Sunday, December 5, 2021

Ryusuke Hamaguchi's "Drive My Car" at SIFF Cinema: Dec 10 - 23 & Northwest Film Forum: Jan 5 - 9



In just the last year, Ryusuke Hamaguchi has delivered a set of two new films, exhibiting an even higher nuance and complexity than that previously seen in his already notable body of work. Hamaguchi is part of a new 21st century corpus of filmmakers from Japan, this "New Wave of Japanese Filmmakers" dominates much of Taste of Cinema's "The 25 Best Japanese Movies of The 2010s (So Far)", with Hamaguchi's 5-hour domestic tranquility stunner, "Happy Hour", ranking highly. The first of this year's films took home the best screenplay award at Cannes for it's adaptation of Haruki Murakami's short story of the same name published in the "Men Without Women" anthology. As Peter Bradshaw's review in The Guardian states, this "Mysterious Murakami Tale of Erotic and Creative Secrets" has a through-line of related concerns also explored in “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”. More than a "Triptych of Light-Touch Philosophy", "Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy" is a deceptively unassuming movie, which watches as a mildly subversive observation on the goings-on between men and women, and at its core is an exploration of, "What We Talk About". By this, Manohla Dargis means to say that the film maps a geometry of desire expressed in sometimes casual and cruel intimacies that are divulged through three extended segments. As men and women circle one another, they exchange confessions and accusations, through a cascade of words, gestures, and glances. It is through these effusive dialogues that they slowly come to unveil the nature of their central yearnings, fears, and intentions. Taking a major prize amidst the abundance on offer at, "Berlin Film Festival 2021: The Most Impressive Selection in Years", this would be the first of the year's awards for Hamaguchi, with more to come in the following months. The second of these films premiered at Cannes to outstanding reviews, foremost for its deftness in navigating the complexities of “Haruki Murakami and the Challenge of Adapting His Tales for Film” and bringing "The Mystery of Murakami" to the screen. Manohla Dargis also reviews this entry from Hamaguchi, praising it as a quiet masterpiece, in which the director utilizes the rather slight story by Murakami to consider grief, love, work and the soul sustaining, life-shaping power of art. There will be two regional opportunities to experience this award-winning turn of "A Director Taking Your Heart for a Spin", first of which at SIFF Cinema in December, and the Northwest Film Forum the following month.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Jane Campion's “The Power of the Dog” at Landmark Theatres: Nov 24 - Dec 16



Returning with her first movie in 12 years, the Australian filmmaker who brought us into the abyssal darkness of "Top of the Lake", and it's sequel, "Top of the Lake: China Girl", now ventures into the American West and the inner worlds of Thomas Savage. Adapting his novel of the same name, "The Power of the Dog", brings viewers deep "Inside Jane Campion’s Cinema of Tenderness and Brutality". In preparation for her newest exploration of the outer realms of the human psyche, she returned multiple times to the New Zealand mountain range she had chosen as a location, and went to visit the Montana ranches where Thomas Savage himself grew up. Campion sent Benedict Cumberbatch to Montana as well, as a process of getting into the skin of the character to learn roping, riding, horseshoeing, whittling, banjo and cattle wrangling. In a turn from the varied, whimsical, charismatic eccentrics on which Cumberbatch has built his career, here he stars as a determined, viciously self-made, hypermasculine rancher by the name of Phil Burbank. A recent set of roles outside his more common parameters have brought out greatness in the actor, as detailed in interview with The New York Times, "Benedict Cumberbatch and the Monsters Among Us". For Campion, a decade into her life as a filmmaker, her 1993 film "The Piano" won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and became one of that era's zeitgeist defining cinema experiences. In the years since she has become the most decorated living female filmmaker, producing a body of work that is both ethereal and intensely physical, establishing herself as an auteur with a corpus in the lineage of Luis Buñuel, François Truffaut and Pedro Almodóvar.

