Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Japan Cuts 2020 Edition: Jul 17 - 30 & Nippon Connection Jun 9 - 14 | Contemporary Japanese Cinema Virtual Theatrical Exhibitions

Worldwide, the organizers of film festivals scheduled for the spring and summer have responded to the pandemic in a variety of ways. Generally by cancelling altogether, optimistically postponing, or going online with virtual theatrical exhibitions. Even Cannes, the world's most prestigious and influential festival will not be hosting a physical edition. But have instead opted to organize events in other festivals in the coming year, what they termed “Cannes hors les murs”. Cannes also joined Berlin, Venice, Toronto, New York and other major film festivals to present last month's free live streaming fundraiser, We Are One: A Global Film Festival. Concurrently there are also a number of significant Asian and Japanese-specific festivals that have found themselves unable to host a physical edition this year and have transitioned into the virtual. From which The Japan Times have assembled an overview, "Asia-themed Film Festivals Migrate Online Amid Coronavirus Pandemic". These 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". As well as directorial debuts from new voices like Isamu Hirabayashi and Kiyoshi Kurosawa student, Yui Kiyohara who arrived with her fully formed "Our House". 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". San Francisco's Japan Film Festival, and New York's Japan Cuts have been two of the standard-bearers for representing this ongoing issuance of quality film from Japan, as are examples seen in European settings like Frankfurt's Nipppon Connection. 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".

By way of example, this year's online edition of Nippon Connection saw the memorable feature length oddity of Isamu Hirabayashi "Shell & Joint", the excellent Sakura Ando boxing vehicle from Masaharu Take "100 Yen Love". Documentary and genre works are presented,  Sabu's supernatural "Dancing Mary", the tough skinned urban realities of Tetsuya Nakashima's "World of Kanako", Sion Sono trying his hand at sci-fi in "Whispering Star", and the documentary on progressive journalist Isoko Mochizuki, by Tatsuya Mori "I-Documentary of the Journalist". There's also groundbreaking anime to be had in Masaki Yuasa's follow up to his award-winning "The Tatami Galaxy", "The Night is Short, Walk On Girl", and Keiichi Hara's historic "Miss Hokusai". Urban life is painted in very different hues by Yukiko Mishima in "Shape of Red", and Takafumi Tsuchiya's "Flowers & Rain". Inspired by Roc Morin's "How to Hire Fake Friends and Family" for The Atlantic, Werner Herzog delivers one of the slipperiest of his indistinguishable hybrids of documentary and fiction, "Family Romance LLC", and "Nobuhiko Obayashi, Unpredictable Japanese Director", leaves us his final film as a "Labyrinth of Cinema". Similarly there's some overlap to be had in this year's online iteration of Japan Cuts. Hirabayashi's "Shell & Joint" is on offer, as is Obayashi's final film, and a documentary on the late director as well. If one missed any of Yoji Yamada's serial films focused on the imperturbable Tora-san, there's a quartet being presented, from his first to the fiftieth, and a few in between. This year's winner of the prestigious Kinema Junpo award, Haruhiko Arai's "It Feels So Good", will surely be a highlight, as will Takuya Misawa's "The Murders of Oiso". "Snow on the Blades" director Setsuro Wakamatsu makes a return with star power and melodrama in "Fukushima 50", and "One Cut of the Dead" director Shinichiro Ueda is back again with some, "Special Actors". Tadanobu Asano likely had a wonderful time making Toshiyaki Toyoda's spirited response to his wrongful arrest. New films by rising directors can be found from the assistant director on Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Journey to the Shore" Taku Tsuboi, as well as the passion project from Hirokazu Kore-eda protege, Nanako Hirose. Also appealing are award-winning mentions for relative unknowns Anshul Chauhan, and the intensity on offer from newcomer Ryo Katayama. Discussions on labor and class, with a dash of "the humanistic impulses of Kenji Mizoguchi", from Kana Yamada, and a tender and quietly devastating roadtrip drama, seen as a bridging of adolescence and adulthood in this Berlin Film Festival Special Mention from Nobuhiro Suwa.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Bang On A Can Marathon: Jun 14 | Kathy Hinde and Igor Levit Performan Erik Satie's "Vexations": May 30 & Jun 12 | Alex Ross "Music During a Pandemic" & The Guardian's “'Quarantine Soirées': Classical Music and Opera to Stream at Home”

With concert halls and opera houses closed, organizations and musicians across the world are presenting content online, opening their digital archives to the public or live streaming new or recently performed concerts. The classical music world has particularly taken to the opportunity, with pieces like the New York Times', “The Coronavirus Hasn’t Slowed Classical Music”, detailing the calendar hardly less busy than before the conditions of the pandemic prevented the scale and volumes that classical music commonly demands for its successful live realization. Two exceptional resources for navigating this abundance can 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. For further reading, Ross' New Yorker piece, “Coronavirus Concerts: The Music World Contends with the Pandemic”, drawing attention to the Berlin Philharmonic positioning themselves at the head of the charge. As Ross recounts, early in the month of March the Philharmonic went ahead with its scheduled program, performing works by Luciano Berio, and Béla Bartók, in a hall devoid of attendees and streaming the event online as one of the first events of its kind. In their case the facilities were already in place; Berlin’s Digital Concert Hall, with its transparent sound and elegant cinematography, had already established a place of notoriety in the classical music world. Ordinarily there would be a performance fee to stream the event, but the Philharmonic offered this concert without charge, and for the following month, opened its entire archive free of charge to all. Not limited to Berlin, the Paris Philharmonic have also outdone themselves. Among numerous other offerings from their archives, including significant performances available in their Concert du Jour, the audacity of their staging of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Samstag aus "Licht", can't be overstated. As only one of the seven days of this conceptual opera cycle by Stockhausen, this particularly massive undertaking is as bewildering as it is rare in its realization. Much in the same way as both of the above institutions, The Metropolitan Opera have opened their archives of past performances. Their existing video on demand rentals are an abundant resource, as are the free-of-charge Nightly Met Opera Streams. Running for 24 hours only, on June 20th and 21st, The Met will be presenting their 2019, and 2011 performances of Philip Glass' "Akhnaten" and "Satyagraha" respectively. A opportunity for a wider audience to experience what The New York Times claimed from it's original performance, "Akhaten Puts You on Philip Glass Time".

