Thursday, August 8, 2019

Nicolas Roeg and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Transgressive Legacy, The Fearless Cinema of Claire Denis & “Cut! Is This the Death of Sex in Cinema?”


With the passing this last year of both Nicolas Roeg and Bernardo Bertolucci film circles mourned the cultural loss and contemplated the possible end of a era of widely viewed, transgressive, politically, and sexually liberated cinema. In the case of the senior Italian director behind such films as “Last Tango in Paris”, “The Spider’s Stratagem” and “The Conformist”, he was hailed in the pages of The Guardian as, “Bernardo Bertolucci: The Brilliant Last Emperor of Highbrow Cinema”. While the British director, known for “Walkabout”, “Don’t Look Now”, “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, produced a body of work defined by the casting of music celebrity, sharp editing and disjunct, non-linear narratives. He was considered by many, “Nicolas Roeg: A Daring Film-maker of Passionate and Visceral Brilliance”. Much in the way of Bertolucci, Roeg's thematic content was often challenging, yet both directors were revered for their willingness to depict and explore the rough-hewn aspects of life and interpersonal relationships, such as in Suzanne Moore’s opinion piece for The Guardian, “Nicolas Roeg Created a Filmic World of Sex and Shock. He Messed Me up – and I Loved Him”. What the two shared in was their painstaking observed depictions of interpersonal relations. Not shying away from the messier corners of adult consensuality, they showed sex more directly, but also more honestly and obsessively than other directors of their time. Particularly in their most notable and groundbreaking work, in this case Roeg’s “Bad Timing” and Bertolucci’s aforementioned, “Last Tango in Paris”. Consequently for each there is no shortage of material to consider in the, “Sex Factor: Nicolas Roeg and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Transgressive Legacy”.

In her observation on the diminishing of content in the modern era that might traverse such complex and charged territory, Catherine Shoard selects “The Fearless Cinema of Claire Denis” as the antithesis to these trends. Expressly the depiction of sex, sexual power and psychology in the director’s newest, "Claire Denis on High Life, Robert Pattinson, and Putting Juliette Binoche in a “F*ckbox”. The film’s sexual and corporeal focus on a unflinching exploration of "The Fleshy Frontier", and past traditions in related is cinema are considered in John Semley's piece for The Baffler. These multifaceted bodily, sexual, and psychological tensions also succinctly delineated in Charles Bramesco’s review, “High Life: Orgasmic Brilliance in Deepest Space with Robert Pattinson”. Plumbing further, Shoard’s piece for The Guardian delves into the current trend away from depictions of nuanced interpersonal content, which has made anything but values-defined expressions of sexual relations (and their biological and psychological underpinnings), anathema. Such is the cultural moment that a prohibitive MPAA rating, "trigger warning" supplied by the exhibitor, or outright retraction and editing of material in response to poor audience reception, is not unheard of. As Shoard illustrates over numerous observations and citations in, “Cut! Is this the Death of Sex in Cinema?", the reasons being concurrently made complicated and narrow-minded by the two sides of a polarized political landscape. Wherein sex has become that much more weaponized in its entanglement with identity and representation, and the discomfort experienced by audiences who feel their identity politics not complimentarily represented defining no small part of their enjoyment, or even acceptance, of thematic and psychological content in fiction. Or, as award-winning Man Booker shortlister, and recipient of Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, author Zadie Smith succinctly stated in a recent interview; "Identity is a Pain in the Arse".

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Digable Planets and the Brief Rise of Backpack Rap | Live at The Neptune Theatre: Aug 9


For the briefest of times, there existed a set of artists at the cultural crossroads of concurrent movements in Sampledelia, Turntablism, Breaks Music, Acid Jazz, Jazz Rap, Classic Hip Hop, and it's more sophisticated cousin, the Alternative Hip Hop of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Theirs was a sound that, rather than drawing from the then burgeoning styles of Miami and East Coast Bass, Hardcore, Pop, and Party Rap, instead assembled new correlations with a genre blurring assimilation of electric Funk and Jazz, Soul, Dub and Reggae. Even occasionally touching on the downtempo moods of Folk and Psychedelic Pop of the 1960s and 70s. In the latter a lineage of lyricism can be seen connecting their sound with the Civil Rights era writing of the Beat poets, African American cultural figure, Gil Scott-Heron, and the work of present day lyricists like Saul Williams. The couplet of Soul Jazz Records compilations navigating the abundance of groundbreaking styles on their ongoing Soul of a Nation and Boombox series, "Early Independent Hip Hop, Electro & Disco Rap 1979 - 83" and "Afro-Centric Visions in the Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk & The Roots of Rap 1964 - 79", lay down the complexities of the cultural moment that proceeded this epoch. Concurrent with the popularization of what was being called the "alternative music" movement in American rock of the early 1990s, this body of Alternative Hip Hop came into being. Originating primarily from East Coast groups such as De La Soul, Black Sheep, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, The Fugees, The Roots, and Digable Planets. In conjunction there existed a West Coast strain epitomized by acts such as The Pharcyde, Digital Underground, Jurassic 5, Freestyle Fellowship, The Coup, Del the Funky Homosapien and his outfit the Hieroglyphics, as well as a lower profile set of Southern acts, among which Goodie Mob and the pop-meets-Afrocentric sounds of Arrested Development made their presence known.

