Thursday, July 22, 2021

Washington State Phase 4 Reopening: Jun 30 | Seattle Independent Cinema Culture


Much in the way of the regional independent music venues, last year saw all of the greater Seattle area's cinemas close in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Their future remained uncertain until as recently as the February federal stimulus bill and the approval of funding for arts and cultural venues that came with it. Over a year after the pandemic shuttered venues in March 2020, relief funding became available with the benefits of the Save Our Stages Act finally arriving alongside the newly implemented Shuttered Venues Grant. The resources offered by the various pandemic relief bills, with regional infrastructure like the 4Culture Relief Fund, awareness, crowdfunding and philanthropy efforts like the ArtistRelief, ArtsFund grant, and GiveBig Washington have arrived in the 11th hour for many of these venues and institutions. Significantly, a coalition founded by Janus Films and The Criterion Collection, alongside such notable names in American cinema as Alexander Payne, Ari Aster, Atom Egoyan, Barry Jenkins, Christopher Nolan, Edward Norton, Greta Gerwig, John Waters, Noah Baumbach, Richard Linklater, Sofia Coppola, and Wes Anderson have donated a lump sum to launch the Arthouse America Campaign. Petitioning the public for support, Christopher Nolan's statement in The Washington Post "Movie Theaters are a Vital Part of American Social Life. They Will Need Our Help", was also a clarion call for the rallying of these essential resources. No discussion of independent film and Seattle would be complete without placing Scarecrow Video at its locus. Recently discontinuing the scheduled appointment format, Scarecrow is now fully open to the public. And while not a theater technically, they do have a screening room and offer more films on hand than any other physical space in North America. Consider the one-of-a-kind resource that is Scarecrow, and if you live in the Northwest and are a fan of cinema, it's essentially your personal obligation to ensure their doors stay open for business. There is no other resource like that of their abundant catalog of obscure, foreign releases, out of print, and ultra-rare editions in the depths of Scarecrow's archive. With nearly 140,000 films on offer, no online streaming platform can begin to compare. To keep this singular resource alive and thriving, consider donating. They are currently in the midst of a fundraising Support Scarecrow 2.1: The Campaign for Scarecrow's Future, to ensure their longevity beyond the years of the pandemic. 

As stated under the Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery guidelines; "Washington state will no longer evaluate counties based on these Key Indicators of Covid-19 Activity, and the state will fully reopen to Phase 4 on June 30, which could happen earlier if 70% or more of Washingtonians over the age of 16 get their first vaccine dose." In response, some of the smaller neighborhood independents like Ark Lodge Cinema, Central Cinema, and Far Away Entertainment, are leading the charge by opening in the course of July. Even in advance of the Phase 4 removal of pandemic restrictions, the final remaining regional cinema of the once vast Landmark Theatres chain, The Crest was open and offering screenings with limited capacities. SIFF Cinema have just announced their reopening plans, with renovations postponing one of their three locations; “Similar to other nonprofit arts and culture organizations, our ability to reopen sustainably has depended largely on being awarded the U.S. Small Business Administration Shuttered Venue Operators Grant we applied for in early May. Fortunately, we learned last week that we have received the grant funds and thus are able to move forward confidently with reopening. Our plan is to first open the Egyptian and Film Center in October, followed shortly by the Uptown once that work is complete.” The Grand Illusion Cinema have announced their opening on August 20th with a number of notable screenings rumored to be in the works, and Northwest Film Forum will open their doors to the public mid-September for the Northwest Sightings Festival. Lastly, Columbia City's cinephile paradise, The Beacon Cinema have just recently filled their private rental calendar for July and stated that announcements are coming soon concerning late summer and fall programming. No doubt there will be numerous more cinema announcements, programs and films of note scheduled on the horizon. These only represent the beginnings of a return to something resembling pre-pandemic regularity for our regional film venues this next season.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Washington State Phase 4 Reopening: Jun 30 | Seattle Independent Music Culture


