Thursday, April 1, 2021

My Bloody Valentine reissue "Loveless", "Isn't Anything" & "MBV" on Domino Records UK: May 21 | "Kevin Shields on My Bloody Valentine's Return: Time Is ‘More Precious’" The New York Times


The consensus is that shoegaze and the concurrent sounds of dreampop were born of two bands. These are considered to be Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser's Cocteau Twins in the early 1980s, and A.R. Kane, the British duo whom The Guardian credits as having "Invented Shoegaze without Really Trying". Representative of their influence, decades later both can be seen ranking highly on Pitchfork's "The 30 Best Dreampop Albums of All Time". Not limited to the post-punk and indie rock era of it's genesis, both shoegaze, and it's dreampop offshoot, are going through a renaissance this decade with new bands stepping into the forum. The telltale distortion-soaked melodies, and submerged vocals can be heard in the music of 21st century bands originating from destinations as far flung as Russia and New Zealand. On the other side of the globe from the sound's UK origins, a new generation of shoegaze is currently exploding across the south pacific, detailed in The Guardian's "'A Language We Use to Say Sentimental Things': How Shoegaze Took Over Asia". At the head of this renaissance, many of the genre's most influential and formative acts have returned from extended hiatus, not only touring, but with new and relevant material. To begin with, it was improbable that Slowdive would not only reform to tour, but produced one of the greatest albums of their career. Other unlikely returns have been seen in Robert Hampson touring with LOOP, the one-time-only North American visit from Lush's brand of 4AD dreampop, and live shows and some of the first new material heard in decades from The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Ride. The Guardian's "Shoegaze: The Genre that Could Not be Killed", and New York Times' "Shoegaze, the Sound of Protest Shrouded in Guitar Fuzz, Returns", best encapsulating this contemporary resurgence. Second only to the decade of the genre's origin, it's a great time for listeners avid for more of shoegaze' melancholic melodicism and blissed-out fuzz. For those just now entering the neon torrent for the first time, you'd not go far wrong beginning with The Guardian's "Shoegaze: A Beginner's Guide", and the near-comprehensive book and compilation the Cherry Red label have assembled, "Still in a Dream: The Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995".


The most unprecedented of these returns was seen in the four US domestic tours since the 2007 reformation of the definitive shoegaze band, My Bloody Valentine. The band's guitarist and composer Kevin Shields has since promised forthcoming material, following on the heels of their first new album in 22 years in 2013. All of this was initiated with a series of interviews beginning with Shields' admission to The Quietus that, "Not Doing Things Is Soul Destroying", in which he shares the details of the protracted process and decades of delays involved in My Bloody Valentine's recent remasters. Speaking further with The Guardian on how the period after the 1991 album was a series of derailing setbacks involving, among other things according to Shields, the dangers of chinchilla ownership. And yet, those trials and tribulations only hint at the complexity behind the development of 2013's "m b v" album. Its creation through a relocation, rebuilding the studio, and a meticulously obsessive, perfectionist work ethic as detailed in Mike McGonigal's 33 1/3 book on "Loveless". A new chapter in this near-epic of persistence and refinement began this week with the independent label Domino securing the rights to reissue their back catalog in the United Kingdom. These will be in newly remastered editions, with the details as supplied by Domino; “Isn’t Anything" and "Loveless" have been mastered fully from analog for the deluxe LP editions, and also mastered from new high definition uncompressed digital sources for standard LPs, with each being made available widely for the first time ever. Fully analog cuts of "m b v" will also be available on deluxe and standard LPs globally for the first time. As well as a deluxe CD edition of the  "EPs and Rare Tracks 1988-1991", anthology." Shields himself offering details to the New York Times on the long and circuitous road taken to this destination, creative work throughout the pandemic, and the promise of new recordings on the horizon, "Kevin Shields on My Bloody Valentine’s Return: Time Is ‘More Precious’".

