", and Antonia Bird's black humor cannibalism western "Ravenous". Both horror westerns additionally notable for their soundtracks by Tangerine Dream and Michael Nyman respectively. The first film adaptation of the Richard Connell story of the same name, and easily the best of them is the pre-code 1932 effort by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack. Their realization of "The Most Dangerous Game" would also be a early intersection of Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper, acting a producers. Astoundingly, only a year later the director/producer team would complete and release one of the all-time classic adventure creature features in the 1933 Schoedsack/Cooper "King Kong". In truth the production of both films was concurrent, as the nocturnal jungle sequences of "The Most Dangerous Game" were shot on the Kong set and the former's cast includes both "King Kong" leads, Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong. Freshly restored and rereleased thanks to The Criterion Collection, Scarecrow Video will be presenting a members-only All Monsters Attack screening of “Sisters”, Brian De Palma's 1973 psychodrama exploring similar themes of multiplicity and psychological doubles as his cult hit of a decade later, "Body Double".

Rounding out the series is the postmodern fare of Drew Goddard's Joss Whedon-funded "The Cabin in the Woods", and a Halloween double feature including an often overlooked, (and of rare quality) production by Roger Corman. An adaptation of the novel by the same name by Brian Aldiss, author of 1969's "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" which later garnered the imagination of Stanley Kubrick, returning after a 18 year hiatus "Frankenstein Unbound" would be Corman's final directorial effort. Starring John Hurt, Raul Julia, and Bridget Fonda, the cast alone is an indicator of the greater-than-usual legitimacy of the Corman project and it's circuitous conception of the classic Mary Shelley novel. Presented by the Sprocket Society, on the 200th Anniversary of the release of Shelly's "Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus", the night will also screen a as-yet disclosed "secret" second feature. This past June's issue of Sight & Sound and their "The Other Side of 80s America" cover feature focused on the parallel faced of the decade's cinema from the United States. Concurrent with the pop culture revelry of Reaganite family-oriented dramas, action, teen movies, and sci-fi blockbusters, a more rebellious and independent strain of US movie making scratched at the darkness on the edge of mainstream society. Anne Billson's supporting article "A Nightmare on Main Street" plumbs the deeper realms of the decade's more assertively subversive low-to-medium budget genre fare, these often “unburdened by notions of good taste". Behind the facade of 80s corporate cinema, upstart movies like Brian Yuzna’s "Society", James M. Muro’s "Street Trash", Abel Ferrara's "Ms. 45", Jack Sholder's "The Hidden", William Lustig's "Maniac Cop", John Carpenter's "They Live", Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead", Steve De Jarnatt's "Miracle Mile", and Larry Cohen, in films such as "Q: The Winged Serpent" and "The Stuff", were making horror, sci-fi, and fantasy movies that exposed the toxic underbelly of Reaganomics America.

Seemingly taking a cue from the above Nick Pinkerton feature for the BFI, Northwest Film Forum have assembled a monthlong Wednesday night Shock & Awe: Horror During the Reagan Years series. A gratuitous assembly of subversive political allegory, class conflict, gore and pure mania, Brian Yuzna's "Society" is probably best representative of the series' themes. Also on offer are Greydon Clark's "Wacko" parody of 1980's slasher franchises, and Peter Medak's haunted house classic starring George C. Scott. Of regional interest, "The Changeling" is set in and around the Pacific Northwest, as Scott's protagonist has relocated to the University of Washington for a professorship after the tragic death of his family. Seeking a secluded location to write music and find isolation in his studies, he instead encounters one of the more memorable supernatural houses of the 80s. And no overview of horror of the decade would be complete without the work of both John Carpenter, and the grandfather of zombie films George A. Romero's later entries in his "Dead" franchise. At the height of the Cold War, it's no wonder we find the protagonists of Romero's "Day of the Dead" holding out against the undead hordes in a ICBM silo, as the world rages outside. Following the success of one of the earliest entries in the American slasher genre with "Halloween", and before the career defining "Escape from New York", Carpenter's numerous contributions to 80s genre cinema are represented in the series with "The Fog". While visiting Stonehenge during the UK promotion of "Assault on Precinct 13", Carpenter was inspired to make a ghostly revenge film drawing equally from the horror comics of the 1950s by publishers like EC, and their notorious "Tales from the Crypt", as well as a 1958 British creature thriller titled, "The Trollenberg Terror". Also central to any A-list assembly of the decade's best horror, Sam Raimi's first two "Evil Dead" films are still a visceral, preposterous, and hysterical symphony of low budget innovation. Building a whole career for television and cinema from the boundless invention of these two films, Sam Raimi's reworking of his first "The Evil Dead" into it's even more boundless second generation, "Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn", is the spastic springboard from which this influential American director launched his career.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 4 - 8 | Night Heat: The 41st Film Noir Series at Seattle Art Museum: Sept 27 - Dec 6