This time last year saw the rise of the first wave of the coronavirus epidemic shutter all cultural and arts venues. Numerous concerts, film, theatre and live events were cancelled and the future of many of the regional cultural institutions looked to be in question. Over a year later relief funding became available for many of these same institutions with the benefits of the Save Our Stages Act finally beginning to arrive, alongside the newly implemented Shuttered Venues Grant. The benefits of the various pandemic relief bills, with regional infrastructure like the 4Culture Relief Fund, awareness efforts like the Washington Nightlife Music Association, crowdfunding and philanthropy like the ArtistRelief, ArtsFund grant, and GiveBig Washington have come in the 11th hour for many of these venues and institutions. Some have not fared as well. Seattle's premier home to all things metal, heavy rock, industrial, hardcore and punk, The Highline, was one such casualty of the last year. We can hope that venues with like-minded programming such as El Corazon and Substation rise to fill the void left in their wake. As stated under the Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery guidelines; "Washington state will no longer evaluate counties based on these Key Indicators of Covid-19 Activity, and the state will fully reopen to Phase 4 on June 30, which could happen earlier if 70% or more of Washingtonians over the age of 16 get their first vaccine dose." In anticipation, numerous of Seattle's live music venues have made the first week of July their starting line. The queer and LGBTQ-centric stage of Kremwerk, known for their cutting edge electronic, experimental and underground music programming are leading the charge with a progressive policy statement, and a calendar month beginning on Pride Week.

Fast on their heels are the trio of venues under one roof at Neumos, Barboza, and The Runaway, Seattle's longtime indie rock mainstay, The Crocodile, and the larger historical stage of The Showbox which was spared from a development bid this past year. The city's larger concert stages consisting of The Neptune, The Moore and The Paramount under the Seattle Theater Group banner have also begun filling their calendars, with the anticipated and rescheduled tours of 2020 on their stages this coming fall. Seattle's smaller and community venues like Lo-Fi Lounge, Chop Suey, Fremont Abbey, The Tractor Tavern and The Sunset will also begin their programming this summer and fall, respectively. No news yet from the city's fringes out at the Columbia City Theater, or Wayne Horzitz' ground zero for jazz in the Northwest, The Royal Room, but expect news soon. As we should from the Wayward Music Series at Wallingford's Chapel Performance Space, as their compatriot organization Earshot Jazz have begun scheduling live events, and Seattle Symphony have announced their return to live performances with an opening concert in September. Correspondingly, the fall looks to be the highest concentration of new and rescheduled tours. In rapid succession, expect to see Kelly Lee Owens, Xiu Xiu, William Basinski, Dead Can Dance, Mdou Moctar, Gary Numan, The Residents, New Order with Pet Shop Boys, Wardruna, Ministry with Front Line Assembly, Herbie Hancock, and Ólafur Arnalds, all coming through Seattle in the months of September through November. Early spring 2022 continues the abundance with shows slated from Igorrr with Melt-Banana, the Rough Trade label's Black Midi, the Shabaka Hutchings-led Sons of Kemet, Canadian noise rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and an anniversary tour from 1980s synthpop band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. No doubt there will be numerous more openings and concerts scheduled on the horizon. These only represent the beginnings of a return to a kind of pre-pandemic programming for regional venues this summer and fall.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Sons of Kemet release "Black to the Future": May 21 | Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders with The London Symphony Orchestra release "Promises": Apr 16 | "The British Jazz Explosion: Meet the Musicians Rewriting the Rulebook" | The Guardian


Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings' mining of jazz's cultural memory is informed by his numerous concurrent projects; the ensemble Sons of Kemet, its splinter trio The Comet Is ComingMelt Yourself Down, Afrofuturist outfit The Ancestors, and as a guest player with the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra. So there is possibly no better player in contemporary jazz more equipped to lead a quartet exploring the fringes of the territory once mapped out by post-bebop, Afrofuturist and spiritual jazz luminaries, Charles Mingus, Pharoah Sanders, and the aforementioned Sun Ra. Nowhere in Hutching's numerous settings is this more evident than in Sons of Kemet's "Your Queen is a Reptile" of 2018. The central quartet of Hutchings, Oren Marshall on tuba, and both Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford on drums, is aided by a rotating cast of contemporary jazz players including Pete Wareham, Eddie Hick, Moses Boyd, Maxwell Hallett, and Nubya Garcia in their ranks. The album was a first for Impulse!, the legendary and influential American jazz label that was home to Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Freddie Hubbard, and Bill Evans at the peak of their 1960's output. So these are the largest of shoes to fill. This adds another weighty dimension to Hutchings’ relationship with American jazz, placing him among the players whose legacy he’s endeavoring to subvert, deconstruct, and expound upon. Covered in The Guardian's primer to this contemporary body of musicians, "The British Jazz Explosion: Meet the Musicians Rewriting the Rulebook", Hutchings acts as a pivot around which numerous players move through the scene. Which he enthusiastically explores in greater depth in his interview for The Guardian, "History Needs to Be Set Alight: Shabaka Hutchings on the Radical Power of Jazz".

Further evidence can be heard on his contribution to the excellent Gilles Peterson-curated "We Out Here" compilation for the Brownswood Recordings label, and Sons of Kemet's newest album for Impulse! As he takes a striking path away from the central core of jazz tradition via "Black to the Future". This fourth album for the outfit further delivering on the promise of the territory initially mapped out in their "The Space Between One & Two: Sons Of Kemet Interviewed" for The Quietus back in 2013. These contemporary scenes coalescing around a handful of cities spanning the globe, and the labels located therein, most notably Chicago's International Anthem label, New York's Eremite, and the aforementioned Brownswood Recordings. London's Soul Jazz Records have assembled the most comprehensive overview of this chiaroscuro with their "Kaleidoscope: New Spirits Known & Unknown" compilation fixating heavily on both the London and Chicago players. The former most recently generating the lush expanse of Floating Points collaboration with Pharoah Sanders on "Promises", and from the latter we've seen Joshua Abrams' Natural Information Society in collaboration with Evan Parker. Also this past year, from another pivotal member of the Chicago scene, Jazz drummer Makaya McCraven beautifully reworked Scott-Heron’s decade-old album "I’m New Here". The album effectively resituating the legendary poet in the improvisatory tradition. While hyperbolic, Pitchfork's claim is that the label and its roster is "Rewriting the Rules of Jazz", that assertion carries over here to a richly complex and fully fleshed-out new set of garments that Scott-Heron wears with stylish aplomb. One would never conceive that "Gil Scott-Heron’s Legacy Is a Work in Progress", but as the New York Times stipulates, "Makaya McCraven Sees the Future of Jazz Through Layers of History", channeling that vision into his new framing for Scott-Heron on, "We're New Again: A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven".
 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

My Bloody Valentine reissue "Loveless", "Isn't Anything" & "MBV" on Domino Records UK: May 21 | "Kevin Shields on My Bloody Valentine's Return: Time Is ‘More Precious’" The New York Times


The consensus is that shoegaze and the concurrent sounds of dreampop were born of two bands. These are considered to be Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser's Cocteau Twins in the early 1980s, and A.R. Kane, the British duo whom The Guardian credits as having "Invented Shoegaze without Really Trying". Representative of their influence, decades later both can be seen ranking highly on Pitchfork's "The 30 Best Dreampop Albums of All Time". Not limited to the post-punk and indie rock era of it's genesis, both shoegaze, and it's dreampop offshoot, are going through a renaissance this decade with new bands stepping into the forum. The telltale distortion-soaked melodies, and submerged vocals can be heard in the music of 21st century bands originating from destinations as far flung as Russia and New Zealand. On the other side of the globe from the sound's UK origins, a new generation of shoegaze is currently exploding across the south pacific, detailed in The Guardian's "'A Language We Use to Say Sentimental Things': How Shoegaze Took Over Asia". At the head of this renaissance, many of the genre's most influential and formative acts have returned from extended hiatus, not only touring, but with new and relevant material. To begin with, it was improbable that Slowdive would not only reform to tour, but produced one of the greatest albums of their career. Other unlikely returns have been seen in Robert Hampson touring with LOOP, the one-time-only North American visit from Lush's brand of 4AD dreampop, and live shows and some of the first new material heard in decades from The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Ride. The Guardian's "Shoegaze: The Genre that Could Not be Killed", and New York Times' "Shoegaze, the Sound of Protest Shrouded in Guitar Fuzz, Returns", best encapsulating this contemporary resurgence. Second only to the decade of the genre's origin, it's a great time for listeners avid for more of shoegaze' melancholic melodicism and blissed-out fuzz. For those just now entering the neon torrent for the first time, you'd not go far wrong beginning with The Guardian's "Shoegaze: A Beginner's Guide", and the near-comprehensive book and compilation the Cherry Red label have assembled, "Still in a Dream: The Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995".