At this era's inception, a trio of now-classic debut albums; De La Soul's "3 Feet High and Rising", A Tribe Called Quest's "People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm", The Pharcyde's "Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde", all achieved commercial success, defined in no small part by MTV and College Radio airplay alongside their "indie" and Alternative Rock contemporaries. Elevated further by the acclaim they were met with from the widely influential alternative music press of the time. Critics for such magazines as Spin, Alternative Press, Q, Ray Gun, Wired and Mojo as the cultural signposts and tastemakers of the 1990s, were quick to hail these works as innovative, intellectual, soulful masterpieces. Often conceiving the artists working within this new field as representative of the future of hip hop as a whole. This would all peak by the mid-to-late 1990s, culminating in the genre's ascent into popular culture, and wider mainstream press embracing of its characteristic sound. This short span of years and the musical era it represents for hip hop is often seen as concluding with the release of Fugee's "The Score", and The Roots' "Do You Want More?!!!??!". At its apogee, this growing body of poetically sophisticated, technologically astute, politically conscious, genre-assimilating hip hop described a developing cultural and economic demographic of college-mobile, working and middle class African American urbanites. The intersection of their cultural moment with the economic abundance of the 1990s, and a accelerated liberalization of American coastal cities, manifest as a confluence of independent non-commercial scenes that ran parallel with the equally middle class college-bound "alternative" lifestyles of the independent rock audiences of the time.


The lyrical and thematic concerns of this new tangent in the course of hip hop differed significantly from the existing commercial rap, instead reflecting the daily concerns of the lettered, urban, liberally-inclined, politically conscious body that were the larger part of the listenership. The supposition of a certain bookishness was inherent in the perception of these shared styles and concerns, thus "Backpack Rap" and "Indie Hip Hop" became the coinage when terminology emerged. No other outfit quite represented for Backpack Rap, like the trio of Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler, Craig "Doodlebug" Irving, and Mariana "Ladybug Mecca" Vieira as Digable Planets. Musically, they incorporated elements of Funk, Samba, Downtempo beats and the brand of suggestive psychedelia common then to Turntablism, into their poetic hip hop. With Jazz, in-particular, playing a pivotal role. Not reserved about their debt to Jazz, the group gave shout-outs to icons Charles Mingus and Charlie Parker, and sampled others artists who figured in their collective DNA, including Sonny Rollins and The Last Poets. Originally from Seattle, in his youth Butler was interning at the Arthur Russell-founded Sleeping Bag Records in New York, with sojourns to Philadelphia, where Irving was living and rapping with Dread Poets Society. Fitting then that their initial encounter would be Irving and Vieira meeting while attending Howard University, to then intersect with Bulter who was already recording under the outfit's name, and migrate as a trio to New York. From their demos, Pendulum Records (operated by the senior VP of urban music at Elektra Records) signed them in 1992, inspiring the move to big city where Butler and Irving became flatmates. It was in this setting they were to refine and develop the album which became, "Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space)".

Aided in no small part by Elektra's distribution into every college radio format and conceivable retail setting, the album was massively received. It would go on in the next year to not only be certified gold by the RIAA, but it's lead single, "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" would become a even more widely heard Billboard charting hit, winning the "Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group" at the 1994 Grammy Awards. Within the same year of their Grammy accolades, Digable Planets were to release their second album, "Blowout Comb". A departure in that it was less hook-oriented, with a more overtly contemplative, socially conscious, and political bent. Their sophomore album retained the characteristic production of influences spanning Jazz, World Music rhythms, urban ambience, while also branching out to touch on Afrofuturism. Their debt owed to previous Spiritual Jazz and Afrofuturist explorers, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, George Clinton & Bootsie Collins, Rammellzee, Jean-Michel Basquiat, was expressly woven throughout the fabric of "Blowout Comb". Inherent to their modern-day contribution to this continuity, the album touched on the Black Panther Party, Marxist thought, and observations on Capitalism in relation to urban life, wealth stratification and class divisions. These all rode alongside a consciousness that embraced Third Wave Feminism, Pro-Choice activism, and Black Power poet Nikki Giovanni. This rich weave of Afrocentric cultural history would also be the territory that Bulter would dedicate his life to in the wake of Digable Planets disillusion, which following a year later in 1995. As a solo artist working parallel with and within the 21st Century Afrofuturism movement, The Black Constellation collective and the Los Angeles-based Brainfeeder label, Bulter's following two decades would see a new body of work as Shabazz Palaces bringing his "Sci-Fi Beats With a Pacific Flavor", to a newly minted audience. "Ishmael Butler’s Heavy Afro-celestial Experience" would also lead him back into dialogs with Craig Irving, and Mariana Vieira, with suggestions of new collaborative material and a second performance at Seattle's Neptune Theatre in the wake of the Light in the Attic label's much celebrated reissues.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Seattle Art Fair at CenturyLink Center: Aug 1 - 4


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. Continuing the trend of atypical and non-traditional gallery works, the fourth annual Art Fair presented 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?". The cultural and economic landscape that Pauline operates in now is quite different than that of the early 1980s, presenting a new set of challenges to his performative art. So there's logic at work in 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".

