Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia", Corinna Belz's "Gerhard Richter Painting" & Jeonju Digital Project 2011 at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 21 - Apr 15

After a 3/4 of a year wait, the Cannes Grand Prix winning film by what I consider to be Turkey's greatest living filmmaker is finally here stateside, screening for a week at Northwest Film Forum! Nuri Bilge Ceylan's previous film "Thee Monkeys" was more of a brooding psychological thriller as a 'ghost story' of a family's haunting by their lost son and the torment of his memories. The previous two, were more straight-up methodical dramas taking place in vast open landscapes and color-desaturated urban scenes; "Distant" and "Climates" both exceptionally well executed, yet left me wondering if these were the exception, why is it there is such a dearth of intelligent, quiet, sometimes existential, dramas that told true to life stories? ...And I guess we know the answer to that. As simple as his work is in it's formula, Ceylan is one of the true global cinema artists working in this realm, where the conceptual, aesthetic, and spacial; both psychological and material - all come together to ad up to something more on the screen. From the Northwest Film Forum: "The plot of this co-winner of the 2011 Cannes Grand Prix is simple: a group of men search for a corpse. But the story is not so straightforward. Set against the haunted and monotonous landscape of the Anatolian steppe, the task of finding the body is cloaked in lies, mystery and a growing unease. The film dips into both the road movie and police genres, but the investigation within the film is purely figurative, unearthing questions of human existence."

Of course best encapsulated by Manohla Dargis for The New York Times: "Mr. Ceylan doesn’t trumpet his ideas, but lets them quietly surface, often through the stories that the men tell one another and that at times take the form of parables. In one, a driver, Arab Ali tells the doctor how he likes to drive to the countryside for target practice, just to let off some steam. Enveloped in darkness, the wind rising like sighs, Arab Ali at first registers as a somewhat buffoonish, borderline-dangerous character whose Hobbesian worldview (it’s shoot or be shot) is a reminder that this is, after all, a search for a murdered man. Yet, like the doctor, the prosecutor and the police chief, Naci, Arab Ali proves more complex than he seems because his words are those of a man puzzling through the meaning of life. Words can fail the men, whose stories of lost wives and other ghosts drench the movie in an acute sense of loss, one that is offset by the effulgence of the natural world, a gift that none seem to see. The dead haunt “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” but so does beauty. At one point, after several futile attempts to find the body, the men drive to a village. There they are greeted by its leader, or mukhtar (Ercan Kesal), who, amid a hospitable meal, tells the travelers that the town needs a new morgue. Most of the young people have left, he says, and when an old villager dies, they beg to see the dead one last time, holding onto a past that fills them with longing. And then the mukhtar’s beautiful daughter joins the men, her face bathed in a light that until then has eluded them."

Two other notable pieces of cinema grace the Film Forum in late March; the first being the 2011 installment of the Jeonju Digital Project hosted annually by the International Film Festival of the same name in Jeonju South Korea. Previous year's installments have introduced me to such favorite directors as Naomi Kawase and Lav Diaz, this current installment though is more established names in art-house cinema. Featuring Claire Denis, Jose Luis Guerin & Jean Marie Straub of the great husband-and-wife cinema duo Straub-Huillet. The second film being the documentary on the works/process of German neo-abstract expressionist painter Gerhard Richter. It seriously being THE year for Richter, with a retrospective at the Tate a exhibit of similar scale in Berlin and gracing the cover of last month's Artforum and the documentary "Gerhard Richter Painting" all of this on the year of his 80th birthday! Nice to see the deluge of attention focused on what I consider to be one of the greatest visual artists, of any medium this century. From the Northwest Film Forum: "Gerhard Richter, one of the most significant contemporary artists of our times, granted filmmaker Corinna Belz access to his studio in the spring and summer of 2009 as he worked on a series of large abstract paintings. Gerhard Richter Painting offers rare insights into the artist’s process with a quiet, fly-on-the-wall perspective. The paintings themselves become the protagonists. Gerhard Richter Painting is the penetrating portrait of an artist at work - and a fascinating film about the art of seeing."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Drowned Cathedral": The Piano Music of Anton Batagov, Philip Glass,
Claude Debussy & J.S. Bach at Chapel Performance Space: Mar 29 - 31

It's been a number of seasons now since the Seattle Symphony hosted/performed any works that demanded my attendance... the cessation of the Music of Our Time series has really been felt in this town, or at least it has by me. We can hope that the symphony's new conductor, Ludovic Morlot and his proposed late-night [untitled] Modern Composer chamber series endeavors to fill that void. So, performances of the works of Philip Glass, Claude Debussy ..and yes, even 'ol Johann Sebastian Bach, now stands as a rare treat, especially as a three day series hosted in the acoustically-primed environs of the Chapel Performance Space. And if you're going to have a series of nights of modern classical pieces for piano titled "Drowned Cathedral", that is exactly how one designs a poster for the event. The three nights broken up thematically, with Thursday featuring the compositions of Philip Glass and Claude Debussy, Friday being entirely of award-winning pianist Anton Batagov's own work, and Saturday interpretations/variations on J.S. Bach. From the DoubleSharp program guide:
Program 1, performed on Thursday, March 29: includes piano works by Philip Glass and opera fragments by Glass arranged for piano solo by Batagov (interpretations and transcriptions are authorized by Glass) and Twelve Preludes by Claude Debussy: "What do Glass and Debussy have in common? Sonic magic. Pure power of sound. From the very first note, they immerse you in deep contemplation. They don't leave you any chance to engage in rational analysis while you are listening. And no room for 19th-century emotions. Both composers bring you directly to the blissful nature of sound. All your existence turns into sound, and through this breathtaking trip you experience Reality. And there is one more detail I'd like to mention. I clearly hear Russian influence in Glass' and Debussy's music. Some episodes of Debussy's works could have been written by Mussorgsky or Rimsky-Korsakov. A scent of Rachmaninov and distant echoes of Russian folk music are present in Glass' sound canvases. However, I am not inviting you to engage in musicological research. I am inviting you to hear wind and bells, hills and ocean, stars and galaxies. Glass and Debussy are experienced captains."
Program 2, performed on Friday, March 30: showcases Anton Batagov the composer. He explains: “In the mid-90's I stopped playing classical music. At that moment it was really important to say to myself: I am not a performer, I am a composer. It was much more interesting to create "new" sounds instead of playing "used" ones. However, it's clear that there is nothing completely new under the sun, and I never had such an illusion. It doesn't matter when this or that sequence of notes was written down or who did it. What really matters is what's behind these notes, what's inside them. What is critically important is your inner intention and motivation: why I am doing this now, and what I want to say by producing these sounds. A composer's ego thinks of a composer as a true creator. That's certainly wrong. There are NO creators.”
Program 3, performed on Saturday, March 31: is a 21st-century adaptation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s piano works. Batagov says: “It looks really strange when 21st-century musicians claim they know how to play Bach in an authentic manner. An attempt to recreate a playing style which we never heard by studying musicological books is a self-deception. My version doesn't have any historical authenticity. I simply want to remain where I am – here and now – and try to hear the sounds which have lost their meaning in the endless stream of consumption and turned into a decorative background noise in the trash can of modern culture. Each episode in this music is to be repeated twice, and I play them in different tempos with different articulation, like contemplating a crystal from different points of view or living a life twice choosing different scenarios. The tempos are mostly slow, the sounds follow each other spontaneously, in a quasi-improvisational manner. Each sound has its own meaning, its own expressivity. This meditative concentration has its inner non-linear flow of time.”