Monday, April 09, 2012

Artistic Consumption Log, April 2, 2012 - April 8, 2012

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Wow, I consumed a lot this past week, artistically speaking. And, wait...I actually found time to annotate this log? Enjoy it this week, because who knows if I'll have time for it next week, what with the Tribeca Film Festival starting soon and all.

Seconds (1966)


The Long Day Closes (1992, Terence Davies), seen at Film Forum in New York [second viewing]
This seems to be the week in which, film-wise at least, I've revisited films that I technically watched previously but during which I may not have been fully alert the first time around. I saw The Long Day Closes on DVD (though not Region 1; it's not available on video here in the U.S.) a couple of years ago and—being that it was just my first or second Terence Davies film at the time—I was immediately stunned into submission by what I perceived to be a strikingly personal and poetic sensibility. It was certainly not like many other films I had seen before then. But it took this second screening, in a beautiful new 35mm print, for me to truly fall in love with this autobiographical fantasia of a lonely boy growing up in a British surburb, comforted by the cinema and relying on God for possible solace. It's soulful and entrancing. It also seems to be considered by many Davies fans to be a lesser achievement than his previous film, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988). That's a great film, too, don't get me wrong—but I can only report how I felt, and I felt more of a sense of elevation while watching The Long Day Closes. So I guess I do like it more. (A friend theorizes that those who prefer The Long Day Closes do so mostly on account of its many film references, the implication being that most critics are suckers for movies that, whether intentionally or not, flatter the inner movie nerd in them. Being that I only really identified one snatch of movie-related audio—from Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)—in the film without any help, I will say that that has pretty much nothing to do with my affection for the film whatsoever. Even if that was a part of the film's appeal, it's only a small part, really; The Long Day Closes is hardly just a mere love letter to cinema like, say, Martin Scorsese's Hugo. So, um, no.)

Girlfriends (1978, Claudia Weill), seen at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y.
This film was screened as part of a series at BAM curated by Lena Dunham as part of the lead-up to the premiere of her new HBO series Girls—and really, if you want to get a sense of Dunham's inspiration, see this film, then watch the HBO series (which premieres on April 15) and compare notes. Thankfully, Weill's film—which Stanley Kubrick reportedly loved, and which film critic Robin Wood definitely found of interested, at least based on his mention of it in a chapter of Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan...and Beyond—has more of standalone interest than the Dunham connection; it's one of the more sensitive depictions not only of female friendship, but also of personal insecurities, adult compromises and the struggles to make ends meet in a city like New York.

Seconds (1966, John Frankenheimer), seen at Museum of Modern Art in New York
This film was also screened as part of a series, this one curated by artist Cindy Sherman. Considering Sherman's artistic approach—the way she often cosmetically distorts her face for her photographs, for instance—and her focus on images and identities, it's easy to see why she'd choose a film like Seconds, which hinges on a character's cosmetic transformation in order to escape a previous humdrum existence. Beyond that...well, I don't really have much else to say about this film except that yeah, it's pretty great: a gripping and ultimately tragic meditation on life and living, especially with the knowledge of inevitable death. Its final moments left me stunned, devastated, sobered.

Get Out of the Car (2010, Thom Andersen), seen at Whitney Museum of American Art in New York [second viewing]
This 35-minute appendix to Andersen's majestic 2003 video essay Los Angeles Plays Itself takes the form of a free-associational series of shots of signs and billboards, all of which magically coalesce to form a multifaceted, melancholy, bleakly funny portrait of urban decay.

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935, Leo McCarey), seen at Film Forum in New York [second viewing] 
McCarey's film is an exemplar of nuanced, hard-earned patriotism, in which a British butler (Charles Laughton) goes through all sorts of cultural and internal clashes in order to finally figure out who he is and who he wants to be in this great land of opportunity we all know as the United States of America. The scene where Ruggles recites the entirety of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in a saloon to a bunch of Americans who can't recall what Lincoln said in that address is one for the ages.


Their Planes Will Block Out the Sun, seen live at Spike Hill in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Nice name for a band, huh? A friend of a friend is the pianist for this local group, and they're not bad, with a modestly scaled, vaguely-Radiohead-ish sound that's pleasant enough—except for that one moment where they suddenly turn into a salsa band for a minute or two. Did I mention how cool the band's name was?

Varèse: The Complete Works (1998, Asko Ensemble / Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / Riccardo Chailly)
Having been dazzled by hearing Edgard Varèse's Amériques live about a week ago, I figured I might as well hear the rest of this France-born composer's fairly meager output. Most of it conforms to the template of Amériques: seemingly arbitrary noises, by turns savage and tender, with rhythmic patterns often idée fixes in sight. John Cage would go beyond Varèse's atonal noises and free us all of even having to think about music in terms of notes. Varèse also experimented with electronic music, as in works like Poéme electronique and Déserts; here, I would guess, is where later composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen would find inspiration. So his music has certainly been influential. Is it any fun to listen to? If you're willing to let go of any preconceptions of music as carefully structured entities with tonal centers, then Varèse's music can be electrifying in its sheer unpredictability. It also could be said that his sometimes harsh sonorities are best experienced a little bit at a time; immersing oneself in a marathon of this kind of stuff could eventually become wearying to the ear. But it's absolutely worth hearing, if you're game for it.