Art Fair's fifth 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. Featuring works and talks by the Center for PostNatural History, largescale video artists Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib, architecture and installation creators, Bigert & Bergström, and choreographer Morgan Thorson. 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, framed by Artistic Director Nato Thompson's curatorial statement, "Here Explodes the Wunderkammer"; "A room of research, the early Wunderkammers, or cabinets of curiosities, or Kunstkammers, or even wonder rooms of the 16th and 17th centuries, presented an architectural prodigious display of artifacts garnered and pilfered from across the seven seas. Wrapped up in natural history, a high dose of colonialism, aesthetics, alchemy, a pinch of theology and its important counterpart, intimate curiosity. Fast forward to this intersectional 21st century where the mutability and interwoven qualities of all forms of life and non-life are distinctively embedded in literary, political, artistic, and scientific discussion. The Philip K. Dick-inspired rise of artificial intelligence aggravates the understanding of what constitutes intelligence, or even human for that matter."

2018 marked a major year for Art Fair and its parent institution, with the future of Allen's founding of numerous cultural and arts institutions, and significant philanthropic contribution to the city, made less certain with his passing this past October. Last year also saw artistic director, Laura Fried, succeeded by Nato Thompson. 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.” Supported by the regional body that makes up the Art Fair's Dealer Committee, consisting of Wahei Aoyama and Akira Wang of Yufuku Gallery, Jane Beebe from PDX Contemporary Art, the James Harris Gallery and the Charles C. Davidson Gallery. In the way of a regional counterpoint to Art Fair's global expansiveness, Scott Lawrimore of Lawrimore Project, Bridge Productions, and Vital 5's highly qualitative Out of Sight exhibition discontinued 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 again be sorely missed.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Beacon Cinema opening: Jul 19 | Seattle Independent Cinema Culture


It can no longer be said that Seattle is home to "The Best Film Corner in America". That era is now a decade or more in the past. With independent cinemas closing around the nation, for those who appreciate the community experience of shared viewing on the big screen, it has become more essential than ever to support the remaining local theater opportunities. Particularly with the subsuming of Sundance Theaters into the corporate AMC chain and the fast-shrinking and now single regional theater of the once expansive Landmark Theatres. Amidst all of this, there is hope. After potential bids from both Amazon and Netflix, the long-running independent and arthouse theater chain has just recently been purchased by Cohen Media Group. In “A Trade Between Billionaires: Mark Cuban Sells Landmark Theatres Chain to Film Buff Charles Cohen”, improbably we may see the nationwide assembly of cinemas revitalized and open again with fresh, inventive programming. Cohen Media's track record at least suggests as much. Also here in Seattle, the year-round programming at SIFF Cinema offers compensation for the oversights of their annual festival, bringing advance screenings, rare prints, and numerous exclusive screenings to their three locations at SIFF Cinema Uptown, Film Center and the restored Egyptian Theatre. We are also blessed with other local institutions like Seattle Art Museum continuing their solid tradition of repertory programming with the longest running film noir series in North America, alongside recent retrospectives dedicated to such auteurs as Yasujiro Ozu, and Ingmar Bergman.

Our own Northwest Film Forum had a strong calendar year as well, in stiff competition with the seasonal programming seen on the longest continuously open independent screen in this town, The Grand Illusion Cinema. In just the last few years, this micro-sized theater in Seattle's University District has stepped up to fill the growing theater void after strengthening their nonprofit partnership with Scarecrow Video in 2014. Much in the way of the 2016 Action, Anarchy & Audacity: A Seijun Suzuki Retrospective, and Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien of 2015, last year's Losers, Loners, Outcasts & Outlaws: The Early Works of Jim Jarmusch, was a major programming coup for the independent theater. Their monthlong Jarmusch retrospective making for the Northwest theater-going event of the year. Collaborative programming of more substantial and costly film series and retrospectives have also brought theatrical events like Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road, and the aforementioned Hou Hsiao-Hsien to the screens concurrently at Northwest Film Forum, Grand Illusion, and SIFF. It has become the case that many of the most notable films seen in recent years, when they did come to the cinema, had runs that lasted no more than a week. Others were never to appear again outside of an initial festival screening. Again proving the wisdom of getting out there, seeing the city and prioritizing the remaining opportunities that we're fortunate to have in our urban crossroads. Even so, no small percentage of these films even avid theater-goers didn't have opportunity to see.

