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)
Roy Andersson  "About Endlessness"  (Sweden)
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)
Oliver Laxe  "Fire Will Come"  (Spain)
Chloé Zhao  "Nomadland"  (United States)
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.
 

:::: ALBUMS OF 2020 ::::


TOP ALBUMS OF 2020 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
-------------------------------------------------------------
Jim O'Rourke  "To Magnetize Money And Catch A Roving Eye"  (Sonoris)
Lustmord & Nicolas Horvath  "Dennis Johnson's November Deconstructed"  (Sub Rosa)
Portraits GRM Series:
Lucy Railton & Max Eilbacher  "Forma / Metabolist Meter"  (GRM)
Jim O'Rourke, Eiko Ishibashi, Atsuko Hatano & Eivind Lonning "Shutting Down Here" (GRM)
Okkyung Lee  "Teum (The Silvery Slit)"  (GRM)
Hecker  "Statistique Synthétique"  (GRM)
Christina Vantzou Soundtrack to Ben Rivers  "Look Then Below"  (Edições CN)
Hiroshi Yoshimura  "Green"  Reissue  (Japan Archive)
Coil  "Musick to Play in the Dark"  Reissue  (Dais)
Alva Noto  "Xerrox Vol.4"  (Noton)
Beatrice Dillon  "Workaround"  (PAN)
Duma  "Duma"  (Nyege Nyege Tapes)
Regis  "Hidden In This Is The Light That You Miss"  (Downwards)
Demdike Stare & Jon Collin  "Sketches Of Everything"  (DDS)
Various Artists  "Kaleidoscope: New Spirits Known & Unknown"  (Soul Jazz)
African Head Charge "Songs Of Praise / In Pursuit Of Shashamane Land" Reissues (On-U Sound)
Jeff Parker & The New Breed  "Suite For Max Brown"  (International Anthem)
Various Artists  "Mogadisco: Dancing Mogadishu - Somalia 1972-1991"  (Analog Africa)
Various Artists  "The Harry Smith B-Sides"  (Dust-to-Digital)
John Luther Adams  "The Become Trilogy"  (Canatloupe)
Golem Mecanique  "Nona, Decima et Morta"  (Ideologic Organ)
Boris  "NO"  (Blood Sucker)
Ben Frost & Marc Streitenfeld  "Raised By Wolves"  Soundtrack (HBO)
Richard Skelton  "These Charms May Be Sung Over A Wound"  (Phantom Limb)
Lucrecia Dalt  "No Era Sólida"  (RVNG)

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.
 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

“World of Wong Kar-Wai” Retrospective at Lincoln Center & SIFF Cinema: Nov 25 - Jan 1 | Virtual Theatrical Exhibition



This month Janus Films brings the World of Wong Kar-Wai to small screens across North America, in new 4K restorations and previously unseen alternate cuts. Nearly a decade has elapsed since the last retrospective of its kind, held at New York's Museum of the Moving Image in 2013. Much in that way of that retrospective, Janus Films' new series focuses on Wong's cinematic language lifting time-distending characteristics from noir and romantic cinema, amplified by an almost existential ache of unrequited love, which first came to the fore in 1988's, "As Tears Go By", and was expanded upon in 1990's, "Days of Being Wild". Following on the boom years of Hong Kong cinema spanning the late 1980s to end of the 1990s, Wong Kar-Wai set himself part in the field of alternative cinema that developed as the mid-1990s Second Wave, alongside such figures as Ann Hui and Yim Ho. On the heels of his first two efforts, he produced the mid-period classics that comprised the duo of "Chungking Express" and it's more kinetic Hong Kong action and noir-inspired companion, "Fallen Angels". These internationally recognized early films were on the cusp of a string of masterpieces that garnered massive accolades in the global festival circuit, the first of which was seen in 1997's globetrotting "Happy Together". What came next astounded even those familiar with the pleasures of Wong's early filmmography. The duet of films that comprise the sprawling and operatic "2046" and what many, myself included, consider one of the greatest single films of the new century, "In the Mood for Love", in all of it's lush, time abstracted, romance-saturated glory. Topping my personal Films of the Decade list of the first ten years of the 21st Century, "In the Mood for Love" continues to be untouchable to such a degree as to be in a class of its own. It is so precise, tangible and sublime a work of cinematic art as to be one of only three films in the top 100 from the 21st century in The British Film Institute's "Greatest Films of All Time" poll. Not only gaining in recognition as the years pass, it was met with an enthusiastic embrace at the time of release from the global film community, and recognized as the first masterpiece of the new century in the pages of The Guardian, New York Times and Village Voice.