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Seattle International Film Festival: Apr 8 - 18 | Virtual Festival Exhibitions



As with many of the arts and cultural institutions throughout America's urban centers, Seattle cinema culture finds itself on a doubly precarious precipice in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Even with the extraordinary measures that individuals have taken to assure the inclusion and passing of the pandemic relief package in early 2021, which included in it's allocation of federal funds, the Save Our Stages Act, "For Movie Theaters, The Coronavirus Stimulus Bill is a Tale of Two Industries". More explicitly, there is also the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, through which there are the beginnings of "Movie Houses Seeing Hope in New Covid Relief Package". It's clear that this, "Historic $15 Billion Rescue of Struggling Arts and Entertainment Industry" will act as a temporary, but essential measure, "Senator Amy Klobuchar Explains Save Our Stages Act". Yet even with Federal and private funding initiatives, like the resources allocated to Seattle independent theaters through The Criterion Collection's Arthouse America Campaign, the future beyond such stabilizing influences looks uncertain. Particularly, and most notably, with this past month's termination of Greg Olson from the position he held for a half-century, as film programmer at Seattle Art Museum. With the loss of the programmer of the longest-running film noir series in the United States, and author of definitive books on the subject of David Lynch, Seattle now finds that the "Fate of SAM Film Series Unclear as Museum’s Longtime Film Curator Laid Off". All the while, since this past fall, Seattle Art Museum has seen a boon of federal relief funding, grants and private donations, totalling in the tens of millions.

A full year has elapsed since the region declared a public health emergency and cultural venues shut their doors. Globally it has also been a year wherein festival programmers have either indefinitely postponed their programs, or shifted to online virtual settings. What would annually be the spring season's most notable festivals, taking place in Rotterdam, Berlin, and Hong Kong, have selected to have hybrid events or optimistically postponed the physical festival until summer. In the case of Rotterdam and Berlin, they have presented a strong program of films exclusively to members of the press. Hong Kong, finding themselves in a different context of largely containing the spread of the pandemic, have opted to present the most significant new works in the cinema, with a virtual sidebar of offerings. Jonathan Romney's assessment for The Guardian is particularly promising, "Berlin Film Festival 2021 Roundup: The Most Impressive Selection In Years", suggesting great things on the horizon for new cinema in the year. This includes films by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Radu Jude, Hong Sang-soo, with more superb entries from both Anocha Suwichakornpong, and Céline Sciamma. Rotterdam also had a set of noteworthy films, included in Barbara Scharres' "2021 Rotterdam International Film Festival Highlights" writeup for Roger Ebert, were new offerings from Anders Thomas Jensen, Yoshita Koda, Ana Katz, and Itonje Soimer Guttormsen.

Hong Kong seemingly not content to operate on par with the other international festivals of the season, have instead opted to to exceed their European counterparts by a good distance. While their virtual program borrows from the above highlights, the main slate and competition has no peer. They have programmed a festival featuring a number of the festival standouts from Venice, Toronto, Berlin and Rotterdam, alongside numerous premiers and recent films by, Ilya Khrzhanovskiy & Jekaterina Oertel, Raúl Ruiz & Valeria Sarmiento, Kazuo Hara, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Roy Andersson, Lee Isaac Chung, Pablo Larraín, Agnieszka Holland, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Pietro Marcello, Roman Polanski, Christian Petzold, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Anocha Suwichakornpong, Sakahara Atsushi, Frederick Wiseman, Andrei Konchalovsky, Fabio & Damiano D’Innocenzo, Lav Diaz, Cristi Puiu, Rithy Panh, Sergei Loznitsa, Václav Marhoul, Benoît Jacquot, Ahmad Bahram, Valentyn Vasyanovych, Eloy Enciso Cachafeiro, Christos Nikou, Oliver Laxe, Heinz Emigholz, Masaharu Take, Andrey Khrzhanovsky, a set of Restored Classics from the silent era to present day, a Shochiku Cinema 100th Anniversary showcase, and both a Stanley Kwan and Wong Kar-Wai series. By contrast, the offerings in next month's Seattle International Film Festival appear slight. Returning from their hiatus of last year, Seattle have nonetheless programmed a set of the significant films seen in New York and Toronto, like those from François OzonMohammad Rasoulof, and Miwa Nishikawa. There's also a selection of Venice, Berlin, and Rotterdam favorites like the newest from Damiano & Fabio D'Innocenzo, Anders Thomas Jensen, Ana Katz, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, and Srdan Golubović. As well as a set of Sundance notables from Alexis Gambis, and Prano Bailey-Bond, alongside award-winning films by Yu-Hsun Chen, and Tomas Vengris, and a premiere from Robert Connelly.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Japan Society's "21st Century Japan: Films 2001 - 2020": Feb 5 - 25 | Virtual Festival Exhibition



