Thursday, March 14, 2019

Bi Gan's "Long Day's Journey Into Night" & Jia Zhang-ke's "Ash is Purest White" at SIFF Cinema: Apr 5 - 7 & 11 - 18

In his year end overview, The New Yorker's Richard Brody tackles the single most significant factor in the contemporary landscape of moving pictures; “2018 has been a banner year for movies, but you’d never know it from a trip to a local multiplex, or from a glimpse at the Oscarizables. The gap between what’s good and what’s widely available in theatres - between the cinema of resistance and the cinema of consensus - is wider than ever." For evidence supporting Brody's assertion, look no further than this past year's selection on offer at Cannes and Venice, and contrast these with domestic cinema programming over the ensuing year. The two pieces of new Asian cinema belatedly screening at SIFF Cinema this next month are perfectly illustrative of the depth of this divide. Each ranked highly in Film Comment, The Guardian, Cinema-Scope, and the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound annual overviews for 2018, yet only now arriving on domestic screens.

Elsewhere in the world, the Locarno Film Festival has emerged as one of the most important Western festivals to support Asian cinema, particularly works without commercial distribution prospects. For mainland Chinese filmmakers, the affirmation and support from the global independent film industry has become more crucial in recent years. China under President Xi Jinping continues to carry out the broadest crackdown on free expression in the "30 Years of Amnesia" since the events that culminated in the Tiannanmen Square protests of 1989. By way of example, China’s most prominent arthouse director, "A Guy From Fenyang" by the name of Jia Zhang-ke, would not have had the global reach of a "Filmmaker Giving Voice to Acts of Rage in Today’s China", without the support of the international festival circuit. Those filmmakers are also aware that as recently as 2010, Locarno awarded the Golden Leopard, it's top prize, to an unknown Chinese director for Li Hongqi's “Winter Vacation”. Further bolstering it's role in supporting independent film from mainland China and broader Asian subcontinent, Locarno established “Bridging the Dragon", a traveling workshop aiming to foment co-production partnerships for both European and Chinese films. So it is that "Chinese Independent Filmmakers Look to Locarno" in growing numbers and diversity.

Ranking among Film Comment's Best Undistributed Films of 2015, Bi Gan's remarkable arthouse debut swept up Locarno's Best New Director prize, and was hailed as one of the most assured directorial debuts of the decade by both Film Comment and Cinema-Scope. Ostensibly the story of a middle aged doctor and ex-con searching for his young nephew, "Kaili Blues" offers up an increasingly dreamlike elegy for bygone Miao traditions, and the sweeping changes seen throughout the landscape of mainland China. Most striking is the emphatically experimental detour in it's middle passage into a "Dreamy Trek With Otherworldly Beauty", as the narrative proceeds into an extended exercise in cinematic time and space. Delivered through extended shots and images that are achingly melancholy, and teasingly cluttered, "Kaili Blues: A Dream Without Limits" describes the subtropical province of Guizhou, a mountainous, lush region of sporadic human habitations. Intriguing associations of the narrative's emotional landscape can be found in the depicted real-world recurrences of transition and disrepair. Considering the "Great Uprooting: Moving 250 Million into China’s Cities" expected to unfold over the course of the next decade, one doesn't need to extend the "Pitfalls that Abound in China’s Push From Farm to City" far to conceive them applying to a country in flux, and to a people in dislocation. The film's sensibility for the subject, and setting of this abstract chronicle of persons lost and a past revealed, is best expressed in Mark Chan's Short Take for Film Comment; "one of the rare moments in recent cinema where ostentatious screen-craft proves equal to the task of channeling a multitude of these inexpressible sorrows".

Bi Gan returned in 2018 with a sophomore leap into neo-noir centering around the fading embers of a mysterious romance told in the key of early Wong Kar-Wai. In this dream of a movie, much of it told through almost omnipresent voiceover, "Long Day's Journey Into Night" centers around the return of Luo Hongwu to his hometown (again) in Guizhou province, to find the woman he’s loved and never forgotten. This most noirish of storytelling devices circles around a set of recurring concepts, whether journeys, romantic encounters, the abstraction of recollection, time, (or during one startling technical sequence) cinema itself, all expressed with the same half-remembered quality. Mention should be made of the strength of the film's independent components. Particularly Liu Qiang’s set design and the ethereal electro-acoustic score supplied Lim Giong and Point Hsu. Most significantly, during the film's initial sequence the sensuous and atmospheric cinematography of Yao Hung-I and Dong Jinsong, setting the tone for the extended set piece that culminates this highly stylized and oneiric cinematic voyage, whereafter "Long Day’s Journey Into Night Follows its Own Woozy Dream Logic".

The seconds notable film is the newest by the previously mentioned sixth generation Chinese director at the spearhead of mainland cinema for over two decades now. In dedicating one of their Great Directors features to Jia Zhang-ke, Senses of Cinema predicated the recognition that would later come for the quietly controversial, deeply humanistic vision alive in his body of work. Zhang-ke's earliest acclaim originating from his string of first features, "The Pickpocket", "Platform" and "Unknown Pleasures" spanning the years 1998-2002. It was his examination of Globalization and China's absorption of western market and consumer values in 2004's "The World" that he gained attention outside the European cinema festivals. Becoming in a short succession of years a internationally recognized filmmaking voice that strode a very precarious balance with China's censorship and state-run cinema funding. So that much more startling then, that when his next film set within the otherworldly landscape of the Three Gorges Damn Project. A film of lives changed, homes lost and cultural legacy literally washed away, 2006's masterwork "Still Life" not only winning him top prize at the Berlin and Venice Film Festivals, but paradoxically earning praise from China's then vice-President, Xi Jinping.