Around this time, hailing the work Wong Kar-Wai brought to cinema screens over the last ten years in tales of modern living, urban alienation, and forlorn love in a dazzlingly intimate, fluid, poetic and fragmented formal register, Senses of Cinema presented their Great Directors feature. Further enshrining "Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood For Love: Like a Ritual in Transfigured Time", and "2046: A Matter of Time, A Labour of Love". It should be noted that the cascade of colors, texture, light, surfaces, bodies and spaces in motion, that are so much a part of what make up Wong's cinema, have been supplied by the cinematographers Lee Ping Bin, and the masterful Christopher Doyle. These qualities are particularly evident in "The Hand" from 2004's portmanteau film "Eros", here in an expanded cut, which Roger Ebert hailed as the most notable success of the anthology. In the following years there have been many projects in development, particularly the long-gestating "The Grandmaster" based on the life story of the Wing Chun martial arts master Ip Man, which finally saw the light of the big screen in 2013, in three differing theatrical cuts. Two of which, the North America, and Chinese mainland cuts, are presented here as more than the average martial arts film, but instead a showcase of "Style and Kinetics Triumph in a Turbulent China". The latter cut being a more rare and substantial representation of Wong's vision of Ip Man, and particularly the intertwined life and legacy of Wudang Chuan masters Gong Yutian and Gong Er, set against the outbreak of the tumultuous period of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Which touches on the multiple readings of Wong's work. While the most common pathway into his cinematic world is taken by the romantic inner route, such as The New York Times, “In Need of a Film About Romantic Possibility? Try ‘In the Mood for Love”, there's also a deeper historic, external reading as offered by The New Republic's “Wong Kar-Wai’s Masterpieces of Political Uncertainty: The Upheavals of Hong Kong’s History Lie Just Beneath the Surface of His Greatest Films”. An opportunity to visit this body of cinematic work through whichever of the two lens comes with the North American premiere of “World of Wong Kar Wai Retrospective Arrives at Lincoln Center”, in Film Society at Lincoln Center's Virtual Cinema, with a run at Seattle's SIFF Cinema following a week later.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

“Donald J. Trump’s Cult of Personality Did This”: A Nation Unprepared for the Present Public-Health Calamity | The Atlantic


It's enough to consider the federal mishandling of the pandemic, such as detailed in The Washington Post's "The Inside Story of How Trump's Denial, Mismanagement, and Magical Thinking Led to the Pandemic's Dark Winter", and the lack of demand for accountability on the part of no small subset of the American public. Correspondingly, this week offers an excellent opportunity to examine the premise of the political Cult of Personality and its effects and consequences even in a relatively liberal democratic society such as our own. Let's begin with the general definitions of the term and its application throughout modern history, beginning with The New Yoker's “The Field Guide to Tyranny”. Then moving on to a more contemporary correlative with their, “The Strongman Problem, from Modi to Trump”, in which Steve Coll draws the parallels; "In the cases of Modi and Trump, two recently empowered strongmen presiding over relatively robust democratic systems, the question is whether their populism and authoritarian instincts will allow them to alter the laws of democratic accountability. Trump is already altering certain norms - about the access of the press, conflicts of interest, and nepotism - with the acquiescence of the Republican Party. After his Inauguration, on Friday, he will preside over the largest economy and the most powerful military in the world. It is tempting to assume that accountability will eventually take hold, as in the past, whether through prosecutors and courts, if the President or his aides act illegally, or at the next election, if they govern poorly or betray the hopes of their voters. Yet the history and machinery of populist rule worldwide offers no easy comfort. Sometimes strongmen break the constitutions they inherit, or bend the functioning of those charters until they become, gradually, unrecognizable." With more troubling correspondence in cycles of performance and audience reception and to be found in between the 45th president of the United States and Benito Mussolini, as mapped by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of Italian history at New York University's, “A Scholar of Fascism Sees a Lot That’s Familiar with Trump”. As a cursory assessment, she writes; “There’s this whole political theatre that they stage,” Ben-Ghiat said of both leaders. She called up a photo from a folder of images on her laptop, material from a PowerPoint she delivered at a recent seminar on the election. In the picture, Trump is walking through a rolling mist, from darkness to light, to accept the nomination at the Republican National Convention. “They have this hunger for approval. But their personas are created by the symbiosis with the crowd. They need the crowd to consolidate their personalities.”

