Sunday, October 8, 2017

Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner: The Final Cut" & Denis Villeneuve's "Blade Runner 2049" at Seattle Cinerama: Sept 29 - Oct 29

In an unexpected broadening of it's scope, Denis Villeneuve's sequel to the Ridley Scott's film of 1982, "Blade Runner 2049", finds itself concerned with the larger social implications of the established world borrowed from Philip K Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Rather than just a work that, as some have posited, is misogynist in regard to its depiction of women, it is instead the totality of the world of the film, and the locus of its values which are an examination of pervasive denigration, humiliation and the diminishing of human value as a whole. It's elementary that women, children, replicants, and anyone so unfortunate as to be underclass "little people", in the street-speak of Blade Runner, would be so reductively commodified. The film's representation of the objectified of the body, both biological and digital, is most exemplified in the discomfiting space of the encounter between the Wallace companion product Joi, and the replicant "pleasure model", Mariette. No viewer with half-decent self knowledge could fail to register Mariette's accusatory response after the encounter. Or the explicit reinforcement of Joi's character as a simulacrum of social relations into which user's project meaning, later in the film, when we encounter her towering large from a holographic billboard. As Tim Hayes puts forward in, "Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s Hallowed Sci-Fi Classic Burns Bright with Uncomfortable Questions", to lumber the film with the task of fixing society rather than interrogating it first, is small minded. It supposes that art should present answers rather than questions, turning the imperative of supplying a moral vantage into a prerequisite for the audience's fulfillment and satisfaction.

The desensitizing effects of the world of Blade Runner and the brutal disregard for the planet, its environment and the plundering of its natural resources, are just by extension the most dominant outward signs of the setting's maladies. The inner signs of its illness are manifest through the more subtle and ambiguous aspects of daily life; a populace deeply estranged from one-another, yet seeking self validation fed by manufactured and digital companionship. Like the original, the concerns of a genetically engineered slave race workforce serving both a essential industrial, agricultural and public labor need, but also the demands of private ownership and sexual exploitation, remain the world's most troubling facet. It may be that James Baldwin is an unlikely point of perspective when discussing an interpretation of Ridley Scott, and now Denis Villeneuve and Hampton Fancher's adaptations of Philip K Dick. Yet for "Blade Runner 2049", his life's work functions with humanism and great utility. The American writer, critic and notable intellectual voice of the 1950s and 60s, remains an essential component of the Civil Rights Movement and any invested discussion of the intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in the 20th Century. Baldwin's novels and plays fictionalize fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures which thwart the equitable integration not only of African Americans, but also of women, and homosexuals, while depicting the manifesting of internalized obstacles to such individuals' quests for acceptance. His work also deals in the diminishing and humiliating effects of racism and bigotry on white culture itself.

These considerations play in tandem with Philip K Dick's own lifelong exploration of the dehumanizing effects of propaganda, class engineering, corporate technocracies, labyrinthine bureaucracies, authoritarian governments, and the isolating effects of media saturation, gross materialism, and oppressive urban conditions. Dick's work also finds itself concerned with the nature of reality in increasingly technologically altered perceptual spaces and parallel realities. Between the two points of concern explored by Dick and Baldwin, the media theory of Marshall McLuhan also serves as an important point of reference is described the arch along which the world we live could travel to find itself at the destination of "Blade Runner 2049". It is no coincidence that this trio of writers, theorists and critics produced their most notable work in the environment of the Civil Rights era. In-part as a response to the unchecked and accelerating mid-20th Century development of the Military Industrial Complex, but also the birth and first flourishes of the mediascape which would come to touch every home, every day, on every occasion, as the eventual technological mediating of experience. Framed by these real world considerations, what Rolling Stone then called, "The Most Brilliant Sci-Fi Mind on Any Planet" pursued his singular inquiry into, "What constitutes the authentic human being?", extrapolating a body of science fiction that would become among the most influential in all of popular media by the turn of the century.