With Jia's own perspective on the current state of his country offered in the pages of The Guardian, "China Must End Silence on Injustice, Warns Film Director Jia Zhang-ke" on the subjects of growing wealth inequality, worker exploitation and eroding social cohesion. That year saw him blending of his usual documentary aptitude with a newfound flare for bloodletting. His "A Touch of Sin" can be seen as the director's response to the growing backlash of mass protest, worker suicides, public violence, labor riots, upheaval against for-profit land seizures and the growing extremity of corruption of state and local officials. Jia's depiction of the rising occurrence of mainland China's explosive public response to social injustice explored in Tony Rayns' "A Touch of Sin: New China’s Loss of Social Cohesion Leads to Violence". In the long arc of Jia Zhang-ke's increasingly expansive art, he has constructed a body of 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 classification of the latter. Setting this tale of how "Love Smolders and Crime Pays in a Changing China" apart, Zhang-ke has imbued his crime 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".

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Seattle Symphony's Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center Opening and Contemporary Music Marathon: Mar 23 - 24 | Ludovic Morlot's Final Season with Seattle Symphony

While the winter 2018 season will mark the end of his tenure as conductor and Music Director at Seattle Symphony, since his arrival in 2011 Ludovic Morlot has launched a number of significant 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 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 brought contemporary works back into symphony's lexicon, after almost a decade of being remiss in the frequency of their performance. Morlot 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. Last summer also saw the conductor's hand at work in Adams' continuation of the cycle, with the premier of "Become Desert". Yet the seasonal [untitled] program may prove to be Morlot's greatest contemporary music contribution during his tenure. The series' installments cumulatively reading as a who's-who of 20th and 21st Century avant-garde and modernism. Including in its breadth 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".

As the 2019-2020 season commences, under the aegis of the symphony's new Music Director Thomas Dausgaard, one final grand project of Morlot's tenure is to be realized. The month of March sees the opening of LMN Architects reconceiving the former Southbridge Music Discovery Center into a nexus of technology and heightened acoustic experience as Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center. The features of the facility as a versatile technology-enhanced performance and multimedia community space are detailed in Seattle Symphony's announcement; "Combining a modular surround video screen with 13 moveable panels, 10 ultra-short-throw projectors, motion-capture cameras, and a state-of-the-art Meyer Sound Constellation Acoustic System with 42 speakers and 30 microphones, the technology can create a 360° shared virtual experience or be adapatable to disappear into the background for a more traditional setting. A series of custom system presets will provide supportive acoustic environments for a variety of ensembles, and additional settings can be customized producing a range of possible acoustic environments. Cellist and experimental artist Seth Parker Woods will become Octave 9’s first Artist in Residence for the 2019-2020 season. During his residency, he will premiere a number of new works for cello and multimedia from a diverse group of composers and visual artists." A set of local press including Met's "Octave 9 Is Another Symphonic World", and Seattle Times' "You Have to Hear it to Believe It: Seattle Symphony’s Octave 9", proceeded its its public opening on March 3. GeekWire's "Inside Octave 9: A High-Tech Venue that lets Seattle Symphony Explore the Future of Music" offering a more in-depth assessment of the facility's resources on offer. Yet it will be the venue's inaugural event, the Contemporary Music Marathon, spanning 24 hours beginning March 23, to day's end on March 24th, that will be the true test of Octave 9's resources. Encompassing a qualitative body of 20th and 21st century composers, the day-in and day-out performance by an array of ensembles will include such works as John Luther Adams' "The Light Within" & "Songbirds", David Lang's "Breathless", Annea Lockwood's "In Our Name", and Kaija Saariaho's "Spins and Spells". Beginning in the long hours of the first night, Helmut Lachenmann's rarely performed work, "Serynade" is then followed in the early morning by political composer Frederic Rzewski's "Piano Piece No. 3 & 4", and the afternoon is ushered in with American minimalists, represented by Terry Riley's "G-Song", and Philip Glass' "String Quartet No. 6".

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Company Wayne McGregor's "Autobiography" US Tour with JLIN: Feb 7 - Mar 3

Returning stateside for a brief series of domestic dates after 2017's tour of "Atomos", Company Wayne McGregor will arrive at The Moore with a dance portrait illuminated by the sequencing of choreographer's own genome. The most recent of the company's media-spanning collaborations, "Autobiography" enlists lighting designer Lucy Carter, costume artist Aitor Throup, dramaturg by Uzma Hameed, Ben Cullen Williams, winner of the 2018 D&AD Award for spatial design, and music and sound supplied by Jerrilynn Patton. Approaching "The Body as a Living Archive", Company Wayne McGregor manifests in the vehicle of "'Autobiography', Dance as Philosophical Process". By way of process, before each performance a custom algorithm sifts the data of his sequenced genome, from this a variant assembly of the dance's 23 sections is composed. The title and number of each section are projected in the visual array on stage as that section starts, the titles evocative of fundamental aspects of life; Nurture, Aging, Time, Sleep, Nature. By "Dancing the Genome in Wayne McGregor’s ‘Autobiography’", in this way each performance is different, sequentially and thematically, as each arrangement is decoupled and reshuffled from those around it. As with previous works by the company, their newest is a transmedia collaboration fusing multiple disciplines into a dynamic, sensory, audiovisual space in which the performance unfolds.