This past year saw film festival organizers respond to the pandemic in a variety of ways. Generally by cancelling altogether, optimistically postponing, or moving proceedings online. Select festivals and independent theaters took up the baton early in their scheduling by moving their programming onto various web portals, which allowed the savvy viewer to attend (in quotes) through virtual theatrical settings. These actions salvaged the cancelled 2020 edition of Cannes, which was then redistributed to festivals in New York, Toronto, and elsewhere as the global festival community collaborated in restructuring their curation. More specifically, many of the "Asia-themed Film Festivals Migrate Online Amid Coronavirus Pandemic", and programming like San Francisco's Japan Film Festival, and Japan Society's New York Japan Cuts festival, continued their role during the pandemic as standard-bearers for the issuance of quality film from Japan. This was also mirrored in examples seen in European settings like Frankfurt's excellent Nipppon Connection. All of which presented their usual array of new and cutting edge cinema in the unusual setting of an online platforms in 2020. For further reading, The Japan Times feature highlights the unexpected convergence of quality and volume on offer from the latter, "Frankfurt's Nippon Connection Brings Together an Extensive Collection of Japanese Films". There's also no shortage of excellence presented annually by Japan Society's North American setting of, "Japan Cuts Film Festival at Japan Society Emphasizes the Eccentric". Year in and year out, the festival offers "Asian Cinema That Pauses for Reflection", "Life in the No-Go Zone of Fukushima and Two Views on Husbandry", "The Hard Road of the Japanese Documentary Maker", and generally an expansive representation of, "The Best of Contemporary Japanese Cinema".

These various festivals continue to represent and offer a bounty of cinema over the course of the two decades since the Japanese cinema explosion of the 1990s. The directors who led that wave; Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Takeshi Kitano, Naomi Kawase, and Takashi Miike,are still among the industry's most high profile faces on the international festival circuit. Contemporaneously, a new generation of filmmakers are also making themselves heard. Though one is hard-pressed to see the abundance offered by these voices in domestic theaters. Particularly regionally here in the northwest as we have seen a significant dropoff of such titles in the programming offered in the once-abundant Seattle International Film Festival. Make no mistake, while there is a dearth to be seen on domestic screens, this is not representative of the volume and quality still issuing from Japanese film culture. Taste of Cinema's 2017 overview goes some way to assert this, with their substantial serving offered in the "The 25 Best Japanese Movies of The 2010s (So Far)". 2015 was a standout year for this set of rising new directors, it saw the domestic release of Shunji Iwai's disorienting urban drama, "A Bride for Rip Van Winkle", Ryusuke Hamaguchi's 5-hour domestic tranquility stunner, "Happy Hour", and Koji Fukada taking home the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes for “Harmonium”. In many regards, this "New Wave of Japanese Filmmakers Matches the Old". Of them, it could be said that "Fukada’s Filmmaking is a Breath of Fresh Air" following most explicitly in the footsteps of Kiyoshi Kurosawa in his darkly pessimistic take on the concerns that comprise modern Japanese life. It is not long before it becomes clear that, "In ‘Harmonium,’ a Family has Let the Wrong One In". There have also been strong returns offered by "Sion Sono's Set of Films That Don’t Fit His Bad-Boy Label", and Takahisa Zeze's miraculous transformation seen in "The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine", offering up a whole new array of concerns around, "Takahisa Zeze's Crime, Punishment, and Transcendence".