A small "Deluge of Fall Film Festivals Will be Unspooling in the Seattle Area" over the course of September, October and November. Among the festivals and various series on offer, Seattle Art Museum's cinema curation deserves a mention. This past year's calendar has been filled with notable repertory and archival works, including retrospectives on two 20th century auteurs from far-flung corners of the world, Yasujiro Ozu and Ingmar Bergman. The museum's annual French and Italian cinema series are also significant, as is their long running winter Film Noir program. Now in it's fourth decade, Night Heat: The 41st Film Noir Series features such all-time classic noir directors like Raoul Walsh, Nicholas Ray, Ida Lupino, Charles Laughton and later period neo-noir by Robert Rossen and Michael Mann. This year's array of titles with an expressly nocturnal theme include, "White Heat", "Leave Her to Heaven", "Force Of Evil", "On Dangerous Ground", "Sudden Fear", "Wicked Woman", "Night of the Hunter", "Lilith" and "Heat". Concurrent with the Seattle Art Museum's series, north of the city one of the region's most compelling cinephile events will be taking place over the first weekend in October. As an example of programming a festival of diverse yet 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 microfestival 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 40-odd-film program in their 5th year to rival that of its Seattle goliath. As the Seattle Times states, it is the case that "Orcas Island Film Festival: Small Fest, Big Movies" which draws largely from this year's Cannes Film Festival, alongside a number of the notable films from Venice.

Most significantly, of the films on offer from the prestigious Italian festival on the Adriatic, Alfonso Cuaron's best director winning, "Roma" stood out as the director's revisiting of his own Central American of decades past. In "Alfonso Cuarón's Return to Venice with a Heart-Rending Triumph", the academy award winning director has made an exquisite study of class and domestic crisis in 1970s Mexico City. Also straight from the French Riviera, the recipient of the most notable award on offer from Cannes, "Shoplifters" is Hirokazu Kore-eda's most recent in a decades-spanning line of contemporary familial dramas. While adhering closely to the form and content of the larger body of the director's filmmography, this "Unfancied Japanese Film Took the Palme d'Or". Another retooling of a director's formula was seen in the dialing back of the magic realist bent of her 2014 Cannes Grand Prix-winning "The Wonders". Alice Rohrwacher's "Happy as Lazzaro" is more unsentimental in its depiction of tobacco sharecroppers straining against the dealings of a tyrannous aristocrat. Geoff Andrew draws parallels with Ermanno Olmi’s "The Tree of Wooden Clogs" in the film's "Beguiling Fable of Golden, Rural Italy Trampled by Modernity". Matteo Garrone returns with a film significantly less fantastically fabulist than his last. Instead, the real world concerns of poverty and conflict in "Dogman" come in the form of a local thug who terrorizes everyone, breaking noses and intimidating the local businesses. Yet like much of the director's work, though it might well be darkly bleak, it recognizes humanity when it sees it, and doesn't reject humor in doing so, "Matteo Garrone Nitpicks Gangster Insecurities with Hilarious Flair". Two more social realist works originate from conflict-torn corners of the world in Ciro Guerra & Cristina Gallego "Birds of Passage", and Nadine Labaki's "Capernaum". Shot over the course of six months in Beirut, Labaski's Cannes Jury Prize-winning film aspires to blockbuster status all the while depicting the daily toil of life for it's young protagonist on the streets of his war ravaged country.

Historic and more measured in its study, Pawel Pawlikowski's "Cold War" is an episodic and elliptical tale of imprisonment and escape, as the film's central love affair falls to the opposing forces of state constrictions and the freedom of a foreign country. Much in the way of 2013's "Ida", Pawlikowski’s "Seductive Tale of Love in An Age of Borders", is rendered in a gorgeous monochrome cinematography that vibrantly depicts a whirlwind love between two musicians and eventual succumbing to the gravitational pull of cynicism, exhaustion and state-sponsored fear. Following on the period-perfect setting of his telling of the later life of 19th century painter Joseph William Turner, in which Mike Leigh's visual storytelling skill watched "As if the Artist Put His Brush to Each Take: ‘Mr. Turner’ Aims for Visual Accuracy", the director returns to period settings for a tale of "Grit and Brilliance in Mike Leigh’s Very British Massacre". Centered around the 1819 pro-democracy demonstration in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, "Peterloo" is Leigh's visually lush depiction of the social and political climate that led to the body of 100,000 unarmed protestors in the streets being assailed by armed troops and cavalrymen, who killed 18 and injured hundreds more. Returning to the realm of allegory and fantasy, "Border" is a naturalistically Fantastique second film from writer director Ali Abbasi, based on the short story from "Let the Right One In" author John Ajvide Lindqvist. Like Lindqvist's dark adolescent coming of age vampire story, Abbasi's film spends much of it's time teasingly parcelling out the romantic inclinations, and consequences therein, of the meeting of two mythological outcasts. And straight from the Berlin Film Festival, Aleksei German Jr.'s evocation of the life and times of author Sergei Dovlatov is not a conventional portrait, and even less a biodrama, but an imaginatively realistic recreation of a now-gone era of Russian history. So it is now in the post-Soviet century that "Dovlatov"’s status as one of Russia’s most widely read and cherished modern authors has arrived as the posthumous culmination of nearly a lifetime of rejection and tribulation. Perfect then that the son of Aleksei German, would take a left turn after his science fiction allegorical observation on future-Russia, to deliver this decade in the making observation on the century of his father.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Max Richter with The ACME Ensemble Performing "Infra" & "The Blue Notebooks" US Tour: Sept 28 - Oct 14