Enlisting footwork artist Jerrilynn Patton, and her music as JLIN, the custom score for "Autobiography" reigns in aspects of her propulsive and kinetic "Unleashing of Dark Energy on Footwork". As explored in Simon Reynolds discussion with Patton for The Guardian, there is more to this music of this multidisciplinary "Woman of Steel" than form bent in service to dancefloor functionality. Her conversation in The Quietus Peer Reviewed series, in which "JLIN Interviews Max Richter", is equally revealing. McGregor's process in collaboration is probably detailed best in the Q&A with The Guardian around the time of the tour for 2015's "Tree of Codes", produced with musician Jamie XX, and the "Islands and Origami" of award-winning visual and media artist Olafur Eliasson. "Tree of Codes" physical and technological "Explosion of Energy in A Sea of More" is representative McGregor's last half-decade of kinetic dance, precision lighting design, audiovisual mediascapes, and cutting edge sets and decors. Soundtracked by artists from the Warp Records roster, including Clark, Gaika, Mark Pritchard, and Lorenzo Senni, the themes of engagement with technology reached a pinnacle with 2017's "+/- Human". Possibly the most explicit of his explorations of the relationships between body and mind, science and art, human and the technological, "In ‘+/- Human,’ It's Just Us and Our Orblike Shadows".

On works like "Infra", "FAR" and "Azimuth", repeat collaborators have also been found in the power electronics and electro-acoustic music of Icelandic artist, Ben Frost and neoclassical composer, Max Richter. Not limited to simply scoring dance pieces, their meetings have also embraced cutting edge installation and transmedia works found in McGregor's early association with Random International. Their "Future Self" for MADE, was one of the first in a series of successful location-specific collaborations featuring a score supplied by Richter. It's London run at The Barbican over the course of the 2012 Frieze Art Fair, saw a succession of live performances that were met with enthusiasm in the pages of the BBC and a glowing review from The Guardian. Following immediately on this set of collaborations, the trio's "Rain Room" made it's debut again at The Barbican London, to then come stateside to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and MoMA's PS1 as part of "EXPO 1: New York". At the former, the installation ran 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, "Rain Room"'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".

Sunday, February 10, 2019

"The Magic Lantern of Ingmar Bergman" at Seattle Art Museum: Jan 10 - Mar 14 | Criterion Collection and Janus Films "The Cinema of Ingmar Bergman"

Its almost without exception that the work from the late 1950s to mid-1970s by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, "The Master Filmmaker, Who Found Bleakness and Despair, as well as Comedy and Hope", in his indelible explorations of the human condition, will appear on any film buff or art critics assessment of cinema of the 20th century. Look no further than The British Film Institutes' Greatest Films of All Time Poll for evidence. During those decades Bergman was at the height of his prowess, thanks initially to a string of films spanning "Summer with Monika", "Wild Strawberries", and "The Seventh Seal", made in rapid succession in under three years. These were not born out of the ether, but instead the product of an extraordinarily long apprenticeship, "Summer with Monika" (arguably his first great film), was his 10th. That the body of work that was to follow was also in severe contrast to the Neorealist school which had dominated post-War cinema, was one of it's popular strengths. Employing a analytic precision to the intellectual and existential disquiet that seemed fiercely at odds with the hedonistic nature of the times. Bergman's cinema centers around a grim obsession with an unflinching microexamination of emotional confrontation. In-part made possible by his collaborations with two great cinematographers (Sven Nykvist and Gunnar Fischer), and his team of skilled performers.

Bergman literally astonished audiences with the degree to which he was willing to interrogate cruelty, death, and above all the torment of doubt. He used cinema to strip bare these central concerns of life, few directors integrating their personal turmoil into their body of work to the extent that Bergman did. An autobiographical cinema, not simply in the details of the drama drawn from experience, but also in the sense of its spiritual and artistic response to the complexities of marriage, the relation of the sexes, duplicity, illness (both physical and mental), death and the church. His time in the theatre in Sweden as the director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm, brought to his film work a crucially interrelated set of technique and skill, and with it a devoted body of actors. These would form a locus around repeated roles from, Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bibi Andersson, Max von Sydow, and Liv Ullmann. This body of actors was central to the successful stretch of films following on the notoriety of his initial breakthrough trio of the 1950s. His star continued to shine through the following decade with an Academy Award for "The Virgin Spring", which was echoed the following year when "Through A Glass Darkly" received the Best Foreign Film award at the Oscars. What are arguably his greatest works followed in this period of the early to mid-1960s with, "Hour of the Wolf", "Winter Light", "The Silence", "Persona", and "Cries and Whispers" in 1971.

