Thursday, June 22, 2023

Godflesh "Purge" & US Tour: Jun 18 - Jul 2

This month the new album, "Purge" arrives with an accompanying tour from one of the all-time defining industrial and hardcore acts of the 1990's, Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green's Godflesh. The duo reformed in 2013 to play some of the most punishing, loud, assaulting music ever created by man and machine. While this may sound like the typical hyperbole of music press in response to anything on the heavy end of the spectrum, their (then final) US tour for the 1996 "Songs of Love and Hate" album established them as a band of very few equals in this realm. That release made its way onto albums of the year lists for magazines as disparate as Terrorizer and The Wire, and its companion " Dub", was a convergence of the purity of metal assault of earlier Godflesh with a growing fascination with the weighty rhythms and hooks of dub reggae and hip hop. The latter coming to explicitly inform Justin Broadrick's splinter project with The Bug's Kevin Martin through the late 1990s and early 2000s as Techno Animal. These varied convergences of dub, electronic music, industrial, shoegaze, hardcore and metal have been channeled into Broadrick's ceaseless musical reinvention in solo and splinter projects in the last decade. Resulting in the trio of Zonal, his solo industrial techno JK Flesh project, Pale Sketcher's sublime ambience, and Jesu's spacious drone rock. As an entry point into his multifaceted pursuit of sound, Broadrick's meeting with Pelican's Trevor de Brauw in 2013, to discuss Jesu's , "Everyday I Get Closer To The Light From Which I Came" acts as an exploration of the past, present and future of the Godflesh guitarist, "When Pelican Met Jesu". Broadrick has been outspoken and generous in recent years, offering insightful interviews on art, life, parenthood and hardship, "Quite Annihilating: A Chat with Justin Broadrick of Godflesh", for The Quietus, "Extreme Language: An Interview with Justin K. Broadrick", and "Songs of The Flesh: The Strange World of... Justin Broadrick", as well as talking with Bandcamp, "As JK Flesh, Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick Finds Peace in Solitude and Techno". Absorbing all of the varied explorations of the decade before, the new sound of Broadrick and G.C. Green is one which encompasses their breadth but also reasserts the weight of Godflesh's singular sonic impression. This sound can be heard on a set of albums beginning with "A World Lit Only by Fire", and "Post Self", as well as the two anthologies, "Long Live the New Flesh", and its companion, "New Flesh in Dub". Their newest arrives on the eve of "Godflesh Announces North American Tour" beginning in the Southwest at Austin's Oblivion Access Festival, and then continuing on to the west coast with a date at Seattle's El Corazon.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

The Criterion Channel Presents 25 Film Method Acting Showcase: Jun 1 | "Don’t Censor Racism Out of the Past" | The Atlantic

In his piece for The Atlantic, Thomas Chatterton Williams professor of humanities at Bard College author of "Self-Portrait in Black and White", and "Nothing Was the Same: The Pandemic Summer of George Floyd" speaks to the inherent dangers in altering our perception of the past, as it is represented in fiction. Specifically in reference to the depiction of racist stances and language, and the negation of social and historical realities in an attempt to engender the artistic work to contemporary attitudes, a kind of condescension is engineered. From his article, "Don’t Censor Racism Out of the Past" in which Williams states; "James Baldwin famously argued that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Axiomatically, a history of racism that is not preserved cannot be faced. The people and institutions who attempt to wash away all past ugliness are condescending to audiences, and the audiences who accept these erasures are self-infantilizing. In the most extreme instance, we all grasp why Holocaust denialism, what the French call négationnisme, is morally reprehensible. Society is duty-bound to remember certain ideas and experiences, attitudes and perversions. Such negationism is obviously insidious because it ignores hatred in order to preserve it. But what we might call “positive negationism” is nearly as disturbing." In the article, he further reflects; "We cannot accurately gauge how far we’ve progressed as a culture since 1845 or 1971, or even the beginning of the 21st century, when epithets against minorities disappeared from common utterance, without an honest record of that cultural progress. Creative expression of any quality, which is to say efforts that go beyond the merely propagandistic or ideologically motivated, must perform several important functions that are not reducible to advocacy - even and perhaps especially when it comes to groups that have been mistreated."

