Thursday, September 29, 2022

Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 6 - 10 | Seattle Polish Film Festival at SIFF Cinema: Oct 14 - 23

The regional seasonal micro-festivals make a strong return this year, with two staples of the fall season arriving the second week of October. For it's 30th anniversary, the Seattle Polish Film Festival will once again be at the SIFF Cinema Uptown, after their brief pandemic related hiatus, the festival relaunched in 2021. North of Seattle, one of the region's most compelling cinephile events is scheduled to return to the pastoral setting of the San Juan Islands. 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 tenth of the films on offer during the three weeks of SIFF, the regional micro-festival 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 29 film program to rival that of its Seattle goliath. One might marvel "How this Remote Spot in Puget Sound Attracts Such High-caliber Fare", yet it is all the work of co-founders, Jared Lovejoy and Donna Laslo, producer Marc Turtletaub, and of course the curatorial work of Spence. 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 this year's Venice, Sundance, and Toronto festivals. Among the films on offer in Orcas, are Park Chan-Wook's Cannes award winning, "Decision to Leave", and fresh from Venice, Todd Field's Cate Blanchett-led classical music world drama of "TÁR". In a rare turn, Laura Poitras won the prestigious Golden Lion at this year's Venice Film Festival for her documentary on Nan Goldin, "All The Beauty And The Bloodshed", and best documentary winner at both Cannes and Sundance "All That Breathes", by Shaunak Sen will also be playing. Other award winners include this year's Cannes Palme d'Or winner "Triangle of Sadness" from the mind of Ruben Östlund, and Charlotte Wells' first feature winner at Cannes "Aftersun". The Golden Bear winner in Berlin this year by Carla Simón, "Alcarras" is presented alongside another of the big films from Venice, Martin McDonagh's bruised fraternal drama, "The Banshees of Inisherin". Japan's Hirokazu Kore-eda returns with another tale from society's fringes with, "Broker", Cannes Grand Prix winner, "Close" by Lukas Dhont, the Un Certain Regard-winner from Cannes, "Corsage" by Marie Kreutzer, and Mark Jenkin's highly anticipated genre film, "Envy's Men" are all featured. There's Colm Bairéad's Berlin award winning film "The Quiet Girl", and Romania's daring Cristian Mungiu is back with "R.M.N.", the breakout feature debut from Cannes by Lola Quivoron, "Rodeo", and João Pedro Rodrigues returns after a many year absence, with "Will-o-the-Wisp"

Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Comet is Coming "Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam" & North American Tour: Sept 25 - Oct 22

Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings' mining of jazz's cultural memory is informed by his numerous concurrent projects; the ensemble Sons of Kemet, its splinter trio The Comet Is ComingMelt Yourself Down, Afro-futurist outfit The Ancestors, and as a guest player with the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra. So there is possibly no better player in contemporary jazz more equipped to lead a quartet exploring the fringes of the territory once mapped out by post-bebop, Afrofuturist an spiritual jazz luminaries, Charles Mingus, Pharoah Sanders, and the aforementioned Sun Ra. Nowhere in Hutching's numerous settings is this more evident than in Sons of Kemet's "Your Queen is a Reptile" of 2018. The central quartet of Hutchings, Oren Marshall on tuba, and both Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford on drums, is aided by a rotating cast of contemporary jazz players including Pete Wareham, Eddie Hick, Moses Boyd, Maxwell Hallett, and Nubya Garcia in their ranks. The album was a first for Impulse!, the legendary and influential American jazz label that was home to Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Freddie Hubbard, and Bill Evans at the peak of their 1960's output. So these are the largest of jazz shoes to fill. This adds another weighty dimension to Hutchings’ relationship with American jazz, placing him among the players whose legacy he’s endeavoring to subvert, deconstruct, and expound upon. Covered in The Guardian's primer to this contemporary body of musicians, "The British Jazz Explosion: Meet the Musicians Rewriting the Rulebook", Hutchings acts as a pivot around which numerous players move through the scene. Which he enthusiastically explores in greater depth in his interview for The Guardian, "History Needs to Be Set Alight: Shabaka Hutchings on the Radical Power of Jazz".