With multiple series of restorations, and repertory representations, the largest body of which thanks to the work of Criterion Collection and Janus Films, his cinema has been examined and re-examined through the lens of decades. Spanning six decades and thirty nine films, The Cinema of Ingmar Bergman, released this past fall and available for purchase direct from Criterion, is an astounding testament to the director's work as a lavish and assembly of physical media, printing and binding. Glenn Kenny's review for the New York Times, "Viewing Ingmar Bergman Through a Glass Less Darkly", plumbs the depths of this extravagant set and the riches to be found in its abundance. Criterion's assembly of essays around these central films make for essential reading, beginning with what many consider to be his first true film, "Summer with Monika: Summer Dreaming", to "Wild Strawberries: “Where Is the Friend I Seek?”, "The Seventh Seal: There Go the Clowns", and later, "The Virgin Spring: Bergman in Transition". These essays also documenting the mid-career string of masterpieces, including, "Through a Glass Darkly: Patron Saint of Angst", "Winter Light: Chamber Cinema", "The Silence", and "The Persistence of Persona". Last year saw the repertory theatrical revival of one of his fiercest, sensually brilliant, and unclassifiable pictures, "Persona: Bergman's Enigmatic Masterpiece Still Captivates", as detailed by Peter Bradshaw in the pages of The Guardian. The restoration an aspect of Janus Films' touring, "Ingmar Bergman's Cinema: A Centennial Retrospective", from which Seattle Art Museum drew 2018's, "Winter Light: The Films of Ingmar Bergman", and this year's second assembly of pictures, "The Magic Lantern of Ingmar Bergman".

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Noir City: Film Noir in The 1950s at SIFF Cinema: Feb 15 - 21

Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation are back in Seattle following last year's iteration, in which the Noir City: Film Noir from A to B presented 9 "A" and "B" double bills, spanning the breadth of the original Film Noir era, 1941 to 1953. Now back in it's third consecutive year after the brief hiatus in 2015, following Noir City: The Big Knockover - Heists, Holdups and Schemes Gone Awry and the festival's return to the city in 2016. 2017 was a notable year for The Film Noir Foundation, as Muller took up permanent residence on TCM with a new programming franchise hosted by the Czar of Noir with the launch of his Sunday morning Noir Alley showcase. This year's program, Noir City: Film Noir in The 1950s, centers around the genre's second decade. Through the 20 films on offer, Muller tracks noir through 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. As is annually the case, much of the offerings in this year's Noir City will be screened on celluloid. These bold 35mm prints courtesy of their ongoing collaborative efforts with The UCLA Film & Television Archive. The work of UCLA's Preservation Society and their annual touring Festival of Preservation consistently offers one of the country's most, "Fascinating Windows into Our Cinematic Past". The archive featuring prominently in the LA Weekly's discussion of the expansive shift to digital distribution and projection nationwide, "Movie Studios are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital are Vast, and Troubling". This year's highlights include a new restoration of Richard Fleischer's "Trapped", one of the numerous showcases for Barbara Stanwyk's range in Robert Siodmak's "The File on Thelma Jordon", genre master Jacques Tourneur's "Nightfall", and noir mainstay William Dieterle's "The Turning Point". The programming also features some of the late studio era big name directors in Otto Preminger's "Angel Face", Michael Curtiz' "The Scarlet Hour", William Wyler's "Detective Story", and Robert Wise' "Odds Against Tomorrow". A trio of American auteurs are also represented in a early and late period Samuel Fuller double feature, "Pickup on South Street" and "The Crimson Kimono", a fledgling Stanley Kubrick and his "Killer's Kiss", and Orson Welles later, legendary film, "Touch of Evil".

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Peter Murphy & David J "40 Years of Bauhaus" Tour: Jan 16 - Feb 28 | Peter Murphy Retrospective at The Chapel San Francisco: Mar 5 - 23

There can be no discussion of the cultural significance of the influential 4AD label at the beginning of the 1980s, without Bauhaus. In truth, even the label's name was reflected in the title of one of their earliest releases. The initial premise for 4AD as a collaboration between Peter Kent and Ivo Watts-Russell was as a testing ground for new acts, supported by the larger cultural and financial umbrella of Beggars Banquet. Programmed by the duo, the structure in concept was that with success, these bands would then have the option to graduate up to the parent Beggars Banquet roster. Bauhaus proved to be the only band to follow this path as they were signed to Beggars Banquet in late 1980, before Ivo and Peter purchased 4AD outright. Foremost among the label's first year of singles spawned from punk's violent disassembly came Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins and David J. Launching the ships of a thousand imitators, (and a sound that was later to be called gothic rock), as a meeting of gloaming atmospheres, dissonant sprawl and postpunk theatrics, Bauhaus were one of the first of their kind. Concurrently working in a similar mold, from across the world came the defiant rancor and country rock blues and doom of Australia's The Birthday Party. The label's roster blossomed into it's own the following year with the new wave stylings of Modern English and the ethereal dream pop of Robin Guthrie's coruscating guitar and Elizabeth Fraser's vocal incantations as Cocteau Twins. In rapid consecution 4AD released the earliest experimental solo work from bands that would later come to define the decade, The The's Matt Johnson produced a series of largely instrumental, experimental works and Wire's Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis released their first forays into the uncassifiable outside the setting of their massively influential postpunk quartet.