The BBC have also opened up their coffers, though not as broadly, with scattered offerings like the Aurora’s landmark Orchestral Theatre staging of Hector Berlioz’s "Symphonie Fantastique" at the 2019 BBC Proms, and the Chamber Music Highlights from Switzerland series. Which includes the Swiss Chamber Soloists performing Arnold Schönberg's stunning "String Trio", among a set of four other arrangements of chamber works. BBC have also relaunched their Live from Wigmore Hall weekly concert series, streaming on their site and BBC Radio 3. Regionally, we have offerings like Seattle Symphony's weekly streaming of performances from their archives. Which to date have included notable performances from the past year. A trio of which, Gustav Mahler’s "Symphony No.1", Alexander Scriabin's "Poem of Ecstasy", and Igor Stravinsky’s astounding "The Rite of Spring", were a pleasure to return to after having seen them performed live in the previous season. Incontestably inspiring the durational and indeterminant works of his contemporary Marcel Duchamp, and the later 20th century explorations of Morton Feldman and John Cage, Erik Satie's "Vexations", has always loomed as the insurmountable holy mountain of minimalism. This past month sees two intrepid explorers looking to tackle its peak. Audiovisual artist Kathy Hinde has chosen to parcel the composition's load, organizing it's 840 iterations onto a body of performers scattered around the world. Randomly selected from 76 different contributors recorded over the months of April to May. As close as anything could be called to dauntless and downright swashbuckling in the classical music world, German-Russian pianist Igor Levit, who Alex Ross called "Like No Other Pianist", is to tackle the work single handed. The Guardian's interview with "Igor Levit: 'These Concerts Were Life-Saving for Me'", following his monthlong series of Hauskonzertes, performed every day, spanning March 14th through April 20h, was a rehearsal of sorts in stamina for the phenomenal undertaking to come. Again we have Alex Ross writing on Levit's herculean undertaking “Live Stream: A Pianist’s Marathon of “Vexations". Which was presented through The Gilmour's mission in developing and promoting world-class keyboard musical experiences, wherein Levit performed "Vexations" solo as a 22 hour marathon on May 30th.

Another extended duration performance spanning a more reserved 7 to 12 hours, (though they have stretched it to over 24 hours in the past), is the annual ritual of the Bang on a Can Marathon. The New York ensemble have been the locus of the New Music movement for some decades now, largely centered around late 20th and 21st Century American composers as the highest profile contemporary ensemble with "A Quarter-Century Of Banging, and Still as Fresh as Ever". Their status enhanced for not only tackling some of the century's more notoriously difficult composers, but also pieces of exceptional duration in their marathon performances. To quote from the Bang on a Can site; "Since the marathon's inception in 1987, it has included an astounding range of revolutionary music and musicians. From John Cage to John Zorn, from minimalism's godfather Terry Riley to Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, from the 30-voice Finnish shouting choir Huutajat to the hyper-mathematical brutalism of Iannis Xenakis, from the political sophistication of pianist Frederic Rzewski, to the high energy strumming of Japan's Kazue Sawai Ensemble, from the eastern European minimalism of Arvo Pärt, to the brainy rituals of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and the turntable manipulations of artist Christian Marclay". Again, it is not at all unexpected that Alex Ross has been following the marathon performances from their early years. His reporting as the classical columnist for The New Yorker, in pieces like "Very Big Bang" from 2007, "Bang Theory" from 2013, and more recently including them in his "Concerts in the Void", often acting as the wider introduction to their modus operandi. Bang on a Can's focus most clearly expressed in the cross-genre-and-disciplinary nature of their marathon incarnation, with each iteration mapping new byways to, "Bang on a Can Marathon Fuses Classical, Experimental and Rock". The duration of these daylong performances is less of what distinguishes them, but instead it is the diversity of their annual selections on offer, "From Roars to Rhythmic Mallets, a Day for Savoring Exploration". Streaming again June 14th, this year's iteration tackles the added complexity of the necessity of separate locales, and contributes an additional layer to “The Bang on a Can Marathon, Still Lovably Scruffy Online”.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Raúl Ruiz "Mysteries of Lisbon" Virtual Theatrical Exhibition at Lincoln Center: May 22

Ranking highly on numerous films of the decade lists, Film Comment, The Playlist and my own included, in 2010 Chilean director Raúl Ruiz assembled a epic duration human comedy to surpass that of Honoré de Balzac. Spanning three generations, dozens of characters, seven narrative voices, a whole century of intrigue, mountains of scandal, war, loss, misery, revelation, piracy, mystery, romantic conquest, the high seas, early colonialism, the coming of the age of science, 19th century decadence, and the subverting of class hierarchies, "Mysteries of Lisbon" is what many considered the masterpiece of a filmography playfully brimming with abundance, ideas, and form. Set during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, which circuitously navigating across the territory of all of the above, the film like much of Ruiz, is in a sense instead about the mechanics of storytelling and the unbound nature of imagination. Taking in Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville and the aristocratic eccentricity of characters that populate the novels of Thomas De Quincey, with generous dashes of tonal references to Marcel Proust’s “unfilmable” novel “À la Recherche du Temps Perdu”, (which incidentally, Ruiz adapted to film in 1999), this cinematic subverting of the period costume drama shifts in a continual spiral that is less a matter of digressions, than the irresistible lure of storytelling. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Camilo Castelo Branco, who's work is often compared to a hybrid of Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and Leo Tolstoy, Ruiz weaves a set of characters from diverse class origins in 18th to mid-19th century Portugal and France into the tapestry of a social and political farce of delirious design. Showing in a limited screening as part of the exclusive virtual cinema programming offered by Lincoln Center, this will be the domestic debut of this work in the totality of it's 333 minute run time. Now released ten years after the Ruiz' theatrical cut, for the first time in an English subtitled edition supplied by Music Box Films.

