Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"Losers, Loners, Outcasts & Outlaws: An Original Series of the Early Works of Jim Jarmusch" at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Nov 2 - 21

What will likely prove to be the Northwest repertory cinema event of the year begins the first week of November with The Grand Illusion Cinema's original Losers, Loners, Outcasts & Outlaws: The Early Works of Jim Jarmusch series. Much in the way of the independent theater's 2016 Action, Anarchy & Audacity: A Seijun Suzuki Retrospective and Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien of 2015, this is a rare theatrical opportunity to see an assembly of work by what the New York Times called, "The Last of the American Indies". Not a stretch in terminology, as "After 40 Years in Cinema, Jim Jarmusch Remains the Quintessential Leftfield Auteur", who's cinema began as a student of NYU, engrossed with the counter cultural environment of New York City's late 1970's No Wave scene. This pressure cooker of influences, edgy self reinvention, and a vital DIY culture created the setting (and supplied much of the cast) for the director's first feature. Jarmusch utilized the resources of the university to transform his final project, a working short film, into he feature length "Permanent Vacation", an 80-minute preamble about drifting set in and around Tribeca and the East Village. This early work of No Wave Cinema now watches as much a historic document of the era and it's setting as the documentaries on the time, like that of Céline Danhier's "Blank City". As detailed in Senses of Cinema Great Directors profile, a personal cinema was already proposed in this first feature. Much in the way of his German contemporary Wim Wenders, Jarmusch has built a cinematic world on the edge of popular society. From the vantage of these corners of the world, he observes the pursuit of the curious through the travels and ruminations of outsiders, eccentric wayfarers, and poets. In his four decade-long global cinematic journeying, he would expand on "Permanent Vacation"'s template to embrace ensemble works, romantic comedies, and genre film, yet remain true to this consistent set of core concerns. In his working process, he also shared much with another senior contemporary, John Cassavetes. Like the quintessential New York director of a decade before, in his early films Jarmusch adopted an actor-oriented approach to scenario. The characters would develop first, often with a specific actor envisioned for the role, to which Jarmusch credits the genesis of the details of “the plot kind of suggest itself around the character”.

From the DIY success of his first feature, he developed his 30 minute short film into "Stranger Than Paradise", having received recognition and praise for this first work by Wim Wenders himself, who would donate 40 minutes of extraneous film stock for the film's completion. This second feature solidified Jarmusch’s trademark style; minimal sets and long, uninterrupted takes of it's outsider protagonists traversing depopulated and fringe landscapes, overflowing in dialog centered on wry and subtle observations on life, circumstance and love. Occasional intersections of characters and concerns punctuate the low-relief dramatic high points of his storytelling, often with a quietly humanist, comedic flair. At the time of its release, Jarmusch described his methodology and approach to structure as such; "Rather than finding a story that I want to tell and then adding the details, I collect the details and then try to construct a puzzle of story. I have a theme and a kind of mood and the characters, but not a plotline that runs straight through." He would expand this methodology with his next film, and in doing so find an underground hit in 1986's "Down By Law". Described by the filmmaker as a “neo-beat-noir-comedy”, it features musicians and fixtures of the downtown New York scene, John Lurie and Tom Waits, alongside the Italian comedic actor Roberto Benigni. As three men who escape from a prison, who rather than freedom, discover themselves lost in the surrounding dense Louisiana swamplands. The setting and tone of the film cemented by the substance of another of the benefits of Wim Wender's patronage, the work of the German director's longtime cinematographer, Robby Müller.

