Saturday, November 2, 2013

Claire Denis' new film "Bastards" & Andrei Tarkovsky's "Nostalghia" at Northwest
Film Forum: Nov 15 - 21 | Edward Nikolaevich Artemiev, "Solaris" & The ANS

Two essential pieces of cinema come to Northwest Film Forum this month, the first a classic by a 20th Century master, Andrei Tarkoysky's "Nostalghia", the second a contemporary classic-in-the-making, Claire Denis' "Bastards". Thematically all over the place, from libido monstrosities gone amok, to male camaraderie in the French Foreign Legion, to post-Colonial aftermath in both Africa at at home in modern day Paris, one of the only constants of Denis' filmography is that it all navigates the space between traditional narrative and more structurally adventurous cinema. At times not quite hitting the balance between these two forms, such as 2005's "The Intruder" she just as often nails it in a manner exceeded by few in all of modern filmmaking, like that of 2008's near-masterpiece on class, race, urban life, light and motion that was "35 Shots of Rum". Another constant of her work, one that she shares with the best of her peers, (think Lynch, McQueen, Pen-Ek) is the elliptical nature of it's narrative and visual structure. Looping back on itself, projecting ahead, fusing impression, experience and dream, "Bastards" brings it's audience deep into the nightmare of one family's decomposition from the inside with it's contact with power, corruption and an immoral elite. Making for what Eric Hynes amusingly calls "Family Films of a Very Different Sort", the atmospheres of tension, suspicion and threat alluded to by the trailer are mined to mind-altering effect. This is a film more than just a tale of what Manohla Dargis calls "Families, and Money, With More Than One Complication", and instead a richly atmospheric, complexly structured neo-Noir thriller of the first rate. These themes explored through the abundance of words lavished on and about the film in Nick Pinkerton's Claire Denis interview, Max Nelson's review and Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week pick for Film Comment.

More difficult to codify, the later masterpiece by Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky, probably best known for his mid-period allegorical science fiction films, "Stalker" and "Solaris" the latter a fairly true, yet more yearningly romantic and metaphysical adaptation of the novel by Stanislaw Lem the former's screenplay written by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, loosely based on their novel "Roadside Picnic". But beyond these few genre-film vehicles, Tarkovsky's cinema was a deeply personal exploration of the question of existence itself, from the semi-autobiographical "Mirror" to later works like "Nostalghia" which was made in exile, with Tarkovsky leaving Russia for what he then hoped were more conducive climes for his work in mainland Europe. Even then the Soviet influence was strong on his work, most apparent in 1983 when "Nostalghia" premiered at Cannes, Soviet authorities prevented the film from winning the Palme d'Or, the Cannes committee in response awarding the work both Best Director and the FIPRESCI Prize. Tarkovsky's later-life battle with these influences, even in exile, documented in Peter Lang's "Border Crossings: Mapping Identities in Modern Europe". This new restored print thanks to Kino Lorber screening to great praise in last year's New York Film Festival 50th Anniversary Retrospective and earlier this year as part of BAM Cinématek's Russian Cinema Now series. An overview of his films defining role in modern cinema and the indelible effect of these works probably best conveyed by Senses of Cinema's Great Director's feature on Tarkovsky.

For those looking to explore his work further, the Nostalghia site hosted by the University of Calgary being one of the deepest and most well-maintained archive of essays, images, criticism and related media to the the Russian director's work. And with Kino, Criterion and Artificial Eye seemingly in competitive overdrive to release, refurbish and represent his staggering decades-defining works, this is a very good time to discover these films indeed. Criterion also playing host to a series of essays by some of the world's foremost film critics, including Phillip Lopate's "Solaris: Inner Space", J.Hoberman on Andrei Rublev and Dina Iordanova's, "Ivan’s Childhood: Dream Come True". The new century also seeing a number of significant works in print related to the Russian auteur, Black Dog Publishing's substantial "Tarkovsky" and more recently the hauntingly beautiful collected Polaroid work of the director himself, Thames & Hudson's "Instant Light: Tarkovsky Polaroids".  Image, space, time and narrative making up the larger substance of the body of Tarkovsky's work, but their distinct audio design, aural atmosphere and soundtrack scores are essential, defining elements of the whole. Almost exclusively composed and designed by Edward Artemiev and sometimes collaborator Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, one of their most memorable works, that of the "Solaris" score, constructed on the technological/cultural obscurity that is Evgeny Murzin's ANS Synthesizer. Currently housed in the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture Moscow, this Photoelectrichesky Sintezator Muziki named after Murzin's favorite composer, Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin even among the rare and few ‘graphical sound’ synthesizers built in the 20th Century, the ANS is a genuine one-of-a-kind... or more accurately, one of two-of-a-kind. There's no better a overview on it's wonders, creative history and strikingly anomalous nature than Max Cole's piece of last year, "Synth-Aesthesia: Soviet Synths And The ANS". This Fall sees the first-ever official sanctioned release of the "Solaris" score on LP in the west. Sourced from the original masters and authorized by the estate and Tarkovsky's son, on the justly-named Superior Viaduct label.