Sunday, December 1, 2019

Pedro Almodóvar's “Pain and Glory” at SIFF Cinema: Nov 8 - Dec 12

The new century has been one of continuously productive activity for Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, his "Talk to Her", "Volver", and "The Skin I Live In", all appeared on numerous films of the decade overviews. This summer he delivered yet again with what may be one of his most sensuous and deeply personal entries on an ageing filmmaker facing up to his life and legacy. Film Comment's "Lost and Found: Pedro Almodóvar Taps into the Anguish and Eroticism of Memory", utilizes the sublimity of remembrance found in Fellini's "8 1/2" as the psycho-structural template that would inspire other feats of abstracted self examination by directors on screen. Historically they are few. Andrei Tarkovsky’s "The Mirror", Terence Davies’ "The Long Day Closes", a recent example found in Joanna Hogg’s "The Souvenir", stand as successful autobiographical movies applying inner metacinematic technique to overcome the potentially indulgent pitfalls of recreation, imagination, and repesentational authenticity. The clues of "Pain and Glory"'s fictionalized self portrait are there for all to see; Antonio Banderas wears Almodóvar colorful attire of bold leather, floral shirts, and is coifed with a unruly mass of greying hair. Even the art adorning the walls of his home are borrowed from the director's own collection. His character's personal life and memories are also in sync with episodes we know from Almodóvar's career. Kickstarting the physically and artistically stagnant late-life crisis of its protagonist into motion, the film builds itself around a restoration of a film he produced 32 years earlier. Precisely the same number of years that have passed since 1987's "Law of Desire", Almodóvar's sixth feature film.

These parallels are further reaffirmed in Carlos Reviriego's interview with the director on the occasion of this past summer's Cannes Film Festival, with a expanded feature following in the September October issue of Film Comment. In all of his filmmography, there has been no onscreen representation of Almodóvar's essence than Salvator Mallo, played to exquisitely resigned perfection by Bandares. This role of a lifetime for Banderas won him Best Actor at the film's Cannes premier. This intersection of "Life Meets Art in Almodóvar's Wistful Extravaganza", is as ever for the director, a film about pleasure. Yet this time it is tinged with the issues of aging and health, disassociation from friends and culture, and a deep stirring of the sediment of memory. In this reactivating of Salvator's relationship to his art, "Pain and Glory" is about the making of film and the telling of a life's story through the source of the director's inspirations; lovers, memory, painting, poetry, and the making of film itself. This self referential and intertextual assembly and a film within a film, a dream within a dream, and the resulting story within a story operates on it's own self-perpetuating internal mechanism. In another director's hands this would be potentially off-putting and indulgent, but Almodóvar's masterful handling, and the slow revealing of the film's true nature, flow in a continuous stream of seductive and sensual motion directing the viewer to it's elliptical conclusion.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

50+ Films of the Decade: It's 2020, Do You Know Where Your Cinema Is?

Raúl Ruiz "Mysteries of Lisbon" / David Lynch & Mark Frost "Twin Peaks: The Return" / Nuri Bilge Ceylan "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" / Gaspar Noe "Enter The Void" / Jia Zhang-ke "Ash Is Purest White" / Bi Gan "Long Day’s Journey Into Night" / Bruno Dumont "Li'l Quinquin" / Leos Carax "Holy Motors" / Claude Lanzmann "The Last Of The Unjust" / Ken Burns "The Vietnam War" /

Denis Villeneuve "Blade Runner 2049" / Paolo Sorrentino "The Great Beauty" / Joanna Hogg "The Souvenir" / Lucrecia Martel "Zama" / Claire Denis "Bastards" / Jim Jarmusch "Only Lovers Left Alive" / Aleksei German Jr. "Under Electric Clouds" / Terrence Malick "The Tree of Life" / Pedro Almodóvar "The Skin I Live In" / Bertrand Bonello "House of Tolerance" / Albert Serra "Story of My Death" / Lucile Hadžihalilović "Evolution" / Paul Thomas Anderson "Inherent Vice" / Apichatpong Weerasethakul "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" /

Aleksei German "Hard To Be A God" / Peter Strickland "The Duke of Burgundy" / Pietro Marcello "Lost and Beautiful" / Aleksander Sokurov "Francophonia" / Tommy Lee Jones "The Homesman" / Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy "The Tribe" / Yorgos Lanthimos "Dogtooth" / Andrey Zvyagintzev "Elena" / Zhao Liang "Behemoth" / Michael Glawogger & Monika Willi "Untitled" / J.P. Sniadecki "The Iron Ministry" / Patrick Keiller "Robinson in Ruins" / Sergei Loznitsa "The Event" / Göran Hugo Olsson "The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975" / Werner Herzog "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" / Joshua Oppenheimer "The Act Of Killing" / Takashi Miike "13 Assassins" / George Miller "Mad Max: Fury Road" / Sion Sono “Love Exposure” /

Masaaki Yuasa "Night Is Short, Walk On Girl" / Hideaki Anno "Evangelion 3: You Can (Not) Redo" / Makoto Shinkai “Your Name” / Shunji Iwai "A Bride For Rip Van Winkle" / Kleber Mendonça Filho "Neighboring Sounds" / Anocha Suwichakornpong "By The Time It Gets Dark" / Shinya Tsukamoto “Killing” / Hirokazu Kore-eda “Shoplifters” / Joe Talbot "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" / Barry Jenkins "Moonlight" / Hu Bo "An Elephant Standing Still" / Diao Yinan "Black Coal, Thin Ice" / Ulrich Seidl "Paradise: Trilogy / Pedro Costa "Horse Money" / Carlos Reygadas "Post Tenebras Lux" / Tsai Ming-Liang "Journey To The West" / Yeo Siew Hua "A Land Imagined" / Valeska Grisebach "Western" / Céline Sciamma "Girlhood" / Ryusuke Hamaguchi "Happy Hour" /