"The Piano" offered a blueprint of Campion's creative preoccupations; the feminine entangling and confronting the masculine in exchanges of heightened violence and desire, vast and often beautiful landscapes to evoke psychological states, and individuals struggling against societal and personal constraints in their pursuit of love above the teetering precipice of alienation and betrayal. Campion read Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel for pleasure, not thinking initially of adapting it for film, but the story stayed with her. “I couldn’t stop thinking about the themes in the book,” she told Sofia Coppola at the New York Film Festival this year. The material is ideally suited to her sensibilities, and even further enriched by this dichotomy of tenderness and brutality on which the New York Times interview focuses. Tenderness and it's dark reflection drive the drama of "The Power of the Dog", made that much more raw by the unforgiving vastness of the landscapes outside the rough-hewn pioneering homes and small towns that offer shelter and a vestige of far-off civilization. Campion has said that she wanted to make work about what “has always been on those margins of what’s acceptable … what we as wild creatures really are, as distinct from what society wants us to buy into.” This is especially true in “The Power of the Dog,” where these contradictory forces amplify each other painfully. Campion's art has been in showing the unpredictable mix of wounding damage and nurturing care in human activity, and in the moment of opening to one, it can lead to the possibility of the other. This is also one of the great achievements of her newest film. In the same soil where the beginning of an interwoven security of family has been formed, a seed of violence and resentment has already sprouted something much deeper, darker and malign, “'The Power of the Dog': Jane Campion’s Superb Gothic Western is Mysterious and Menacing”.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Ryusuke Hamaguchi's “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” at Northwest Film Forum: Nov 17 - 21



Two decades have elapsed 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. 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”. Fukada utilizing the global platform of his Cannes win to state that, "Japanese Cinema Must Adapt to Survive". Of this new batch of directors, it could be said that "Fukada’s Filmmaking is a Breath of Fresh Air" that can be seen to follow explicitly in the footsteps of Kiyoshi Kurosawa in his darkly pessimistic take on the concerns that comprise modern Japanese life. Another string of films in the last half decade that have been rich in character nuance, and high in drama have distinguished Kazuya Shiraishi, particularly that of his most recent, "'Last of the Wolves': A Sequal With as Much Bite as the First". 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".

In many regards, this "New Wave of Japanese Filmmakers Matches the Old", with new films by both Fukada and Hamaguchi premiering at Cannes to outstanding reviews in 2020 and 2021. Ryusuke Hamaguchi has particularly delivered higher nuance and complexity than previously seen, with a set of two new films in the year. The first of which took home the best screenplay award for it's adaptation of Haruki Murakami's short story of the same name published in the "Men Without Women" anthology. As Peter Bradshaw's review in The Guardian states, this "Mysterious Murakami Tale of Erotic and Creative Secrets" has more than a resemblance to the concerns explored in “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”. More than a "Triptych of Light-Touch Philosophy", this deceptively unassuming movie instead watches as a mildly subversive observation on the goings-on between men and women, and at its core is an exploration of, "What We Talk About". By this, Manohla Dargis means to say that it maps a geometry of desire expressed in sometimes casual and cruel intimacies that are divulged through three extended segments. As men and women circle one another, they exchange confessions and accusations, through a cascade of words, gestures, and glances. It is through these effusive dialogues that they slowly come to unveil the nature of their central yearnings, fears, and intentions. Taking a major prize amidst the abundance on offer at, "Berlin Film Festival 2021: The Most Impressive Selection in Years", this first of the year's films from Hamaguchi is the director's most solidly constructed and satisfying to date. "Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy" is the newest installment in a filmmography of challenging narrative choices, extended durations, understated visuals, and a rejection of the kind of dramatic problems, moral instruction and visually appealing dressing meant to ease the complexity of interpersonal relationships too often encountered in American independent cinema. Western film culture in general could look to Hamaguchi, as in just a year he has given us two works that represent superior routes out of the impasse of this particular brand of storytelling bankruptcy.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Peace Simulation Northwest and Rain City Doom Fest at Substation: Nov 12 & 20