Which brings us to Japan Society's newly launched virtual cinema platform and their curated overview of  "21st Century Japan: Films 2001 - 2020". Spanning some 30 titles, from the first two decades of the 21st century, their overview acts as both an excellent primer for the uninitiated, as well as a deeper delving into the works of numerous directors who's work received scant theatrical screenings stateside. Many of the aforementioned directors are represented, including Yoji Yamada's fresh yet classical take on the period drama seen in, "The Twilight Samurai", more tempered representations of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's cinema of unease, found in "Bright Future", "Real", and his later, "Journey to the Shore". Sharing thematic concerns with the Kurosawa, Naomi Kawase's "Still the Water" stands as one of contemporary cinema's most vital explorations of a loved one's end-of-life preparations. Japanese cinema's great provocateur, Takashi Miike is incongruously represented here by one of his children's films "The Great Yokai War", and their maker of muted-yet-nimble familial melodramas Hirokazu Kore-eda is seen in equally unusual form with "Air Doll". Tales of youth and developing self determination and independence are represented by Nobuhiro Yamashita's "The Drudgery Train", Yuki Tanada's "One Million Yen Girl", and through the lense of magic realist nostalgia in Ryuichi Hiroki's "The Miracles of the Namiya General Store". Psychological thrillers make up no small volume of the series, with Miwa Nishikawa "Sway", Tetsuya Nakashima revenge drama, "Confessions", Kazuya Shiraishi's "The Devil’s Path", and contemporary neo-noir in Yukiko Mishima's "Shape of Red". More unquantifiable is Kiyoshi Kurosawa protege, Yui Kiyohara's inexplicable and excellent directorial debut, "Our House", and the brazenly tongue in cheek commentary on the Japanese film industry found in "Red Post on Escher Street" by the hyper-prolific Sion Sono. The toughest of the films on offer will be Shinya Tsukamoto's hard-as-diamond remake of Kon Ichikawa's "Fires on the Plain", which six decades later still watches as one of the most unflinching condemnations of war and nationalism ever dedicated to the screen.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

:::: FILMS OF 2020 ::::


TOP FILMS OF 2020 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
-----------------------------------------------------------
Pietro Marcello  “Martin Eden”  (Italy)
Albert Serra  "Liberté  (Spain)
Isamu Hirabayashi  "Shell and Joint"  (Japan)
Yoon Danbi  "Moving On"  (South Korea)
Cristi Puiu  "Malmkrog"  (Romania)
Koji Fukada  "The Real Thing"  (Japan)
Roy Andersson  "About Endlessness"  (Sweden)
Václav Marhoul  "The Painted Bird"  (Czech Republic)
Wang Xiaoshuai  “So Long, My Son”  (China)
Jai Zhang-ke  "Swimming Out 'Till the Sea Turns Blue  (China)
Dorian Jespers  "Sun Dog" Short  (Russia/Belgium)
Ben Rivers  "Look Then Below" Short  (United Kingdom)
Peter Greenaway  “The Falls” Restored Rereleased  (United Kingdom)
David Cronenberg  “Crash” Restored Rereleased  (Canada)
Pere Portabella  "Warsaw Bridge" Restored Rereleased  (Spain)
Ulrike Ottinger  "Ticket of No Return" Restored Rereleased  (Germany)
Yuzo Kawashima  “The Balloon” Restored Rereleased  (Japan)
Marguerite Duras  "India Song"  Restored Rereleased  (France)
Zbyněk Brynych "...And the Fifth Horseman is Fear" Restored Rereleased (Czech Republic)
Steve McQueen  "Small Axe: Lovers Rock"  (United Kingdom)
Roman Polanski  "An Officer and A Spy"  (France/Italy)
Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää  "Dogs Don't Wear Pants"  (Finland)
Werner Herzog  "Family Romance LLC"  (United States)
Valentyn Vasyanovych  "Atlantis"  (Ukraine)
Oliver Laxe  "Fire Will Come"  (Spain)
Jason Bateman, Andrew Bernstein & Richard Price "The Outsider" (United States)
Luke Scott, Ridley Scott & Aaron Guzikowski "Raised by Wolves" (United States)
 