The most unprecedented of these returns was seen in the four US domestic tours since the 2007 reformation of the definitive shoegaze band, My Bloody Valentine. The band's guitarist and composer Kevin Shields has since promised forthcoming material, following on the heels of their first new album in 22 years in 2013. All of this was initiated with a series of interviews beginning with Shields' admission to The Quietus that, "Not Doing Things Is Soul Destroying", in which he shares the details of the protracted process and decades of delays involved in My Bloody Valentine's recent remasters. Speaking further with The Guardian on how the period after the 1991 album was a series of derailing setbacks involving, among other things according to Shields, the dangers of chinchilla ownership. And yet, those trials and tribulations only hint at the complexity behind the development of 2013's "m b v" album. Its creation through a relocation, rebuilding the studio, and a meticulously obsessive, perfectionist work ethic as detailed in Mike McGonigal's 33 1/3 book on "Loveless". A new chapter in this near-epic of persistence and refinement began this week with the independent label Domino securing the rights to reissue their back catalog in the United Kingdom. These will be in newly remastered editions, with the details as supplied by Domino; “Isn’t Anything" and "Loveless" have been mastered fully from analog for the deluxe LP editions, and also mastered from new high definition uncompressed digital sources for standard LPs, with each being made available widely for the first time ever. Fully analog cuts of "m b v" will also be available on deluxe and standard LPs globally for the first time. As well as a deluxe CD edition of the  "EPs and Rare Tracks 1988-1991", anthology." Shields himself offering details to the New York Times on the long and circuitous road taken to this destination, creative work throughout the pandemic, and the promise of new recordings on the horizon, "Kevin Shields on My Bloody Valentine’s Return: Time Is ‘More Precious’".

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Seattle International Film Festival: Apr 8 - 18 | Virtual Festival Exhibitions



As with many of the arts and cultural institutions throughout America's urban centers, Seattle cinema culture finds itself on a doubly precarious precipice in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Even with the extraordinary measures that individuals have taken to assure the inclusion and passing of the pandemic relief package in early 2021, which included in it's allocation of federal funds, the Save Our Stages Act, "For Movie Theaters, The Coronavirus Stimulus Bill is a Tale of Two Industries". More explicitly, there is also the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, through which there are the beginnings of "Movie Houses Seeing Hope in New Covid Relief Package". It's clear that this, "Historic $15 Billion Rescue of Struggling Arts and Entertainment Industry" will act as a temporary, but essential measure, "Senator Amy Klobuchar Explains Save Our Stages Act". Yet even with Federal and private funding initiatives, like the resources allocated to Seattle independent theaters through The Criterion Collection's Arthouse America Campaign, the future beyond such stabilizing influences looks uncertain. Particularly, and most notably, with this past month's termination of Greg Olson from the position he held for a half-century, as film programmer at Seattle Art Museum. With the loss of the programmer of the longest-running film noir series in the United States, and author of definitive books on the subject of David Lynch, Seattle now finds that the "Fate of SAM Film Series Unclear as Museum’s Longtime Film Curator Laid Off". All the while, since this past fall, Seattle Art Museum has seen a boon of federal relief funding, grants and private donations, totalling in the tens of millions.

