Sunday, June 2, 2024

"Prestige Sleaze" at SIFF Cinema: Jun 9 - 26 | "The Wet Dreams and Twisted Politics of Erotic Thrillers" | The Criterion Collection


Such is the cultural moment that films are susceptible to receiving a prohibitive MPAA rating, trigger warning supplied by the exhibitor, editing of material by the director, or outright retraction of a film by its distributor in response to poor reception at festivals and preview screenings due to depictions of sex and the interpreted politics of on-screen gender relations. For deeper reading on these trends, Catherine Shoard's editorial for The Guardian, "Cut! Is This the Death of Sex in Cinema?", and Christina Newland's "The Pleasure Principle" for Sight & Sound tackle these issues, and their origins, in all of its complexity. Newland speaks further on the subject in the pages of Sight & Sound; "It’s possible that a combination of factors, both culture-wide and industry-specific, have contributed to this odd moment of both the avoidance of and a fixation on sex acts on screen. Initial hesitation around on-set safety post-MeToo, and a sense of discomfort around sensitive topics, has perhaps been fueled by social media pearl-clutching and a Gen Z backlash against the idea of ‘sex-positive’ feminism". The latter is supported by recent statistics, like those highlighted in NPR's coverage "Gen Z Wants Less Sex in Their TV and Movies" of the UCLA study, which featured such descriptors as the content being found, "Icky, Pointless, and Invasive", wherein half of those polled were, "Turned Off by Onscreen Sex". Shoard's piece for The Guardian illustrates over numerous observations and citations, the reasons for this 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 defines no small part of their enjoyment, or even acceptance, of thematic and psychological content in fiction. In the eyes of a currently influential constituency, for whom artistic merit must be allied to a certain branch of moral and political virtue, there are vast realms of the erotic, suggestive, and sexual material on screen that will not pass such demands. Regardless of said material's honesty in representing the complexity of these matters in relation to life.

This month, SIFF Cinema is putting this to the test. Assembling an array of films which are forcibly sex-forward, drawn together largely from the 1980s and 1990s abundance of erotic thrillers and provocatively flirtatious crime dramas, "Prestige Sleaze" runs the month of June at The Egyptian Theatre. Plumbing the heights and depths of kink, subversion, and thrillingly uncertain socio-sexual outcomes between men, women and otherwise, the stakes are high in these boundary pushing films which are largely culled from the decade of the Erotic Thriller micro-genre. The pleasures, and flirtatious unease of the genre was given due consideration on The Criterion Channel last year, with their Erotic Thrillers showcase, and analysis of the cultural moment which produced these films in, "The Wet Dreams and Twisted Politics of Erotic Thrillers" for The Current. Framed by their Erotic Thriller Week, The Vulture hosts Karina Longworth's You Must Remember This series, in which she inquires; “Why did genres like the erotic thriller, body horror, neo noir, and the sex comedy flourish in the 1980s and 90s, what was happening culturally that made these movies possible and popular, and why did Hollywood stop taking sex seriously?" Writing on "Why I Love Erotic Thrillers", Abbey Bender notes in the New York Times, that they were initially a product and response to the Reagan era, a time; “Which was politically conservative, yet culturally trashy. These films fruitfully explored this contradiction, and by the 1990s, they were certified box-office gold. They distilled the excesses and anxieties of yuppie culture into psycho-sexually messy yet stylized commercial products, before fizzling out in the aughts. Building on the moody, femme-fatale-filled world of classic 1940s and 50s film noir, the erotic thriller was always gloriously excessive, with a laser-sharp focus on beautiful women doing bad things. In films like "Basic Instinct", "Fatal Attraction", and "Body Heat", the calculated performance of self-assured femininity inspires fear, arousal, and awe in equal measure."