For decades this annual entry has acted as an overview of music, dance, theatre and performance art attended, films seen in the cinema, visual art exhibitions and fairs, festivals covered, and international and domestic destinations traveled. Due to the necessary and elementary considerations of the global coronavirus pandemic, and its effect amplified by the federal mismanaging of the response, none of which transpired this year. As a product, the overview for 2020 will have a brevity not seen in almost twenty years of adventures in sight and sound. By late March it was evident that the regional and international film festivals that are traditionally attended would be cancelled. As would the forthcoming music tours and festivals. And lastly, the late summer and fall art fairs and major exhibitions. Born of necessity, and almost instantly, the web became the surrogate for these experiences. Offering as it does a modicum of the sensations, social engagement, and sensory thrills and satisfactions of cultural experience. The pragmatic response would be to accept the inherent losses and embrace what vestiges of a cultural life that could be salvaged. Aided not in the least of course, by the cultural, social, and economic after-effects of the pandemic. What followed were twelve months of taking even more circuitous and unexpected paths to the year's memorable sights and sounds, devoid of the richness found in experience, social engagement, and cultural context. It is now incontestable that streaming and digital distribution have freed channels of access and stages of separation between producer and audience. It has also brought to the fore the issue of accepting poor royalties for the benefit of potential expansive exposure.

In the midst of this digital era of over abundance, there are whole forms and centuries of music that are not being served by the dominant streaming platforms. But if their almost singular foray of independent labels and artists in the market is representative, much was revealed in, "Drip.FM's Closing and The Challenging Future of Sustainable Creative Technologies". While self-releasing platforms like the growing audience direct community of Bandcamp have made the record label less central, it still acts as an important locus in the digital age. Particularly with their focus on Bandcamp Friday as a weekly incentive for listeners to Support Artists Impacted by the Covid-19 Pandemic. Taking up the baton almost instantly, the classical music world pivoted to the online streaming model this past spring, surprisingly ahead of much of the rest of the music world, which followed soon after on its heels. The New York Times' “The Coronavirus Hasn’t Slowed Classical Music”, detailing the calendar hardly less busy than before the conditions of the pandemic, yet prevented the scale and volumes that classical music commonly demands for its successful live realization. Two exceptional resources for navigating these opportunities online were to be found in The Guardian's “Quarantine Soirées: Classical Music and Opera to Stream at Home”, and Alex Ross’ ongoing and regularly updated Music During A Pandemic listings. Acting as a manifesto, Ross' New Yorker piece, “Coronavirus Concerts: The Music World Contends with the Pandemic”, proclaimed the arrival of these almost essential forums.