Following three singles for the label, and the success of their debut "In The Flat Field", Murphy, Ash, Haskins and David J split from 4AD with their graduation to the ranks of Beggars Banquet. By 1981 they had already assembled a new single, EP, and with the year's conclusion, the second full length album, "Mask". While only active on Beggars Banquet and 4AD for a span a little over three years, the band was in a state of continuous and highly prolific output. The next two years saw the release of their biggest single in the cover of David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust", multiple iterations on John Peel's culture defining Peel Sessions for the BBC, and strange dalliances with popular culture with charting singles leading to three Top of the Pops appearances. Singles like "Spirit", "She's in Parties", and the ongoing regular rotation of "Bela Lugosi's Dead", seemed to blur chronology as the band recorded and released their third and fourth album "The Sky's Gone Out", and "Burning from the Inside", in 1982 and 1983 respectively. Combined with Murphy's own acting and modelling work for Maxell, and the band supplying the framing device for the opening sequence of Tony Scott's 1980s vampire classic, "The Hunger", the speed and abundance of work in multiple settings had reached a pace that could not be sustained. Daniel Ash and David J are largely credited with taking the reigns and giving form to much of their fourth and final album during Murphy's battle with pneumonia of that year. This wildly accelerated workrate, combined with health and substance use issues would all lead to the band's dissolution and the cementing of Ash and Haskins' ongoing collaborations. 1982 was the year Ash, Glenn Campling, and Kevin Haskins formed the genre elusive and groundbreaking Tones on Tail, and with Bauhaus' conclusion in 1983, David J, Ash, and Haskins' reconfiguring as a trio into the longer-lived Love & Rockets.

While retaining close ties to 4AD and Beggars Banquet, Murphy would take his own solo trajectory away from the band's central trio. Enlisting such postpunk figures as Mick Karn from the seminal new romantic quartet, Japan, Steve Betts of The Associates, John McGeoch of Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Public Image Ltd, and longtime collaborator Paul Statham of B-Movie, on a decade-spanning stretch of albums for Beggars Banquet. This first, and most bold departure from the sound and aesthetic of Bauhaus was heard in the one-off Dalis Car album with Mick Carn. Yet it would be under his own name the following year with the release of "Should The World Fail To Fall Apart", that Murphy would carve out substantive new territory. Elevated by production and mixing skills from 4AD's Ivo Watts-Russell and John Fryer at Blackwing Studios, and a backing band and chamber ensemble enlisting much of 4AD's This Mortal Coil, the album would set in motion a decidedly pop and new wave direction for Murphy. Enlisting The Fall's Simon Rodgers on production, and the formation of what would become Murphy's band for years to come, The Hundred Men, "Love Hysteria", and "Deep" were delivered in rapid succession. The latter album of 1989 containing a series of Murphy's most notable solo works including the UK and US charting "Cuts You Up", and "A Strange Kind of Love". The album and it's expansive domestic tour of 1990, with a fledgling Nine Inch Nails supporting, reached more audiences than all previous post-Bauhaus works. Chronicled in Beggars Banquet's "Wild Birds 1985-1995", this decade of sustained solo output would continue with the musical influences of his new home of Istanbul, Turkey heard on "Holy Smoke". Following three years later in 1995, the ten year trajectory concluding with the more ambient and electronic offering "Cascade", framed by production by Pascal Gabriel, and contributions from minimal guitarist, Michael Brook.

At the time seeming beyond improbable, Bauhaus reunited briefly for a one-off set of shows in 1998, following nearly a decade later with a relaunch of the band at Coachella Festival in 2005 and the subsequent domestic tour. This would produce what all parties involved would claim to be their last full collaborative work in, "Go Away White". The new century would see various solo and recombinant lineups from the band's various members, including Daniel Ash on tour across the US, and sporadic activity from Love & Rockets until their conclusion in 2009. Most notably, the shortest-lived of all the offshoots Tones on Tail, would reform in a different lineup as Poptone with Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins, and Haskin's daughter Diva Dompé filling the role once held by David J. The following 2017 tour revisited their storied catalog, presenting the work of Tones on Tale and Love & Rockets in a new direction, assembling the band member's shared histories with a vital and newly minted sound. Equally within the realm of the improbable, this year Murphy begins an extended world tour celebrating 40 years of music since the inception of Bauhaus while performing their debut, "In The Flat Field" in it's entirety. After many delays and false starts, this tour spanning the North American continent, and a lineup including David J and members of The Hundred Men in it's ranks, will conclude in San Francisco in March 2019. Expressed in his "Peter Murphy: I'm A Myriad Of Colours" interview for The Quietus, the endpoint of the tour will then explore Murphy's variegated, decades-spanning solo output as a monthlong residency at The Chapel. Detailed in KQED's "Peter Murphy, Godfather of Goth, to Haunt The Chapel", these first five influential post-Bauhaus works from Murphy will be rekindled in nights of music spanning, "Should The World Fail To Fall Apart", "Love Hysteria", "Deep", "Holy Smoke", a night of music from the second and third album, and "Cascade". The residency concluding with three nights of "Mr. Moonlight", as Murphy is joined by David J to perform a selection of Bauhaus works traversing their four decade musical legacy. Photo credit: Fin Costello

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

:::: FILMS OF 2018 ::::