With the postponement of Northwest Terror Fest and the closing of Seattle's premiere metal, hardcore, industrial, punk and doom venue The Highline due to the protracted effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Substation have risen to fill the programming void left in their wake. Two showcases in the month of November will highlight a particularly Northwest strain of sounds from the heavier end of the 21st century issuing from the mutating offshoots of black metal. The related global scene's ongoing and burgeoning development have encompassed melodicism and atmospheres lifted from shoegaze and spacerock, eruptions of heavy psych rock, industrial drumming, electronic atmospheres, and pure experimental noise. The expansiveness of this sound is further detailed in Brad Sanders' essential overview, "Untrue And International: Living in a Post-Black Metal World". Beyond this primer, deeper reading and curation from this spectrum can be found in the past decade of excellent selections in The Quietus' Columnus Metallicus column, covering releases dominantly sourced from labels like, Hydrahead, Ipecac, Deathwish, 20 Buck Spin, Sargent House, Profound Lore, Season of Mist, Roadburn, Flenser, Neurot and Relapse. These two showcases at Substation feature metal issuing from this particular low-lit landscape of experimental sludge, noise, and doom variations. The first of which presented by Peace Simulation as a popup Northwest Showcase, featuring experimental fusions by Thrill Jockey label artist The Body, doom riffs from Seattle's UN, dark ambient industrial sounds from Sutekh Hexen, Relapse Records doom metal from Portland's Usnea, and sludge and ur-metal by Denver's Primitive Man. The second of these showcases focused explicitly on the low tempos and weighty, gloaming masses of sound billed as Rain City Doom Fest. The night will feature sets from Witch Ripper, Montana's Wizzerd, and the volcanic melting of hardcore and sludge of Seattle's Heiress.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Joanna Hogg's "The Souvenir Part II" at AMC 10 & Landmark Theatres: Nov 12 - Dec 9



Opening the third week of November at regional AMC Theaters, and later at Landmark's The Crest Cinema, Joanna Hogg's second entry in a set of tales surrounding Julie, a film school student in 1980s London, follows the young protagonist (superbly played by Honor Swinton-Byrne) working out her voice as an adult and a director. A rare opportunity in being given the greenlight for a two-part drama, Hogg has been developing the project since initially conceiving the semi-autobiographical tale in the late 1980s, which she details for the New York Times, “A Filmmaking Life Gets a Sequel”. Until recently, her films have been a relative arthouse secret, "Joanna Hogg, where have you been all my life?" wrote Manohla Dargis in response to her first three features comprising "Unrelated", "Archipelago", and "Exhibition" being released domestically in 2014. Yet, it was only with the first part of "The Souvenir", that a wider audience experienced this same revelation. This "absolute joy to watch" as described by A.O. Scott was the first encounter with Hogg's rich vein of storytelling for many viewers. On its release, Monica Castillo cited "The Souvenir"'s depiction of a troubled romance and it's divisive qualities for Roger Ebert.com, particularly among contemporary audiences unwilling, or unable to parse such contradictions. "From its Sundance premiere, I heard grumblings about its main character, Julie, and the frustrations some felt with her decision to stay in a clearly toxic relationship. For me, “The Souvenir” is perhaps the most empathetic movie to capture that kind of bad romance, the way it seeps into every aspect of your life, the way it changes your behavior, how you hold onto the memories of good times when things get rough and how after it ends, you're a changed person. “The Souvenir” doubles as a reference to the unseen but still painful bruises you can get with a relationship as rocky as theirs. Some days, I miss those rose-colored glasses, but I have the bruises to remind me why I took them off in the first place."

Fathomed in her interview with Film Comment, through Hogg's sympathetic eye for shots, pacing and structure, the film delivers a mature and nonjudgmental observation on the joys and heartbreaking pain of these contradictions. Resembling in some ways the cinema of the French auteurs Eric Rohmer and Claire Denis, themselves of differing generations and sensibilities, this newly-ardently admired oeuvre truly came into being with complex tableau of, "Joanna Hogg Revisiting Her Past Selves". More than just, "A Great Movie About a Bad Boyfriend", as the title of A.O. Scott's review of the first entry implies, Julie and Anthony's shared intellectual passion, artistic questing, aspirations and humiliations initially are found to pivot around his undisclosed and secretive life troubles. Punctuated by the arrival of postcards as stopgaps, implying the passage of time and shifting relations between its protagonists, the structure of "The Souvenir" is largely linear, with brief poetic digressions voicing moments of inner reflection. Over time we witness Julie begin to break loose from the constraints of these influences, as her denial gives way to necessary recognition and an, "Opening Up the Privileged World From Which She Emerged". Through loss and pain, coming to recognize herself outside of these external conditions, we see a decisively different course for her own art and pursuit of identity. The cumulative effect of this great film of small moments, is Joanna Hogg's "'The Souvenir' is a Masterly Coming-of-Age Portrait", that invests great belief in its audience and the unguarded candor of experience lived. With "The Souvenir Part II" the director picks up where Julie's struggling with her life and the form of her art left off, this is instead in many ways, “Life As She Imagines It”. In this "Near-Perfect Sequel About Loss and Art", we revisit the young filmmaker in a form which Peter Bradshaw finds less detached, more emotionally engaging in its immediacy, as we are enticed into Julie’s world for a second time, “The Souvenir Part II:  A Flood of Austere Sunlight in Joanna Hogg’s Superb Sequel”.

