Sunday, May 15, 2022

Olivier Messiaen's “Des Canyons aux Étoiles” at Seattle Symphony: Jun 2 & 4

Returning after his tenure concluded with the 2019 season, Ludovic Morlot will be conducting another rarity from the body of Olivier Messiaen's haunting and beautiful works, with “Des Canyons aux Étoiles” at Seattle Symphony the first week of June. It is worth noting that, as was the case for the St. Lois Symphony, for this performance Messiaen's musical vision will be additionally enhanced by projections from Deborah O'Grady. Seattle Symphony is itself rebounding from a series of setbacks at the beginning of the year, with a 2022 calendar that promises the usual abundance of classics and a measure of modern contemporary work. Ludovic Morlot's tenure as music director and conductor concluded with the arrival of his successor, Thomas Dausgaard for the 2019-2020 season, and saw the realization of a final set of projects Morlot had envisioned. These included the staging of Heiner Goebbels' "Surrogate Cities", and the inaugural event at the state-of-the-art Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center. This opening was billed as a Contemporary Music Marathon spanning 24h hours, featuring exclusively the work of modernist, New Music, and avant-garde composers. While 2019 marked the end of his tenure at Seattle Symphony, since his arrival in 2011 Ludovic Morlot launched numerous modern music initiatives. Alex Ross positing that from the week of his debut, the conductor not only stepping out with a strong start musically, but a reshaping of the orchestra's image, effectively and in many ways, the "Symphony’s New Leader Took Seattle by Storm". Not least among his accomplishments, the late-night [untitled] chamber music series which reintroduced contemporary works back into the symphony's lexicon, after almost a decade of being remiss. Morlot also brought a higher profile and further prestige to the city with his commissioning of "John Luther Adams Pulitzer Prize Winning 'Become Ocean'" which was recorded with the Seattle Symphony in 2013. As well as the premiere of "Become Desert" in 2018, which completed Adams' cycle. Yet the seasonal [untitled] program may prove to be Morlot's greatest contemporary music contribution during his tenure. The series' installments cumulatively reading as who's-who of 20th and 21st Century avant-garde and modernist visionaries. Included in its breadth were such works by such notable (and rarely performed) composers as George Crumb, György Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Terry Riley and Giacinto Scelsi. Other high points include 2015's performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen's groundbreaking electro-acoustic, "Gesang der Jünglinge", and the series' initiation with the realization of Olivier Messiaen's massive symphonic work, "Turangalîla".

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Gaspar Noé's "Vortex" and "Lux Æterna" at SIFF Cinema: May 6 - 12 & The Grand Illusion Cinema: May 20 - 26

Coined by critic James Quandt in the pages of Artforum as a term to reference a series of French transgressive films that developed around the cusp of the 21st century, the talk around New French Extremity has largely receded from wider discussion in the cinephile world. While the recent diminishing of its significance and the lessening of a volume of work contributed to the general corpus of the subgenre, the matter is far from solved as a closed movement. Many of the genre's earliest innovators have since gone on to become auteurs, producing a body of work diverging, yet still in relation to their films of the late 1990s and early 2000s. These all shared a set of components in common, though they mixed and accentuated these in varied ways and perspectives; what can be found in common is a recurrence of an unflinching presentation of physical brutality and sexuality, often in violent eruptions intersecting with everyday life. These were predicated through psycholigical stuggles with inner urges that were bracketed by the implications, or lack thereof, behind sexual encounters. These would be depicted as the destruction and subsequent construction of new identities through violent catharsis, which would often reveal a relationship to, gender, political, or class roles or constraints being unbound. These commonalities can be seen in the dramatic developments and depictions of interpersonal relations across a relatively wide spectrum of themes that describe the best of this subgenre. The seven films below are widely considered to be representative of the whole. From the countercultural knife's-edge of Virginie Despentes' screenplay for Coralie Trinh Thi's "Baise-moi", the slasher horror of Alexandre Aja's "High Tension", the rare genre film entry from Claire Denis seen in "Trouble Every Day", Catherine Breillat's unflinching explorations of sexual power dynamics and gender in "Romance", Gaspar Noé's revenge drama, "I Stand Alone", to the sexualized violence and bodily horror of Pascal Laugier's "Martyrs", and the rural society in a downward spiral of degeneracy as depicted in Fabrice Du Welz's "Calvaire".