Part of the thrill of watching these erotically charged films from the Reagan and post-era, is that the sexual politics are the most perverse thing about them. Though the films delight in their explicit sex scenes, and raunchy suggestion, they often express a paranoid and conservative perspective in their values. This paradox itself is what lends them their edge. And though they centralize the femme fatale as the motivator and focus of the narrative frisson, the movies are more often than not, about male anxieties. Every twist sinks the plots into deeper levels of their protagonist’s masculine unease, paranoia and doubt, as they navigate inceasingly unstable psycho-sexual territory. These themes are literally explored in Brian De Palma's "Body Double", as a meta-thriller vehicle to challenge audiences, as well as the conservative attitudes of the MPAA. Pushing the boundaries further, and accentuating the paranoia and unmooring of the male psyche, provocateur William Friedkin masterfully captured popular culture's uncertainty surrounding queer subcultures in "Cruising". Conversely, Alain Guiraudie offers a very modern perspective on homosexual psychological tensions in "Stranger by the Lake", and an example of charged modern heterosexuality can be seen in Jane Campion's "In the Cut". By turns elegant, tragic and erotic, Tony Scott's "The Hunger" looked to make the vampire genre one worthy of 1980s arthouse consideration, and from the late 1990s, the greatest height of unsease offered in the series can be found in the chilling void-space, where empathy has been inverted by J.G. Ballard's novel of the same name. David Cronenber's exploration of the novel's themes of society's inhibitions erupting in the deviant behavior and fatalism of an underground society of obsessed sybarites, where machinery, appendages and injured psyches, all collide together in “Crash”. So singular is it, that Criterion Collection's Jessica Kiang sees the novel and its adaptation as a head-on, smash-up, "Crash: The Wreck of the Century".

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Gary Hustwit and Brendan Dawes' "Eno" at SIFF Cinema Downtown: May 5



As an artist who bridged modernist and postmodern modes of composition with the then-concurrent forays into "musical furnishings", Brian Eno is an almost singular fixture of the late 20th century. His methodology remained both constant and changing, introducing John Cage-like opportunities for chance, and unexpected variables, as well as being an early advocate of generative content. From light sculptures, to video art, to music both popular and experimental in its nature, his was sound and texture that was both elusive and instantly recognizable. The latter running the gamut of densely constructed ventures into the furthermost fringes of glam rock, to the ultra-minimal and contemplative spaces of "Discreet Music'', to the geography of "Fourth World Music", to his most recent exploration of spatial works, such as those documented by the New York Times in, "Brian Eno Wants to Take You ‘Inside the Music’". Among his collaborative inventions was the variables-introducing card process that he created with visual artist, Peter Schmidt. Their "Oblique Strategies" circumnavigating linear rational approaches to material, by introducing lateral thinking, triggered by the card's instructed phrases and their offering of outside themes and perspectives. It comes as no surprise then that the composer and artist was resistant to the formula of the chronological array of interviews and footage that comprise the common music documentary. As presented in Rolling Stone's, "‘Eno’ Remixes the Music Documentary - and Brian Eno’s Entire Career", the idea of a movie depicting his 50-year career behind keyboards, and mixing boards, much less one involving his participation, felt counterintuitive to him. “You’re becoming a filmmaker’s story,” Eno has said when asked about the subject. “And I don’t want to be anyone’s story.”

So, enters director Gary Hustwit and digital artist Brendan Dawes, as chronicled by Rolling Stone; "The filmmaker asked him to compose music for "Rams", a 2018 look at industrialist designer Dieter Rams. After that collaboration, Hustwit proposed something different. He’d been talking to a programmer about software that would be able to remix film footage in real time. The feature would be fully edited and completed, mind you. But if you ran the work through this program, it would rejigger the order of the sequences at random. Certain scenes would be “pinned” at the beginning and the end, per the director. Everything else, from the chronology to what was or was not included within a two-hour timeframe, could be left to chance. It was not unlike how Eno made what he dubbed “generative music.” So what if this legacy - all that music, all of those albums, all of his experimental video work, all of the five decades of insanely fertile artistry - was not so much rehashed but reshuffled? What if a music documentary on someone’s life was less an LP and more of a fate-curated mix tape." Hustwit and Dawes' generative software system became this tool to develop and combine contemporary interviews with Brian Eno’s rich archive of more than five hundred hours of studio, live, vintage home video, and television appearances into "Eno". The resulting variable screening experience, presented here at SIFF Cinema Downtown, bears some resemblance to Brian Eno's creative practices with technology in making art and music, and resonates with the artist's take on the introduction of exterior pathways towards chance and variables. It's release also acts as a timely vehicle for Eno's expression of his personal philosophy on ecological consideration, and materialism, as presented in recent interviews like, "‘Capitalism Didn’t Understand Community’: Brian Eno Steps Up the Climate Crisis Battle", and, "Brian Eno: ‘I Don’t Get Much of a Thrill Out of Spending Money’", for The Guardian.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Bertrand Bonello's "The Beast" at The Grand Illusion Cinema: May 4 - 16