"Setting aside the idea that intellectuals and artists ought to be free to state even ugly and mistaken sentiments, it is downright odd to presume that any idea conveyed within a work of art benefits from its endorsement. The cliché exists for a reason: Art holds up a mirror to society, one that does not and ought not merely reflect back its most flattering aspects. Through honest engagement with impure reality, we can perceive and also confront our deepest failings." William Friedkin, the director of "The French Connection" was certainly aware that he had cast Gene Hackman to portray an unsavory character from “grungy, pre-gentrification New York City,” as NBC described the era in a 2021 article. Friedkin told NBC that rewatching the film on its 50th anniversary had transported him back to that challenging moment. “I lived for a long time in New York,” he said. “About six months before I made the film, I rode around with the two cops (who inspired it), one in Bedford-Stuyvesant and the other in Harlem. It was devastating … The film reminds me of the different nature of New York back then. Nothing about the city was embellished in the film.” For The New York Times, Niela Orr writes, "What's Lost When Censors Tamper with Classic Films" and in the pages of The Independent, the writers and actors of the film also weighed in on the subject, and the Walt Disney Corporation's presumptions about audience and perception, when they chose to edit and censor the film in question as featured in this month's Method Acting showcase on The Criterion Channel. Writer Sam Adams remarked; “The uncensored "French Connection" should be the only one in circulation, whether on TV or in theaters. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Friedkin knew exactly what having his detective protagonist use it said about him.” Film curator Alexander Woell pointed out that Scheider “specifically said the scene resonated with audiences at the time”, adding: “Cultural context is an important part of media literacy. Historical revisionism is not the answer.” The film's lead actor Roy Scheider recalled that a Black audience in Harlem had expressed satisfaction when Hackman uttered the now-censored dialogue on the big screen. Finally, a reality they knew to exist was being acknowledged, a bittersweet confirmation of a painful experience. Today, the patronizing assumption we make to our detriment is that they wouldn’t be able to handle it."

Thursday, June 15, 2023

“Before the Case Cracks You” series at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Jun 4 - Jul 6

The unsolved mystery remains some of the most compelling of crime literature, as large swathes of investigative, procedural and thriller fiction are dedicated to this particularly unsettling subgenre. Cinema has its own masterclasses in the troubling art of unresolved crime investigation, from which the Grand Illusion Cinema has assembled "Before the Case Cracks You". Spanning three decades, the international array of films on offer plumb the depths of, “Stories of detectives and investigators driven to obsession, if not the edge of sanity, in their quest to crack particularly difficult, heinous cases… before the case winds up cracking them.”. The lineup begins with a masterful and rarely seen Hungarian serving of brobdingnagian despair and gloaming atmosphere. This "Film Noir in the Hungarian Hills" adapts a 1958 Friedrich Dürrenmatt detective story, in which an unnamed retired detective is brought in to investigate the death of a young girl who is found near a statue of the angel Turul holding a sword, a long-observed symbol of Hungarian national strength. György Fehér's “Twilight" resets the story very precisely in the Hungarian countryside, with little in the way of specific years or histories to its principal figures, the film takes on a any-and-every time, where the past, present and future of Hungary appear drained not only of color, and vitality, but of hope itself. Through great rigour and abundant stylistic restrictions, Fehér incrementally builds up his nightmare using techniques and gestures that share much in common with his sometimes collaborator, the minimalist auteur of Eastern Europe, Béla Tarr. Also on offer in the series is Christopher Nolan's first major film for an American studio, "Insomnia" features Al Pacino and Robin Williams in an unexpected antagonist-protagonist dynamic, one which Williams could have built a second career. The central premise of protracted insomnia unravelling Pacino's detective as he pursues William's author-murderer is set against the towering wilderness of Alaska. From France, we also get "Night of the 12th". Adapted by its director Dominik Moll and Gilles Marchand from the work of Pauline Guéna, who spent a year following members of the Paris police in the process of writing her nonfiction crime novel "18.3: Une année à la PJ". Transposed to the picturesque Alpine city of Grenoble, their neo-noir is one of multitudinous false leads and potential suspects. Shot in dark hues and saturated colors, the film adheres to some of the best examples on the genre, seemingly taking its growing uncertainty from the Sicilian police novels of Leonardo Sciascia.

