Sunday, February 25, 2018

King Hu's "Legend of the Mountain" at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 1 - 4

Outside of the rare retrospective such as BAMcinématek's, "All Hail the King: The Films of King Hu", the genre film of Hu Jinquan remains largely unseen in the west. More referenced and revered than screened, these seminal works have influence countless Wuxia films in the ensuing decades since their release, most notably Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Zhang Yimou’s “House of Flying Daggers". In the west there are of course the works of Quentin Tarantino, who has copped from them generously, lifting sequences and setting wholesale. The arthouse isn't immune to his spell, with a new generation of filmmakers from Hong Kong and mainland China offering reflections on Hu's legacy. As is literally seen in Taiwanese Second Wave director Tsai Ming-Liang's elegiac ode to moviegoing and the city of Taipei, "Goodbye, Dragon Inn". Befitting a body of work of this influence and stature, Senses of Cinema have dedicated a Great Directors feature on Hu's warping and reformatting of the three tenets of 20th Century Wuxia cinema. His reconfiguring of the genre shifted the focus between the political world of the Jianghu, bewildering martial arts action, and most artfully in the case of Hu's later films, a abstracted representation of Buddhist concepts. In a rare move for genre works, 2017 saw Janus Films and Criterion produce and distribute new 4k restorations of two of Hu's masterworks in a domestic theatrical run. For many, this was a first opportunity to see these films on the big screen. Particularly in the case of 1971's "A Touch of Zen". Celebrated upon it's release as the first non-mainland Chinese film to receive the Technical Grand Prize and nomination for the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Hu's epic emerged as an exemplary representation of the genre much in the same way that Sergio Leone’s stylized reimagining brought critical attention to the Italian Western. While we can now see his work against a very necessary and relevant context, via the wider distribution and availability of mid-Century Wuxia film, there can be no denial of Hu’s preeminence as a "Martial-arts Pioneer Who Brought Dynamic Grace to the Genre", and "A Touch of Zen"'s broader achievement and status as a masterpiece of world cinema.

Tony Williams details for Senses of Cinema, how it is that "A Touch of Zen", operates as a singular compilation of Eastern and Western stylistic features. In Hu's more sparing use of the obligatory Shaw Brothers Studio gestures, he instead accentuated shots of open vistas, great mountains, and the enveloping effect of the natural landscape. These were often set against tightly framed indoor scenes of persona drama, tension and comedy from Hu's own repertory company of familiar faces such as his onscreen avatar Shih Chun, the captivating Hsu Feng, Bai Ying, Han Hsieh, and Tsao Chien. The action playing out in whirlwind set pieces on isolated mountaintop roads and bamboo forest swordfights, framed by visually striking compositions reminiscent of the director's passion for the theatre arts. The more overtly poetic elements in Hu's films are often glimpsed in the intermingling of slow-motion high-flying martial arts choreography, shot through with interjections of natural splendor. The diffusion of light and protraction of time seen in these sequences, which then cut to images of nature;  movement of reeds, water, windswept mountains and trees, are suggestive of the combat moving into the realm of the supernatural. These gestures would come to characterize the director's later work beginning with "Dragon Inn" on, becoming more and more explicit as Hu emerged as a "Martial-arts Filmmaking Master, Bending Light and Arrows to His Will". As is the case made in Grady Hendrix's Kaiju Shakedown column for Film Comment focusing on the late, lost film "The Battle of Ono", the shift to the supernatural plane is what most defines the closing passages of "A Touch of Zen's Masterful Concoction of Cinematic Flavors". It is here that "Legend of the Mountain" shares much with the the director's proceeding string of films. The protracted quest of this, "Magical Mystery Marathon in Ancient China" who's road traverses a mesmerizing assembly of panoramas, intersects with supernatural encounters, and eventually leads to a series swirling martial arts set pieces, culminates in a one-of-a-kind confrontation of spiritual (and sonic) warfare. In it's new 4k restoration Kino Lorber Repertory have brought this rare, and entrancing Wuxia in a string of domestic screenings, including a run at Northwest Film Forum.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Elevator presents Corridor: A Festival of Light, Sound & Movement: Feb 24

