Sunday, February 12, 2017

Noir City Festival: The Big Knockover at SIFF Cinema: Feb 16 - 22

Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation returns to Seattle following this past summer's Noir City 2016: Film Noir from A to B with bold new 35mm prints courtesy of their collaborative efforts with The UCLA Film & Television Archive. The Preservation Society and it's annual touring festival, offering one of the country's most, "Fascinating Windows into Our Cinematic Past". The work of the restorationists at the archive feature prominently in the LA Weekly's discussion of the expansive shift to digital distribution and projection nationwide, "Movie Studios are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital are Vast, and Troubling". Their work will again be on display after the selections from the UCLA Festival of Preservation featured at Northwest Film Forum's annual series of last spring. Next week's Noir City: The Big Knockover - Heists, Holdups and Schemes Gone Awry at SIFF Cinema Egyptian screens both 35mm and new digital restorations comprising ten double bills that present a excursion through that ultimate of thriller; the heist film. Highlights from this year's program include a new restoration of one of the true classic of the genre, in "The Asphalt Jungle" John Huston delivers a complex work of human ambition, resolve and corruption. "The Asphalt Jungle: “A Left-Handed Form of Human Endeavor” remains one of the one of the greats from America's mid-Century exploring the darker underside of urban America, and the lives of those operating in the shadows. Delivering a meticulously crafted set of thrills, turns and heartbreaking failures, "Dark Passage" features an astounding ensemble cast starring, Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe, Jean Hagen, Louis Calhern, Anthony Caruso, Brad Dexter, Marc Lawrence and a cameo turn that put Marilyn Monroe on the map. Japanese Noir makes an appearance in the program with Takumi Furukawa's entry in the "borderless action" genre and it's confluence of "Action, Anarchy and Audacity", made popular by his contemporaries at Nikkatsu, Seijun Suzuki and Toshio Masuda. Set in the world of the Yakuza, "Cruel Gun Story" stars the stalwart of the genre, Jô Shishido, as the sharp-witted Togawa enlisted to take on a major heist following the Japan Derby. As is the case with much of the Nikkatsu Noir, things are not what they seem as it soon becomes clear there is more to the heist, and the Yakuza who have enlisted him than Togawa knows. French director Henri Verneuil's star studded French-Italian gangland meetup is as globetrotting in it's locales as is it is twisted and turning in it's plot. Again, a strong ensemble cast of specialists is brought together by Jean Gabin's aged crime boss under the promise of the world's most challenging, and lucrative, heist. Set to the tone of Ennio Morricone's evocative score, French crime stalwart Lino Ventura pursues "The Sicilian Clan" through the thickly plotted intertwining mesh of enterprise, crime, passion and deceit.

Other high points in this year's programing include; Jack Hawkins, Roger Livesey, Richard Attenborough in the zenith of Basil Dearden's filmography, the ensemble cast of adrift post-World War II veterans comprising "The League of Gentlemen". The very British band of gentlemanly rogues literally taking their cues from the script of a throwaway pulp novel. Brits also play a prominent role as Alec Guinness leads a crew of eccentrics, specialists and outsiders in one of his great roles as the head of "The Ladykillers". Make no mistake, this 1955 comedic caper from Alexander Mackendrick is very much the real deal and should not be confused with the less achieved Coen Brothers remake of the 1990s. Back on North American soil, Robert Shaw's cool and collected soldier of fortune hijacks a subway train loaded with passengers in one of the great New York City films of the century. Equally unlikely is the duo of transit cops, Walter Matthau and Jerry Stiller, who stand in the way of the high-stakes ransom scheme. Propelled along by meticulous high-speed editing and David Shire's memorable score, "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" could only have taken place in the Manhattan of the 1970's and stands as a testament to the city's thrilling mix of classes, culture, crime and multi-ethnicity.  Lastly comes two representations the true gold standard of the genre from France in the 1950s and 60s. Under the encouragement of fellow director Jean-Pierre Melville, blacklisted American expatriate Jules Dassin adapted a rudimentary crime novel into a setpiece for the one of the utmost bravura break-in sequences found in all of cinema. "Rafifi"'s central heist sequence alone has earned the film it's status as a landmark in suspense. Running some thirty minutes without dialogue or soundtrack score, the film's central scene cunningly employs devices as diverse as ballet slippers and an umbrella, and sparked Dassin's prolific career in Europe. No noir series would be complete without an entry from the French, and "Classe Tous Risques" may be the most quintessentially Francophile crime film of all time. Dogged and on the run, Lino Ventura's aged gangster navigates the multitudinous twists and turns of this Claude Sautet career-highlight, with only one ally in all the world played by the young Jean-Paul Belmondo. The definitive European "one last job" film of the 1960s, it's a one man against the world, as Ventura's Abel Davos goes toe to toe against the crime world he once ruled in this hyperstructured adaptation of a novel by José Giovanni.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Arvo Pärt Festival at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kaul Auditorium Reed College, Studio 2 & Northwest Film Center Portland: Feb 5 - 12

