Sunday, April 15, 2018

Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygène Trilogy & "Electronica" US Tour: Apr 9 - 21


In one of his first-ever North American tours, a seminal voice from the astronomical, psychedelic, French early synthesizer music culture performs next week at Seattle's Paramount Theatre. A revival of interest seen in the French analog for Krautrock's Kosmische offshoot, the equally conceptual Space Music, inspired by the interstellar vibe of Fantastique cinema, progressive and psychedelic rock, Bande Dessinée comics, and the psychological, political, science fiction pulp literature of the mid-to-late 1970s is very much afoot. Reissues of pivotal albums from the era by the likes of Space Art, Heldon, Bernard Fevre and Richard Pinhas have all surfaced in recent years. As well as vanguard compilations like the two volumes of "Cosmic Machine: A Voyage Across French Cosmic & Electronic Avantgarde (1970-1980)". No discussion of French synth music of the 1970s would be complete without Jean-Michel Jarre and his becoming swept up in the zeitgeist of Fantastique themes and cosmic sounds, with the massive breakout releases of 1976's "Oxygène" and the following "Equinoxe" of 1978. Touching on early studies in academic composition, adoption of sampling technology in the 1970s, Italian Futurism, musique concrète pioneer Pierre Schaeffer, Miles Davis, and revealing fascination with musical diversity, Jarre spoke with The Quietus', for their "Oxygène Of Collaboration: Jean-Michel Jarre's Favourite Albums". Not limited to culture, music and the arts, Jarre's life has been lived as avid political voice and activist, utilizing his profile to heighten awareness of environmental issues like that of last year's "Anti-Donald Trump, Dead Sea Performance at the Ancient Masada Fortress". Further discussion of his bewildering and immense live performances of the 70s and 80s, and the completion of what is now a four-decade spanning Oxygène Trilogy following closely on the heels of his "Electronica 1: The Time Machine" and "Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise" of 2016, can be found in the extensive interview with The Guardian, "Jean-Michel Jarre Explains How He was ‘Vampirized’ by the Epic Outdoor Shows that Made Him Famous".

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Bruno Dumont's "Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc", Hong Sang-soo's "Claire's Camera" & Guy Maddin's "The Green Fog" at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 13 - 22


Northwest Film Forum hosts the larger per-capita of this months notable limited runs beginning with Hong Sang-soo's second bilingual feature starring French actress Isabelle Huppert. Shot on the fly over the week of Cannes 2016, "Claire's Camera", is another of his scathing observations on film culture and gender dynamics, delivered in his paradoxically breezy yet bitter comic tone, in which, "Isabelle Huppert Plays a Cannes Newbie". Both a highly prolific year for Hong, as well as a typically qualitative one, the stretch of 2017 also saw the release of "On the Beach at Night Alone", "The Day After" and most recently, 2018's "Grass". This first trifecta of films, "On the Beach at Night Alone", "The Day After", and "Claire's Camera" contains theme and preoccupations that course throughout Hong's recent work; female-centric narrative perspectives, gender frictions (in which men make themselves the fool), and a shifting, subjective sense of chronology and event-authority. It is this last element that most defines the otherwise innocuous "Claire’s Camera". As Richard Brody's analysis of Hong's recent filmography for The New Yorker posits, it is his emphasis on long scenes of jousting dialogue between the sexes have brought comparisons to the films of Eric Rohmer. Arguably, it is another French director who Hong's work most resembles explicitly in regard to its slippery cinematic architecture; that of Alain Resnais. In this regard, like Resnais' storytelling mechanics, a new majority of Hong's films  offer intricate narrative structures that reassemble and twist timelines over their course.

