Thursday, July 18, 2019

Nicolas Winding Refn and Ed Brubaker's "Too Old to Die Young" Streaming Premiere: Jun 14

Successively since "Drive", his 2011 international breakout hit starring Ryan Gosling, Nicolas Winding Refn has produced a distinct, highly stylized body of work that has become defiantly and increasingly disorienting and unnaturalistic. His following films, "Only God Forgives", and "Neon Demon" embraced atmosphere over tangibility, and were told through an oppressive air of stoic, alienating observation. From this vantage, overseeing a world in which violence, sexuality with abandon, and the suggestively metaphysical are the norm, his genre bending neo-noir were presented in the most lurid and hyper-kinetic of color and resolution palettes. Enriching this concoction, his most recent descent into the underworld of southern California and Central America enlisted crime comics writer Ed Brubaker, who delivered a labyrinthine and clockwork complexity not previously seen in Refn's screenwriting. The resulting "Nicolas Winding Refn Dead-Eyed LA Nightmare" as Peter Bradshaw calls it in the pages of The Guardian, stands as one of the first series to have its premiere at Cannes. But in short order, the show's fatal combination of marginal popularity, combined with stoked online controversy, resulted in it being almost instantly cancelled upon release. Yet "Too Old to Die Young" distinguishes itself as one of the more bold and uncommon properties that Amazon has chosen to fund. The series is every bit as hypnotically horrific and unsettling as one would expect. With terse lines, extended pauses and dead-eyed glares, its protagonists, (if they can be referred to as such) deliver an array of doom-ridden exercises in corruption, revenge, violence, philosophical musings, and sociopathic motivations, set in a largely sepulchral neon-lit underworld of madness, paranoia and fear.

So divisive is it in fact, that the show's detractors are likely the greatest chroniclers of its various (either indulgently reprehensible or libertine, depending on taste) qualities. For the adventurous, with a stomach for the unsavory and an eye for kinetic style and form, there are few longform prestige tv experiences that even approach what Nicholas Barber and David Fear detail in their reviews, for the BBC and Rolling Stone respectively. First from the pages of "Too Old to Die Young: ‘Evil at its Most Sordid’"; "As Ed Brubaker indicates, "Too Old to Die Young" is so representative of the director’s work that it could be a deliberate self-parody. The expressionless hero is sometimes indistinguishable from a waxwork dummy; the corruption and cruelty go past the human and into the realm of the demonic; the lighting is so trippy that you could be watching a science-fiction film; and the gratuitous nudity is as gratuitous as it gets, as if Refn were intent on annoying anyone who had ever accused him of misogyny and exploitation. NWR is definitely NSFW." Secondly, reviewed in "‘Too Old to Die Young’: Only God Forgives this Sh*tshow"; "Let’s hope most folks are coming to "Too Old to Die Young'', the Danish writer-director’s pulpy-as-f*ck TV series for Amazon, as something akin to fans. Or, at the very least, as viewers semi-aware of his back catalog. Because God help you if this is your first official entry into Refnworld - it’s either the worst possible introduction to his signature brand of steroidally stylized neon noir, or the “best” introduction in the worst possible way. Mileage, as always with this provocateur, varies to a divisive degree. To anyone dropped into his landscape of stoic antiheroes and lurid violence and water-torture pacing without a map, we wish you the best of luck."

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Seattle Art Fair at CenturyLink Center: Aug 1 - 4

In advance of the Seattle Art Fair's inaugural success, there was abundant speculation as to the nature of the exhibit local philanthropist Paul Allen and the organization he had assembled with Max Fishko of Art Market Productions, would be bringing to the city. At the time there was little that offered insight beyond the press release, which made it out to be half-commercial gallery, half-curated exhibition, featuring some 60 galleries representing local to international dealers and an emphasis on the West Coast and Pacific Rim. The majority of the dialog focused on the fair's relation to the art market, with Brian Boucher's "Why Are Gagosian, Pace, and Zwirner Signing On for the Seattle Art Fair?" and The Observer's "Paul Kasmin and Pace Gallery Join the Inaugural Seattle Art Fair" leading the discussion. With later pieces like Seattle Times "High Art Meets Deep Pockets at Seattle Art Fair", as well as the New York Times recap, "Seattle Art Fair Receives a Boost From Tech’s Big Spenders", and ArtNews "Why the Seattle Art Fair Is Important for the Art World", positioning the event in relationship to the moneyed local tech industry. All of which were little more than discussions of the art market and the inclusion of some of the gallery world's international power players. For insight into the curatorial direction and work to be featured, one had to rely on regional media in which there was no small supply of skepticism expressed concerning the fair being another of Paul Allen's pet cultural projects, both for the good and the bad.