Both figures clearly establishing an adversarial relationship with any demographic or sphere of thought opposing, or even deviating from the given narrative, the demarcation of a clear line can be seen in The New Yorker's “Trump and the Enemies of the People”. From which its author David Remnick is quoted; "It should serve as a warning to Americans in the era of Donald Trump about the fragility of principles and institutions, particularly when those principles and institutions are under attack by a leader who was ostensibly elected to protect them. This week, dozens of American publications are publishing editorials in ardent opposition to President Trump’s assault on the press and his use of that poisonous phrase “enemies of the people.” The refusal to bend to that assault, and the protection of practices and institutions that are more fragile than we usually care to acknowledge, is essential to the future of American democracy. Because Trump knows little about policy or history, it is tempting to imagine that he knows nothing at all. This is a mistake. He knows well that the American press is hardly popular and, in many ways, is on the defensive. He knows that the ecosystem of information and its distribution has changed radically, and he has figured out how to exploit that change. He has seized on the capacities of right-wing radio, cable television, and social media to form an alternative, fact-free, Trumpian universe. For decades, Trump took little interest in matters of state, but he has studied the media for years. Even as a real estate mogul, he was not a master builder; he was a master manipulator. He spent decades honing his self-aggrandizement in the pages of the New York tabloids and on local television. He came to believe that he could fool enough of the people enough of the time to suit his purposes. He learned how to render himself as a distinctive and “colorful” character. He sensed the weaknesses in lesser reporters: their laziness; their willingness to cut a deal or make a trade; their desire to please an editor with cheap sensation, a “story.” He even made “catch and kill” deals with tabloids such as the National Enquirer, which protected him from carnal and financial scandal."

Yet the New Republic speculates what it will take for these supporters and willing members of this political worldview, or "Trumpian universe" if you will, to reconsider the quantifiable evidence before them. To what extent must their own well-being and the given "American way of life" for which they purport to be defending be compromised and endangered for individuals to be self-motivated to, “Escape from the Trump Cult”? As Alexander Hurst paints it, there may be no returning from such an impasse; "Trump sold his believers an engrossing tale of “American carnage” that he alone could fix, then isolated them in a media universe where reality exists only through Trump-tinted glasses, attacking all other sources of information as “fake news.” In the most polarized media landscape in the wealthy world, Republicans place their trust almost solely in Fox News, seeing nearly all other outlets as biased. In that context, the effect of a president who lies an average of ten times a day is the total blurring of fact and fiction, reality and myth, trust and cynicism. It is a world where, in the words of Rudy Giuliani, truth is no longer truth. “Who could really know?” Trump said of claims that Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “It is what it is.” Amidst the frenetic pace of disgrace and outrage, Trump’s support remains stable among too large a chunk of the American public to just ignore. Trump, who insisted on the presence of voter fraud by the millions in an election he ultimately won, and a coterie of prominent Republicans spent the week after the 2018 midterms delegitimizing the very notion of counting all the votes in key races in Florida, Georgia, and Arizona. Trump’s claim that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and still retain the loyalty of his followers is jokingly referred to as the truest thing he’s ever said, but it’s less funny that 52 percent of them would hypothetically support postponing the 2020 election if he proposed it. What happens when a man who has already promoted political violence, and whose most hardcore supporters have shown their willingness for such violence, finds on election night two years from now that he has just narrowly lost? Do any of us truly believe that Donald J. Trump and his followers will simply slink away quietly into the night?"

