Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cinema Scope Feature - Game Theories: Corneliu Porumboiu and the New Romanian Wake

This piece appears in the Spring 2014 issue of Cinema Scope.  

Since reaching its height of visibility following the release of the Palme d’Or winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007), the Romanian New Wave has charted an oblique, fascinating course away from the spotlight. The rising tide of interest prompted not only by Cristian Mungiu’s breakthrough abortion drama but also earlier with Cristi Puiu’s Un Certain Regard winner The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005) and Corneliu Porumboiu’s Camera d’Or winner 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006) would inevitably have to crest, and in its wake we’ve witnessed an array of permutations on the basic principles crystallized by these key early works, alongside a few brave attempts at expanding upon the aesthetic configurations of the movement’s inherent political and formal ideologies, no matter these filmmakers’ otherwise conflicting personalities and contrasting thematic preoccupations.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Film Capsule: Nagisa Oshima's The Ceremony (1971)

The Ceremony (1971)
Directed by Nagia Oshima

Though not as stylistically rebellious or outwardly incendiary as the films the Japanese provocateur would make in its immediate vicinity, this mid-period work still proves more subversive. Structured achronologically and told in long, patient shots, the film constructs an entire ancestral history for the fictional Sakurada family via scenes set solely at ceremonial gatherings (funerals, weddings, etc.), each corresponding with a defining year in Japan’s postwar reconstruction. Reminiscing about these alternately commemorative and traumatic occasions, grown son Masuo is matter-of-fact in his thoughts, and as he travels to check on the whereabouts of his missing cousin, recollections of incest and stubborn traditionalism begin to reflect the larger social and political implications of the era. Carefully composed and discreetly disclosed, Oshima’s familial diorama nonetheless carries restless undertones, its trenchant depiction of Eastern (de)evolution brought to symbolic if inevitable ends. (Mar 29 at the Japan Society, part of its Tribute to Donald Richie) [The L]

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

By Moroder: An Interview with Giorgio Moroder

This is the second of two interviews I conducted with Giorgio Moroder over a single afternoon. The first, focusing on his early music and recent collaboration with Daft Punk, is published at CokeMachineGlow.

The reemergence of Giorgio Moroder to mainstream prominence over the last year has been one of the great unexpected gifts for music enthusiasts. In the wake of his seemingly inevitable collaboration with dance icons Daft Punk, Moroder has been collaborating, remixing, and working on new material of his own—not to mention DJing live for the first time in his storied career. In the process he has introduced himself to a new generation of fans, rightly receiving his due as an influential producer and sonic innovator. But what has yet to be widely recognized is the thumbprint Moroder has left on modern film composing. His iconic, Oscar-winning scores and songs for many of the biggest films of the late-1970s and ‘80s (Midnight Express, Top Gun) have long since entered the pantheon, but with the recent popularity of nostalgia-fueled films such as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, Moroder’s influence on a very different medium feels poised to finally be acknowledged. Moroder was kind enough to sit down with me at his home in Los Angeles to discuss the collaborative process with directors Alan Parker, Paul Schrader and Brian De Palma, his work with the mainstream pop stars of the era, and his infamous 1984 reimagining of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

Blu-ray Review: Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (1958)

For a filmmaker so established in the Western canon, it's worthwhile to occasionally reiterate how much time critics and audiences spent over the years catching up to the cinema of Akira Kurosawa. At the midpoint of the medium's first century, Rashomon introduced to the international stage the muscular stylings of a director already 10-plus features into his career, while Japan itself began the reluctant reclamation of an American-influenced artist they had long taken for granted. Soon after, Seven Samurai would bring the modern action film to its grandest, most rousing height yet, standing as an accomplishment Hollywood would utilize as a blueprint for decades to come. Subsequently, Kurosawa's dramas would find equal favor among cinephiles: Ikiru, High and Low, and Red Beard (among others) are now all but incontestable classics. The Hidden Fortress, however, took far longer than many of Kurosawa's other films to be recognized as a vital piece of his oeuvre, despite its scale and creation at the height of its director's power and influence. Not as narratively inventive as Rashomon, as historically rich as Seven Samurai, or as thematically sobering as his other dramas, The Hidden Fortress was saddled for years with a reputation as the financially successful, artistically lacking entertainment positioned to reestablish its maker's name after a string of more niche offerings such as I Live in Fear and The Lower Depths.