The last five years have seen one of the most notable and striking changes to Seattle's underground, electronic, neoclassical and experimental music landscape. With the end of the summer 2015 came the final Northwest edition of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival, and in an open letter Decibel Festival's 13th year closed with programming director Sean Horton's farewell to the city. It should be noted that Horton has since announced the revival of the Decibel in 2018 in a Los Angeles iteration, with proposed Seattle satellite mini-festival to follow. In the two years following the closing of these expansive international forums, Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature, MOTOR, Patchwerks, False Prophet and Wayward Music Series have endeavored to fill the void, produced a string of memorable one-off events. Most notably, Elevator stepping up their programming for their Machine House Brewery location as well as showcases held at Kremwerk and Columbia City Theater, with curation that embraced a spectrum spanning the deep experimental underground to the sharpest of cutting edge urban sounds. Their vision represented by the diversity found in the intersection of the UK bass and club sounds of Gaika and Yves Tumor, to Julia Holter's lush interplay of jazz orchestrations, dissonant guitar and open-ended songform alongside the soaring vocalizations of Haley Fohr's Circuit Des Yeux. More experimental sounds were heard in the audio-visual tapestries of experimental filmmaker, Paul Clipson and Liz Harris' Grouper project at Northwest Film Forum, and the immersion and electronic concrete of Lawrence English with Rafael Anton Irisarri. Closing with the most striking performance in their programming history, the final of their seasonal showcases saw the collision of industrial surrealism and the dancefloor propulsion represented by the Modern Love label's Demdike Stare. Elevator's maturation in 2016 came with their expansion into exhibition and performance programming with the inauguration of Corridor Festival. Hailed as a unmitigated success in local press, it's daylong meeting of audio-visual media, installation art, music and performance fast became the city's best new festival for cutting edge sounds. Next week sees the arrival of the festival's third installment with an equally pan-media lineup held at the West Coast Printing building in the Central District. Their gamble on a daylong multimedia event in the heart of the industrial district, with a "New Georgetown Arts Festival Will 'Embrace Winter, Welcome Darkness, and Enjoy the Indoors'", filled a notable seasonal arts gap. Returning "After a Great Debut, Corridor Fest Brings Another Multimedia Spectacular to Georgetown" the following year with an equally successful event in which, "The Organizers of Corridor Festival Invite the City to Be Alone Together".

Sunday, February 4, 2018

"Winter Light: The Films of Ingmar Bergman" at Seattle Art Museum: Jan 11 - Mar 15

Its almost without exception that the work from the late 1950s to mid-1970s by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, "The Master Filmmaker, Who Found Bleakness and Despair, as well as Comedy and Hope", in his indelible explorations of the human condition, will appear on any film buff or art critics assessment of cinema of the 20th century. Look no further than The British Film Institutes' Greatest Films of All Time Poll for evidence. During those decades Bergman was at the height of his prowess, thanks initially to a string of films spanning "Summer with Monika", "Wild Strawberries", and "The Seventh Seal", made in rapid succession in under three years. These were not born out of the ether, but instead the product of an extraordinarily long apprenticeship, "Summer with Monika" (arguably his first great film), was his 10th. That the body of work that was to follow was also in severe contrast to the Neorealist school which had dominated post-War cinema, was one of it's popular strengths. Employing a analytic precision to the intellectual and existential disquiet that seemed fiercely at odds with the hedonistic nature of the times. Bergman's cinema centers around a grim obsession with an unflinching microexamination of emotional confrontation. In-part made possible by his collaborations with two great cinematographers (Sven Nykvist and Gunnar Fischer), and his team of skilled performers. Bergman literally astonished audiences with the degree to which he was willing to interrogate cruelty, death, and above all the torment of doubt. He used cinema to strip bare these central concerns of life, few directors integrating their personal turmoil into their body of work to the extent that Bergman did. An autobiographical cinema, not simply in the details of the drama drawn from experience, but also in the sense of its spiritual and artistic response to the complexities of marriage, the relation of the sexes, duplicity, illness (both physical and mental), death and the church.

His time in the theatre in Sweden as the director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm, brought to his film work a crucially interrelated set of technique and skill, and with it a devoted body of actors. These would form a locus around repeated roles from, Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bibi Andersson, Max von Sydow, and Liv Ullmann. This body of actors was central to the successful stretch of films following on the notoriety of his initial breakthrough trio of the 1950s. His star continued to shine through the following decade with an Academy Award for "The Virgin Spring", which was echoed the following year when "Through A Glass Darkly" received the Best Foreign Film award at the Oscars. What are arguably his greatest works followed in this period of the early to mid-1960s with, "Hour of the Wolf", "Winter Light", "The Silence", "Persona", and "Cries and Whispers" in 1971. With multiple series of restorations, and repertory representations, the largest body of which thanks to the work of Criterion Collection and Janus Films, his cinema has been examined and re-examined through the lens of decades. Criterion's collection of essays around these central films make for essential reading, beginning with what many consider to be his first true film, "Summer with Monika: Summer Dreaming", to "Wild Strawberries: “Where Is the Friend I Seek?”, "The Seventh Seal: There Go the Clowns", and later, "The Virgin Spring: Bergman in Transition". These essays also documenting the mid-career string of masterpieces, including, "Through a Glass Darkly: Patron Saint of Angst", "Winter Light: Chamber Cinema", "The Silence", and "The Persistence of Persona". This year sees another repertory theatrical run of his fiercest, strangest, most sensually brilliant and unclassifiable pictures, "Persona: Bergman's Enigmatic Masterpiece Still Captivates", as detailed by Peter Bradshaw in the pages of The Guardian. The restoration an aspect from Janus Films touring, "Ingmar Bergman's Cinema: A Centennial Retrospective", from which Seattle Art Museum has drawn their, "Winter Light: The Films of Ingmar Bergman".