Though it’s role may be reduced in the age of streaming, the magazine, both print and digital can still be a defining tastemaker amid the multitude of channels in which to discover new music. For those not finding compelling sounds via their internet trawls, streaming platforms and online retailers like Boomkat, online institutions like The Quietus, and programming and print entities like Blank Forms, represent the kind of expertise you’ll not find coherently brought together online outside the framework of such vision and publishing legacy. Evolving right along with the times from a free improv, modern classical and jazz magazine in the 1970s, by the 1980s The Wire  expanded its scope to include post-rock and electronic music. Coming to the 1990s to evolve into the all-inclusive hip hop, dub and reggae, noise, punk, post-everything, jazz, black and doom metal, bass music, dance, techno and house, free folk, psych, kraut and nipponese rock, minimalism, sound-art, and out-sounds publication it became by the conclusion of the 20th century. A particular advantage at year's end, is that the magazine offers the opportunity to Listen to The Wire Top 50 Releases of 2020. Similarly, film institutions like those below offer a global scope, compiling the life’s work of people who make watching their enterprise. In most years, Sight & Sound, Film Comment, Cinema-Scope, Criterion Collection's The Current, and The Guardian's excellent film coverage, would have new issues on the newsstand and online digitally featuring their annual moving picture highlights from around the world. That not being the case in 2020. Nor have the settings of the international festival circuit championed work of interest in their selection and awards process.

So attention and vetting of films seen on screens in festival settings in New York, Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Hong Kong, Seoul, Cannes, Los Angeles, Paris, London, and Toronto, never truly manifest this year in a manner like we are accustomed. Before the pandemic, even in a city like Seattle with it's diminishing independent cinema venues, there remained a relatively robust network of theaters and opportunities to see such films. Resources like Scarecrow Video, The Grand Illusion, Northwest Film Forum, SIFF Cinema, the last remaining Landmark Theatres, and bold new addition The Beacon Cinema cumulatively made this a viable cinema city. These institutions are all struggling now in the face of necessary pandemic closures. A small relief was offered by Criterion's Arthouse America Campaign early in the closure, and more recently the Federal arts funding included in the Save Our Stages Act. So festivals and independent theaters taking up the baton early in their scheduling to move their programming online, allowed the savvy viewer to attend (in quotes) these virtual theatrical settings. This later salvaged the cancelled 2020 edition of Cannes, which was then redistributed to festivals in New York, Toronto, and elsewhere as the global festival community collaborated in restructuring their curation. More specifically, many of the "Asia-themed Film Festivals Migrate Online Amid Coronavirus Pandemic", like Hamburg's Nippon Connection and New York's Japan Cuts, as well as classic, repertory, and genre film showcases accommodated the necessity of shifting to online presentations, which made for a year of greater access for many.
 

:::: ALBUMS OF 2020 ::::


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

For decades this annual entry has acted as an overview of music, dance, theatre and performance art attended, films seen in the cinema, visual art exhibitions and fairs, festivals covered, and international and domestic destinations traveled. Due to the necessary and elementary considerations of the global coronavirus pandemic, and its effect amplified by the federal mismanaging of the response, none of which transpired this year. As a product, the overview for 2020 will have a brevity not seen in almost twenty years of adventures in sight and sound. By late March it was evident that the regional and international film festivals that are traditionally attended would be cancelled. As would the forthcoming music tours and festivals. And lastly, the late summer and fall art fairs and major exhibitions. Born of necessity, and almost instantly, the web became the surrogate for these experiences. Offering as it does a modicum of the sensations, social engagement, and sensory thrills and satisfactions of cultural experience. The pragmatic response would be to accept the inherent losses and embrace what vestiges of a cultural life that could be salvaged. Aided not in the least of course, by the cultural, social, and economic after-effects of the pandemic. What followed were twelve months of taking even more circuitous and unexpected paths to the year's memorable sights and sounds, devoid of the richness found in experience, social engagement, and cultural context. It is now incontestable that streaming and digital distribution have freed channels of access and stages of separation between producer and audience. It has also brought to the fore the issue of accepting poor royalties for the benefit of potential expansive exposure.