A universe away from Rohmer and Resnais, Guy Maddin's most recent is an exercise in examining one of the great films of cinema history, with a lesser, but intriguing enterprise within his own filmography. Gone are the frenzied and psychedelic digressions found in Maddin's past work, particularly the passionate reverence for German Expressionism and lost films of the silent era. The ecstatic chaos of technical mastery and oblique meetings of analog and digital process seen in his and Evan Johnson's "The Forbidden Room", are also largely excised. What remains in "The Green Fog", much in the way of 2007's "My Winnepeg", is a wonder of footage excavation and urban history. Utilizing clips from abundant cinema and archival sources, Maddin and Johnson recreate a lost object of obsession, the city of San Francisco from the time of Hitchcock's masterpiece. In many ways, rather than a homage to the director, or the film itself, "The Green Fog is a Fitting Salute to Hitchcock’s San Francisco", or more precisely, the cinematic idea of the city as seen in films of that era. Jonathan Romney's Film Comment Film of the Week review focuses on the heightening of discontinuity in Maddin's juxtaposition of source material and scene, in classic Surrealist mode often constructed with an eye for the bizarre and joyously perverse. 

An altogether differently inclined cinema of perversity can be found in the oeuvre of Bruno Dumont. The formerly somber Dumont’s turn to the comedic, and outright surreal since 2014’s perfectly pitched "L’il Quinquin", has marked a creative rebirth, as detailed by Senses of Cinema in their, "The New Extremism in the Street of Comedy: An Interview with Bruno Dumont". While imbalanced as a knockabout comedy in his previous costume drama satire, "Slack Bay", his newest "Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc", finds its footing anew in taking liberties adapting Charles Peguy's "The Mystery of the Charity of Jeanne d’Arc". Sharing an equation as that detailed by Mubi's "Cracking Up: A Conversation on Bruno Dumont", Dumont's newest is sublimely parsed in Jordan Cronk's Cannes reporting for Cinema-Scope; "pitched somewhere between Straub-Huillet and Headbangers Ball, Monty Python and Olivier Messiaen, Bruno Dumont’s new feature marks a near-perfect synthesis of the French iconoclast’s many disparate interests and obsessions". Cronk also citing "Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc" in its relation to its cinematic forebears. Where films by Bresson, Dreyer, Rivette, and Preminger have focused on Joan’s perils in battle, trial on charges of heresy, and eventual execution by the church, Dumont’s story centers on an (musically adept) adolescent Jeanne. Depicting a passage spanning the throes of her spiritual awakening, to her decision to leave home and take up arms as a musical comedy, Dumont is dancing "On the Verge of Heaven". Richard Brody's New Yorker review also finding perfection in the peculiar equilibrium of the film's unrestrained genre mashup; "The effect is moving. It’s also very funny, but in a way that sparks not laughter but astonishment. Jeannette’s visionary heroism is both clear-minded and absurd; in the extravagant possession of a child playing, completely earnestly, with the forces of history, Dumont catches the celestial comedy of disproportion and realizes that comedy with an apt sense of wonder and awe."

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Lucrecia Martel's "Zama" & Abbas Kiarostami's "24 Frames" at Northwest Film Forum: Apr 21 - May 3



Much like the set of notable titles from Cannes that arrived stateside in the month of March, April sees a stretch of films from competition in last year's Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and Rotterdam. While not a work of narrative cinema, the late, great, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's final visual exercise watches as a series of 24 four and a half minute segments, most of them depicting animals in landscapes, each one slowly developing within a single static framing. Through digital post-production, "The Persistence of Abbas Kiarostami’s Vision in ‘24 Frames’" is obliquely expanded into suggestive live-action tableau. The borders of which acting as very much a literal "frame", with the very first of the images being Pieter Bruegel the Elder's “The Hunters in the Snow”. Watching more like the video installation work of many of his modern art world compatriots, what follows in the ensuing 23 frames of "24 Frames", is Kiarostami's final abstract statement on love, cinema, time, technology, censorship, and how we watch and consider the world. In the way of other expressions of the frame, and it's role in visual art of previous eras, two exceptional period dramas have utilized new technology to realize a striking recreation of 18th Century visual style. Sitting neatly within his filmography, "The Death of Louis XIV" is another of Albert Serra's maneuvering around the traditional narrative locus of his historic figures and settings. Serra has built a filmography of counter-intuitively selecting characters from some of the most iconic of western history, epics and fable. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in "Honor of the Knights", the trek of the three Magi in "Birdsong", Casanova and Count Dracula in "Story of My Death", and strips these high tales of their central events. What remains is a atemporal in-between state of extended middle passages and arching slow journeys across time and space. Often at a great remove from these figures' defining characteristics, and the drama of their established destinations. His most recent, "A Quietly Amazing Portrait of the End of Life" in which Jean-Pierre Léaud depicts the last two weeks of the monarch's life as a "Long Goodbye". While Léaud remains prostate for most of it's length, this painterly, recreation of 18th Century interiors, fashions, social mores, courtly hierarchy and (misguided) medical science, the gravitational pull of Serra's film originates from the "Riveting Performance at Its Heart".