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Noir City Festival: Film Noir from A to B at SIFF Cinema: Feb 16 - 22

Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation are back in Seattle following last year's Noir City: The Big Knockover - Heists, Holdups and Schemes Gone Awry and the festival's return to the city in 2016, after their brief hiatus in 2015. The 16th iteration, Noir City 2018: Film Noir from A to B double bill format presents 9 "A" and "B" double bills, spanning the breadth of the original Film Noir era, 1941 to 1953. The total of 18 classic noirs are presented as a pairing a top tier studio "A" with a shorter, low budget "B" film second feature. All but one of the films in this year's Noir City will be screened on celluloid, many these bold 35mm prints courtesy of their collaborative efforts with The UCLA Film & Television Archive. The work of UCLA's Preservation Society and their annual touring Festival of Preservation 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". In a notable year for The Film Noir Foundation, Muller took up permanent residence on TCM with a new programming franchise hosted by the Czar of Noir with the launch of his Sunday morning Noir Alley showcase. The platform allowing for wider exposure beyond the festival format, exploring the genre from every angle as he introduces a different noir classic each week. As a childhood devotee of Silver Age comics and the art of Jim Steranko, 2017 also saw Muller in a dream role on the printed page, further enshrining, "Noir Alley in the Pages of DC Comics". Arriving in Hollywood from across the sea, French director Julien Duvivier escaped the war at home by bringing his incredible style to offbeat studio films of the early '40s, exemplified by this anthology of supernatural tales. With a solid cast including Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Charles Boyer, Robert Cummings and Thomas Mitchel, "Flesh and Fantasy" watches as a legitimate prototype to Serling's "The Twilight Zone". Included here, "Destiny" was intended as the opening segment of the anthology, on it's strength Universal Studio cleaved off and released it the film as a 65 minute stand-alone feature. Brought together for the night, Noir City presents the four chapters of Duvivier's work in a rare screening as one complete program.

Other highlights from this year's festival program include Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 observation on the susceptibility of American small town life to the encroachment of a malevolent evil. Anchored by Joseph Cotten's mesmerizing performance, "Shadow of a Doubt" may be the director's ultimate expression of the ease with which a horror infects the banal simplicity of everyday life. In another rarity, never released on home video and long thought lost, "I Walk Alone" features Burt Lancaster as a Prohibition-era bootlegger who gets out of prison to find that his former partner is enjoying the spoils of their criminal enterprise. Revived in a new digital restoration courtesy of Paramount Pictures, can the torch singer between the two men, played by Lizabeth Scott, keep Kirk Douglas and Lancaster from their imminent and deadly feud?  Also presented in a new 35mm restoration courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Felix E. Feist's "The Man Who Cheated Himself", observes a veteran San Francisco homicide cop as he spirals into a moral morass when his married socialite lover "inadvertently" bumps off her husband. Utilizing its San Francisco locations to maximum impact, including a memorable climax at Fort Point, Feist spins a classic thriller in the James M. Cain mold. The only original screenplay penned by the legendary detective story writer Raymond Chandler, "The Blue Dahlia", made for the most famous pairing of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and a massive hit for Paramount, and in another Chandler vehicle, Howard Hawks sets up Humphrey Bogart to spar with Lauren Bacall, in one of the greatest lead parings ever to grace the screen. Infamously circuitous and twisting, "The Big Sleep" still takes significant unknotting, even when tackled by the astute and expertise of Roger Ebert in his Great Movies column. Other classic noir sourced of literary material, Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade character, perfectly portrayed by Humphrey Bogart, makes for pure gold in this search first for a missing person, and then for it's titular, "Maltese Falcon". A highlight of its director's filmography, Michael Curtiz' "Mildred Pierce", is a vehicle for the ferocious and career defining role from Joan Crawford as a hard-working housewife caught in monetary troubles as a consequence of a blackmail plot involving her daughter. Generational work ethic, class, entitlement and privilege are explored in this James M. Cain adaptation to even greater success than Todd Haines quality effort of 2011.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Drew McDowall performs Coil's "Time Machines" Tour: Feb 10 - 17