"Stranger Than Paradise" won the Camera d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival and was heralded by critics domestically and abroad as a watershed film in American independent cinema. Alongside the Coen Brothers' 1983 debut, "Blood Simple", Gus Van Sant's 1986 "Mala Noche", Susan Seidelman's Cannes-competing "Smithereens" of 1982, David Lynch's 1986 "Blue Velvet" (though produced by Dino De Laurentiis is still independent from studio funding), and Spike Lee's "She’s Gotta Have It" of the same year, Jarmusch's trio of early 1980's productions proved that the American indie could be a viable audience-drawing commodity. These niche films tonally and thematically nestled alongside a set of European contemporaries, yet expressed their own sense of a life on the margins of America's then-dominant concerns. The view gained on the society of their setting runs parallel, yet outside the prevailing social norms of the time. Jarmusch asserted a quietly countercultural posture by expressing the validity of the lives lived in his fascination with persons and communities on the margins of 1980s Reagan-era America. In 1989's "Mystery Train" he would continue this exploration of America through the eyes of outsiders, with his most structurally ambitious film to date. An anthology film comprising three vignettes that all intersect around a hotel on the industrial fringes of Memphis Tennessee, it features an eccentric cast on international characters who have descended on the city in their various travels from across the globe. This ensemble cast comprises Steve Buscemi from America, Nicoletta Braschi from Italy, musician Joe Strummer from England, and a young Japanese couple played by Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase, who all arrive at the central setting overseen by the hotel's night clerk, portrayed by Rock n' Roll legend, Screamin' Jay Hawkins.

Set to the R&B of Otis Redding, early Rock n' Roll of Roy Orbison, American blues of Junior Parker, and a moody contemporary jazz score by John Lurie, this was the first of the Jarmusch's films to place music in a more assertively forward role. Many notable meetings of sound and image in the course of the director's filmography were to follow. With scores composed for 1991's "Night on Earth" by regular collaborator Tom Waits, and Neil Young supplying a set of improvisations for guitar, piano and organ to accompany 1995's neo-western "Dead Man". It was in this film that Jarmusch's late career approach to editing, cinematography, and duration would also make itself felt. As Senses of Cinema have parsed in their review of "Filmmaker, Musician and Poet: Jim Jarmusch: Music, Words and Noise",  the form of this variation on the western was structured around the flowing improvisational work of Neil Young's sonic contribution into "a slow, hypnotic rhythm, which makes a viewing of the film into something akin to a spiritual meditation". It's setting also marked the first non-contemporary film for the director, as well as the first to explore abstracted metaphysical themes. The genesis of this American original is mapped in the three part The Guardian interviews at the BFI: Jim Jarmusch, traversing the path embarked on with his first realization that "not all films had giant crab monsters in them" at age 16, to studying literature at Columbia in New York, following a brief stint in Paris and his personal encounter with the Cinemathèque and international cinema. The earliest riches of this decades-spanning storytelling journey have been only recently disentangled from distribution licensing with Samuel Goldwyn, Island, and the defunct Orion, Fine Line, and Miramax Pictures. Now assembled together by Janus Films, through rereleases by The Criterion Collection, audiences of his late-period masterpieces can once again marvel at "How the Film World's Maverick Stayed True to His Roots".

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

All Monsters Attack at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 11 - 31 | Shock & Awe: Reagan-Era Horror at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 3 - Nov 3

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 its frights, surrealism, and disorienting, crepuscular atmospheres. Thankfully, every year Scarecrow Video steps up with their October screening room calendar and curated Halloween selection of domestic and international horror, sci-fi and genre movies. This year, like previous, their Psychotronic Challenge returns for it's third installment, challenging viewers to select a new theme category for every day in October from the deep trivia of the cues on offer. While we're here, lets talk the incomparable one-of-a-kind resource that is Scarecrow, and how if you live in the Northwest and are a fan of cinema (regardless of genre, era or style) it's essentially your personal obligation to ensure their doors stay open for business. For horror and genre aficionados, there is no other resource in North America like that offered by Scarecrow Video and their abundant catalog of obscure, foreign releases, out of print, and ultra-rare editions in the depths of their archive. With nearly 130,000 films on offer, there is no singular online streaming resource that can compare. In previous years, the annual citywide cinematic offerings for the months of October and November have seen 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 recent Halloween seasons of note, the local arthouse cinemas presented a an abundance on the theme of the haunted house in 2015, and 2013 saw no small number of invaders from beyond. Last year was heavy on 1970s psychedelic and psychological horror from Europe, particularly from the era of abundance seen in the subgenres of French Fantastique and Italian Giallo.