In a rare west coast series of performances this fall, including a night at Seattle's Moore Theatre, German neoclassical and soundtrack compose, Max Richter will be performing selections from his albums, "Infra" and "The Blue Notebooks", backed by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. Over the course of over 50 recordings, spanning soundtracks for dance, theater, installation and film, alongside his own personal output beginning with 2002's "Memoryhouse", Richter has marked out a body of distinguished work in a field with such contemporaries as Jóhann Jóhannsson and Ólafur Arnalds. Many of these entries in Richter's recent and prolific catalog are commissioned works, such is the case with "Infra", a score for one of the composer's regular collaborators, Studio Wayne McGregor. Not limited simply to modern dance work with McGregor, their collaborations have also embraced cutting edge installation and transmedia works like those of Random International. Their "Future Self" for MADE, was one of the first in a series of successful installation and dance collaborations with McGregor and a score supplied by Richter. Following in rapid succession within the same year, the installation's premier at The Barbican was met with enthusiasm in the pages of the BBC and a glowing review from The Guardian. It's London run featuring a succession of live performances taking place within the installation over the course of the 2012 Frieze Art Fair. Following immediately on the success of "Future Self" the trio's "Rain Room" made it's premier at The Barbican London the following year, to then come stateside at MoMA's PS1 as part of "EXPO 1: New York", and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for an extended run. At the former, as part of a group exhibition of environmental works on ecological challenges in the context of the economic and sociopolitical instability. Generating more than a bit of a sensation, favorable press and public response, the installation's time at PS1 was covered in The New York Times' "Steamy Wait Before a Walk in a Museum’s Rain". With it's following run in Los Angeles featured by the LA Times, "Inside LACMA's Rain Room: An indoor Storm Where You Won't Get Wet".

Yet these are not the most audacious of Richter's meetings of composition, setting and performance. 2015 saw the composer realize his long developing 8 hour piece for the facilitation of "Sleep". The full night-long composition is available as a recording for home consumption both digitally, as a ultra high fidelity Blu-Ray audio release, as well as a separate edition of excerpt highlights conceived to represent the more engaged listening aspects, "From Sleep". But it is in performance that "Sleep" most explicitly realizes it's intent. Premiering in atypical venues across Europe, such as the Welcome Collection Reading Room in London this past fall, wherein the attendees nestled their campbeds between the reading room’s bookshelves and displays of alchemist flasks in anticipation of the clock striking midnight and the performance of Richter's "Eight-hour Lullaby for a Frenetic World". Most recently, and a first of its kind in North America, Los Angeles' Music Center, which also programs and manages Grand Park, hosted two nights of outdoor performance of "Sleep" under the summer skies this past July. The daring venture was met with more than a little anticipation for its experiment in duration and setting, represented by Rolling Stone's "Composer Max Richter to Perform Overnight L.A. Concerts with 560 Beds", and the Los Angeles Times' "Composer Max Richter Wants Fans to Spend the Night in Grand Park". Through its successful realization, not least of which the political undertones of sleeping out of doors, August Brown's "The All-Night, Outdoor Concert 'Sleep' Creates a Calming Reprieve with a Sense of Loss", accounts that “Sleep” was not just a beautiful, time-bending piece, but in this performance, contributed notably to re-imagining our public spaces. Recognizing the New Music and American Minimalist connections Richter in an interview for Bomb, spoke of his longstanding; "interest in extended-duration things. With music, this goes back to the ’60s, those all-night happenings, like Terry Riley and John Cage, all that. It’s certainly an idea that’s been around a long time." There have been no shortage of coverage in the pages of The Los Angeles Times, Time and NPR connecting "Sleep" and it's benefits in relation to the media abundant and time-scarce lives that many people feel they lead. More than just a layman's low-key artistic response to these concerns, Richter consulted with Baylor College neuroscientist David Eagleman in developing his composition. Assembled over the course of two years, the project's genesis was born of Richter's desire to make a “very deliberate political statement” on how daily time is spent, and nature of how the public engages with their larger sonic environment.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Michael Gira with Norman Westberg US Solo Acoustic Tour: Sept 27 - Oct 25