Gaspar Noé left an indelible impression on a large swathe of western audiences with 2002's "Irréversible". Yet even Roger Ebert would argue that "the film's structure makes it inherently moral; that by presenting vengeance before the acts that inspire it, we are forced to process the vengeance first, and therefore think more deeply about its implications." While also stating that "Irréversible" is a movie so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable." Ebert expressly draws attention to the space between these contradictions, and in doing so he rightly defines this as the zone in which the cinema of Gaspar Noé lives. This is the space in which the director would take an even deeper dive with 2010's "Enter the Void". In response to which, Chris Norris' review for Film Comment, may be the only concise interpretation that made its way to print; "Noe calls the film's genre psychedelic melodrama, but it also falls into the much older tradition of void tales, whose tellers run from Dante, to Dickens, to Poe to Thornton Wilder. But the feeling I found in the wake of "Enter the Void" was an ineffable sense of devotion to craft, experience, perception, consciousness, whose only meaning is likely in the topography Thorton Wilder saw gazing into Bardo: a land of the living, and a land of the dead, bridged only, and tenuously, by love." Which brings us to Noé's most recent set of films, the love of cinema itself, and the talent of the intrepid explorers he's enlisted with Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg as our guides. Recent interviews for The Guardian with the independent French cinema icon have Dalle proclaiming, "‘I love Christ Because He Invented Bondage’", and Gainsbourg establishing her stance in relation to challenging art, "‘Everything Now is So Politically Correct. So Boring’". It is through the grace and dedication of their performances that we enter into the shrine of cinema that is "Lux Æterna". Love of a much more universal, and inevitable, nature is on display in Noé's other film of this year. The once enfant-terrible of French cinema has teamed with horror great Dario Argento, and New Wave actress Françoise Lebrun, to craft a disarmingly compassionate, yet unflinching film about mortality in "Vortex", as "A Stunning Split-screen Descent into Dementia". Justin Chang states in his review for the Los Angeles Times, "Gaspar Noé is Up to His Old Tricks, and Some New Ones, with ‘Vortex’ and ‘Æterna’", "[Vortex] is a bone-deep sensory immersion that never feels merely sensationalist, anchored by two performances of astonishing commitment and emotional power." Yet the film's director and the elder Italian maestro have a much more candid assessment of their work and its reception in the pages of The Guardian, "‘As Soon as People See a Penis in the UK, They Think They’ve Seen the Devil'”.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

“World of Wong Kar-Wai” Retrospective at SIFF Cinema: Jun 4 - 7

At the height of the global pandemic, in December 2020, Janus Films brought the "World of Wong Kar-Wai" to home screens across North America, in new 4K restorations and previously unseen alternate cuts. Presented as streaming virtual theatrical screenings  “World of Wong Kar Wai Retrospective Arrives at Lincoln Center”, and was available through Film Society at Lincoln Center's Virtual Cinema. Nearly a decade had elapsed since the last retrospective of its kind, held at New York's Museum of the Moving Image in 2013. Much in that way of that retrospective, Janus Films' new series focuses on Wong's cinematic language lifting time-distending characteristics from noir and romantic cinema, amplified by an almost existential ache of unrequited love, which first came to the fore in 1988's, "As Tears Go By", and was expanded upon in 1990's, "Days of Being Wild". Following on the boom years of Hong Kong cinema spanning the late 1980s to end of the 1990s, Wong Kar-Wai set himself part in the field of alternative cinema that developed as the mid-1990s Second Wave, alongside such figures as Ann Hui and Yim Ho. On the heels of his first two efforts, he produced the mid-period classics that comprised the duo of "Chungking Express" and it's more kinetic Hong Kong action and noir-inspired companion, "Fallen Angels". These internationally recognized early films were on the cusp of a string of masterpieces that garnered massive accolades in the global festival circuit, the first of which was seen in 1997's globetrotting "Happy Together". What came next astounded even those familiar with the pleasures of Wong's early filmmography. The duet of films that comprise the sprawling and operatic "2046" and what many, myself included, consider one of the greatest single films of the new century, "In the Mood for Love", in all of it's lush, time abstracted, romance-saturated glory. Topping my personal Films of the Decade list of the first ten years of the 21st Century, "In the Mood for Love" continues to be untouchable to such a degree as to be in a class of its own. It is so precise, tangible and sublime a work of cinematic art as to be one of only three films in the top 100 from the 21st century in The British Film Institute's "Greatest Films of All Time" poll. Not only gaining in recognition as the years pass, it was met with an enthusiastic embrace at the time of release from the global film community, and recognized as the first masterpiece of the new century in the pages of The Guardian, New York Times and Village Voice.