Bruno Dumont  "Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc"  (France)
Bi Gan  "Long Day's Journey Into Night"  (China)
Valeska Grisebach  "Western"  (Bulgaria)
Alfonso Cuarón  "Roma"  (Mexico / United States)
Pietro Marcello  "Lost and Beautiful"  (Italy)
Alice Rohrwacher  "Happy As Lazzaro"  (Italy)
Lee Chang-dong  "Burning"  (South Korea)
Pawel Pawlikowski  "Cold War"  (Poland)
Hu Bo  "An Elephant Sitting Still"  (China)
Jia Zhang-ke  "Ash Is Purest White"  (China)
Hirokazu Kore-eda  "Shoplifters"  (Japan)
Yorgos Lanthimos  "The Favorite"  (Greece)
Claire Denis  "Let The Sunshine In"  (France)
Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias  "Cocote"  (Argentina)
Masaki Yuasa  "The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl"  (Japan)
Brady Corbet  "Vox Lux"  (United States)
Paul Schrader  "First Reformed"  (United States)
Jim Jarmusch  "Mystery Train"  Restored Re-Released (United States)
Raúl Ruiz  "Time Regained"  Restored Re-Released (Portugal)
Henri-Georges Clouzot  "The Prisoner"  Restored Re-Released (France)
Dennis Hopper  "The Last Movie"  Restored Re-Released (United States)
Zhao Liang  "Behemoth"  (China)
Michael Glawogger & Monika Willi  "Untitled"  (Germany)
Barbet Schroeder  "The Venerable W"  (France)
Claude Lanzmann  "Shoah: Four Sisters"  (France)

Two years have now passed since favorable ratings, and public appetite for spectacle, motivated both liberal and conservative media to marginalize more viable options and instead elevate a reality TV celebrity, media mogul and real estate magnate to one of the most influential positions of power in the world. We now live in the wake of those events. America may never be the same. Consequently we find ourselves in in an environment in which high and low-level attacks have been leveled at the remaining journalistic press and even the First Amendment itself. These effects amplified by the net overabundance of the 21st Century, in which media sources are decentralized, but not necessarily diversified, presenting a new set of dangers to the less digitally savvy. Between the polarization of the commercial news sources and the erosion of institutions of true investigative journalism, social media has found itself in the role of the most influential editor in the world. Subsequently, America not only receives different information, as a divided nation, we've come to perceive different realities. Less travel this year, both domestic and international translated as being essentially grounded here in the United States, with the noise, misdirection, confusion, and division of this toxic social fallout of the 2016 election. All the while wealth becomes further stratified, with fewer and fewer institutions owning a larger slice of the domestic economy, and their influence increasingly felt in government.

In the midst of it all, it was a great relief to find memorable performances, festivals and exhibitions domestically. Gallery-going and the cinema played an even more prominent role this year. Hitting the mark of 400 films seen, it was another record setting twelve months in catching cinema in the theater. A worrisome trend seen in recent years continued though, as no small number of significant films were only available for viewing online or at home. The most notable visual art event witnessed this year was the fourth-annual Paul Allen funded Seattle Art Fair. Initial speculation on it's inaugural launch as to the fair being another tech money vanity project has long since been dispelled. Again proving to be significantly more than a elaborate philanthropy endeavor, this year's fair saw an expanded body of galleries, over 100 in total, along with it's program of talks, on-and-off site performances and collateral events. The programming coup of this year was found in Survival Research Laboratories, founder Mark Pauline presenting a demonstration of his various machines and devices. While insurance costs prevented a full-scale exhibition like that witness at Marlborough Contemporary this past year, wherein "Fire-Breathing Robots Bringing Anarchy to a Chelsea Art Gallery", Pauline was on hand for presentation and discussion on his long running kinetic theater of destruction. Initiated as an early industrial culture project in the late 1970s, the machine shop and performance of its creations spans decades. As part of this year's lecture series, Pauline was joined by influential science fiction author Bruce Sterling in conversation. The author and the outsider artist, technologist and robotics specialist have intersected on previous occasions, memorably 20 years prior in the pages of Wired, for "Is Phoenix Burning?".

As is the case with many of the cultural and economic epicenters in the United States, in the last decade Seattle has gone through a series of notable changes to its urban, communal, and arts identity. Reflecting the still stratifying economic and cultural landscape of the city, two of the most influential regional festivals had closing years in 2015. These two institutions previously brought an underground, international scope to the city's music programming, and cumulatively tens of thousands of attendees. That year saw the final installments of the Seattle's two dominant festivals of electronic, neoclassical and experimental music in the final editions of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival, and in an open letter Decibel Festival's 13th year closed with programming director Sean Horton's farewell to the city. Horton has since announced the revival of the Decibel in 2018 in a Los Angeles iteration, while a proposed Seattle satellite festival remains unrealized. In the three years since the closing of these international forums, Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature, MOTOR, Patchwerks, False Prophet and Wayward Music Series have stepped up to filled the void. Elevator and MOTOR have since ceased monthly programming in 2018, yet the former continues with performance and exhibition curation following the 2016 inauguration of their annual Corridor Festival. It's daylong meeting of audio-visual media, installation art, music and performance has evolved into the city's best new festival for cutting edge sounds. Certainly moreso than Paul Allen's less successful migration into music and media with the launch of Upstream. Though the future of Allen's founding of numerous cultural and arts institutions, and significant philanthropic contribution to the city, is now less certain with his passing this October.

