Saturday, October 14, 2023

Earshot Jazz presents Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog and The Bad Plus at Town Hall: Oct 14

Marc Ribot has spent nearly four decades as a guitarist on the margins of other songwriter's albums, yet central to their composition and characteristics. The music of Tom Waits, John Zorn, and David Sylvian, have all been enhanced by Ribot's contributions. Ribot's own outfit, Ceramic Dog, has gone some way to bring him into the spotlight. Where Ceramic Dog's first album was what you might expect from a Marc Ribot power-jazz trio; long on vibrant experiment and short on predictable melodic tunes. What came next in the trio of albums , "Your Turn", "YRU Still Here?", and "What I Did On My Long Vacation", released on Northern Spy, an offshoot of the legendary New York label ESP-Disk, described a trajectory toward his own brand of noise rock and more traditional songwriting. Yet as Robert Christgau explains for NPR, "Marc Ribot Isn't Trying to Comfort Anyone", and his mid-2000s albums with Ceramic Dog rank among his most daring pieces of music. Ribot has always been a political artist, this was even in evidence in his earliest outspoken interviews as part of the bridging sounds of the New York jazz and No Wave scenes of the early 1980s, and his time as a member of John Lurie's The Lounge Lizards. He's long been a union activist on behalf of independent musicians, found himself appalled by the Trump presidenc right from the start, and stayed stupefied through the ongoing years of the pandemic. This can all be heard, sometimes in refrained song title references, or at times in explicit lyrics on the odd non-instrumental tracks that comprise "Hope" and "Connection", his two newest albums for Germany's Yellowbird. On all of these works, Ribot has enlisted the percussion flurry of Ches Smith formerly of indie outsiders Xiu Xiu, and Shahzad Ismaily fresh from his recent album "Love in Exile", a recording for the vaunted Verve imprint of glacial pacing and micro-incremental composition. Joining Ceramic Dog for their Earshot Jazz Festival performance in a double-headlining bill, are the bold quartet who are known for a series of wild jazz remodifications of everything from Aphex Twin and David Bowie, to the Pixies, and even "The Bad Plus’ ‘Rite of Spring’ Captured Stravinsky’s Vision". But The Bad Plus aren't just a avant-leaning covers outfit, their original tunes are the most significant quantity of their repertoire. For many years, the outfit was focused around being a piano trio or quartet, initially led by Ethan Iverson, and then later Orrin Evans. With the announcement in 2021 of Evans departure, their new mode features guitarist Ben Monder and tenor saxophonist Chris Speed. The three most recent albums for the Editions label, "Never Stop II", "Activate Infinity", and their 2022 self titled release bridge both of these lineups, and effectively capture the post-Iverson outfit in all their multi-sectioned, often technical puissance.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 11 - 15

North of Seattle, one of the region's most compelling cinephile events returns 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 35 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. This year, the lineup has garnered the attention of the mainstream media and rated one of the 10 Best Film Festivals in the US, and local press have dubbed it as, "Orcas Island Film Festival is Our Cannes". As the Seattle Times states, this "Orcas Island Film Festival: Small Fest, Big Movies" 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, and re-presents them in a smaller, more intimate setting. In another standout installment with a remarkable lineup, this year three of the major films from Japan appear in the festival, which include the endearing and soulful goodbye from veteran animation director and head of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki. As reported in The Guardian, "Miyazaki’s Last Movie is a Fitting Swan Song", and thanks to Carl Spence, "How Do You Live?", receives a very early west coast screening within the festival.

After the brilliant set of films from Ryûsuke Hamaguchi in 2021, he returns this year with a "Enigmatic Eco-Parable that Eschews Easy Explanation", in "Evil Does Not Exist", and Japan's master of the quiet melodrama switches up tone and genre once again, Hirokazu Kore-eda's "Monster", is a "Hydra of Modern Morals and Manners". As the director of "Tokyo Ga", few western directors are more qualified or capable to present a tale of the daily pleasures and travails of Japanese life than Wim Wenders. Wenders here teams with the incomparable talent of Koji Yakusho, this year's winner of Best Actor at Cannes, to "Explore a Quiet Life in Tokyo" through the ambient urban charm of "Perfect Days". After a string of masterful, philosophical films, including a Palme d'Or winner, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's newest "About Dry Grasses", is "An Absorbing Drama of a Teacher-Pupil Crisis". On the subject of Cannes most notable award, this year's winner "Anatomy of a Fall", from Justine Triet, "Compels as an Author Accused of Her husband’s Murder". Pivoting away from his depiction of the life of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, François Ozon has apparently delivered one of the great comedies of the year with, "The Crime is Mine", and a different register can be found in "Fallen Leaves", and the gentle tide of Aki Kaurismäki's "Deadpan Comedy with Springtime in its Heart". In an unexpected turn of genre and setting, after his Haruki Murakami adaptation, Vietnamese-born French director Tran Anh Hung serves "The Taste of Things", in "A Belle Époque Tale of Meaningful Meals". One of the most anticipated films from Cannes, Alice Rohrwacher's "La Chimera", follows an Englishman's plundering of Italy’s historical artefacts alongside a bizarre gang of followers in an, "Uproarious Period Adventure that Teems with Life".