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Daughters and Lingua Ignota US Tour: Nov 30 - Dec 21 | Exhumed, Gatecreeper and Necrot at Substation: Nov 29 | Liturgy & Khemmis at The Highline: Nov 20 & Dec 8 | Yob, Earthless and Blackwater Holylight at Neumos: Dec 5

The months of November and December arrive, and with them, the most culturally desolate stretch of the year. Thankfully, Seattle's paramount metal, hardcore and punk venue, The Highline have kept their calendar vital through the holiday season. Even with the eminent consequence of their host building's purchase by a Northwest "lifestyle brand", the venue continues their strong programming into the new year. Late November and early December sees a night of experimental metal from New York's Liturgy and Kihalas, and another further along the doom and black metal end of the spectrum with Khemmis, Un and Witch Ripper. Liturgy occupying a far-flung branch of a growing international heavier school of blackness that Brad Sanders detailed in his piece for The Quietus. The article being an accessible opening unto the dark passageways of this genre's growing experimental variances. Their music deeply invested in aesthetics and a philosophical, sensorial agenda, through "Moral & Aesthetic Truths: An Interview With Liturgy". At Neumos the first week of December, Yob returns to town with heavy psychedelic rock accompaniment from Earthless and Portland's all female led doom outfit, Blackwater Holylight. Across town at the recently launched Substation, we get another night of blistering black metal and doom-inflected sounds with Exhumed, Gatecreeper and Necrot. Some of these same bands returning to Seattle after the assembly of progressive and black metal, doom, neofolk, noise and hardcore heard during the three iterations of  Northwest Terror Fest. The global expansiveness of this sound and scene is probably best detailed in Brad Sanders' overview for The Quietus, "Untrue And International: Living in a Post-Black Metal World". These multitudinous offshoots from metal issuing from labels like Ipecac, Deathwish, Sargent House, Season of Mist, Roadburn, Neurot, 20 Buck Spin, Flenser, Relapse, and Profound Lore.

Representing for the more avant and industrial-spawned facet of this sound, power electronics composer and classically trained singer Kristin Hayter's devotional music inspired Lingua Ignota remains an outlier within this culture. Through, The Quietus' "Fire, Prayer & Curses: Lingua Ignota Interviewed", she plumbs its 12th Century sources of ecstatic inspiration where they meet in an urgent and ferocious record on the subject of the unsayable, the unspeakable, and the traumatic repression of abuse. Yet more than just a "Extreme Music Reckoning with Misogyny", for her third album "Caligula", Hayter adds that Lingua Ignota is not just about catharsis, but also transformation and retribution. Hayter shares a tour bill, including a night at Neumos with Daughters, who return to perform their jagged blistering take on metal, industrial, and postpunk informed hardcore as witnessed last year at The Highline. Seemingly revived from the abyss of a 8 year hiatus between albums, Daughters returned with a heavier and more genre-elusive collection of tracks that propelled them into the hybrid rock contenders of the year. The Rhode Island band are also known to deliver a furiously corybantic live show, scaling heights of dynamic power and propulsive hard hitting rhythms rarely seen even within post-hardcore culture. Their "You Won't Get What You Want" on their new home of Mike Patton's Ipecac label delivered a vituperative, abusive frisson of the heaviest nature. The album can be seen as an outward expression of what The Quietus' explored in their, "Overwhelmed By What’s Inside: Alexis Marshall Of Daughters Interviewed", in the unbound quality of its erruptive and abstracted menace.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Seefeel US Tour: Nov 1 - 15 | The Ephemeral Electronic-Rock Micromovement

The 1990s cross-pollination of concurrent genre movements produced an abundance of hybrid variations on even then new music forms and cultures. Only a decade into it's development as a sound, the largely British scene that comprised Shoegaze found itself in an identity crisis of sorts. Its genesis having only begun a decade before with two bands; Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser's Cocteau Twins in the early 80s, and A.R. Kane, the late-80s British duo, whom The Guardian credits as having "Invented Shoegaze without Really Trying". Representative of their influence, over thirty years later both bands can be seen to rank highly on Pitchfork's "The 30 Best Dream Pop Albums of All Time". In recent years many of the sound's most influential and formative acts have returned from extended hiatus, not only touring, but with new, and relevant material. The most improbable of them all, both My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive have not only reformed to tour, but produced some of the best material of their respective careers. Other unlikely returns have been seen in Robert Hampson reforming LOOP, the one-time-only North american visit from Lush's brand of 4AD dreampop, and tours and the first new material of decades from The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Ride. The Guardian's "Shoegaze: The Genre that Could Not be Killed", and New York Times' "Shoegaze, the Sound of Protest Shrouded in Guitar Fuzz, Returns", best encapsulating this resurgence. For those just entering into the neon torrent, you'd not go far wrong beginning with The Guardian's "Shoegaze: A Beginner's Guide", and the Cherry Red label's anthology of a perfect overview with their, "Still in a Dream: The Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995.".