In Antoine Barraud's self-reflexive drama "Le Dos Rouge", Bertand Bonello plays himself as a director researching a planned future project on the theme of the monstrous. His quest spans centuries of history, art, music and philosophy, producing an implacably French blend of intellectualism, carnality and oblique storytelling. In "The Beast", it's as though Bonello has discovered the incarnation of what he finds most monstrous in the 21st century. Which he subsequently names in his interview with Variety, "I was curious about the America that produces these kinds of figures, those who take refuge behind atrocity". And as Glenn Kenny's review for RogerEbert.com suggests, the beast in question is none other than fear itself. The film's opening passage reveals that the fear belongs to a popular Parisian concert pianist played by Léa Seydoux, who around the time of the 1910 flood of Paris, confesses this fear to George MacKay's Louis, a young Englishman with whom she soon begins an intense, yet unstable liaison. Beginning in this, the first of three time periods, Bonello delivers not just his most densely packed narrative architecture, but one of the most potent science fiction horror films of the decade so far. "The Beast" is a vision of three imminently doomed nightmare times, all of them visions of a vexed world, as it moves towards and reveals its inevitability. Through the exploration of this triplicate world, Bertrand Bonello has produced an unnerving, sensually disturbing disquisition which draws inspiration as much from J.G. Ballard, as it does Aldous Huxley, as it explores the past, present and future of humanity. The latter is possibly the most troubling of the three, as it exists on the precipice of being effectively deconstructed and re-formed by machine intelligences.

In Peter Bradshaw's five-star review, "Bertrand Bonello’s Audacious Drama Throbs with Fear" from last fall's Venice Film Festival, wherein "After Cannes Rejected Bertrand Bonello’s ‘The Beast’: It’s Now Venice’s Boldest Movie", Bradshaw relates that its concoction is both audacious and, satisfyingly, traumatizingly sexual, with a chilling indifference for comfort in the face of sweeping, expansive potential for disastrous change to the human experience. The film depicts the shock of the inescapable and new, loosely based on the vantage of the protagonist of Henry James 1903 novel, "The Beast in the Jungle", who is neuotically paralysed by the conviction that "the beast" in question is crouched in the jungle of the future. Bonello is thrilled by the fatalism, and the erotic potential of this inscrutable danger. His direction imbues the whole of the three time periods with a sense of being equally unknowable, and tantalizingly alluring, each holding the promise of coming face to face with discovering the doom of its era. In the New York Times, Bonello is the "Master of Puppets" of this tale of civilizational collapse and existential retribution, yet the review argues for all of its audacity, and immensity of scope, it is held together by something more delicate. As IndieWire puts it, Bonello’s films are typically “more interested in negotiating the semiotics of emotion than provoking it,” but “The Beast” turns out to also be a rather tangible, and tragic, love story, "Léa Seydoux and George MacKay are Star-Crossed Lovers in Bertrand Bonello’s Magnificent Sci-Fi Epic".

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

John Adams’ "El Niño" at The Metropolitan Opera and Philip Glass' "Glass Pieces" at The New York City Ballet: Apr 23 - May 18