These factors distinguishing the almost singular resource that is Scarecrow Video, recipient of the 2016 Stranger Genius Award, as that much more irreplaceable. One can't imagine that in the age of digital piracy, that this series of delays and exceedingly short runs, have aided global cinema find it's audience on the big screen. There's also the matter of a growing body of films being released in limited engagements, or in some cases not at all outside of availability on the dominant streaming platforms. Particularly in the case of Netflix's venture into feature length director-driven film further complicating access to a recent string of releases. By producing, distributing, and exhibiting new films by Orson Welles, Bong Joon-ho, Alice Rohrwacher, Alfonso Cuarón, Aleksei German JR, and the Coen Brothers, "Netflix’s Movie Blitz Takes Aim at Hollywood’s Heart", thereby significantly limiting the opportunities for these director's work to be seen and achieve notoriety in the traditional theatrical sense. As more and more viewers move to streaming, and find their choices grossly limited on the larger commercial platforms, cinephiles have come to hail the quality on offer through independent streaming platforms like Mubi, Fandor and the recently launched Criterion Channel.  Given all of these factors, to open a cinema in the midst of the escalating cost of real estate, and its fallout seen in relation to the cultural, and wealth stratification that Seattle is currently undergoing, is audacious to say the least. While the city may never see a theater model as encompassing and far reaching as New York's The Metrograph, there is a significant void to be filled in relation to repertory and second run films. Particularly outside of the model offered by cinemas that prioritize a drinking and dining experience with conversant audiences, over quality viewing conditions and programming.

All of the above making Casey Moore and Tommy Swenson's launching of "Columbia City's New Single-Screen Cinema that Flies in the Face of Netflix", something to be celebrated. As longtime Seattle cinema culture patrons, they have each worked in the wider world of film academia, distribution, marketing and theatrical presentation. Bringing with them such notable experience sets as programming for the 34 theaters in the Alamo Drafthouse chain, marketing for The Criterion Collection, the film studies program at the University of Washington, and the bedrock of the local community; years at both The Grand Illusion and Northwest Film Forum. Moore's own film and television marketing venture, High Council, will share offices with the new theatrical space. As a tip of the hat to the cinema the two proprietors love, the venue's wall-spanning image from Chris Marker’s "La Jetée", speaks volumes as to the kind of theater we can expect of The Beacon. In their statement to Crosscut, the two have detailed the venue's programming will encompass everything from early silents, to black and white and color classics, documentaries, to contemporary second-run movies. Horror, genre, arthouse and foreign film will also figure largely, as is made apparent by their opening week calendar. Programming will also extend to movements and thematic framing, including their self-described series; "Love Doesn't Stop: Gena Rowlands as Directed by John Cassavetes", followed by, “You Only Moved the Headstones: The Unburied Violence of Suburbia” spanning the month of August. In which we can expect a international plumbing of the underbelly of 20th century suburbia, with David Lynch's "Blue Velvet", Tobe Hooper's "Poltergeist", John Carpenter's "Halloween", Tim Hunter's "River's Edge", Nicholas Ray's "Bigger Than Life", Penelope Spheeris' "Suburbia", Joe Dante's "The Burbs", and Ann Turner's "Cecelia", as our guides.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails' "The Last Black Man In San Francisco" at SIFF Cinema: Jun 21 - Jul 11


Directed and produced by Joe Talbot based on a story by friend and collaborator Jimmie Fails, this directorial debut by Talbot, pivots off of life experience into a elegiac, and haunting story of America's transformation and the displacement of the urban west coast working class. In the case of Fails, his fictional avatar Jimmie lost his home in the titular city, but has found residence in the cramped Oakland home of the grandfather of Jonathan Major's character, Montgomery. This story is told through their dual vantage, in what Manohla Dargis calls, "an indelibly beautiful story of love, family and loss in America", from two childhood friends turned filmmakers, "‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’: Lost in a Dream City". Drifting from East Bay to city proper, Jimmie moves across the landscape of the two cities. Revisiting the metropolis of his once-home, waiting interminably for buses that never arrive, skateboarding from one corner of the two cities to the next, investing himself in his work at a San Francisco nursing home, he is forever in transit, with rare moments of stasis and rest. The home which his family lost decades before is revisited again and again as a destination out of reach, but still accessible in Jimmie's obsessive upkeep and maintenance of it's grounds (much to the chagrin of it's San Francisco Boho residents). As though perseverance, ritual, and patience will eventually lead the house back into his hands.

Against these weekly rituals, the film is a plaintive and expressionistic American odyssey, filled with rapturous, surreal and melancholic moments that define the lives of both Jimmie and his faithful artistic friend, Montgomery. Working through a deeply invested work of his own, Montgomery is a playwright and illustrator who's observations of life in Oakland are channeled into a work of fiction that seems to be manifesting the dream of the movie itself. The cumulative "Last Black Man in San Francisco", is a kaleidoscope of surrealistic jolts, impassioned cries for justice, class conflict, community marginalization, and a resonant hallucinatory beauty that almost watches as though it moves directly out of Montgomery's mind into the viewer's. Funded under executive producer Brad Pitt's Plan B banner, and A24 Distribution, the work of the "The Minds Behind 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco'", swept critical attention at this year's Sundance Festival, in this, "Joe Talbot’s Bittersweet, Unforgettable Debut". More than just a question as NPR's feature suggests, 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco' is About Who Belongs in a Beloved City", the film acts as a deeper observation on the effects of extreme wealth stratification on the cultural fabric of a historied place, which once harbored a wider body of peoples, communities, and wealth and culture classes. David Fear's review for Rolling Stone more explicitly refers to the film as the work of two Bay Area filmmakers delivering a rage-filled valentine to the city they love, "‘Last Black Man in San Francisco’: Race, Gentrification and an Instant Classic". Because, as the film's protagonist himself states after overhearing the conversation of two aspiring careerists while riding public transit; "You don't get to hate (San Francisco)," Jimmie says, "unless you love it.". This being the key to the dream kingdom of Talbot and Fails, and our admission to their impassioned "Elegy to a City".

