Sunday, June 22, 2014

Beyond Modal Realism: The Interpenetrating Comic Dimensions of Grant Morrison's The Multiversity

Eight years in the making, next month The Multiversity arrives! Beginning as far back as the conclusion of his "Seven Soldiers of Victory" megaseries, Scottish comics scribe Grant Morrison began to make cryptic statements about a larger, Cosmological, multiple-Universe spanning meta-Comic, a project that by 2009 had become known as "Grant Morrison’s ‘Multiversity’". The book promising to bridge the diverse fictional worlds that have existed in DC Comics' history of rewriting their continuity multitudinous times via whatever current marketing campaign, crossover event or 'Crisis' of universal perspective that the publisher had established in it's 70+ years of serialized storytelling. Morrison then became engrossed in writing what may prove to be the major superhero opus of his career, in the form of a award-winning 7 year Batman story which even managed to weave into it's fold his own take on a crossover Cosmological "Final Crisis". In addition to just about every major DC character, this multi-dimensional event book encompassed in it's sprawling conceptual expanse the groundbreaking work of Jack Kirby's Fourth World creations of the 1970's. In the midst of this extended period of activity, Multiversity seemed to sink further and further into the realm of the hypothetical. A very brief synopsis of the threat implied by glimpsing the "Haunted Universes" contained within it's pages was seen in Rolling Stone's "Grant Morrison: Psychedelic Superhero". Come 2012 and the one-off Morrison-Con celebrating all things Grant along with a select body of artists, and writers including, Jonathan Hickman, Robert Kirkman, J.H. Williams III and others working in the genre-warping outer edge of the comics medium. The big news of the festival came during an interview held in the Future of the Third Millennium panel, in which it was established that not only was the book well and very much alive, but a set of new "Hi-Resolution Frank Quitely Artwork from Multiversity" was revealed.

Another protracted silence followed until April of this year, when it was announced that after nearly a decade of delays, a date had been set and "Morrison is to Unleash 'The Multiversity' in August". A month later DC Comics presented their solicitations for the Summer's books including the first two issues of The Multiversity. These arrived along with a grand, preposterous synopsis by it's author, delivering on the years of hints and speculation: "Prepare to meet the Vampire League of Earth-43, the Justice Riders of Earth-18, Superdemon, Doc Fate, the super-sons of Superman and Batman, the rampaging Retaliators of Earth-8, the Atomic Knights of Justice, Dino-Cop, Sister Miracle, Lady Quark, the legion of Sivanas, the Nazi New Reichsmen of Earth-10 and the latest, greatest Super Hero of Earth-Prime: You! But even with a multitude of alternate worlds to choose from, where every variation is possible, can anyone hope to prevail against the onslaught of ultimate evil and undying hatred in the unstoppable form of a one-time cosmic defender with unimaginable powers?! Join us, if you dare, for the beginning of The Multiversity!" If all of that isn't sufficient to pique your love of the comics medium (and the audacity of the expanse of imagination, word and image that only this serialized medium can capture), an even more in-depth plumbing of Multiversity's Quantum breadth came last year during a media event in LA, covered in MTV's "All Becoming Starchildren: An Evening With Grant Morrison". Closing this out, a detailed map of the Multiverse and the final word before the series' launch from this year's San Diego Comic-Con! Wired's interview with Morrison makes it clear we're looking at the DC Universe through the lens of Superstring Theory and the Music of the Spheres as devices in his expansion on decades of previously posited alternate-universe storytelling. Appropriately titled, "Multiversity Turns the DC Universe Into a Quantum-Theory Freakfest", it establishes a multitude of universes populated by personages and concepts Comics Alliance calls, "Vampire Batman, Hypnotic Induction, And God: Grant Morrison Talks ‘The Multiversity’".

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Vancouver International Jazz Festival: Jun 20 - Jul 1 | Susanna and Hedvig Mollestad Trio North American Tours: Jun 19 - 30 | Earshot Jazz presents Bushman's Revenge at The Royal Room: Jun 23

Up north the Vancouver International Jazz Festival plays host to a set of Scandinavian artists on the always qualitative Rune Grammofon label, as the convergence point in their tours across the US and Canada. With a date at Seattle's The Royal Room on June 23! Over the course of the Vancouver festival's ten days, the expansive spectrum of all things that could be Jazz are represented, including three artists from the more adventurous Scandinavian fringe. Atmospheric Jazz-pop chanteuse Susanna will be performing outside the context of her usual 'Magic Orchestra', her recent solo work garnering high praise from The Guardian. The heavy electric jazz power-Improv trio, Bushman's Revenge who occupy a space between the rhythm section of post-BeBop and guitar riffs of Psych and Metal, a sound Jazzwise called rousing and portentous and The Quietus lauded as a significant development within the context of the larger Norwegian Jazz and Rune Grammofon chronology. Lastly, another trio of hard rockers who made Jazz Times' Top 50 Albums of 2013 list with their fusion of guitar with a progressive and lyrical modern jazz, the Hedvig Mollestad Trio. It's been a good while since this particular brand of Jazz from the Northern regions of Europe graced Seattle, in fact, almost two years to the day when In The Country delivered a expressive set beyond the standard of what one expects of a piano-led Jazz Trio. Their show at Tula's was a confluence of post-Rock rhythm dynamics, upright bass and minimal Electronic punctuation, juxtaposed against some of the finest free-form piano playing I've seen live.

