Sunday, July 12, 2015

Inaugural Seattle Art Fair at CenturyLink Center & Out of Sight: A Survey of Contemporary Art in the Pacific Northwest at King Street Station: Jul 30 - Aug 2

There's been a lot of speculation as to what form the inaugural Seattle Art Fair will take, with no small supply of skepticism expressed in local circles concerning it being another of Paul Allen's pet cultural projects, both for the good and the bad. Amidst all the regional dialog, there's a confounding dearth of national or international reportage to be found outside pieces like Brian Boucher's "Why Are Gagosian, Pace, and Zwirner Signing On for the Seattle Art Fair?" and The Observer's "Paul Kasmin and Pace Gallery Join the Inaugural Seattle Art Fair". Both of which are more discussions of the art market and the inclusion of some of the gallery world's international power players, than insight into the fair's content and curatorial mission. Sponsored by Paul Allen's Vulcan with Max Fishko of Art Market Productions as programming director, the fair's press release makes it out to be half-commercial gallery, half-curated exhibition, featuring some 60 galleries representing local to international dealers with an emphasis on the West Coast and Pacific Rim. The fair has also drawn several Asian galleries, including Kaikai Kiki and Koki Arts from Tokyo, along with Gana Art of Seoul and Osage Gallery from Hong Kong. In addition to the participating galleries of stature and the artists they represent, the "Thinking Currents" wing is to be a signature exhibition of video, film and sound work exploring themes related to the cultural, political, and geographical parameters of The Pacific Rim, curated by Leeza Ahmady, director of Asia Contemporary Art Week. The Fair's other facet will be a series of lectures and temporary exhibitions by individual artists at locations across the city at indoor and outdoor venues. The inclusion of citywide off-site projects and events inspired in-part by Allen's experiences visiting biennales around the world, particularly as he claims, that of Venice.

Concurrently running across town, the collateral event at King Street Station "Out of Sight: A Survey of Contemporary Art in the Pacific Northwest" curated by the quartet of Kirsten Anderson and Sharon Arnold of Roq La Rue and Length x Width x Height along with Seattle artist Greg Lundgren and Sierra Stinson, founder of Vignettes for Vital 5 Productions, is a 24,000 square-foot survey of contemporary art that reads like a who's-who of the best work seen about the city in the past decade. That near-comprehensive list of Northwest talent includes; Julie Alexander, Julie Alpert, Megumi Shauna Arai, Rick Araluce, JD Banke, Baso, Crystal Barbre, Joey Bates, Jared Bender, Gretchen Bennett, Gala Bent, Zack Bent, Colleen Bratton, John Brophy, Jazz Brown, Bette Burgoyne, Tim Cross, Casey Curran, Sue Danielsen, Jack Daws, Jed Dunkerley, Warren Dykeman, Debbie Faas, Leiv Fagereng, Julia Freeman, Erin Frost, Neal Fryett, Scott Foldesi, Klara Glosova, Mandy Greer, Colleen Hayward, Laura Hamje, Robert Hardgrave, Julia Hensley, Jesse Higman, Jeff Jacobsen, Claire Johnson, Ken Kelly, Patrick Kelly, Izzie Klingles, Kirk Lang, Michael Leavitt, Rich Lehl, Margie Livingston, Francesca Lohmann, Amanda Manitach, Chris McMullen, Jennifer McNeely, Katie Metz, Steven Miller, Ryan Molenkamp, Scott Musgrove, Matthew Offenbacher, Joe Park, Mary Ann Peters, Jason Puccinelli, Cheyenne Randall, Tivon Rice, Ashleigh Rose Robb, Serrah Russell, Sail, Joe Schlicta, Rafael Soldi, Kellie Talbot, Polina Tereshina, Barbara Earl Thomas, Chris Thompson, Kimberly Trowbridge, Joey Veltkamp, Redd Walitzki, Tariqa Waters, Casey Weldon, Chandler Woodfin, Robert Yoder, Claude Zervas and Jennifer Zwick.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Cannes Film Festival + Cinema Miscellanea