In the midst of this digital era of over abundance, there are whole forms and centuries of music that are not being served by the dominant streaming platforms. But if their almost singular foray of independent labels and artists in the market is representative, much was revealed in, "Drip.FM's Closing and The Challenging Future of Sustainable Creative Technologies". While self-releasing platforms like the growing audience direct community of Bandcamp have made the record label less central, it still acts as an important locus in the digital age. Particularly with their focus on Bandcamp Friday as a weekly incentive for listeners to Support Artists Impacted by the Covid-19 Pandemic. Taking up the baton almost instantly, the classical music world pivoted to the online streaming model this past spring, surprisingly ahead of much of the rest of the music world, which followed soon after on its heels. The New York Times' “The Coronavirus Hasn’t Slowed Classical Music”, detailing the calendar hardly less busy than before the conditions of the pandemic, yet prevented the scale and volumes that classical music commonly demands for its successful live realization. Two exceptional resources for navigating these opportunities online were to be found in The Guardian's “Quarantine Soirées: Classical Music and Opera to Stream at Home”, and Alex Ross’ ongoing and regularly updated Music During A Pandemic listings. Acting as a manifesto, Ross' New Yorker piece, “Coronavirus Concerts: The Music World Contends with the Pandemic”, proclaimed the arrival of these almost essential forums.

Though it’s role may be reduced in the age of streaming, the magazine, both print and digital can still be a defining tastemaker amid the multitude of channels in which to discover new music. For those not finding compelling sounds via their internet trawls, streaming platforms and online retailers like Boomkat, online institutions like The Quietus, and programming and print entities like Blank Forms, represent the kind of expertise you’ll not find coherently brought together online outside the framework of such vision and publishing legacy. Evolving right along with the times from a free improv, modern classical and jazz magazine in the 1970s, by the 1980s The Wire  expanded its scope to include post-rock and electronic music. Coming to the 1990s to evolve into the all-inclusive hip hop, dub and reggae, noise, punk, post-everything, jazz, black and doom metal, bass music, dance, techno and house, free folk, psych, kraut and nipponese rock, minimalism, sound-art, and out-sounds publication it became by the conclusion of the 20th century. A particular advantage at year's end, is that the magazine offers the opportunity to Listen to The Wire Top 50 Releases of 2020. Similarly, film institutions like those below offer a global scope, compiling the life’s work of people who make watching their enterprise. In most years, Sight & Sound, Film Comment, Cinema-Scope, Criterion Collection's The Current, and The Guardian's excellent film coverage, would have new issues on the newsstand and online digitally featuring their annual moving picture highlights from around the world. That not being the case in 2020. Nor have the settings of the international festival circuit championed work of interest in their selection and awards process.

So attention and vetting of films seen on screens in festival settings in New York, Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Hong Kong, Seoul, Cannes, Los Angeles, Paris, London, and Toronto, never truly manifest this year in a manner like we are accustomed. Before the pandemic, even in a city like Seattle with it's diminishing independent cinema venues, there remained a relatively robust network of theaters and opportunities to see such films. Resources like Scarecrow Video, The Grand Illusion, Northwest Film Forum, SIFF Cinema, the last remaining Landmark Theatres, and bold new addition The Beacon Cinema cumulatively made this a viable cinema city. These institutions are all struggling now in the face of necessary pandemic closures. A small relief was offered by Criterion's Arthouse America Campaign early in the closure, and more recently the Federal arts funding included in the Save Our Stages Act. So festivals and independent theaters taking up the baton early in their scheduling to move their programming online, allowed the savvy viewer to attend (in quotes) these virtual theatrical settings. This later salvaged the cancelled 2020 edition of Cannes, which was then redistributed to festivals in New York, Toronto, and elsewhere as the global festival community collaborated in restructuring their curation. More specifically, many of the "Asia-themed Film Festivals Migrate Online Amid Coronavirus Pandemic", like Hamburg's Nippon Connection and New York's Japan Cuts, as well as classic, repertory, and genre film showcases accommodated the necessity of shifting to online presentations, which made for a year of greater access for many.  

Thursday, December 3, 2020

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



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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2020

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


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

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

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

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