Sunday, June 23, 2019

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


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

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

Sunday, June 9, 2019

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


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

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

Sunday, June 2, 2019

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


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 1, 2019

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



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

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

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Seattle International Film Festival: May 16 - Jun 9


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

https://myaccount.siff.net/tickets/buy.aspx?fid=354&id=50553

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

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

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

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

https://myaccount.siff.net/tickets/buy.aspx?fid=354&id=50877

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

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

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

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

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

https://myaccount.siff.net/tickets/buy.aspx?fid=354&id=51207

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://myaccount.siff.net/tickets/buy.aspx?fid=354&id=51242

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

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


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Mark Ernestus with Kid Hops at Kremwerk: May 18 & North American Tour: May 16 - 25



A year from the rather unprecedented affair of a west coast tour, we see the second of the two founders of Basic Channel, Chain Reaction, Rhythm & Sound and Berlin's Hard Wax and Dubplates & Mastering institutions present a night of music at Kremwerk. Their razor-sharp summit of techno's cutting edge was became known to the larger world outside of dance music circles tanks in no small way to The Wire. The March 1998 cover story given over to "The Future Sound of Berlin" introduced Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus' numerous endeavors to a wider listenership, signifying the broader utility of their particular brand of minimalist techno beyond the dancefloor. The Quietus' "The Strange and Frightening World of... Basic Channel", establishes the parameters of their early transmissions, and the mystery of their cryptic and austere aesthetic approach to the visual element and design, which only aided the impenetrable mystery of the productions. Through a near-absolute lack of engagement with any press, Ernestus and Von Oswald created a body of work divorced from the persona of any identifiable producers, a music of deep organic personality, seemingly running on freefall, pursuing it's own oblique and abstract goals. From 1993 to 1995, their Basic Channel project stomped out some of the most sublime, bass heavy, grainy, extended and minimalist excursions into minimal techno and post-house ever dedicated to wax. This mystery only recently rectified decades later with Von Oswald's extensive interview "Channeling Rhythm & Sound, Basically" in The Wire's July 2009 issue. They remain vinyl advocates, and espouse it as the ideal format for their productions; it's inherent distortion, surface noise, and analog warmth lending variance and depth as the stylus passes across the surface of their horizontally progressive technoscapes. Not content at the time with releasing their own music and opening Hard Wax to cater to the growing German scene, they then established their own mastering studio Dubplates & Mastering, set up to ensure a desired dynamic quality for the vinyl and in-house control of the releases. In short time, both becoming mainstays of the scene and ground zero for all high quality cutting and mastering of underground music throughout central Europe.

Basic Channel ceased transmissions in 1995 but were followed by a string of other German variations on the Detroit techno/Jamaican dub themes inspired by their trailblazing work. Biba Kopf's "Underground Resistors" mapping the new territory and artists populating the expanse left in the wake of Basic Channel's initial forays. Among the most notable were the releases issuing from Chain Reaction which released a tide of non-Von Oswald & Ernestus productions, and helped launch the careers of minimal techno producers such as Monolake, Scion, Vladislav Delay, Substance, Vainqueur and Thomas Köner's Porter Ricks project with Andrew Mellwig. While in the throes of Chain Reaction's productive boom, Von Oswald & Ernestus manifest their own next venture into a music more closely aligned with the source of their inspiration; Jamaican dub and reggae. Overtly paying homage to the wellspring of Caribbean music from the 1970s and early 1980s which they revered, the two also established the Basic Replay and relaunched Wackies label to reissue rare and luminary works by the likes of Keith Hudson and Wayne Jarrett. Concurrently with this reissue venture, they marked out their own modern, minimalist territory in the realms of dub and vocal reggae with the initiation of Rhythm & Sound and Burial Mix. These dub and reggae projects gave platform to some of the greatest vocalists in the history of Jamaican music; Sugar Minott, Love Joys, Chosen Brothers, Paul St. Hilaire and Cornell Campbell, all stepped up to the mic to collaborate with the German gentlemen. Ernestus and Von Oswald have since largely gone their separate ways, yet each have continued to express their love of, and debt owed to electro-acoustic improv, jazz, indigenous peoples, afro-soul and rhythm music. Von Oswald with a improvisational trio comprising himself alongside Sasu Ripatti, and Max Loderbauer, as well as a project with long-standing musical collective, Ordo Sakhna devoted to the roots music of Kyrgyzstan. Ernestus' transnational ventures have brought him into the heart of African rhythm music, as the producer and locus of the Dakar-Berlin collaborations, Jeri-Jeri and Ndagga Rhythm Force. Their pan-cultural meeting best described by Ernestus himself in his synopsis of Yermande; "Rather than submitting to the routine, discrete gradations of recording, producing and mixing, the music is tangibly permeated with deadly intent from the off. Lethally it plays a coiled, clipped, percussive venom and thumping bass against the soaring, open-throated spirituality of Mbene Seck’s singing. Six chunks of stunning, next-level mbalax, then, funky as anything."

