Sunday, March 24, 2024

Midwife's "Luminol" and Ragana's "Desolation's Flower" & West Coast Tour Mar 19 - Apr 5

The Flenser label has come to specialize in some of the newest strains of heavy rock, noise, slowcore and postpunk emerging domestically in the course of the last decade. These sounds vary widely between the roaring solar blast of shoegaze and hardcore of bands like Deafheaven and the dynamic topographic landscapes varying between a minimalist stasis and pure noise of Have a Nice Life. More recently post-hardcore outfits like Chat Pile and Kayo Dot have been enlisted into their roster, and sounds bridging lofi folk and postrock like that heard on Vyva Melinkolya's "Orbweaving" collaboration with Midwife. Embracing experimental black metal and doom, the label has released work by Agriculture and Bell Witch respectively, and Botanist, who improbably had a feature in the pages of the Atlantic, "The Brilliant Black Metal Album about Plants Wiping Out Humankind". More recent entries by Drowse, Sprain, and Planning for Burial move between all of these points with their fluid hybrids of genre. Having passed the milestone of its tenth anniversary, the label's founder Jonathan Tuite described its ethos for New Noise; “When I started the label I was intending it to be very much focused on black metal,” Tuite explains. “There was sort of a black metal scene that was happening in the U.S. at that time. I mean it had changed forms and kind of diversified a little bit. So, Tuite expanded his label’s sonic horizons and began exploring other styles. “I have sort of gone with what intuitively feels like it relates to the label. So something like the Midwife record feels like it’s part of the Flenser catalogue. It doesn’t feel like an outsider, and so part of that is like intuition for me and just kind of different sets of judgment." In some ways, it could be surmised that, "The Flenser Is a One-Man Pursuit of Quality Doom". Rather than doom as the metal genre specifically, the label's site offers "100% Gloom", "Suffer", "No Future", and "Nope" as its conceptual and curatorial variables, which it also represents in print, and heard on compilations like 2022's "Send the Pain Below". The cloistered corner of existence that the label has made its focus is audibly represented by the "ability to wrench ecstasy from devastation, to make romance out of abject pain, and to transmute specific feelings into an ineffable longing", as heard on "Luminol", Madeline Johnston’s third album as Midwife. These sounds meet the "furious drums, squalls of guitar, and guttural vocals delivered in a language of pain", of Ragana's "Desolation's Flower", as the two bands tour this spring, with a date at Seattle's Black Lodge . Update: After the Olympia, Washington date in the tour, a majority of the bands' equipment was stolen. There are now cancellations to some of the dates on the tour, and a GoFundMe has been set up for relief.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

The Films of Edward Yang at SIFF Cinema: Apr 1 - 18

In an environment brought about by the decline of the commercial and propagandistic cinema of the previous epoque, with the lifting of martial law and the growing popularity of home video, film watching became a widespread activity for the Taiwanese. In this more open, incrementally democratizing environment, the domestic Taiwanese film industry faced the new challenge of the entry of Hong Kong films into the Taiwanese market. In response to the influx of both black market product of western and Asian cinema from without, the Central Motion Picture Corporation began an initiative to support several young directors, fresh out of film school and academia. The "In Our Time" anthology, which featured four new developing talents; Te-Chen Tao, I-Chen Ko, Yi Chang, and Edward Yang, was the groundwork for what would come to be known as the first New Wave within Taiwanese cinema. Along with Hou Hsiao-Hsien, celebrated author Chu Tien-wen, Chen Kunhou and the great talent of Edward Yang, this New Wave grew largely unbridled by censorship and political interference. By contrast to the commercial melodramas, comedies, and martial arts films issuing from Hong Kong at the time, the films of the New Wave portrayed the passing of time through the everyday lives of the citizens of urban and rural Taiwan. Sharing an emphasis on duration, long shots and a focus on narrative and stylistic simplicity with the films of the Italian Neorealism, this New Wave intimately chronicled Taiwan's socio-economic and political transformation in the 1980s. Yet despite the international acclaim and festival recognition given to the leading directors of the New Taiwan Cinema, their films have rarely been shown outside of occasional festival screenings. This has remained the case until the major, and quite recent, exception of Edward Yang's "Yi Yi: A One & A Two". Winning the Best Director prize at Cannes in 2000, the film was an important testament to the movement’s collective, collaborative spirit. Edward Yang's extraordinary and unanimously praised masterpiece also marked the end of a chapter for the major talents in the movement, with Yang's passing in less than a decade after its completion.