We've not been witness to anything of it's kind since, but a brief glimpse of the true greatness of this scene was had when in 2004 when The Northwest Passage touring cultural exchange presented by the San Francisco Jazz Festival in collaboration with the world renowned Krongsberg Jazz Festival swung through the west coast. This burgeoning Scandinavian scene covered at the time in the Jazz Times, "The Sound of Young Norway" it's cultural locus then largely centered around the curatorial and aesthetic bedrock that is the Scandinavian classical, jazz and improv label, ECM. Now four decades in the running, Dan Jennings posits in the New York Times that this may be the label's greatest decade yet, "ECM: CDs Know That Ears Have Eyes". This also being the year their sister label celebrated it's 150th release hailed in the pages of The Quietus, this collection represents yet another farseeing and visionary benchmark of graphic and sonic synergia, "Rune Grammofon: Sailing To Byzantium". From The Quietus: "Sailing to Byzantium is Rune Grammofon gunning for immortality. Everything from the time capsule of a package, to Henriksen's climactic loving contribution yearns to let the future know that these guys were here, that they were creating something; that they left the world a better place than they found it. It's barely possible to recommend it high enough, but every facet of Sailing to Byzantium and all of Rune Grammofon deserves to be heard, nay experienced in all of their explosive original glory." Photo credit: Andreas Ulvo

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab's new documentary "Manakamana" at Northwest Film Forum: Jun 20 - 26

Opening next weekend at Northwest Film Forum! The documentary has taken massive evolutionary leaps in just the past quarter-century, some of the most striking of it's new forms have been the visual essayist films issuing from the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab and their Visual and Environmental Studies Department. The vanguard of this observational cinema can be seen in the work of the department's Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, and their "Leviathan" and "People's Park" of last year. Whether it be the effect of time-distention in Montana's rolling grasslands as imbued by "Sweetgrass", the cosmic space-like depths of night off the New England coast, or a summer afternoon in Chengdu China; Cohn, Sniadecki, Paravel and Castaing-Taylor presented these locales as though seen through the eyes of an off-worlder; the Earth as a place of wonder, danger and mystery. This is a cinema that is tangible, time-specific and very much about our place within it all. Both Dennis Lim's "The Merger of Academia and Art House: Harvard Filmmakers’ Messy World" and Irina Leimbacher's "The World Made Flesh: Toward a Post-Humanist Cinema" go some way to convey the richly political, anthropological, physical, auditory, visual, experience of their singular body of work. To which the Department's newest, "Manakamana" marks an extension of these techniques. Of and about the Manakamana Temple in the Gorkha district of Nepal, Venerated since the 17th century as the sacred residence of the Hindu Goddess Bhagwati. It is believed that Bhagwati grants the wishes of all those who make the pilgrimage to her shrine, this pilgrimage which once involved a three hour uphill hike, is now traversed by a cable car gondola and it is this suspended 'pilgrimage' that Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez depict in their film. Constructed from a series of trips first up the mountain and then back down into the valley, the entirety of the film is shot within the cable car, with a fixed frame that faces the passengers, incorporating the landscape as seen through the windows, and little more. The result is formal and meditative, allowing for the space and open-ness of duration for the viewer's observation to acclimate to the scale of the outer landscape, the closed environment of the gondola and the subtle human interaction of it's occupants. Spray and Velez's approach to these portraits of individuals, couples, groups of friends during a moment of transport and transformation explored in Scott MacDonald's interview with the directors for Film Comment. It's effect Jonathan Romney describes in his Film of the Week review making for a series of fascinating portraits - in the painterly sense - pictures of people not knowingly giving away anything of themselves, but revealing an abundance upon which imagination casts it's colors.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bong Joon-Ho's new film "Snowpiercer" at SIFF Cinema: June 27 - July 10 | Preview Screening with Director in Attendance: June 16

A little over a week away! Like SIFF's preview of "Upstream Color" last year with Shane Carruth in attendance, June 16th Bong Joon-Ho will be present to host the screening of his most recent Dystopian vision, "Snowpiercer". Most anyone attuned to international cinema knows the details of his embattled adaptation of Benjamin Legrand & Jean-Marc Rochette's French sci-fi comic odyssey, "Le Transperceneige" in which the Weistein Corporation was aiming to cut over twenty minutes from the film under the auspice of making it more viewable to Midwest America, (or some such nonsense). Invariably it would not have improved Bong's vision by losing almost half an hour of what Tony Rayns describes as "character detail" as it was reported last year, "The Weinstein Company Wants To Melt 20 Minutes Off Snowpiercer". The film has been in theaters in France and Korea for over half a year now during this protracted battle between it's creator and distributor, the only opportunity to see it in English speaking territories has been as it's toured the festival circuit. From IndieWire's review of the print that screened at the Berlin International Film Festival it appears that like the other major Weinstein tweaked foreign release of this past year, Wong Kar-Wai's "Grandmaster", Bong's most recent is going to be sprawling and possibly inchoate by degrees. His films have navigated these same factors before and have watched strange, atmospheric, comical, meandering, wondrous and disquieting by turns -- and possibly stronger for all their structural and thematic circumnavigations. Most importantly, it's now the case that we'll be getting the director's vision rather than Harvey 'Scissorhands' Weinstein's impression of what will play better to their conceived audience. Tony Rayns' coverage on Bong's battle with the Weinstein Corp and the nature of these ill-conceived western cuts of foreign films in the recent Sight & Sound "Snowpiercer: Blockage on the Line", made for hugely entertaining, scathing reading. Rejoice then that in this case, the creator's vision remains intact after eluding such commercial mastications. We'll be getting the real deal, and for one night only, with the film's director in attendance!