Having led the towering rock outfit SWANS through numerous manifestations over the decades since it's 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 almost four decades-spanning terrain 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". 2018 sees another of these metamorphosis, as Gira has taken a second brief hiatus to reconfigure SWANS. Unlike the decade departure of The Angels of Light, Gira has established that a future as-yet conceived arrangement of the band is to return in coming years. Issuing a statement through his Young God Records site, the author and musician has established this period as a interstice between iterations of his dominant musical project. Filling the interlude to play, develop, and perform new works, Gira will be spanning the west coast on a monthlong solo acoustic tour this fall, with a date at Seattle's Columbia City Theater. In light of SWANS last return and reformation after a 15 year hiatus, in which they were manifest in the most powerful and expansive iteration to date, there is little cause to doubt they will return in a next state of renewal, reinvention, and creative metempsychosis.

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 magnitide. 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 it's own DNA. One that encapsulates the totality of their almost 40 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". Photo credit: Cyrille Choupas

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Panos Cosmatos' "Mandy" and Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani's "Let the Corpses Tan" at The Grand Illusion & SIFF Cinema: Sept 14 - 20

The Grand Illusion Cinema hosts a one week run of the most recent offering “Let the Corpses Tan”, from genre cinema duo Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani. The husband and wife directors appeared on the international scene with their 2009 debut feature "Amer", seemingly fully-formed with their fusion of Eastern Bloc experimental film of the 60s, British psychedelic and occult film of the 70s, and a strong underpinning of the mechanisms of Italian Giallo. Returning four years later with “The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears”, their second feature establishing a even more assertive neo-Giallo style. More than simply an exercise in genre pastiche, they overwhelming the narrative with vibrant cinematography, taught editing, memorable locations and a finely sculpted aural environment. The duo took the influences of the classic films they loved and shaped them into a heightened, erotic, tension-filled form of their own. Critics have weighed in on the film's insistence of style over content, and almost excruciating complexity in it's editing and construct, but for fans of the genre there's a lot to advocate it's maceration of the senses, "The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears Will Break Your Brain". Premiering last year in the lineup of Locarno, and cited as a highlight of the festival, the duo returned with another deep genre exercise “Let the Corpses Tan”. Inspired by “Corpses in the Sun”, a 1971 novel by the French writers Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid, the director duo have wrestled the Spaghetti Western into their all-inclusive Giallo recipe. Concurrently making their first foray into crime movies, the film is a visually rich abstract of Eurocrime, sun-baked Mediterranean landscapes that invoke the western, and stylistic hooks including extreme close-ups and juxtapositions lifted from Sergio Leon, and the French New Wave. A lurid bloodbath custom made for the cinephile, their work operates on more levels than just homage. As explored in their interview with Cinema-Scope, "Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani: Giving Credibility to the Universe", these genre deconstructions make apparent their influences, and rather than burying the source of their wellspring, the warping and stretching of technique and material watches as a celebration of its influence and lineage.