It's very probable that there is no other body of work by a 20th Century author as indirectly instrumental in Hollywood's transformation of popular storytelling as that of Dick. So it is that the author's regard extended to the variation in setting and theme that Ridley Scott, Hampton Fancher and his production team brought to 1982's "Blade Runner", for it remaining true to his fundamental examination of human authenticity. A line of inquiry stressed in a setting of even greater complexity, isolation and dehumanizing stratification found in Villeneuve and Fancher's expansive sequel. "This Gigantic Spectacle of Pure Hallucinatory Craziness" remains at it's core, focused on the dominant question of Philip K. Dick's life work. Whether the qualities of it's stunning visual realization, or the complexity of it's philosophical inquiry, resonate with the times sufficiently to earn the film the status of a "future classic", remains to be seen. Regardless of it's popular reception, this tale of the shattering and reconstruction of one underclass being's worldview while, "Hunting Replicants Amid Strangeness", fluidly traverses being both spectacular and profound, all the while remaining sinuous in it's malevolence and disregard for human life. In working through Philip K Dick's central, humanist query, along its course, Denis Villeneuve's film comes to find itself a worthy sequel to Ridley Scott’s original. In concurrence with Jonathan Romney, in a time in which belated sequels to classics ought never to work, (or even be made for that matter), Blade Runner 2049 feels like a slow, enigmatic, elusive hallucination of a movie, miraculously realized.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

All Monsters Attack at Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 20 - 31 | Dario Argento's uncut "Suspiria": Oct 26 - 27 & Terrore Giallo! series at Northwest Film Forum: Nov 1 - Dec 20 | Goblin "The Sound of Fear" Tour: Oct 25 - Nov 11

There isn't enough in the way of All Hallows' Eve theme programming and revival series in the local cinema. Which is a shame as this is truly the season for genre film and it's frights, disorienting surrealism and crepuscular atmospheres. Thankfully, Scarecrow Video steps up with their October screening room calendar and curated Halloween selection of domestic and international horror, sci-fi and genre movies. And this year, the Psychotronic Challenge returns for it's second installment, daring viewers to select a new theme category for every day in October. One of the longest running, and most consistently satisfying of the local theater series has been The Grand Illusion Cinema's monthlong All Monsters Attack calendar of horror, creature features, classic thrillers, sci-fi, and cult cinema. This year's installment features a set of the core genre gems that audiences have come to expect, with a side of European works from the fringe. Looking back, the citywide cinematic offering saw a great set of films exploring desolate worlds, classic Japanese horror, a vampiric romaticism double feature and a night of music from a maestro of Italian horror. Also in the way of previous Halloween seasons of note, the local arthouse cinemas presented a small abundance on the theme of the haunted house in 2015, and 2013 saw no small number of invaders from beyond. This year, thanks to The Chicago Cinema Society and their discovery of a uncut 35mm print of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” that had sat in a storage room of a derelict theater since it was last screened in 1978, Northwest Film Forum will host the two night stopover in Seattle. Following on its heals, Film Forum has also programmed a finely-tuned monthlong series of "The Italian Masters of Shock and Gore", with a selection of Yellow Cinema gems, aptly titled, "Terrore Giallo!". That same week also sees the Italian progressive rock legends Goblin make a return to Neumos, for another of the stateside tours since their reactivation in 2005. The quartet came to greater prominence within Giallo circles in the late 70s with a string of scores to Dario Argento's now classic "Profondo Rosso", "Tenebrae", and the aforementioned, "Suspiria". Seen in fragmented and recombinant lineups in the last decade, this current iteration of the band on their domestic "Sound of Fear" tour, does not include in it's numbers, keyboardist Claudio Simonetti. Rounding out the selection, SIFF Cinema do their bit with a one-night screening of John Carpenter's influential "Halloween", followed by a weekend run of George Romero's classic "Night of the Living Dead". Which, it should be noted, this year the director who birthed the very genre of the living undead on film, passed away, "George Romero, Father of the Zombie Movie, Dies at Age 77". It should also be said that the year also saw the loss of one of the greats of American genre cinema, and progenitor of the modern horror film, with the death of "Tobe Hooper: The Director Who Took a Chainsaw to Wholesome Family Life".

