Friday, June 21, 2013

Blu-ray Review: František Vláčil's Marketa Lazarová [Criterion]

In less than a minute, before the film's opening titles even conclude, Marketa Lazarová has announced itself as something potentially unique, perhaps indefinable. The first line of a brief prologue declares, "This tale was cobbled together almost at random," before a title card reiterates what we're about to see as a "rhapsody in film," one "freely adapted" by director František Vláčil and co-screenwriter František Pavlíček. That all these things are soon confirmed, even exceeded, is certainly the impetus behind Marketa Lazarová's reputation as simultaneously one of the greatest and most difficult works of Czechoslovakian cinema. Though it emerged at the height of what came to be known as the Czech New Wave, this 1967 film stands as something rare not just amid the anarchic vulgarity of Daisies or the emotional naïveté of Loves of a Blonde, but also among the greater cinematic landscape of the period. What this film is—along with being, yes, random, free, and rhapsodic—is something stranger, something paradoxical and altogether original: an intimate epic, a tangible hallucination, a visceral symphony, and, perhaps most affectingly, a beautiful display of brutality.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Record Review: Pharmakon - Abandon

It struck me recently while listening to Abandon, the first widely distributed record by Margaret Chardiet’s Pharmakon project, that one of the keys to grappling with noise as an experience is to consider the inevitably of the genre as a concept. Ever since punk staked an ideological claim on the idea of reducing music to its base elements, musicians have been on a seemingly never-ending quest to locate the complexity in the elemental, the beauty in the horrific, and the transcendent in the forsaken. In makes sense, then, that a scream, the most guttural and cathartic of human actions, would announce one of the year’s most bracing records, one that brings many of experimental music’s recent fascinations to a new, logical plateau.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Blu-ray Review: Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro [Disney]

Considering his fondness of ominous folklore and post-apocalyptic fantasia cloaked as allegorical fable, it's interesting to note that perhaps Hayao Miyazaki's most beloved work remains his simplest, least provocative creation. My Neighbor Totoro, the Japanese animator's heartwarming 1988 ode to innocence, resolve, and familial harmony, features none of the metaphorical or grandiose trappings of Miyazaki's more outwardly visionary work. The film is instead an intimate tale of sibling bonds, parental affection, and fantastical friendships, featuring characters with common, everyday concerns and imaginations as wide open as the landscapes they inhabit. Its unassuming demeanor belies a thematic foundation built on a faith in humanity rare in contemporary cinema, the naïveté of the youths it depicts yielding a certain perseverance in young and old alike. Chances are, if it wasn't so modest, it wouldn't project such an endearing grace, let alone have fostered such an enduring legacy.