One of the longest running, and most consistently satisfying of the local Halloween 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 the  kind of core genre gems that audiences have come to expect, straight from the horror golden age of the late 70s through early 90s, alongside a small selection of 1930's studio masterworks. This year's set of offerings include Dominique Rocher's valiant attempt at breathing new life into the zombie genre, "The Night Eats the World", Kathryn Bigelow's late-80s cult favorite western/vampire genre mashup "Near Dark", and Antonia Bird's black humor cannibalism western "Ravenous". Both horror westerns additionally notable for their soundtracks by Tangerine Dream and Michael Nyman respectively. The first film adaptation of the Richard Connell story of the same name, and easily the best of them is the pre-code 1932 effort by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack. Their realization of "The Most Dangerous Game" would also be a early intersection of Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper, acting a producers. Astoundingly, only a year later the director/producer team would complete and release one of the all-time classic adventure creature features in the 1933 Schoedsack/Cooper "King Kong". In truth the production of both films was concurrent, as the nocturnal jungle sequences of "The Most Dangerous Game" were shot on the Kong set and the former's cast includes both "King Kong" leads, Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong. Freshly restored and rereleased thanks to The Criterion Collection, Scarecrow Video will be presenting a members-only All Monsters Attack screening of “Sisters”, Brian De Palma's 1973 psychodrama exploring similar themes of multiplicity and psychological doubles as his cult hit of a decade later, "Body Double".

Rounding out the series is the postmodern fare of Drew Goddard's Joss Whedon-funded "The Cabin in the Woods", and a Halloween double feature including an often overlooked, (and of rare quality) production by Roger Corman. An adaptation of the novel by the same name by Brian Aldiss, author of 1969's "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" which later garnered the imagination of Stanley Kubrick, returning after a 18 year hiatus "Frankenstein Unbound" would be Corman's final directorial effort. Starring John Hurt, Raul Julia, and Bridget Fonda, the cast alone is an indicator of the greater-than-usual legitimacy of the Corman project and it's circuitous conception of the classic Mary Shelley novel. Presented by the Sprocket Society, on the 200th Anniversary of the release of Shelly's "Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus", the night will also screen a as-yet disclosed "secret" second feature. This past June's issue of Sight & Sound and their "The Other Side of 80s America" cover feature focused on the parallel faced of the decade's cinema from the United States. Concurrent with the pop culture revelry of Reaganite family-oriented dramas, action, teen movies, and sci-fi blockbusters, a more rebellious and independent strain of US movie making scratched at the darkness on the edge of mainstream society. Anne Billson's supporting article "A Nightmare on Main Street" plumbs the deeper realms of the decade's more assertively subversive low-to-medium budget genre fare, these often “unburdened by notions of good taste". Behind the facade of 80s corporate cinema, upstart movies like Brian Yuzna’s "Society", James M. Muro’s "Street Trash", Abel Ferrara's "Ms. 45", Jack Sholder's "The Hidden", William Lustig's "Maniac Cop", John Carpenter's "They Live", Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead", Steve De Jarnatt's "Miracle Mile", and Larry Cohen, in films such as "Q: The Winged Serpent" and "The Stuff", were making horror, sci-fi, and fantasy movies that exposed the toxic underbelly of Reaganomics America.