This year, in a rare deviation from the recurring patterns of the month of May, rather than attending the Seattle International Film Festival, I will be in New York City. The trip to the metropolitan hub of the arts and culture on the east coast is to attend new and major canonical works by John Adams, Philip Glass, theatre, dance, film, museums, galleries, and music performances. Among the most singular of these, Japan Society is in the midst of presenting a two-part major retrospective of the films of Hiroshi Shimizu. The second installment in the series, following "Hiroshi Shimizu: The Shochiku Years" at the Museum of the Moving Image, which was covered by RogerEbert.com, "Tomorrow There will be Fine Weather: A Hiroshi Shimizu Retrospective", is to feature his rarely screened, "Hiroshi Shimizu: The Postwar and Independent Years". Also on offer in the way of cinema, Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan, founding members of the band, SQÜRL, will be introducing the films of Man Ray at IFC. Across the way, to mark the publication of the first English-language edition of Chris Marker's "Le Dépays", The Metrograph is featuring a  series on "Chris Marker in Japan". Again back in Manhattan at Lincoln Center, the film society is presenting "Ryûsuke Hamaguchi I & II", featuring both "Evil Does Not Exist", and its silent film alternate twin, "Gift", with a live score by composer Eiko Ishibashi and ensemble. In the way of live music, Dirty Three percussionist, Jim White, alongside indie-folk songwriters Marisa Anderson, and Myriam Gendron are performing at Le Poisson Rouge. On the other side of the Brooklyn bridge, noiserock titans Swans perform two nights of majestic and unrelenting music at the Music Hall in Williamsburg. More mellow fare will be found with every day being closed out by rotating trios in late-night sets at Midtown's Tomi Jazz.

There will be very little time alloted for theatre, but I will be seeing “A Starry Cast Navigates ‘Uncle Vanya'”, in a new translation of the Anton Chekhov at Lincoln Center Theatre, followed by two nights at the opera and ballet at Lincoln Center. These two evenings will feature New York City Ballet's presentation of a showcase of "Contemporary Choreography I", highlighting "Glass Pieces' and 'Pictures at an Exhibition' Draw Us into their World". The major work of the week will be the final performance of a premiere the proceeding night, in the form of “John Adams’s ‘El Niño’ Arriving in Lush Glory”, at The Metropolitan Opera. Being in the big city, galleries are a must, and Chelsea offers both Delcy Morelos' "El abrazo" at Dia: Chelsea, and Lucas Arruda's "Assum Preto", at David Zwirner. And no week in New York would be complete without a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a visit to the current exhibitions on, "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion", and "Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room". The unmissable array of 12th to 17th century paintings on display, and the classic 19th and early 20th century paintings, on offer in the Robert Lehman Collection. Similarly, The Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection on view on the fourth and fifth floors, spanning 1880s-1940s, and 1950s-1970s respectively, are the historic gems of the museum. While there, I will also be taking in the Joan Jonas' "Out Takes". Across the bridge at the Brooklyn Museum, Takashi Murakami presents his take on Hiroshige’s 100 Famous Views of Edo”, and back in Manhattan, the Guggenheim's grande rotunda is adorned with Jenny Holzer's "Light Line", showing concurrently with an array of work from, "By Way Of: Material and Motion in the Guggenheim Collection".

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Northwest Terror Fest at Neumos & Barboza: May 9 - 11


The regional landscape of venues and artists related to the burgeoning genres and scenes spiraling out of metal, doom, hardcore, and noiserock have both in tumult and a thriving state of expansiveness in recent years. With the closing of Seattle's locus of this culture, The Highline, and the selling of their host building, other venues such as Black Lodge and Substation have stepped up their programming to fill the void. In 2017, the joint stages of Neumos and Barboza became the host to this sound's most significant event of the year with the arrival of Northwest Terror Fest. For metal and its fans, it was such a pivotal paradigm shift in which, "Northwest Terror Fest Flipped Seattle on its Head". An all-things-metal festival with a previous Southwest iteration, Terror Fest's three days hosted a lineup featuring no small quantity of metal issuing from the variegated low-lit landscape of black and doom metal mutations. Initially launched under the opportunity to, "Bring Warning to America: An Interview with Terrorfest founder David Rodgers", Rodger's wider curatorial vision for the festival, was detailed in Decibel's, "It's Good to Have Goals and Dreams Can Come True", and in a 2019 interview, the festival's co-organizer Joseph Schafer describing how "The Third Time (Is Still) the Charm". As with many festivals and arts events, the 2020 edition was postponed with the intent of being rescheduled when the global pandemic abated. Returning after successful 2022 and 2023 editions, Northwest Terror Fest arrives this year with some of the most potent sounds from the heavier end of the 21st century. Over the course of three nights, and six showcases, this year's lineup encompasses everything from gloaming atmospheric ambiance and doom riffs, blistering thrash and hardcore, and heavy psychedelic and stoner rock explorations. As depicted in No Clean Singing's coverage, attending Northwest Terror Fest is to witness an annual summation of the global scene's ongoing and expanding development. These sounds have now come to encompass melodicism and atmospheres lifted from shoegaze and spacerock, eruptions of heavy psych rock, industrial drumming, synth exploration and electronic atmospheres, and pure experimental noise. The expansiveness of which is detailed in Brad Sanders' essential overview, "Untrue And International: Living in a Post-Black Metal World", with complimentary curation from this sphere found in the excellent selections of The Quietus' Columnus Metallicus. The above resources sound the expanse of releases dominantly sourced from labels like, Hydrahead, Neurot, Ipecac, Deathwish, 20 Buck Spin, Dark Descent, Sargent House, Profound Lore, Season of Mist, Roadburn, Century Media, The Flenser, and Relapse.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Crystal Pite’s "The Seasons’ Canon" at Pacific Northwest Ballet: Apr 12 - 21 | "Max Richter on Rewriting The Four Seasons - for the Second Time" | The Guardian