Yet the sound wasn't always on such sure footing. In the stretch of just a few short years spanning 1993 to 1995, Slowdive produced what appeared to be their final album at the time, My Bloody Valentine had disappeared into a abyss of postproduction and studio costs following "Loveless", and the culture itself outwardly appeared to have run it's course. Having mined the depths of introspective, distorted noiserock, many other early proponents of the sound were looking elsewhere for inspiration. Opening a course away from this impasse, the explosive rise of European and British electronic music culture of the decade offered an infusion of new energy, advanced technique and a complexly abstract stylistic component. This late offshoot being even more short-lived than its parent genre, yet produced a set of artists and recordings that speak to the time and context, while remaining outside of easy classification. Notable entries include Global Communication’s "Pentamerous Metamorphosis" an album length electronic restructuring of "Blood Music" by Chapterhouse, and the forefront use of samples and repetitive beats which dominated Primal Scream’s classic "Screamadelica". Even the archetypal Postpunk band Wire, produced an album in this mode with 1991's "The First Letter", featuring remixes by LFO and The Orb. Concurrently the influence of rising electronic producers, Andrew Weatherall, Sabres of Paradise, Alex Paterson, Jimmy Cauty, and Richard D. James' could be heard everywhere in numerous remixes of indie, Shoegaze and Britpop artists of the time. Intersecting with the expressly cerebral end of the spectrum as heard on labels like Warp, Skam, and Ninja Tune, the British label Too Pure can be said to have introduced the most explicit example of the genre with their signing of Seefeel.

Sharing in the Postrock sound of some of their label companions Stereolab, Moonshake, Pram, and Rothko, the then-quartet of Mark Clifford, Daren Seymour, Justin Fletcher, and Sarah Peacock bridged these sounds with the electronic abstraction of those being concurrently produced by Autechre, Bola, Aphex Twin, and later, Boards of Canada. Their successes on Too Pure led the quartet to then align themselves with the burgeoning electronic music roster at Warp Records, releasing the "Starethrough" EP and "Succour" within the same year. Richard D. James was then able to entice them to his own Rephlex imprint the following year, with their final release of the 1990s, "CH-Vox". The Quietus rightly cites Seefel as the most explicit manifestation of this musical moment in their, “The Sine That Celebrates Itself: On Electronic Shoegaze" overview, noting not on only the cultural context of the time, but the current landscape that the newly reformed quartet has re-entered. Following the reissue of their first album, 1993's "Quique" as a collaboration between Medical Records and Light in the Attic in 2013, still-active members Mark Clifford and Sarah Peacock discussed writing new material. Within a short stretch they had performed at a set of European festivals and recruited Boredoms' Kazuhisa Iida and Shigeru Ishihara on percussion and bass guitar respectively. What Clifford has referred to as “Seefeel: A Constant Journey” has brought the band back to their home of decades past Warp Records, with two new works, the "Faults" EP and eponymous album, "Seefeel". More surprising yet, this year a unearthed Peel Session from 1994 finally sees the light of day, and a first-ever North American tour representing the most recent manifestation of their sound as heard in the "Sp/Ga" EP spans both coasts.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” at SIFF Cinema: Oct 25 - Dec 12 | Romanian Film Festival Seattle at SIFF Cinema: Nov 15 - 17

After a lengthy dry period this summer, in which we saw a dearth of compelling offerings at SIFF Cinema, late October and November turn things around significantly. Borrowing much from this fall's Orcas Island Film Festival, SIFF have assembled a calendar brimming with many of the notable films from recent year's Cannes and Venice festivals. In the case of the Romanian New Wave selections, these are films which received international festival accolades at the time, yet never made it to regional screens. Now brought to town for the sixth edition of the Romanian Film Festival, the three day program presents one-time screenings of two of the most notable directors to emerge from the post-Nicolae Ceaușescu cultural landscape. The explosion of cinema issuing from the Romanian New Wave that produced the award winning run of "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", "12:08 East of Bucharest", "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", "Beyond the Hills", and "Graduation", is finely documented in Dominique Nasta’s, "Contemporary Romanian Cinema: The History of an Unexpected Miracle". All that much more striking for it being born from the conditions of the most overtly and consistently propagandistic cinema in Europe. Late 20th Century Romanian film under Nicolae Ceaușescu was consistently glossy but stale, relaying blatantly communist sympathies through simplistic stories, straightforward narrative linearity, often heavy in metaphor. Freed from state censorship and the narrative restraints of the Soviet era, A.O. Scott hailed the arrival of the movement on the global scene with his New York Times Magazine feature, "New Wave on the Black Sea". The Guardian following with their own critic's roundup, "Romania's New Wave is Riding High" and as a retrospective of it's formative years, "Eastern Promise" for Sight & Sound is essential reading. In the time since, Catalin Mitulescu's "Trafic" took the Short Film Palme d'Or at Cannes and Cristi Puiu's "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" was awarded the festival's Un Certain Regard.

In 2015, the movement's 10th anniversary was commemorated by Film Society at Lincoln Center presenting their decade of Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema. This year sees one of its central players, Corneliu Porumboiu, returning to the studied cultural critique of his excellent "Police, Adjective". As grimly funny a denouement of the cultural and economic landscape of post-Ceaușescu Romania as anything the movement has produced, “The Whistlers” by this "Accidental Auteurist" adds up to more than a tale of the bent detective who becomes entangled in the crimes that he's investigating. It is not only a prolific time for Sergei Loznitsa, but a highly qualitative one. Two years ago his "A Gentle Creature" premiered in Cannes, following that same year with the documentary "Victory Day" at the Berlin International Film Festival, and then a year later with another documentary on Soviet Era justice, "The Trial", and then returning again to Cannes with "Donbass". Loznitsa's films have always entangled themselves with the complexities of the historic and cultural aftershocks of post-Soviet Russia. But this new stretch has a forcefully dark, absurdist strain to it, that of a voyeur to the tragedy of a history witnessed. In light of the aggressions of Putin's Russia, both at home, toward the Republic of Ukraine, and wider eastern Europe, Loznitsa is not without lack of material in this regard. Channeling the current state of Orwellian unreality which dominates much of the region, and events lifted from real world news, Sergei Loznitsa’s feverish procession of scenes watches as a, "Freakish Fake-news Kaleidoscope of Ukrainian Civil War".