Friday, October 1, 2021

All Monsters Attack at Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 1 - Nov 4 | Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 7 - 11| William Kennedy Memorial Screening at Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 9


September marked the first significant return to programming after nearly eighteen months of closure for the regional independent music venues, and Seattle's independent cinemas in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In many cases, 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 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. North of Seattle, one of the region's most compelling cinephile events is scheduled to return the second weekend in October. As an example of festival programming featuring diverse and 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 thirtieth 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 small 16 film program 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, Sundance, and Toronto. Among the films on offer in Orcas, there's Mia Hansen-Løve's "Bergman Island", Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cannes Jury Prize winning "Memoria", Italian maestro Paulo Sorrentino's newest, "The Hand of God", the always riveting Asghar Farhadi's "A Hero", auteur Céline Sciamma returns with "Petite Maman", Pablo Larraín's most recent historic biodrama, "Spencer", Todd Haines music documentary on, "The Velvet Underground", Joachim Trier's "The Worst Person in the World", Mike Mills' "C'mon C'mon", and the life of feline portraitist Lois Wane in Will Sharpe's "The Electrical Life of Louis Wain".

To my mind, the months of October and November could always do with more in the way of programming around Halloween season genre film and its disorienting frights, crepuscular surrealism, and discomfiting atmospheres. Thankfully, Scarecrow Video annually steps up with their curated Halloween section of domestic and international horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and psychotronic selections. The Psychotronic Challenge also returns in its sixth 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, 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, and with nearly 140,000 films on offer, no singular online streaming resource 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. 2017 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. 2018's programming taking a cue from Nick Pinkerton's feature for Sight & Sound, and their "The Other Side of 80s America" focus on the decade of independent and genre cinema issuing 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 explored the darkness on the edge of mainstream society. While the final pre-pandemic installment in 2019 presented an abundance of films from this era of American horror alongside a bold mix of decades of classic European, Asian, and Italian genre material.

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. Rather than the usual mix of new releases and archival prints, this year's installment is programmed almost exclusively around films that were released in the past eighteen months and subsequently denied a theatrical run. The proceedings begin with a memorial night for Seattle's most dedicated cinephile, music lover, and man-about-town, William Kennedy. Before his passing earlier this year, Bill wished for nothing more than his friends and cultural compatriots to join together for a screening of David Cronenberg's classic techno-horror thriller, “Videodrome”. Also up on the slate, is the most recent work by the junior member of the Cronenberg family, Brandon Cronenberg, with his "Possessor: Uncut", featured in an alternate director's edition. The United Kingdom's mastermind of genre cinema, Ben Wheatley, returns to his smaller-budget roots after the major production of adapting J.G. Ballard, with the psychedelic eco-horror of In The Earth”. We also get a documentary on the personification of the genre, "Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster", alongside a set of tales of earthy pagan cults, familial curses, a mirror maze reflection on the British "video nasties" of the 1980s, extraterrestrial possession, postmodern spins on the gore slasher, and an astute horror-comedy lycanthrope tale with Jaco Bouwer's "Gaia”, Natalie Erika JamesRelic”, Prano Bailey-Bond's “Censor”, Egor Abramenko's "Sputnik", Steven Kostanski's "Psycho Goreman", and Jim Cummings' "The Wolf of Snow Hollow". Not limited to new releases, All Monsters Attack will also feature the annual tradition of multiple analog media nights. These begin with VHS Uber Alles presenting William Szarka's "Phantom Brother" on its original release format, and The Sprocket Society programming an all-undead Halloween show on 16mm celluloid, including George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead". Other mind-warping traditions at Grand Illusion are to be found in the annual Scarecrow Video Secret Screening, hand picked and hosted by Scarecrow's one and only Matt Lynch, and beholding the excesses of Shinya Tsukamoto's body-horror cyberpunk classic and it's sequel, "Tetsuo: The Iron Man", and "Tetsuo II: Body Hammer", both of which are rarely seen on the big screen.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Wife of a Spy" & Tsai Ming-Liang's "Days" at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 1 - 3 & Oct 6 - 7