Another painterly exercise in framing events of the 18th Century can be found in "Lucrecia Martel's Return After a Long Journey", with her first new feature film in nine years, following 2008's "Headless Woman". Returning after nearly a decade, to great aclaim at it's premier in Venice and Toronto, her new work can be seen in the light of a resistance to the rationalized time of industrial modernity, sharing a lineage of non-chronological considerations of time, thought and memory found in the works of Marcel Proust, and vitalist philosopher Henri Bergson. As detailed in the pages of Film Comment and Sight & Sound, between the two projects the Argentinian director spent an extended period adapting Héctor Germán Oesterheld’s science-fiction graphic novel "El Eternauta", which ground to a halt when financing fell through. The leap between the time continuum-hopping sci-fi setting of "El Eternauta", and "Zama"'s journey across the landscape of colonial Paraguay might seem in high contrast, but as Martel explains in "Breaking Time’s Arrow: Lucrecia Martel and Zama", both undertakings are adaptations of Argentine source materials from the 1950s that involve an act of temporal projection. Whereas the former imagined a future journey across timelines as a consequence of the extraterrestrial invasion of Earth, "Zama", based on Antonio di Benedetto’s classic 1956 novel of the same name, follows the protracted travails of 18th Century bureaucrat Diego de Zama. Posted to a remote backwater as he lobbies to be returned home and escape the enveloping atmosphere of colonial folly, Zama's desperation grows as his relation to chronology unwinds. Events of past and future intermingle, becoming increasingly hallucinatory, the journey culminating in a state that is as much dream as waking life.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

John Luther Adams' “Become Desert” & Kanchelli, Smetana and Schnittke at Seattle Symphony: Mar 29 - 31 | Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time" at St. Mark’s Cathedral: Mar 25


Composed while a captive German prisoner of war, Olivier Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time" resonates with thematic expression of his wartime experience. In the preface for the chamber piece's score, the late expressionist composer cited excerpts from the Book of Revelation in reference to the war's effect on the historic continuity of Europe, as detailed in Alex Ross' "Revelations: Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time". The piece predating his Modes of Limited Transposition, which he abstracted from the systems of material generated by his early compositions and improvisations. Messiaen's output in this mode defies the conventions of forward motion, development and a often a rejection of the conventional cadences found in western classical music. His two great inspirations originate particularly from the music of Claude Debussy and his use of the whole-tone scale (which Messiaen referred to as Mode 1 in his modes of limited transposition). As well as from his great admiration for the music of Igor Stravinsky, particularly the use of rhythm in earlier works such as The Rite of Spring, and the composer's use of tonal color palette. As described in his multi-volume theory treatise "Treatise of Rhythm, Color and Birdsong", the importance of color is linked to Messiaen's personal synesthesia, which he said caused him to experience perception of colors when he heard or imagined music. The treatise also sheds light on the composer's other great passion and source for much later musical inspiration; Ornithology. While predating the Messiaen's ornithologically-focused works, in this month's performance of the chamber quartet at St Mark's Cathedral, the groundwork can be heard for his development of the later Modes of Transposition. In many ways the work remains a striking representation of form and a precursor to, "Messiaen: A Life of Finding Salvation in Birdsong", by this notable 20th Century composer.  

