Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Draw of the Gothic & "No Rest for the Eerie: A Paean to the Haunted House"


The end of October has arrived and with it All Hallows' Eve nods to the Olde World traditions of seasonal harvest rights and festivities, like the Gaelic Samhain and Celtic Hop-tu-Naa which themselves bear some relationship to the Ancient Greek festival of Thesmophoria. Part and parcel with the changes of Autumn, come abundant celebrations of the gloomily crepuscular, gloaming eerie and ominous in literature, film and popular culture. In recognition of this season of ominous portent, The New York Times annually whip up sinister concoctions like "A House of Horror Films" their interactive history, trivia, and guessing game on Haunted Houses in cinema by Tommi Musturi. This year's features for Halloween week include a set of writers, directors and various artistic creators detailing their own personal recipes for the making the night a memorable one in, "Hoping for a Spooky Halloween? We Have Some Suggestions". Which is followed up by a horror litmus test of sorts in which self proclaimed horror aficionado Fahima Haque takes a sampling of three very different Manhattan and Brooklyn haunted house offerings, and comes away with some insight inter her own threshold for the fearsome season, "‘Not Much Scares Me.’ Then She Entered the Haunted House.". Other annual highlights have included Steven Kurutz' gorgeous little, "No Rest for the Eerie: A Paean to the Haunted House". In which he did more than an admirable job, going as far as to cite John Tibbetts' anthology of essays and interviews “The Gothic Imagination”, which is essential reading for anyone who wants to plumb the depths of "uncertainty, anxiety, and fear" that is the art of the Gothic literary tradition.

The undeniable, and very real, fears surrounding the choices that were left to us in 2016's election cycle and its fallout have been fertile ground for Halloween, "Spooked by Real Life? Bring On the Halloween Frights". No one has quite exploited those fears to the extent of Pedro Reyes' "Doomocracy" wherein, "Brooklyn Put the Politics of Fear on Display". Steven Kurutz has also delivered a brilliant Home & Garden feature, "House Haunters" on seasonal real-world Haunted Houses like Kopelman's 30-year running institution near Phoenix which also acts as ground zero to America's Best Haunts. A directory that includes Ben Armstrong's Netherworld, Kohout's long-running Hauntworld house near St. Louis, Phil Anselmo's New Orleans House of Shock, Los Angeles and New York's Blackout, and the immense, preposterous undertaking that is Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare. Sadly none of our local Northwest haunts make that list, but there's a good number of them to be found throughout the state. The Haunted House and it's offspring have long been a staple of western literature and folklore, movies and pulp storytelling. Their origins in the 18th Century speak to an era equally fascinated by science as the supernatural, with mesmerism and the phantasmagoric in vogue, it's little wonder, "Ghost Stories: Why the Victorians were so Spookily Good at Them". Some memorable manifestations of the Gothic tradition in cinema come to mind, from Ti West's contemporary "House of the Devil", to the campier mid-century side seen in William Castle's B-movie “House on Haunted Hill”. There remain a set of classics in the genre, few of which can rival the adaptation of Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" that is Robert Wise' "The Haunting".

A select number of silent era representations also stand out like Jean Epstein's 1928 surreal, claustrophobic adaptation of the Poe classic, "The Fall of the House of Usher", and the early 1930's horror-comedy talkie of James Whale's "Old Dark House". Later decades produced Roger Corman's B-movie Vincent Price vehicles like "The Haunted Palace", and 1970s Italian Giallo works in the genre represented by Lucio Fulci's H.P. Lovecraft-inspired "The House by the Cemetery". The 1980s saw the Pacific Northwest set "The Changeling" by Peter Medak, and by the 1990s, examples like the unhinged "Sweet Home" by a young Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The late 1970's and early 80s hit their stride with the Japanese insanity of "Hausu" co-conceived by Nobuhiko Obayashi and his 11 year old daughter, Stuart Rosenberg's “Amityville Horror”, and of course no one who's seen it can forget Stanley Kubrick's singular, unnerving horror entry, "The Shining". Digging deeper there were 60's and 70's genre variations like Dan Curtis' “Burnt Offerings", the erotic horror of Elio Petri's "A Quiet Place in the Country", and Carlos Enrique Taboada's haunted schoolhouse-set "Even the Wind is Afraid". But of course the Haunted House owes it's origins to much, much older traditions in literature, as purviewed in The Guardian's, "Halloween Spirits: Literature's Haunted Houses". Traceable back to the 18th century bit of disquieting paranoia and creeping melancholy that is Horace Walpole's “Castle of Otranto”. Predating Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier, M.R. James, Ann Radcliffe, H.P. Lovecraft, and as The Paris Review notes, "The Draw of the Gothic", in all who would follow in their footsteps over the centuries since. Photo credit: Simon Marsden