After the rapturous vocal invocations and dream-murmuring of Jhon Balance ceased upon his accidental death in 2004, his creative partner and ex-lover Peter Christopherson began the endeavor of constructing a final statement on the decades of their shared creative project as Coil. Work had also begun on a comprehensive archive of their recorded output, yet the "Colour Sound Oblivion" box set was to be the only publicly released artifact of this endeavor before Peter's own demise in 2010. Jon Whitney of the longstanding online music and underground culture entity Brainwashed issued a statement in 2015 establishing among other things, the ongoing continuance of his work on their shared endeavor in the wake of Peter's death. Upon the occurrence of the Brainwaves Festival in 2008 he and Christopherson began the assimilating and building of the highest quality materials available representing Coil's recorded history into the intended corpus that would become the Threshold Archives. As the entity sanctioned by Christopherson and the family of Geff Rushton, the archives released the first of their proposed series in that year. 2015 also saw other recordings released of varying and less official propriety. Foremost among them, Danny Hyde produced his personal master tapes of the legendary, rumored "Backwards" album from the British and New Orleans sessions in a edition newly remastered by Gregg Janman. Hyde's statement on the Cold Spring Records site crediting it's entombment for decades at the hands of Interscope to Universal Music's "grey men", and their legal contract concerning it's initial release. Late in his life, in a 2009 interview as part of Resonance FM's feature, "Peter Christopherson on the Hour of the Apocalypse", Coil's central figure spoke to the aesthetic and technical nature of those recordings from a decade before. In the interview he details the choice to withhold the release of the fruit born of the sessions spent in the mid-1990s following an invitation to record in Trent Reznor's New Orleans studio. The decade that followed saw the most striking stylistic shift from the duo, embracing a wider body of influences from jazz, to krautrock, psychedelia, club-oriented electronic music, eastern trance and ritualistic music, and Indian Raga. With the expansion of their sound, their roster also grew to encompass film critic Stephen Thrower and Ossian Brown, who would themselves continue such "Happy Hauntings" into related aural hinterlands as Cyclobe. At the time a quartet comprising the central constants of Peter and Jhon, who were joined by Thighpaulsandra of Spiritualized and the Julian Cope band, and Drew McDowall, who would become the only other ongoing participants in Coil. As Astralnauts making forays into "The Sounds of Blakeness", Balance and Christopherson were rarely known to look to their own past, particularly in the throes of this quintet's new body of somnambulistic Moon Musick.

This stretch of years not only saw a heightened period of musical output and stylistic expansion, but also a engaged social and philosophical impetus at work. Less hermetic than in decades past, Peter and Jhon revealed the inner workings of their "Obscure Mechanics" in a series of journeying interviews for The Wire. The half-decade that followed was prolific as Coil continued into even further-afield esoteric realms of aural exploration, generating numerous side projects and pseudonyms along the way. Their "Black Light District: A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room", the Scrying Mirror enhanced Time Machines and ritualistic Solstice series, hinting at the spectral, haunted atmospheres and semi-improvised, open ended songforms that would characterize the later Musick to Play in the Dark albums of the millennial cusp. Looking to facilitate this shift towards a more expansive embracing of diverse sounds, their shared fascination with the music of LaMonte Young would move Peter, Jhon and Drew towards a more minimal parsing of Coil, reflected in their first collaborations as "Worship the Glitch". Utilizing the techniques of minimalism toward the end of a ritual music engineered to effect the psyche and invocation of a liminal state, these collaborations led to their purest realization with the engineering of, "Time Machines: Drew McDowall On Coil's Drone Legacy". With the reissue this past winter of this singular, musical, ritualistic device within the Coil discography, McDowall has taken the opportunity to present the work in a live setting in select cities across North America. Speaking further with FACT on his legacy with Coil and brief tenure with Psychic TV, McDowall has also developed a body of current recordings, reflective of the sharp edge of these tenuous times, "Industrial legend Drew McDowall on Coil and confronting Global Crisis". For those looking to explore the 22 years of mystic, psychedelic, rapturously unique and deeply beguiling music Jhon and Peter created over the decades of Coil's existence, there is no better guide to their cultural continuum than David Keenan's "England's Hidden Reverse: A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground". More concise compendiums tend to be on the exiguous side, but few resources online balance Coil's deep plumbing of the esoteric with their occasional alignment with the cultural milieu better than Russell Cuzner's Strange World Of... feature for The Quietus, "Serious Listeners: The Strange and Frightening World of Coil". Shortly before his death, further insight was offered into the labyrinth of their lives, art and music when Christopherson  spoke on, "Living in The Back of Beyond: Coil's Sleazy Interviewed". Discussing the later years of his life in Thailand, the first of what he describes as the "Coil Codex" that would later become Threshold Archives, and the closing of his partnership with Jhon. Reflecting on their decades of transcending conventions in genre, sexuality, the cultural mores of modern Europe, and a life spent mapping the artistic and occult peripheries of a hidden England.