Sunday, October 1, 2017

French Cinema Now at SIFF Cinema: Sept 28 - Oct 5 | Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 6 - 9

The week sees the opening of Seattle International Film Festival's annual French Cinema Now series at SIFF Cinema. This year's program largely concerned with functional Eurodramas, little else on offer speaks to the exceptional quality of Agnes Varda's most recent investigation of place and identity, "Visages Villages". In the course of her humble, quietly groundbreaking, nearly 60-year career, this highlight of Cannes stands out as one of her most profoundly personal and exuberantly populist works. Much like her quietly triumphant, "The Gleaners and I" it watches as a tour de France that is both a romp and a meditation on photography, cinema, cultural identity, community and mortality. Additionally, the film is also a document of the unexpected kinship between anonymous 33 year old visual artist JR, and the octogenarian Left Bank auteur. Inspired equally by JR’s large scale photographic portraits produced in his mobile photo booth, as the locales they aspire to have a visual dialogue with, Varda enlists her counterpart for an impromptu cross-country road trip through France. At once poetic and naked truth, like director's best work, the documentary essay shape-shifts before one’s eyes, once again, "Agnès Varda, People Person, Creates a Self-Referential Marvel". Much in the way of Vardas' essayist documentary, it could be argued that the most overtly personal of his works, "Those Movies, Himself: Bertrand Tavernier’s Tour of French Cinema" essentially watches as an autobiographical account of his apprenticeship as a cinephile. If you are fascinated, as Bertrand Tavernier is, by generations of filmmakers as adaptable in their own different ways as Jean Renoir, Jacques Becker, Jean-Pierre Melville, Claude Sautet, and Edmond T. Gréville, then stylistically "Taking Film Lovers on an Incredible 'Journey' Through the Past", may be simply a form of historically minded generosity, inspiration, even humility. His three hour "My Journey Though French Cinema" is a non-chronological consideration of the above director's work and their shared era of French history. We join Tavernier’s personal assessment of the films and directors that influenced him, punctuated with insights into the lives and times of friends and mentors within the world of French cinema, set against the tumultuous events of mid-20th century Europe. The Guardian's review equating the shared journey with Taverier as documentarist and guide, "Like Cracking Open the Lid of a Cinematic Box of Delights".

In programming a festival of diverse yet qualitative content, the current body of the Seattle International Film Festival could take a page or two out of the per-capita seen on offer in this year's Orcas Island Film Festival. In the unlikely setting of the rural beauty of the San Juan islands, chief programmer Carl Spence, has produced a 30-odd-film program in their 4th year to rival that of its Seattle goliath. Too much on offer to cover here, but it should be noted that the program features northwest premiers of two of Cannes' most notable highlights. Foremost among them, there's been much ado both in cinema and visual art circles concerning the Palme d'Or winning, "The Square" in which director, "Ruben Östlund Turns Art World Satire into Performance-Art Cinema". Another crowning point from Cannes, Claire Denis delivers a subtly pointed observations of contemporary French life in, "Let the Sunshine In". This elegant, eccentric relationship comedy of ideas on middle age, with an almost inscrutable sophistication "Un Beau Soleil Interieur: Juliette Binoche Excels". Running through the shortlist, other highlights from the weekend's curation review as a essential assessment of the notable releases of the past half-year. The festival's program including, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Before We Vanish", Robin Campillo's "Beats Per Minute", a second opportunity to witness Agnes Varda's "Visages Villages", Alain Gomis' "Felicite", Ai WeiWei's "Human Flow", Fatih Akin's "In the Fade", Richard Linklater's "Last Flag Flying", Agnieszka Holland's "Spoor", Sean Baker's "The Florida Project", Aki Kaurismäki's "The Other Side of Hope", Joachim Trier's "Thelma", and Todd Haynes' well reviewed adaptation of Brian Selznick's illustrated children's novel, "Wonderstruck".