Further stylistic and thematic points of reference specifically can be found in past and contemporary works as disparate as Stanley Kubrick's cynical 18th century socio-political comedy, “Barry Lyndon”, Whit Stillman's postmodern 19th century play of manners, "Love & Friendship", Federico Fellini's delirious descent into "The City of Women", and both the classic Roger Vadim "Dangerous Liaisons", as well as Stephen Frears adaptation from the 1980s. Most significantly, it is literature and the more adventurous representations of 19th century's novel's extended storytelling form, that can be seen to express themselves vividly through Ruiz' tapestry. One can clearly find representations of Joseph Conrad's "Nostromo", the novels and short stories of Jorge Borges, the previously referenced central pivots of Proust's "Time Regained" and the human comedy novels of Balzac. But let it not be said that Ruiz is a product of his inspirations and influences, but instead it is his own elegant intellectual gamesmanship and weaving of a elaborate historical fantasy which matches even these great works, and can be seen in Richard Brody's New Yorker review of "Raúl Ruiz Adaptation of Marcel Proust’s Masterwork". It can also be witnessed in J.Hoberman's "Revived and Still Luxurious: Raúl Ruiz’ Search for Proust", overview of Lincoln Center's 2018 Ruiz Retrospective, and in the larger body of writing on the life and work of this "Mild-Mannered Maniac" as he was called by the New York Times. Following his death in 2011, there have been a number of such assessments of his filmic oeuvre and the life of this rather singular artist and individual, but it is the entrancingly strange, beautifully eccentric fable of Ruiz' (possibly) final film in "The One Thousand and One Nights of Raúl Ruiz", by which he should be considered. That is, until there's opportunity to see the long-developed 1990 project "The Wandering Soap Opera", reveal what will possibly be his last, and among the greatest, of the "Excursions into Raúl Ruiz’s Fertile Mind", through it's restoration, and the "Art and Craft: Recovering a Film (and a Nation)".

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Seattle Art Fair: 2020 Edition Cancellation | ArtsFund and Artist Trust Emergency Relief & GiveBig Washington A Call for Support: May 5 - 6

This is a year of unprecedented cancellations and postponements among the spectrum of global art fair events. Where once, "Art Biennials Were Testing Grounds. Now They Are Being Tested". For a self-apparent set of reasons, major shows like Art Basel Hong Kong, Art Basel Switzerland, Art Brussels, Art Paris, Art Cologne, Dallas Art Fair, Prospect New Orleans Triennial, Arte Buenos Aires, Bienal de São Paulo, and Frieze New York have been postponed until later dates or outright cancelled. In the case of Frieze New York, there being a small consolation offered with the launching of a "virtual gallery" opening May 8th featuring more than 200 galleries presenting major works by established and emerging artists. Our own Seattle Art Fair hasn't fared quite as well, facing simply a full-scale cancellation until next year's installment. These all in relation of course to the financial and cultural fallout of the pandemic, creating dire funding and sustainability questions for large and small arts institutions alike. Situations like, "MoMA and New Museum Among NY Institutions Cutting Jobs to Curb Deficits", "SFMoMA to Lay Off or Furlough More Than Three Hundred Employees", "Furloughs and Job Cuts Hit The Broad", "Mass Layoffs at Lincoln Center", "MoMA PS1 Facing its ‘Most Serious Financial Crisis’ Ever", "Guggenheim Museum Projecting $10 M. Shortfall", "New York’s Whitney Museum Expecting $7 M. Shortfall", "After Losing $19 M., Brooklyn Museum Joins other Arts Organizations in Applying for Federal Aid", aren't the exception, but instead the norm. In response, hundreds of galleries, nonprofits, arts and cultural institutions in New York alone have banded together to "Petition NYC to Aid Galleries Amid Covid-19 Pandemic", all the while, "Mayor de Blasio’s Budget for 2021 Significantly Cuts NYC’s Arts Funding". A small gesture of relief is the development of the, "Museum Association Eases Rules on How Institutions Can Use Funds Amid Covid-19 Pandemic", which will aid cultural institutions have have applied for and received federal assistance to apply these essential funds to their specific state-by-state contextual particulars.