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Comet is Coming "Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery" & US Tour: Jun 13 - 20


Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings' mining of jazz's cultural memory is informed by his numerous concurrent projects; the ensemble Sons of Kemet, its splinter trio The Comet Is Coming, Melt Yourself Down, Afrofuturist outfit The Ancestors, and as a guest player with the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra. So there is possibly no better player in contemporary jazz more equipped to lead a quartet exploring the fringes of the territory once mapped out by post-Bebop, Afrofuturist and spiritual jazz luminaries, Charles Mingus, Pharoah Sanders, and the aforementioned Sun Ra. Nowehere in Hutching's numerous settings is this more evident than in Sons of Kemet's "Your Queen is a Reptile" of 2018. The central quartet of Hutchings, Oren Marshall on tuba, and both Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford on drums, is aided by a rotating cast of contemporary jazz players including Pete Wareham, Eddie Hick, Moses Boyd, Maxwell Hallett, and Nubya Garcia in their ranks. The album was a first for Impulse!, the legendary and influential American jazz label that was home to Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Freddie Hubbard, and Bill Evans at the peak of their 1960's output. So these are the largest of shoes to fill. This adds another weighty dimension to Hutchings’ relationship with American jazz, placing him among the players whose legacy he’s endeavoring to subvert, deconstruct, and expound upon.

Covered in The Guardian's "The British Jazz Explosion: Meet the Musicians Rewriting the Rulebook", Hutchings acts as a pivot around which numerous players move through the scene. One of the more striking paths away from the central core of jazz tradition is his The Comet is Coming. In the three years since their 2016 homage to homage to cosmic jazz, "Channel the Spirits", they've also been brought under the wing of Impulse!. With their debut for the label, "Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery", the group take a startling turn, with much of the album sculpted in post-production, highlighting the shifting mixtures of drummer Max Hallett and keyboardist Dan Leavers. A focal shift of influences also corresponds, weighing more heavily into 70s progressive and Krautrock, namely the territory mapped out by King Crimson, Amon Düül, and Belgian explorers Univers Zero, the tracks contained here transmute between abstract introductions, fractured rhythmic passages and dramatic heights of orchestrated synthesis and fusion. Hitting the North America for a monthlong tour this June, they'll be bringing their fierce hybrid from the contemporary British jazz scene to venues on both sides of the continent.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

"How We Killed Expertise" and Why That's a Giant Problem


Three notable pieces appeared this past year in the pages of Foreign Affairs, Politico, and The Federalist, on the ongoing marginalization of expertise in western society, and America in-particular, its causes, and consequences. In the first, and most significant, "How America Lost Faith in Expertise: And Why That's a Giant Problem", Tom Nichols tackles the notion of "How We Killed Expertise" for Politico's The Big Idea series: "Average Americans have never much liked eggheads. That’s not a bad thing in itself: Americans are a skeptical but level-headed people - or were until recently - whose common sense and ingenuity allowed their nation to achieve great heights in science, diplomacy and the arts, while never displacing the ordinary voter as the deciding voice in affairs of state. But recently skepticism has curdled into something more toxic, even dangerous. Donald Trump explicitly campaigned against experts, calling them “terrible” and saying he didn’t need them. As president, he seems determined to prove that experts are unnecessary to the running of a superpower - winging important conversations with foreign leaders, issuing an executive order without advice from his own Cabinet and picking a radio talk-show host with no background in science or agriculture for the top science position in the Department of Agriculture."

"How all this happened, and why it threatens our democracy, is a complicated story. Even Alexis de Tocqueville took note of the American distrust of intellectuals in the 19th century, and it only deepened with the social and political traumas of the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, globalization and technological advances have created a gulf between people with enough knowledge and education to cope with these changes, and people who feel threatened and left behind in the new world of the 21st century. As a result, the implicit social contract between educated elites and laypeople - in which professionals were rewarded for their expertise and, in turn, were expected to spread the benefits of their knowledge - is fraying. Americans live increasingly separate lives based on education and wealth, part of a decades-long “big sort." What is qualitatively different today is that ordinary citizens seem increasingly confident in their views, but no more competent than they were 30 or 40 years ago. A significant number of laypeople now believe, for no reason but self-affirmation, that they know better than experts in almost every field. They have come to this conclusion after being coddled in classrooms from kindergarten through college, continually assured by infotainment personalities in increasingly segmented media that popular views, no matter how nutty, are virtuous and right, and mesmerized by an internet that tells them exactly what they want to hear, no matter how ridiculous the question."