After a rousing run at The Paris Opera Ballet, in which Crystal Pite's "The Seasons' Canon" received a standing ovation, the ballet arrives in Seattle this month for a return engagement at Pacific Northwest Ballet. It was at this Paris premiere, in which Crystal Pite and her dance company, Kidd Pivot, won the prestigious Prix Benois de la Danse for Best Choreographer. By delivering "A Dance so Mesmerizing the Audience Leapt to its Feet", they further solidified her growing esteem. So much so, that her company has since been featured in The Guardian's Best Culture of the 21st Century (So Far), with a spotlight on, "Crystal Pite: The Dance Genius Who Stages the Impossible". After a return run in Paris, in which "Crystal Pite's Ballet Retained all its Spellbinding Power", “The Seasons’ Canon” is now here on domestic soil embodied by the Pacific Northwest Ballet's extended cast. This totals some 55 dancers, which includes almost the full body of the ballet's squad, in addition to some of the corps of the PNB School Professional Division students. In many ways, in its scale, volume, and use of mass-movement, it can be considered as a work in the lineage of William Forsythe’s three decades in the making opus, "Artifact". Like that of Forsythe's ballet, it is a celebration of the precision and geometry of dance, yet with an organic otherworldliness that belongs to Pite. This mass-movement of human form in her work can be seen as an elementary idea, bodies moving in unison and canon, but it is deceptively difficult to achieve. The symmetry and concord of these large-scale configurations of human form in motion inspires an awe which is both emotionally primal and satisfyingly intellectual in its clockwork alignment and organic fluidity. The effect is that of the dancers on stage deceptively appearing as though they are hundreds of interlocking bodies, or conversely merging as one human singularity, as though an undulating sea. Moving through patterns and speeds which mirror the music of the piece, the dance evokes the endless cycle of the seasons, both annual, and eternal. These structures are further enhanced in the reworking of the original Vivaldi composition, as expertly played here by the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, featuring Michael Lim’s assured solo violin. Max Richter's neoclassical reworking of Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" for the Deutsche Grammophon Recomposed series presents abundant opportunities to express these shared juxtapositions of angular mathic patterns and gradual, flowing, tectonic undertows. After "Max Richter gave The Four Seasons a Modern Update", with the original volume "The Four Seasons: Recomposed" in 2012, he then returned to the work a decade later, and convinced Deutsche Grammophon of the necessity of a new performance and recording. This "The New Four Seasons: Recomposed", may seem an exercise in indulgence and paradox, as Richter utilizes both classic period instruments alongside analog synthesizers, yet the composer convincingly rationalizes this reworking for The Guardian, "Max Richter on Rewriting The Four Seasons - for the Second Time".

