Sunday, November 4, 2018

Claudio Simonetti's Goblin perform "Suspiria" Tour: Oct 28 - Nov 25 | Clan of Xymox "Days of Black" West Coast Tour: Oct 31 - Nov 14

The month of November sees a set of influential underground bands on tour across the US, spanning the genres of theatrical progressive rock and gothic wave. Perfect musical accompaniment for the season, yet both of these bands are now in formations and touring as fragmented, disunited iterations of the groups they once were. Of the duo, Goblin are the farthest removed from their inception, being that the band was initially formed in 1972 and saw their successful period span the late 1970s to earliest 80s. Their status as one of the more peculiar of all the progressive rock bands of their decade, came with their rise to greater prominence within Giallo circles in the late 70s with a string of scores to Dario Argento's now classic "Profondo Rosso", "Tenebrae", and "Suspiria". The Italian progressive rock legends made a number of stateside appearances since their reactivation in 2005, and have intermittently toured in fragmented and recombinant lineups in the following decade. Of these iterations, the lineup containing three of the original members, excluding keyboardist Claudio Simonetti, were on tour throughout the fall of last year. The timing of which coincided with the discovery of a uncut print of "Suspiria", which was subsequently restored and screened in a repertory theatrical run. Returning to the United States this month, Simonetti leads a set of musicians from his Daemonia band as his possessively named Claudio Simonetti's Goblin. In the wake of Luca Guadagnino's contemporary remake of the Dario Argento classic, their touring performance of "Suspiria"'s score began at Baltimore's Days of Darkness festival, with west coast dates to follow, including Seattle's El Corazon.

Also returning in a second iteration, and nearly as circuitous in their reformation and fragmentation, the seminal lineup of the Dutch minimal synth wave duo Xymox originally formed as a project of Ronny Moorings and Anka Wolbert in Nijmegen, Netherlands in 1981. The duo produced a single self released mini-album, "Subsequent Pleasures", following a move to Amsterdam in 1983. Having secured a performance in Paris in the wake of the album's positive reception, the lineup enlisted keyboardist and vocalist Pieter Nooten, and second touring guitarist Frank Weyzig. In the following year, this central trio of Moorings, Wolbert and Nooten would become Clan of Xymox for their signing to Ivo Watts-Russell's influential British postpunk label, 4AD. After a chance meeting with Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance at a concert in Nijmegen, the British duo brough Xymox on as their support for a tour of the United Kingdom. The resulting attention produced a commission for a demo by Watts-Russell, and subsequent signing to their shared label, which released Clan of Xymox eponymous album in 1985. Working from the demos, the label's inhouse production team of Watts-Russell and Turner looked to accentuate the unique topography of their sound, positioned between the gothic guitar pop of The Cure, and the synth-driven electronic dance wave of New Order. Refined by Watts-Russell, Jon Turner, and John Fryer's guidance at Blackwing Studios, the sui generis qualities of their sound can be heard across the eight tracks of "Clan of Xymox". Distinguished amidst the abundance of wave, postpunk and gothic at the time by it's complex meeting of acoustic, electric and electronic arrangements, naive sometimes broken English, and a stylistic assertion of the member's bohemian European origins. Their sound was unambiguous to the extent that Wolbert's "Seventh Time" was picked up by the greatest of the underground British radio tastemakers of the time, John Peel.

This led to the band recording two Peel Sessions at the BBC, and a greater focus of resources and time given by their parent label for the sophomore album, "Medusa". An elegant, haunting album of instrumental passages, propulsive synth wave songs, and gothic rock crescendos, "Medusa" would prove to be the apogee of the music Clan of Xymox would produce as a trio. On the following tours across Europe and a first in the United States, inner tensions as to the music's focus and Nooten and Wolbert's respective roles began to force its central trio in opposing directions. This culminated in Xymox leaving 4AD, following a signing to Polydor and the release of 1989's more expressly synthpop influenced "Twist of Shadows", which saw Wolbert and Nooten's contribution increasingly marginalized. From this point forward, Xymox and it's later reformatting as Clan of Xymox, would solely be the project of Ronny Moorings. He has since found new listeners in a second generation of gothic and post-wave audiences across Europe, and massive success at gothic culture events like Wave-Gotik-Treffen festival in his current home of Leipzig, Germany. Signing to domestic gothic label Metropolis, this second iteration of Clan of Xymox has made a number of returns to North America since their formation, with significantly greater frequency than the original trio. Making this year's tour following the release of their "Days of Black" album, an occasion for those who missed such opportunities three decades past.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"Losers, Loners, Outcasts & Outlaws: An Original Series of the Early Works of Jim Jarmusch" at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Nov 2 - 21

