Thursday, January 2, 2020

:::: FILMS OF 2019 ::::

Joanna Hogg  "The Souvenir"  (United Kingdom)
Bong Joon-Ho  "Parasite"  (South Korea)
Pedro Almodovar  "Pain and Glory"  (Spain)
Sergei Loznitsa  "Donbass"  (Ukraine)
Joe Talbot  "The Last Black Man in San Francisco"  (United States)
Yeo Siew Hua  "A Land Imagined"  (Singapore)
Céline Sciamma  "Portrait of A Lady on Fire"  (France)
Isabella Eklöf  “Holiday”  (Denmark)
Safdie Brothers  "Uncut Gems"  (United States)
Agnès Varda  "Varda by Agnès"  (France)
Pedro Costa  "Vitalina Varela” (Portugal)
Victor Erice  "El Sur"  Restored Rereleased (Spain)
Bill Gunn  "Personal Problems"  Restored Rereleased (United States)
Francis Ford Coppola  "Apocalypse Now: Final Cut"  Rereleased (United States)
Sergei Bondarchuk  "War and Peace"  Restored Rereleased (Russia)
Mikio Naruse  "Scattered Clouds"  Restored Rereleased (Japan)
Joseph Losey  "Mr Klein"  Restored Rereleased (United Kingdom)
Luchino Visconti  "Death in Venice"  Restored Rereleased (Italy)
Franko Rosso  "Babylon"  Restored Rereleased (United Kingdom)
Kantemir Balagov  "Beanpole"  (Russia)
Nobuhiko Obayashi  "Hanagatami"  (Japan)
Christian Petzold  "Transit'"  (Germany)
Shinya Tsukamoto  "Killing"  (Japan)
Claire Denis  "High Life"  (France)
Laszlo Nemes  "Sunset"  (Hungary)
Mati Diop  "Atlantics"  (Senegal)
Noah Baumbach  "Marriage Story"  (United States)
Nicolas Winding Refn & Ed Brubaker  "Too Old To Die Young"  (United States)

Three years have now passed since favorable ratings, and public appetite for spectacle, motivated both liberal and conservative media to marginalize more viable options and instead elevate a reality TV celebrity, media mogul and real estate magnate to one of the most influential positions of power in the world. We are now living in the times that Aldous Huxley described, and America may never be the same. Consequently we find ourselves in in an environment in which high and low-level attacks have been leveled at the remaining journalistic press and even the First Amendment itself. These effects amplified by the net overabundance of the 21st Century, in which media sources are decentralized, but not necessarily diversified, presenting a new set of dangers to the less digitally savvy. Between the polarization of the commercial news sources and the erosion of institutions of true investigative journalism, social media has found itself in the role of the most influential editor in the world. Subsequently, America not only receives different information, as a divided nation, we've come to perceive different realities. From the mid-2000's to present, the role of technology in our lives, and the sculpting of the very content acted as an polarizing amplifier throughout “The Decade Tech Lost Its Way", with the populace following along, "From Obama to Trump". All the while wealth becomes further stratified, the effect being that fewer and fewer institutions owning a larger slice of the domestic economy, with their influence increasingly felt in government and law enforcement.

In the midst of it all, it was a great relief to find memorable performances, festivals and exhibitions domestically. Gallery-going and the cinema played an even more prominent role this year. Hitting the mark of 400 films seen, it was another record setting twelve months in catching cinema in the theater. A worrisome trend seen in recent years continued though, as no small number of significant films were only available for viewing online or at home (more on that later). Shifting gears, the most notable visual art event witnessed this year was the fifth-annual Paul Allen funded Seattle Art Fair. Initial speculation on it's inaugural launch as to the fair being another tech money vanity project has long since been dispelled. Again proving to be significantly more than a elaborate philanthropy endeavor, this year's fair saw an expanded body of galleries, over 100 in total, along with it's program of talks, on-and-off site performances and collateral events. 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". 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 in October of last year.