There's also the philanthropic work of efforts like the ArtistRelief grant, which to-date has worked to generate funds for creators and artists specifically. With galleries, museums, and programmed shows now cancelled, this "Covid-19 Relief Fund to Give $10 Million to Artists" will be the only revenue that many artists receive. Returning to regional concerns, while Paul Allen's Vulcan, the parent company of the Vulcan Arts + Entertainment and Seattle Art Fair will likely weather this period, many of our other local arts institutions will not. The pandemic’s ensuing economic and cultural shutdown has created a revenue abyss for these institutions which exist on a precipice of funding even during good times. Seattle ArtsFund have created the COVID-19 Arts Emergency Relief Fund, and alongside the Artist Trust relief fund, they have generated millions in response. These factors also make this year's annual nonprofit GiveBig donation days, spanning May 5th to 6th, of the highest significance. Widely recognized and essential cultural institutions like Seattle Symphony, Frye Art Museum, Scarecrow Video, Earshot Jazz, SIFF, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Theatre Group, Henry Art Gallery, regional smaller cinemas and nonprofit music venues like The Grand Illusion Cinema, Northwest Film Forum, On The Boards, The Vera Project, and Nonsequitur, are all in need. Or consider giving directly to the gallerists and artists under the Vital 5 Productions umbrella and their work toward some of the most notable and aspirant reconceptions of arts exhibition, funding, and urban spaces for work, to be found around the city in the last decade. These are just a few institutions to consider among countless others, too multitudinous to name, who will be in need of your generosity regardless of the particulars. Your outward financial appreciation of the value of these spaces will be bolstered in many cases through shared GiveBig donation matching. Amid the "Frantic Fundraising, Relief that Can’t Meet Demand: Artists and Arts Groups Scramble Amid Coronavirus Crisis", if you are able, make this week a contextual framing for essential giving. Photo credit: Gagosian Gallery

Sunday, April 12, 2020

TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition 2020: Apr 16 - 19 | The Criterion Channel Presents 26 Film Columbia Noir Showcase: Apr 8 | Streaming for Cinephiles 101

There are innumerable options and platforms to engage your time during this extended period of home viewing. A matter to consider in judging best how to use the time, is whether one should even attempt to navigate the general glut of low(er) quality and overabundance on offer from the dominant streaming platforms. As a tutorial on the wider body of film to be found elsewhere, I offer up the two previous editions of Streaming for Cinephiles 101: Part 1 & Part 2. A summation of these is found in resources like "The Criterion Channel Arrives for All Your Cinephile Needs", with its appearance in the market filling an essential programming role. Platforms like "Criterion Channel Programming a Moveable Movie Feast" acting almost in response to the sparsity found elsewhere, particularly with it now being made increasingly clear that, "For Cinephiles, Netflix Is Less and Less an Option". And don't think to go to Hulu or Amazon as an alternative, despite their claims. The dearth of classic, arthouse, international festival highlights, and award-winning and critically lauded works being available to view on these dominant streaming resources is sorely apparent. This is but a small segment of the components that have contributed to, "Why Netflix Lets Movie Lovers Down, and What to Do About It". As a product of this combined effect of market dominance, while simultaneously offering a lack of content on Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, resources like Fandor, Mubi, and The Criterion Channel became the online destinations of choice for discerning film lovers. To date, "Mubi: A Streaming Service with a Ticking Clock" has come out on top. Unlike the "Streaming Rabbit Hole Worth Falling Down" represented by the services of Fandor and The Criterion Channel, who offer a vast catalog of thousands of titles, Mubi instead watches as an online cinema of sorts, with a new featured film every day.

That said, this month two notable opportunities arise for lovers of classic film. The first being born of the cancellation of this year's edition of TCM's Classic Film Festival. In response to the cultural moment, TCM have assembled four days and nights of films spanning a selection of highlights from the last decade of the festival, as the "TCM Classic Film Festival Moves from Hollywood to Your Living Room". In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, lead programmer Charlie Tabesh established that it would not have been possible to show all the selections that they had planned for the festival in four days of airing. So they instead reconfigured the TCM Classic Film Festival: Special Home Edition as a overview of the unique resources that TCM has at hand. This includes an array of actors, directors, commentary, introductions and insight offered by critics, programmers and hosts as detailed in the expansive program on offer. Among them, is the Film Noir Foundation's host and commentator, the "czar of noir", Eddie Muller. Outside of the annual return of the Noir City Festival, 2017 inaugurated Muller's new permanent residence on TCM with the launch of his Saturday night and Sunday morning Noir Alley showcase. His weekly selections and introductions being more than as a representative for the Film Noir Foundation and their partners at The UCLA Film & Television Archive, but instead a global showcase of the era's look, sound, aesthetic, and feel. And no overview of the genre would be complete without the classic to groundbreaking, "A" to "B" productions born of the massive writing, acting and directorial talent at the disposal of Columbia Pictures. For The Criterion Channel, critics Imogen Sara Smith and Farran Smith Nehme explore the style and sensibility that Columbia Pictures brought to the decade. Nestled in the bounty of The Criterion Channel's April lineup, you'll find the 26 film Columbia Noir selection in their deep dive into, "Film School: Immerse Yourself in the Criterion Channel’s Columbia Noir".

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Seattle International Film Festival: 2020 Edition Cancellation | Virtual Theatrical Exhibitions & The Arthouse America Campaign: A Call for Support

Outside of the second world war, and the events of May 1968, the postponement of the Cannes Film Festival is an unprecedented event. On a local and regional level, the same factors of the global pandemic have resulted in the truncation of this year's Portland International Film Festival, and the outright cancellation of both the San Francisco International Film Festival and Seattle's own International Film Festival this year. Portland was able to screen the majority of its selections with cleaning, gathering volume controls, and observations of public safely and distancing guidelines in place for the final week. In the absence of these showcases for the theatrical North American premiers coming from Rotterdam, Locarno, and Berlin, and even the stragglers from last year's festivals in New York, Cannes, Toronto, Vienna, and Venice, the annual abundance of the west coast festival market will invariably create a void in visibility and access. We'll be left with what can be found of these titles online and through some of the recently launched "virtual cinema" programs. In a short span of time a body of forward-thinking “Film Festivals and Indie Movies Figure Out Online Access”, with independent distributors such as Grasshopper Film, Film Movement, Cohen Media Group, Cinema Guild and “Kino Lorber Launches Virtual Theater Exhibition Initiative To Help Local Theaters Weather Coronavirus Impact", stepping in to bridge the gap. Correspondingly, a limited set of regional independent cinemas have partnered to participate, including SIFF Cinema, Northwest Film Forum, Ark Lodge Cinemas, Faraway Entertainment, and The Grand Illusion Cinema among the earliest adopters. Nationally, Alamo Drafthouse is offering a selection of streaming titles, and Manhattan's Film at Lincoln Center has gotten out ahead of the game, already establishing a strong body of programming for the first month of their virtual cinema.