Cattet & Forzani are not alone in this work inspired by genre film and 20th Century cult cinema of decades past. A new tide of contemporary work has risen concurrently with the rich veins bring mined both in genre film soundtracks, and restorations and reissues of the films themselves. Reissue imprints like, Death Waltz, Mondo and WaxWork, have unearthed rare and esoteric soundtracks, bringing them new life often in correspondence with restorations and theatrical re-release thanks to institutions like the American Genre Film Archive, Arrow Films and Scream Factory. With these, there are whole new genres being born of the thematic beds of atmosphere and constructed worlds of Italian Giallo, French Fantastique and British Psychedelic, Pagan and Folk Horror of the late 1960s and 70s. As well as the following  American horror explosion of the late 1970s and 80s. It is the latter that North American recreations like the work of Panos Cosmatos has drawn most directly from. His 2010 directorial debut, "Beyond the Black Rainbow", much in the way of Cattet & Forzani, received high praise for it's re-creationist style and vision. The movie's painstaking pre-digital universe is given form by being shot on 35mm, with effects work entirely in-camera via airtight use of sets, makeup, lighting, matte work and other practical effects of the era in which it is both set, and evokes. In these, "Analogue Dreams: Beyond the Black Rainbow" willfully supplies evidence of Cosmatos' influences and inspiration. The film pilfers equally from the stylebooks of Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg, Michael Anderson's "Logan's Run", early Douglas Trumbull, and Kenneth Anger in it's assemble of a late-70s, early 1980s analog vision. So meticulously assembled and executed, "Beyond the Black Rainbow", exists outside the parameters of the fetishization seen in lesser contemporary emulator films. By taking his pages this time from contemporaries, most notably those of Gaspar Noe and Nicolas Winding Refn, as much as past genre work, Cosmatos has upped the ante with his sophomore effort, "Mandy". Concocting a wedding of these forms with a unhinged genre vehicle overflowing with gloriously lurid cinematography, and a lead actor's penchant for bombast, "'Mandy' has Nicolas Cage Wreak Revenge at the Fiery Gates of Hell". Ratcheting up the visceral engagement to such heights, and Jóhann Jóhannsson's pounding, sensory-fraying collaborative score with Stephen O'Malley and Randall Dunn, "Cosmatos’s Mock-1980s Oddball Nerd Fantasy Yarn" deftly circumnavigates the trappings of similar postmodern genre territory.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Seattle Cinerama’s Sound & Vision, Summer Rewind and 70mm Film Festivals: Aug 17 - Sept 20

Stepping up to fill the void left in the wake of Cinerama's now extinct Science Fiction Film Festival, Paul Allen's state of the art theater with its Cinerama-Scope screen, Dolby Atmos sound and laser projection system, will host a trio of festivals over the course of August and September. A standard for the cinema, one of the only remaining Cinerama screens in North America, the third of the festival series will be presented on 70mm. Notably, the format showcase will feature the most recent de-restoration work on Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, in a new print cut from an exacting analog reconstruction. Seattle Cinerama's three mini festivals begin with a second run series, Summer Rewind, consisting of a week of blockbusters and genre films that premiered over the course of this past year. In stoke of brilliant curatorial work, the second of the series will feature conceptual double bills of works significant for their synergy of image and music. Taking it's theme literally and conceptually, Sound & Vision draws from both heightened audiovisual works of sensorial fiction like Ridley Scott's dystopic neonoir franchise, as it does from Jonathan Demme and Nicolas Roeg's placement of musical stars at the film's locus. The thrill of classic soundtracks meeting with genre films can be seen in Tim Burton's work with Prince, and Steven Spielberg's earliest megahits with John Williams. Contemporary audiovisual spectacles represented in the series by the dreamworlds of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, and the galactic exploration of Christopher Nolan, Hans Zimmer, Denis Villeneuve and Jóhann Jóhannsson. Blade Runner / Blade Runner 2049 • Logan / Mad Max: Fury Road • Wall-E / Interstellar • Blue Velvet / Mulholland Drive • Batman / Purple Rain • Pina 3D / Samsara • Total Recall / Terminator 2 • There Will Be Blood / No Country For Old Men • Close Encounters Of The Third Kind 4K / Jaws 4K • The Matrix 4K / The Fifth Element 4K • Gravity 3D / Arrival • Stop Making Sense / The Man Who Fell To Earth •

The third of the series being a format specific 70mm Film Festival showcasing the benefits inherent in the resolution, scale and luminosity of the 70mm celluloid format and three-strip films. Any effort to present these works is limited globally to the handful of theaters with the hardware to properly screen them, and a sparsity of films shot, cut or released on the format. Crowning the 70mm series is the newest in a line of Stanley Kubrick restorations, a project heralded by the celluloid champion and director of contemporary action and science fiction films, Christopher Nolan. The project initiated decades before through a meeting with Ned Price, the vice president of restoration at Warner Brothers during the 1999 project of Price and his team creating a preservation interpositive from the 20 reels of the original negative. Price offered to Nolan to see the copies made of the original prints, and intrigued by what he saw, Nolan approached the studio about continuing the work to the end of recreating the 1968 celluloid theatrical release. As detailed in Variety's "Going the Analog Route to Preserve Celluloid Beauty of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey'", the team at the FotoKem laboratory in Burbank then delivered the fruits to Nolan and Price of a six month process of cleaning the negative, checking and repairing splices, and removing previous imperfect work. Then they made an answer print, color-timed it by closely adhering to the original timing notes and documentation, and finally made an interpositive and an internegative for striking 70mm prints.

