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.

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.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Seattle Cinerama’s Sound & Vision, Summer Rewind and 70mm Film Festivals: Aug 17 - Sept 20

Stepping up to fill the void left in the wake of Cinerama's now extinct Science Fiction Film Festival, Paul Allen's state of the art theater with its Cinerama-Scope screen, Dolby Atmos sound and laser projection system, will host a trio of festivals over the course of August and September. A standard for the cinema, one of the only remaining Cinerama screens in North America, the third of the festival series will be presented on 70mm. Notably, the format showcase will feature the most recent de-restoration work on Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, in a new print cut from an exacting analog reconstruction. Seattle Cinerama's three mini festivals begin with a second run series, Summer Rewind, consisting of a week of blockbusters and genre films that premiered over the course of this past year. In stoke of brilliant curatorial work, the second of the series will feature conceptual double bills of works significant for their synergy of image and music. Taking it's theme literally and conceptually, Sound & Vision draws from both heightened audiovisual works of sensorial fiction like Ridley Scott's dystopic neonoir franchise, as it does from Jonathan Demme and Nicolas Roeg's placement of musical stars at the film's locus. The thrill of classic soundtracks meeting with genre films can be seen in Tim Burton's work with Prince, and Steven Spielberg's earliest megahits with John Williams. Contemporary audiovisual spectacles represented in the series by the dreamworlds of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, and the galactic exploration of Christopher Nolan, Hans Zimmer, Denis Villeneuve and Jóhann Jóhannsson. Blade Runner / Blade Runner 2049 • Logan / Mad Max: Fury Road • Wall-E / Interstellar • Blue Velvet / Mulholland Drive • Batman / Purple Rain • Pina 3D / Samsara • Total Recall / Terminator 2 • There Will Be Blood / No Country For Old Men • Close Encounters Of The Third Kind 4K / Jaws 4K • The Matrix 4K / The Fifth Element 4K • Gravity 3D / Arrival • Stop Making Sense / The Man Who Fell To Earth •

The third of the series being a format specific 70mm Film Festival showcasing the benefits inherent in the resolution, scale and luminosity of the 70mm celluloid format and three-strip films. Any effort to present these works is limited globally to the handful of theaters with the hardware to properly screen them, and a sparsity of films shot, cut or released on the format. Crowning the 70mm series is the newest in a line of Stanley Kubrick restorations, a project heralded by the celluloid champion and director of contemporary action and science fiction films, Christopher Nolan. The project initiated decades before through a meeting with Ned Price, the vice president of restoration at Warner Brothers during the 1999 project of Price and his team creating a preservation interpositive from the 20 reels of the original negative. Price offered to Nolan to see the copies made of the original prints, and intrigued by what he saw, Nolan approached the studio about continuing the work to the end of recreating the 1968 celluloid theatrical release. As detailed in Variety's "Going the Analog Route to Preserve Celluloid Beauty of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey'", the team at the FotoKem laboratory in Burbank then delivered the fruits to Nolan and Price of a six month process of cleaning the negative, checking and repairing splices, and removing previous imperfect work. Then they made an answer print, color-timed it by closely adhering to the original timing notes and documentation, and finally made an interpositive and an internegative for striking 70mm prints.

The team also approached the audio content with a similarly strict adherence, restoring the original six track soundtrack and adjusting levels to their original particulars, this was then exactingly transferred to the new prints. “The film is mixed in a very extreme way,” says Nolan, “There are incredible sonic peaks that are beyond anything anyone would do today.” More insight into the complexities of this process offered in New York Times' interview with the director, "Christopher Nolan’s Version of Vinyl: Unrestoring ‘2001’". As Stanley Kubrick’s monolithic adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's novel has been born (yet again) for the big screen, The Guardian assembled a set of directors, special effects moguls and those who worked on the film to discuss it's legacy, "50 Years of 2001: A Space Odyssey – How Kubrick's Sci-Fi Changed the Very Form of Cinema". Consider the film's far-reaching exploration of human possibilities and the precariousness of life in a seemingly infinite and indifferent universe, all realized through its singular and groundbreaking production, "2001: A Space Odyssey is Still the ‘Ultimate Trip’". From the sparsity of films available on the 70mm format, Cinerama has assembled a broad genre inclusive array of everything from documentaries to cinema classics by Stanley Kubrick, David Lean, and Alfred Hitchcock, to pop culture, action and special effects hits in their two week series.  Tron • 2001: A Space Odyssey • Back to the Future Part II  • Vertigo • The Sound of Music • Lawrence of Arabia • Baraka • Phantom Thread • E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial • Howard the Duck • Top Gun • Ghostbusters • Dunkirk • Days of Thunder • Wonder Woman • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World •