In response to the the economic and cultural fallout of the pandemic nationwide, a coalition founded by Janus Films and The Criterion Collection, alongside such notable names in American cinema as Alexander Payne, Ari Aster, Atom Egoyan, Barry Jenkins, Christopher Nolan, Edward Norton, Greta Gerwig, John Waters, Noah Baumbach, Richard Linklater, Sofia Coppol, and Wes Anderson have donated a lump sum to launch the Arthouse America Campaign. Petitioning the public for support, as Christopher Nolan's statement in The Washington Post "Movie Theaters are a Vital Part of American Social Life. They Will Need Our Help" and The Criterion Collection's call for aid establishes, they will not be able to do this alone: "There are more than 150 independent local arthouse cinemas all across the country that are on the brink. Closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, cut off from ticket revenue and relying on gift certificate sales and online rentals, these nonprofits and small businesses have already had to cut their budgets to the bone. Without immediate assistance, many are just going to run out of money before substantial government aid kicks in. We can't let the few theaters that still play foreign, classic, arthouse, and independent films die off as a result of this crisis." Regionally, the film institutions that will be most harmed by the pandemic and have the least on offer in the way of state and federal infrastructure, loans and grants will be the small (often volunteer run), independent, nonprofit, and arthouse venues. During good times these institutions are already struggling, particularly in a city like Seattle with its ever-increasing cost of rent and day to day overhead. Consider giving to keep these venues alive, so that when the conditions of the pandemic subside, we will have a cultural landscape to participate and return to.

This first month of virtual cinema programming includes brief online runs of Pedro Coasta's painterly, masterful and meditative portrait, "Vitalina Varela", the surreal and violent political allegory of Kleber Mendonça Filho's "Bacarau", and the harsh postwar realities of Kantemir Balagov’s “Beanpole". Also on offer is another entry in the run of stylistic, humanist crime dramas, coming from the sixth generation Chinese directors seen in Diao Yinan's "The Wild Goose Lake", Ken Loach's most recent neorealist drama on the underclass in Great Britain, “Sorry We Missed You”, Corneliu Porumboiu's "The Whistlers", and Pietro Marcello’s appropriately poetic Jack London adaptation, “Martin Eden”. This leaves a significant body of work from this past season unaccounted for. Largely culling from The New Yorker's Goings On, Film Comment's Big Screen and Critic's Choices sections for scheduled openings in Los Angeles and New York this month, along with the intended programs of the above cancelled west coast festivals. This shortist being in no way complete, but represents a cross-section of arthouse, foreign, and independent films previously scheduled for the month(s) of March, April, and early May. Hirokazu Kore-eda "The Truth", Karim Aïnouz "The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão", Sergei Loznitsa "State Funeral", Mark Jenkin "Bait", Masaki Yuasa "Ride Your Wave", Shengze Zhu "Present.Perfect", Albert Serra "Liberté", Kiyoshi Kurosawa "To the Ends of the Earth", Václav Marhoul "The Painted Bird", Roman Polanski "An Officer and A Spy", Bruno Dumont "Joan of Arc", Kavich Neang "Last Night I Saw You Smiling", Pema Tseden "Balloon", Arnaud Desplechin "Oh, Mercy!", Abel Ferrera "Tommaso", Dardenne Brothers "Young Ahmed", Jayro Bustamante "La Llorona", Christophe Honoré "On a Magical Night", Nanni Moretti "Santiago, Italia", Quentin Dupieux "Deerskin", Bora Kim "House of Hummingbird", Rose Glass "Saint Maud", Cédric Klapisch "Someone, Somewhere", Hlynur Pálmason "A White, White Day", Koji Fukada "A Girl Missing", Renée Nader Messora "The Dead and Others", Kelly Reichardt "First Cow", Olivier Assayas "Wasp Network", Lee Isaac Chung "Minari", Midi Z "Nina Wu", Valentyn Vasyanovych "Atlantis", Feng Zu "Summer of Changsha", Oliver Laxe "Fire Will Come", and Jukka Pekka ValkeapääDogs Don't Wear Pants”.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Northwest Terror Fest: 2020 Edition Postponed | Tour Cancellations & The Washington Nightlife Music Association: A Call for Support

In a season of rapid cancellations and postponements too numerous to count, a set of highlights from this spring, summer and now fall, have dropped from the calendar. Much anticipated among these were the A Winged Victory For The Sullen at Saint Marks Cathedral, the rare return of early 4AD label world music from Dead Can Dance at The Paramount, and postmetal dirgers True Widow at Substation. The month of May would have seen blistering noiserockers Deafheaven at Neumos, the unprecedented return of 1990s dreamrockers House of Love, and minimalist composer and analog tape artist, William Basinski at Columbia City Theater. Also scheduled for June was the annual Mechanismus Festival, subtitled Resistance this year, with an intended lineup including Clan of Xymox, Boy Harsher, and a surprise guest of interest. Straight from England, the hypermodern jazz sounds of Kokoroko, and Shabaka Hutchings and The Ancestors at The Sunset and Neumos respectively, were also expected in the month of June. Lastly, and possibly of most note, neither postpunk, noiserock, and industrial stalwarts SWANS or Einstürzende Neubauten will be appearing at The Neptune as scheduled. These only touching on the surface of the localized fallout from the larger overriding cultural and economic consequences of the global pandemic. Regionally, the cultural institutions that will be most harmed and have the least on offer in the way of state and federal infrastructure, loans and grants will be the theaters, clubs and live music forums themselves. In response to this, a coalition of venues have come together to petition the public for support. The Washington Nightlife Music Association has established a set of necessary subsidies, rent, and tax relief guidelines. They are asking registered Washington voters to write the King County Executive Office and appropriate King County Councilmember, and advocate the necessity of these guidelines if the wider Seattle area music culture is to survive through the pandemic and its aftermath.