Sons of Kemet have disbanded this past year after a series of highly successful tours across the United States and Europe, following the release of the "eloquent dance between anger and joy" that was 2021's "Black to the Future". Yet The Comet is Coming have found in their newest release a sound which has absorbed some of the qualities of his numerous projects into its folds. This fourth album for the outfit further delivering on the promise of the territory initially mapped out by Sons of Kemet as early as 2013, in their interview with The Quietus, "The Space Between One & Two". As with their debut for the Impulse! label, "Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery", the group take a further turn away from jazz tradition, with much of the album sculpted in post-production, highlighting the shifting mixtures of drummer Max Hallett and keyboardist Dan Leavers. A focal shift of influences also corresponds, weighing more heavily into 70s progressive and Krautrock, namely the territory mapped out by King Crimson, Amon Düül, and Belgian explorers Univers Zero, the tracks contained here transmute between abstract introductions, fractured rhythmic passages and dramatic heights of orchestrated synthesis and fusion. Explored in their "End Days Intensity: The Comet Is Coming" interview for The Quietus, their sounds flows through the gamut of ferocious moments of interplay between its trio, Hutching's saxophone blurting sentences, the synth squalls and level valleys of Leavers, and the finesse of Hallet's percussive detailing and force, all of which culminating in the roiling uneven surfaces with their cinematic, suggestively sci-fi future-scape. Touring for "Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam", released this month on Impulse!, the trio will be visiting cities across North America, with a date at The Crocodile in Seattle at the end of September.


Thursday, September 22, 2022

Brett Morgen's "Moonage Daydream" at SIFF Cinema Sept 23 - Oct 20 | "The Final Mysteries of David Bowie’s Blackstar: Elvis, Crowley, and The Villa of Ormen" | The Guardian

Smashing onto screens at this year's Cannes, Brett Morgen's "Glorious, Shapeshifting Eulogy to David Bowie", comes to domestic theaters this month and regionally at SIFF Cinema Egyptian. Consciously averting the documentary format, Morgen's intimate montage of the uniquely influential artist celebrates his career, creativity, and decades of restless self discovery. Given unprecedented access to Bowie's personal archives, "Moonage Daydream" takes a cue from Bowie's own childhood wonder at the "Sound and Vision" experiences of early rock and roll washing over the artist as a young man. Through an assembly of audio-visual collage, this archive of five million items, including paintings, drawings, recordings, photographs, films, and journals, were structured into an experiential cinematic odyssey. The result is a sensory "Tripping David Bowie's Sound and Light Fantastic", as the musical and spiritual journey of the artist's life, featuring Bowie's own narration. Tony Visconti, who spent much of Bowie's career as recording producer, recently completed the massive retrospective box sets for Parlophone, which include "Five Years (1969–1973)", "Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976)", "A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982)", "Loving the Alien (1983–1988)", and "Brilliant Adventure (1992–2001)", serves as the film's musical director, with a team including Paul Massey, and meticulous musical edits and collage throughout by Morgen. The ensuing audio-visual experience, as described by Robert Daniels, for is, "a bombastic, overstimulating, poignant, life-affirming, and risk-taking summation of the artist's ethos and maturation as a person. In short, 'Moonage Daydream' is a film David Bowie would've proudly made." The amassed effect of this "David Bowie Documentary as Dynamic as the Man Himself" is a glorious celebratory montage of archive material, live performance footage, Bowie’s experimental video art and paintings, movie and stage work, and interviews that run the spectrum from the philosophical and revealingly personal, to humorously self-deprecating.

Morgen suggests that David Bowie’s first great period came to an end with the 1970s, but that his intellectual curiosity and creativity continued to have something more than a little heroic and magnificent to it as the years went by. And perhaps his following adventures in other art forms, like playing the "Elephant Man" on stage was slightly misjudged in that Bowie had already absorbed all these things, and was drawing on their energy in his rock persona. His film performances in the late 1970s and early 80s, in Nicolas Roeg's "The Man Who Fell to Earth", Tony Scott's "The Hunger", and Nagisa Oshima's "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" led into his era of super stardom, following the 1983 international pop hit "Let's Dance". The ensuing decade, while delivering massive success and arena-filling performances, where as Bowie describes it in "Moonage Daydream", a vast expanse of uncultivated and barren rewards for the artist. What Morgen shows next, through personal video documentary, home recordings and travel footage is the superstar become "bohemian vagabond" as Bowie entered into a period of restless international travel and personal rediscovery. In one of his most startling and unexpected transformations, (of many), David Bowie reemerged into the 1990s with a set of creative collaborations that directly engaged with the zeitgeist. Enlisting artists and producers, including the return of Brian Eno on the 1995 multimedia concept album, "Outside (The Nathan Adler Diaries: A Hyper-cycle)", Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails on "The Hearts Filthy Lesson" and the video singles and remixes for 1997's "Earthling", and regular Tin Machine collaborator and The Cure guitarist, Reeves Gabrels on the 1999 album, "Hours". More recently on this side of the millennial cusp, both "Heathen" and his penultimate album "The Next Day", acted as a preview of things to come on David Bowie's last and final turn at an artistic metamorphosis. This "rich, deep, and strange album that feels like Bowie moving restlessly forward, his eyes fixed ahead; the position from which he's always made his greatest music." was released as his ultimate swansong, "Blackstar" just two days before his death in 2016. So rich in fact, that it has been half a decade now in the minds of its listeners, that much of the meaning and its inspirations have yielded up, "The Final Mysteries of David Bowie’s Blackstar: Elvis, Crowley, and 'The Villa of Ormen'".