Film Capsule: Chantal Akerman's From the East (1993)

From the East (1993)
Directed by Chantal Akerman

This movie is both a literal and figurative representation of its title, a visual diary of the director’s sojourn across the former European Communist bloc as the seasons turn from autumn to winter and the topography shifts from rural to urban. Moving in uniform tableaux, mostly in right-to-left tracking shots, Akerman’s camera patiently documents a culture suspended between eras, creating in turn a cinematic index of the people, places, and professions of post-war Europe. Expanding upon the temporal and spatial experiments of her celebrated 70s work, Akerman locates a fresh plane of aesthetic freedom, combining peripheral ambience and both diegetic and non-diegetic musical cues within a constantly expanding and contracting logistical framework, resulting in a fully mapped, three-dimensional travelogue for the senses. (Mar 19 at Spectacle, part of its Akermania series) [The L Magazine]

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fandor Feature: New Directors/New Films 2014

It’s become something of a running joke amongst cinephiles how the Film Society of Lincoln Center can often times take a liberal approach to the nominal principles of its annual New Directors/New Films series. It’s true that traditionally the artists included are new directors, in the sense that they’re not veterans, while in most cases their newest—and in some instances their very first—works are on offer. Semantics are secondary, however, in light of the consistency and overall quality of the festival, which this year runs for eleven days and includes selections from at least as many countries. Truth be told, the absolute best films in this year’s line-up are festival triumphs of a very recent vintage—and some of 2013′s standout premieres at that. Amongst these, Ramon Zürcher’s The Strange Little Cat, Ben Rivers and Ben Russell’s A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, and Albert Serra’s Story of My Death (the latter, to this writer’s mind, the best new film of the last year-plus—though from a filmmaker now upwards of five features deep), have been pretty well covered here in Keyframe. Others, meanwhile, have built-in hooks such as name recognition (20,000 Days on Earth), genre novelty (The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears), or both (The Double) to attract curious eyes. For the purposes of this writing, then, I’ll focus on a handful of some of the lesser-known entities, films that may not have as presumed a chance at wider distribution or further festival berths as the aforementioned.

Interview: Giorgio Moroder


This is the first of two interviews I conducted with Giorgio Moroder over a single afternoon. The second, focusing on his scores, soundtracks and film-related work, is published at Mubi.

After a year which has seen not only belated recognition for one of music’s most influential artists, but also new collaborations, unexpected triumphs as a festival performer, and subliminal ubiquity from Super Bowl commercials to below-the-line Grammy honors, it’s safe to say that Giorgio Moroder is no longer having a moment, but a full-on renaissance. After appearing on Daft Punk’s world-conquering Random Access Memories (2013), Moroder has embarked upon an unforeseen new chapter in his professional life, bringing a new generation of fans into the fold while solidifying his status as one of pop and electronic music’s most versatile producers. Moroder was kind enough to sit down with me at his home in Los Angeles to discuss his recent resurgence, the extent of his influence, the simultaneous ease and difficulty of new recording technologies, the ethics of sampling, and why a third act turn as a DJ may have been more inevitable than people realize.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Blu-ray Review: Giulio Paradisi's The Visitor (1979)

The Visitor begins with an on-screen message thanking both the governor and mayor of Atlanta, Georgia for their "helpful assistance" in the making of the film. Attached to any other movie, such comments would suggest appreciation, and while I'm sure the producers of the film are grateful for the city's cooperation, the note in this case can retroactively be read as an apology. Part of a late-'70s trend in European film production whereby independent producers would essentially co-opt American genre successes for grindhouse gentrification, The Visitor is unique in that while it fails in most every traditional respect with regard to narrative clarity or construction, it doesn't fall short as either entertainment or as a piece of craftsmanship. In fact, it excels at both, and as a result endures as one of the era's most indefinable, inconceivably progressive pieces of cinematic nonsense.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Kelly Reichardt: Genres, Geographies, and the Evolution of a Filmmaker

Until very recently, the artistic arc of director Kelly Reichardt had followed a brave, esoteric, if nonetheless linear trajectory. Never easily pegged, Reichardt emerged for a brief moment as a reluctant Sundance darling in the mid-nineties with her debut, River of Grass, only to retreat from feature filmmaking for the better part of a decade (a series of shorts were completed in the interim). Her 2006 follow-up, Old Joy, was thus treated like something of a rebirth, and she made good on the attention, consistently maturing as both stylist and storyteller in the years since. Her newest film, Night Moves, which debuted at the Venice Film Festival last fall, is set to be her highest profile outing yet. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard, the film takes a similarly meditative approach to genre as Reichardt’s 2011 western Meek’s Cutoff, but engaging these tropes as it does in service of a newly manifest consideration for plot mechanics, it ultimately arrives at a very different place than that of her earlier work.

Film Capsule: Jem Cohen's Instrument (1999)

Fugazi: Instrument (1999)
Directed by Jem Cohen

After quietly working in experimental media for over 30 years, Cohen garnered universal acclaim for his recent feature Museum Hours. It was his 1999 film on the legendary Washington, DC post-hardcore band Fugazi, however, that brought his dual sensibilities together in a single act of heroic musicological curation. Shot over 10 years and on an array of formats (video, Super 8, 16mm), the film is less documentary than subcultural testament. Bookended by two of the most bracing live performances ever captured—and interspersed with lyrics, portraits of fans, and incredibly rare footage (including shows in the shadow of the White House and in the halls of Lorton Correctional Facility)—Cohen’s film, like its subject, never falls back on tradition or compromise. Fugazi would stop touring and recording just a few years after shooting completed, not because of a breakup or anything so glamorous. They just went unsettlingly silent, confident in the fact that they had gotten the last word. (Mar 4 at Nitehawk) [The L]