What will likely prove to be the Northwest repertory cinema event of the year begins the first week of November with The Grand Illusion Cinema's original Losers, Loners, Outcasts & Outlaws: The Early Works of Jim Jarmusch series. Much in the way of the independent theater's 2016 Action, Anarchy & Audacity: A Seijun Suzuki Retrospective and Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien of 2015, this is a rare theatrical opportunity to see an assembly of work by what the New York Times called, "The Last of the American Indies". Not a stretch in terminology, as "After 40 Years in Cinema, Jim Jarmusch Remains the Quintessential Leftfield Auteur", who's cinema began as a student of NYU, engrossed with the counter cultural environment of New York City's late 1970's No Wave scene. This pressure cooker of influences, edgy self reinvention, and a vital DIY culture created the setting (and supplied much of the cast) for the director's first feature. Jarmusch utilized the resources of the university to transform his final project, a working short film, into he feature length "Permanent Vacation", an 80-minute preamble about drifting set in and around Tribeca and the East Village. This early work of No Wave Cinema now watches as much a historic document of the era and it's setting as the documentaries on the time, like that of Céline Danhier's "Blank City". As detailed in Senses of Cinema Great Directors profile, a personal cinema was already proposed in this first feature. Much in the way of his German contemporary Wim Wenders, Jarmusch has built a cinematic world on the edge of popular society. From the vantage of these corners of the world, he observes the pursuit of the curious through the travels and ruminations of outsiders, eccentric wayfarers, and poets. In his four decade-long global cinematic journeying, he would expand on "Permanent Vacation"'s template to embrace ensemble works, romantic comedies, and genre film, yet remain true to this consistent set of core concerns. In his working process, he also shared much with another senior contemporary, John Cassavetes. Like the quintessential New York director of a decade before, in his early films Jarmusch adopted an actor-oriented approach to scenario. The characters would develop first, often with a specific actor envisioned for the role, to which Jarmusch credits the genesis of the details of “the plot kind of suggest itself around the character”.

From the DIY success of his first feature, he developed his 30 minute short film into "Stranger Than Paradise", having received recognition and praise for this first work by Wim Wenders himself, who would donate 40 minutes of extraneous film stock for the film's completion. This second feature solidified Jarmusch’s trademark style; minimal sets and long, uninterrupted takes of it's outsider protagonists traversing depopulated and fringe landscapes, overflowing in dialog centered on wry and subtle observations on life, circumstance and love. Occasional intersections of characters and concerns punctuate the low-relief dramatic high points of his storytelling, often with a quietly humanist, comedic flair. At the time of its release, Jarmusch described his methodology and approach to structure as such; "Rather than finding a story that I want to tell and then adding the details, I collect the details and then try to construct a puzzle of story. I have a theme and a kind of mood and the characters, but not a plotline that runs straight through." He would expand this methodology with his next film, and in doing so find an underground hit in 1986's "Down By Law". Described by the filmmaker as a “neo-beat-noir-comedy”, it features musicians and fixtures of the downtown New York scene, John Lurie and Tom Waits, alongside the Italian comedic actor Roberto Benigni. As three men who escape from a prison, who rather than freedom, discover themselves lost in the surrounding dense Louisiana swamplands. The setting and tone of the film cemented by the substance of another of the benefits of Wim Wender's patronage, the work of the German director's longtime cinematographer, Robby Müller.

"Stranger Than Paradise" won the Camera d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival and was heralded by critics domestically and abroad as a watershed film in American independent cinema. Alongside the Coen Brothers' 1983 debut, "Blood Simple", Gus Van Sant's 1986 "Mala Noche", Susan Seidelman's Cannes-competing "Smithereens" of 1982, David Lynch's 1986 "Blue Velvet" (though produced by Dino De Laurentiis is still independent from studio funding), and Spike Lee's "She’s Gotta Have It" of the same year, Jarmusch's trio of early 1980's productions proved that the American indie could be a viable audience-drawing commodity. These niche films tonally and thematically nestled alongside a set of European contemporaries, yet expressed their own sense of a life on the margins of America's then-dominant concerns. The view gained on the society of their setting runs parallel, yet outside the prevailing social norms of the time. Jarmusch asserted a quietly countercultural posture by expressing the validity of the lives lived in his fascination with persons and communities on the margins of 1980s Reagan-era America. In 1989's "Mystery Train" he would continue this exploration of America through the eyes of outsiders, with his most structurally ambitious film to date. An anthology film comprising three vignettes that all intersect around a hotel on the industrial fringes of Memphis Tennessee, it features an eccentric cast on international characters who have descended on the city in their various travels from across the globe. This ensemble cast comprises Steve Buscemi from America, Nicoletta Braschi from Italy, musician Joe Strummer from England, and a young Japanese couple played by Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase, who all arrive at the central setting overseen by the hotel's night clerk, portrayed by Rock n' Roll legend, Screamin' Jay Hawkins.