As is the case with many of the cultural and economic epicenters in the United States, in the last decade Seattle has gone through a series of notable changes to its urban, communal, and arts identity. Reflecting the still stratifying economic and cultural landscape of the city, two of the most influential regional festivals had closing years in 2015. These two institutions previously brought an underground, international scope to the city's music programming, and cumulatively tens of thousands of attendees. That year saw the final installments of the Seattle's two dominant festivals of electronic, neoclassical and experimental music in the final editions of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival, and the discontinuation of Decibel. In an open letter Decibel Festival's 13th year closed with programming director Sean Horton's farewell to the city. In the four years since the closing of these international forums, Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature, MOTOR, Patchwerks, False Prophet, and Wayward Music Series stepped up to filled the void. Elevator and MOTOR have since ceased monthly programming as of 2018, the former also discontinuing their annual Corridor Festival just this year. The result is an increasingly impoverished music culture landscape, where popular indie rock, pop, electronic dance music, and commercial bands are touring and playing Seattle, along with a not small corpus of local musics, but there is little to be had in between.

In such a subtractive cultural landscape as the last decade in Seattle, the bold venture of Casey Moore and Tommy Swenson's launching of a, "New Single-Screen Cinema that Flies in the Face of Netflix", in the outlying neighborhood of Columbia City has been a almost singular revelation. In just the half year since its opening, The Beacon has proved itself a locus for the two founders' experience and knowledge having worked in marketing for the Criterion Collection and programming the Alamo Drafhouse cinemas. Bringing something not unlike the world class film-going and programming experience of New York's Metograph to our less cosmopolitan burg. While the one-off performance by Digable Planets was probably the most unexpected show of the last twelve months, Bryan Ferry and band performing “Avalon” alongside a set of notable Roxy Music and solo hits at The Moore, was the incontestable live music highlight of the year. The city also saw substantial servings from the jazz and classical music world, as well as the particular lowlit territory branching out from the global offshoots of black and doom metal. After a successful set of years, Northwest Terror Fest returned this past May with a lineup exploring these metal hinterlands. The expansive programming of the festival's three days and nights at Seattle's Neumos, Barboza and The Highline, encompass everything from the gloaming atmospheric ambiance of doom metal, blistering thrash and hardcore, and heavy psych rock, dark pagan, experimental synthesizer and neofolk explorations. On the other end of the dial, music director and conductor Ludovic Morlot's final season with Seattle Symphony had no small amount of fanfare programmed around his departure. The threefold coup de grâce of Morlot's decade at Seattle symphony would be the realization of "John Luther Adams Pulitzer Prize Winning 'Become Ocean'", Olivier Messiaen's massive symphonic work, "Turangalîla", and the inauguration of the Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center with a 24 hour Contemporary Music Marathon. And nothing expressed the temperature of contemporary jazz more than Makaya McCraven at The Royal Room, and Shabaka Hutchings appearing stateside again with his The Comet is Coming ensemble.

Coming up on the close of the decade, access and distribution have become the real revelations and stumbling blocks of the second decade of the 21st Century. In his "Streaming Has Killed the Mainstream: The Decade that Broke Popular Culture", The Guardian's Simon Reynolds plumbs the deep complexities of the scattered and shattered effects of both the disintegrating of the popular monoculture of the past, and the sensation of living with the overload of options in the present. For The New Yorker, Richard Brody tackles the most significant after-effect of this abundance and the convenience of what's on offer through the dominant streaming platforms and commercial cinemas. He argues that; “It has been a banner year for movies, but you’d never know it from a trip to a local multiplex, or from a glimpse at the Oscarizables. The gap between what’s good and what’s widely available in theatres - between the cinema of resistance and the cinema of consensus - is wider than ever". Brody continues in his films of the decade selection; "Not only do a small number of blockbuster movies dominate the industry’s economy, but the sheer fact of popularity is multiplied and amplified online. Crowding out coverage of less-popular yet ultimately more significant movies at precisely the moment when, because these movies get scant distribution and are often virtually hidden on streaming sites, critical attention is all the more essential to their recognition." This gulf is also reflected online. The digital age is still proving to be at a narrow impasse rather than the promised plateau of abundance, which many are learning to navigate. Particularly evident in the world of film distribution, though footing is being found on the growing independent streaming platforms like Mubi, Fandor, and the recently founded, Criterion Channel.