The summer issues of Sight & Sound and Film Comment have landed, and with them their respective overviews of this year's Cannes Film Festival and it's four major aspects; the Competition and this year's award winners, the Camera d'Or, Critics Week and the Director's Fortnight. Covered in-depth by some of the most established names in film journalism, including Amy Taubin's "Setting Sun: Despite Glorious Films the Specter of the Death of Cinema was Never Far" on cinema-as-film's diminishing role seen at Cannes. With the DCP becoming the established projection norm at the world's premier film festival, even for great auteurs who's work continues to be shot on celluloid. There was also some question concerning vision and programming when superior Hollywood crowd-pleasers like George Miller's "Mad Max: Fury Road", though a masterfully edited and kinetic sensorial onslaught, was still being cited as one of the truly great films seen by the festival's 11th day. With many of the initial offerings by expected directors quite-good-but-minor, or left out of competition entirely in the Director's Fortnight, Gavin Smith asks if these conditions are simply a sign of the times, or is art cinema on the ropes, "Sins of Omission: With Obvious Exceptions, La Programmation Wasn't Great". His sentiment mirrored in the New York Times coverage by Manohla Dargis "At Cannes Film Festival, Good Sometimes isn’t Enough". Further plumbing the divide between the delights of quality entertainment and the richness of art cinema, Laura Kern 's "Slumming It: Days and Nights in the Market" explores the festival's underbelly of low-profile, indie, pulp and genre treats running the spectrum of savage horror films, sleazy thrillers, sci-fi oddities, and other assorted uncharted questionables.

Transcending what Smith referred to as those "quite-good-but-minor" works, Jacques Audiard's "Dheepan" tackles migrant integration in central Europe in his characteristically workmanlike and absorbing fashion as a highly charged thriller. Yet many felt it being awarded the Palme d'Or was a snub to greater films seen. Other highlights include Yorgos Lanthimos Jury Prize-winning Kafka meets H.G. Wells allegory, "The Lobster", the best Best Actress award going to Todd Haynes adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's "Carol" and the Un Certain Regard prize graced Grímur Hakonarson's tale of brotherly hatred between hermit farmers in "Rams". In the same program, Romania's Corneliu Porumboiu earned the Talent Prize for his "The Treasure" and the Directing Prize went to Kiyoshi Kurosawa, apparently back on form with a altogether different spin on the Japanese ghost tale. Kurosawa's exploration of modern unease has taken a more refined turn since 2008's "Tokyo Sonata", a path he continues down with "Journey to the Shore". Rounding out the prize selections, the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize went to Dalibor Matanic's "The High Sun" and the festival's cinematography award, the Caméra d'Or to César Augusto Acevedo for "La Tierra Y La Sombra". Not prize winning, but no less notable for it, Jia Zhang-Ke's "Mountains May Depart" continues his commentary on China's shifting cultural-economic alignment as a extremely ambitious, albeit microcosmic depiction of that nation's rapid transformation. Japan's mainstays of contemporary arthouse familial drama, Hirokazu Kore-eda and Naomi Kawase delivered "Our Little Sister" and "An", with varying degrees of success.

More significant works were relegated to out-of-competition status due to their inclusion in the richly populated Director's Fortnight section this year. Among them were Arnaud Desplechin's intricate memory piece, "My Golden Days" and Philippe Faucon's "Fatima" based on the first person prose of Fatima Elayoubi. Other stand-outs include Stéphane Brize's bleakly dispassionate monitoring of an unemployed European everyman (for which Vincent Lindon won the Best Actor prize) in, "The Measure of a Man" and Ida Panahandeh brought fresh insight to the familiar subject of divorce Iranian-style in, "Nahid". The title of the long anticipated Kent Jones documentary says everything you need to know going into this one, "Hitchcock-Truffaut" is as intelligent and lively as you could hope, filled with memorable images to accompany the historic series of encounters as well as revelatory commentary from David Fincher and James Grey, among others. In disappointing turns, having fallen so far from one film to the next, Paolo Sorrentino's "Youth" apparently gave viewers a sense of what it must have been like to be cast out of Eden after having ascended to the sublime and rapturous heights of 2013's, "La Grande Bellezza". Another disappointment, though one that could be seen coming in the tipping of the balance at "Enter the Void"'s conclusion, Gaspar Noe's "Love" was a somewhat flaccid affair who's highlight was solely the gorgeous cinematography expressed through Benoit Debie's steamy, luminous palette. Almost as disappointing after the late-career surprise of "Paranoid Park", nothing favorable has come out of the festival concerning Gus Van Sant's "The Sea of Trees". 