Among the most effective of these in cinema follow or are inspired in their details by real world cases, and few contemporary neo-noir have reached the pitch of David Fincher's retelling of the "Zodiac" murders. Truly in his element, Fincher puts all of his penchant for methodical research into play, crafting what is both a police procedural, and a snapshot of the paranoia and uncertainty of the changing social and political landscape of late 1960s to 1970s California. As with the real world events of the Zodiac Killer, Fincher builds an environment of false leads, and a time of crime investigation only recently beginning to grasp the social and psychological realities that would later become the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit. Which David Fincher himself would return to through the longform exploration and structural benefits of, "When TV Takes its Time", given the space and duration to truly plumb the "Serial Killer Variations" of this era. His "More Chatter than Spatter", FBI period procedural "Mindhunter" may prove to be the greatest work of "David Fincher: The Unhappiest Auteur". Another significant work of unsolved crime fiction comes from an era of very different social and political changes, seen in South Korea in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As with Fincher's "Zodiac", Bong Joon-ho's film adheres very closely to the real world details of the Hwaseong serial murders. Where Fincher's film depicts crime investigation unprepared for the development of the serial murderer, in "Memories of Murder" Bong shapes his narrative around the corruption, shortage of resources and results-driven policing of the South Korean military rule under President Chun Doo-hwa. Due to the fact that the Hwaseong murders had not been solved at the time he was undertaking the initial making of the film, Bong was at an impasse as to how to lead his fictional procedural "Memories of Murder: In the Killing Jar" to a conclusion. His solution arrived with a gift from film critic and Asian cultural studies authority, Tony Rayns. Rayns had gifted the director a copy of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s masterful comic novel, "From Hell". Which not only puts forward Moore's theory on one of the great unsolved crimes at the birth of the 20th century, but makes its focus the political corruption, social and class divisions, and societal maladies of Victorian England.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

"Dreams & Nightmares: The Films of David Lynch" at SIFF Cinema: Jun 16 - Jul 6

Over the course of the next month, SIFF Cinema will be presenting a near complete retrospective of the major works of David Lynch. Encompassing ten feature length films, an essay film, and a anthology of short films, "Dreams & Nightmares: The Films of David Lynch", begins mid-June with the premiere of "Lynch/OZ". Following non-chronologically, the series sounds the depths and heights of one of the great auteurs of the 20th century, with "Mulholland Drive", "Blue Velvet", The Short Films of David Lynch, "Dune", "Wild at Heart", "Inland Empire", "The Straight Story", "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me", "The Elephant Man", "Eraserheard", and "Lost Highway". Viewed together, it is clear that the landscape of American independent cinema would have an altogether different topography without the work of it's sublime sculptor of atmosphere, David Lynch. Referred to as "the greatest director of his era" by The Guardian's 2007 panel of critics, topping their 40 artists listed as having defined the last quarter century of cinema. His bold feature length entry of 1977 "Eraserhead" became one of the most influential midnight movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Playing in arthouse and independent cinemas late-night screenings alongside Jodorowsky's "El Topo", Water's "Pink Flamingos", Sharman's "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", and Romero's "Night of the Living Dead". More than a cult and underground phenomena, the film earned him the attention and funding of Mel Brooks and assistant director on "High Anxiety", Jonathan Sanger. Sanger became a champion of the young director, presenting him the working script adaptation from Sir Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu's  "The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences" and "The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity". Distributed by Paramount and Universal worldwide, while independently funded, "The Elephant Man" would become Lynch's first feature film for a major studio.

Working with an exceptional cast of professionals was also a first, the film's central characters of Joseph Merrick and Frederick Treves, portrayed by John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins respectively, remains among both of the actor's most notable roles on film. While Lynch sourced Peter Ivers for the soundtrack for his first feature, and John Morris for his sophomore effort, the director's hands-on approach was already evident in the film's sound design and audible palette colored by it's pervasive atmosphere of ruin. Not limited to his boldly experimental freshman effort, this looming industrial underworld buried beneath the facade of everyday existence remains one of the recurring themes throughout the totality of his work. Time Out London spoke with the director on expressing this theme through the period setting of his second feature and personal scouting of the locations and shooting of key scenes in Liverpool Street Station and Butler’s Wharf in Southwark; "I always loved smokestack industry, and I love towns or cities that have grown up around factories. So here is Victorian England, and I don’t know this land, but I know factories, I know this is the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, so that side of it resonated with me. Then one day I’m standing in East London Hospital. A derelict hospital, but it still had beds in the wards. Thousands of pigeons, broken windows, but long, glorious hallways, fireplaces, all the details. I’m there in the hall looking into a ward and a wind entered me, and I was back in time. I knew it: 100 per cent. Victorian England. And I said: “Now I know it. No one can take it away from me.”