The team also approached the audio content with a similarly strict adherence, restoring the original six track soundtrack and adjusting levels to their original particulars, this was then exactingly transferred to the new prints. “The film is mixed in a very extreme way,” says Nolan, “There are incredible sonic peaks that are beyond anything anyone would do today.” More insight into the complexities of this process offered in New York Times' interview with the director, "Christopher Nolan’s Version of Vinyl: Unrestoring ‘2001’". As Stanley Kubrick’s monolithic adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's novel has been born (yet again) for the big screen, The Guardian assembled a set of directors, special effects moguls and those who worked on the film to discuss it's legacy, "50 Years of 2001: A Space Odyssey – How Kubrick's Sci-Fi Changed the Very Form of Cinema". Consider the film's far-reaching exploration of human possibilities and the precariousness of life in a seemingly infinite and indifferent universe, all realized through its singular and groundbreaking production, "2001: A Space Odyssey is Still the ‘Ultimate Trip’". From the sparsity of films available on the 70mm format, Cinerama has assembled a broad genre inclusive array of everything from documentaries to cinema classics by Stanley Kubrick, David Lean, and Alfred Hitchcock, to pop culture, action and special effects hits in their two week series.  Tron • 2001: A Space Odyssey • Back to the Future Part II  • Vertigo • The Sound of Music • Lawrence of Arabia • Baraka • Phantom Thread • E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial • Howard the Duck • Top Gun • Ghostbusters • Dunkirk • Days of Thunder • Wonder Woman • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World •

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Cannes Film Festival + Cinema Miscellanea

The summer issues of Sight & Sound and Film Comment have landed, and with them their respective overviews of this year's Cannes Film Festival and it's concurrent and collateral aspects. The Competition and this year's award winners, works screened Out of Competition, Un Certain Regard, Cinefoundation, Special Screenings, Cannes Classics, Critics Week, and alternate festival of the Directors' Fortnight. Despite pressures from industry giants of the small screen, this year's festival was accounted for as having the strongest offerings seen in decades. The release of the program alone inspired the announcement of, "Cannes Ups its Game: The 2018 Program isn’t Resting on Any Laurels", with rounds of equal enthusiasm seen at it's close, "Cannes 2018 Verdict: Sombre Brilliance Wins the Day". Detailed in overviews by The New York Times, British Film Institute, and The Guardian, with coverage in Sight & Sound's roundup and extensive representation offered by Amy Taubin's "Why Settle for Less?", Kent Jones "Drifting Apart", and Nicolas Rapold's "Trolling the Croisette", for Film Comment. Now in it's 71st year, the 2018 program was testament to the organization's ongoing credo of representing quality, continuity, innovation, and audacity in the filmmaking arts. Evolving with the times, Cannes has seen changes in format, context and release platforms, while in response endeavoring to preserve their inherent mission and ethos. In the digital age there have been casualties in this parsing of what constitutes cinema, and how it is presented to the public. Most notably the exclusion of the legendary, once thought lost, and now available to view after its protracted restoration behind Orson Welles', "The Other Side of the Wind".

Other questions of inclusion and representation were tackled by this year's Cate Blanchett-led jury, which included a cross race, culture, and gender assembly of notable actors, directors and artists. With such names as Chang Chen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Khadja Nin, Denis Villeneuve, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Ava DuVernay, and Robert Guédiguia, among their numbers. The jury's realization of Cannes mission to represent quality work, regardless of it's origin was elucidated by its president, "Cate Blanchett States that Change Will Come to Cannes, but Not Overnight". With the awards given, further elaborating on the question of representation was made, "Jury Head Cate Blanchett on Gender, Race and Choosing the ‘Right’ Palme D’Or". In the way of the selection and the award winners themselves, it was the most recent in a decades-spanning line of contemporary familial dramas that Hirokazu Kore-eda took home hist first Palme d'Or for "Shoplifters". While closely adhering to the form and content of the larger body of the director's filmmography, this "Unfancied Japanese Film Took the Palme d'Or", with Blanchett adding at the awards ceremony; “The ending blew us out of the cinema”. Arriving at the tail end of the festival, another greatly anticipated film screened with relatively little fanfare. There are few examples in recent film production history that approach the ruinous complexity that faced Terry Gilliam's "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote". This decades-delayed adaptation of Cervantes novel survived two separate failed productions, in doing so becoming a biblical ordeal of extreme weather, wrecked sets and collapsed funding. Outliving two of the actors once cast, and the accrued colossal legal acrimony, "Terry Gilliam's Epic Journey Found a Joyous End".