While 2019 will mark the final year of his tenure as conductor and programmer at Seattle Symphony, since his arrival in 2011, Ludovic Morlot has launched a number of significant modern music initiatives. Alex Ross positing that from the week of his debut, the conductor not only stepping out with a strong start musically, but a reshaping of the orchestra's image, effectively in many ways, the "Symphony’s New Leader Took Seattle by Storm". Not least among his accomplishments, the late-night [untitled] chamber music series which brought contemporary works back into symphony's lexicon, after almost a decade of being remiss in the frequency of their performance. Morlot brought a higher profile and further prestige to the city with his commissioning of "John Luther Adams Pulitzer Prize Winning 'Become Ocean'" which was recorded with the Seattle Symphony in 2013. This month sees the conductor's hand at work in a night of chamber works by Giya Kanchelli, Bedrich Smetana, and Alfred Schnittke, as well as Adams' continuation of the cycle, with the premier of "Become Desert". Yet the seasonal [untitled] program may prove to be Morlot's greatest work during his tenure in Seattle. The series' installments cumulatively reading as a who's-who of 20th/21st Century avant-garde and modernism, including in its breadth the works of George Crumb, György Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Terry Riley and Giacinto Scelsi. Other high points include 2015's performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen's groundbreaking electro-acoustic, "Gesang der Jünglinge", and the series' initiation with the realization of Olivier Messiaen's rarely performed, massive symphonic work, "Turangalîla".

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Nils Frahm’s new album “All Melody” & US Tour: Mar 27 - Apr 6


The latter two weeks in March see a quartet of classical and neoclassical performances around the city. Among them, the fifth return of pianist Nils Frahm to Seattle, which began with his west coast premier at Substrata Festival in 2011. On tour across North America in support of his most recent album, "All Melody", the German composer's night at The Neptune will invariably be variations on the brand of swooning neoclassicism Erased Tapes has become known for. The 2007 launch of the label by Robert Raths began auspiciously enough with debuts from Rival Consoles and Codes In The Clouds. Within a year the imprint had become home to the growing electronic, neoclassical, and contemporary chamber music culture shepherded by the likes of Ólafur Arnalds and the aforementioned Nils Frahm. The two artists supplying the label's breakout albums in 2010's "And They Have Escaped the Weight of Darkness", and 2012's "Felt". Bringing a new global audience to their unabashedly sentimental conceptual explorations of the beauty of nature and life in a temporal world. These thematic evocations touched on in his interview for The Quietus, "Escaping the Darkness: An Ólafur Arnalds Interview". More than just the strength of it's releases, the label became known for it's attention to acoustic and production process, as detailed in by Frahm in his turn with the periodical, "The Listener is the Key: The Nils Frahm Interview". The question of acoustic character and instrumental voice taken to it's extreme in Pitchfork's cheekily titled, "Nils Frahm’s Piano Is Bigger Than Yours", detailing the meeting with instrument maker David Klavins, and ensuing invitation to play the world's largest piano, the 12-foot-tall upright, known as the M370. In recent years Arnalds has also entered into a series of collaborations including his rendition of Chopin's sonatas and etudes with Alice Sara Ott. Herself an established pianist of the repertoire of Liszt, Beethoven, and Mussorgsky for Deutsche Grammophon. In their realization of the material, Ott and Arnalds' "The Chopin Project" sourced vintage instruments from various locations around Reykjavik, and selected spaces with distinguished acoustic character as the venues of performance. Nils Frahm returned again as Ólafur's regular sounding board and fellow improviser, as heard in their deeply intuitive dialog during the Decibel Festival night at the Nordstrom Recital Hall in 2013. "Trance Friends" describes a meeting at Frahm's Durton Studio in Berlin, wherein the two improvise throughout the night, documented over the course of 8 hours with no overdubs and no edits, as part of the assembled "Collaborative Works". Yet Frahm's personal well of inspiration comes from the more varied fields of jazz, fusion, minimal electronics, world music, dub, and 20th century modernism, as reflected in the selections for, "Music Is Not Sport: Nils Frahm's Favourite Albums".

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Loveless" & Armando Iannucci's "The Death of Stalin" at SIFF Cinema: Mar 16 - 29 | Valeska Grisebach's "Western" at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 8 - 11 | Michael Haneke's “Happy End” at Varsity Theater: Mar 2 - 8 | Kiyoshi Kurosawa's “Before We Vanish” at Grand Illusion Cinema: Mar 9 - 15