As detailed in Kent Jones, "Yi Yi: Time & Space" for Criterion, in many ways Yi Yi summarizes Yang's lasting contribution to World Cinema. The film showcases the dystopian imbalance and accelerated growth towards modernization that are central themes of both Senses of Cinema's Great Directors feature Jonathan Rosenbaum's excellent, "Exiles in Modernity: The Films of Edward Yang". Guided by his acute sensitivity to the familial and spacial structures that enclose and trap the lives of his characters, Yang depicts their inner and outward struggles that often erupt through lives of frustrated creativity. The deeply restless searching of the struggling creators and ethically conflicted entrepreneurs that recur through Yang’s films, personify the longings, humor and earned wisdom of the generation who witnessed the profound socio-cultural transformation brought on by Taiwan's economic boom. While retroactively earning Films of the Decade selection, and inclusion in the Greatest Films of all Time poll by the British Film Institute, The New Yorker's Greatest Independent Films of the 20th Century, as well as the BBC's global poll of 177 film critics and Film Comment's End of the Decade Critics' Poll, only in recent years has it been the case that cinema culture has, "(Re)Discovered the Elusive Master Edward Yang". Crowned by the recently restored tale of "Coming of Age in Taipei" that is the magnum opus, "A Brighter Summer Day", these recent retrospectives showcasing the strength of his seven ambitious feature films. Most notably, Film Society at Lincoln Center's, "Desire/Expectations: The Films of Edward Yang", Harvard Film Archive's, "Chronicles of Changing Times: The Cinema of Edward Yang", the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles, and Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive. Concurrent with these four retrospectives, SIFF Cinema will be presenting "The Films of Edward Yang" with a selection of Yang's feature works, including the "Modern Planning" of "Filming and Forgetting Taipei'', depicted in 1985's "Taipei Story". In new restorations from Janus Films, these retrospectives have presented pivotal life points of the "Displaced, Disaffected and Desperate to Connect" of this generation, with rarely seen "Mahjong", and "A Confucian Confusion" bracketing the three major works on offer. More than an examination of, "Where Taipei Ends and Imagination Begins", this trio of films chronicle the development of "Edward Yang's State of Flux", particularly in the case of his intimately biographical portrait of, "One Couple’s Promising ‘Taipei Story,’ Slowly Undermined".

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Pham Thien An's “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 6 - 10

Winner of the Camera d’Or at last year's Cannes Quinzaine des Cinéastes, Pham Thien An's “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” is first and foremost a gorgeous film, thanks to the measured cinematography of Dinh Duy Hung. Taking in the natural beauty of rural Vietnam with exquisite detail, from mountains shrouded in fog, to nighttime visions of hallucinogenic phosphorescence, the ligerings passages of unperturbed nature create an ethereal quality to the film's narrative. Through extended passages of long shots, one of the pleasures of this "Meditative Mourning in Vietnam" is that it demands, and then rewards the viewer giving themselves over to the lingering attention and precise pacing of the film's structure. After a motorbike accident results in the death of his sister-in-law, the film's protagonist, Thien, takes on the responsibility of his young nephew Dao, returning to their rural hometown for funeral services, and to deliver Dao to his relatives in the countryside. Playing this month at Northwest Film Forum, An's first feature-length film follows its protagonist at an unhurried pace through the numerous detours along the course of his expedition. This becomes a journey of a multifaceted nature, moving through stages of grief, bonding with his young nephew, as "A Wanderer on a Spiritual Quest" Thien revisits his personal questions of faith, the community, and religion that he left behind in pursuing an independent life in the city. Having returned to his rural origins, Thien begins a pilgrimage through memory, past friendships and lost loves, engaging in conversations on death and faith along the way. Punctuating his journey, Thien's dreams increase in vibrancy and frequency, increasingly blurring the border between the real and the imagined, resulting in, "Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell: A Jewel of Slow Cinema is a Wondrous Meditation on Faith and Death". The film Justin Yang called, "One of the Best Movies of this Year" in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, starts as a search for the protagonist's brother, but then shifts its focus to the complexities of assimilating the presence of death in life, and the value of faith in this process. The film's spiritual sojourn establishes a contrast with Thien's urban life, presenting solitary travel as the essential zone in which to discover the time, and self, in which to begin the process towards the absorption, and acceptance, of life's unknowable mysteries.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Wim Wenders’ "Perfect Days" and "Anselm" at SIFF Cinema: Feb 16 - Mar 21