After eighteen months of closures and pandemic restrictions making gatherings in the cinema untenable, Northwest Film Forum returned to public screenings in mid-September. Their October slate includes a set of African independent entries from Jessica Beshir "Faya Dayi", and Arie Esiri & Chuko Esiri's "Eyimofe (This is My Desire)", the most recent in Tsai Ming-Liang's filmography of sublime stillness and grace seen in "Days", and Japan's purveyor of disquiet Kiyoshi Kurosawa with, "Wife of a Spy". Among the directors who led the Japanese cinema explosion of the 1990s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa remains one of Japanese film culture's most high profile faces on the international festival circuit. Taking a more refined turn from his earlier filmography populated by psychological and supernatural horror, since 2008's "Tokyo Sonata", Kurosawa has exhibited an aptitude for sublimating his obsession with societal decay into any conceivable genre. The through-line between his earlier explorations of modern horror and these current ventures into an even more sure footed aesthetic precision. Longtime cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa deserves credit for the elegant framings, disconcerting lighting, and air of desolation and disuse found in the production design, and the substance of Kurosawa's palpable sense of place. As a premonition of hard times and a fierce social and familial satire, Kurosawa made the everyday mundanity of domestic life another of his vehicles for "exploring issues of desperation, loneliness and alienation". One in which the protagonist is living a nightmare largely of his own making, equally inescapable as the mesmerism, curses, and hauntings of the proceeding body of horror work.



Appearing again at Cannes and taking the directing prize in the Un Certain Regard section, Kurosawa's "Journey to the Shore", returned to the supernatural but in a more sublimated process of it's characters gradually losing their inner cohesion through contact between the living and the dead. In his "Wonders to Behold" coverage from Cannes, Kent Jones' espoused the passage through which as an experience, "so exquisitely tuned and delicately heartbreaking that they seem to have been experienced and remembered rather than seen on a movie screen". Shifting yet again into a new genre mode with his following film, the alien scouts of "Before We Vanish" take from human hosts in the time-honored trope of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Yet their objectives are revealed to be instead a cultural amassing of information through the harvesting of “conceptions”. Mubi's Cannes' coverage detail this "Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Retro Futurist" work, who's central premise is the extraterrestrial visitors' gleaning of key earthling abstractions such as “self”, “family” and “freedom"; at which point the person loses all knowledge of the concept in question. Rather than taking body and form in an effort to quietly subsume the population of their earthly victims, in the infiltration inquiry of "‘Before We Vanish’: The Aliens Have a Lot of Questions".
Returning to even more genre-elusive territory, his following "To The Ends of the Earth", watched as an unnerving and sometimes comedic journey of a travel show host, and portrait of a young woman's struggle to enjoy her own freedom in a confounding and sometimes inscrutable world. Which might be the purest representation yet in his filmography, of "Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Filming and Acting Outside Your Comfort Zone", delivering "A Dreamlike Vision of Clashing Cultures". Which brings us to Kurosawa's first historic drama, "Wife of a Spy", led by another female protagonist portrayed by Yū Aoi, curiously making for an old-fashioned thriller that focuses on it's performances, and traditional plot twists, "Wife of a Spy: Wartime Mystery Thriller of Double and Triple Dealing".

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Seattle Independent Music Venue & Cinema Reopenings: Aug 13 - Sept 30


After a year and a half of navigating the complexities of the pandemic restrictions and closures, programming returns in late August and September to many of the regional independent arts venues. First and foremost, these venues (with the exception of the national theater chains like AMC), are requiring proof of vaccination before being admitted. Prioritizing the safety of their patrons, mask facial coverings and capacity limits have also been established as prerequisites by the below venues. Last month, 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." This was the first major step towards reopening after nearly eighteen months of closure for the regional independent music venues, and Seattle's independent cinemas in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In many cases, 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 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.
 