Seemingly taking a cue from the above Nick Pinkerton feature for the BFI, Northwest Film Forum have assembled a monthlong Wednesday night Shock & Awe: Horror During the Reagan Years series. A gratuitous assembly of subversive political allegory, class conflict, gore and pure mania, Brian Yuzna's "Society" is probably best representative of the series' themes. Also on offer are Greydon Clark's "Wacko" parody of 1980's slasher franchises, and Peter Medak's haunted house classic starring George C. Scott. Of regional interest, "The Changeling" is set in and around the Pacific Northwest, as Scott's protagonist has relocated to the University of Washington for a professorship after the tragic death of his family. Seeking a secluded location to write music and find isolation in his studies, he instead encounters one of the more memorable supernatural houses of the 80s. And no overview of horror of the decade would be complete without the work of both John Carpenter, and the grandfather of zombie films George A. Romero's later entries in his "Dead" franchise. At the height of the Cold War, it's no wonder we find the protagonists of Romero's "Day of the Dead" holding out against the undead hordes in a ICBM silo, as the world rages outside. Following the success of one of the earliest entries in the American slasher genre with "Halloween", and before the career defining "Escape from New York", Carpenter's numerous contributions to 80s genre cinema are represented in the series with "The Fog". While visiting Stonehenge during the UK promotion of "Assault on Precinct 13", Carpenter was inspired to make a ghostly revenge film drawing equally from the horror comics of the 1950s by publishers like EC, and their notorious "Tales from the Crypt", as well as a 1958 British creature thriller titled, "The Trollenberg Terror". Also central to any A-list assembly of the decade's best horror, Sam Raimi's first two "Evil Dead" films are still a visceral, preposterous, and hysterical symphony of low budget innovation. Building a whole career for television and cinema from the boundless invention of these two films, Sam Raimi's reworking of his first "The Evil Dead" into it's even more boundless second generation, "Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn", is the spastic springboard from which this influential American director launched his career.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 4 - 8 | Seattle Polish Film Festival at SIFF Cinema: Oct 19 - 28 | Night Heat: The 41st Film Noir Series at Seattle Art Museum: Sept 27 - Dec 6

A small "Deluge of Fall Film Festivals Will be Unspooling in the Seattle Area" over the course of September, October and November. Among the festivals and various series on offer, Seattle Art Museum's cinema curation deserves a mention. This past year's calendar has been filled with notable repertory and archival works, including retrospectives on two 20th century auteurs from far-flung corners of the world, Yasujiro Ozu and Ingmar Bergman. The museum's annual French and Italian cinema series are also significant, as is their long running winter Film Noir program. Now in it's fourth decade, Night Heat: The 41st Film Noir Series features such all-time classic noir directors like Raoul Walsh, Nicholas Ray, Ida Lupino, Charles Laughton and later period neo-noir by Robert Rossen and Michael Mann. This year's array of titles with an expressly nocturnal theme include, "White Heat", "Leave Her to Heaven", "Force Of Evil", "On Dangerous Ground", "Sudden Fear", "Wicked Woman", "Night of the Hunter", "Lilith" and "Heat". Two smaller but attention worthy festivals showcasing from central and eastern Europe also arrive the third and fourth week of the month. The annual contemporary German cinematic overview of Kinofest opens at SIFF Cinema the same week as this year's Seattle Polish Film Festival. Presenting both restored archival work such as Andrzej Wajda's “Man of Marble” and Polish Film School masterpiece "Ashes and Diamonds", alongside a selection of modern work including Pawel Pawlikowski's “Cold War”, and Malgorzata Szumowska's “Mug”. Agnieszka Holland's imminently curious cross-genre experiment “Spoor” will also be receiving a Seattle screening after being absent from regional programming the year of its release. Concurrent with the Seattle Art Museum's series, north of the city one of the region's most compelling cinephile events will be taking place over the first weekend in October. As an example of programming a festival of diverse yet qualitative content, the current body of the Seattle International Film Festival could take a page or two from the Orcas Island Film Festival. While running only five days, and featuring less than one tenth of the films on offer during the three weeks of SIFF, the regional microfestival is an exemplar representation of contemporary programming. In the unlikely setting of the rural beauty of the San Juan islands, chief programmer Carl Spence, has produced a 40-odd-film program in their 5th year to rival that of its Seattle goliath. As the Seattle Times states, it is the case that "Orcas Island Film Festival: Small Fest, Big Movies" which draws largely from this year's Cannes Film Festival, alongside a number of the notable films from Venice.