A full year has elapsed since the region declared a public health emergency and cultural venues shut their doors. Globally it has also been a year wherein festival programmers have either indefinitely postponed their programs, or shifted to online virtual settings. What would annually be the spring season's most notable festivals, taking place in Rotterdam, Berlin, and Hong Kong, have selected to have hybrid events or optimistically postponed the physical festival until summer. In the case of Rotterdam and Berlin, they have presented a strong program of films exclusively to members of the press. Hong Kong, finding themselves in a different context of largely containing the spread of the pandemic, have opted to present the most significant new works in the cinema, with a virtual sidebar of offerings. Jonathan Romney's assessment for The Guardian is particularly promising, "Berlin Film Festival 2021 Roundup: The Most Impressive Selection In Years", suggesting great things on the horizon for new cinema in the year. This includes films by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Radu Jude, Hong Sang-soo, with more superb entries from both Anocha Suwichakornpong, and Céline Sciamma. Rotterdam also had a set of noteworthy films, included in Barbara Scharres' "2021 Rotterdam International Film Festival Highlights" writeup for Roger Ebert, were new offerings from Anders Thomas Jensen, Yoshita Koda, Ana Katz, and Itonje Soimer Guttormsen.

Hong Kong seemingly not content to operate on par with the other international festivals of the season, have instead opted to to exceed their European counterparts by a good distance. While their virtual program borrows from the above highlights, the main slate and competition has no peer. They have programmed a festival featuring a number of the festival standouts from Venice, Toronto, Berlin and Rotterdam, alongside numerous premiers and recent films by, Ilya Khrzhanovskiy & Jekaterina Oertel, Raúl Ruiz & Valeria Sarmiento, Kazuo Hara, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Roy Andersson, Lee Isaac Chung, Pablo Larraín, Agnieszka Holland, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Pietro Marcello, Roman Polanski, Christian Petzold, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Anocha Suwichakornpong, Sakahara Atsushi, Frederick Wiseman, Andrei Konchalovsky, Fabio & Damiano D’Innocenzo, Lav Diaz, Cristi Puiu, Rithy Panh, Sergei Loznitsa, Václav Marhoul, Benoît Jacquot, Ahmad Bahram, Valentyn Vasyanovych, Eloy Enciso Cachafeiro, Christos Nikou, Oliver Laxe, Heinz Emigholz, Masaharu Take, Andrey Khrzhanovsky, a set of Restored Classics from the silent era to present day, a Shochiku Cinema 100th Anniversary showcase, and both a Stanley Kwan and Wong Kar-Wai series. By contrast, the offerings in next month's Seattle International Film Festival appear slight. Returning from their hiatus of last year, Seattle have nonetheless programmed a set of the significant films seen in New York and Toronto, like those from François OzonMohammad Rasoulof, and Miwa Nishikawa. There's also a selection of Venice, Berlin, and Rotterdam favorites like the newest from Damiano & Fabio D'Innocenzo, Anders Thomas Jensen, Ana Katz, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, and Srdan Golubović. As well as a set of Sundance notables from Alexis Gambis, and Prano Bailey-Bond, alongside award-winning films by Yu-Hsun Chen, and Tomas Vengris, and a premiere from Robert Connelly.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Japan Society's "21st Century Japan: Films 2001 - 2020": Feb 5 - 25 | Virtual Festival Exhibition



This past year saw film festival organizers respond to the pandemic in a variety of ways. Generally by cancelling altogether, optimistically postponing, or moving proceedings online. Select festivals and independent theaters took up the baton early in their scheduling by moving their programming onto various web portals, which allowed the savvy viewer to attend (in quotes) through virtual theatrical settings. These actions salvaged the cancelled 2020 edition of Cannes, which was then redistributed to festivals in New York, Toronto, and elsewhere as the global festival community collaborated in restructuring their curation. More specifically, many of the "Asia-themed Film Festivals Migrate Online Amid Coronavirus Pandemic", and programming like San Francisco's Japan Film Festival, and Japan Society's New York Japan Cuts festival, continued their role during the pandemic as standard-bearers for the issuance of quality film from Japan. This was also mirrored in examples seen in European settings like Frankfurt's excellent Nipppon Connection. All of which presented their usual array of new and cutting edge cinema in the unusual setting of an online platforms in 2020. For further reading, The Japan Times feature highlights the unexpected convergence of quality and volume on offer from the latter, "Frankfurt's Nippon Connection Brings Together an Extensive Collection of Japanese Films". There's also no shortage of excellence presented annually by Japan Society's North American setting of, "Japan Cuts Film Festival at Japan Society Emphasizes the Eccentric". Year in and year out, the festival offers "Asian Cinema That Pauses for Reflection", "Life in the No-Go Zone of Fukushima and Two Views on Husbandry", "The Hard Road of the Japanese Documentary Maker", and generally an expansive representation of, "The Best of Contemporary Japanese Cinema".