In his year end overview, The New Yorker's Richard Brody tackles the most significant factor in the contemporary landscape of moving pictures; “2018 has been a banner year for movies, but you’d never know it from a trip to a local multiplex, or from a glimpse at the Oscarizables. The gap between what’s good and what’s widely available in theatres - between the cinema of resistance and the cinema of consensus - is wider than ever." For supporting evidence, look no further than this past year's selection on offer at Cannes and Venice, and contrast these with domestic cinema programming. This gulf is also reflected online. The digital age is still proving to be at a narrow impasse rather than the promised plateau of abundance, which many are learning to navigate. Particularly evident in the world of film distribution, though footing is being found on the growing independent streaming platforms. Award winning films from festivals in New York, Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Hong Kong, Seoul, Cannes, Paris, London, Toronto and Cannes topping Film Comment, The Guardian, Cinema-Scope, and the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound annual overviews, have yet to screen in the United States. Or even show up streaming online. So count yourself fortunate that you live in an urban cultural center if you do, as more and more of the world's greatest film aren't to be found for purchase, rent, streaming or even download (legal or otherwise).

Four pieces of new Asian cinema are perfectly illustrative of the depth of this divide between the quality of critically hailed work seen in festivals around the globe and the content available on screens domestically. First of them, "Burning", is a sensuously shot and musically rhythmic mystery by Lee Chang-dong taken from a Haruki Murakami short story centering around the inklings of an obsessive love. Where this sometimes hallucinatory psychological drama differs from its source novel is that it is set in the cultural fallout of modern consumerist Korea. With bold diversions into the pastoral and liminal, this visually gripping observation on "Male Rage Blazes a Chilling Trail on the Korean Border", is fixated on the emptiness of spaces, both in the locative sense, as well as the interpersonal. Chang-dong leaves the tale's central mystery untouched, instead foregrounding the fine details and uneasiness of suppressed violence. Suggestive and psychologically sinuous, the implications of the physically ravenous consequences remain unseen and unknown. While many cities didn't have opportunity at all, this high ranking film in Film Comment's year end overview saw a one week run here at Northwest Film Forum. The second is the newest by the sixth generation Chinese director at the spearhead of mainland cinema for over two decades now. In the long arc of Jia Zhang-ke's increasingly expansive art, he has constructed a body of 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 classification of the latter. Setting it apart, Zhang-ke has imbued his crime 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".

Even less represented on screens regionally were Hu Bo's final and single directorial effort, and Bi Gan's sophomore leap into neo-noir. The latter returning after the extraordinary debut of 2016's "Kaili Blues", with a noirish dream of a movie, centering around the fading embers of a mysterious romance told in the key of early Wong Kar-Wai. Told through almost omnipresent dialogue, much of it in voiceover, "Long Day's Journey Into Night" centers around the return of Luo Hongwu to his hometown Kaili in southwestern China’s Guizhou province, to find the woman he’s loved and never forgotten. This most noirish of storytelling devices circles around a set of recurring concepts, whether journeys, romantic encounters, the abstraction of recollection, time, (or during one startling technical sequence) cinema itself, all expressed with the same half-remembered quality. Mention should be made of the strength of the film's independent components. Particularly Liu Qiang’s set design and the ethereal electro-acoustic score supplied Lim Giong and Point Hsu. Most significantly, during the film's initial sequence the sensuous and atmospheric cinematography of Yao Hung-I and Dong Jinsong, setting the tone for the extended set piece that culminates this highly stylized and oneiric cinematic voyage, whereafter "Long Day’s Journey Into Night Follows its Own Woozy Dream Logic".

Most elusive of all, the single directorial work by novelist Hu Bo before his suicide in late 2017. Based on the story of the same name from his novel of that same year, "Huge Crack", Hu's extended duration film swept critical attention and gained great notice at this past year's Berlin International Film Festival. The film's title, concerning a folk tale of an elephant in the Manzhouli zoo, both acts as a commentary on surviving in increasingly demanding times, and a zen ideal to strive toward. Its parable resonates among the film's youthful protagonists, all deeply unhappy in their isolated industrial locale, as they struggle with the conflicting forces of apathy and meaning. Unrelenting as its tone and duration may be, Hu's telling proves a delicately layered, subtly shot work that distinguishes itself with lived-in characters expressing a set of incisive statements on the prevalence of apathy, arrogance and egotism in modern China. “An Elephant Sitting Still: Melancholic and Mesmerising" in the extreme, conveyed in long, uncut sequences and a muted tonal palette, follows its protagonists as they search for a path out. Coming to envelop completely as the viewer joins them in the miasma of this, "Shattering, Soul-Searching Chinese One-Off". There's hope that Hu's singular directorial feature will receive domestic screenings in the next year with its acquisition by KimStim distribution.

This year's Seattle International Film Festival again showed weaker programming, choosing to overlook much of the abundance featured in the international festival circuit cited above, instead continuing the less than memorable trend of years before. Which was doubly disheartening after the strength of their 40th Anniversary offering. Their year-round programming at SIFF Cinema compensating for the oversights of the festival, bringing advance screenings, rare prints and numerous exclusive screenings to their three cinemas including the Film Center and restored Egyptian. With indie cinemas closing around the nation, it was that much more important to support the local theater opportunities. Particularly with the subsuming of Sundance Theaters into the corporate AMC chain and the fast-shrinking and now single remaining regional theater of the independent Landmark Theatres. Though there is hope. After potential bids from both Amazon and Netflix, the long-running independent and arthouse theater chain has just recently been purchased by Cohen Media Group. In “A Trade Between Billionaires: Mark Cuban Sells Landmark Theatres Chain to Film Buff Charles Cohen”, we may see the nationwide assembly of cinemas revitalized and open again with fresh, inventive programming. If Cohen's track record is any indication. Seattle Art Museum continues their cinema programming with the longest running film noir series in North America alongside retrospectives of such auteurs as Yasujiro Ozu, and Ingmar Bergman. Our own Northwest Film Forum had a strong calendar year, in stiff competition with the seasonal programming seen on the longest running independent screen in this town, The Grand Illusion Cinema. In a succession of years, this micro-sized theater in Seattle stepped up to fill the growing theater void after strengthening their nonprofit partnership with Scarecrow Video in 2014.