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Max Richter with The ACME Ensemble US Tour: Oct 12 - 20


Returning to Seattle's The Moore Theatre after just having toured the west coast last fall, German neoclassical and soundtrack composer, Max Richter will be performing selections from his newly released anthology, backed by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. Running the gamut of his studio albums, works for dance and theater, and an array of soundtracks "Voyager: The Essential Max Richter", is a near-comprehensive overview of the composer's two decades of output. Over the course of over 50 recordings, spanning soundtracks for dance, theater, installation and film, alongside his personal output beginning with 2002's "Memoryhouse", Richter has marked out a body of work in a field shared with such 21st Century contemporaries as Jóhann Jóhannsson and Ólafur Arnalds. Many of these entries in Richter's prolific catalog are commissioned works, such is the case with "Infra", a score for the modern dance choreographer, Wayne McGregor. Not limited to dance work with Company Wayne McGregor, their collaborations have also embraced cutting edge transmedia installations like those of Random International. Their "Future Self" for MADE, was one of the first in a series of successful collaborations with a score supplied by Richter. The installation's premier at The Barbican was met with enthusiasm in the pages of the BBC and a glowing review from The Guardian. It's London run featuring a succession of live performances taking place within the installation space over the course of the 2012 Frieze Art Fair. Following in rapid succession, the trio's "Rain Room" made it's premier at The Barbican London the following year, to then come stateside at MoMA's PS1 as part of "EXPO 1: New York", and eventually the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. At the former, as part of a group exhibition of environmental works on ecological challenges in the context of the economic and sociopolitical instability. Generating more than a bit of a sensation, favorable press and public response, the installation's time at PS1 was covered in The New York Times' "Steamy Wait Before a Walk in a Museum’s Rain". With it's following run in Los Angeles featured by the LA Times, "Inside LACMA's Rain Room: An indoor Storm Where You Won't Get Wet".



Yet these are not the most audacious of Richter's meetings of composition, setting and performance. 2015 saw the composer realize his long developing 8 hour piece for the facilitation of "Sleep". The full night-long composition is available as a recording for home consumption both digitally, as a ultra high fidelity Blu-Ray audio release, as well as a separate edition of excerpt highlights conceived to represent the more engaged listening aspects, titled "From Sleep". But it is in performance that "Sleep" most explicitly realizes it's intent. Premiering in atypical venues across Europe, such as the Welcome Collection Reading Room, wherein the attendees nestled their campbeds between the reading room’s bookshelves and displays of alchemist flasks in anticipation of the clock striking midnight and the performance of Richter's "Eight-hour Lullaby for a Frenetic World". Last summer, and a first of its kind in North America, Los Angeles' Music Center, hosted two nights of outdoor performance of "Sleep" in Grand Park under the late night July skies. This bold venture was met with anticipation for its experiment in duration and setting, in both Rolling Stone's "Composer Max Richter to Perform Overnight L.A. Concerts with 560 Beds", and the Los Angeles Times' "Composer Max Richter Wants Fans to Spend the Night in Grand Park". Through its successful realization, August Brown's "The All-Night, Outdoor Concert 'Sleep' Creates a Calming Reprieve with a Sense of Loss", accounts that “Sleep” was not just a beautiful, time-bending piece, but in this performance, contributed notably to re-imagining our public spaces. Recognizing the New Music and American Minimalist connections Richter in an interview for Bomb, spoke of his longstanding; "interest in extended-duration things. With music, this goes back to the ’60s, those all-night happenings, like Terry Riley and John Cage, all that. It’s certainly an idea that’s been around a long time." There have been no shortage of coverage in the pages of The Los Angeles Times, Time and NPR connecting "Sleep" with it's benefits in relation to the media-abundant and time-scarce lives that many people feel they lead. More than just a layman's low key artistic response to these concerns, Richter consulted with Baylor College neuroscientist David Eagleman in developing his composition. Assembled over the course of two years, the project's genesis was born of Richter's desire to make a “very deliberate political statement” on how daily time is spent and nature of how the public engages with their larger sonic environment.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Guy Maddin’s "Séances" at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 25 - Nov 3