Saving the best for last, the four films delivered this year by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, László Nemes and Miguel Gomes have been received with unparalleled enthusiasm across the festival's reportage. For Film Comment, there was Kent Jones' "Wonders to Behold: A Few Films Touched with Greatness Can Make All the Difference" on the sublime perfection of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's eight-years-in-the-wait period piece and Dennis Lim's reveling in Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Miguel Gomes' further refinement of their storytelling art, "Daydream Believers: Two 21st-Century Trailblazers Stole the Festival’s Thunder". Their sense of wonder at established auteurs on fabulous form was mirrored in the pages of Sight & Sound by Nick James' "Cannes: Hunting Season" and Isabel Stevens' "Cannes: An Affair to Remember". The four pieces focusing on Hou Hsiao-Hsien's sumptuous and oblique Best Director-winning spin on the wuxia genre, "The Assassin", László Nemes’ Grand Prix-winning Holocaust drama "Son of Saul" and Miguel Gomes' audacious three-part modern refashioning of folk tales from the Islamic Golden Age, "Arabian Nights - Volume 1, The Restless One" & "Arabian Nights - Volume 2, The Desolate One" & "Arabian Nights - Volume 3, The Enchanted One". Like Scheherazade, Gomes apparently has pulled out every storytelling trick in the book to span the film's epic 6 hour duration: prologues and epilogues, prolix voiceovers, obtuse framing devices, abundant on-screen titles and nested narratives within narratives. A director who's whole filmography deals in mystic parables couched within modern life, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Cemetery of Splendor" may lack wandering spirits in the night of the Thai jungle this time around, but it's mixing of the political, historic and the spiritual is told through a literally dreamy central metaphor. Sleep acting as a mysterious, uneasy bridge between the two worlds, the protagonists lead the viewer into a heightened sensory exercise of hypnotic motion and hushed sound as we observe their ambulations through neon-lit psychedelic jungle and Escher-like mazes of modern shopping complexes. All the while simultaneously turning increasingly Oneiric as it's political inflections sharpen.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Tsai Ming-Liang's "Rebels of the Neon God" at SIFF Cinema: Jul 17 - 23

Later this month SIFF Cinema presents the directorial debut from the auteur at the heart of Taiwanese Cinema's Second Wave and programming director for the recent series of brilliant restorations of Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien by Central Motion Pictures, Tsai Ming-Liang has positioned himself at the vanguard of what's come to be known as the 'Slow Cinema' movement. From 1992's breakout film, "Rebels of the Neon God" Tsai would enrich his neon, spacial, melancholy vision of life in Taipei and Malaysia into a filmography of refined longing. It watches as foreshadowing of his stylistically established work of the later 1990's like "The River" and award-winning existential poetry of the early 2000's, "What Time is it There?" explored in interview by IndieWire for their "Cities and Loneliness: Tsai Ming-Liang's 'What Time Is It There?'". By this point having distinguished a cinematic voice of his own, he became the focus of Jared Rapfogel's excellent essay for Senses of Cinema, "Tsai Ming-Liang: Cinematic Painter". Yet some of Tsai's strongest, most characteristic work was to follow. 2003's deeply nostalgic meditation on time, cinema and the city, entirely set within a dilapidated theater in Taipei, "Goodbye, Dragon Inn" ranked on The Guardian's "10 Best Films about Films" and was the focus of of Senses of Cinema's Great Directors feature as well as Roger Clarke's "The Incomplete Tsai Ming-Liang" for Sight & Sound. Clark's classification of Tsai as "contemporary cinema's best poet of loneliness" came to fruition in the Malaysian night ambulations of 2006's "I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone" A.O. Scott's "Once Upon a Mattress, a Tone Poem Made Up of Moods" details it's yearning nocturnal quest for a sense of connectedness among the urban underclass.

Moving into an increasingly formalistic minimalism, 2013's "Stray Dogs" watches like a first feature-length effort at a new approach to dramaturgy. One that resembles neither traditional cinema or video art, but incorporates durational, editing and pacing considerations from both. This shift was first seen in his short digital works of recent years, the Tsai Ming-Liang & Lee Kang-Sheng Shorts showcase at the Rotterdam Film Festival pointing toward a new narrative hybrid from the director. More work has followed in this style, with the feature length 'walking' films that began with 2014's "Journey to the West" featuring Lee Kang-Sheng reprising his role as a Buddhist Monk traversing the western world on foot. “Rebels of the Neon God” tells a slighter, somewhat more conventional story than many of the films above, yet there's no mistaking it for anyone else’s work. Already fully formed in many ways, this early feature from two decades past contains many of what would become his trademarks. The unabated presence of water, the fraught family dynamics, the observational pacing, the lingering eroticization of the body, the directionless nighttime ambulations, the strange mixture of moodiness and slow-burn almost silent-slapstick, and of course, the presence of Tsai’s regular lead, the airily emotive Lee Kang-Sheng. New York City was the place to be this past April, Film Comment's Film of the Week review and Chen Huei-Yin's interview with the director coincided with Film Society at Lincoln Center's debut of the new restoration, running concurrently alongside the complete retrospective of Tsai's feature-length work at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Roy Andersson's new film "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence" at Northwest Film Forum: Jul 17 - 23