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Neo Sora's "Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus" at SIFF Cinema: Apr 12 - 14 | "The Beautiful, Unpredictable Life of Ryuichi Sakamoto" | The New Yorker



The final chapters in the life of Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto were both profound, intimate, and generously prolific. In 2014, at age 62, Sakamoto announced that he was diagnosed with pharyngeal cancer, and would be cancelling all future engagements and focusing on recovery and treatment for the foreseeable future. After a protracted time of reduced activity and treatment, "With Cancer in the Past, Ryuichi Sakamoto Returns to His Calling". At the time also offering a series of very personal interviews on life, art and the creative will to engage with nature and existence itself, such as "Ryuichi Sakamoto on Life, Nature and ‘Time’", for The New York Times. Returning to his art, the composer produced one of the more significant collaborative works of his career for the Alejandro G. Iñárritu film, "The Revenant" alongside regular collaborator Carsten Nicolai and Bryce Dessner. Its development was mapped by Create Digital Music in their "Sakamoto and Alva Noto again Create Electronics, Scoring Masterpiece", and interviews offered by the two artists. Numerous soundtracks to prestige streaming television and film followed, amassing a quantity which have exceeded his recent album input. The significance and volume of the composer's work for cinema can't be overstated, with recent entries like, “Mubi Notebook Soundtrack Mix: Universal Meditations - The Film Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto”, and interview with The Criterion Collection, "Sonic Memories: A Conversation with Ryuichi Sakamoto", to coincide with the Criterion Channel's "Scores by Sakamoto" showcase. It was around this time that director Stephen Nomura Schible assembled a documentary about the life and work of Sakamoto, entitled "Coda". The documentary followed the composer as he recovered from cancer, resumed creating music, and assembled "async", his newest album since the diagnosis. All the while re-engaging with political activism through protests around nuclear power, following the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster.

A series of active years followed, as the composer engaged with life, produced new work, even offered the venerable New York restaurant Kajitsu, a soundtrack to accompany the experience, "Annoyed by Restaurant Playlists, a Master Musician Made His Own". In interviews like those offered at the time, "Themes and Variations: An Interview with Ryuichi Sakamoto" for GQ, and "Electronic Pioneer Ryuichi Sakamoto: 'My Great Regret is Not Reconnecting with David Bowie'", for The Guardian, Ryuichi Sakamoto had by all appearances, fully returned from the very edge of life to its social and cultural epicenter. But then in 2021, came the tragic news of a rectal cancer diagnosis. In response, Sakamoto issued another statement making it clear that he intended to continue to make art throughout treatment, "Still, I will continue to work as much as I can during treatment … From now on, I will be living alongside cancer. But, I am hoping to make music for a little while longer”. Throughout this period, Sakamoto chronicled his experiences of living with cancer in a monthly column for the literary journal Shincho, titled “How Many More Times Will I See the Full Moon?”, in reference to a quote from Paul Bowles’ novel, “The Sheltering Sky”. Over the course of which, he not only produced another collaborative piece as an audiovisual installation by Dumb Type for the Japanese pavilion at 2022's Venice Biennale, but completed his newest studio album "12", for his Commmons label and Milan Records domestically. Concurrently, Milan published their "Tribute to Ryuichi Sakamoto: To the Moon and Back", which coincided with a series of reflections and acknowledgements from a global body of artists hosted by NPR, “As Ryuichi Sakamoto Returns with '12,' Fellow Artists Recall His Impact”. In late December 2022, "Ryuichi Sakamoto Kept the Music Going with a 'Profound' Concert" while undergoing stage IV treatment, with a very public acknowledgement that it may be his last performance. This live streaming concert was assembled through astute documentation and editing finess by director Neo Sora as "Opus". The concert film premiered at the Venice Film Festival this past fall, and has finally arrived on domestic screens with a brief run at SIFF Cinema. With Sakamoto's death in March 2023, Sasha Frere-Jones wrote a moving and expansive overview of the composer's life for The New Yorker, “The Beautiful, Unpredictable Life of Ryuichi Sakamoto”. The gentle unpredictability and beauty of his life and work has been encapsulated in Neo Sora's concert film, as "a stark, emotional finale from a profound artist", Ryuichi Sakamoto offering us one last glimpse with, "'Opus’: A Parting Gift from a Master Musician“.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Midwife's "Luminol" and Ragana's "Desolation's Flower" & West Coast Tour Mar 19 - Apr 5