Around this time, hailin the work Wong Kar-Wai brought to cinema screens over the last ten years in tales of modern living, urban alienation, and forlorn love in a dazzlingly intimate, fluid, poetic and fragmented formal register, Senses of Cinema presented their Great Directors feature. Further enshrining "Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood For Love: Like a Ritual in Transfigured Time", and "2046: A Matter of Time, A Labour of Love". It should be noted that the cascade of colors, texture, light, surfaces, bodies and spaces in motion, that are so much a part of what make up Wong's cinema, have been supplied by the cinematographers Lee Ping Bin, and the masterful Christopher Doyle. These qualities are particularly evident in "The Hand" from 2004's portmanteau film "Eros", here in an expanded cut, which Roger Ebert hailed as the most notable success of the anthology. In the following years there have been many projects in development, particularly the long-gestating "The Grandmaster" based on the life story of the Wing Chun martial arts master Ip Man, which finally saw the light of the big screen in 2013, in three differing theatrical cuts. The superior of these, the Chinese mainland cut, was screened at The Beacon Cinema in 2019, and watches as something much more than the average martial arts film, but instead a showcase of "Style and Kinetics Triumph in a Turbulent China". This cut being a more substantial representation of Wong's vision of Ip Man, and particularly the intertwined life and legacy of Wudang Chuan masters Gong Yutian and Gong Er, set against the outbreak of the tumultuous period of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Which touches on the multiple readings of Wong's body of work in general. While the most common pathway into his cinematic world is taken by the romantic inner route, such as The New York Times, “In Need of a Film About Romantic Possibility? Try ‘In the Mood for Love”, there's also a deeper historic, external reading as offered by The New Republic's “Wong Kar-Wai’s Masterpieces of Political Uncertainty: The Upheavals of Hong Kong’s History Lie Just Beneath the Surface of His Greatest Films”. Sixteen months have elapsed, the conditions that required its virtual release have abated, and the "World of Wong Kar-Wai" arrives at SIFF Cinema this June. Giving Northwest audiences the opportunity to consider this body of cinematic work through whichever of these two lenses, as they should and essentially be seen, on the big screen.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Bauhaus at The Paramount Theatre & West Coast Tour: May 17 - 27

Years have passed since the November 2019 Hollywood Palladium Bauhaus reunion show in Los Angeles and the planned nationwide tour that was to follow. This was the most recent of a number of reunions for the seminal gothic rock band. Bauhaus reunited briefly for a one-off set of shows in 1998, following nearly a decade later with a relaunch of the band at Coachella Festival in 2005 and the subsequent domestic tour. This would produce their last full collaborative work of the 21st century in the album, "Go Away White". The new century would also see various solo and recombinant lineups from the band's various members, including Daniel Ash on tour across the US, and sporadic activity from Love & Rockets until their conclusion in 2009. Most notably, the shortest-lived of all the offshoots Tones on Tail, would reform in a different lineup as Poptone with Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins, and Haskin's daughter Diva Dompé filling the role once held by David J. The following 2017 tour revisited Poptones storied catalog, presenting the work of Tones on Tail and Love & Rockets in a new direction, assembling the band member's shared histories with a vital and newly minted sound. In 2019 Peter Murphy began an extended world tour celebrating 40 years of music since the inception of Bauhaus while performing their debut, "In The Flat Field" in its entirety. After many delays and false starts, this tour spanning the North American continent, and a lineup including David J and members of his solo band, The Hundred Men concluded in San Francisco with a monthlong residency at The Chapel. The endpoint of the tour explored Murphy's variegated, decades-spanning solo output, detailed in KQED's "Peter Murphy, Godfather of Goth, to Haunt The Chapel", and in his own "Peter Murphy: I'm A Myriad of Colours" interview for The Quietus. Now after the necessary years-long hiatus caused by the pandemic, Bauhaus returns this spring in their original lineup and will be performing at Seattle's The Paramount Theatre with other west coast dates in Oregon, California, Colorado and Arizona, before beginning the European leg of the tour.

