Sunday, December 3, 2017

Streaming for Cinephiles 101 Part I: Mubi, Fandor & FilmStruck

We are most certainly in the midst of the annual stretch of diminished cultural offerings to be found in this city, spanning November through the end of January. One only need look to the impoverished programming seen at our independent theaters, reflected in coming calendars of SIFF Cinema, Northwest Film Forum, The Grand Illusion and the single remaining Landmark Theater for evidence to the effect. SIFF Cinema pandering to the the bankrupt postmodern attitudes surrounding the reception of "The Room" (and its companion drama), is representative of the month's scant offerings. While you would hope for cultural opportunities out and about the city regardless of the time of year, the holiday season forces a certain degree of acquiescence upon even the most avid urbanite. Submitting to the mandate, there is no shortage of opportunities available online for home viewing for the discerning and experienced cinephile. A solid half-decade has elapsed where there's now undeniable evidence that "For Cinephiles, Netflix Is Less and Less an Option", and the lack of genuine cinema available on the dominant streaming resources, has become starkly clear. In the course of the last five years, the diminishing of both quantity and diversity has been accelerated by Netflix phasing out their physical media catalog. For a microcosm, look to the fact that less than 1/15th of "Spike Lee's list of 86 Essential Films", are available to view on Netflix. The per-capita is even more poor when one examines any of the selections made in the global poll of 900 critics, programmers and academics for the British Film Institute's, "The 50 Greatest Films of All Time". And don't think to go to Hulu or Amazon as an alternative, despite their claims. As a product, resources like Fandor, Mubi and FilmStruck have risen as the online destination of choice for film lovers. The trio of platforms becoming the foremost streaming resources through which online viewers have access to the true scope of the past twelve decades of moving pictures. In the case of FilmStruck, Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection launched an endeavor wherein the vast libraries under the purview of the two institutions, containing thousands of classic, foreign, and arthouse films, invested in a "Streaming Service that Places a Big Bet on Cinephiles".

Facilitating particularly valuable programming and distribution, all three platforms have stepped into the international festival arena. The fruits of their curation and criticism offered throughout the year in their respective digital magazines, Notebook, Streamline, and (the now shuttered) Keyframe. In many ways "Mubi: A Streaming Service with a Ticking Clock", coming out on top. Unlike the "Streaming Rabbit Hole Worth Falling Down" that is both Fandor, and FilmStruck, each spanning thousands of offerings in a vast catalog of titles, Mubi watches as a online cinema of sorts, with a new film featured every day. In addition to the monthly selection of daily titles, the platform has engaged in special programming with festival series, director highlights and movement and genre overviews. Showcasing such luminaries as Jean-Luc Godard, Seijun Suzuki, Raul Ruiz, Andrei Tarkovsky, Anthony Mann, Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman, John Boorman, Michelangelo Antonioni, and everything in-between. Upping the standard further in 2016 with their "It's About Time: The Cinema of Lav Diaz" feature on the Filipino director's rarely screened, extended duration film, which stood for many cinephiles as the streaming event of the year. Forging into new territory, Mubi's Special Discovery series has showcased new films selected from the world's most prestigious festivals, spanning works from established directors alongside some of the boldest new talent emerging on the scene. It's first year encompassing such diverse and original works as, the quotidian urban dream-drama, "Out of Time: Damien Manivel's 'Le Parc'", an observation on the fall of the Soviet Union from the first-person vantage of Moscow's streets, "Don’t Let Them Deceive You: Sergei Loznitsa’s 'The Event'", and Nikkatsu's relaunch of it's legendary Roman Porno tradition, with new films by Sion Sono and Akihiko Shiota. The most striking of the series' offerings, and one of the most notable prize winners from as reported by Olaf Möller for Film Comment on the Berlin International Film Festival, came in the form of a work by the son a late Russian auteur. Produced a film of epic ambition that delivers an allegorical full century from the Bolshevik revolution into it's vision of near-future science fiction as a, "Slow Cinema of the Apocalypse: Aleksei German, Jr.'s 'Under Electric Clouds'".

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Julianna Barwick & Mirah with Lori Goldston String Quarter at St. Mark's Cathedral: Dec 2 | Earshot Jazz presents Matthew Shipp Trio at Poncho Hall: Dec 4

Two shows of note this weekend amidst the dearth of the December cultural calendar. Earshot Jazz brings New York pianist and composer, Matthew Shipp back to Seattle with a solid new trio. His command of the piano, and the expanse of his tonal palette, Jazzwise champions as one of the most expressive to be heard in an acoustic setting, "he produces ecstatic violence and needle sharp delicacy, unleashing volcanic overtones as well as timbral pizzicato curls in hisses and sighs,". Recently enlisting Newman Taylor Baker on drums and Michael Bisio on bass, The Matthew Shipp Trio has released two stellar recordings in his current mode, 2015's "The Conduct Of Jazz" and this year's "Piano Song". Downbeat magazine, gold standard of jazz magazines in the US, mapped the progress of "Matthew Shipp's Evolution" for their May 2017 issue. From his graduation in 1984 from the New England Conservatory of Music, to an extended stint with the David S. Ware Quartet beginning in 1989, which brought Shipp into the orbits of drummer Marc Edwards, bassist William Parker and most notably, contact with one of the great vanguard pianists of the 20th century, Cecil Taylor. This would be the high-altitude point of entry for ship into a 50 album career iconoclast within free jazz and improvisation, producing a vast body of music that have defined, and redefined the stylistic parameters of that idiom. Jazz Times' "Matthew Shipp: Song of Himself" focusing on his practice of blurring and melding musical worldviews, particularly for his Blue Series released through Shipp's longstanding relationship as music director with Thirsty Ear Recordings.

Among these collaborative pan-genre settings, Shipp has broken free of the constraints of the jazz world, exemplified on his "High Water" with Def Jux director, and Run the Jewels MC and producer, EL-P. But it has been in standard jazz trios with other leaders of late-20th century improvisation, like that of this year's "Magnetism" with Rob Brown and William Parker for the French label RogueArt, that Shipp most excels. The Saturday before, Abbey Arts Cathedrals series presents K Records stalwart, and longtime purveyor of hushed minimalist songwriting, Mirah. Backed by the Lori Goldston-led string quartet, this edition in the series places the night's performers in a open floor concert setting within the vaulted ceilings of the grand and monolithic, St. Mark's Cathedral. Mirah is joined in this unanimously apropos venue (no loud rock bar hangers-on or drunken banter here) by the compositions of Julianna Barwick, an American vocalist and singer who's work bridges pop sourcing with avant-garde technique. Vocalizing melodic and textural material, Barwick's music is assembled through electronic and loop-based process into a flowing, layered, oceanic tide of sound. On her albums for Austin indie label, Dead Oceans, borrowing themes from Greek myth, the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and inspiration from modern architecture, like that of the Philip Johnson Glass House, Barwick assembles these into abstracted phrases and tonal utterances. Constructed, processed and massed into liquid states, varying between melodic waves, distorted fields and a abstracted miasmic fog, Barwick's voice is then further enhanced though technological leaps like those enabled by the Moog Mother-32.