Monday, June 13, 2011

Artistic Consumption Log, June 6, 2011-June 12, 2011


Deep End (1970)


Tuesday, After Christmas (2010, Radu Muntean), screened at Film Forum in New York
I'm working on a blog post that partly deals with this film, which I think becomes an impressive one once you adjust to its completely exterior view of the events and characters it portrays. Muntean refuses to provide any easy explanations for the behavior of these extremely down-to-earth characters, instead relying on his trio of terrific actors and the juxtaposition of scenes and shots to suggest the inner emotions driving these characters. The approach got me thinking more intensely than I usually do about just how much we should actually care about explaining character motivations in movies.

The Menacing Eye (1960, Jerzy Skolimowski), screened at Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, N.Y.
Erotique (1960, Jerzy Skolimowski), screened at Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, N.Y.
Little Hamlet (1960, Jerzy Skolimowski), screened at Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, N.Y.
Identification Marks: None (1965, Jerzy Skolimowski), screened at Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, N.Y.
Deep End (1970, Jerzy Skolimowski), screened at Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, N.Y.
This weekend, a retrospective of films by Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski began up at the Museum of the Moving Image; I caught a couple of his features on Saturday, and preceding the first of those features were three short films he made at Lodz Film School in 1960. All three of them feature some fascinating images; none of them, though, suggest the penchant toward a long-take vignette style that would be evident not only in his tragic sexual coming-of-age masterpiece Deep End, but in his black-and-white debut feature Identification Marks: None, which takes the pulse of Poland's lost, wandering post-war generation through detailing the last few hours before its main character, Andrzej Lecsczyc (played by Skolimowski himself), is set to go off to military service. Even in his first film, though, you can sense a director willing to explore characters, emotions and environments in ways that go beyond the dictates of three-act structures—an aesthetic taken to a certain zenith in a lengthy seriocomic sequence outside a strip club in Deep End. I look forward to seeing more of his work, for sure. (Here is some more information about the Museum of the Moving Image series.)


Test Pattern (2008, Ryoji Ikeda)
More music featured in Ikeda's recently concluded installation at the Park Avenue Armory, the transfinite. For once, the music works better with the images accompanying it, I think.

Immigrès (1986, Youssou N'Dour)
The Lion (1989, Youssou N'Dour)
Set (1990, Youssou N'Dour)
One of my roommates is a big fan of this Senegalese musician, and offered me an extra ticket to see him at Terminal 5 on June 24 as part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival. So I assented, and am now trying to catch up with his music. Immigrès is the most jazz-like of the three I've listened to so far, featuring as it does a mere four tracks with lots of improvisation within them. It's a lot of fun. Less fun, but nevertheless effective and sometimes haunting, is the more pop-oriented The Lion, which features Peter Gabriel—who apparently was instrumental in bringing N'Dour to the public eye—as a guest voice in "Shaking the Tree." Set, though, strikes me as a more successful fusion of Western and African sounds; certainly, it's the most stylistically and sonically adventurous. Of course, N'Dour's griot-like tenor remains impassioned and compelling throughout.

All that said: I listened to all of these on (legally purchased) mp3s, but without a lyric sheet available. Am I missing anything important by not always having a handle on what he's singing in his native Senegalese tongue?

Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 (1964, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eugen Jochum)
There are, as far as I know, four recordings of German conductor Eugen Jochum's interpretations of Anton Bruckner's Fifth Symphony. They are all roughly the same interpretively: a second-rate imitation of Wilhelm Furtwängler's freely intuitive style, "spontaneous" in the most studied of ways. The approach probably works best for this particular Bruckner symphony, however. Bruckner's Fifth operates, more so than in his other symphonies, on quicksilver changes of pulse, mood and dynamics; conductors seem to either try to fuse it all together into a unified-sounding whole, or they choose to emphasize the work's near-schizophrenic nature and let the structure look after itself, so to speak. Jochum fits into the latter category, and for the most part I can accept his wayward tempo fluctuations within Bruckner's immaculately worked-out symphonic structure because, more often than not, they usually fit the mood of given moments.

For those who haven't heard this great work—perhaps my favorite of Bruckner's symphonies, for reasons I myself don't even fully comprehend, really—the classic recordings from Bernard Haitink (his 1972 recording with this same orchestra, included in this complete Philips set) and Herbert von Karajan (his epic 1976 account with the Berlin Philharmonic, included in his complete Deutsche Grammophon cycle) offer better introductions. Jochum's performances are for those who already grasp the structure and are looking for a more adventurous approach to the work. In that case, then, it's probably worth seeking out his final recording of the piece, a live recording from 1986 with the Concertgebouw that is arguably the best of his four. But this Philips recording from 1964—taped during a live performance at Ottobeuren Abbey to commemorate its 1200th anniversary—is a decent alternative (especially because the other two performances—one from 1958 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the other from 1980 with the Dresden Staatskapelle—are only available in complete box sets). 


The Bright Stream (2003, Alexei Ratmansky), performed by the American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York
The libretto for this one—basically, the joys of living on a collective farm in Russia during the 1930s—is extremely slight, but once you get past that, Alexei Ratmansky's The Bright Stream becomes a showcase for many coups of choreography accompanying one of Dmitri Shostakovich's most purely enjoyable (read: less emotionally turbulent than usual) and optimistic scores—ironically, one of the scores that (along with his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) that got him in trouble with Stalin for a period of time before he was welcomed back to the Soviet Union's good graces with his Fifth Symphony. Despite one official recording of the work, with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra led by Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky, from 1996, The Bright Stream remained mostly neglected until Ratmansky decided to revive it and come up with his own choreography. And what wonderful choreography it is—filled with the kind of riotous, joyful invention that was missing from John Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias last week.


Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads (2011, Ai Weiwei), at Central Park's Grand Army Plaza in New York
Seeing these twelve bronze zodiac heads—some of them wearing expressions of snarling fury—in the otherwise placid Pulitzer Fountain in this particular area of Manhattan makes for a thought-provoking contrast. Free Ai Weiwei! (This installation is up until July 15.)


Joel & Ethan Coen In Conversation With Noah Baumbach, at Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in New York
Film Society of Lincoln Center's wonderful new movie house, the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, opened this weekend, and among the many free screenings and talks scheduled for this inaugural weekend was Friday night's evening with the Coen Brothers and Noah Baumbach on the same stage talking about their work. Frankly, it wasn't the most illuminating event of its type I've sat through; fresh insights into their creative processes were fairly sparse, and the evening as a whole was a pretty unfocused affair (there was no moderator for this, and it probably could have used one). But at least I got to see these filmmakers joking around with each other in person. And at least it was free. Plus, I did find one nugget of illumination: I had not realized just how similar the openings of their first feature, Blood Simple (1984), and their later No Country for Old Men (2007) are: a montage of landscape shots with voiceover narration from a supporting character setting up mood and themes rather than the plot.

Oh, and I still haven't seen anything by Noah Baumbach beyond Greenberg and, I guess, his scripts with Wes Anderson. So I was there mostly for the Coens, not for him.


shane013a said...

Now that can make a pretty full day!!

Kenji Fujishima said...

Not just a full day—a full week!