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Northwest Terror Fest at Neumos, Barboza & The Highline: May 20 - Jun 1 | Author & Punisher, Xasthur and Wear Your Wounds at The Highline: May 26


Returning for a third installment after its successful first two years, Northwest Terror Fest arrives in Seattle the final weekend in May. 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. This 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, Sargent House, Profound Lore, Season of Mist, Roadburn, Flenser, Neurot and Relapse.

Originating from the most far afield end of this spectrum, just days before Terrorfest mechanical engineer Tristan Shone's project under the name Author & Punisher, performs at The Highline with Xasthur and Deathwish artist, Wear Your Wounds. Recently signed to Relapse, Noisey parallels his "Beastland" album as an act of "Creating Metal in His Own Twisted Image". Shone's project utilizes primarily custom fabricated machines, midi controlling devices and custom monitor speakers to manifest an explicitly 21st century industrial noise. In performance, his interaction with the devices draws heavily on aspects of industrial automation, robotics, and human interface, "focusing on the eroticism of the interaction with machine". The constructs and Shone's engagement with their mechanical forms find points of reference in the work of early industrial culture mavens, Survival Research Laboratories. As well as drawing inspiration from the Dystopian Modernity that describes J.G. Ballard's work, and its occupations with "eros, thanatos, mass media and emergent technologies".

A all-things-metal festival with a previous Southwest iteration, Terror Fest's three days and nights 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". Hosted at Neumos, Barboza and The Highline over the course of the last weekend in May, the four night lineup encompasses 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 as heard in sets from, classic 80s rockers Cirith Ungol, Dorthia Cottrell of Windhand, Acid Witch, Addaura, Vastum, Thou, Our Place Of Worship Is Silence, Panopticon, Sutekh Hexen, Vouna, Thou, and synth-horror themes from Slasher Dave.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

"Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990" and Light In The Attic's Japan Archive Series


One of the great unmined veins of popular music of the postwar era spans the Japanese underground of the 1960s and 70s, all the way up to the crest of the New Wave in the late 1980s. This year sees a series of compilations unearthing gems from these largely overlooked movements and scenes. First and foremost among them, Light In The Attic's Japan Archive series, inaugurated in late 2017 with their first volume, "Even A Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973". Exploring the late 60's and early 70s protest era through the music of such pioneers as Yellow Magic Orchestra's Haruomi Hosono, jazz songstress Maki Asakawa, ragged garage from Hachimitsu Pie and the influential pop-folk of Happy End. The New York Times feature, "The Hidden History of Japan's Folk-Rock Boom" details the musical players and ethos of this explosively political time in Japanese history. Following on the first edition, the second and third volumes arrive this spring and summer with a sublime assembly of Japanese "interior music" on, "Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990", and later this summer, the rarefied City Pop sound is to be collected together on the "Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1975-1985".

In the excellent liner notes supplied by Visible Claoks' Spencer Doran for the edition, he rightly sites that ambient music in Japan started, much as it did elsewhere, with Erik Satie, Marcel Duchamp, Morton Feldman, John Cage and their 20th century contemporaries being taught in university courses attended by these then-young electronic pioneers. By bridging modernist and postmodern modes of composition with the then-concurrent forays into "musical furnishings" supplied by Brian Eno, their ideas about background, modes of attention, functionality, and the abstracting of authorship came to the fore. These were to then intersect with the timing of notable advances in technology. In the hands of this generation of electronic pioneers, hardware manufactured for the consumer market was to meet culture-specific notions of environment and sound. The arrival in the west of of this assembly of "Lullabies for Air Conditioners: The Corporate Bliss of Japanese Ambient", as Simon Reynolds points out, couldn't be more perfectly timed. Just in recent years, labels like Palto Flats, WRWTFWW, and Doran's own Empire of Signs have unearthed rare and much sought-after gems, "Telling the Musical History of Japan's Ambient Era". A trio of these recordings have garnering a degree of attention rarely seen for such works of quietly eccentric minimalism. Yasuaki Shimizu's masterful electroacoustic pop heard on "Kakashi", the refined sublimity of Hiroshi Yoshimura's "Music for Nine Post Cards", and the incomparable micro-percussive soundworld of Midori Takada's "Through the Looking Glass", have finally made their way to western ears. The particularly long and circuitous course Takada's music has taken is explored by The Guardian in their, "Ambient Pioneer Midori Takada: 'Everything on this Earth Has a Sound'".

