Friday, April 27, 2012

DVD Review: Eclipse Series 32 - Pearls of the Czech New Wave [Criterion]

There's a common misconception with regard to various cinematic "new waves." By identifying multiple, and in some cases upward of a dozen, filmmakers as a single artistic entity, we run the risk of shortchanging the progression facilitated by certain stylistic experiments and, more importantly, the specific filmmakers who helped realize them. After all, nouvelle trends have historically been spurred on by a certain ideological intent rather than aesthetic proclivity. There's an overlap to be sure, but the distance between, say, Jacques Rivette and François Truffaut or Kaneto Shindo and Nagisa Oshima is more vast than blanket assessments naturally suggest. Similar political, economic, or cinematic circumstance may have led each individual toward a similar means of realization, but the extremity of the collective output shouldn't be taken for granted.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Record Review: Mirrorring - Foreign Body

Recent indie collaborations have tended to fall into one of a few categories: the compatible (Ellen Allien & Apparat; Boris & Michio Kurihara; Angels of Light & Akron/Family), the unexpectedly appropriate (13 & God; Volcano Choir; Burial & Four Tet), and the, let’s just say, intriguing (Von Südenfed; Th’ Corn Gangg; and whatever you want to call that Gorillaz/James Murphy/Andre 3000 thing). On reputation alone, Mirrorring, a collaboration between ambient/drone soothsayer Liz Harris of Grouper and stark acoustic shaman Jesy Fortino of Tiny Vipers, aligns itself firmly within the first group. In practice, the results are just as seamless, their debut record, Foreign Body, an almost perfect fusion of Harris’s grayscale soundscapes and Fortino’s meditative confessionals. The alliance feels almost preordained, as if these two were simply sister galaxies orbiting one another all this time, only to just now converge and form an entirely new atmosphere, the terrain below dense but indefinable, a soft strata as likely to disappear from touch as it is to suck one down amidst its gathering weight.

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 23 - Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar

For this installment of twice monthly discourse, our experts weigh in on one of the most unusual westerns of all time, and one of film's greatest auteurs.
Calum Marsh: Well, Jordan, it took us nearly a year, but we’re finally getting around to talking about perhaps the greatest of all neglected films, Nicholas Ray’s intensely divisive Johnny Guitar, from the halcyon days of 1954. Best remembered by the general public as the director of the iconic (and, in many ways, generation-defining) James Dean vehicle Rebel Without A Cause, Nicholas Ray is considered by those in the know as one of the most significant American filmmakers of all time, and yet his place in the canon is far from uncontested. We could be talking about any number of Ray films in place of this one—in fact, we almost went with Bigger Than Life, one of the great 50s melodramas—but I think Johnny Guitar, while it has its ardent defenders, is the most in need of reclaiming. It also happens to be one of my very favorite films, so I’m glad this is the one we settled on.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Record Review: The Magnetic Fields - Love at the Bottom of the Sea

On the one hand, you’ve got to hand it to Stephin Merritt; in a noble effort to keep his band, the Magnetic Fields, interesting in the wake of their landmark 69 Love Songs, he’s imposed a series of aesthetic restraints on his material, with the hope of unifying each release while ultimately diversifying his catalogue. On the other hand, these conceptual conceits have more often than not thwarted Merritt’s more freewheeling impulses, while boxing each successive record into a specific sound which Merritt hasn’t always been able to transcend. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t produced some wonderful music—2008's Distortion married the titular effect to many of Merritt’s most agile melodies, while otherwise forgettable efforts such as 2004's self-satisfied i and 2010's acoustic-based Realism still turned up some of his most ingratiating standalone tunes. But the fact remains that there hasn’t been an essential Magnetic Fields record in well over a decade now.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Blu-Ray Review: Conversation Piece [Raro Video]

The year is 1972. Master Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti is struck down by a stroke, rendering him, one would think, unable to continue making films—and this just two years after hitting a late-career high point with Death in Venice. But like many artists kept alive by their muse, Visconti heroically persevered, managing to complete two more films before finally succumbing to a heart attack in 1976. Adaptability being a key ingredient to any sort of artistic longevity, Visconti took his ailments not as hindrance, but as a challenge toward the realization of a new project. Taken by a story written by past collaborator Enrico Medioli and intrigued by the cinematic restrictions afforded such an intimate character study, Visconti—now very limited in his physical movements and activity—saw both personal and logistical promise in this tale of aging, nostalgia, and generational divide, which was entitled Conversation Piece after an illustrated novel of family portraits of the same name by Mario Praz. And the finished product, which indeed found Visconti working on just a few sets and stages and with only a handful of actors and longtime collaborators, while lacking the grandeur of such celebrated works as Senso and The Leopard, ultimately found inspiration in its limitations, and to this day stands as one of Visconti's most personal, if necessarily least dynamic, works.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 22 - Atom Egoyan's Exotica

In this installment, ReFramed remembers the breakout film from one of Canada's leading pre-millennial masters, a filmmaker who, sadly, seems to have slowly drifted from the critical consciousness.
Jordan Cronk: Armenian-bred, Canadian-raised indie film figurehead Atom Egoyan has carved one of the more interesting, unpredictable, and sometimes out-and-out baffling thirty-year careers in modern cinema. As his bio might suggest, Egoyan’s spent time exploring the extremes of his lineage, occasionally even working in his native country, but the dramatic narratives he scripted and shot within the Canadian borders throughout the 1990s represent the heart of his work. These films—specifically 1991’s The Adjuster, 1994’s Exotica, and 1997’s The Sweet Hereafter—were rightfully lauded and relatively popular for early North American indie filmmaking efforts, but as Egoyan’s career has somewhat floundered in the wake of his breakthrough, these pictures have slowly drifted from the critical consciousness.

So what we have, paradoxically for ReFramed purposes, is a filmmaker rightly acknowledged in his time—there may not have been a better filmmaker consistently working in North America in the mid-‘90s—but one who doesn’t seem to garner the same wide consideration nowadays. Egoyan’s brand of deeply felt, mood-oriented cinema, which lends itself rather easily to accusations of melodrama, could be part of the issue, as critics and audiences have tended to recoil from these gestures in the wake of, say, Sam Mendes. But what’s remarkable about his work is how tangibly identifiable it can still feel despite narratives which traffic in the sort of dramatics which everyday humanity will likely never experience.