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Cannes Film Festival + Cinema Miscellanea

The summer issues of Sight & Sound and Film Comment have landed, and with them their respective overviews of this year's Cannes Film Festival and it's concurrent and collateral aspects. The Competition and this year's award winners, works screened Out of Competition, Un Certain Regard, Cinefoundation, Special Screenings, Cannes Classics, Critics Week, and alternate festival of the Directors' Fortnight. Despite pressures from industry giants of the small screen, this year's festival was accounted for as having the strongest offerings seen in decades. The release of the program alone inspired the announcement of, "Cannes Ups its Game: The 2018 Program isn’t Resting on Any Laurels", with rounds of equal enthusiasm seen at it's close, "Cannes 2018 Verdict: Sombre Brilliance Wins the Day". Detailed in overviews by The New York Times, British Film Institute, and The Guardian, with coverage in Sight & Sound's roundup and extensive representation offered by Amy Taubin's "Why Settle for Less?", Kent Jones "Drifting Apart", and Nicolas Rapold's "Trolling the Croisette", for Film Comment. Now in it's 71st year, the 2018 program was testament to the organization's ongoing credo of representing quality, continuity, innovation, and audacity in the filmmaking arts. Evolving with the times, Cannes has seen changes in format, context and release platforms, while in response endeavoring to preserve their inherent mission and ethos. In the digital age there have been casualties in this parsing of what constitutes cinema, and how it is presented to the public. Most notably the exclusion of the legendary, once thought lost, and now available to view after its protracted restoration behind Orson Welles', "The Other Side of the Wind".

Other questions of inclusion and representation were tackled by this year's Cate Blanchett-led jury, which included a cross race, culture, and gender assembly of notable actors, directors and artists. With such names as Chang Chen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Khadja Nin, Denis Villeneuve, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Ava DuVernay, and Robert Guédiguia, among their numbers. The jury's realization of Cannes mission to represent quality work, regardless of it's origin was elucidated by its president, "Cate Blanchett States that Change Will Come to Cannes, but Not Overnight". With the awards given, further elaborating on the question of representation was made, "Jury Head Cate Blanchett on Gender, Race and Choosing the ‘Right’ Palme D’Or". In the way of the selection and the award winners themselves, it was the most recent in a decades-spanning line of contemporary familial dramas that Hirokazu Kore-eda took home hist first Palme d'Or for "Shoplifters". While closely adhering to the form and content of the larger body of the director's filmmography, this "Unfancied Japanese Film Took the Palme d'Or", with Blanchett adding at the awards ceremony; “The ending blew us out of the cinema”. Arriving at the tail end of the festival, another greatly anticipated film screened with relatively little fanfare. There are few examples in recent film production history that approach the ruinous complexity that faced Terry Gilliam's "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote". This decades-delayed adaptation of Cervantes novel survived two separate failed productions, in doing so becoming a biblical ordeal of extreme weather, wrecked sets and collapsed funding. Outliving two of the actors once cast, and the accrued colossal legal acrimony, "Terry Gilliam's Epic Journey Found a Joyous End".

From the grand heights of the Palme, to the great disappointments of the festival. Some of the least satisfying submissions of this year came from two auteurs who are known to delivered kinetic, sometimes transgressive cinema. Beyond simply activating the senses and troubling the mind, they each have contributed significantly to moving the needle forward in regard to cinema on the edge. Building on a bodies of work that are often technically groundbreaking, and occasionally astounding to perceive, Lars Von Tier was back at Cannes with "The House that Jack Built", and Gaspa Noe resurfaced after the tepid (yet visually engaged) "Amor", with "Climax". Sadly, it appears that neither have rediscovered the strength of their respective forms. While Noe's film didn't meet with the divisive response that his work traditionally garners, "Gaspar Noé: 'Six People Walked Out of Climax? No! I Usually Have 25%'", neither did reach the visceral peaks of his best and sensorial work. Von Trier has also been on a particular downward trend since attaining persona non grata at Cannes in 2011, a label which he no doubt cherishes, yet his films fail to express those past qualities worthy of controversy. While exhibiting more frisson than was seen in the flaccid "Nymphomaniac", this newest was met with a spectrum of responses running the gamut of, "'Vomitive. Pathetic': Lars Von Trier Film Prompts Mass Walkouts at Cannes".