Last year's Golden Lion winner at the Venice Film Festival finally comes to the Northwest Film Forum for a weeklong run. The sixth film in almost 45 years by Swedish auteur Roy Andersson caries on from the macabre spectacle of the bizarre that made his Cannes Jury Prize winning "Songs from the Second Floor" so singular a work of cinema in the late 20th Century. The fantastical surrealism of Fellini, the wide-open alien austerity of Kubrick, the humor of Terry Gilliam and an impeccable sense of timing set within Andersson's own particular obsession for elaborate artificial worlds. Where "Songs from the Second Floor" was a genre-film defying observation on society's yearning for end times, 2007's "You, the Living" saw him move into territory that was more personal and anecdotal, yet retained his fixation with the macabre and absurd. This sensibility of dry, depressive, philosophically inflected humor strikes a balance that truly has no peers in contemporary cinema. After another many-year stretch, "Roy Andersson: Calling It as He Sees It -- in Great Detail" with “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” which like the proceeding films of this trilogy, consists of a series of episodic accounts that illustrate, mostly, the futility and absurdity of life. What Andersson perceives as his humble attempt at depicting the human experience, tragedy, wonder, regret, hope, folly and all.

We see this world through a detached stationary camera, observing characters from a tactful distance as they sigh, complain, move through the landscape at glacial pace, treating one another with indifference, oblivious cruelty, weary civility and occasional tenderness. Populated by deathly palefaced men in drab institutional suits, women in tattered vintage gowns and too much rouge and an array of other hapless souls, the recent trilogy of features by Andersson have unfolded like a series of preserved dioramas of human life. Set within massive, elaborate stage sets, these airless chambers are works of engineering, construction and lighting unto themselves, fitting then to see It's Hard to be Human a retrospective of his life's work this past Spring hosted at the New York Museum of Arts and Design. Since it's premier in last year's Venice Film Festival, his newest has been extolled as one of the finest in all of his spartan, decades-spanning oeuvre, Xan Brooks' coverage of the festival for The Guardian hailing it as, "The Glorious Metaphysical Burlesque of Roy Andersson's 'A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence'". While the New York Times' A.O. Scott ponders why it is that Andersson is such a master of  moving us to laugh at the misery and distress of others in his, "‘A Pigeon Sat on a Branch': Roy Andersson’s Rumination on Life".

Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's new film "The Tribe" at Northwest Film Forum: Jul 10 - 16

Another major film from the year's international festival circuit lands at Northwest Film Forum this month! To call Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's "Deaf-School Drama, Shocking, Violent and Unique" as Peter Bradshaw's review for the Guardian states, is something of an understatement. From it's outset, "The Tribe" establishes that there is to be no spoken dialog in the film, nor are there to be any subtitles to translate the exchanges between the characters, which takes place entirely in Ukrainian sign language. This may read as something of a daring gambit, or even bold gimmick, but Slaboshpytskiy's meticulously distanced camerawork and determinedly opaque dramaturgy is so explicit, and fully integrated ethical choice, that the viewer is immediately infected with a vicarious, voyeuristic curiosity. It becomes something of a sinister game to parse out the remorseless methodology and indoctrination of the young protagonist into the world of the film's crumbling state boarding school for deaf adolescents. One needn't be able to sign to be able to comprehend the film's setting and it's own complex hierarchy exerting it's influence through numerous demonstrations of humiliation and power, these are crystal-clear.

Beginning with the first day as a new student is inducted into a secret world of teenage gangs, predatory violence and crime. Within minutes it's established that the dominant boys in the squalid institutional dorms are running rackets behind the facade of the officially state-sanctioned sales of trinkets on trains. Left to their own in the decrepitude of urban Kiev, this is the most innocent of the ritualized practices they engage in. Their daily lives something of a real-world contemporary to Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange" in that it shares a post-adolescent world nearly devoid of any adult presence, where the youth at the lowest tiers of society's set of rungs are left to make their own way, to deign what the world is as they see fit. Sharing the austerity and rigor of Europe's great quiet confrontationist, Michael Haneke, the squalor of poverty amidst the erosion of the European economic community's social structures seen in the films of Ulrich Seidl, and the ghostly traces left behind of the late-Soviet era's influence throughout Cristian Mungiu's films, Slaboshpytskiy has crafted a work deserving of it's widespread critical acclaim. Rightly hailed in The BFI's 20 Best Films of 2014 and Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week reviews for both Sight & Sound and Film Comment, where it was celebrated as the most intrepid, surprising, inventive and disturbing film seen in Cannes Critics Week last year.