Most significantly, of the films on offer from the prestigious Italian festival on the Adriatic, Alfonso Cuaron's best director winning, "Roma" stood out as the director's revisiting of his own Central American of decades past. In "Alfonso Cuarón's Return to Venice with a Heart-Rending Triumph", the academy award winning director has made an exquisite study of class and domestic crisis in 1970s Mexico City. Also straight from the French Riviera, the recipient of the most notable award on offer from Cannes, "Shoplifters" is Hirokazu Kore-eda's most recent in a decades-spanning line of contemporary familial dramas. While adhering closely to the form and content of the larger body of the director's filmmography, this "Unfancied Japanese Film Took the Palme d'Or". Another retooling of a director's formula was seen in the dialing back of the magic realist bent of her 2014 Cannes Grand Prix-winning "The Wonders". Alice Rohrwacher's "Happy as Lazzaro" is more unsentimental in its depiction of tobacco sharecroppers straining against the dealings of a tyrannous aristocrat. Geoff Andrew draws parallels with Ermanno Olmi’s "The Tree of Wooden Clogs" in the film's "Beguiling Fable of Golden, Rural Italy Trampled by Modernity". Matteo Garrone returns with a film significantly less fantastically fabulist than his last. Instead, the real world concerns of poverty and conflict in "Dogman" come in the form of a local thug who terrorizes everyone, breaking noses and intimidating the local businesses. Yet like much of the director's work, though it might well be darkly bleak, it recognizes humanity when it sees it, and doesn't reject humor in doing so, "Matteo Garrone Nitpicks Gangster Insecurities with Hilarious Flair". Two more social realist works originate from conflict-torn corners of the world in Ciro Guerra & Cristina Gallego "Birds of Passage", and Nadine Labaki's "Capernaum". Shot over the course of six months in Beirut, Labaski's Cannes Jury Prize-winning film aspires to blockbuster status all the while depicting the daily toil of life for it's young protagonist on the streets of his war ravaged country.

Historic and more measured in its study, Pawel Pawlikowski's "Cold War" is an episodic and elliptical tale of imprisonment and escape, as the film's central love affair falls to the opposing forces of state constrictions and the freedom of a foreign country. Much in the way of 2013's "Ida", Pawlikowski’s "Seductive Tale of Love in An Age of Borders", is rendered in a gorgeous monochrome cinematography that vibrantly depicts a whirlwind love between two musicians and eventual succumbing to the gravitational pull of cynicism, exhaustion and state-sponsored fear. Following on the period-perfect setting of his telling of the later life of 19th century painter Joseph William Turner, in which Mike Leigh's visual storytelling skill watched "As if the Artist Put His Brush to Each Take: ‘Mr. Turner’ Aims for Visual Accuracy", the director returns to period settings for a tale of "Grit and Brilliance in Mike Leigh’s Very British Massacre". Centered around the 1819 pro-democracy demonstration in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, "Peterloo" is Leigh's visually lush depiction of the social and political climate that led to the body of 100,000 unarmed protestors in the streets being assailed by armed troops and cavalrymen, who killed 18 and injured hundreds more. Returning to the realm of allegory and fantasy, "Border" is a naturalistically Fantastique second film from writer director Ali Abbasi, based on the short story from "Let the Right One In" author John Ajvide Lindqvist. Like Lindqvist's dark adolescent coming of age vampire story, Abbasi's film spends much of it's time teasingly parcelling out the romantic inclinations, and consequences therein, of the meeting of two mythological outcasts. And straight from the Berlin Film Festival, Aleksei German Jr.'s evocation of the life and times of author Sergei Dovlatov is not a conventional portrait, and even less a biodrama, but an imaginatively realistic recreation of a now-gone era of Russian history. So it is now in the post-Soviet century that "Dovlatov"’s status as one of Russia’s most widely read and cherished modern authors has arrived as the posthumous culmination of nearly a lifetime of rejection and tribulation. Perfect then that the son of Aleksei German, would take a left turn after his science fiction allegorical observation on future-Russia, to deliver this decade in the making observation on the century of his father.