Some six months after the festival's conclusion, many of the most anticipated and notable films of this past year's Cannes are arriving in the cinema. The festival's seeming abundance of "Sorrow, Strength and Middle-class Woes", continues in the long tradition of "Cannes' Rich History of Capturing Politics, Mores and Film Icons", as the world's most prestigious showcase of the old and the new. Extensive coverage of the totality the festival had to offer can be found on pages dedicated by, Criterion, The Guardian, The New York Times, Sight & Sound, and Film Comment's varied and alternating perspectives offered in Dennis Lim's "Keeping at It", Kent Jones' "A Six-Letter Word", Nicolas Rapold's "Catastrophes on Parade", and Amy Taubin's "The Speed of Light in a Vacuum". In another longstanding tradition with Cannes, opinions diverge notably among the press. In The Guardian's coverage, "Cannes 2017 Awards: Visceral Power Overlooked in Favour of Bourgeois Vanity", Peter Bradshaw saw the festival bestow the fruits of this year's awards on a set of elegant dissections of bourgeois absurdity and vanity. In the process, overlooking the more visceral power of entries seen in, "An Eerie Thriller of Hypnotic, Mysterious Intensity" from Andrei Zvyagintsev, "Joaquin Phoenix Turning Travis Bickle in Brutal Thriller" as directed by Lynne Ramsay, and Sergei Loznitsa's "Brutally Realist Drama Offering Up a Pilgrimage of Suffering". Similar observations can be found from Nick James in Sight & Sound, in which there was little consensus among critics on, "What Should have Won the 2017 Cannes Palme d’Or?". Arguing the divided nature of the awards are the product of the competition being the weakest of recent times, producing a wide open field expressed in the random enthusiasms of Pedro Almodovar’s jury. Yet there was consistency found in the consensus among critics that Lynn Ramsay's kidnap thriller, "You Were Never Really Here", and again regarding Andrey Zvyagintsev’s disintegrating family drama "Loveless".

Much in the way of Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan, or Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, few living filmmakers put as much focus and intentionality into their technical storytelling craft as Andrey Zvyagintsev. Such determination risks the weight of style and form from the application of such methodical rigor, yet rather than the weight such framing oppressing the narrative, in his work the drama is buoyed by the solidity of its mass. Like his "Elena" of 2011, Zvyagintsev's newest concerns itself with issues of generational values, class and privilege in contemporary Russia. What it also shares with that film is its riding a balance between polemic and mystery, tackling earth-bound social issues, but hovering around the film's expanses there is the unease of a deeper spiritual faultline running through the worldly drama. The stratification of a Russia literally living within the ruins of the Soviet era remains the dramatic and visual theme, one of stark spaces and corrupted infrastructures, and given his home's current political climate, his recent stretch of films have earned "Applause in Hollywood but Scorn at Home", as "Andrey Zvyagintsev Navigates a Tricky Terrain". Initially a satire of rudderless Russian modernity, mid-way into it's examination of materialistic self regard, "Loveless" shifts its focus to find deeper "Resonances in a Russian Family Falling Apart". Seemingly overlooked at Cannes, as detailed above by The Guardian and BFI's Sight & Sound, RogerEbert.com's Sheila O'Malley weighs in on "Loveless" in their selections for the Academy Awards, "If We Picked the Winners 2018: Best Foreign Language Film".



Having already proved himself a virtuoso of contemporary political evisceration, Armando Iannucci moves out of the modern setting of successes like "Veep" and "The Thick of It", into period satire in his sharply comedic, "The Death of Stalin". Unlike the passive reception of the political facets of Zvyagintsev's filmography, Iannucci's film has met with outright resistance, and theater closures upon it's opening in Russia, the film being widely banned for its comedic and sacrilegious, "Deflation of the Corpse of Despotism". The ceaseless stream of dialog, frantically assembled agenda, and cross and double-cross, are the propulsive machinations found "Amid Chaos, Great Energy" of the film's wrong-footing equilibrium. Delivered through a tightly set arrangement of sharp dialog, slapstick and interjections of impending violence, he sense of fear, and tension of deadly consequence is so deeply embedded in every scene of the film that it distorts reality around it. Stalin era atrocities are the inferred force behind the delirious intrigue and frantic rearrangement of history at the film's pivotal moment. In Iannucci's situational "Slapstick Horror", Khrushchev soon rises to the occasion as one of the canniest of these manipulators, but it is Lavrentiy Beria, the architect of Stalin's NKVD, and the ensuing cultural purges, that emerges of the film's locus. Alongside paranoid set pieces of the filmmaker’s signature comedic dressing-downs, As J.Hoberman says in the pages of Tablet, "The Death of Stalin", has something to offend everyone; "both Slavophiles and Slavophobes alike, The Nation and The National Review, erudite professors and historical ignoramuses, neo-Stalinists and anti-Stalinists of all persuasions".