Almost as a companion to the Japan Archive edition, the UK Culture of Soul label have issued their own overview of City Pop and J-Boogie. As a second showcase of a sound that expressed the optimism and exuberance of Japan's 1980s economic boomtimes, "Tokyo Nights: Female J-Pop & Boogie Funk" is focused more explicitly on the women-led bands and female solo artists within these concurrent genres. Both compilations present a music which took in influences from Caribbean reggae and disco, Pacific Island exotica, American R&B and boogie, and a fixation on technological futurism. Look no further than Hosono, Shigeru Suzuki & Tatsuro Yamashita's album Pacific, for evidence of the riches to come of this techno-exotica fusion. Having established themselves in electronic solo and group efforts of the decade before, producers like Tatsuro Yamashita, Toshiki Kadomatsu, Hiroshi Sato, the hugely influential Haruomi Hosono (who is himself going through a reissue revival in the west), were quick to embrace the latest studio equipment and technology. Their roles on both of these collections are as producers and engineers on a staggering multitude of albums. More than just working behind the scenes, these producers generated the thematic character and mode of much of this decade's sound. It is a sound to a time of economic success in Japan; urban lifestyles of indulgence, and the taste for nightlife, produced glitzy discotheques and a soundtrack to this new, lavish era. Epitomizing these attitudes, City Pop emerged as a sonic expression of the imagined neon wonderlands dotted with sandy beaches and metropolitan skylines.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Streaming for Cinephiles 101 Part II: The Criterion Channel


A follow-up to the previous post on online cinema alternatives to the dominant commercial streaming platforms, this second part focuses on this week's launch of The Criterion Channel, and their first month of programming. Which includes, among a vast body of other content; "The Criterion Collection and Janus Films’ ever-growing library of more than 1,000 feature films, 350 shorts, and 3,500 supplementary features, including trailers, introductions, behind-the-scenes documentaries, interviews, video essays, commentary tracks, and rare archival footage. It will also feature a constantly refreshed selection of films from a wide array of studio and independent licensors including Sony Pictures, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Lionsgate, IFC Films, Kino Lorber, Cohen Media, Milestone Film and Video, Oscilloscope, Cinema Guild, Strand Releasing, Shout Factory, Film Movement, and Grasshopper Films. Additional licensors will be added in the coming months." Launched in response to last year's announcement that , "WarnerMedia Shutting Down FilmStruck Streaming Service", which in the process, "niche markets" that institutions like Time Warner once looked to supply, were discarded in favor of an eye exclusively to mass market profit margins. The FilmStruck "Streaming Service that Places a Big Bet on Cinephiles" endeavor between The Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies being the most recent casualty of narrow-minded market concerns like those detailed in Vanity Fair's, "FilmStruck, the Cinephile’s Answer to Netflix, Is Shutting Down". This is one of the factors involved in how Amazon and Netflix will continue to consume the streaming market and come to dominate our options for content... when media conglomerates like Fox, Disney, AT&T and Warner Brothers merge... alternatives for such "niche markets" as AT&T describes them, disappear... and everyone loses.