From the grand heights of the Palme, to the great disappointments of the festival. Some of the least satisfying submissions of this year came from two auteurs who are known to delivered kinetic, sometimes transgressive cinema. Beyond simply activating the senses and troubling the mind, they each have contributed significantly to moving the needle forward in regard to cinema on the edge. Building on a bodies of work that are often technically groundbreaking, and occasionally astounding to perceive, Lars Von Tier was back at Cannes with "The House that Jack Built", and Gaspa Noe resurfaced after the tepid (yet visually engaged) "Amor", with "Climax". Sadly, it appears that neither have rediscovered the strength of their respective forms. While Noe's film didn't meet with the divisive response that his work traditionally garners, "Gaspar Noé: 'Six People Walked Out of Climax? No! I Usually Have 25%'", neither did reach the visceral peaks of his best and sensorial work. Von Trier has also been on a particular downward trend since attaining persona non grata at Cannes in 2011, a label which he no doubt cherishes, yet his films fail to express those past qualities worthy of controversy. While exhibiting more frisson than was seen in the flaccid "Nymphomaniac", this newest was met with a spectrum of responses running the gamut of, "'Vomitive. Pathetic': Lars Von Trier Film Prompts Mass Walkouts at Cannes".

Cinema from the Chinese mainland now in it's sixth and seventh generation, had a strong showing with the return of Bi Gan after the extraordinary debut of 2016's "Kaili Blues". Returning with "Long Day's Journey into Night", he's taken a venture into genre cinema of sorts, with an oneiric and stylized noir, where, "Long Day’s Journey into Night Follows its Own Woozy Dream Logic". Sixth generation director Jia Zhang-ke has been at the spearhead of mainland cinema for over two decade now. In the long arc of his increasingly expansive art, he's built a body of work as observations on globalism, largely comprised of a mildly-surreal tangent of social realism, with an unexpected recent turn into the realm of politically conscious crime drama. As Peter Bradshaw's review details, "Ash is Purest White" falls into the general classification of the latter. Setting it apart, Zhang-ke has imbued the tale with what Bradshaw describes as a "miasma of visionary strangeness", giving a distinct glow to the film's social realist grit. Seen through the film's eerily futurist sheen, this complex romantic tragedy set within China’s crime classes is a "Chinese Gangster’s Girlfriend Saga that Burns Bright". Of a more pure, and consistent social realist strain are the films of Wang Bing. "Dead Souls" may prove to be his truest account dedicated to film, and Eric Hynes' associations with the life work of Claude Lanzmann aren't off the mark. Through hours of personal accounts from survivors, Bing shines a steady light into a corner of 20th Century Chinese history; the Maoist regime's 1957 anti-Rightist campaign, in which over 3,000 men were forcibly relocated, and effectively left to die at the Gobi Desert's Jiabiangou work camp.

Upping his technical form and content, Lee Chang-dong's "Burning" is a sensuously shot and musically scored mystery, taken from a Haruki Murakami short story centering around the (sometimes hallucinatory) fixations of an obsessive love. Where it differs is that its psychological drama is set in the cultural fallout of modern consumerist Korea, with bold diversions into the pastoral and surreal, this visually gripping observation on, "Male Rage Blazes a Chilling Trail on the Korean Border". Also returning in strength, two of the most notable provocateurs of the world of moving pictures, returned with quintessential works. In "BlacKKKlansman" Spike Lee delivers the film that Quentin Tarantino has spent a lifetime seemingly discovering that he is unqualified to make. In this sharply cutting extrapolation on historic events, Lee has assembled a raucous investigative satire of American white nationalism. All the while not obscuring the bigger picture of bigotry enduring in the current era, one can't help but watch Lee's southern period drama as "A Clanging Rebuke to the New Trump Order". With "Le Livre d'Image" Jean-Luc Godard delivers another of his recent provocation of images, resonances, associations and history. From "Notre Musique" on, Godard has been making works where his relation to the art of cinema, a reckoning with European post-colonial history, and the impending end of his own existence are at points of convergence. This quest seemingly began with his late-period masterwork, 1998's "Histoire(s) du Cinéma". Continuing on form, his newest is a mosaic of film clips and image fragments, his voiceover punctuated by sloganized textual excerpts, his signature unpredictable sound cues, and declamatory orchestral chords. And like the more successful of his recent experiments, "Godard's Eyeball-Frazzling Video Essay Bewilders and Delights".

Maybe too indebted to Russian literature in the resetting of concerns and character types lifted from Chekhov and Dostoevsky, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Winter Sleep" still remained something to witness in its acerbic series of observations on folly. Set against the barren austerity of the the surrounding Cappadocian Steppes, its beauty won out over the inertia that set in as the film's protagonist went, by degrees, further and further astray of the world. With "The Wild Pear Tree", Ceylan "Contemplates a Restive Rural Homecoming" through a writer’s reluctant return to his small town origins, and in doing so, effectively tipping the balance back the other way. By setting the film's extensive series of conversational encounters against the richness of the rural Turkish landscape, he's moved his typically wry observations into the realm of a melancholic mood piece, delivering a "Delicious, Humane Tableaux". Another retooling of a director's formula was seen in the dialing back of the magic realist bent of her 2014 Grand Prix-winning "The Wonders". Alice Rohrwacher's "Happy as Lazzaro" is more unsentimental in its depiction of tobacco sharecroppers straining against the dealings of a tyrannous aristocrat. Geoff Andrew draws parallels with Ermanno Olmi’s "The Tree of Wooden Clogs" in the film's peculiarly Italian fabulism. Yet as a "Beguiling Fable of Golden, Rural Italy Trampled by Modernity", it stands apart as its own "Practice in Magic Neorealism".