Set to the R&B of Otis Redding, early Rock n' Roll of Roy Orbison, American blues of Junior Parker, and a moody contemporary jazz score by John Lurie, this was the first of the Jarmusch's films to place music in a more assertively forward role. Many notable meetings of sound and image in the course of the director's filmography were to follow. With scores composed for 1991's "Night on Earth" by regular collaborator Tom Waits, and Neil Young supplying a set of improvisations for guitar, piano and organ to accompany 1995's neo-western "Dead Man". It was in this film that Jarmusch's late career approach to editing, cinematography, and duration would also make itself felt. As Senses of Cinema have parsed in their review of "Filmmaker, Musician and Poet: Jim Jarmusch: Music, Words and Noise",  the form of this variation on the western was structured around the flowing improvisational work of Neil Young's sonic contribution into "a slow, hypnotic rhythm, which makes a viewing of the film into something akin to a spiritual meditation". It's setting also marked the first non-contemporary film for the director, as well as the first to explore abstracted metaphysical themes. The genesis of this American original is mapped in the three part The Guardian interviews at the BFI: Jim Jarmusch, traversing the path embarked on with his first realization that "not all films had giant crab monsters in them" at age 16, to studying literature at Columbia in New York, following a brief stint in Paris and his personal encounter with the Cinemathèque and international cinema. The earliest riches of this decades-spanning storytelling journey have been only recently disentangled from distribution licensing with Samuel Goldwyn, Island, and the defunct Orion, Fine Line, and Miramax Pictures. Now assembled together by Janus Films, through rereleases by The Criterion Collection, audiences of his late-period masterpieces can once again marvel at "How the Film World's Maverick Stayed True to His Roots".

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

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

There isn't enough in the way of All Hallows' Eve theme programming and revival series in the local cinema. Which is a shame as this is truly the season for genre film and its frights, surrealism, and disorienting, crepuscular atmospheres. Thankfully, every year Scarecrow Video steps up with their October screening room calendar and curated Halloween selection of domestic and international horror, sci-fi and genre movies. This year, like previous, their Psychotronic Challenge returns for it's third installment, challenging viewers to select a new theme category for every day in October from the deep trivia of the cues on offer. While we're here, lets talk the incomparable one-of-a-kind resource that is Scarecrow, and how if you live in the Northwest and are a fan of cinema (regardless of genre, era or style) it's essentially your personal obligation to ensure their doors stay open for business. For horror and genre aficionados, there is no other resource in North America like that offered by Scarecrow Video and their abundant catalog of obscure, foreign releases, out of print, and ultra-rare editions in the depths of their archive. With nearly 130,000 films on offer, there is no singular online streaming resource that can compare. In previous years, the annual citywide cinematic offerings for the months of October and November have seen a great set of films exploring desolate worlds, classic Japanese horror, a vampiric romaticism double feature and a night of music from a maestro of Italian horror. Also in the way of recent Halloween seasons of note, the local arthouse cinemas presented a an abundance on the theme of the haunted house in 2015, and 2013 saw no small number of invaders from beyond. Last year was heavy on 1970s psychedelic and psychological horror from Europe, particularly from the era of abundance seen in the subgenres of French Fantastique and Italian Giallo.

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

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

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

Monday, October 1, 2018

Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 4 - 8 | Seattle Polish Film Festival at SIFF Cinema: Oct 19 - 28 | Night Heat: The 41st Film Noir Series at Seattle Art Museum: Sept 27 - Dec 6