The extent of the fair's scope became apparent opening weekend with favorable coverage in both the New York Times and Artforum. The exhibitions and galleries drawn from Asia were among the three day event's greater successes. In addition to the participating galleries Kaikai Kiki and Koki Arts from Tokyo, along with Gana Art of Seoul and Osage Gallery from Hong Kong, the "Thinking Currents" wing curated by Leeza Ahmady, director of Asia Contemporary Art Week produced a premier exhibition of video, film and sound work exploring themes related to the cultural, political, and geographical parameters of the Pacific Rim. With Kaikia KiKi head, Takashi Murakami returning for the fair's second installment, programming his own satellite exhibition "Juxtapoz x SuperFlat", for Pivot Art + Culture. As covered by Trinie Dalton in, "Pacific Objects", for Artforum, "Seattle Art Fair and Out of Sight made a Return" on the occasion of the fair's second year. Continuing the trend of atypical and non-traditional gallery works, the fourth annual Art Fair presented Mark Pauline the founder of Survival Research Laboratories, joining influential science fiction author Bruce Sterling in conversation. The author and the outsider artist, technologist and robotics specialist have intersected on previous occasions, notably 20 years prior in the pages of Wired, for "Is Phoenix Burning?". The cultural and economic landscape that Pauline operates in now is quite different than that of the early 1980s, presenting a new set of challenges to his performative art. So there's logic at work in that Pauline would now align himself with gallery culture, and the contextualized space of it's presentation. As Wired said, "artistic respectability doesn’t so much beckon as envelop", in response to The New York Times' "Fire-Breathing Robots Bringing Anarchy to a Chelsea Art Gallery".

Art Fair's fifth installment the first weekend in August will feature an expanded body of galleries, more than 100 in total, along with it's program of talks, on-and-off site performances and collateral events around the city. These under the umbrella of the fair's Project series, presenting immersive and large-scale works spanning sculpture, performance, and installation. Featuring works and talks by the Center for PostNatural History, largescale video artists Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib, architecture and installation creators, Bigert & Bergström, and choreographer Morgan Thorson. This year's Projects offering a platform for presentations beyond the art fair booth under the premise of "exploring identity, modes of play, and technology" in and around adjacent neighborhoods of the city, framed by Artistic Director Nato Thompson's curatorial statement, "Here Explodes the Wunderkammer"; "A room of research, the early Wunderkammers, or cabinets of curiosities, or Kunstkammers, or even wonder rooms of the 16th and 17th centuries, presented an architectural prodigious display of artifacts garnered and pilfered from across the seven seas. Wrapped up in natural history, a high dose of colonialism, aesthetics, alchemy, a pinch of theology and its important counterpart, intimate curiosity. Fast forward to this intersectional 21st century where the mutability and interwoven qualities of all forms of life and non-life are distinctively embedded in literary, political, artistic, and scientific discussion. The Philip K. Dick-inspired rise of artificial intelligence aggravates the understanding of what constitutes intelligence, or even human for that matter."

2018 marked a major year for Art Fair and its parent institution, with the future of Allen's founding of numerous cultural and arts institutions, and significant philanthropic contribution to the city, made less certain with his passing this past October. Last year also saw artistic director, Laura Fried, succeeded by Nato Thompson. For ArtNews, Thompson went on to explain the approach in his curatorial statement, that the fair “is a wild ecosystem of different approaches. We’ve got technology, we’ve got dystopia, there’s utopia, we have gender, we have indigenous culture, we have a certain kind of interest in historical conditions. There’s a lot of different through-lines of the project, and we’re very excited about it.” Supported by the regional body that makes up the Art Fair's Dealer Committee, consisting of Wahei Aoyama and Akira Wang of Yufuku Gallery, Jane Beebe from PDX Contemporary Art, the James Harris Gallery and the Charles C. Davidson Gallery. In the way of a regional counterpoint to Art Fair's global expansiveness, Scott Lawrimore of Lawrimore Project, Bridge Productions, and Vital 5's highly qualitative Out of Sight exhibition discontinued in 2018. Since 2015, this 22,000 square-foot survey of contemporary art read like a who's-who of the best work seen originating from the Pacific Northwest. Credited as the "The Real Seattle Art Fair is Out of Sight" in local press, this representation of work, "Out of Sight, Into Mind: Art on the Margins of the Seattle Art Fair", will again be sorely missed.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Beacon Cinema opening: Jul 19 | Seattle Independent Cinema Culture

It can no longer be said that Seattle is home to "The Best Film Corner in America". That era is now a decade or more in the past. With independent cinemas closing around the nation, for those who appreciate the community experience of shared viewing on the big screen, it has become more essential than ever to support the remaining local theater opportunities. Particularly with the subsuming of Sundance Theaters into the corporate AMC chain and the fast-shrinking and now single regional theater of the once expansive Landmark Theatres. Amidst all of this, there is hope. After potential bids from both Amazon and Netflix, the long-running independent and arthouse theater chain has just recently been purchased by Cohen Media Group. In “A Trade Between Billionaires: Mark Cuban Sells Landmark Theatres Chain to Film Buff Charles Cohen”, improbably we may see the nationwide assembly of cinemas revitalized and open again with fresh, inventive programming. Cohen Media's track record at least suggests as much. Also here in Seattle, the year-round programming at SIFF Cinema offers compensation for the oversights of their annual festival, bringing advance screenings, rare prints, and numerous exclusive screenings to their three locations at SIFF Cinema Uptown, Film Center and the restored Egyptian Theatre. We are also blessed with other local institutions like Seattle Art Museum continuing their solid tradition of repertory programming with the longest running film noir series in North America, alongside recent retrospectives dedicated to such auteurs as Yasujiro Ozu, and Ingmar Bergman.