Garnering recognition as it traversed the world at film festivals in Vienna, New York, and Toronto, the third feature film by Bulgaria's Valeska Grisebach ranked among the most notable works seen in Cannes' late-May French Riviera setting. Eventually finding itself among year-end overviews such as Sight & Sound's Best Films of 2017. More than a oblique reference to the genre with which it shares its title, Vlaeska's "Western" explores the themes of ingrained prejudice and the permeability of borders, offering a provocative and often original take on Hollywood's richly confrontation genre. As a exploration of the western's tropes, it shares a kinship with another great film made by a woman director on the subject of men at work, on a frontier, largely in the absence of women. For those who are looking, associations are there to be made with Claire Denis' masterful "Beau Travail", (a subtle recognition of Denis’s legionnaires is even offered at its midway point). Told with firmly established style points on the conventions of European arthouse cinema; the favoring of passing ambient or situational moments over narrative development, the observational relationship to identity of the protagonist, and a substantive yet open-ended resolution, "Western" increasingly stands apart. All the while as its situational particulars come to feel tangibly well-worn and as familiar in the western format as a John Ford movie. That is, if the Fords and the Peckinpahs of the higher end of the Hollywood standard were attuned to dislocation and discontent in contemporary Europe, and observed with a keen eye for gender and 21st century socio-political frictions. As Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week review details, the workers of Valeska's film share no small affinity with the frontiersmen of the Old West. Some of whom act as though they find themselves in the 19th century, seeing the local people as an indigenous presence to be treated with suspicion, or exploited in the mission of their labor. Thereby establishing the film's central conflict and it's protagonist's stance in relation to nation, and personal nature.



When considering the work of this multiple Palme d’Or winner (sharing the exclusive company of Shohei Imamura, Alf Sjöberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Bille August, Emir Kusturica and the Dardenne Brothers), The Telegraph's assessment of Michael Haneke as an unsparing auteur is reductive, but not far off the mark, "Michael Haneke: Cruel to His Characters and To Us". Yet his recent work has tempered the severity of his critique of violence and entertainment. As a unexpected, and singular, sequel in the director's filmography, "Happy End" could watch as "Another Unhappy Family From Michael Haneke", yet there's more to this tale of privilege, interpersonal estrangement and desensitization in it's continuation of the Laurent family's travails, as last witness in 2012's "Amour". At the time of its release, Film Comment featuring a particularly powerful plumbing of the creative urge, life, history and will to live, with the film's lead Jean-Louis Trintignant, with another interview following in the New York Times, offering "Words of Love From a Severe Director". The two interviews describing not only the rigor that Haneke has become known for, but also a deeper empathy and consideration of the character's tribulations, even of the subject matter itself. Haneke's cinematic worldview has been further enriched by the vein of empathetic humanism seen in the film. As detailed in consensus for the New York Times by Manohla Dargis & A.O. Scott, Catherine Wheatley for Sight & Sound, Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian, James Quandt in the pages of Artforum, and Robert Koehler for Film Comment, "Amour" casts an unflinching, yet not unsympathetic gaze on a subject from which many of us would prefer to avert our eyes and mind. Here for a one week run at The Varsity, wherein "Michael Haneke Hosts a Family Blowout", his newest is another installment in the director's interrogation of the "institutional custom of selfishness". Much in the way of its predecessor, "Happy End is a Welcome Departure for Michael Haneke", expressed through attributes new to Haneke's oeuvre. The two films making for a varied branch in his ongoing quest for humanity amidst the materialistic, banal, and perverse.