Award winning films from festivals in New York, Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Hong Kong, Seoul, Cannes, Paris, London, Toronto and Cannes topping Film Comment, The Guardian, Cinema-Scope, and the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound annual overviews, have yet to receive distribution in the United States outside of festival programming or a savvy urban arthouse. Or, for that matter, even show up streaming online. So count yourself fortunate that you live in an urban cultural center if you do, as more and more of the world's greatest film aren't to be found for purchase, rent, streaming or even download (legal or otherwise). The value that Scarecrow Video brings to Seattle in this regard can't be overstated. With 130,000 titles on offer they now represent the largest privately owned collection of film in the world. Cinephiles, and even the simply movie quality-curious, should take note. No online streaming resource can even begin to approach their breadth and diversity available to be seen between their four walls. In music it was another year of taking circuitous and unexpected paths to the year's more memorable sounds. Streaming and digital distribution has incontestably freed channels of access and stages of separation between producer and audience. It has also brought to the fore the issue of accepting poor royalties for the benefit of expansive exposure. In the midst of this digital era of over abundance, there are whole forms and centuries of music that are not being served by the dominant streaming platforms. But if this almost singular foray of independent labels and artists in the market, it reveals much in, "Drip.FM's Closing and The Challenging Future of Sustainable Creative Technologies". Conversely streaming and direct digital distribution has also made what was in the past the locus of curatorial vision; the record label, less of a less singular go-to. Self releasing platforms like the growing audience direct community of Bandcamp, have made the record label less central.

Yet it remains the case that the record label can often be a superior path toward discovering new cultures and artists amid the over-abundance of the online world. The well curated label is still the best bet at finding more of related sounds when you're attuned to their programming trajectory. In the way of cutting edge electronic and experimental sounds, Raster-Media, Tri-Angle, Blackest Ever Black, PAN, Editions Mego, and RVNG have all delivered catalogs of quality, often groundbreaking work this year. Experimental, black and doom metal continued it's influential hybridization on labels like Southern Lord, Sargent House, 20 Buck Spin, Flenser, Season of Mist, Relapse, and Profound Lore. Neoclassical and modern chamber music were served by labels like Erased Tapes, and Denovali, with gorgeous and long overdue reissues of under-appreciated masterworks of American minimalism from Blume. Centuries-spanning institutions like Deutsche Grammophon have also expanded into the territory of young contemporary composers like Max Richter, and Jóhann Jóhannsson. American indies like Sacred Bones, Captured Tracks, Kranky, Thrill Jockey, Dead Oceans, and Temporary Residence continued to step up their game, with ever expanding diversification and discovery of new talent. In the world of modern jazz, Scandinavia continues to dominate the field of innovation. The influence of labels like Rune Grammofon and ECM and their embracing of classical, jazz, improvisation and experimentation, can't be stressed enough. The year also saw existing and new American imprints releasing work pushing at the boundaries of the very definition of jazz. Vanguard forays into form and style were heard on Eremite and Chicago's International Anthem. The standard-bearers of American jazz, Impulse! and Verve, also proving that they make the cut with one of the great new jazz albums of the decade. Straight from the burgeoning "British Jazz Explosion" as The Guardian called it, gathered together on anthologies by Giles Peterson and his Brownswood Recordings.

In the way of other notable reissues, San Francisco Bay Area label, Superior Viaduct reached further into he discographies of post-punk, modern composition, out-rock and free jazz, and UK-based Soul Jazz continues to plumb the depths of Afro-rock, disco and soul, with multiple brilliant compilations this year. From the far fringes of the Japanese underground, labels like Palto Flats, WeWantSounds, Empire of Signs, and WRWTFWW have unearthed some rare and much sought-after gems in the form of Yasuaki Shimizu's "Kakashi", Hiroshi Yoshimura's "Music for Nine Postcards", and Midori Takada's lost minimalist masterpiece, "Through the Looking Glass". Also in this vein, Light in the Attic released their document of "The Hidden History of Japan’s Folk-Rock Boom", as the first volume of the Japan Archive. The second and third volumes arrived this spring and summer with a sublime assembly of Japanese "interior music" on, "Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990", and the rarefied city pop sound was collected together on the "Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1975-1985". In the excellent liner notes supplied by Visible Claoks' Spencer Doran for the edition, he rightly sites that ambient music in Japan started, much as it did elsewhere, with Erik Satie, Marcel Duchamp, Morton Feldman, John Cage and their 20th century contemporaries being taught in university courses attended by these then-young electronic pioneers. By bridging modernist and postmodern modes of composition with the then-concurrent forays into "musical furnishings" supplied by Brian Eno, their ideas about background, modes of attention, functionality, and the abstracting of authorship came to the fore. The arrival in the west of this assembly of "Lullabies for Air Conditioners: The Corporate Bliss of Japanese Ambient", as Simon Reynolds points out, couldn't be more satisfying in the timeliness of its arrival.