Thursday, September 1, 2022

"Thrills & Chills" series at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Aug 26 - Sept 15

Later this month, Dan Hudson, the longtime programmer for Scarecrow Video's sister theater The Grand Illusion Cinema, will be departing for his new home in Williamstown MA, and executive director position at Images Cinema. But not before he leaves us with one final film series, fulfilling a long-held aspiration to put together a volume of high quality thrillers that feature notable electronic scores. Before we get to the details of the series itself, let's 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. There truly 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 150,000 films on offer, no singular online streaming resource can compare. A short jaunt from Scarecrow Video, the first of the films in The Grand Illusion Cinema's Thrills & Chills series, features the high style gloss and atmosphere that Nicolas Winding Refn refined in "Drive". This would be the stylebook for everything conceived by Refn, as well as a homage to one of his greatest influences, Michael Mann, and his film "Thief". It would also prove to be the mode of storytelling Refn would expounded upon in more recent works like his doom-laden collaboration with crime comics writer Ed Brubaker, and their crowning achievement that is, "Nicolas Winding Refn's dead-eyed LA Nightmare". High energy, and urban twists and turns, are channeled through a very 1990s zeitgeist sensibility in Tom Twyker's “Run Lola Run”, and a more retro soundtrack including goth and synthwave favorites like Clan of Xymox, Sisters of Mercy, Survive, Zombi, and Love & Rockets are featured throughout Adam Wingard's under-seen “The Guest”. Delivering what might be considered the pinnacle of tense 21st century urban dramas, the two directors of Good Time” and Uncut Gems”, Joshua and Benjamin Safdie have been collaborating almost exclusively with Daniel Lopatin, who's music as Oneohtrix Point Never occupies a similarly tense precipice of risk and reward.

And lastly in the series, William Friedkin, the director of "The Exorcist", took an extreme about-turn in his audacious 1977 resetting of both Georges Arnaud's novel "Le Salaire de la Peur", and Henri-Georges Clouzot's previous 1953 film adaptation, "The Wages of Fear". Friedkin enlisted the then very relevant German electronic trio Tangerine Dream to score the heat and South American Jungle delirium of “Sorcerer”. This recent new 4K scan finally "Restoring the Magic of Friedkin’s ‘Sorcerer’", and admitting viewers deeper into the  hellish Dante-like task through a series of oneiric nightmare sequences that its band of desperate outsiders and criminals on the run must traverse, against all odds. Dan Hudson's programming notes from the series launch are quoted below; “My final series for the Grand Illusion is Thills & Chills. Thrills — with some of the best thrillers ever made; Chills — with some of the finest synth and electronic scores in cinematic history. These soundtracks illustrate why “chillwave” is one of the fastest growing EDM subgenres, including Cliff Martinez’ score to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Our series will be bookended by rare 35mm screenings of Good Time and Uncut Gems. The Safdie brothers took the cinema of Scorsese and Friedkin to new heights, with perfect scores by Oneohtrix Point Never. Speaking of Friedkin, Tangerine Dream’s nail biting score to Sorcerer will have you squirming in your seats. Perhaps no other film shows the power of an electronic score to propel a thriller at breakneck speed than Tom Twyker’s Run Lola Run, presented here in glorious 35mm. And finally, Steve Moore of Zombi provided the pulsing throwback score to 2014’s lamentably under-seen The Guest. I’m really excited to see all these films with you on the big screen. If you’re wondering why this series is short on Carpenter — we just did a whole Carpenter series earlier this year! Plus maybe we’ve got a little something coming up for Halloween.”