Nichols's previous piece, "The Death of Expertise" in the pages of for the Federalist, makes for complimentary reading in unison with the above Big Ideas entry. He further plumbs the role of the web-enabled consumer and layman, and their assertion over trained professionals, credible news institutions and journalists who have dedicated their lives to experience, knowledge and research in specialized fiends: "Today, any assertion of expertise produces an explosion of anger from certain quarters of the American public, who immediately complain that such claims are nothing more than fallacious “appeals to authority,” sure signs of dreadful “elitism,” and an obvious effort to use credentials to stifle the dialogue required by a “real” democracy. I fear we are witnessing the collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers - in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all. By this, I do not mean the death of actual expertise, the knowledge of specific things that sets some people apart from others in various areas. There will always be doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other specialists in various fields. Rather, what I fear has died is any acknowledgement of expertise as anything that should alter our thoughts or change the way we live."

"Some of it is purely due to the globalization of communication. There are no longer any gatekeepers: the journals and op-ed pages that were once strictly edited have been drowned under the weight of self-publishable blogs and social media posts. There was once a time when participation in public debate, even in the pages of the local newspaper, required submission of a letter or an article, and that submission had to be written intelligently, pass editorial review, and stand with the author’s name attached. Even then, it was a big deal to get a letter in a major newspaper. Now, anyone can bum rush the comments section of any major publication. Sometimes, that results in a free-for-all that spurs better thinking. Most of the time, however, it means that anyone can post anything they want, under any anonymous cover, and never have to defend their views or get called out for being wrong. All of these are symptoms of the same disease: a manic reinterpretation of “democracy” in which everyone must have their say, and no one must be “disrespected.” This yearning for respect and equality, even - perhaps especially - if unearned, is so intense that it brooks no disagreement. It represents the full flowering of a therapeutic culture where self-esteem, not achievement, is the ultimate human value, and it’s making us all dumber by the day. Thus, at least some of the people who reject expertise are not really, as they often claim, showing their independence of thought. They are instead rejecting anything that might stir a gnawing insecurity that their own opinion might not be worth all that much."

Focusing on the discussion of the rise of the "expert consumer" as a force in the marginalization of expertise, Andrew Keen director of the Silicon Valley salon FutureCast a technology columnist with CNN, author of "Digital Vertigo" and "The Cult of the Amateur", also makes for essential reading. He elucidates expertise's diminishing role in public discourse as a byproduct of the environment of the web's self-broadcasting culture, where amateurism is celebrated and anyone with an opinion can publish, post, or change an entry on Wikipedia. Producing an environment wherein the distinction between trained expert and uninformed amateur becomes increasingly blurred. Regardless of how unsubstantiated, lacking in credible references or citation, and ill-informed these opinions may be. When anonymous posters on social media and videographers, unconstrained by professional standards or editorial filters, can alter the public debate and manipulate public opinion, truth becomes a commodity to be bought, sold, packaged, and reinvented. The resulting conditions making the the ego and self-image of the consumer central to any discussion, resulting in the further rejection of other equally, or more qualified opinions, as Eleanor Catton puts it, in her investigation on "Literature and Elitism": "The idea of being a “good reader” or a “good critic” is very much out of fashion - not because we believe that such creatures do not exist, but because we all identify as both. The machine of consumerism is designed to encourage us all to believe that our preferences are significant and self-revealing; that a taste for Coke over Pepsi, or for KFC over McDonald’s, means something about us; that our tastes comprise, in sum, a kind of aggregate expression of our unique selfhood. We are led to believe that our brand loyalties are the result of a deep, essential affinity between the consumer and product - this soap is “you”; this bank is “yours” - and social networking affords us countless opportunities to publicize and justify these brand loyalties as partial explanations of who we are."

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Joanna Hogg's masterful "The Souvenir" at AMC 10: May 31 - Jun 13



Resembling in some ways the cinema of the French auteurs Eric Rohmer and Claire Denis, themselves of differing generations and sensibilities, Joanna Hogg has delivered a film of muted, intimate riches. Earning it some of the highest praise of any film in recent years. Reporting for RogerEbert.com, Monica Castillo cites the film's depiction of a troubling romance and it's divisive qualities, particularly among contemporary audiences unwilling, or unable to parse such contradictions; "From its Sundance premiere, I heard grumblings about its main character, Julie, and the frustrations some felt with her decision to stay in a clearly toxic relationship. For me, “The Souvenir” is perhaps the most empathetic movie to capture that kind of bad romance, the way it seeps into every aspect of your life, the way it changes your behavior, how you hold onto the memories of good times when things get rough and how after it ends, you're a changed person. “The Souvenir” doubles as a reference to the unseen but still painful bruises you can get with a relationship as rocky as theirs. Some days, I miss those rose-colored glasses, but I have the bruises to remind me why I took them off in the first place." Plumbed in her interview with Film Comment, through Hogg's architectural eye for shots, pacing and structure, the film delivers a rarely judgmental observation on the joys and heartbreaking pain of these contradictions.

