This is precisely the time when artists go to work.There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I was completely transfixed by Best of Luck With the Wall, a recent offering from Field of Vision. Technically impressive and buoyed by a sharp original score, the only words you'll find in the film are in the title; the rest is a sweeping visual assertion unlike anything I've seen this whole election season.
What would it mean to try to “see” the entire southwest border at once? To travel the whole 1,954 miles in, say, six minutes?
This year I only saw one good horror film, The Witch. Super eerie and a wonderful exploration of what our very own fears can engender. I love how much sound design and music contribute to the tension in this one. I also dig how the W in 'Witch' is spelled with two Vs on the poster, etc. For the 2nd film I go back to 2013's Under the Skin. Much weirder and darker and took a while to shake off (as the title warned). Mica Levi's standout score for the film is unlike anything I've heard before. It brings us closer to this alien life form in a way no other language could.
* thanks to a dear mentor Manfred Becker for sharing this with me.
I'm blown away by the recent piece Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart, a chronicle years in the making, presented as an entire issue of NYTimes Magazine. In terms of form I am reminded of a documentary approach, i.e. following different people in different locations for years (reminiscent of 'Iraq in Fragments'). Beyond observation, the piece provides an illuminating roadmap for those like me who need to be reminded of certain 5 Ws e.g. an overview of the Kurds, of the Arab Spring, of US involvement... I learned more about conflicts in the Middle East from this single piece than I have from traditional reporting. The whole functions as a constellation of sorts, where lines between events become more clear while ultimately pointing to the overwhelming scale of things. I got my hands on the print version and wish it had been bound into a solid book. It deserves to be.
2015's Victoria, directed by Sebastian Schipper, is not the first one-shot wonder, but it's the first THRILLING one-shot wonder. In addition to the incredible camerawork that follows multiple characters, locations and rhythms, the film is crowned by phenomenal performances and writing. In terms of picture editing, the only decision was to choose which of the 3 takes would be used. How difficult was that choice?
I would love to experience an outdoor performance of a John Luther Adams composition. I discovered his music thanks to this inaugural episode of Meet the Composer, an excellent podcast hosted by world-class musician/interpreter Nadia Sirota. The episode deftly reconstructs Adams' soul-search as a composer. I love the shift that occurs when we get to Alaska:
Every episode of Meet the Composer is worth a listen. I admire how it plunges into the world of contemporary avant-garde music in a way that retains less initiated ears like mine. *Fun fact: Sirota played the viola on Edo Van Breemen's original score for Fractured Land .
If I was to program The Lobster (2015), the imaginative dark funny feature by Yorgos Lanthimos, I would pair it with Alice Winocour's Kitchen (2005), one of my favorite short narrative films. They are completely different stories but share similar traits, like brilliant deadpan moments, careful composition of shots /color palettes... and lobsters.
I caught my second Chairlift show a few months back at the Biltmore Cabaret. Everything about this band is top-notch: their weird wonderful range of sounds, masterful arrangements conducive to dancing or kicking back, clever lyrics, wildly original music videos and lead singer Caroline Polachek's outstanding voice. After the show I had a chance to briefly chat with Polachek about one of my favorite music videos of all time, from their first record:
That hypnotizing glitch effect is a technique called datamoshing, which I'm sure will be of special interest to any codec nerds out there. Here's a great website about it, including how-tos. Curious what else could be done with this. I sense a lot of potential, e.g. used as device within feature films. Apparently the team behind the video was racing to release it before their peers, who were using the same technique for Kanye West. Yeezy's video came out second. Still excellent:
Flashback to one of my favorite films from Hot Docs 2014. Wonderfully edited, it is a poignant window into the lives of three teenage boys and the town in which they live: Rich Hill, Missouri. Each grapples with severe socioeconomic disadvantages of one shape or form, and thankfully the filmmakers go beyond the surfaces and allow us to know them, learn from them, feel for them, and care that much more about them. Though most reviews are positive I was surprised to find a number of writers criticizing the film's visual splendor and aesthetic grace. Here's a passage from Roger Ebert's review that addresses these criticisms. Couldn't say it better:
One of the first things that deserve to be noted about “Rich Hill”—and that may make it controversial in some quarters—is its beauty. Any description of the film that only describes its people and events would largely miss what it feels like to experience it. From its first moments, when several jump-cut shots of a teenage boy getting ready for school give way to lyrical views of Rich Hill as it comes to life in the morning, the combination of editing rhythms, Nathan Halpern’s music and Palermo’s strikingly luminous images conjure a world that seems to pulse with its own inner warmth and radiance.
This afternoon I walked around Berkeley Marina, saw many snails, and as I looked out at the water I felt I had stepped inside this JMW Turner painting. The atmosphere was awash in hazy sunlight, but through my eyes it swirled around a heavy core of sadness: Orlando.
I was lucky to catch the documentary Salero, one of my favorites from the SFIFF. It presents a stunning salt flat in Bolivia as a character, not simply a backdrop for human stories. Thanks to exquisite cinematography and sound, open-minded direction, and generous participants, it transcends any particular issue and allows us to feel first, and think later... and there is lots to think about too.
At the Exposition Universelle 1900, in Paris. This boat ride simulator provided the feeling of seafaring for up to 700 people at a time. with rolling panoramas, rocking floor, seaweed odours, synthetic ocean breezes and accompanying sounds. I'm feeling hints of that Borges story about the world-sized world map.
"Stability itself is nothing but a more languid motion."
I say therefore that likenesses or thin shapes
This was on Hastings St in Vancouver. The sign is no longer there, nor the gallery below it.
Link to this work on website of Catriona Jeffries Gallery.
I cannot tell whether I were more pleased or mortified to observe in those solitary walks that the smaller birds did not appear to be at all afraid of me, but would hop about within a yard’s distance, looking for worms and other food, with as much indifference and security as if no creature at all were near them. I remember a thrush had the confidence to snatch out of my hand with his bill a piece of cake that Glumdalclitch had just given me for my breakfast.
The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.
If I call stones blue it is because blue is the precise word, believe me, and be equally assured that the color of stones can be very well distinguished by starlight.
"Shops, to these [shop owners], are what a cabin in the woods might be to somebody else - a refuge and a justification"
"Natural selection, for Darwin, did not forbid cultural and individual developments on a timescale hundreds of thousands of times faster than evolutionary development - on the contrary, it prepared the ground for them. We are literate not by virtue of a divine intervention, but through a cultural invention and a cultural selection that makes a brilliant and creative new use of a preexisting neural proclivity."
"I had to realize that the inner workings of the mind could dispense with words."
"... the opposite of alexia is lexical or text hallucinations, or phantom letters [...] the shapes of letters have been selected to resemble the conglomerations of contours found in natural scenes, thereby tapping into our already-existing object recognition mechanisms. "(70)
"... he reads only in the act of writing [...] knowing or having an idea of what one should see, are crucial in many aspects of perception." (134)
Yet these little hallucinations are interesting, in a way: they show me the background activity, the idling of my visual system, generating and transforming patterns, never at rest (184)
Sparse highlights from the great spinning sphere of publication.