The directors who led the Japanese cinema explosion of the 1990s; Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Naomi Kawase, and Takashi Miike, are still among the industry's most high profile faces on the international festival circuit. Concurrently, a new generation of filmmakers from Japan are starting to make themselves heard. This past year 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", particularly in the way of Kurosawa's exploration of modern unease. Taking a a more refined turn from his earlier filmography populated by psychological and supernatural horror since 2008's "Tokyo Sonata", winner of the Jury Prize in Cannes' Un Certain Regard section, Kurosawa has exhibited an aptitude for sublimating his obsession with societal decay into any conceivable genre. The though-line between his earlier explorations of modern horror and these current ventures is a sure-footed aesthetic precision. Longtime cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa deserves credit for the the elegant framings, disconcerting lighting, and air of desolation and disuse found in the production design, the substance of Kurosawa's palpable sense of place.

As a premonition of hard times and a fierce social and familial satire, Kurosawa made the everyday mundanity of domestic life another of his vehicles for "exploring issues of desperation, loneliness and alienation". One in which the protagonist is living a nightmare largely of his own making, equally inescapable as the mesmerism, curses, hauntings of the proceeding body of the director's work.  Appearing at Cannes and taking the Directing prize again in the Un Certain Regard section, his following "Journey to the Shore", returns to the supernatural but in a more sublimated process of it's characters gradually losing their inner cohesion through contact between the living and the dead. In his "Wonders to Behold" coverage from Cannes, Kent Jones' espoused the passage though which as an experience, "so exquisitely tuned and delicately heartbreaking that they seem to have been experienced and remembered rather than seen on a movie screen.". Shifting yet again into a new genre mode, the alien scouts of "Before We Vanish" take from human hosts in the time-honored trope of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", yet their objectives are revealed to be a cultural amassing of information through the harvesting of “conceptions”. Mubi's Cannes' coverage detail this "Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Retro Futurist" work, who's central premise is the extraterrestrial visitors' gleaning of key earthling abstractions such as “self”, “family” and “freedom"; at which point the person loses all knowledge of the concept in question. Rather than taking body and form in an effort to quietly subsume the population of their earthly victims, in the infiltration inquiry of "‘Before We Vanish,’ the Aliens Have a Lot of Questions".

Sunday, February 25, 2018

King Hu's "Legend of the Mountain" at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 1 - 4



Outside of the rare retrospective such as BAMcinématek's, "All Hail the King: The Films of King Hu", the genre film of Hu Jinquan remains largely unseen in the west. More referenced and revered than screened, these seminal works have influence countless Wuxia films in the ensuing decades since their release, most notably Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Zhang Yimou’s “House of Flying Daggers". In the west there are of course the works of Quentin Tarantino, who has copped from them generously, lifting sequences and setting wholesale. The arthouse isn't immune to his spell, with a new generation of filmmakers from Hong Kong and mainland China offering reflections on Hu's legacy. As is literally seen in Taiwanese Second Wave director Tsai Ming-Liang's elegiac ode to moviegoing and the city of Taipei, "Goodbye, Dragon Inn". Befitting a body of work of this influence and stature, Senses of Cinema have dedicated a Great Directors feature on Hu's warping and reformatting of the three tenets of 20th Century Wuxia cinema. His reconfiguring of the genre shifted the focus between the political world of the Jianghu, bewildering martial arts action, and most artfully in the case of Hu's later films, a abstracted representation of Buddhist concepts. In a rare move for genre works, 2017 saw Janus Films and Criterion produce and distribute new 4k restorations of two of Hu's masterworks in a domestic theatrical run. For many, this was a first opportunity to see these films on the big screen. Particularly in the case of 1971's "A Touch of Zen". Celebrated upon it's release as the first non-mainland Chinese film to receive the Technical Grand Prize and nomination for the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Hu's epic emerged as an exemplary representation of the genre much in the same way that Sergio Leone’s stylized reimagining brought critical attention to the Italian Western. While we can now see his work against a very necessary and relevant context, via the wider distribution and availability of mid-Century Wuxia film, there can be no denial of Hu’s preeminence as a "Martial-arts Pioneer Who Brought Dynamic Grace to the Genre", and "A Touch of Zen"'s broader achievement and status as a masterpiece of world cinema.