Shifting in tone from suggestively ominous, to rapturously romantic (as in the sequence of a brief sojourn in Venice), to the simple pleasures of time spent listening to music, conversing with friends, working on art in the late hours, to heart swellingly romantic moments bracketed by the everyday mundane and the tragically nihilistic. "The Souvenir"'s breadth of dramatic scenarios is harmonized by a minor-key tonal palette, often asserting a hushed, cloistered reality over the proceedings. These are most tangibly described by the intellectually searching, sometimes bruising, sometimes supportive plumbing of life between it's protagonist Julie, and her troubled, compromised, philosophical romantic partner, Anthony. More than just, "A Great Movie About a Bad Boyfriend", as the title of A.O. Scott's review for The New York Times implies, their shared synergy, conflicts, aspirations and humiliations initially are found to pivot around Anthony's undisclosed and secretive life troubles. Punctuated by the arrival of postcards as stopgaps, implying the passage of time and shifting relations between its protagonists, the structure is largely linear, with brief poetic digressions voicing moments of inner reflection. Over time we witness Julie begin to break loose from the constraints of these influences, as her denial gives way to necessary recognition and an, "Opening Up the Privileged World From Which She Emerged". Through loss and pain, coming to recognize herself outside of these external conditions, we see a decisively different course for her own art and pursuit of identity. The cumulative effect of this great film of small moments, is Joanna Hogg's "'The Souvenir' is a Masterly Coming-of-Age Portrait", that invests great belief in its audience and the unguarded candor of experience lived.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Seattle International Film Festival: May 16 - Jun 9


Seattle International Film Festival once again arrives bringing a spectrum of cinema from across the world. In working through the program, this year continues the decade long diversity dip seen in the per-capita of all things contemporary world cinema, deep genre gems, auteur, arthouse and experimental film. These were content agendas that once had prominence within SIFF, on occasion approaching the programming on offer in Toronto and New York. Those times though, are now decades in the past. That said, it's worth noting that this year's festival isn't as painfully omissive as 2011 or 2010 for that matter. We saw string of years that suggested relief from the lackluster programming described above, which waned a bit in 2012 and expressed a further positive direction in 2013. For the 2014 festival, their 40th Anniversary was celebrated with SIFF's strongest programming in almost a decade, suggesting a renewed vision for the festival. That year marked a trend away from the previously seen glut of middle ground contemporary romances and knowingly clever dramas for the sub-Sundance sect. While still lacking, both 2017 and 2018 saw a nominal return to some of the strength of seasons past. One can speculate that this middle road approach to programming, clearly expressed by the programming of the 2015 festival and 2016 after it, has been conceived to entice some imagined Northwest demographic out of their suburban hobbles and inner-city condos. With the inclusion of showcases in the outlying areas of Bellevue and Kirkland suggestive of such. One can't help but consider these factors alongside the changing economic and cultural landscape of Seattle and what may be SIFF's bid at strengthening ties with it all.

This year sees that same disheartening trend continue, with many of the most notable, and award-winning films from Rotterdam, Locarno, and Berlin, overlooked. We can observe, year in and year out, that Seattle continues to go astray of the high standard of the international festival circuit, embodied by the programming seen in New York, Cannes, Toronto, Vienna, and Venice. Seattle International Film Festival in the past has existed as a focal point of visionary cinema curatorialship, with the resources, funds and legacy to be a hugely influential institution. Annually, looking to San Francisco, Portland, and Vancouver, one bears witness to these institutions programming festivals of a caliber that SIFF has seemingly un-learned. Even our neighbors in the relatively rural setting of the Orcas Island Film Festival are more incisive and discriminating in their assembly of a quality festival. Again this year, SIFF has chosen to bypass opportunities to program scores of notable films featured in culturally correspondent festivals from around the globe. Instead, we see a over-large, and under-curated selection spanning some 400+ entries, markedly devoid of the year's most significant work being screened elsewhere on the international festival circuit.

This shortfall includes (but isn't limited to) Joanna Hogg’s Berlin highlight, “The Souvenir”,  Phuttiphong Aroonpheng's “Manta Ray” from the Rotterdam and Toronto International Film festivals, as well as two pieces of adventurous and stylistically groundbreaking Latin American cinema lauded in the pages of Film Comment and elsewhere, Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias'Cocote”, and Mariano Llinás "La Flor". In the way of politically notable work, there's the second in a series of follow-ups to the most significant holocaust documentary ever made, Claude Lanzmann's "Shoah: Four Sisters", a rarely seen and essentially lost masterpiece of African American cinema, Bill Gunn's "Personal Problems", and a ultra-contemporary satire of the Ukrainian diaspora, found in Sergey Loznitsa's "Donbass". From here the line list broadens to include new Thai cinema from Wisit Sasanatieng in "Reside", Roberto Minervini's highly anticipated "What You Gonna Do When the World's on Fire?", and Chinese auteur Lou Ye's most recent detour into crime drama, "Shadow Play". Also absent are Japanese Independent and arthouse films from, Kôji Fukada in "The Man from the Sea", Ryûsuke Hamaguchi's "Senses 1 - 5", Ishii Yûya's much delayed in the west, "Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue", and Shinya Tsukamoto's chart-topping, “Killing”. Also missing are the most recent entries from auteurs such as Carlos Reygadas and his "Our Time", Albert Serra's "Roi Soleil", and Lav Diaz' "Season of the Devil". Not that you would know it by looking at the SIFF lineup, but the French provocateur Bruno Dumont has returned with a new entry in his “Quinquin” series, "Coincoin and the Extra-Humans".