Cinema from the Chinese mainland now in it's sixth and seventh generation, had a strong showing with the return of Bi Gan after the extraordinary debut of 2016's "Kaili Blues". Returning with "Long Day's Journey into Night", he's taken a venture into genre cinema of sorts, with an oneiric and stylized noir, where, "Long Day’s Journey into Night Follows its Own Woozy Dream Logic". Sixth generation director Jia Zhang-ke has been at the spearhead of mainland cinema for over two decade now. In the long arc of his increasingly expansive art, he's built a body of work as observations on globalism, largely comprised of a mildly-surreal tangent of social realism, with an unexpected recent turn into the realm of politically conscious crime drama. As Peter Bradshaw's review details, "Ash is Purest White" falls into the general classification of the latter. Setting it apart, Zhang-ke has imbued the tale with what Bradshaw describes as a "miasma of visionary strangeness", giving a distinct glow to the film's social realist grit. Seen through the film's eerily futurist sheen, this complex romantic tragedy set within China’s crime classes is a "Chinese Gangster’s Girlfriend Saga that Burns Bright". Of a more pure, and consistent social realist strain are the films of Wang Bing. "Dead Souls" may prove to be his truest account dedicated to film, and Eric Hynes' associations with the life work of Claude Lanzmann aren't off the mark. Through hours of personal accounts from survivors, Bing shines a steady light into a corner of 20th Century Chinese history; the Maoist regime's 1957 anti-Rightist campaign, in which over 3,000 men were forcibly relocated, and effectively left to die at the Gobi Desert's Jiabiangou work camp.

Upping his technical form and content, Lee Chang-dong's "Burning" is a sensuously shot and musically scored mystery, taken from a Haruki Murakami short story centering around the (sometimes hallucinatory) fixations of an obsessive love. Where it differs is that its psychological drama is set in the cultural fallout of modern consumerist Korea, with bold diversions into the pastoral and surreal, this visually gripping observation on, "Male Rage Blazes a Chilling Trail on the Korean Border". Also returning in strength, two of the most notable provocateurs of the world of moving pictures, returned with quintessential works. In "BlacKKKlansman" Spike Lee delivers the film that Quentin Tarantino has spent a lifetime seemingly discovering that he is unqualified to make. In this sharply cutting extrapolation on historic events, Lee has assembled a raucous investigative satire of American white nationalism. All the while not obscuring the bigger picture of bigotry enduring in the current era, one can't help but watch Lee's southern period drama as "A Clanging Rebuke to the New Trump Order". With "Le Livre d'Image" Jean-Luc Godard delivers another of his recent provocation of images, resonances, associations and history. From "Notre Musique" on, Godard has been making works where his relation to the art of cinema, a reckoning with European post-colonial history, and the impending end of his own existence are at points of convergence. This quest seemingly began with his late-period masterwork, 1998's "Histoire(s) du Cinéma". Continuing on form, his newest is a mosaic of film clips and image fragments, his voiceover punctuated by sloganized textual excerpts, his signature unpredictable sound cues, and declamatory orchestral chords. And like the more successful of his recent experiments, "Godard's Eyeball-Frazzling Video Essay Bewilders and Delights".

Maybe too indebted to Russian literature in the resetting of concerns and character types lifted from Chekhov and Dostoevsky, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Winter Sleep" still remained something to witness in its acerbic series of observations on folly. Set against the barren austerity of the the surrounding Cappadocian Steppes, its beauty won out over the inertia that set in as the film's protagonist went, by degrees, further and further astray of the world. With "The Wild Pear Tree", Ceylan "Contemplates a Restive Rural Homecoming" through a writer’s reluctant return to his small town origins, and in doing so, effectively tipping the balance back the other way. By setting the film's extensive series of conversational encounters against the richness of the rural Turkish landscape, he's moved his typically wry observations into the realm of a melancholic mood piece, delivering a "Delicious, Humane Tableaux". Another retooling of a director's formula was seen in the dialing back of the magic realist bent of her 2014 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 peculiarly Italian fabulism. Yet as a "Beguiling Fable of Golden, Rural Italy Trampled by Modernity", it stands apart as its own "Practice in Magic Neorealism".