Another great loss to the early summer lineup is this year's iteration of Northwest Terror Fest. In a statement to their followers, the festival announced their regret at the necessity of the festival's postponement, and established that many of the artists have already committed to a future 2021 date. The festival was planned to take place over the course of three nights at Neumos, Barboza, and The Highline, on the final weekend in May. This fourth installment after its successful first set of years, showcasing some of the most potent sounds from the heavier end of the 21st century have been heard issuing from the mutating offshoots of black metal. The related global scene's ongoing and burgeoning development have encompassed melodicism and atmospheres lifted from shoegaze and spacerock, eruptions of heavy psych rock, industrial drumming, electronic atmospheres, and pure experimental noise. The expansiveness of this sound detailed in Brad Sanders' overview, "Untrue And International: Living in a Post-Black Metal World". Further showcased in the past half-decade of excellent curation in The Quietus' Columnus Metallicus column, covering releases dominantly sourced from labels like, Hydrahead, Ipecac, Deathwish, 20 Buck Spin, Sargent House, Profound Lore, Season of Mist, Roadburn, Flenser, Neurot and Relapse. An all-things-metal festival with a previous Southwest iteration, Terror Fest's three days host a lineup featuring no small quantity of metal issuing from this particular 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". The 2020 edition lineup as it was initially conceived encompassed everything from gloaming atmospheric ambiance and doom riffs, blistering thrash and hardcore, and heavy psych rock, dark pagan and neofolk explorations. Making for a cross-genre spectrum of metal sounds and weighty atmospheres that was to be heard in sets from, Blood Incantation, Sandrider, Cloak, Windhand, Mizmor, Suffocation, Midnight, Repulsion, Visigoth, Obsequiae, and Xibalba.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Laura Spinney: “It Takes a Whole World to Create a New Virus, Not Just China”

A notable read, from expertise in the intersection of science and social history, from Laura Spinney, the author of "Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World", which is widely considered, "The Deadliest Disease in History". From which The Guardian's review of the book offers some, "Painful Lessons of the 1918 Flu Pandemic". Taking in the complexity of the market, class, poverty, and changes in agriculture and livestock farming in China, Spinney's “It Takes a Whole World to Create a New Virus, Not Just China”, weighs the consequences and benefits of, "The Great Uprooting: Moving 250 Million into China’s Cities" expected to unfold over the course of the next decade, and the "Pitfalls that Abound in China’s Push From Farm to City". Considering their application to a country in flux, and to a people in dislocation, of which there are two coexisting and conflicting views in relation to their (and our) accelerated participation in globalization. From The Guardian: "The reason we shouldn’t call the Sars-CoV-2 virus causing global misery the “Chinese virus” is the same reason we shouldn't blame an outbreak of eczema on an upper arm where it originates: there is clearly a superficial weakness there, but the real cause lies elsewhere. All the evidence gathered to date suggests that the now notorious Chinese “wet markets” places selling live and dead animals for human consumption - provide an opportunity for coronaviruses to jump easily from animals to people. It happened with the Sars-CoV virus in 2002-3 - which was contained before it caused a pandemic - and it has happened again with its close relative, Sars-CoV-2."

"But to understand why the emergence of such zoonoses has accelerated in recent decades, you have to understand the forces putting those viruses in our path. They are political and economic. They have to do with the rise of industrial-scale farming concerns in China and the resulting marginalisation of millions of smallholder farmers. In order to survive, those farmers have moved into the production of more exotic species; animals that were once eaten only for subsistence. But the bigger operations have pushed the farmers out geographically too, as they have taken up more prime farming land. The smallholders have been forced closer to uncultivable zones such as forests, where bats - reservoirs for coronaviruses - lurk. The stars have aligned, and not in a good way, to channel bat viruses through intermediate mammalian hosts such as pangolins, and into humans. Even so, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, the problem could still be regarded as uniquely Chinese. But there are two reasons why that’s not true. First, with the opening up of China, its agribusiness has ceased to be wholly Chinese-owned. It is a big recipient of foreign direct investment Second, as the American pandemic expert, David Morens, and his colleagues pointed out last month in the New England Journal of Medicine we’ve been watching a similar drama unfold over a much longer timescale with influenza - the disease that has caused more pandemics in the history of humanity than any other. Flu viruses that infect animals, including poultry and pigs, have periodically spilled over into humans ever since we domesticated those animals millennia ago."