Strangely absent are a set of mainland Chinese and Taiwanese film festival highlights from Locarno and Berlin, which include Xiaoshuai Wang's "So Long, My Son", Xu Bing's experimental "Dragonfly Eyes", Siew Hua Yeo's “A Land Imagined", and Tsai Ming-Liang's "Your Face". Japanese horror and thriller maestro Kiyoshi Kurosawa returned with another unsettling and exercise "Foreboding", and the increasingly absurdist Sion Sono did as the title describes in "Tokyo Vampire Hotel”. From here this overview of the absent becomes a who's-who of international film figures, all with new and recent works, including in their numbers; Michael Koresky's "Feast of the Epiphany", Wang Bing's "Beauty Lives in Freedom", Erick Stoll & Chase Whiteside's "America", Corneliu Porumboiu's "Infinite Football", Gürcan Keltek's "Meteors", Virgil Vernier's "Sophia Antipolis", Yui Kiyohara's "Our House", Renée Nader Messora & João Salaviza's "The Dead and the Others", Shûichi Okita's "Mori, the Artist's Habitat", Fatih Akin's "The Golden Glove", Shô Miyake's "And Your Bird Can Sing", Nadav Lapid's "Synonyms", François Ozon's "By the Grace of God", Agnieszka Holland's "Mr. Jones", Shengze Zhu's "Present.Perfect.", Naomi Kawase's “Vision”, Xavier Dolan's “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan”, Paul Dano's “Wildlife”, Paolo Sorrentino's “Loro”, and Emir Baigazin's “The River“.

Yet there remain a small handful of legitimate, original, well crafted films to be found in here too. Largely culled from the Contemporary World Cinema, Archival Presentations, Alternate Cinema, Documentary Films, and Asian Crossroads sections. This year I was able to generate a little more than a dozen films of interest, curiosity or critical gravitas from the program of more than 400 titles. These run the spectrum from directors of note, archival restorations and new developing artists. As a consequence the majority of the films listed below are simply films of interest, rather than essential viewing. Making SIFF 2019 one of the least compelling programs in recent memory. Nonetheless, I continue to be enthused about their home at the SIFF Cinema Uptown and expanded screens between the recently acquired SIFF Cinema Egyptian and Film Center. Their curation for these year-round venues has exhibited the scope of SIFF, with a visionary course forward for the institution once exemplified in the short-lived Recent Raves series. Tellingly, this series was discontinued in 2015.

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Saturday, May 18
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3:30 PM -  Ying Liang  "A Family Tour"
Lincoln Square Cinemas
FAMI1819

https://myaccount.siff.net/tickets/buy.aspx?fid=354&id=50411


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Saturday, May 18
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6:00 PM -  Jafar Panahi  "3 Faces"
Lincoln Square
3FAC1819

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Sunday, May 19
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7:30 PM - Denis Côté  "Ghost Town Anthology"
SIFF Cinema Uptown
GHOS1919

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Monday, May 20
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7:00 PM - Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier & Edward Burtynsky "Anthropocene: The Human Epoch"
AMC Pacific Place 11
ANTH2019

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Monday, May 20
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9:30 PM -  Camille Vidal-Naquet  "Sauvage"
SIFF Cinema Uptown
SAUV2019

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Wednesday, May 22
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6:30 PM -  Louis Garrel  "A Faithful Man"
SIFF Cinema Uptown
FAIT2219

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Wednesday, May 22
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9:15 PM -  Adina Pintilie  "Touch Me Not"
SIFF Cinema Uptown
TOUC2219

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Thursday, May 23
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9:30 PM -  Jennifer Kent  "The Nightingale"
SIFF Cinema Uptown
NIGH1819

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Wednesday, May 29
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6:30 PM -  Stanley Nelson  "Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
MILE2919

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Wednesday, May 29
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9:00 PM - Aditya Assarat, Wisit Sasanatieng, Chulayarnnon Siriphol & Apichatpong Weerasethakul "Ten Years Thailand"
SIFF Cinema Uptown
TENY2919

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Thursday, May 30
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7:00 PM - Werner Herzog "Meeting Gorbachev"
SIFF Cinema Uptown
MEET3019

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Friday, May 31
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9:15 PM -  Peter Strickland  "In Fabric"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
INFA3119

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Saturday, June 01
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9:00 PM -  Claudio Giovannesi  "Piranhas"
SIFF Cinema Uptown
PIRA0119

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Sunday, June 02
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9:00 PM - Macoto Tezuka "The Legend of the Stardust Brothers"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
LEGE0219

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Monday, June 03
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6:30 PM -  Emilio Fernandez  "Enamorada"
SIFF Cinema Uptown
ENAM0319

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Tuesday, June 04
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7:00 PM -  Olivier Assayas  "Non-Fiction"
AMC Pacific Place 11
NONF0419

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Friday, June 07
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6:30 PM - Ho Wi Ding  "Cities of Last Things"
SIFF Cinema Uptown
CITI0719

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Saturday, June 08
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6:00 PM -  Jim Jarmusch  "The Dead Don't Die"
SIFF Cinema Uptown
DEAD0608A

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Saturday, June 08
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7:00 PM -  Alexandre O. Philippe  "MEMORY: The Origins of Alien"
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
MEMO0819

https://myaccount.siff.net/tickets/buy.aspx?fid=354&id=50636