Following the rather bloated special effects entries of "Okja" and "Snowpiercer", distributed by Netflix and the Weinstein Brothers respectively, "Parasite" marks a return to form and more solidly reliable thematic content from South Korea's once great social satirist, Bong Joon-ho. His newest taking home this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes suggested there was more at work than just a off-kilter black comedy of a rich Korean family slowly being subsumed by an impoverish one. The concurrently funny and fierce class conflict tale that "Parasite" tells instead digs its tendrils deep into the desperation produced by modern global wealth disparity in, "Bong Joon-ho's Creepy Invasion of the Lifestyle Snatchers". It's characterization of poverty and the film's upwardly ascending protagonists crystallize a kind of horror in the absurdity of economic inequality in South Korea. Divisions so stark that they watch as dystopic farce. The wealth class is revealed to be woefully under-prepared for life's unexpected twists and turns. Or dietary changes, being without the companionship of their pets, the weather, driving a car, instructing their children, or just about anything remotely nuanced. Concurrently the poor are clever and ruthless, yet also somehow self-sabotaging and sloppily disheveled in their organization of said clever and ruthless plans. All of which Bong Joon-ho exploits with typically Hitchcockian relish as, "The Lower Depths Rise with a Vengeance". More that just a wry doppelgänger setup, Joon-ho's drawing out of the discomfiting complexities of the dependencies and clandestine intimacies between the classes reveals the hidden connections between how the poor view the rich, and the rich view the poor. Seemingly at poles apart, they are instead entangled in a perversely fetishistic dance of correspondence, fascination, and revulsion. After all... "It’s Bong Joon-ho’s Dystopia. We Just Live in It.".

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Draw of the Gothic & "No Rest for the Eerie: A Paean to the Haunted House"

The end of October has arrived and with it All Hallows' Eve nods to the Olde World traditions of seasonal harvest rights and festivities, like the Gaelic Samhain and Celtic Hop-tu-Naa which themselves bear some relationship to the Ancient Greek festival of Thesmophoria. Part and parcel with the changes of Autumn, come abundant celebrations of the gloomily crepuscular, gloaming eerie and ominous in literature, film and popular culture. In recognition of this season of ominous portent, The New York Times annually whip up sinister concoctions like "A House of Horror Films" their interactive history, trivia, and guessing game on Haunted Houses in cinema by Tommi Musturi. This year's features for Halloween week include a set of writers, directors and various artistic creators detailing their own personal recipes for the making the night a memorable one in, "Hoping for a Spooky Halloween? We Have Some Suggestions". Which is followed up by a horror litmus test of sorts in which self proclaimed horror aficionado Fahima Haque takes a sampling of three very different Manhattan and Brooklyn haunted house offerings, and comes away with some insight inter her own threshold for the fearsome season, "‘Not Much Scares Me.’ Then She Entered the Haunted House.". Other annual highlights have included Steven Kurutz' gorgeous little, "No Rest for the Eerie: A Paean to the Haunted House". In which he did more than an admirable job, going as far as to cite John Tibbetts' anthology of essays and interviews “The Gothic Imagination”, which is essential reading for anyone who wants to plumb the depths of "uncertainty, anxiety, and fear" that is the art of the Gothic literary tradition.

The undeniable, and very real, fears surrounding the choices that were left to us in 2016's election cycle and its fallout have been fertile ground for Halloween, "Spooked by Real Life? Bring On the Halloween Frights". No one has quite exploited those fears to the extent of Pedro Reyes' "Doomocracy" wherein, "Brooklyn Put the Politics of Fear on Display". Steven Kurutz has also delivered a brilliant Home & Garden feature, "House Haunters" on seasonal real-world Haunted Houses like Kopelman's 30-year running institution near Phoenix which also acts as ground zero to America's Best Haunts. A directory that includes Ben Armstrong's Netherworld, Kohout's long-running Hauntworld house near St. Louis, Phil Anselmo's New Orleans House of Shock, Los Angeles and New York's Blackout, and the immense, preposterous undertaking that is Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare. Sadly none of our local Northwest haunts make that list, but there's a good number of them to be found throughout the state. The Haunted House and it's offspring have long been a staple of western literature and folklore, movies and pulp storytelling. Their origins in the 18th Century speak to an era equally fascinated by science as the supernatural, with mesmerism and the phantasmagoric in vogue, it's little wonder, "Ghost Stories: Why the Victorians were so Spookily Good at Them". Some memorable manifestations of the Gothic tradition in cinema come to mind, from Ti West's contemporary "House of the Devil", to the campier mid-century side seen in William Castle's B-movie “House on Haunted Hill”. There remain a set of classics in the genre, few of which can rival the adaptation of Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" that is Robert Wise' "The Haunting".