With foresight, Hurst continues; "The debate over how to deal with Trump’s anti-democratic following has largely avoided the question of engaging it directly. These days there is no shortage of articles and books dealing with radical-right populism, despots, democratic backsliding, and the tactics that authoritarian leaders deploy. Dozens of experts have pointed out that liberal democratic institutions need constant attention and reinforcement in order to be effective bulwarks. But most of the solutions on offer are institutional in nature: maintaining the independence of the judiciary, thwarting a would-be autocrat’s attempts to grab hold of the levers of justice, maintaining a legislative check on executive authority, enshrining political norms more clearly into constitutions. Democracy, especially liberal democracy, has always been dependent on the trust and belief of the self-governed. It is one thing to implement tangible measures to prevent the decay of bedrock institutions, and when it comes to voting rights, elections, the courts, and restraints on executive power, we know what these measures should look like. It’s another, far tougher thing to figure out how to maintain the legitimacy of these same institutions - and how to restore it once lost." With that question, we now find ourselves in this political moment, faced with the mis-management of America's share of the global health crisis. The Wall Street Journal's view on the lack of federal initiative is on the conservative side of the assessment. All the while, bipartisan statements of solidarity like The New York Times appeal to the wider public in April, “Don’t Let Trump’s Cult of Personality Make Covid-19 Worse” have been met with not only silence, but outright resistance from almost half of the electorate. While reductive, it is not inaccurate to say that, “Donald Trump’s Cult of Personality Did This” as we enter into a third wave of the pandemic, with little or no guidance, resource management, and messaging from those who were elected to safeguard the country and the well-being of its populace. We have seen a man, his administration, and 'audience' unequal to the task of this historic moment, and the scientific community has responded decisively with their political endorsement of the opposing candidate. Whether we voted red, blue, or third party this past week, we will all be bearing the consequence of this cult of personality and the support it has found both within the electorate, as well as government officials and institutions. All the while we move toward a deeply consequential future just around the next bend, in which “The Surging Coronavirus Finds a Federal Leadership Vacuum". Map graphic courtesy of: The New York Times Covid in the US: Latest Case Count
 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Criterion Channel Presents 29 Film 1970s Horror Showcase: Oct 4 | Genre Streaming for Cinephiles


This year's seasonal genre film offerings will be quite a different beast. Where in past decades we've consistently seen horror, sci-fi, cult, psychotronic, fantasy and B-movie showcases from our local independent cinemas, the conditions of the pandemic make none of the complexity of that programming practical for a virtual theatrical setting. Nor is there significant scientific rationale yet to be returning to cinemas. In years past there seemingly couldn't be enough in the way of All Hallows' Eve theme programming and repertory series in the local independent movie houses. The months of October and November could be filled to the point of overflowing with the season's disorienting frights, crepuscular surrealism, and discomfiting atmospheres, and I'd be left wanting for more. Thankfully a set of both real-world and virtual alternatives are available this year. Recently reopened to the public, Scarecrow Video steps up with their curated Halloween section of domestic and expansive horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and psychotronic selections. This year continuing their tradition of the Psychotronic Challenge now in its fifth 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, let's 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 of 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, we saw an abundance on the theme of the haunted house in 2015, and 2013 presented no small number of invaders from beyond. 2017 was heavy on 1970s psychedelic and psychological horror from Europe, particularly from the subgenres of French Fantastique and Italian Giallo. 2018's regional programming took 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. These manic explorations of class conflict, Cold War dread, ecological disaster and suburban paranoia also featured in Northwest Film Forum's monthlong assembly of, Shock & Awe: Horror During the Reagan Years. 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. Last year's offerings were bolstered by the recently opened The Beacon Cinema, and it's mapping a deep cartography of genre film in two concurrent series, The October Country, and Folklore Phantasmagoria. Titled after a Ray Bradbury collection of macabre short stories, the lowering gloam of the season's shift from late summer into fall evidently inspired The Beacon's programmer, Tommy Swenson. Their Folklore Phantasmagoria series also delivered on the promise of its title with a set of stylistically vibrant works from across the globe that put to test the parameters of the psychotronic.
 