Striking out in an independent endeavor, it was announced that "Following FilmStruck's Closure, Criterion Collection to Launch its Own Streaming Service". Their new streaming platform arrives this week, with GQ being effectively ahead of the game, "The Criterion Channel Is Here for All Your Cinephile Needs" compiling a viewers' guide to, "Everything Coming to The Criterion Channel as it Launches This Month". We are now seeing resources of Criterion Channel's kind coming to fill an essential role, almost in response to the sparsity found elsewhere. In a span of the last decade it has become 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. The diminishing of both quantity and diversity on the Netflix in particular has been accelerated by the phasing out their once voluminous physical media catalog. For a microcosm, look to the fact that less than 1/15th of "Spike Lee's list of 86 Essential Films" are available to view on Netflix. The per-capita is even more poor when one examines any of the selections made in the global poll of 900 critics, programmers and academics for the British Film Institute's, "The 50 Greatest Films of All Time". This is 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 short-lived FilmStruck became the online destinations of choice for discerning film lovers. Facilitating particularly valuable programming and distribution, these independent streaming platforms have stepped into the international festival arena. The fruits of their curation and criticism offered throughout the year in their respective digital magazines, Notebook and (the now shuttered) Keyframe. 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 then) FilmStruck, each offering a vast catalog of thousands of titles, Mubi instead watches as an online cinema of sorts, with a new featured film every day. At its inception, The Criterion Channel looks to be offering Mubi the healthiest and most desirable kind of competition; complimentary, rich, far-reaching, and expertly curated.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Claire Denis' "High Life" at SIFF Cinema: Apr 12 - 25



Thematically variegated, from explorations of masculine camaraderie, observations on the post-Colonial landscape of both Africa and Paris, to sharp edged gender relations, neo-noir thrillers, and strange science run amok, Claire Denis' filmography navigates the spaces between traditional narrative and more structurally adventurous cinema. Consistently fashioning an interplay of the gravitational pulls inherent in the corresponding genres. Denis is herself a complex and irreducible intellect, as made clear in recent interviews on both gender representation in Cannes, and the wider field of women artists, "Claire Denis: ‘I Couldn’t Care Less About the Weinstein Affair'". As well as speaking specifically on her most recent film, it's unusual subject matter, and science fiction as a vehicle for plumbing themes of sexuality and violence, for the Irish Times, "‘We are Normal People. Even Though We are French’". Recent representations of her craft can be seen in 2008's masterpiece on class, race and urban life, conveyed through light and motion that was "35 Shots of Rum", and 2014's pitch perfect neo-noir, "Bastards". The latter bringing it's audience deep into the nightmare of one family's decomposition from the inside with it's contact with power, corruption and an immoral elite. In a sense all of her work can be seen as, "Family Films of a Very Different Sort". Another constant of her work, one that she shares with the best of her peers, (think David Lynch, Steve McQueen, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang) is the elliptical nature of it's narrative and visual structure. Looping back on itself, projecting ahead, fusing impression, experience and dream, these structural and thematic signatures are abundantly detailed in Nick Pinkerton's Claire Denis interview for Film Comment and Senses of Cinema's "Dancing Reveals So Much: An Interview with Claire Denis".

A crowning point from Cannes 2017, she delivered a subtly pointed observations of contemporary French life in, "Let the Sunshine In". This elegant, eccentric relationship comedy of ideas on middle age, expressed itself with an almost inscrutable sophistication, "Un Beau Soleil Interieur: Juliette Binoche Excels". Taking a typically dynamic about-turn, Denis then delivered "High Life" the following year after its long gestation. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, this most recent entry in "The Fearless Cinema of Claire Denis", represents an even deeper plumbing of genre, as it, "Takes Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche on an Erotic Space Odyssey as a Mesmerizing Look into the Void". Along its course, bridging such improbably collaborators as Icelandic media artist Olafur Eliasson and an early draft of the screenplay by Zadie Smith. Initially intending Philip Seymour Hoffman in its lead role, "High Life" is the second collaboration with Eliasson after 2014's "Contact", and stands as Denis' explicit foray into hard science fiction. In form for the director, "Claire Denis Talks on Her Long Path to Filmmaking", offering insight into the project's development, the inhospitable nature of space, and the film's themes of sex, control and confinement, "Claire Denis on High Life, Robert Pattinson, and Putting Juliette Binoche in a “F*ckbox”. The film's multifaceted tensions succinctly delineated in Charles Bramesco's Toronto review, "High Life: Orgasmic Brilliance in Deepest Space with Robert Pattinson" for The Guardian; "Denis proposes the erotic drive as the fuel to use when there’s nothing left to live for. In the negative zone beyond the stratosphere, depicted as a physical glitch humankind was never meant to explore, severe isolation returns the brain to its basest biological capacity. Every day is a battle to stay sane (less apparent among Denis’ feats here is that she has casually constructed a remorselessly honest look into the psychological ramifications of incarceration)."