A select number of silent era representations also stand out like Jean Epstein's 1928 surreal, claustrophobic adaptation of the Poe classic, "The Fall of the House of Usher", and the early 1930's horror-comedy talkie of James Whale's "Old Dark House". Later decades produced Roger Corman's B-movie Vincent Price vehicles like "The Haunted Palace", and 1970s Italian Giallo works in the genre represented by Lucio Fulci's H.P. Lovecraft-inspired "The House by the Cemetery". The 1980s saw the Pacific Northwest set "The Changeling" by Peter Medak, and by the 1990s, examples like the unhinged "Sweet Home" by a young Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The late 1970's and early 80s hit their stride with the Japanese insanity of "Hausu" co-conceived by Nobuhiko Obayashi and his 11 year old daughter, Stuart Rosenberg's “Amityville Horror”, and of course no one who's seen it can forget Stanley Kubrick's singular, unnerving horror entry, "The Shining". Digging deeper there were 60's and 70's genre variations like Dan Curtis' “Burnt Offerings", the erotic horror of Elio Petri's "A Quiet Place in the Country", and Carlos Enrique Taboada's haunted schoolhouse-set "Even the Wind is Afraid". But of course the Haunted House owes it's origins to much, much older traditions in literature, as purviewed in The Guardian's, "Halloween Spirits: Literature's Haunted Houses". Traceable back to the 18th century bit of disquieting paranoia and creeping melancholy that is Horace Walpole's “Castle of Otranto”. Predating Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier, M.R. James, Ann Radcliffe, H.P. Lovecraft, and as The Paris Review notes, "The Draw of the Gothic", in all who would follow in their footsteps over the centuries since. Photo credit: Simon Marsden

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Max Richter with The ACME Ensemble US Tour: Oct 12 - 20

Returning to Seattle's The Moore Theatre after just having toured the west coast last fall, German neoclassical and soundtrack composer, Max Richter will be performing selections from his newly released anthology, backed by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. Running the gamut of his studio albums, works for dance and theater, and an array of soundtracks "Voyager: The Essential Max Richter", is a near-comprehensive overview of the composer's two decades of output. Over the course of over 50 recordings, spanning soundtracks for dance, theater, installation and film, alongside his personal output beginning with 2002's "Memoryhouse", Richter has marked out a body of work in a field shared with such 21st Century contemporaries as Jóhann Jóhannsson and Ólafur Arnalds. Many of these entries in Richter's prolific catalog are commissioned works, such is the case with "Infra", a score for the modern dance choreographer, Wayne McGregor. Not limited to dance work with Company Wayne McGregor, their collaborations have also embraced cutting edge transmedia installations like those of Random International. Their "Future Self" for MADE, was one of the first in a series of successful collaborations with a score supplied by Richter. The installation's premier at The Barbican was met with enthusiasm in the pages of the BBC and a glowing review from The Guardian. It's London run featuring a succession of live performances taking place within the installation space over the course of the 2012 Frieze Art Fair. Following in rapid succession, the trio's "Rain Room" made it's premier at The Barbican London the following year, to then come stateside at MoMA's PS1 as part of "EXPO 1: New York", and eventually the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. At the former, as part of a group exhibition of environmental works on ecological challenges in the context of the economic and sociopolitical instability. Generating more than a bit of a sensation, favorable press and public response, the installation's time at PS1 was covered in The New York Times' "Steamy Wait Before a Walk in a Museum’s Rain". With it's following run in Los Angeles featured by the LA Times, "Inside LACMA's Rain Room: An indoor Storm Where You Won't Get Wet".

Yet these are not the most audacious of Richter's meetings of composition, setting and performance. 2015 saw the composer realize his long developing 8 hour piece for the facilitation of "Sleep". The full night-long composition is available as a recording for home consumption both digitally, as a ultra high fidelity Blu-Ray audio release, as well as a separate edition of excerpt highlights conceived to represent the more engaged listening aspects, titled "From Sleep". But it is in performance that "Sleep" most explicitly realizes it's intent. Premiering in atypical venues across Europe, such as the Welcome Collection Reading Room, wherein the attendees nestled their campbeds between the reading room’s bookshelves and displays of alchemist flasks in anticipation of the clock striking midnight and the performance of Richter's "Eight-hour Lullaby for a Frenetic World". Last summer, and a first of its kind in North America, Los Angeles' Music Center, hosted two nights of outdoor performance of "Sleep" in Grand Park under the late night July skies. This bold venture was met with anticipation for its experiment in duration and setting, in both Rolling Stone's "Composer Max Richter to Perform Overnight L.A. Concerts with 560 Beds", and the Los Angeles Times' "Composer Max Richter Wants Fans to Spend the Night in Grand Park". Through its successful realization, August Brown's "The All-Night, Outdoor Concert 'Sleep' Creates a Calming Reprieve with a Sense of Loss", accounts that “Sleep” was not just a beautiful, time-bending piece, but in this performance, contributed notably to re-imagining our public spaces. Recognizing the New Music and American Minimalist connections Richter in an interview for Bomb, spoke of his longstanding; "interest in extended-duration things. With music, this goes back to the ’60s, those all-night happenings, like Terry Riley and John Cage, all that. It’s certainly an idea that’s been around a long time." There have been no shortage of coverage in the pages of The Los Angeles Times, Time and NPR connecting "Sleep" with it's benefits in relation to the media-abundant and time-scarce lives that many people feel they lead. More than just a layman's low key artistic response to these concerns, Richter consulted with Baylor College neuroscientist David Eagleman in developing his composition. Assembled over the course of two years, the project's genesis was born of Richter's desire to make a “very deliberate political statement” on how daily time is spent and nature of how the public engages with their larger sonic environment.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Guy Maddin’s "Séances" at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 25 - Nov 3