Friday, October 6, 2023

All Monsters Attack at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 1 - 31 | The Month of Scarecrowber at SIFF Cinema: Oct 2 - 30

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 eighth 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, let's talk the incomparable one-of-a-kind resource that is Scarecrow. Essentially it's this simple; if you live in the Northwest and are a fan of cinema, it's 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 and their abundant catalog of obscure, foreign releases, out of print, and ultra-rare editions, and with 150,000+ films on offer, no singular online streaming resource can compare. Scarecrow Video themselves have programmed a series of films at SIFF Cinema spanning the month, which they have designated as "Scarecrowber". The twelve films on offer span classic Hollywood studio era classics like Jacques Tourneur's "Cat People", early American independents represented by Herk Harvey's "Carnival of Souls", Kathryn Bigelow's genre subversion found in "Near Dark", Stuart Gordon's psychedelic H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, "From Beyond", and the unforgettable international arthouse horror of Andrej Zulawski's "Possession". 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 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 was highly attuned to American 1980s horror, as was the case with the 2019 installment, alongside a bold mix of decades of classic European, Asian, and Italian genre material. Making a return after the long pandemic hiatus, 2021 also diversified with a strong set of films that never saw a theatrical release during the 2020 season. Back again in 2022, with a diverse set of films running the gamut from silent era horror, 1970s and 80s psychotronic wonders, and 1990s big budget gothic spectacles.

One of the longest running, and most consistently satisfying of the local Halloween series has been The Grand Illusion Cinema's month-long All Monsters Attack calendar of horror, creature features, classic thrillers, sci-fi, and cult cinema. This year's slate includes new and returning genre classics and recent releases, among them is a set of invasion films from William Cameron Menzies and his 1953 "Invaders from Mars", and Rob Lieberman's "Fire in the Sky" from four decades later. In the convoluted franchise with William Friedkin's legendary original, and the troubled notoriety of Paul Schrader's remake, William Peter Blatty delivered a sequel to his own novel with "Exorcist III". With William Friedkin's passing earlier this year, Peter Bradshaw wrote in the pages of The Guardian, "William Friedkin Created Unforgettable Horror and Pleasure with Equal Brilliance", and The Grand Illusion presents two of his later, overlooked works with 1990's "The Guardian", and "Bug" from 2006. A highlight from previous year's programming returns with a memorial night for Seattle's most dedicated cinephile, music lover, and man-about-town, William Kennedy. Before his passing in 2021, Bill wished for nothing more than his friends and cultural compatriots to join together for a screening of the director's cut of David Cronenberg's classic body-horror techno thriller, “Videodrome”. A second earlier Cronenberg is also on offer, with the director's "Rabid", which followed his breakout infestation classic of two years before, and supplied Marilyn Chambers a potent vehicle for some of her first mainstream film work. The two films from the early 1960s on offer each epitomize the best of their respective genres. As Maitland McDonagh writes in "The Innocents: Forbidden Games", Henry James' tale of the sinister things hiding behind Victorian decorum, in Jack Clayton’s hands, "The Innocents" becomes one of the screen’s most refined works of psychological horror. Adapting Lafcadio Hearn's Japanese traditional supernatural and folk tales, with "Kwaidan", Masaki Kobayashi assembled one of the most meticulously crafted supernatural fantasy films ever made. A rulebook on style and atmosphere, Geoffrey O’Brien's "Kwaidan: No Way Out" details its creation for The Criterion Collection. On offer in this year's series, a set of newly minted contemporary horror is also represented by Stephen VanderpoolMichelle Garza Cervera, and Joe Lynch's "Tearsucker", "Huesera", and "Suitable Flesh", respectively. The latter having the pedigree of beginning as another of the Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli projects based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

From the early 1980s and late 1990s, we get two very different takes on John William Polidori and Bram Stoker's favorite immortal entity. The first, Tony Scott's 1983 adaptation of the novel of the same name by Whitley Strieber, starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon, was a rare genre film which exhibited an earnest and refined style, and contained a notable arthouse cast. While "The Hunger" was poorly received at the time of its release, it has since garnered a cult following within the nascent goth and glam rock cultures. The two vampire films on offer couldn't be more unlike; as a marriage of martial arts, dark fantasy, comedy and a sendup of exploitation films of the 1970s, through the lens of a Marvel comics anti-hero, Stephen Norrington's "Blade", gave Wesley Snipes one of his great roles. As part of the Grand Illusion's 16mm Centennial Celebration Series, Sprocket Society will host two nights of Danger!! Scare Films on 16mm, and a Bert Gordon double feature, presenting "Earth vs. the Spider" and a secret second film and shorts, all presented on celluloid, of course. A one-man trash cinema powerhouse, no horror genre series would be complete without a Joe Dante film or two. In this case we get the late 1970s nature unbound creature flick of "Piranha", and one of Dante's few commercial breakouts, which effectively signaled the end of the 1980s, "Gremlins 2: The New Batch". Sharing more than a little of the sensibility of the latter Dante, Bob Balaban's 1980s materialism satire, "Parents", also fittingly describes the tail end of the Reaganite zeitgeist. Going out swinging, All Monsters Attack then concludes with a bi-polar pendulum arc between what is rightly considered the most terrifying film of the 20th Century, Tobe Hooper's 1974 "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", and Nobuhiko Obayashi's 1977 unhinged kaleidoscope of absurd haunting nonsequiturs, "Hausu". Referred to by Chuck Stephens in his essay for Criterion as; "eye-poppingly demented, jaw-droppingly inventive, Japanese pop culture at its most delightfully unhinged extreme", this is more than just the story of "The Housemaidens" in an unwelcoming home. Peter Bradshaw's 2017 eulogy in The Guardian for, "Tobe Hooper: The Director Who Took a Chainsaw to Wholesome Family Life", acts as an effective summation of his life and art. Yet, none of the rest of that body of work quite ascended to the dizzyingly unconstrained heights, and unmerciful perfection, of his first feature length film.