One of the stranger of all the twists in all the director's turns of fate was to come in the wake of "Elephant Man"'s critical success. The most popular film franchise of the 1980s helmed by George Lucas, had turned the spotlight on Lynch for him to direct the third installment in the Star Wars trilogy. He declined, citing Lucas' comprehensive vision of the fictional universe would allow for very little in the way of space to express his own. Soon after, another notable science fiction property would come the director's way in the form of Dino De Laurentiis licensing Frank Herbert's epic, "Dune", in the wake of it becoming available following the now legendary aborted project from Alejandro Jodorowsky. In a 1985 interview with the German periodical Tip Filmjahrbuch, Lynch details De Laurentiis' approaching him with the project and the source of his personal conceptualization of Herbert's universe; "This is how it happened: I went to Venice, just for an afternoon, to see the Piazza San Marco. Dino De Laurentiis bought me a book, which inspired all these things... A book about Venice. It inspired the idea, that in the world of "Dune" a Renaissance had taken place thousands of years ago, and this Renaissance had been very powerful and far-reaching. And people built beautiful machines; they were so well-constructed, that they remained intact until now, the time, when the story begins. Of course this Melange enables the humans with certain mental abilities. But they need machines nonetheless, and these machines were built before discovering the "spice" Melange. This world is not a world of machines, but they are part of it." The final cut for "Dune" was in the hands of Universal Studios rather than its director, and the resulting film remains a subject rarely broached by Lynch to this day.

As part of the contractual details of directing the film for De Laurentiis, Lynch was under obligation with the producer to direct two more films, the first of which was to be a planned sequel. In the wake of the film's poor box office and mixed critical reception this sequel was never developed beyond the stage of its initial script. The other was a more personal work. Developed from ideas that had been gestating as far back as 1973, and a screenplay that had been shopped around by the director since the late 1970s, De Laurentiis then became both its producer and distributor. Where other studios declined the screenplay due to its tarnished depiction of smalltown American life, foreground presentation of violence, and strong sexual content, the Italian independent gave the director free reign within its budgetary constraints and most importantly, power of final cut. This project would go on to be considered one of the most notable, and influential independent films of the 1980s. Not only a significant film within the independent cinema landscape of the decade, "Blue Velvet" earned David Lynch his second Academy Award nomination, and came to rank significantly within the BBC's 2015 global critical assessment of the 100 Greatest American Films ever made. No discussion of Lynch's contribution to the language of cinema would be complete without his and Mark Frost's 1989 reimagining of the American soap opera. "Twin Peaks" struck a chord with the American consciousness of the late 20th century, reformatting television viewing itself into a serial artform. This being decades before such viewing would become the de rigueur of longform streaming tv. An equally dissonant chord was hit by the series' theatrical prequel, which delivered the dark and unexpurgated side of the "Twin Peaks" coin, one which many audiences were not prepared for.

Though Booed at Cannes and the target of frustrated Twin Peaks fans and critics upon its release, the film has since gained a reevaluation with context and distance, with pieces like Calum Marsh's "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me Is David Lynch's Masterpiece" now increasingly more common. With the cinematic expansion of the series' narrative offered by "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me", and new context enriched by the even more experimental "Twin Peaks: The Return" miniseries of 2017. Since then many have returned to the prequel film with fresh eyes and decades distance, and found it to be less of a departure, and more true to "Twin Peaks" cinematic world and its concerns, making for an, "Anatomy of a Fascinating Disaster: Fire Walk With Me". A set of less successful experiments with genre and tone would come after with the adaptation of Barry Gifford's novel, "Wild at Heart", and a G rated family film for the Walt Disney corporation, in "The Straight Story". Yet these were followed by a trio of the most adventurous and satisfyingly substantial of his films, which employed longer durations and expressly non-linear devices, and proved to be as boldly experimental as they were traditionally cinematic. A film of halves, "Lost Highway" is a compelling, yet lopsided neo-Noir thriller from the late 1990's utilizing a split-persona structure which Lynch later refined to greater effect in what many consider his masterpiece, 2001's "Mulholland Drive". This second film stands as a pinnacle of all things that make the work of this American auteur great; an inscrutable mystery, a shifting and ambiguous tonal palette, high tension, visitations from nightmare worlds and subjective intersections between the beyond and the everyday mundane. As if in a dream, the protagonists of the increasingly unstable realitie(s) depicted in these contemporary noir find themselves enticed into realms of ominous portent on their journey to discovery.