The Silent Era is in the midst a rise into greater cinema culture consciousness, along the way inspiring some genuinely inquisitive forays into documentation, restoration and preservation. With some 85% of all of silent film believed to be lost, Canada's own artist-of-artifice extraordinaire, Guy Maddin has taken it upon himself to create a series of Silent Cinema revivals of quite a different sort. His proposed "Making 100 Short Films in 100 Days in Four Countries with Current Project 'Spiritismes'" led the way to the series of "Séances". Which had the first of their invocations and performance at Spiritismes at the Centre Pompidou, Paris in 2012 with a second set of performances "Guy Maddin’s Performance Installation 'Séances' Begins Filming" at Montreal's Phi Centre a year later. The completed project to be hosted online by the National Film Board wherein the interactive format will allow for viewers to experience the films together, arranged recombinant forms by software designed by Halifax-based Nickel Media. Generating their own unique structures, these algorithmically arranged assemblies have the potential to form hundreds of millions of unique narrative permutations in, "Guy Maddin’s Endless Cinematic Experience". Speaking with Jonathan Ball, the director details the differences involved in these concurrent projects, "Guy Maddin on The Forbidden Room and Writing Melodrama"; "While The Forbidden Room was a feature film with its own separate story and stars", says Maddin, "Séances" on the other hand is a place — a dark place! — where anyone online can hold séances with the spirits of cinema, lost and forgotten cinema. The "Séances" project has really evolved in recent months. It was going to be title-for-title remakes of specific lost films, but we found as we went that the spirits of many other lost movies, and the spirit of loss in general, haunted our sets and demanded to be represented in front of our cameras."

In an set of interviews with The Guardian's Jonathan Romney, "Guy Maddin on His Surreal Séances and Sexploitation Remakes", the director talks his recent run of collaborative work with the Johnson brothers. In films like their cannibalistic meta-construction "The Green Fog", the trio have produced a singular body utilizing both chemical and digital degradation processes, with a twinned auditory effect in Galen Johnson's deeply Hauntological soundtrack constructed from repurposed classical music and incidental film scores. Together the sound and image making for a headily over-brimming, absurd concoction of hallucinogenic digressions and narrative tips of the hat, all rendered in wildly divergent film stock, color coding, media artifacts and states of decrepitude. Their approach to both form and technique in their paradoxically original pastiche detailed in Cinema-Scope's "Lost in the Funhouse: A Conversation with Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson". Further quantified in the pages of Film Comment as "too much is just right", Romney delves deep into the movie-mad filmmaker’s collaborative feats of phantasmagorical cinema, "The Infernal, Ecstatic Desire Machine of Guy Maddin". In 2015 I encountered a previous work in this style by the trio. Their "Kino Ektoplasma" multi-screen installation was created as a resurrection of lost films of the German Expressionist era in a preternaturally gorgeous, transmutive sequence, specifically commissioned as part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s. Years later, these works finally arrive in town in a seasonally appropriate stretch of days at the end of October and earliest November. Northwest Film Forum will be presenting their mini-retrospective of the director's work, the trio of theatrical films, "Archangel", "Careful", and "My Winnipeg", screening concurrently with the weeklong Seattle premier of the long anticipated "Séances" installation.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

All Monsters Attack at Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 4 - 31 | The October Country and Folklore Phantasmagoria at The Beacon Cinema: Oct 1 - 31

There seemingly can't be enough in the way of All Hallows' Eve theme programming and repertory series in the local cinema. To my mind, the months of October and November could always do with more in the way of the season's genre film and its disorienting frights, crepuscular surrealism, and discomfiting atmospheres. Thankfully, Scarecrow Video steps up with their October screening room calendar and curated Halloween section of domestic and international horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and psychotronic selections. Their Psychotronic Challenge also returns in its fourth installment, challenging viewers to select a new theme category for every day in October from the deep trivia of the cues on offer. While we're here, lets talk the incomparable one-of-a-kind resource that is Scarecrow, and how if you live in the Northwest and are a fan of cinema (regardless of genre, era or style), it's essentially your personal obligation to ensure their doors stay open for business. For horror and genre aficionados, there is no other resource in North America like that offered by Scarecrow Video and their abundant catalog of obscure, foreign releases, out of print, and ultra-rare editions in the depths of their archive. With nearly 130,000 films on offer, there is no singular online streaming resource that can compare. In previous years, the annual citywide cinematic offerings for the months of October and November have seen a great set of films exploring desolate worlds, classic Japanese horror, a vampiric romaticism double feature and a night of music from a maestro of Italian horror. Also in the way of recent Halloween seasons of note, the local arthouse cinemas presented a an abundance on the theme of the haunted house in 2015, and 2013 saw no small number of invaders from beyond. 2017 was heavy on 1970s psychedelic and psychological horror from Europe, particularly from the era of abundance seen in the subgenres of French Fantastique and Italian Giallo.

Last year's programming taking a cue from Nick Pinkerton's feature for Sight & Sound, and their "The Other Side of 80s America" focus on the decade of independent and genre cinema issuing from the United States. Concurrent with the pop culture revelry of Reaganite family-oriented dramas, action, teen movies, and sci-fi blockbusters, a more rebellious and independent strain of US movie making explored the darkness on the edge of mainstream society. Anne Billson's supporting article "A Nightmare on Main Street" plumbs the deeper realms of the decade's more assertively subversive low-to-medium budget genre fare, often “unburdened by notions of good taste". These manic explorations of class conflict, Cold War dread, ecological disaster and suburban paranoia also featured in Northwest Film Forum's monthlong assembly of, Shock & Awe: Horror During the Reagan Years. One of the longest running, and most consistently satisfying of the local Halloween series has been The Grand Illusion Cinema's monthlong All Monsters Attack calendar of horror, creature features, classic thrillers, sci-fi, and cult cinema. This year's installment features the kind of core genre gems that audiences have come to expect, straight from the horror golden age of the 1970s through late 80s, alongside a selection of 1950's and 60's B-movies, and a set of strong contemporary films from Great Britain and Germany. Thematically, the offerings include Puritan and 17th Century horror in the form of Michael Reeves' assigning a substantial role for Vincent Price as the "Witchfinder General", and equally inspired by Shakespeare as Lovecraft, there's Ben Wheatley's "A Field In England". The new British indie director also put an indelible mark on the scene with his rarely screened 2011 feature, "Kill List", which may stand as his most notable film to date. Another strong contemporary entry can be found in Fatih Akin's beerhaus butcher that prowls, "The Golden Glove".