Much in the way of the 2016 Action, Anarchy & Audacity: A Seijun Suzuki Retrospective, and Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien of 2015, this year's Losers, Loners, Outcasts & Outlaws: The Early Works of Jim Jarmusch, was a major programming coup for the independent theater. Now assembled together by Janus Films, and freed from complex licensing issues in rereleases by The Criterion Collection, fans of what the New York Times called "The Last of the American Indies", could once again marvel at "How the Film World's Maverick Stayed True to His Roots". The Grand Illusion's monthlong series of these early works making for the Northwest theater going event of the year. Many of the most notable films seen this year, when they did come to the cinema, had runs that lasted no more than a week. Others were never to appear again outside of an initial festival screening. One can't imagine that in the age of digital piracy that this process has aided global cinema finding an audience. Again proving the wisdom of getting out there, seeing the city and prioritizing the remaining opportunities that we're fortunate to have in our urban crossroads. Even so, no small percentage of these films even avid theater-goers living in urban centers didn't have opportunity to see. Making the almost singular resource that is Scarecrow Video, recipient of the 2016 Stranger Genius Award, that much more irreplaceable.

Most worrying in the changing landscape of moving pictures, is the dearth of global cinema and critically lauded works available to view on the dominant streaming resources. In a span of a half decade, it's become graphically apparent that, "For Cinephiles, Netflix Is Less and Less an Option". The diminishing of both quantity and diversity on the platform has been further accelerated by the phasing out their physical media catalog. For a microcosm, look to the fact that less than 1/15th of "Spike Lee's list of 86 Essential Films" are available to view on Netflix. The per-capita is even more poor when one examines any of the selections made in the global poll of 900 critics, programmers and academics for the British Film Institute's, "The 50 Greatest Films of All Time". And don't think to go to Hulu, Youtube, or Amazon as an alternative, despite their claims. Concurrently, Netflix has begun to assemble exclusive content and new works by notable American and international arthouse directors. Released in limited engagements, or in some cases not at all outside of being available on its streaming platform, their venture into film has further complicated access to a recent string of releases. By producing, distributing, and exhibiting new films by Orson Welles, Bong Joon-ho, Alice Rohrwacher, Alfonso Cuarón, Aleksei German, and the Coen Brothers, "Netflix’s Movie Blitz Takes Aim at Hollywood’s Heart", thereby significantly limiting the opportunities for these director's work to be seen and achieve notoriety in the traditional theatrical sense.

As a product of the combined effect of market dominance, and lack of diverse content on offer from Amazon, Hulu and Netflix, resources like Fandor, Mubi, and FilmStruck have become the online destination of choice for film lovers. With the merger of AT&T and Warner Brothers this past year, the third in this trio was deemed a "niche market", and shuttered by Warner Media. Thereby closing the resource of thousands of classic, foreign, and arthouse films that Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection had amassed as a, "Streaming Service that Places a Big Bet on Cinephiles". In response, Criterion and Janus Films announced that a, “New, Independent Criterion Channel will Launch in Spring 2019”. Facilitating particularly valuable programming and distribution, these independent streaming platforms have stepped into the international festival arena. The fruits of their curation and criticism offered throughout the year in their respective digital magazines, Notebook, and (the now shuttered) Streamline, and Keyframe. In many ways, of them all, "Mubi: A Streaming Service with a Ticking Clock" has come out on top. Unlike the "Streaming Rabbit Hole Worth Falling Down" represented by Fandor and FilmStruck, each offering a vast catalog of thousands of titles, Mubi watches as a online cinema, with a new film featured every day. In addition to the monthlong selection of titles on offer, Mubi has engaged in special programming with festival series, director highlights, movement, and genre overviews.

In just the past year showcasing such luminaries as Raul Ruiz, Segei Loznitsa, Joseph Losey, the later films of Jean-Luc Godard, and a selection of crime and noir from Jean-Pierre Melville. There were also series from Takashi Miike, the architecture films of Heinz Emigholz, Krzysztof Zanussi, a selection of the later Luis Buñuel, Vittorio De Sica, Philippe Garrel, and a set of Ryuichi Sakamoto documentaries. Mubi proved to be one of the only places to see the work of rising new Chinese independent Bi Gan, the rarely screened Indian independent cinema of Guru Dutt, the quietly confrontational Francois Ozon, and the films of banned Chinese director Lou Ye. Forging into new territory, Mubi's Special Discovery series has showcased new films selected from the world's most prestigious festivals, spanning works from established directors alongside some of the boldest new talent emerging on the scene. Also to be found on the platform was a series of documentaries on Unusual Subjects, and a extensive selection of hard-hitting Chinese Independents. Offerings such as French Cinema after the New Wave, restorations of lost genre and psychotronic cinema by Nicolas Wending Refn, a May 1968 documentary double feature, and the annual seasonal programming found in Horrific October, made Mubi more essential than ever.