Opening in late August, Scarecrow Video's sister cinema, The Grand Illusion is leading the charge, both with new in-theater programming open to the public, and an overt pandemic policy statement. In their first weeks of programming they will feature Neill Blomkamp's "Demonic", Pablo Larraine's “Ema”, and Quentin Dupieux's “Mandibles”. Up north, Seattle's last remaining Landmark Theatres venue will host Leos Carax's “Annette” and the anthology film “Year of the Everlasting Storm” featuring segments by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jafar Panahi, Dominga Sotomayor, Anthony Chen, Malik Vitthal, and Laura Poitras. The national AMC theaters chain also has a few films of note on offer, with David Lowery's Arthurian fable, "The Green Knight”, the newest film from Paul ShraderThe Card Counter”, after his excellent "First Reformed" of 2018, and this year's Cannes breakout stunner “Titane" from Julia Ducournau. The Beacon also returns with a mixed calendar of private rentals and public screenings on select dates. For September these include Mario Bava's “Danger Diabolique”, Alex Cox's "Repo Man", Robert Downey Sr.'s "Putney Swope", and Benny Chan's “Moment of Romance”. SIFF Cinema have announced their opening next month with a full October calendar. Northwest Film Forum initiates their return with the Local Sightings Festival and later in the month Arie & Chuko Esiri's “Eyimofe” and Spike Lee's David Byrne concert film, “American Utopia”. Select music offerings of note in September include James Blake and Herbie Hancock a day apart both at The Paramount. The latter returning to Seattle after his stunning 2019 tour with Kamasi Washington and band supporting. Saharan guitar virtuoso Mdou Moctar and band will be at the newly opened The Crocodile which, a week later will also host Xiu Xiu's tour for their most recent album, "Oh No". That same weekend, Seattle Symphony will be presenting works by Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky in their opening night gala. Kelly Lee Owens will be performing her enveloping, rhythmic electronic albums on Scandinavian label Smalltown Supersound at Neumos and experimental, ambient, and magnetic tape composer William Basinski will be presenting the 20th anniversary of his "Disintegration Loops" at Fremont Abbey. Photo credit: Jessica Bartolini
 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Coil's "Love's Secret Domain" 30th Anniversary reissue on WaxTrax! Records: Sept 10 | "Further Back and Faster: A Return to Coil's Love's Secret Domain" | The Quietus


The last decade has seen a number of significant unearthings from the technocryptic discography of Coil. Most notably among these, the lost 1996 album "Backwards", finally exhumed and released in 2015 by Cold Spring Records. This week sees a sanctioned reissue of it's 1991 predecessor, "Love's Secret Domain", bridging the chronological gap between the previous reissue of it's surrealist sister album, "Stolen & Contaminated Songs". Born of the countercultural hotbed and its response to the constrictions of Margaret Thatcher's England, Jhon Balance and Peter Christohperson's music as Coil may be the most explicitly occult (and outwardly queer) of all of the British post-punk and industrial sounds of the 1980s. The origins of Coil can be found in Christopherson's contribution to the very outfit that coined the term industrial music, and the transgressive sound, art, and theater they deployed as Throbbing Gristle. Splitting from TG with the meeting of Zos Kia's Jhon Balance in 1983, Christopherson's fruitful collaborations with Balance would carve out a body of psychedelic and "sidereal" music on the fringe of post-punk and experimental culture for the next three decades. By the early-1990s the duo had brought on supporting members Stephen Thrower, Drew McDowall, Ossian Brown, Danny Hyde, and William Breeze and an assimilation of UK club music and American minimalist composers into their sound. This all began with the unlikely meeting of British rave, ecstasy, and club culture colliding head-on with their morose, cinematic, and surrealist themes heard on 1991's "Love's Secret Domain".