But with both The Beacon and The Grand Illusion Cinema remaining closed, we can be thankful of options available both inside and outside of the dominant commercial streaming platforms. Shudder remains the home for horror online. Their offerings alone could fill any avid viewer's calendar month, and while its more than a bit hyperbolic, Screenrant isn't too far off base proposing "How Shudder Is Single-Handedly Keeping 2020 Horror Movies Alive". The excellent Arrow Films, and their genre imprint, Arrow Video, have also entered the game this year, inviting us to "Join the Cult: The Arrow Video Channel", and don't overlook Shout Factory TV's  "31 Nights of Horror 2020". Annually the online cinema that is Mubi offer up a selection of arthouse and deep cult cinema cuts on their platform spanning October. This year the Trick or Flick: Halloween Horror series found in their Library section, is complimented with a ongoing mini-retrospective from the Japanese auteur of the unnerving, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Nestled in the bounty of The Criterion Channel's October lineup, you'll find the motherload of a 29 film deep dive into the decade that began it all for the now-burgeoning genre. Their 1970s Horror showcase highlights the explosive decade of cult film issuing from an era that was itself transgressive, politically voracious, and boundary-pushing. From the Criterion Channel; "In the 1970s, everything was wilder, weirder, and more far-out - and horror movies were no exception. In North America, a new generation of maverick directors like Tobe Hooper, George A. Romero, Wes Craven, Brian De Palma, Bill Gunn, and David Cronenberg (offered here in a triple dose) responded to the decade’s heightened political anxieties and Vietnam War-era sense of disillusionment by pushing the genre’s psychological intensity and visceral violence to shocking new heights. Across the Atlantic, Britain’s legendary Hammer Films continued to serve up old-school gothic spine-tinglers, while auteurs like Robert Altman and Nicolas Roeg wedded spellbinding terror to art-house experimentation. Bringing together some of the decade’s most iconic slashers, chillers, and killer thrillers alongside low-budget cult rarities and camp-tastic oddities this tour through the 1970s nightmare realm is a veritable blood feast of perverse pleasures from a time when gore, grime, and sleaze found a permanent home in horror."

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Draw of the Gothic & "No Rest for the Eerie: A Paean to the Haunted House" | The New York Times


The month of October has arrived and with it All Hallows' Eve nods to the Olde World traditions of seasonal harvest rights and festivities, like the Gaelic Samhain and Celtic Hop-tu-Naa, which themselves bear some relationship to the Ancient Greek festival of Thesmophoria. Part and parcel with the changes of Autumn, come abundant celebrations of the gloomily crepuscular and gloaming eerie in literature, film, and popular culture. In recognition of this season of ominous portent, The New York Times annually whip up sinister concoctions like "A House of Horror Films" their interactive history, trivia, and guessing game on Haunted Houses by Tommi Musturi. Rather than the difficulty of hunting down regional options due to the global pandemic, Halloween this year has become more a question of whether any of its traditions can be observed at all. Erik Vance wonders if there will be opportunities even while observing pandemic social protocol, "Please Let Me Terrify Some Kids on Halloween", all the while the New York Times offering yard decorating tips, while musing on, "Will the Coronovirus Cancel Halloween?". Turning back the clock, last year's features for the season included a set of writers, directors and various artistic creators detailing their own personal recipes for making the night a memorable one in, "Hoping for a Spooky Halloween? We Have Some Suggestions". Which is followed up by a horror litmus test of sorts in which self proclaimed horror aficionado Fahima Haque takes a sampling of three very different Manhattan and Brooklyn haunted house offerings, and comes away with some insight inter her own threshold for the fearsome season, "‘Not Much Scares Me.’ Then She Entered the Haunted House.". Other annual highlights have included Steven Kurutz' gorgeous little, "No Rest for the Eerie: A Paean to the Haunted House". In which he did more than an admirable job, going as far as to cite John Tibbetts' anthology of essays and interviews “The Gothic Imagination”, which is essential reading for anyone who wants to plumb the depths of "uncertainty, anxiety, and fear" that is the art of the Gothic literary tradition.