These various festivals continue to represent and offer a bounty of cinema over the course of the two decades since the Japanese cinema explosion of the 1990s. The directors who led that wave; Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Takeshi Kitano, Naomi Kawase, and Takashi Miike,are still among the industry's most high profile faces on the international festival circuit. Contemporaneously, a new generation of filmmakers are also making themselves heard. Though one is hard-pressed to see the abundance offered by these voices in domestic theaters. Particularly regionally here in the northwest as we have seen a significant dropoff of such titles in the programming offered in the once-abundant Seattle International Film Festival. Make no mistake, while there is a dearth to be seen on domestic screens, this is not representative of the volume and quality still issuing from Japanese film culture. Taste of Cinema's 2017 overview goes some way to assert this, with their substantial serving offered in the "The 25 Best Japanese Movies of The 2010s (So Far)". 2015 was a standout year for this set of rising new directors, it saw the domestic release of Shunji Iwai's disorienting urban drama, "A Bride for Rip Van Winkle", Ryusuke Hamaguchi's 5-hour domestic tranquility stunner, "Happy Hour", and Koji Fukada taking home the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes for “Harmonium”. In many regards, this "New Wave of Japanese Filmmakers Matches the Old". Of them, it could be said that "Fukada’s Filmmaking is a Breath of Fresh Air" following most explicitly in the footsteps of Kiyoshi Kurosawa in his darkly pessimistic take on the concerns that comprise modern Japanese life. It is not long before it becomes clear that, "In ‘Harmonium,’ a Family has Let the Wrong One In". There have also been strong returns offered by "Sion Sono's Set of Films That Don’t Fit His Bad-Boy Label", and Takahisa Zeze's miraculous transformation seen in "The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine", offering up a whole new array of concerns around, "Takahisa Zeze's Crime, Punishment, and Transcendence".

Which brings us to Japan Society's newly launched virtual cinema platform and their curated overview of  "21st Century Japan: Films 2001 - 2020". Spanning some 30 titles, from the first two decades of the 21st century, their overview acts as both an excellent primer for the uninitiated, as well as a deeper delving into the works of numerous directors who's work received scant theatrical screenings stateside. Many of the aforementioned directors are represented, including Yoji Yamada's fresh yet classical take on the period drama seen in, "The Twilight Samurai", more tempered representations of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's cinema of unease, found in "Bright Future", "Real", and his later, "Journey to the Shore". Sharing thematic concerns with the Kurosawa, Naomi Kawase's "Still the Water" stands as one of contemporary cinema's most vital explorations of a loved one's end-of-life preparations. Japanese cinema's great provocateur, Takashi Miike is incongruously represented here by one of his children's films "The Great Yokai War", and their maker of muted-yet-nimble familial melodramas Hirokazu Kore-eda is seen in equally unusual form with "Air Doll". Tales of youth and developing self determination and independence are represented by Nobuhiro Yamashita's "The Drudgery Train", Yuki Tanada's "One Million Yen Girl", and through the lense of magic realist nostalgia in Ryuichi Hiroki's "The Miracles of the Namiya General Store". Psychological thrillers make up no small volume of the series, with Miwa Nishikawa "Sway", Tetsuya Nakashima revenge drama, "Confessions", Kazuya Shiraishi's "The Devil’s Path", and contemporary neo-noir in Yukiko Mishima's "Shape of Red". More unquantifiable is Kiyoshi Kurosawa protege, Yui Kiyohara's inexplicable and excellent directorial debut, "Our House", and the brazenly tongue in cheek commentary on the Japanese film industry found in "Red Post on Escher Street" by the hyper-prolific Sion Sono. The toughest of the films on offer will be Shinya Tsukamoto's hard-as-diamond remake of Kon Ichikawa's "Fires on the Plain", which six decades later still watches as one of the most unflinching condemnations of war and nationalism ever dedicated to the screen.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