Begun as a concurrent, alternative festival in 1969 by the French Directors Guild in response to the events of 1968, The Directors' Fortnight celebrated its 50th Anniversary retrospective. Not limited to restorations and presentations of notable works from the canon, from its inception The Quinzaine Realisateurs has been a showcase for rising new directors working in genre, content and form on the edge of what might usually pass the master in Cannes competition. This year's selection included standouts from Debra Granik with "Leave No Trace", Mohamed Ben Attia's "Dear Son", and the rare occasion of anime appearing during the festival, represented by Mamoru Hosoda's "Mirai". Where's Gaspar Noe's "Climax" failed to quite deliver his expected shocks and thrills, Panos Cosmatos upped the ante with his sophomore effort, "Mandy". By taking a series of pages from the stylebooks of both Noe and Nicolas Winding Refn, wedding them to 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 a pounding, sensory-fraying score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, "Cosmatos’s Mock-1980s Oddball Nerd Fantasy Yarn" deftly circumnavigates the trappings of much similar postmodern territory. 

Thematically dark cinema of very different natures can be found in the filmmographies of Italy's Matteo Garrone and Japan's Ryusuke Hamaguchi. While both have issued works exploring social, political and neorealist realms, they are each inclined to brief and suggestively surreal intrusions into these same narratives. And in both, we are witness to a slow unfurling of troubling events and their coming to intersect the lives of everyday people. In the case of "Dogman", the bad-to-others comes 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 bleak, it recognizes humanity when it sees it, and doesn't reject humor in doing so, "Matteo Garrone Nitpicks Gangster Insecurities with Hilarious Flair". Less assertively cynical than his last offering, the epic duration plumbing of suburban malaise that was "Happy Hour", Hamaguchi's earnest romance "Asako I & II" switches things up by adapting Tomoka Shibasaki's tale of mirror-image obsession. A inversion of cinema's "male gaze" and its depiction of passively enigmatic female beauty, here things are reversed in a counter-"Vertigo". By turns nostalgic, romantic and melancholic, with the gentlest of heightened conceits, it remains beguiling and mysterious through to the conclusion. Much in the way of the original "Masterful Look at Loneliness and Malaise in Tokyo" by this Akutagawa Prize-winning author.

From the once Soviet Union come two films of varied dystopic visions. 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. It is not only a prolific time for Russian director, Sergei Loznitsa, but a highly qualitative one. Exactly a year ago his "A Gentle Creature" premiered in Cannes, followed by this past February's documentary "Victory Day" at the Berlin International Film Festival, and now at Cannes once again he's back with "Donbass". His films have always entangled themselves with the complexities of the historic and cultural aftershocks of post-Soviet Russia. But this new stretch has a forcefully dark, absurdist strain to it, that of a voyeur to the tragedy of a history witnessed. In light of the aggressions of Putin's Russia, both at home, toward the Republic of Ukraine, and wider eastern Europe, Loznitsa is not without lack of material in this regard. Channeling the current state of Orwellian unreality which dominates much of the region, and events lifted from real world news, Sergei Loznitsa’s feverish procession of scenes watches as a, "Freakish Fake-news Kaleidoscope of Ukrainian Civil War".

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Dennis Hopper's "The Last Movie" at Northwest Film Forum: Aug 17 - 23