As the director of "Tokyo Ga", few western directors are more qualified or capable to present an account of the daily pleasures and travails of modern Japanese life than Wim Wenders. For what The Guardian called, "Wim Wenders’s Zen Japanese Drama is His Best Feature Film in Years", he has teamed with the incomparable talent of Kōji Yakusho, this year's winner of Best Actor at Cannes, to "Explore a Quiet Life in Tokyo". Through the ambient urban charm of their film, "Perfect Days", Wenders and Yakusho follow the daily rituals and unexpected encounters of Hirayama, a middle-age staff member of The Tokyo Toilet project, in the Shibuya district of the city. As he motors from location to location, listening to predominantly American classic rock on cassette, each of his 17 destinations present new daily alterations and quiet moments of urban situations and social contact. The minimalism of the role, and the focus drawn away from revealing narrative background in relation to the character's personal history were some of the more attractive aspects to its lead, “Limited Lines and Background? Kōji Yakusho Saw the Potential of ‘Perfect Days”. For the spareness and ascetic minimalism of the role, “Japan's Versatile Veteran Kōji Yakusho Won Best Actor at Cannes”. In the place of a biographic tale of Hirayama, we instead observe the continuance of the character's daily rituals and repetition, and the unexpected variables that develop along the course of the days and weeks involved. It is in this way that the film is clearly another of the director's explorations of, "‘All My Films Deal with How to Live’: Wim Wenders on Herzog, Spirituality and Shooting a Movie in 16 Days". In addition to the role, and the fulfilling personal and spiritual components found in exploring it, the film's lead also reflects on the public works project and the world class architects and designers behind it, “‘If God is in Everything, that Includes Toilets’: Kōji Yakusho on Cleaning High-art Restrooms in Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days”.

The city of Tokyo and Shibuya district enlisted such notable names as Fumihiko Maki, Junko Kobayashi, Kashiwa Sato, Kazoo Sato, Kengo Kuma, Marc Newson, Masamichi Katayama, Miles Pennington, Nao Tamura, NIGO®, Shigeru Ban, Sou Fujimoto, Tadao Ando, Takenosuke Sakakura, Tomohito Ushiro and Toyo Ito, to design and realize the accessibility, utility, and pleasure of this public space work. The conception of The Tokyo Toilet project expressed in a statement from The Nippon Foundation; "Japan is known as one of the cleanest countries in the world, and even public toilets have a higher standard of hygiene than in much of the rest of the world. However, the use of public toilets in Japan is limited because of stereotypes that they are dark, dirty, smelly, and uninviting. In cooperation with the Shibuya City government, The Tokyo Toilet project has renovated 17 public toilets in Shibuya to make them accessible for everyone regardless of gender, age, or disability. The toilets were designed by 16 globally recognized architects and designers, who are using their design and creative skills to address social issues". A very different large-scale work of a private, rather than public, work will be explored the following month at SIFF Cinema. The singular unearthly landscape of Anselm Kiefer's 200 acre La Ribaute located in Barjac southern France, home to, "Some of the Most Extraordinary Artworks of the Last Century" is the subject of  "Anselm", Wender's second film of last year. As we journey "Into the Black Forest with the Greatest Living Artist", in the highest technological rendering available 6K, 3D, and Atmos Sound, Wender's presents these works, and some of their construction, in his "Reverent 3D Portrait of Artist Anselm Kiefer". This is framed alongside philosophical musings and the artist's observation's on the century that birthed them, and the resulting, "Artwork that Took 30 Years and 200 Acres to Create".