This wildly energetic and transitional era for Coil is explored by their friend and collaborator, Stephen Thrower, in a recent and revealing interview for The Quietus, "Further Back and Faster: A Return to Coil's Love's Secret Domain". Now, 30 years since it's release on Chicago's legendary industrial and electronic label, WaxTrax!, the album enjoys a gentle remaster polishing by Josh Bonati from original source materials, and new liner notes from Drew Daniel of Matmos. Containing all 13 tracks as featured on the original compact disc edition, this quality reissue is the essential primer to Coil's later phase, as heard on the ill-fated "Backwards" album for the Nothing label, briefed in the "Trent Reznor On Coil & Nine Inch Nails" interview, and 1996's "Black Light District", where they began their venture into an expressly ambient and nocturnal passage. Insight into this mercurial era of their music and assimilation and perversion of then-developing sounds in electronic music is revealed through the inner workings of their "Obscure Mechanics" in philosophical and musing interviews published in the pages of The Wire. There remains no better guide to the mystic, psychedelic, rapturously unique and deeply beguiling music Jhon and Peter created over the decades of Coil's existence, and the wider British countercultural continuum, than David Keenan's "England's Hidden Reverse: A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground". More concise compendiums tend to be on the exiguous side, but few resources bridge Coil's deep plumbing of the esoteric and the cultural milieu of the time better than Russell Cuzner's feature for The Quietus, "Serious Listeners: The Strange and Frightening World of Coil".

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Julius Eastman's "Three Extended Pieces for Four Pianos" released: Jul 16 | Alex Ross on "Julius Eastman’s Florid Minimalism" | The New Yorker


Not unlike some of his African American contemporaries such as Olly Woodrow Wilson Jr. and George E. Lewis, Julius Eastman remained in the margins of his respective facet of the contemporary classical world for the majority of his lifetime. A member of The Creative Associates, a prestigious body of classical music academics at SUNY Buffalo's Center for the Performing Arts, Eastman was also a founding member of the S.E.M. Ensemble in the mid-1970s, alongside composer Petr Kotik. Often overlooked in the histories of modern composers and the avant-garde, features spanning the last few years, like The New Yorker's "The Genius and the Tragedy of Julius Eastman", and "Minimalist Composer Julius Eastman, Dead for 26 Years, Crashes the Canon", for the New York Times, go some way to offer corrective consideration of Eastman's contribution to 20th century classical music. The Guardian details how it was that when the composer and pianist died homeless in 1990, and it appeared that his music would die with him, it was listeners and one tireless researcher who refused to let that happen, “Julius Eastman: The Groundbreaking Composer America Almost Forgot”. Which brings us to 2018 and the release of a small abundance of Eastman's work on labels such as Blume and the compositions that comprise what Eastman called "The Nigger Series". Released in short succession after Frozen Reeds edition of "Femenine", this revival of sorts has led to an overdue scenario in which, 28 Years After His Death, a Composer Gets a Publishing Deal”. The summer of 2021 sees two releases on Belgium's longrunning experimental label, Sub Rosa, including "Three Extended Pieces For Four Pianos", and of "Femenine", in new performances by ensemble 0 and Aum Grand Ensemble.

Alex Ross writes in the New Yorker on the ongoing canonization of what many consider to be Eastman's masterpiece, Julius Eastman’s Florid Minimalism: The Composer’s Thunderous, Propulsive 'Femenine' is Becoming a Modern Classic", and in the pages of the New York Times, the meditative, sprawling composition is being explored in performances around the world, 31 years after his death, “From a Composer’s Resurgence, a Masterpiece Rises. Alongside the preservationist work of Rocco Di Pietro, American minimalist composer Mary Jane Leach has proven herself to be Eastman's most tireless advocate. In interview with The Guardian, Leach traces this back to 1998, when Leach began teaching composition at Cal Arts. Attempting to track down an Eastman piece for 10 cellos she’d seen him conduct in 1981, Leach encountered a series of dead ends: “It gradually dawned on me. All his music was missing.” As a consequence, Leach became “an accidental musicologist”, hunting for Eastman’s lost works. “My analogy is like coming across an accident,” she says. “I couldn’t walk away and hope someone else would show up.” This would begin a decades-long endeavor of discovery, revival and preservation “In Search of Julius Eastman", which she maps for New Music. Leach herself becoming a point of discussion around the shepherding of Eastman's legacy, writing an editorial for Art News on Julius Eastman, she inquires, "How to Talk About History? A Composer Wonders How to Handle Incendiary Titles by Composer Julius Eastman". Equally complex in its nuance, and touching on correlative questions related to the avant-garde, Bradly Bailey's "In the Shadow of Ideals", for Sound American acts as an insightful companion read.