Legendarily difficult to procure, and often referred to in terms that paint it as a disastrous pileup of drugs, unbridled hubris, the complexity of foreign locations, unlimited major studio funding, and an increasingly ambitious editing process, Dennis Hopper's "The Last Movie", has retained a status as one of the great, unseen films of its decade. The singular vision of an outsider artist who J. Hoberman succinctly refers to in his, "Dennis Hopper, Lone Horseman of the Apocalypse", “As an actor-director-lone horseman of the apocalypse, Hopper’s career suggests some druggy Dylan ballad with Marcel Duchamp and James Dean riding their motorcycles up Boot Hill to steal the carnations off John Wayne’s grave". Enabled by the massive cultural and financial success of "Easy Rider", Universal Studios selected Hopper as one of five American directors to whom they offered a one million dollar budget and the stipulation of little or no studio oversight. Working from a script which Hopper had developed in the 1960s, the freedom and financial backing offered by Universal allowed the production to be taken to a more desirably remote location in Cuzco, Peru. Assembling a wide reaching cast of actors and musicians, many of whom personal friends of Hopper, including singer Kris Kristofferson, director Samuel Fuller, Peter Fonda, Henry Jaglom and Michelle Phillips, Hopper spent much of 1970 shooting the film under the working title "Chinchero" with cinematographer László Kovács. Having produced what is said to be tens of hours of footage, Hopper then holed up in his home editing studio in Taos, New Mexico, working on assembling the massive body of footage into a coherent cut. Testament to the concoction of unbridled freedom, financial independence and alcohol and drug abuse in Hopper's life at the time, Lawrence Schiller and L.M. Kit Carson's "American Dreamer", is a troubling window into the year of the production. It is rumored that an initial, more linear, and conventional narrative cut of the film came of this period, but was rejected by Hopper following conversations with Alejandro Jodorowsky. The Chilean director and author urged Hopper to more forcefully assert the meta-narrative underpinnings of the film's premise. From this came the crafting of a more disjointed, experimentally-inclined cut which Hopper completed in the spring of 1971. Choosing to foreground the challenge to the viewer's understanding of cinematic storytelling, Hopper assembled a more arcing non-chronological structure. In this, the remaining narrative passages are often disrupted by an an array of filmmaking devices such as rough jump-edits, production sequences, and "scene missing" cards.

Critically divisive at the time of its limited release in the 1970s, Roger Ebert's scathing review, and The New York Times' "A Gigantic Ego Trip for Dennis Hopper?" are representative of its general reception. A reassessment with time and distance turns a different lens on the film's perceived incoherence and use of avant-garde devices that so vexed in 1971. A new contextual consideration and fascination with the "The Last Movie" has been found, following the restoration by the recently launched Arbelos Films. The premier of the new restoration at New York's The Metrograph, and its first larger run of theatrical screenings at arthouse theaters like Northwest Film Forum have garnered notable press, like that seen in the Village Voice' "Dennis Hopper’s “The Last Movie” Is as Essential as Cinema Gets", and "Dennis Hopper’s Misunderstood Masterpiece Deserves a Second Chance and Now, It’s Getting One". Still maligned at the time of his death, and thought to be lost to time and the complexities of it's production, Film Comment's "Fade Out on Dennis Hopper" posits "The Last Movie", as the masterpiece of this American artist and adventurer, who Manohla Dargis called, "A Madman, Perhaps; Survivor, Definitely". This singular work is best represented in this excerpt from the Museum of the Moving Image's symposium overview by Andrew Tracy; "However, while the programmatic content of "The Last Movie" stays safely within the bounds of permissible dissent, its chaotic form, the wild flurry of sounds and images, reveals - after repeated viewings - a truly striking focus and discipline. It’s hard to know how the film was originally envisioned - legend has it that Hopper tore apart a coherent narrative version after an upbraiding by Alejandro Jodorowsky - but it’s possible that Hopper, boozed, bedraggled, and bedrugged as he was, began to perceive while shooting and editing his welter of footage the paradox into which he had fallen. After all, his broadside against the American legacy of greed and violence had the backing of a major American corporation, was being made by a group of hedonistic, absurdly overprivileged tourists in the Third World, and turned on the hackneyed and narcissistic symbolism of Hopper’s stuntman as Christ figure, the American naïf dying for the world’s sins. Myth again, and forever. The apocalyptic promise of Hopper’s title shuffled back into the cycle of consumption, ritual violence made routine."

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Seattle Art Fair at CenturyLink Center: Aug 3 - 5

In advance of the Seattle Art Fair's inaugural success, there was abundant speculation as to the nature of the exhibit local philanthropist Paul Allen and the organization he had assembled with Max Fishko of Art Market Productions, would be bringing to the city. At the time there was little that offered insight beyond the press release, which made it out to be half-commercial gallery, half-curated exhibition, featuring some 60 galleries representing local to international dealers and an emphasis on the West Coast and Pacific Rim. The majority of the dialog focused on the fair's relation to the art market, with Brian Boucher's "Why Are Gagosian, Pace, and Zwirner Signing On for the Seattle Art Fair?" and The Observer's "Paul Kasmin and Pace Gallery Join the Inaugural Seattle Art Fair" leading the discussion. With later pieces like Seattle Times "High Art Meets Deep Pockets at Seattle Art Fair", as well as the New York Times recap, "Seattle Art Fair Receives a Boost From Tech’s Big Spenders", and ArtNews "Why the Seattle Art Fair Is Important for the Art World", positioning the event in relationship to the moneyed local tech industry.