Begun as a concurrent, alternative festival in 1969 by the French Directors Guild in response to the events of 1968, The Directors' Fortnight celebrated its 50th Anniversary retrospective. Not limited to restorations and presentations of notable works from the canon, from its inception The Quinzaine Realisateurs has been a showcase for rising new directors working in genre, content and form on the edge of what might usually pass the master in Cannes competition. This year's selection included standouts from Debra Granik with "Leave No Trace", Mohamed Ben Attia's "Dear Son", and the rare occasion of anime appearing during the festival, represented by Mamoru Hosoda's "Mirai". Where's Gaspar Noe's "Climax" failed to quite deliver his expected shocks and thrills, Panos Cosmatos upped the ante with his sophomore effort, "Mandy". By taking a series of pages from the stylebooks of both Noe and Nicolas Winding Refn, wedding them to a unhinged genre vehicle overflowing with gloriously lurid cinematography and a lead actor's penchant for bombast, "'Mandy' has Nicolas Cage Wreak Revenge at the Fiery Gates of Hell". Ratcheting up the visceral engagement to such heights, and a pounding, sensory-fraying score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, "Cosmatos’s Mock-1980s Oddball Nerd Fantasy Yarn" deftly circumnavigates the trappings of much similar postmodern territory. 

Thematically dark cinema of very different natures can be found in the filmmographies of Italy's Matteo Garrone and Japan's Ryusuke Hamaguchi. While both have issued works exploring social, political and neorealist realms, they are each inclined to brief and suggestively surreal intrusions into these same narratives. And in both, we are witness to a slow unfurling of troubling events and their coming to intersect the lives of everyday people. In the case of "Dogman", the bad-to-others comes in the form of a local thug who terrorizes everyone, breaking noses and intimidating the local businesses. Yet like much of the director's work, though it might well be bleak, it recognizes humanity when it sees it, and doesn't reject humor in doing so, "Matteo Garrone Nitpicks Gangster Insecurities with Hilarious Flair". Less assertively cynical than his last offering, the epic duration plumbing of suburban malaise that was "Happy Hour", Hamaguchi's earnest romance "Asako I & II" switches things up by adapting Tomoka Shibasaki's tale of mirror-image obsession. A inversion of cinema's "male gaze" and its depiction of passively enigmatic female beauty, here things are reversed in a counter-"Vertigo". By turns nostalgic, romantic and melancholic, with the gentlest of heightened conceits, it remains beguiling and mysterious through to the conclusion. Much in the way of the original "Masterful Look at Loneliness and Malaise in Tokyo" by this Akutagawa Prize-winning author.

From the once Soviet Union come two films of varied dystopic visions. Historic and more measured in its study, Pawel Pawlikowski's "Cold War" is an episodic and elliptical tale of imprisonment and escape, as the film's central love affair falls to the opposing forces of state constrictions and the freedom of a foreign country. Much in the way of 2013's "Ida", Pawlikowski’s "Seductive Tale of Love in An Age of Borders", is rendered in a gorgeous monochrome cinematography that vibrantly depicts a whirlwind love between two musicians and eventual succumbing to the gravitational pull of cynicism, exhaustion and state-sponsored fear. It is not only a prolific time for Russian director, Sergei Loznitsa, but a highly qualitative one. Exactly a year ago his "A Gentle Creature" premiered in Cannes, followed by this past February's documentary "Victory Day" at the Berlin International Film Festival, and now at Cannes once again he's back with "Donbass". His films have always entangled themselves with the complexities of the historic and cultural aftershocks of post-Soviet Russia. But this new stretch has a forcefully dark, absurdist strain to it, that of a voyeur to the tragedy of a history witnessed. In light of the aggressions of Putin's Russia, both at home, toward the Republic of Ukraine, and wider eastern Europe, Loznitsa is not without lack of material in this regard. Channeling the current state of Orwellian unreality which dominates much of the region, and events lifted from real world news, Sergei Loznitsa’s feverish procession of scenes watches as a, "Freakish Fake-news Kaleidoscope of Ukrainian Civil War".