The undeniable, and very real, fears surrounding the choices that were left to us in 2016's election cycle and its fallout have been fertile ground for Halloween, "Spooked by Real Life? Bring On the Halloween Frights". No one has quite exploited those fears to the extent of Pedro Reyes' "Doomocracy" wherein, "Brooklyn Put the Politics of Fear on Display". Steven Kurutz has also delivered a brilliant Home & Garden feature, "House Haunters" on seasonal real-world Haunted Houses like Kopelman's 30-year running institution near Phoenix which also acts as ground zero to America's Best Haunts. A directory that includes Ben Armstrong's Netherworld, Kohout's long-running Hauntworld house near St. Louis, Phil Anselmo's New Orleans House of Shock, Los Angeles and New York's Blackout, and the immense, preposterous undertaking that is Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare. Sadly none of our local Northwest haunts make that list, but there's a good number of them to be found throughout the state. The Haunted House and it's offspring have long been a staple of western literature and folklore, movies and pulp storytelling. Their origins in the 18th Century speak to an era equally fascinated by science as the supernatural, with mesmerism and the phantasmagoric in vogue, it's little wonder, "Ghost Stories: Why the Victorians were so Spookily Good at Them". Some memorable manifestations of the Gothic tradition in cinema come to mind, from Ti West's contemporary "House of the Devil", to the campier mid-century side seen in William Castle's B-movie “House on Haunted Hill”. There remain a set of classics in the genre, few of which can rival the adaptation of Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" that is Robert Wise' "The Haunting".

A select number of silent era representations also stand out like Jean Epstein's 1928 surreal, claustrophobic adaptation of the Poe classic, "The Fall of the House of Usher", and the early 1930's horror-comedy talkie of James Whale's "Old Dark House". Later decades produced Roger Corman's B-movie Vincent Price vehicles like "The Haunted Palace", and 1970s Italian Giallo works in the genre represented by Lucio Fulci's H.P. Lovecraft-inspired "The House by the Cemetery". The 1980s saw the Pacific Northwest set "The Changeling" by Peter Medak, and by the 1990s, examples like the unhinged "Sweet Home" by a young Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The late 1970's and early 80s hit their stride with the Japanese insanity of "Hausu" co-conceived by Nobuhiko Obayashi and his 11 year old daughter, Stuart Rosenberg's “Amityville Horror”, and of course no one who's seen it can forget Stanley Kubrick's singular, unnerving horror entry, "The Shining". Digging deeper there were 60's and 70's genre variations like Dan Curtis' “Burnt Offerings", the erotic horror of Elio Petri's "A Quiet Place in the Country", and Carlos Enrique Taboada's haunted schoolhouse-set "Even the Wind is Afraid". But of course the Haunted House owes it's origins to much, much older traditions in literature, as purviewed in The Guardian's, "Halloween Spirits: Literature's Haunted Houses". Traceable back to the 18th century bit of disquieting paranoia and creeping melancholy that is Horace Walpole's “Castle of Otranto”. Predating Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier, M.R. James, Ann Radcliffe, H.P. Lovecraft, and as The Paris Review notes, "The Draw of the Gothic", in all who would follow in their footsteps over the centuries since. Photo credit: Simon Marsden