The Flenser label has come to specialize in some of the newest strains of heavy rock, noise, slowcore and postpunk emerging domestically in the course of the last decade. These sounds vary widely between the roaring solar blast of shoegaze and hardcore of bands like Deafheaven and the dynamic topographic landscapes varying between a minimalist stasis and pure noise of Have a Nice Life. More recently post-hardcore outfits like Chat Pile and Kayo Dot have been enlisted into their roster, and sounds bridging lofi folk and postrock like that heard on Vyva Melinkolya's "Orbweaving" collaboration with Midwife. Embracing experimental black metal and doom, the label has released work by Agriculture and Bell Witch respectively, and Botanist, who improbably had a feature in the pages of the Atlantic, "The Brilliant Black Metal Album about Plants Wiping Out Humankind". More recent entries by Drowse, Sprain, and Planning for Burial move between all of these points with their fluid hybrids of genre. Having passed the milestone of its tenth anniversary, the label's founder Jonathan Tuite described its ethos for New Noise; “When I started the label I was intending it to be very much focused on black metal,” Tuite explains. “There was sort of a black metal scene that was happening in the U.S. at that time. I mean it had changed forms and kind of diversified a little bit. So, Tuite expanded his label’s sonic horizons and began exploring other styles. “I have sort of gone with what intuitively feels like it relates to the label. So something like the Midwife record feels like it’s part of the Flenser catalogue. It doesn’t feel like an outsider, and so part of that is like intuition for me and just kind of different sets of judgment." In some ways, it could be surmised that, "The Flenser Is a One-Man Pursuit of Quality Doom". Rather than doom as the metal genre specifically, the label's site offers "100% Gloom", "Suffer", "No Future", and "Nope" as its conceptual and curatorial variables, which it also represents in print, and heard on compilations like 2022's "Send the Pain Below". The cloistered corner of existence that the label has made its focus is audibly represented by the "ability to wrench ecstasy from devastation, to make romance out of abject pain, and to transmute specific feelings into an ineffable longing", as heard on "Luminol", Madeline Johnston’s third album as Midwife. These sounds meet the "furious drums, squalls of guitar, and guttural vocals delivered in a language of pain", of Ragana's "Desolation's Flower", as the two bands tour this spring, with a date at Seattle's Black Lodge . Update: After the Olympia, Washington date in the tour, a majority of the bands' equipment was stolen. There are now cancellations to some of the dates on the tour, and a GoFundMe has been set up for relief.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

The Films of Edward Yang at SIFF Cinema: Apr 1 - 18


In an environment brought about by the decline of the commercial and propagandistic cinema of the previous epoque, with the lifting of martial law and the growing popularity of home video, film watching became a widespread activity for the Taiwanese. In this more open, incrementally democratizing environment, the domestic Taiwanese film industry faced the new challenge of the entry of Hong Kong films into the Taiwanese market. In response to the influx of both black market product of western and Asian cinema from without, the Central Motion Picture Corporation began an initiative to support several young directors, fresh out of film school and academia. The "In Our Time" anthology, which featured four new developing talents; Te-Chen Tao, I-Chen Ko, Yi Chang, and Edward Yang, was the groundwork for what would come to be known as the first New Wave within Taiwanese cinema. Along with Hou Hsiao-Hsien, celebrated author Chu Tien-wen, Chen Kunhou and the great talent of Edward Yang, this New Wave grew largely unbridled by censorship and political interference. By contrast to the commercial melodramas, comedies, and martial arts films issuing from Hong Kong at the time, the films of the New Wave portrayed the passing of time through the everyday lives of the citizens of urban and rural Taiwan. Sharing an emphasis on duration, long shots and a focus on narrative and stylistic simplicity with the films of the Italian Neorealism, this New Wave intimately chronicled Taiwan's socio-economic and political transformation in the 1980s. Yet despite the international acclaim and festival recognition given to the leading directors of the New Taiwan Cinema, their films have rarely been shown outside of occasional festival screenings. This has remained the case until the major, and quite recent, exception of Edward Yang's "Yi Yi: A One & A Two". Winning the Best Director prize at Cannes in 2000, the film was an important testament to the movement’s collective, collaborative spirit. Edward Yang's extraordinary and unanimously praised masterpiece also marked the end of a chapter for the major talents in the movement, with Yang's passing in less than a decade after its completion.