"But the factory farms that produce our food today ratchet up the virulence of those flu viruses just before they spill over. This ratcheting up has been documented in Europe, Australia and the US more than it has in poor or emerging economies, and it’s what gave rise to the last flu pandemic in 2009. The first cases of that pandemic were recorded in California, but nobody calls it the American flu - and it’s right that they don’t, if only because American farms aren’t wholly American-owned either. China, for one, has invested in them. It’s not just the industries that produce our food that are creating the conditions in which new zoonoses emerge. Logging, mining, road-building and rapid urbanisation are also contributing, and the profits from those are shared internationally too. “We have created a global, human-dominated ecosystem that serves as a playground for the emergence and host-switching of animal viruses,” wrote Morens et al. The resulting diseases are suffered locally at first, as is reflected in their names - Ebola and Zika virus diseases and Bolivian hemorrhagic fever, to name just three - but the irony is that some of them, such as HIV and Covid-19, go on to become global. It’s hard not to see a terrible natural justice in that. That doesn’t mean China shouldn’t be held accountable for its shortcomings. Americans know where their weak points are - they include agricultural fairs, where pigs and humans come together - and they police them ferociously. Their infectious disease experts can detect a virus circulating in a herd and generate a vaccine to it within hours. The Chinese have got better at this lately. They now vaccinate their poultry flocks against a dangerous flu virus, H7N9, which first infected humans in 2013, for example. But nearly 20 years after Sars-CoV spilled over in a wet market, those places still appear to be a liability."

"Controlling that animal-human interface is obviously important, but it shouldn’t blind us to the bigger problem, which is those globalised industries. Economists use the term “tragedy of the commons” to describe a shared resource - common grazing land, say - that is spoiled by individuals acting in their own self-interest. It has been applied to the climate crisis, but as University of British Columbia geographer Luke Bergmann and his colleagues have pointed out it doesn’t quite fit what has happened here. In the case of these industries, it would be more accurate to say that they have excluded the nearly 8 billion of us who depend on the commons from participating in their governance. Yet we are bearing the costs of their industrial exploitation, in the form of pandemic disease. We have our share of responsibility, as individuals, in the foods we choose to eat and the lifestyle choices we make generally. There are a lot of us on this planet and sustaining us is costly. But as has become increasingly clear, these industries have decoupled themselves from consumer choice; they’re driving it rather than responding to it. It’s time we took back the commons, which means voting for politicians who will hold those industries accountable, rather than ones who deflect the blame. We need leaders who understand that the treatment for this particular eruption cannot only be topical, it has to be systemic too." Illustration: Eva Bee

Sunday, March 8, 2020

"Ciao Maestro: The Centennial of Federico Fellini" at Seattle Art Museum: Mar 19 - May 14 | “The Circus of Life: The Many Faces of Federico Fellini”

This past year's calendar at Seattle Art Museum has been filled with notable repertory and archival works, including retrospectives on two 20th century auteurs from far-flung corners of the world, Yasujiro Ozu and Ingmar Bergman. The museum's annual French and Italian cinema series are also significant, as is their long running winter Film Noir program. The longest continuously running series of its kind in the nation in fact, now in its 42nd year. This spring in collaboration with Cinecitta Rome, and co-presented with Festa Italiana, the museum's cinema programmer Greg Olson, brings "Ciao Maestro: The Centennial of Federico Fellini" to the big screen. Along with Ingmar Bergman, Roberto Rossellini, and Carl Theodor Dreyer, Federico Fellini's work from the late 1950s to mid-1970s will appear on any critical assessment 20th century cinema. And rightly so. One needs look no further than The British Film Institutes' Greatest Films of All Time Poll for evidence of the greatness of Federico Fellini's standing in the history of European cinema. Having begun under the guidance of Rossellini, while in the midst of his classic neorealist films, he soon found himself working as both screenwriter and assistant director on Rossellini's "Paisà", in which Fellini was entrusted to film the scenes in Maiori. Within a short span of years, he was introduced to Marcello Mastroianni, then a young theatre actor first seen by Fellini in a play alongside Giulietta Masina, and concurrently he contributed aspects of Rossellini's segment in the anthology film, "L'Amore". After traveling to Paris for a script conference around Rossellini's "Europa '51", Fellini was given opportunity to begin his first solo-directed feature, "The White Sheik".

His directorial debut having initially passed through other hands. When the film came to Fellini it was as a revised version of a treatment first written by Michelangelo Antonioni in 1949. At which time, the film's producer commissioned Fellini to rework the script. Its subsequent rejection by Antonioni led the film back to Fellini, and alongside Ennio Flaiano, it was re-worked into a spirited and lighthearted satire on the life of a newlywed couple. This would be the first of many fruitful collaborations between Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Fellini, the three men co-writing the screenplays of some ten films over the ensuing decades. In the first of another decades-spanning collaborations, the film highlighted the music of its composer, Nino Rota, who along with Mastroianni, and Fellini's future wife, actress Giulietta Masina, would all become constants in both his filmic and private worlds. One year following, what's considered the first of Fellini's films wholly his own, "I Vitelloni" found great favor with critics and a receptive public after its Silver Lion win (alongside Aleksandr Ptushko's "Sadko", Marcel Carné's "Thérèse Raquin", and Kenji Mizoguchi's "Ugetsu") at the 14th Venice International Film Festival. From here, flying over the expanse of a filmmography too rich and nuanced to surmise, a valiant and intimate account by Anthony Lane for the New Yorker, “A Hundred Years of Fellini”, borders as close to perfection as one could ask. Moving at varied trajectories though specific works, and eras, Sight & Sound’s centennial feature, “The Circus of Life: The Many Faces of Federico Fellini”, offers up a richer array of particulars. In a quartet of pieces, they break down the maestro into four concurrent aspects, first beginning with his relationship to the Italian Neorealist movement, "Part One: The Neorealist", and the studio that was his great enabler, "Part Two: The Felliniesque and Cinecitta Studio".