There can be no discussion of the cultural significance of the influential 4AD label at the beginning of the 1980s, without Bauhaus. In truth, even the label's name was reflected in the title of one of their earliest releases. The initial premise for 4AD as a collaboration between Peter Kent and Ivo Watts-Russell was as a testing ground for new acts, supported by the larger cultural and financial umbrella of Beggars Banquet. Programmed by the duo, the structure in concept was that with success, these bands would then have the option to graduate up to the parent Beggars Banquet roster. Bauhaus proved to be the only band to follow this path as they were signed to Beggars Banquet in late 1980, before Ivo and Peter purchased 4AD outright. Foremost among the label's first year of singles spawned from punk's violent disassembly came Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins and David J. Launching the ships of a thousand imitators, (and a sound that was later to be called gothic rock), as a meeting of gloaming atmospheres, dissonant sprawl and postpunk theatrics, Bauhaus were one of the first of their kind. Concurrently working in a similar mold, from across the world came the defiant rancor and country rock blues and doom of Australia's The Birthday Party. The label's roster blossomed into it's own the following year with the new wave stylings of Modern English and the ethereal dream pop of Robin Guthrie's coruscating guitar and Elizabeth Fraser's vocal incantations as Cocteau Twins. In rapid consecution 4AD released the earliest experimental solo work from bands that would later come to define the decade, The The's Matt Johnson produced a series of largely instrumental, experimental works and Wire's Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis released their first forays into the uncassifiable outside the setting of their massively influential postpunk quartet.

Following three singles for the label, and the success of their debut "In The Flat Field", Murphy, Ash, Haskins and David J split from 4AD with their graduation to the ranks of Beggars Banquet. By 1981 they had already assembled a new single, EP, and with the year's conclusion, the second full length album, "Mask". While only active on Beggars Banquet and 4AD for a span a little over three years, the band was in a state of continuous and highly prolific output. The next two years saw the release of their biggest single in the cover of David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust", multiple iterations on John Peel's culture defining Peel Sessions for the BBC, and strange dalliances with popular culture with charting singles leading to three Top of the Pops appearances. Singles like "Spirit", "She's in Parties", and the ongoing regular rotation of "Bela Lugosi's Dead", seemed to blur chronology as the band recorded and released their third and fourth album "The Sky's Gone Out", and "Burning From The Inside", in 1982 and 1983 respectively. Combined with Murphy's own acting and modelling work for Maxell, and the band supplying the framing device for the opening sequence of Tony Scott's 1980s vampire classic, "The Hunger", the speed and abundance of work in multiple settings had reached a pace that could not be sustained. Daniel Ash and David J are largely credited with taking the reigns and giving form to much of their fourth and final album during Murphy's battle with pneumonia of that year. This wildly accelerated workrate, combined with health and substance use issues would all lead to the band's dissolution and the cementing of Ash and Haskins' ongoing collaborations. 1982 was the year Ash, Glenn Campling, and Kevin Haskins formed the genre elusive and groundbreaking Tones on Tail, and with Bauhaus' conclusion in 1983, David J, Ash, and Haskins' reconfiguring as a trio into the longer-lived Love & Rockets.

While retaining close ties to 4AD and Beggars Banquet, Murphy would take his own solo trajectory away from the band's central trio. Enlisting such postpunk figures as Mick Karn from the seminal new romantic quartet, Japan, Steve Betts of The Associates, John McGeoch of Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Public Image Ltd, and longtime collaborator Paul Statham of B-Movie, on a decade-spanning stretch of albums for Beggars Banquet. This first, and most bold departure from the sound and aesthetic of Bauhaus was heard in the one-off Dalis Car album with Mick Karn. Yet it would be under his own name the following year with the release of "Should The World Fail To Fall Apart", that Murphy would carve out substantive new territory. Elevated by production and mixing skills from 4AD's Ivo Watts-Russell and John Fryer at Blackwing Studios, and a backing band and chamber ensemble enlisting much of 4AD's This Mortal Coil, the album would set in motion a decidedly pop and new wave direction for Murphy. Enlisting The Fall's Simon Rodgers on production, and the formation of what would become Murphy's band for years to come, The Hundred Men, "Love Hysteria", and "Deep" were delivered in rapid succession. The latter album of 1989 containing a series of Murphy's most notable solo works including the UK and US charting "Cuts You Up", and "A Strange Kind of Love". The album and it's expansive domestic tour of 1990, with a fledgling Nine Inch Nails supporting, reached more audiences than all previous post-Bauhaus works. Chronicled in Beggars Banquet's "Wild Birds 1985-1995", this decade of sustained solo output would continue with the musical influences of his new home of Istanbul, Turkey heard on "Holy Smoke". Following three years later in 1995, the ten year trajectory concluding with the more ambient and electronic offering "Cascade", framed by production by Pascal Gabriel, and contributions from minimal guitarist, Michael Brook. Decades later, Bauhaus have penned “Drink the New Wine” which marks their first new music following the release of their 2008 album, "Go Away White", and the first full tour 13 years since that album's release. The tour also follows closely on the "Bela Session" reissue, which boasted five tracks from their earliest 1979 recording session, including three unreleased songs, “Some Faces,” “Bite My Hip”, and the original recording of “Boys.”