As detailed in Kent Jones, "Yi Yi: Time & Space" for Criterion, in many ways Yi Yi summarizes Yang's lasting contribution to World Cinema. The film showcases the dystopian imbalance and accelerated growth towards modernization that are central themes of both Senses of Cinema's Great Directors feature Jonathan Rosenbaum's excellent, "Exiles in Modernity: The Films of Edward Yang". Guided by his acute sensitivity to the familial and spacial structures that enclose and trap the lives of his characters, Yang depicts their inner and outward struggles that often erupt through lives of frustrated creativity. The deeply restless searching of the struggling creators and ethically conflicted entrepreneurs that recur through Yang’s films, personify the longings, humor and earned wisdom of the generation who witnessed the profound socio-cultural transformation brought on by Taiwan's economic boom. While retroactively earning Films of the Decade selection, and inclusion in the Greatest Films of all Time poll by the British Film Institute, The New Yorker's Greatest Independent Films of the 20th Century, as well as the BBC's global poll of 177 film critics and Film Comment's End of the Decade Critics' Poll, only in recent years has it been the case that cinema culture has, "(Re)Discovered the Elusive Master Edward Yang". Crowned by the recently restored tale of "Coming of Age in Taipei" that is the magnum opus, "A Brighter Summer Day", these recent retrospectives showcasing the strength of his seven ambitious feature films. Most notably, Film Society at Lincoln Center's, "Desire/Expectations: The Films of Edward Yang", Harvard Film Archive's, "Chronicles of Changing Times: The Cinema of Edward Yang", the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles, and Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive. Concurrent with these four retrospectives, SIFF Cinema will be presenting "The Films of Edward Yang" with a selection of Yang's feature works, including the "Modern Planning" of "Filming and Forgetting Taipei'', depicted in 1985's "Taipei Story". In new restorations from Janus Films, these retrospectives have presented pivotal life points of the "Displaced, Disaffected and Desperate to Connect" of this generation, with rarely seen "Mahjong", and "A Confucian Confusion" bracketing the three major works on offer. More than an examination of, "Where Taipei Ends and Imagination Begins", this trio of films chronicle the development of "Edward Yang's State of Flux", particularly in the case of his intimately biographical portrait of, "One Couple’s Promising ‘Taipei Story,’ Slowly Undermined".

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Pham Thien An's “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 6 - 10



Winner of the Camera d’Or at last year's Cannes Quinzaine des Cinéastes, Pham Thien An's “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” is first and foremost a gorgeous film, thanks to the measured cinematography of Dinh Duy Hung. Taking in the natural beauty of rural Vietnam with exquisite detail, from mountains shrouded in fog, to nighttime visions of hallucinogenic phosphorescence, the ligerings passages of unperturbed nature create an ethereal quality to the film's narrative. Through extended passages of long shots, one of the pleasures of this "Meditative Mourning in Vietnam" is that it demands, and then rewards the viewer giving themselves over to the lingering attention and precise pacing of the film's structure. After a motorbike accident results in the death of his sister-in-law, the film's protagonist, Thien, takes on the responsibility of his young nephew Dao, returning to their rural hometown for funeral services, and to deliver Dao to his relatives in the countryside. Playing this month at Northwest Film Forum, An's first feature-length film follows its protagonist at an unhurried pace through the numerous detours along the course of his expedition. This becomes a journey of a multifaceted nature, moving through stages of grief, bonding with his young nephew, as "A Wanderer on a Spiritual Quest" Thien revisits his personal questions of faith, the community, and religion that he left behind in pursuing an independent life in the city. Having returned to his rural origins, Thien begins a pilgrimage through memory, past friendships and lost loves, engaging in conversations on death and faith along the way. Punctuating his journey, Thien's dreams increase in vibrancy and frequency, increasingly blurring the border between the real and the imagined, resulting in, "Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell: A Jewel of Slow Cinema is a Wondrous Meditation on Faith and Death". The film Justin Yang called, "One of the Best Movies of this Year" in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, starts as a search for the protagonist's brother, but then shifts its focus to the complexities of assimilating the presence of death in life, and the value of faith in this process. The film's spiritual sojourn establishes a contrast with Thien's urban life, presenting solitary travel as the essential zone in which to discover the time, and self, in which to begin the process towards the absorption, and acceptance, of life's unknowable mysteries.