又見秋蓮 (1979, 鳳飛飛)
Yeah, I'm mixing in some vintage Taiwanese pop into my listening explorations these days; it's been a while. Feng Fei Fei was apparently hot stuff back in the '70s and '80s, known as much for her fashion sense—her hats, especially—as for her songs and voice. She's also my mother's favorite Taiwanese singer—which is why, when she informed me recently that she had passed away in January, I raided her CD collection during a weekend back in East Brunswick, N.J., and found a few digitally remastered CDs of some of her albums. So I've been listening to some of them here and there. I can't say she's replacing the glorious (and still living) 蔡琴 (Tsai Chin) in my affections any time soon—for one thing, Tsai Chin has a sultry alto voice, and it seems I have a thing for singers with deep alto voices (see: Anita Mui)—but Feng certainly has pipes and some lovely tunes to her credit. She also likes to sing about springtime a lot, based on the four albums of material I've heard. Well hey, it's springtime now. Works for me.

His 'N' Hers (1994, Pulp) 
See the Who's Zoo? entry below to get an idea as to why I'm suddenly interested in this British band. The sound may be glam rock-ish, but Jarvis Cocker's voice makes me think of a mix between The National's Matt Berninger and Arcade Fire's Win Butler—except British, I guess. Anyway, the songs here are rhythmically propulsive and sonically voluptuous enough to add life and color to Cocker's self-involved lyrics. I enjoyed listening to this and look forward to hearing more from Pulp.


Das Rheingold (1869, Richard Wagner), seen live at The Metropolitan Opera House in New York  
Yes, the 24-plank machine-controlled set is a rather ugly and distractingly noisy thing. Yes, Robert Lepage's production suggests someone reliant more on momentary inspiration than on grand overarching vision. And sure, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra's performance under Fabio Luisi mostly seemed blandly competent rather than inspired. All of this may well start to bug me more in the later, longer installments of Lepage's new production of the complete Ring cycle, if not corrected. For the relatively trim Das Rheingold, however, there were just enough moments of visual splendor—the planks contorting to create a distorted stairwell, for instance, as well as some of the video projections—to satisfy me. And, of course, the opera itself is glorious; its thematic elements—its skeptical view of man's folly, the damaging effects of unchecked power on the human soul, etc.—still come through amidst Lepage's technological gimcrackery, and the music is still as brilliant as ever. For a novice of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung live, this was fine. Not transcendent, not thought-provoking, and not especially affecting, but fine. We'll see how the rest of this new Metropolitan Opera production shakes out.


Who's Zoo? (2012, Michael Clark), seen at Whitney Museum of American Art in New York
One of my friends was actually picked to be a volunteer dancer for this newest work from British "bad-boy" choreographer Michael Clark; that was pretty much the only reason I went to see it in the first place, having not heard of Clark before his residency was announced as part of this year's Whitney Biennial. I'll say this for Who's Zoo?: Despite its chilly futuristic feel—the video projections, the costumes, the occasional mechanized movements—this 45-minute work features some of the more sexually suggestive movements I've ever seen in a live dance. If nothing else, this was worth seeing just to see a male dancer do some strange things with a stool. I'm not sure what it all added up to—again, my relative ignorance of dance is probably showing right now—but hey, for the most part, I had fun watching it.

Oh, and Jarvis Cocker was there too, performing live some of the songs Clark had chosen as the score for Who's Zoo? Two of those songs were from his years as lead singer of Pulp; thus His 'N' Hers above.

Fine Art

Line: A Drawing Show, seen at The Cell in New York
A friend of a friend had a sketchbook that was displayed as part of this small exhibit of, you guessed it, line drawings. If anything, the sketchbooks were the most interesting part of this exhibit: It's rare to see an artist's rough first thoughts given its own platform this way. Still, among the "official" works of art, there were some memorable ones, including an impressionistic landscape that seemed brought off simply by virtue of a few pencil smudges. Spare, minimalist—I like it!

David Lynch, seen at Jack Tilton Gallery in New York  
Yes, New Yorkers, David Lynch has an exhibit of his recent artwork on display at the Jack Tilton Gallery! It's a pretty good collection too, I think. For all the usual Lynchian darkness on display, these works are always grounded in something that feels emotionally real, for all their surrealistic flights of fancy. For me, that's the way Lynch's best films function: they're weird but rarely just for the sake of being weird; they express something definite, if not always easily describable. Anyway, this exhibit ranges from oil paintings to photographs to a 42-second video, encompassing a variety of different subjects and moods. It's worth checking out—and hey, it's free!


Keith said...

I like the band name too. I wonder what inspired it: "300," or "Histories" (book 7, chapter 226) by Herodotus.

Kenji Fujishima said...

Beats me (honestly, I'm not familiar with either work).

Keith said...

Time: 480BC
Place: Thermopylae, Greece
It's a very memorable scene in Herodotus' great book about the Greco-Persian Wars. During what became known as "The Last Stand of the Three Hundred Spartans," Herodotus relates:
"On the eve of battle, [Dienekes] was told by a native of Trachis that the Persian archers were so numerous that, their arrows would block out the sun. Dienekes, however, undaunted by this prospect, remarked with a laugh, 'Good. Then we will fight in the shade.'"
- Histories, 7.226

Kenji Fujishima said...

Thanks for the context! Obviously I need to brush up on my knowledge of the classics!

Keith said...

There's no better one to start with, IMHO. It's to honor Herodotus (and my hero Themistocles of Athens) that my facebook name is keith.younger480bc !

Calvin Klein Black Suits said...

I like the band name too. It is so unique.