The Silent Era is in the midst a rise into greater cinema culture consciousness, along the way inspiring some genuinely inquisitive forays into documentation, restoration and preservation. With some 85% of all of silent film believed to be lost, Canada's own artist-of-artifice extraordinaire, Guy Maddin has taken it upon himself to create a series of Silent Cinema revivals of quite a different sort. His proposed "Making 100 Short Films in 100 Days in Four Countries with Current Project 'Spiritismes'" led the way to the series of "Séances". Which had the first of their invocations and performance at Spiritismes at the Centre Pompidou, Paris in 2012 with a second set of performances "Guy Maddin’s Performance Installation 'Séances' Begins Filming" at Montreal's Phi Centre a year later. The completed project to be hosted online by the National Film Board wherein the interactive format will allow for viewers to experience the films together, arranged recombinant forms by software designed by Halifax-based Nickel Media. Generating their own unique structures, these algorithmically arranged assemblies have the potential to form hundreds of millions of unique narrative permutations in, "Guy Maddin’s Endless Cinematic Experience". Speaking with Jonathan Ball, the director details the differences involved in these concurrent projects, "Guy Maddin on The Forbidden Room and Writing Melodrama"; "While The Forbidden Room was a feature film with its own separate story and stars", says Maddin, "Séances" on the other hand is a place — a dark place! — where anyone online can hold séances with the spirits of cinema, lost and forgotten cinema. The "Séances" project has really evolved in recent months. It was going to be title-for-title remakes of specific lost films, but we found as we went that the spirits of many other lost movies, and the spirit of loss in general, haunted our sets and demanded to be represented in front of our cameras."

In an set of interviews with The Guardian's Jonathan Romney, "Guy Maddin on His Surreal Séances and Sexploitation Remakes", the director talks his recent run of collaborative work with the Johnson brothers. In films like their cannibalistic meta-construction "The Green Fog", the trio have produced a singular body utilizing both chemical and digital degradation processes, with a twinned auditory effect in Galen Johnson's deeply Hauntological soundtrack constructed from repurposed classical music and incidental film scores. Together the sound and image making for a headily over-brimming, absurd concoction of hallucinogenic digressions and narrative tips of the hat, all rendered in wildly divergent film stock, color coding, media artifacts and states of decrepitude. Their approach to both form and technique in their paradoxically original pastiche detailed in Cinema-Scope's "Lost in the Funhouse: A Conversation with Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson". Further quantified in the pages of Film Comment as "too much is just right", Romney delves deep into the movie-mad filmmaker’s collaborative feats of phantasmagorical cinema, "The Infernal, Ecstatic Desire Machine of Guy Maddin". In 2015 I encountered a previous work in this style by the trio. Their "Kino Ektoplasma" multi-screen installation was created as a resurrection of lost films of the German Expressionist era in a preternaturally gorgeous, transmutive sequence, specifically commissioned as part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s. Years later, these works finally arrive in town in a seasonally appropriate stretch of days at the end of October and earliest November. Northwest Film Forum will be presenting their mini-retrospective of the director's work, the trio of theatrical films, "Archangel", "Careful", and "My Winnipeg", screening concurrently with the weeklong Seattle premier of the long anticipated "Séances" installation.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

All Monsters Attack at Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 4 - 31 | The October Country and Folklore Phantasmagoria at The Beacon Cinema: Oct 1 - 31


There seemingly can't be enough in the way of All Hallows' Eve theme programming and repertory series in the local cinema. To my mind, the months of October and November could always do with more in the way of the season's genre film and its disorienting frights, crepuscular surrealism, and discomfiting atmospheres. Thankfully, Scarecrow Video steps up with their October screening room calendar and curated Halloween section of domestic and international horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and psychotronic selections. Their Psychotronic Challenge also returns in its fourth 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. 2017 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.

Last year's programming taking a cue from Nick Pinkerton's feature for Sight & Sound, and their "The Other Side of 80s America" focus on the decade of independent and genre cinema issuing 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 explored 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, often “unburdened by notions of good taste". These manic explorations of class conflict, Cold War dread, ecological disaster and suburban paranoia also featured in Northwest Film Forum's monthlong assembly of, Shock & Awe: Horror During the Reagan Years. 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 1970s through late 80s, alongside a selection of 1950's and 60's B-movies, and a set of strong contemporary films from Great Britain and Germany. Thematically, the offerings include Puritan and 17th Century horror in the form of Michael Reeves' assigning a substantial role for Vincent Price as the "Witchfinder General", and equally inspired by Shakespeare as Lovecraft, there's Ben Wheatley's "A Field In England". The new British indie director also put an indelible mark on the scene with his rarely screened 2011 feature, "Kill List", which may stand as his most notable film to date. Another strong contemporary entry can be found in Fatih Akin's beerhaus butcher that prowls, "The Golden Glove".