A small "Deluge of Fall Film Festivals Will be Unspooling in the Seattle Area" over the course of September, October and November. Among the festivals and various series on offer, Seattle Art Museum's cinema curation deserves a mention. This past year's calendar has been filled with notable repertory and archival works, including retrospectives on two 20th century auteurs from far-flung corners of the world, Yasujiro Ozu and Ingmar Bergman. The museum's annual French and Italian cinema series are also significant, as is their long running winter Film Noir program. Now in it's fourth decade, Night Heat: The 41st Film Noir Series features such all-time classic noir directors like Raoul Walsh, Nicholas Ray, Ida Lupino, Charles Laughton and later period neo-noir by Robert Rossen and Michael Mann. This year's array of titles with an expressly nocturnal theme include, "White Heat", "Leave Her to Heaven", "Force Of Evil", "On Dangerous Ground", "Sudden Fear", "Wicked Woman", "Night of the Hunter", "Lilith" and "Heat". Two smaller but attention worthy festivals showcasing from central and eastern Europe also arrive the third and fourth week of the month. The annual contemporary German cinematic overview of Kinofest opens at SIFF Cinema the same week as this year's Seattle Polish Film Festival. Presenting both restored archival work such as Andrzej Wajda's “Man of Marble” and Polish Film School masterpiece "Ashes and Diamonds", alongside a selection of modern work including Pawel Pawlikowski's “Cold War”, and Malgorzata Szumowska's “Mug”. Agnieszka Holland's imminently curious cross-genre experiment “Spoor” will also be receiving a Seattle screening after being absent from regional programming the year of its release. Concurrent with the Seattle Art Museum's series, north of the city one of the region's most compelling cinephile events will be taking place over the first weekend in October. As an example of programming a festival of diverse yet qualitative content, the current body of the Seattle International Film Festival could take a page or two from the Orcas Island Film Festival. While running only five days, and featuring less than one tenth of the films on offer during the three weeks of SIFF, the regional microfestival is an exemplar representation of contemporary programming. In the unlikely setting of the rural beauty of the San Juan islands, chief programmer Carl Spence, has produced a 40-odd-film program in their 5th year to rival that of its Seattle goliath. As the Seattle Times states, it is the case that "Orcas Island Film Festival: Small Fest, Big Movies" which draws largely from this year's Cannes Film Festival, alongside a number of the notable films from Venice.

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

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018

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

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

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

Saturday, September 15, 2018

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

Having led the towering rock outfit SWANS through numerous manifestations over the decades since it's inception, including a brief phase as the folk ensemble The Angels of Light, change and transfiguration have been one of their great constants of Michael Gira's lifelong music endeavor. The cartography of this almost four decades-spanning terrain mapped for Exclaim in Dimitri Nasrallah's "Michael Gira: from SWANS Uncompromising Sound to Ethereal Angels of Light", and in greater detail and intimacy by friends, fellow musicians and peers in Nick Soulsby's recently published oral history of the band, "SWANS: Sacrifice and Transcendence". 2018 sees another of these metamorphosis, as Gira has taken a second brief hiatus to reconfigure SWANS. Unlike the decade departure of The Angels of Light, Gira has established that a future as-yet conceived arrangement of the band is to return in coming years. Issuing a statement through his Young God Records site, the author and musician has established this period as a interstice between iterations of his dominant musical project. Filling the interlude to play, develop, and perform new works, Gira will be spanning the west coast on a monthlong solo acoustic tour this fall, with a date at Seattle's Columbia City Theater. In light of SWANS last return and reformation after a 15 year hiatus, in which they were manifest in the most powerful and expansive iteration to date, there is little cause to doubt they will return in a next state of renewal, reinvention, and creative metempsychosis.

At the end of their previous incarnation, with the grandiose heights scaled in "Soundtracks for the Blind" and "Swans are Dead", they took celestial ascension and physical bombast to literally epic durations and dynamic magnitide. The post-reform precision and (relative) brevity of 2010's "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope in the Sky", the more variegated and nuanced "The Seer", the extended forays heard on "To Be Kind", and rapturous hypnoticism of 2016's "The Glowing Man" ascend to, and even expand upon similarly Homeric heights. "Michael Gira on ‘Dangling Off the Edge of a Cliff’ for SWANS Epic Final Album" for The Observer maps the musical trajectory's Oroborous-like path back to itself, as SWANS of the 21st Century has birthed a supreme amalgam from it's own DNA. One that encapsulates the totality of their almost 40 year trajectory. From brutalist No Wave minimalism, to Musique Concrete and extended tonal and drone compositions, to electric rock, psychedelia, blues, folk and Americana. The Guardian's John Doran postulates how it came to pass that SWANS produced the best work of their career so far. Where so many other bands of a similar vintage have retread familiar ground, revisiting the formula of past successes, Gira and company chose to instead stake everything on a fresh roll of the dice. They took a genuine gamble on creating new art rather than trying to recapture past glories and in doing so, they conjured an, "Enduring Love: Why SWANS are More Vital Now than Ever". The albums and live performances of this past decade, spanning 2010-2018, were the fruit of an extended, ever-evolving recording process. "A Little Drop of Blood: Michael Gira of SWANS Interviewed" for The Quietus describes the often arduous writing, rehearsal, touring and recording in a dynamic creative systole and diastole. The undertaking of then translating these recorded works to a marathon live experience documented in an interview with Pitchfork of 2014, "Michael Gira Talks about How SWANS Returned without Losing Any Potency". Even more personal and confessional, The Quietus have produced a lengthy interview on the explicitly spiritual, transcendental nature of their live incarnation, "This is My Sermon: Michael Gira of SWANS Speaks". Photo credit: Cyrille Choupas

Sunday, September 2, 2018

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

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

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