:::: FILMS OF 2020 ::::


TOP FILMS OF 2020 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
-----------------------------------------------------------
Pietro Marcello  “Martin Eden”  (Italy)
Albert Serra  "Liberté  (Spain)
Isamu Hirabayashi  "Shell and Joint"  (Japan)
Yoon Danbi  "Moving On"  (South Korea)
Cristi Puiu  "Malmkrog"  (Romania)
Koji Fukada  "The Real Thing"  (Japan)
Diao Yinan  "The Wild Goose Lake"  (China)
Václav Marhoul  "The Painted Bird"  (Czech Republic)
Wang Xiaoshuai  “So Long, My Son”  (China)
Jai Zhang-ke  "Swimming Out 'Till the Sea Turns Blue  (China)
Dorian Jespers  "Sun Dog" Short  (Russia/Belgium)
Ben Rivers  "Look Then Below" Short  (United Kingdom)
Peter Greenaway  “The Falls” Restored Rereleased  (United Kingdom)
David Cronenberg  “Crash” Restored Rereleased  (Canada)
Pere Portabella  "Warsaw Bridge" Restored Rereleased  (Spain)
Ulrike Ottinger  "Ticket of No Return" Restored Rereleased  (Germany)
Yuzo Kawashima  “The Balloon” Restored Rereleased  (Japan)
Marguerite Duras  "India Song"  Restored Rereleased  (France)
Zbyněk Brynych "...And the Fifth Horseman is Fear" Restored Rereleased (Czech Republic)
Steve McQueen  "Small Axe: Lovers Rock"  (United Kingdom)
Roman Polanski  "An Officer and A Spy"  (France/Italy)
Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää  "Dogs Don't Wear Pants"  (Finland)
Werner Herzog  "Family Romance LLC"  (United States)
Valentyn Vasyanovych  "Atlantis"  (Ukraine)
Oliver Laxe  "Fire Will Come"  (Spain)
Jason Bateman, Andrew Bernstein & Richard Price "The Outsider" (United States)
Luke Scott, Ridley Scott & Aaron Guzikowski "Raised by Wolves" (United States)
 
For decades this annual entry has acted as an overview of music, dance, theatre and performance art attended, films seen in the cinema, visual art exhibitions and fairs, festivals covered, and international and domestic destinations traveled. Due to the necessary and elementary considerations of the global coronavirus pandemic, and its effect amplified by the federal mismanaging of the response, none of which transpired this year. As a product, the overview for 2020 will have a brevity not seen in almost twenty years of adventures in sight and sound. By late March it was evident that the regional and international film festivals that are traditionally attended would be cancelled. As would the forthcoming music tours and festivals. And lastly, the late summer and fall art fairs and major exhibitions. Born of necessity, and almost instantly, the web became the surrogate for these experiences. Offering as it does a modicum of the sensations, social engagement, and sensory thrills and satisfactions of cultural experience. The pragmatic response would be to accept the inherent losses and embrace what vestiges of a cultural life that could be salvaged. Aided not in the least of course, by the cultural, social, and economic after-effects of the pandemic. What followed were twelve months of taking even more circuitous and unexpected paths to the year's memorable sights and sounds, devoid of the richness found in experience, social engagement, and cultural context. It is now incontestable that streaming and digital distribution have freed channels of access and stages of separation between producer and audience. It has also brought to the fore the issue of accepting poor royalties for the benefit of potential expansive exposure.