Thom Anderson's "Los Angeles Plays Itself" will remain the defining exploration of film about film in The City of Dreams. Yet there are few contenders in the way of dramas set within the glitz, grime and glamour of Hollywood, that approach the corpus of Los Angeles as seen in the exploratory surgery of "Inland Empire". In a filmography of nonlinear, nestled, Borgesian structures and metaphysical dreamlike intrusions to the real, Lynch assembled his most expressly matryoshka vessel for "Inland Empire" in its amalgam of his own fictional cursed production and the mythic nature of some of Hollywood's greatest, lost and never-completed films. Lynch's film itself containing a contemporary variation on a Polish folktale in which a boy who, sparking a reflection after passing through a doorway, "caused evil to be born" by his doppelganger entering the world. In its other facet it also tells of a girl who, wandering through an alleyway behind a marketplace, "discovers a palace". These two threads are woven into the production of the fictional film-within-the-film, titled "On High in Blue Tomorrows", which is revealed to be a remake of the folklore's original cursed vehicle, a German feature titled "47". The multifaceted, multilayered nature of the "Perpetual Evolution" of Lynch's art, as seen in this film about film is possibly best encapsulated by Jim Emerson in his review for; "Inland Empire" presents itself as a Hollywood movie (and a movie about Hollywood) in the guise of an avant-garde mega-meta art movie. When people say "Inland Empire" is Lynch's "Sunset Boulevard", Lynch's "Persona" or Lynch's "8 1/2", they're quite right, but it also explicitly invokes connections to Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining", Jean-Luc Godard's "Pierrot le Fou", Bunuel and Dali's "Un Chien Andalou", Maya Deren's LA-experimental "Meshes of the Afternoon", and others.".

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Clan of Xymox "Limbo" & West Coast Tour: May 31 - Jun 16

Rescheduled over the course of almost three years due to the complications of the pandemic, the seminal Dutch minimal synth wave group Clan of Xymox, return to the United States this month for a much-delayed summer tour. Forty years ago, Xymox, which formed as a project by Ronny Moorings and Anka Wolbert in 1981, produced their first self-released mini album, "Subsequent Pleasures" following the duo's move to Amsterdam in 1983. Having secured a performance in Paris in the wake of the release's positive reception, the lineup enlisted keyboardist and vocalist Pieter Nooten, and second touring guitarist Frank Weyzig. In the following year, this central trio of Moorings, Wolbert and Nooten would become Clan of Xymox for their signing to Ivo Watts-Russell's influential British postpunk and ethereal music label, 4AD. After a chance meeting with Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance at a concert in Nijmegen, the British duo brough Xymox on as their support for a tour of the United Kingdom. The resulting attention produced a commission for a demo by Watts-Russell, and subsequent signing to their shared label, which released Clan of Xymox eponymous album in 1985. Working from the demos, the label's inhouse production team of Watts-Russell and Turner looked to accentuate the unique topography of their sound, positioned between the gothic guitar pop of The Cure, and the synth-driven electronic dance wave of New Order. Refined by Watts-Russell, Jon Turner, and John Fryer's guidance at Blackwing Studios, the sui generis qualities of their sound can be heard across the eight tracks of "Clan of Xymox". Distinguished amidst the abundance of wave, post-punk and gothic music of the time by its complex meeting of acoustic, electric and electronic arrangements, naive sometimes broken English, and an aesthetic assertion of the band's bohemian European origins.

Their sound was unambiguous to the extent that Wolbert's "Seventh Time" was picked up by the greatest of the underground British radio tastemakers of the time, John Peel. This led to the band recording two Peel Sessions at the BBC, and a greater focus of resources and time given by their parent label for the sophomore album, "Medusa". An elegant, haunting album of instrumental passages, propulsive synth wave songs, and gothic rock crescendos, "Medusa" would prove to be the apogee of the music Clan of Xymox would produce as a trio. On the following tours across Europe and a first in the United States, inner tensions as to the music's focus and Nooten and Wolbert's respective roles began to force its central trio in opposing directions. This culminated in Xymox leaving 4AD, following a signing to Polydor and the release of 1989's more expressly synthpop influenced "Twist of Shadows", which saw Wolbert and Nooten's contribution increasingly marginalized. Pieter Nooten briefly remained with 4AD, but from this point forward Xymox and its later reformatting as Clan of Xymox, would solely be the project of Ronny Moorings. Moorings has since found new listeners in a second generation of gothic and post-wave audiences across Europe, and massive success at gothic culture events like Wave-Gotik-Treffen festival in his current home of Leipzig, Germany. Signing to domestic label Metropolis, this second iteration of Clan of Xymox has made a number of returns to North America since their formation, with significantly greater frequency than the original trio. The music of this iteration is also more clearly delineated as a dark and sometimes angst-driven gothic synth pop, gone is the genre ambiguity of their more artfully cryptic 4AD era. This year's tour, with a date in Seattle follows the early pandemic release of their album "Limbo", and marks their third return to the United States in a decade.