Tony Williams details for Senses of Cinema, how it is that "A Touch of Zen", operates as a singular compilation of Eastern and Western stylistic features. In Hu's more sparing use of the obligatory Shaw Brothers Studio gestures, he instead accentuated shots of open vistas, great mountains, and the enveloping effect of the natural landscape. These were often set against tightly framed indoor scenes of persona drama, tension and comedy from Hu's own repertory company of familiar faces such as his onscreen avatar Shih Chun, the captivating Hsu Feng, Bai Ying, Han Hsieh, and Tsao Chien. The action playing out in whirlwind set pieces on isolated mountaintop roads and bamboo forest swordfights, framed by visually striking compositions reminiscent of the director's passion for the theatre arts. The more overtly poetic elements in Hu's films are often glimpsed in the intermingling of slow-motion high-flying martial arts choreography, shot through with interjections of natural splendor. The diffusion of light and protraction of time seen in these sequences, which then cut to images of nature;  movement of reeds, water, windswept mountains and trees, are suggestive of the combat moving into the realm of the supernatural. These gestures would come to characterize the director's later work beginning with "Dragon Inn" on, becoming more and more explicit as Hu emerged as a "Martial-arts Filmmaking Master, Bending Light and Arrows to His Will". As is the case made in Grady Hendrix's Kaiju Shakedown column for Film Comment focusing on the late, lost film "The Battle of Ono", the shift to the supernatural plane is what most defines the closing passages of "A Touch of Zen's Masterful Concoction of Cinematic Flavors". It is here that "Legend of the Mountain" shares much with the the director's proceeding string of films. The protracted quest of this, "Magical Mystery Marathon in Ancient China" who's road traverses a mesmerizing assembly of panoramas, intersects with supernatural encounters, and eventually leads to a series swirling martial arts set pieces, culminates in a one-of-a-kind confrontation of spiritual (and sonic) warfare. In it's new 4k restoration Kino Lorber Repertory have brought this rare, and entrancing Wuxia in a string of domestic screenings, including a run at Northwest Film Forum.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Elevator presents Corridor: A Festival of Light, Sound & Movement: Feb 24


The last five years have seen one of the most notable and striking changes to Seattle's underground, electronic, neoclassical and experimental music landscape. With the end of the summer 2015 came the final Northwest edition of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival, and in an open letter Decibel Festival's 13th year closed with programming director Sean Horton's farewell to the city. It should be noted that Horton has since announced the revival of the Decibel in 2018 in a Los Angeles iteration, with proposed Seattle satellite mini-festival to follow. In the two years following the closing of these expansive international forums, Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature, MOTOR, Patchwerks, False Prophet and Wayward Music Series have endeavored to fill the void, produced a string of memorable one-off events. Most notably, Elevator stepping up their programming for their Machine House Brewery location as well as showcases held at Kremwerk and Columbia City Theater, with curation that embraced a spectrum spanning the deep experimental underground to the sharpest of cutting edge urban sounds. Their vision represented by the diversity found in the intersection of the UK bass and club sounds of Gaika and Yves Tumor, to Julia Holter's lush interplay of jazz orchestrations, dissonant guitar and open-ended songform alongside the soaring vocalizations of Haley Fohr's Circuit Des Yeux. More experimental sounds were heard in the audio-visual tapestries of experimental filmmaker, Paul Clipson and Liz Harris' Grouper project at Northwest Film Forum, and the immersion and electronic concrete of Lawrence English with Rafael Anton Irisarri. Closing with the most striking performance in their programming history, the final of their seasonal showcases saw the collision of industrial surrealism and the dancefloor propulsion represented by the Modern Love label's Demdike Stare. Elevator's maturation in 2016 came with their expansion into exhibition and performance programming with the inauguration of Corridor Festival. Hailed as a unmitigated success in local press, it's daylong meeting of audio-visual media, installation art, music and performance fast became the city's best new festival for cutting edge sounds. Next week sees the arrival of the festival's third installment with an equally pan-media lineup held at the West Coast Printing building in the Central District. Their gamble on a daylong multimedia event in the heart of the industrial district, with a "New Georgetown Arts Festival Will 'Embrace Winter, Welcome Darkness, and Enjoy the Indoors'", filled a notable seasonal arts gap. Returning "After a Great Debut, Corridor Fest Brings Another Multimedia Spectacular to Georgetown" the following year with an equally successful event in which, "The Organizers of Corridor Festival Invite the City to Be Alone Together".