This month, the Portland ensemble Capella Romana presents the first-ever North American Festival dedicated to the work of Sacred Minimalist and Estonian Orthodox composer, Arvo Pärt. As a professional vocal ensemble that performs early and contemporary sacred classical music, the ensemble is known especially for its presentations and recordings of medieval Byzantine chant, Greek and Russian Orthodox choral works, much in the way of Pärt's regular collaborators, The Hilliard Ensemble. The form of the larger percentage of Arvo Pärt's work came after a period of creative crisis and reflection following his 1968 "Credo", and transitional "Symphony Number 3". Previous to this 1971 orchestral work, Pärt had explored a range of styles influenced by the early 20th Century Soviet era works of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Bartók. A brief period of exploring Serialist and Twelve-Tone methods informed by the techniques of Arnold Schönberg was to follow. These shortly proved to be both a creative impasse, as well as drawing undesired attention from the Soviet authorities, as detailed in "Oxford Study of Composers: Arvo Pärt" by the composer's biographer, Paul Hillier. His course out of this impasse came in the study of Plainsong, Gregorian Chant and the emergence of early Polyphony in the European Renaissance. From this the creation of Pärt's defining tintinnabuli style (from the Latin for “small ringing bells”) was generated. An approach which the composer has described: “I work with very few elements – with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials – with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of the triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation”. The creative breakthrough enabled him to resume composing and a stream of what are considered his masterpieces followed, with "Tabula Rasa", "Fratres", "Spiegel im Spiegel" and the "Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten", written in rapid succession in the mid-to-late 1970s. These all finding a home in the west on the groundbreaking Nordic jazz and contemporary classical label, ECM. Dana Jennings "ECM: Albums Know that Ears Have Eyes" for the New York Times, mines the ensuing four decades of output from the label, including the vast majority of Arvo Pärt's catalog of recordings.

While this month's event marks the first domestic festival dedicated exclusively to his music, there have been numerous performance series and showcases of the Estonian composer's work stateside. Notably a series in Manhattan at the time of the extensive New York Times Magazine feature of 2010, "Arvo Pärt: The Sound of Spirit". New York again hosting 2014's Carnegie Hall week of performances comprising the Arvo Pärt Project by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra. Which was covered in The Times feature, "His Music, Entwined With His Faith: At Heart of Arvo Pärt’s Works, Eastern Orthodox Christianity". One of the great chroniclers of 20th Century classical music, Alex Ross, host of The Rest is Noise, produced an exceptional overview of the composer's life and work for The New Yorker, "Consolations: The Uncanny Voice of Arvo Pärt". Ross also present at the Pärt's 80th birthday celebration throughout the city, which included a 24 hour marathon on New York's WQXR and New Juilliard Ensemble concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Outside of New York, other notable events have included, "A Symphony for Los Angeles, Just One Otherworldly Delight" presented in Los Angeles Philharmonic's Mozart & Pärt Festival of last year. The United Kingdom has played host to some of his most significant works, including 2015's Manchester International Festival. Wherein the composer collaborated with Abstract Expressionist painter, Gerhard Richter producing a work grappling with differences in art’s direct messages and allusions, "History is Everywhere and the Present is Fleeting". Alex Ross again playing a pivotal role in London Southbank Centre's 2013 The Rest is Noise Festival featuring Pärt among a set of Eastern European composers in a showcase titled, "Late 20th Century Politics and Spirituality", on the changing political and social landscape of the 1970s and 80s shaping of the era's mood and music. Pärt's home country of Estonia is no stranger to his works, this past year saw the release of "The Lost Paradise", a documentary on the famously media-averse composer's collaboration with director Robert Wilson. Framed around the staging of “Adam’s Passion” featuring three key works by Pärt in Tallinn's Noblessner Foundry, a former submarine factory. Its creation is followed in documentarist Günter Atteln's account of their time together during the many months of the project's genesis and development, "My Year with Arvo Pärt: He is a Man of Courage, Humility and Authenticity".