All-time Folk Horror classics, particularly those originating from Great Britain, like the 1973 "Wicker Man", by Robin Hardy appears in the series in it's new director's edition final cut, and American master of the urban psychodrama, Abel Ferrara, is represented by an early entry in his voluminous filmmography, "The Driller Killer". Returning after it's screening in SIFF, Alexandre O. Philippe's theoretical documentary "Memory: The Origins of Alien", explores Ridley Scott's classic in new ways, and character actor Dick Miller has a Halloween Double Bill, thanks to Roger Corman's mashing of horror and comedy, in both "A Bucket of Blood", and "Little Shop of Horrors". A corpse runs amok in Billy Senese's "The Dead Center", and the plague has a new set of symptoms in the medieval horror of Christopher Smith's "Black Death". Mads Mikkelsen's "one eye" is equally disastrous to everyone he encounters in Nicolas Winding Refn's dark ages barbarian drama, "Valhalla Rising". Jörg Buttgerei's "Nekromantik" is a different kind of grotesquerie, subjectively "erotic", depending on one's sensibilities, and interpersonal and familial psychodramas get their moment in Colin Eggleston's "The Long Weekend", and Peter B. Good's 1989 VHS-only "Fatal Exposure". Atomic horror also receives a set of films from the 1950s to 1980s. The first of which not often seen outside of the UK, Mick Jackson's "Threads" watches like a Cold War Twilight Zone update, and the poster kaiju for nuclear armageddon, Gojira celebrates his 65th anniversary with new restorations and theatrical screenings thanks to Janus Films and the Criterion Collection. The atomic goliath is featured in his original Ishiro Honda 1954 "Godzilla" incarnation, and in Yoshimitsu Banno's 1970's pop-psychedelic ecological monster clash, "Godzilla vs. Hedorah".

Few resources cover the burgeoning world of genre film studies than the veritable home of horror writing and criticism that is The Miskatonic Institute. Through a series of interviews with The Quietus, founding members Virginie Sélavy with Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor Press, and Coil's Stephen Thrower author of "Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents", spoke on the cross pollination of the postmodern situation. Wherein genre definitions break down, and in their fertile collision producing contemporary works inspired by, and expounding upon the cult film and fringe music of decades past, "At This Film Institute, Where the Course Material Is Killer". It is precisely this territory that the newly established The Beacon Cinema is looking to do some deep cartography of throughout the month, in two concurrent series, The October Country, and Folklore Phantasmagoria. Titled after a Ray Bradbury collection of macabre short stories, the lowering gloam of the season's shift from late summer into fall has evidently inspired The Beacon's Tommy Swenson. To begin with, they've assembled a genre-elusive set of films like Michael Rubbo's oddball "The Peanut Butter Solution", Charles B. Pierce's "The Town That Dreaded Sundown", Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz's "Messiah of Evil", and peculiar BBC entries like Lesley Manning's "Ghostwatch". In the way of unexplained phenomena and the supernatural, the cinema will also be hosting its own night of, "The Beacon Guide to Unsolved Mysteries" starring Robert Stack, as well as their "The Beacon Halloween Special", featuring an undisclosed mystery gem of unusual hew. Arthouse masterpieces and studio classics also adorn the series, which includes the unhinged psychosis of Andrzej Żuławski's Cannes award-winning "Possession", a particularly rare opportunity to see Victor Erice's Spanish Civil War fable, "The Spirit of the Beehive", and Peter Weir's equally oneiric Australian period piece, "Picnic at Hanging Rock".

From the studio era we are treated to three of the greatest films of their respective decades, the incontestable brilliance of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho", Christian Nyby (and Howard Hawks'), "The Thing from Another World", and a Val Lewton production of Jacques Tourneur's "Cat People". No fall season genre series would be complete without American entries from the 1970s and 80s, and certainly not so without John Carpenter. He's represented here with a later film inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti, even spinning a clever variation on one of Lovecraft's titles with "In the Mouth of Madness". The descriptively titled Folklore Phantasmagoria series delivers on the promise of it's title with a set of stylistically vibrant works that put to test the parameters of the psychotronic. Both Kim Ki-Young and Kuei Chih-Hung's entries are deserving of a veritable mountain of adjectives, (and expletives), and neither "IO Island" nor "Boxer's Omen", are pure martial arts fables and even by Shaw Brothers Studios' "Black Magic" standards. Overflowing with ideas, psychedelic treatments, and disorienting turns to the point of excess, they share these same qualities in a much different thematic and color palette with their Euopean cousins of sorts found in Juraj Herz, Konstantin Ershov and Georgiy Kropachyov. The latter two functioning as a duo bringing us an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's Ukrainian folk tale, "Viy: Spirit of Evil". While decadent in a sense, Herz' film differs from the above in it's richly baroque production of a Alexander Grin gothic drama about the power struggle between two sisters of an aristocratic family. Where "Morgiana" deviates from the Grin is in its pointedly grotesque decadence, (think Rainer Werner Fassbinder) and the film's narrative vantage being that of the heteroclite and more sinister of the two sisters (and her cat).