All of which were little more than discussions of the art market and the inclusion of some of the gallery world's international power players. For insight into the curatorial direction and work to be featured, one had to rely on regional media in which there was no small supply of skepticism expressed concerning the fair being another of Paul Allen's pet cultural projects, both for the good and the bad. The extent of the fair's scope became apparent opening weekend with favorable coverage in both the New York Times and Artforum. The exhibitions and galleries drawn from Asia were among the three day event's greater successes. In addition to the participating galleries Kaikai Kiki and Koki Arts from Tokyo, along with Gana Art of Seoul and Osage Gallery from Hong Kong, the "Thinking Currents" wing curated by Leeza Ahmady, director of Asia Contemporary Art Week produced a premier exhibition of video, film and sound work exploring themes related to the cultural, political, and geographical parameters of the Pacific Rim. With Kaikia KiKi head, Takashi Murakami returning for the fair's second installment, programming his own satellite exhibition "Juxtapoz x SuperFlat", for Pivot Art + Culture. As covered by Trinie Dalton in, "Pacific Objects", for Artforum, "Seattle Art Fair and Out of Sight made a Return" on the occasion of the fair's second year.

Art Fair's fourth installment the first weekend in August will feature an expanded body of galleries, more than 100 in total, along with it's program of talks, on-and-off site performances and collateral events around the city. These under the umbrella of the fair's Project series, presenting immersive and large-scale works spanning sculpture, performance, and installation. This year's Projects offering a platform for presentations beyond the art fair booth under the premise of "exploring identity, modes of play, and technology" in and around adjacent neighborhoods of the city. The series includes the presentation of a functioning satellite by Trevor Paglen, Anishinaabe artists Charlene Vickers and Maria Hupfield in a megaphone broadcasting performance, and Mark Pauline the founder of Survival Research Laboratories, joining influential science fiction author Bruce Sterling in conversation. The author and the outsider artist, technologist and robotics specialist have intersected on previous occasions, notably 20 years prior in the pages of Wired, for "Is Phoenix Burning?". Decades later, much of the contemporary SRL press focusing on the changed cultural and political landscape, and the difficulty of staging Pauline's elaborate, destructive spectacles. Indicative of The Verge's "Terrorism as Art: Mark Pauline's Dangerous Machines". Gone is the era in which the Bay Area was a countercultural hub, and institutions like SRL and RE/Search could easily secure inner city public space for performance. As a product, there's a logic at work that Pauline would now align himself with gallery culture, and the contextualized space of it's presentation. As Wired said, "artistic respectability doesn’t so much beckon as envelop", in response to The New York Times' "Fire-Breathing Robots Bringing Anarchy to a Chelsea Art Gallery".

Previous artistic director, Laura Fried, has been succeeded by Nato Thompson, supported by the core dealer committee of local gallerists, James Harris and Greg Kucera. For ArtNews, Thompson went on to explain the approach in his curatorial statement, that the fair “is a wild ecosystem of different approaches. We’ve got technology, we’ve got dystopia, there’s utopia, we have gender, we have indigenous culture, we have a certain kind of interest in historical conditions. There’s a lot of different through-lines of the project, and we’re very excited about it.” This year's national and international big gallery players are represented by New York's Lidia Andich of Gagosian Gallery, Robert Goff of David Zwirner, Galerie Lelong & Co and Adams and Ollman. Previously offering a regional mirror to the global expansiveness of Art Fair, Scott Lawrimore of Lawrimore Project, Bridge Productions, and Vital 5's highly qualitative Out of Sight exhibition will not be returning in 2018. Since 2015, this 22,000 square-foot survey of contemporary art read like a who's-who of the best work seen originating from the Pacific Northwest. Credited as the "The Real Seattle Art Fair is Out of Sight" in local press, this representation of work, "Out of Sight, Into Mind: Art on the Margins of the Seattle Art Fair", will be sorely missed. As a small consolation, Studio e has organized the group exhibit Studio e 1Room, running concurrent and adjacent to Art Fair. Featuring a cross-section of the regional talent and work that would otherwise have been showcased in the setting of Out of Sight.