All-time Folk Horror classics, particularly those originating from Great Britain, like the 1973 "Wicker Man", by Robin Hardy appears in the series in it's new director's edition final cut, and American master of the urban psychodrama, Abel Ferrara, is represented by an early entry in his voluminous filmmography, "The Driller Killer". Returning after it's screening in SIFF, Alexandre O. Philippe's theoretical documentary "Memory: The Origins of Alien", explores Ridley Scott's classic in new ways, and character actor Dick Miller has a Halloween Double Bill, thanks to Roger Corman's mashing of horror and comedy, in both "A Bucket of Blood", and "Little Shop of Horrors". A corpse runs amok in Billy Senese's "The Dead Center", and the plague has a new set of symptoms in the medieval horror of Christopher Smith's "Black Death". Mads Mikkelsen's "one eye" is equally disastrous to everyone he encounters in Nicolas Winding Refn's dark ages barbarian drama, "Valhalla Rising". Jörg Buttgerei's "Nekromantik" is a different kind of grotesquerie, subjectively "erotic", depending on one's sensibilities, and interpersonal and familial psychodramas get their moment in Colin Eggleston's "The Long Weekend", and Peter B. Good's 1989 VHS-only "Fatal Exposure". Atomic horror also receives a set of films from the 1950s to 1980s. The first of which not often seen outside of the UK, Mick Jackson's "Threads" watches like a Cold War Twilight Zone update, and the poster kaiju for nuclear armageddon, Gojira celebrates his 65th anniversary with new restorations and theatrical screenings thanks to Janus Films and the Criterion Collection. The atomic goliath is featured in his original Ishiro Honda 1954 "Godzilla" incarnation, and in Yoshimitsu Banno's 1970's pop-psychedelic ecological monster clash, "Godzilla vs. Hedorah".

Few resources cover the burgeoning world of genre film studies than the veritable home of horror writing and criticism that is The Miskatonic Institute. Through a series of interviews with The Quietus, founding members Virginie Sélavy with Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor Press, and Coil's Stephen Thrower author of "Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents", spoke on the cross pollination of the postmodern situation. Wherein genre definitions break down, and in their fertile collision producing contemporary works inspired by, and expounding upon the cult film and fringe music of decades past, "At This Film Institute, Where the Course Material Is Killer". It is precisely this territory that the newly established The Beacon Cinema is looking to do some deep cartography of throughout the month, in two concurrent series, The October Country, and Folklore Phantasmagoria. Titled after a Ray Bradbury collection of macabre short stories, the lowering gloam of the season's shift from late summer into fall has evidently inspired The Beacon's Tommy Swenson. To begin with, they've assembled a genre-elusive set of films like Michael Rubbo's oddball "The Peanut Butter Solution", Charles B. Pierce's "The Town That Dreaded Sundown", Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz's "Messiah of Evil", and peculiar BBC entries like Lesley Manning's "Ghostwatch". In the way of unexplained phenomena and the supernatural, the cinema will also be hosting its own night of, "The Beacon Guide to Unsolved Mysteries" starring Robert Stack, as well as their "The Beacon Halloween Special", featuring an undisclosed mystery gem of unusual hew. Arthouse masterpieces and studio classics also adorn the series, which includes the unhinged psychosis of Andrzej Żuławski's Cannes award-winning "Possession", a particularly rare opportunity to see Victor Erice's Spanish Civil War fable, "The Spirit of the Beehive", and Peter Weir's equally oneiric Australian period piece, "Picnic at Hanging Rock".

From the studio era we are treated to three of the greatest films of their respective decades, the incontestable brilliance of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho", Christian Nyby (and Howard Hawks'), "The Thing from Another World", and a Val Lewton production of Jacques Tourneur's "Cat People". No fall season genre series would be complete without American entries from the 1970s and 80s, and certainly not so without John Carpenter. He's represented here with a later film inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti, even spinning a clever variation on one of Lovecraft's titles with "In the Mouth of Madness". The descriptively titled Folklore Phantasmagoria series delivers on the promise of it's title with a set of stylistically vibrant works that put to test the parameters of the psychotronic. Both Kim Ki-Young and Kuei Chih-Hung's entries are deserving of a veritable mountain of adjectives, (and expletives), and neither "IO Island" nor "Boxer's Omen", are pure martial arts fables and even by Shaw Brothers Studios' "Black Magic" standards. Overflowing with ideas, psychedelic treatments, and disorienting turns to the point of excess, they share these same qualities in a much different thematic and color palette with their Euopean cousins of sorts found in Juraj Herz, Konstantin Ershov and Georgiy Kropachyov. The latter two functioning as a duo bringing us an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's Ukrainian folk tale, "Viy: Spirit of Evil". While decadent in a sense, Herz' film differs from the above in it's richly baroque production of a Alexander Grin gothic drama about the power struggle between two sisters of an aristocratic family. Where "Morgiana" deviates from the Grin is in its pointedly grotesque decadence, (think Rainer Werner Fassbinder) and the film's narrative vantage being that of the heteroclite and more sinister of the two sisters (and her cat).