From there we get a complex portrait of Fellini the man, both behind the camera and as a private and public citizen, "Part Three: Federico by Fellini", and the cast of regular collaborators and cohorts in his art, considered as both a theatre production company and extended family, "Part Four: La Famiglia Fellini". Foremost among them, the writing team of Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli, which he retained from his earliest collaborations, alongside composer Nino Rota, production and costume designer Danilo Donati who's work appeared on many of the director’s more visually extravagant films, alongside Norma Giacchero for script supervision and continuity, actress Giulietta Masina, and Fellini's avatar and surrogate, Marcello Mastroianni. In a excerpt from a 1964 interview around "La Dolce Vita"'s production, The Criterion Collection presents this rich and disarmingly personal account of, "Marcello Mastroianni on Fellini". Further reading hosted by Criterion appears in a series of essential essays on the director's central films, "La Dolce Vita: Tuxedos at Dawn", "8 ½: When “He” Became “I”", "8½: A Film with Itself as Its Subject", "Paolo Sorrentino on Fellini’s Roma", "Roma, Rome: Fellini's City", "Amachord's Satire of Italian Provincial Life", "The Nights of Cabiria: My Kind of Clown", and "Fellini Satyricon: Not Just Friends". Of which, a majority will appear in Seattle Art Museum's centennial retrospective, including Fellini's two semi-autobiographical masterpieces, "La Dolce Vita" and "8 1/2", along with a set of earlier films, "The White Sheik", "Toby Dammit", and his first breakout, "I Vitelloni". From there, the series presents mid-period classics like "La Strada", "The Nights of Cabiria", and "Amarcord", fleshing out the body of his theatrical cinematic world with "Il Bidone", and "Juliet of the Spirits".

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Pedro Costa’s “Vitalina Varela” and Angela Schanelec’s "I Was at Home, But..." at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 11 - 20

After its brief three night run at SIFF Cinema, Pedro Costa's Locarno Film Festival winner comes to the Northwest Film Forum for a more substantial run. Along with Angela Schanelec’s "I Was at Home, But...", Costa's “Vitalina Varela” represents a current vein of lower budget, formally exploratory, politically inflected cinema which the Swiss festival has become known for showcasing. With his most recent film, which is deserving of being seen for it's exquisite visual palette alone, Costa has refined the grain of his composite of non-actors, chiaroscuro lighting, found locations and stylized delivery to such an intense degree that it has achieved a kind of profound Newtonian coefficience. If anything, “Vitalina Varela” seemed more massive in it's density, uncompromising in its seriousness, and more determined to create an alternative to sentimental narrative closure and resolution. The story of its protagonist's mourning and rebirth continuing the Portuguese director’s observations on the residents of Fontainhas, with Ventura, and now Vitalina, as Costa's primary creative partners and subjects in a deeply saturated dramatic portraiture. Looking to his wider filmmography, there's clear reason why the Criterion Collection referred to Pedro Costa as, "One of the most important artists on the international film scene today". But as Akiva Gottlieb's "A Cinema of Refusal: On Pedro Costa" for The Nation makes clear, the Portuguese director is not lacking in champions. This all came on the heels of the Cannes premier in 2006 of "Colossal Youth" which elevated him to the most widely heralded new filmmaker of the past decade in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma, Cinema-Scope, Senses of Cinema and Film Comment.

It was the Criterion release, and touring arthouse retrospective "Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa" which brought the Fontainhas project to a wider audience. These describe the very heart of the paradox that anchors his work; the idea that a cinema of such austere, formalist pacing and technique, can be the most democratic use of the medium imaginable. It is in this balance of form and content that Costa has established his moral imperative. In his discovery of the sequestered barrios and slums of Lisbon, and their dark alleys and crowded homes that appealed to him aesthetically. The 2015 interview with Film Comment describes how it was that his exposure to this dilapidated sector of Lisbon prompted him to re-examine his relationship with cinema as a vehicle to affirm the existence of the dispossessed, and began a refinement of his form to match the starkness of a human struggle that went on there day in, day out, removed from view. Through Film Comment's "House of the Spirits" and interview with the director at Locarno in 2019, Costa speaks at length on his inaugurating a radical form of collaborative nonfiction to meet these demands. Through which he has predominantly focused on the Cape Verdean immigrants that populated Lisbon's unlit labyrinths who disarmed him with their directness and fortitude. Costa turning to moviemaking at a period in his personal life when Portugal itself was coming to grim terms with its colonial legacy.

From this context and his unorthodox ways of watching the work of the 20th century masters, Yasujiro Ozu, Straub-Huillet, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, Jacques Tourneur, and Kenji Mizoguchi, that Costa found a vocabulary with which to confront his country’s past. Classifications don't easily adhere to his films; they are formalist, yet they pulse with poetry, humility life and warmth; they are ascetic but also deeply expressive; they are glacially patient and yet possessed of a natural, flowing sense of rhythm. All of these figure in his return to the winding streets, ruinous interiors, alleys, dark hillsides, (and literal underworld) depicted in "The Turning of the Earth: Pedro Costa's Mesmerizing Trance Film" as a portrait of his Fontainhas everyman, Ventura José Tavares Borges. A protagonist last seen in the short film "Sweet Exorcism" as part of the Centro Histórico anthology, from which "Horse Money" enfolded a particularly oneiric passage. This "Surreal Voyage Into the Past" as Ben Kenigsberg's review for the New York Times calls it, is in many ways a haunting disembodied "Existential Ghost Story that Will Get Under Your Skin". Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week review and Cinema-Scope's interview with the director, "L’avventura: Pedro Costa on 'Horse Money'", are our guides to Lisbon's "Elliptical and Mysterious" rhythms of the afterlife as Ventura wends through the city, passing through a lifespan of adversaries, lovers, dreams and remembrances.