Sunday, September 10, 2023

Slowdive "Everything is Alive" & US Tour: Sept 25 - Oct 15

This past decade has curiously become the locus of the nascent 1990s spacerock and shoegaze sound, with not only new albums, and tours, but improbable bands reforming and reactivating after decades of silence. We were not only witness to the third domestic tour since their reformation by My Bloody Valentine but the first new album in 22 years, "MBV" which finally manifested after years of legend and rumor. Equally unexpected, the return of LOOP after decades of its founder Robert Hampson claiming if you weren't there to witness their staggering volume and endurance-testing live performances in the 1990's, then you'll never quite know what the band was about. 4AD label dreampop confection, Lush also joined their ranks. Spring 2016 saw the band's first live shows in 20 years since the unexpected death of friend and drummer, Chris Acland, Miki Berenyi, Emma Anderson and Phil King spoke with The Quietus for their "Mad Love: An Interview with Lush". An era for the band that both initiated and concluded within the course of the single tour cycle. To only be reborn in-part, as Piroshka the following year. Marking a similar path, these ranks were also bolstered by the immensely influential Ride, who themselves have multiple new records and tours this past half-decade. All of which pursuing courses forged down precluding pathways by Scottish dream-pop progenitors Cocteau Twins, and the later British bands following in the druggy astronomical haze of Spacemen 3. This set of compatriots in shared sound fast became a who's who of the best of UK underground rock of the early 1990's. The most improbable of them all, was the announcement that Slowdive would be performing a one-off at the Primavera Sound Festival in 2014. Following in the wake of the massively received event, the band recognized the ongoing dedication of their fanbase in interview with The Quietus, "There Seems To Be A Lot Of Love Out There: A Slowdive Interview". Finding an enthusiasm for performing and writing again, suggesting the very real possibility of a reformation as the "Slowdive Reunion Expands with More Shows, Possibility of New Music" and following in rapid succession, "Slowdive Announce North American Tour, Reunion".

For followers of the band, after the breakdown of the mid-1990's, the last thing one would expect to hear is that it's their overlooked final album created in mid-rift, "Pygmalion", which stands out as an obvious point of stylistic reference amidst the sonic concoction of this new live incarnation. This was made all that much more surprising for Neil Halstead's often-expressed sentiment that that era of his music was definitively closed and it was his 4AD released project Mojave 3 and solo work that would be his larger legacy. Halstead is not the only member with a vital and prolific post-breakup creative arch away from the path carved by Slowdive. The work of drummer and sound designer, Simon Scott is equal to the group's sonic summits. One only need hear the atmospheric, jazz-informed ambient tonescapes of his excellent "Bunny" for the Miasmah label for it to be made clear that the adventurous pop Scott created with Halstead, Rachel Goswell, Nick Chaplin and Christian Savill, decades before was a point of entry, rather than a final destination. In 2017, all members of the band reassembled for the first new recordings in 22 years on the magisterial and surprising "Slowdive", for Bloomington Indiana label, Dead Oceans. This album singularly giving momentum to, "The Unlikely Renaissance of Slowdive", ascending to heights of popularity never previously seen by the band, riding the wave of the "Jewel-like, Spacious Return" of their sound. The development of this new work detailed for Stereogum by guitarist, Rachel Goswell "The Only Goth in the Village", who along with Halstead, was the primary architect of 1995's "Pygmalion", stating that his time out the group dynamic was all important, offering; "It's poppier than I thought it was going to be,". "When you're in a band and you do three records, there's a continuous flow and a development. For us, that flow re-started with us playing live again and that has continued into the record". After multiple Us tours, and five years, they return to this process for "Everything is Alive", which Neil Halstead speaks with NPR on the subject of their new album, and the coming tour of "Exquisite Songs from the Comeback Kids of Shoegaze".