In the midst of this digital era of over abundance, there are whole forms and centuries of music that are not being served by the dominant streaming platforms. But if their almost singular foray of independent labels and artists in the market is representative, much was revealed in, "Drip.FM's Closing and The Challenging Future of Sustainable Creative Technologies". While self-releasing platforms like the growing audience direct community of Bandcamp have made the record label less central, it still acts as an important locus in the digital age. Particularly with their focus on Bandcamp Friday as a weekly incentive for listeners to Support Artists Impacted by the Covid-19 Pandemic. Taking up the baton almost instantly, the classical music world pivoted to the online streaming model this past spring, surprisingly ahead of much of the rest of the music world, which followed soon after on its heels. The New York Times' “The Coronavirus Hasn’t Slowed Classical Music”, detailing the calendar hardly less busy than before the conditions of the pandemic, yet prevented the scale and volumes that classical music commonly demands for its successful live realization. Two exceptional resources for navigating these opportunities online were to be found in The Guardian's “Quarantine Soirées: Classical Music and Opera to Stream at Home”, and Alex Ross’ ongoing and regularly updated Music During A Pandemic listings. Acting as a manifesto, Ross' New Yorker piece, “Coronavirus Concerts: The Music World Contends with the Pandemic”, proclaimed the arrival of these almost essential forums.

Though it’s role may be reduced in the age of streaming, the magazine, both print and digital can still be a defining tastemaker amid the multitude of channels in which to discover new music. For those not finding compelling sounds via their internet trawls, streaming platforms and online retailers like Boomkat, online institutions like The Quietus, and programming and print entities like Blank Forms, represent the kind of expertise you’ll not find coherently brought together online outside the framework of such vision and publishing legacy. Evolving right along with the times from a free improv, modern classical and jazz magazine in the 1970s, by the 1980s The Wire  expanded its scope to include post-rock and electronic music. Coming to the 1990s to evolve into the all-inclusive hip hop, dub and reggae, noise, punk, post-everything, jazz, black and doom metal, bass music, dance, techno and house, free folk, psych, kraut and nipponese rock, minimalism, sound-art, and out-sounds publication it became by the conclusion of the 20th century. A particular advantage at year's end, is that the magazine offers the opportunity to Listen to The Wire Top 50 Releases of 2020. Similarly, film institutions like those below offer a global scope, compiling the life’s work of people who make watching their enterprise. In most years, Sight & Sound, Film Comment, Cinema-Scope, Criterion Collection's The Current, and The Guardian's excellent film coverage, would have new issues on the newsstand and online digitally featuring their annual moving picture highlights from around the world. That not being the case in 2020. Nor have the settings of the international festival circuit championed work of interest in their selection and awards process.

So attention and vetting of films seen on screens in festival settings in New York, Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Hong Kong, Seoul, Cannes, Los Angeles, Paris, London, and Toronto, never truly manifest this year in a manner like we are accustomed. Before the pandemic, even in a city like Seattle with it's diminishing independent cinema venues, there remained a relatively robust network of theaters and opportunities to see such films. Resources like Scarecrow Video, The Grand Illusion, Northwest Film Forum, SIFF Cinema, the last remaining Landmark Theatres, and bold new addition The Beacon Cinema cumulatively made this a viable cinema city. These institutions are all struggling now in the face of necessary pandemic closures. A small relief was offered by Criterion's Arthouse America Campaign early in the closure, and more recently the Federal arts funding included in the Save Our Stages Act. So festivals and independent theaters taking up the baton early in their scheduling to move their programming online, allowed the savvy viewer to attend (in quotes) these virtual theatrical settings. This later salvaged the cancelled 2020 edition of Cannes, which was then redistributed to festivals in New York, Toronto, and elsewhere as the global festival community collaborated in restructuring their curation. More specifically, many of the "Asia-themed Film Festivals Migrate Online Amid Coronavirus Pandemic", like Hamburg's Nippon Connection and New York's Japan Cuts, as well as classic, repertory, and genre film showcases accommodated the necessity of shifting to online presentations, which made for a year of greater access for many.