Friday, October 1, 2021

All Monsters Attack at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 1 - Nov 4 | Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 7 - 11| William Kennedy Memorial Screening at Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 9

September marked the first significant return to programming after nearly eighteen months of closure for the regional independent music venues, and Seattle's independent cinemas in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In many cases, their future remained uncertain until as recently as the February federal stimulus bill and the approval of funding for arts and cultural venues that came with it. Over a year later relief funding became available for many of these same institutions with the benefits of the Save Our Stages Act finally beginning to arrive, alongside the newly implemented Shuttered Venues Grant. The benefits of the various pandemic relief bills, with regional infrastructure like the 4Culture Relief Fund, awareness efforts like the Washington Nightlife Music Association, crowdfunding and philanthropy like the ArtistRelief, ArtsFund grant, and GiveBig Washington have come in the 11th hour for many of these venues and institutions. North of Seattle, one of the region's most compelling cinephile events is scheduled to return the second weekend in October. As an example of festival programming featuring diverse and 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 thirtieth 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 small 16 film program 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, Sundance, and Toronto. Among the films on offer in Orcas, there's Mia Hansen-Løve's "Bergman Island", Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cannes Jury Prize winning "Memoria", Italian maestro Paulo Sorrentino's newest, "The Hand of God", the always riveting Asghar Farhadi's "A Hero", auteur Céline Sciamma returns with "Petite Maman", Pablo Larraín's most recent historic biodrama, "Spencer", Todd Haines music documentary on, "The Velvet Underground", Joachim Trier's "The Worst Person in the World", Mike Mills' "C'mon C'mon", and the life of feline portraitist Lois Wane in Will Sharpe's "The Electrical Life of Louis Wain".

To my mind, the months of October and November could always do with more in the way of programming around Halloween season genre film and its disorienting frights, crepuscular surrealism, and discomfiting atmospheres. Thankfully, Scarecrow Video annually steps up with their curated Halloween section of domestic and international horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and psychotronic selections. The Psychotronic Challenge also returns in its sixth 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, 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, and with nearly 140,000 films on offer, no singular online streaming resource 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. 2018'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. While the final pre-pandemic installment in 2019 presented an abundance of films from this era of American horror alongside a bold mix of decades of classic European, Asian, and Italian genre material.

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. Rather than the usual mix of new releases and archival prints, this year's installment is programmed almost exclusively around films that were released in the past eighteen months and subsequently denied a theatrical run. The proceedings begin with a memorial night for Seattle's most dedicated cinephile, music lover, and man-about-town, William Kennedy. Before his passing earlier this year, Bill wished for nothing more than his friends and cultural compatriots to join together for a screening of David Cronenberg's classic techno-horror thriller, “Videodrome”. Also up on the slate, is the most recent work by the junior member of the Cronenberg family, Brandon Cronenberg, with his "Possessor: Uncut", featured in an alternate director's edition. The United Kingdom's mastermind of genre cinema, Ben Wheatley, returns to his smaller-budget roots after the major production of adapting J.G. Ballard, with the psychedelic eco-horror of In The Earth”. We also get a documentary on the personification of the genre, "Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster", alongside a set of tales of earthy pagan cults, familial curses, a mirror maze reflection on the British "video nasties" of the 1980s, extraterrestrial possession, postmodern spins on the gore slasher, and an astute horror-comedy lycanthrope tale with Jaco Bouwer's "Gaia”, Natalie Erika JamesRelic”, Prano Bailey-Bond's “Censor”, Egor Abramenko's "Sputnik", Steven Kostanski's "Psycho Goreman", and Jim Cummings' "The Wolf of Snow Hollow". Not limited to new releases, All Monsters Attack will also feature the annual tradition of multiple analog media nights. These begin with VHS Uber Alles presenting William Szarka's "Phantom Brother" on its original release format, and The Sprocket Society programming an all-undead Halloween show on 16mm celluloid, including George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead". Other mind-warping traditions at Grand Illusion are to be found in the annual Scarecrow Video Secret Screening, hand picked and hosted by Scarecrow's one and only Matt Lynch, and beholding the excesses of Shinya Tsukamoto's body-horror cyberpunk classic and it's sequel, "Tetsuo: The Iron Man", and "Tetsuo II: Body Hammer", both of which are rarely seen on the big screen.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Wife of a Spy" & Tsai Ming-Liang's "Days" at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 1 - 3 & Oct 6 - 7

After eighteen months of closures and pandemic restrictions making gatherings in the cinema untenable, Northwest Film Forum returned to public screenings in mid-September. Their October slate includes a set of African independent entries from Jessica Beshir "Faya Dayi", and Arie Esiri & Chuko Esiri's "Eyimofe (This is My Desire)", the most recent in Tsai Ming-Liang's filmography of sublime stillness and grace seen in "Days", and Japan's purveyor of disquiet Kiyoshi Kurosawa with, "Wife of a Spy". Among the directors who led the Japanese cinema explosion of the 1990s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa remains one of Japanese film culture's most high profile faces on the international festival circuit. Taking a more refined turn from his earlier filmography populated by psychological and supernatural horror, since 2008's "Tokyo Sonata", Kurosawa has exhibited an aptitude for sublimating his obsession with societal decay into any conceivable genre. The through-line between his earlier explorations of modern horror and these current ventures into an even more sure footed aesthetic precision. Longtime cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa deserves credit for the elegant framings, disconcerting lighting, and air of desolation and disuse found in the production design, and the substance of Kurosawa's palpable sense of place. As a premonition of hard times and a fierce social and familial satire, Kurosawa made the everyday mundanity of domestic life another of his vehicles for "exploring issues of desperation, loneliness and alienation". One in which the protagonist is living a nightmare largely of his own making, equally inescapable as the mesmerism, curses, and hauntings of the proceeding body of horror work.

Appearing again at Cannes and taking the directing prize in the Un Certain Regard section, Kurosawa's "Journey to the Shore", returned to the supernatural but in a more sublimated process of it's characters gradually losing their inner cohesion through contact between the living and the dead. In his "Wonders to Behold" coverage from Cannes, Kent Jones' espoused the passage through which as an experience, "so exquisitely tuned and delicately heartbreaking that they seem to have been experienced and remembered rather than seen on a movie screen". Shifting yet again into a new genre mode with his following film, the alien scouts of "Before We Vanish" take from human hosts in the time-honored trope of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Yet their objectives are revealed to be instead a cultural amassing of information through the harvesting of “conceptions”. Mubi's Cannes' coverage detail this "Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Retro Futurist" work, who's central premise is the extraterrestrial visitors' gleaning of key earthling abstractions such as “self”, “family” and “freedom"; at which point the person loses all knowledge of the concept in question. Rather than taking body and form in an effort to quietly subsume the population of their earthly victims, in the infiltration inquiry of "‘Before We Vanish’: The Aliens Have a Lot of Questions".
Returning to even more genre-elusive territory, his following "To The Ends of the Earth", watched as an unnerving and sometimes comedic journey of a travel show host, and portrait of a young woman's struggle to enjoy her own freedom in a confounding and sometimes inscrutable world. Which might be the purest representation yet in his filmography, of "Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Filming and Acting Outside Your Comfort Zone", delivering "A Dreamlike Vision of Clashing Cultures". Which brings us to Kurosawa's first historic drama, "Wife of a Spy", led by another female protagonist portrayed by Yū Aoi, curiously making for an old-fashioned thriller that focuses on it's performances, and traditional plot twists, "Wife of a Spy: Wartime Mystery Thriller of Double and Triple Dealing".