Sunday, September 3, 2023

"Dark Dreams: The Original Film Noir Series" at SIFF Cinema: Sept 27 - Nov 30

A major setback to repertory cinema in Seattle came in early 2021, with the elimination of the position that Greg Olson held as film programmer at Seattle Art Museum for half a century. By removing Olson as the programmer of the longest running film noir series in the United States, and author of definitive books on the subject of David Lynch, Seattle found that the "Fate of SAM Film Series Unclear as Museum’s Longtime Film Curator Laid Off". It should also be noted, that in addition to the loss of Olson specifically as one of the most influential programmers of his generation, the position has remained unfilled at Seattle Art Museum. Now almost three years later, the programmer and author brings the longest continuously running series of its kind to SIFF Cinema. Following on the heels of the successful relocation of his relaunched Fellini retrospective, “Life is a Feast: The Cinema of Federico Fellini" earlier this year, SIFF Cinema Egyptian will play home to, "Dark Dreams: The Original Film Noir Series". Now in its 44th installment, the series opens with two all-time classics from Billy Wilder. The first of which features Gloria Swanson in a career great in "Sunset Boulevard", and Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in Raymond Chandler's brilliantly subversive adaptation of "Double Indemnity", from the novel of the same name by James M. Cain. The series continues with two solidly constructed noirs from the classic studio era by Robert Siodmak and Roy William Neill in "Criss Cross", and "Black Angel". From this same period, Nicholas Ray delivered one of the most darkly hued and nuanced of noirs, "In A Lonely Place", featuring career-defining heights for both of its stars, Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. A more conspirational and paranoid brand of 1970s color neo-noir infuses the world of Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston in Roman Polanski's "Chinatown". Swinging to the other end of the spectrum, if there ever was a comedy neo-noir, it would be Joel and Ethan Coen's "The Big Lebowski", and diametrically opposite, the brother-director team adapted the terse pragmatism of Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men", starring Tommy Lee Jones in one of his most memorable roles. Ending in solidly psychological thriller territory, the series concludes with "Eyes Wide Shut", the final film by Stanley Kubrick. One which takes its inspirations as much from Arthur Schnitzler's "Rhapsody: A Dream Novel", as it does the great cinematic dreamer of the late 20th century, David Lynch. On this subject, early in the new year we can anticipate the second major book from Greg Olson on Lynch, with the publishing of his, "Black Coffee Lightning: David Lynch Returns to Twin Peaks", focusing on the expansion of the world of Twin Peaks since the release of the 2017 miniseries.

Friday, September 1, 2023

"Dust of the Material Universe: Piotr Szulkin's Apocalypse Quartet" at The Beacon Cinema: Sept 1 - 22 | "The Last Years of Soviet Cinema" | The Guardian

The Leonid Brezhnev era of the Soviet Union was, in Mikhail Gorbachev’s words, “the period of stagnation”. However, the new emphasis on stability gave a paradoxical prominence to youth uprising as a symptom and cause of personal and social unrest, and the generational expression of alienation. Social deviance was far more prominent in 1970s Soviet cinema than during the decades before; look no further than the Czech New Wave for reference. In the following decade, Glasnost under Gorbachev accelerated this preexisting predilection, rather than initiated, a stark view of Soviet reality and its expression in the arts. Until recently, the films of the USSR’s last decade were mainly a specialist cinephile interest. But this has begun to change, starting with retrospectives like "Generations: Russian Cinema of Change" at the Barbican, London in 2019. This gave an exhilarating introduction to nine major films by young late-Soviet directors, as covered in The Guardian's, "'There are No Different Truths': The Last Years of Soviet Cinema". The retrospective made clean that Polish cinema of the decade had its own aesthetic, political, and thematic detractors. These followed on the groundbreaking generation of films that came in the late 1960s and 70s, as represented in the extensive restoration undertaking by the Polish Film Institute of, "Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema". This era Scorsese spoke further on with The Guardian at the time of the restoration project, "My Passion for the Humor and Panic of Polish Cinema". In the ensuing decade, Polish cinema went through a brief period of creative oppression, following the Polish political crisis of 1968, which had strong parallels with the concurrent movement of the Prague Spring.

Writer, director, screenwriter, novelist, theatrical director and painter, Piotr Szulkin was born of this time, before the waves of Perestroika would come and sweep away all the restrictions and socio-political prejudices of the Soviet era in the mid-to-late 1980s. His body of work filtered 20th century philosophy and Polish medieval literature through speculative fiction, neo-noir, and grotesque, sometimes comically absurd allegories. Best known for his tetralogy of wildly iconoclastic science fiction films, "Golem", "The War of the Worlds: Next Century", "O-Bi, O-Ba: The End of Civilization", and "Ga-ga: Glory to Heroes'', Szulkin regularly faced censorship from the Communist regime of the late 1970s and early 80s for his unabashedly political works. Whether viewed as existential tales, absurdist parables, or premonitions about society’s hostility and inclination towards totalitarianism, Szulkin's films continue to resonate with truth about our modern-day world. The Lincoln Center overview of his work in 2015, "Sci-Fi Visionary: Piotr Szulkin" offered a selection of new digital restorations and imported film prints, as well as the rare, "Interview: Piotr Szulkin" for Film Comment. From this, and the new restorations offered by both Vinegar Syndrome and Radiance Films in the form of Piotr Szulkin's Apocalypse Tetralogy, and The End of Civilization: Three Films by Piotr Szulkin respectively, this month The Beacon Cinema has programmed, "Dust of the Material Universe: Piotr Szulkin's Apocalypse Quartet". Eschewing critics of the time referring to him as a science fiction filmmaker, Szulkin himself called his genre, "asocial fiction", revealing his dismay at modern society's destruction of community. Which by no means was limited to the communist era. In as much as what came before it, Szulkin's work can be read as a criticism of media-driven consumerism as well. And as Michał Oleszczyk writes from, "Things to Come: Piotr Szulkin’s Homespun Apocalypse", is not far removed from the worlds depicted by his western contemporaries of the 1980s, such as those seen in the films of David Cronenberg and Terry Gilliam.