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 10 - 14 | Seattle Polish Film Festival at SIFF Cinema: Oct 10 - 20 | Seattle Kinofest at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 22 - Nov 5 | Into The Night: The 42nd Film Noir Series at Seattle Art Museum: Sept 26 - Dec 5

Like last year's deluge of film festivals over the course of the fall months, 2019 sees a small abundance arrive in town and around the region for the month of October through early November. Among the festivals and series on offer, Seattle Art Museum's cinema curation deserves a notable mention. This past year's calendar 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 a twin series of Ingmar Bergman. The museum's annual French and Italian cinema series are also significant, as is their long running winter Film Noir program. Now in it's fourth decade, Into the Night: The 42nd Film Noir Series features such all-time classic noir directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Samuel Fuller, Edward Dmytryk, Edgar G. Ulmer, Michael Curtiz, and more contemporary neonoir from John Boorman, David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick. This year's array of titles spanning the themes of deadly love, mistaken identities, men done wrong by organized crime, dystopic modernism and haunting nocturnal forays into Los Angeles. As featured in, "Murder, My Sweet", "Detour", "The Breaking Point", "Niagara", "The Wrong Man", "Lolita", "The Naked Kiss", "Point Blank", and "Mulholland Drive". Concurrent with the opening month of the Seattle Art Museum's series, the annual contemporary German cinematic overview of Kinofest opens the week following this year's Seattle Polish Film Festival. Presenting both restored archival work, these two cultural showcases look to span the decades between such landmarks as the work born of the Polish Film School, New German Cinema and contemporary movements like the Berlin School.

North of the city one of the region's most compelling cinephile events will be taking place over the second weekend in October. As an example of programming a festival of diverse yet qualitative content, the current body of the Seattle International Film Festival could take a page or two from the Orcas Island Film Festival. While running only five days, and featuring less than one tenth of the films on offer during the three weeks of SIFF, the regional microfestival is an exemplar representation of contemporary programming. In the unlikely setting of the rural beauty of the San Juan islands, chief programmer Carl Spence, has produced a 40-odd-film program in their 6th year to rival that of its Seattle goliath. As the Seattle Times states, it is the case that "Orcas Island Film Festival: Small Fest, Big Movies" which draws largely from this year's Cannes Film Festival, alongside a number of the notable films from Venice, Sundance, and Toronto. Among the films on offer in Orcas, there's the hotly anticipated fascist farce of Taika Waititi’s "Jojo Rabbit". Apparently more an exercise in whimsical weird comedy than the opportunity for some biting satire of that the modern era so clearly deserves, it did nonetheless take home the top award at Toronto. Much has been written about French Left Bank director Agnès Varda in recent years, particularly with her passing this March. Fitting then, for an incomparable director and personal essayist to leave us with two of her more intimate and inviting works in the form of 2017's "Visages Villages", and her parting gift to the world, "Varda by Agnès". Bringing in a five star review from Peter Bradshaw at Cannes, Céline Sciamma’s 18th Century story of obsession "Portrait of a Lady on Fire", demonstrates a new mastery of a classical, almost Hitcockian style. Another massive film by all accounts is the return to form, and more solidly reliable thematic content, from South Korea's once challenging satirist, Bong Joon-ho. More than just a off-kilter black comedy of a rich Korean family slowly being subsumed and replaced by an impoverish one, his class revenge tale "Parasite", digs its tendrils in deep to the desperation produced by modern global wealth disparity.

From Toronto, there's Fernando Meirelles' tale of "Two Popes" with Anthony Hopkins’ Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as Francis, as well as more antics from Shia LaBeouf in the form of "Honey Boy". By contrast, a film deserving of attention is the portrait of cultural dislocation seen through the eye of the protagonist of Nadav Lapid's Golden Bear-awarded "Synonyms". Another solidly constructed post-Colonial vantage into issues of class, duty and servitude in the developing world takes a more ruminative and poetic view, in Mati Diop's suggestively supernatural "Atlantique". Romanian New Wave director, Corneliu Porumboiu returns to crime and police procedurals with "The Whistlers", in which a bent detective becomes entangled in the crimes that he's investigating. Given the cast, Ira Sachs' "Frankie" should be more compelling than its Cannes' reviews suggests, and one would have to go very far astray from the life and work of Merce Cunningham to produce something less than richly satisfying with "Cunningham". Noah Baumbach returns what he does best in his finely judged divorce retrospective, "Marriage Story", and Trey Edward Shultz' "Waves" depicts a very different mode of family drama. Adam Driver stars again in the incisive indictment of the United States post-9/11 interrogation processes, in "The Report", and Quentin Dupieux is back with another dose of his fetishistic gibberish cinema, with "Deerskin". French cinema of a more substantive manner can be seen in François Ozon's "By the Grace of God", which took home the Grand Jury Prize in Berlin. From Sundance, we get Chinonye Chukwo's Jury Prize-winning "Clemency", and a new comedy from Upright Citizens' Brigade and Saturday Night Live alumnis, "Greener Grass". Diao Yinan's follow up to his brilliantly constructed neo-Noir, "Black Coal, Thin Ice", fails to expand on that film's stylistic and thematic content, nonetheless producing a satisfying genre work with, "The Wild Goose Lake". Apparently another return to form for Pedro Almodóvar, "Pain and Glory" delivers a sensuous and potentially autobiographical gem through Antonio Banderas’ portrayal of a ageing filmmaker facing up to his later years in life. Also consistently ranking highly in overviews from Cannes, Marco Bellochio's "The Traitor", looks to deliver a finely styled period drama on the life of Tommaso Buscetta, the first Sicilian Mafia boss turned pentito.