Our own Northwest Film Forum had a strong calendar year as well, in stiff competition with the seasonal programming seen on the longest continuously open independent screen in this town, The Grand Illusion Cinema. In just the last few years, this micro-sized theater in Seattle's University District has stepped up to fill the growing theater void after strengthening their nonprofit partnership with Scarecrow Video in 2014. Much in the way of the 2016 Action, Anarchy & Audacity: A Seijun Suzuki Retrospective, and Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien of 2015, last year's Losers, Loners, Outcasts & Outlaws: The Early Works of Jim Jarmusch, was a major programming coup for the independent theater. Their monthlong Jarmusch retrospective making for the Northwest theater-going event of the year. Collaborative programming of more substantial and costly film series and retrospectives have also brought theatrical events like Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road, and the aforementioned Hou Hsiao-Hsien to the screens concurrently at Northwest Film Forum, Grand Illusion, and SIFF. It has become the case that many of the most notable films seen in recent years, when they did come to the cinema, had runs that lasted no more than a week. Others were never to appear again outside of an initial festival screening. Again proving the wisdom of getting out there, seeing the city and prioritizing the remaining opportunities that we're fortunate to have in our urban crossroads. Even so, no small percentage of these films even avid theater-goers didn't have opportunity to see.

These factors distinguishing the almost singular resource that is Scarecrow Video, recipient of the 2016 Stranger Genius Award, as that much more irreplaceable. One can't imagine that in the age of digital piracy, that this series of delays and exceedingly short runs, have aided global cinema find it's audience on the big screen. There's also the matter of a growing body of films being released in limited engagements, or in some cases not at all outside of availability on the dominant streaming platforms. Particularly in the case of Netflix's venture into feature length director-driven film further complicating access to a recent string of releases. By producing, distributing, and exhibiting new films by Orson Welles, Bong Joon-ho, Alice Rohrwacher, Alfonso Cuarón, Aleksei German JR, and the Coen Brothers, "Netflix’s Movie Blitz Takes Aim at Hollywood’s Heart", thereby significantly limiting the opportunities for these director's work to be seen and achieve notoriety in the traditional theatrical sense. As more and more viewers move to streaming, and find their choices grossly limited on the larger commercial platforms, cinephiles have come to hail the quality on offer through independent streaming platforms like Mubi, Fandor and the recently launched Criterion Channel.  Given all of these factors, to open a cinema in the midst of the escalating cost of real estate, and its fallout seen in relation to the cultural, and wealth stratification that Seattle is currently undergoing, is audacious to say the least. While the city may never see a theater model as encompassing and far reaching as New York's The Metrograph, there is a significant void to be filled in relation to repertory and second run films. Particularly outside of the model offered by cinemas that prioritize a drinking and dining experience with conversant audiences, over quality viewing conditions and programming.

All of the above making Casey Moore and Tommy Swenson's launching of "Columbia City's New Single-Screen Cinema that Flies in the Face of Netflix", something to be celebrated. As longtime Seattle cinema culture patrons, they have each worked in the wider world of film academia, distribution, marketing and theatrical presentation. Bringing with them such notable experience sets as programming for the 34 theaters in the Alamo Drafthouse chain, marketing for The Criterion Collection, the film studies program at the University of Washington, and the bedrock of the local community; years at both The Grand Illusion and Northwest Film Forum. Moore's own film and television marketing venture, High Council, will share offices with the new theatrical space. As a tip of the hat to the cinema the two proprietors love, the venue's wall-spanning image from Chris Marker’s "La Jetée", speaks volumes as to the kind of theater we can expect of The Beacon. In their statement to Crosscut, the two have detailed the venue's programming will encompass everything from early silents, to black and white and color classics, documentaries, to contemporary second-run movies. Horror, genre, arthouse and foreign film will also figure largely, as is made apparent by their opening week calendar. Programming will also extend to movements and thematic framing, including their self-described series; "Love Doesn't Stop: Gena Rowlands as Directed by John Cassavetes", followed by, “You Only Moved the Headstones: The Unburied Violence of Suburbia” spanning the month of August. In which we can expect a international plumbing of the underbelly of 20th century suburbia, with David Lynch's "Blue Velvet", Tobe Hooper's "Poltergeist", John Carpenter's "Halloween", Tim Hunter's "River's Edge", Nicholas Ray's "Bigger Than Life", Penelope Spheeris' "Suburbia", Joe Dante's "The Burbs", and Ann Turner's "Cecelia", as our guides.