Monday, June 06, 2011

Artistic Consumption Log: May 30, 2011-June 5, 2011


Yeelen (1987)


Yeelen (1987, Souleymane Cissé), screened at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y. Other than Mahamat Salet-Haroun's recent Chad-set drama A Screaming Man (2010), this may well be the first African film I've actually seen (I know, I know, I need to catch up on my Ousmane Sembène). Being that A Screaming Man had nothing at all do with cultural myths, Cissé's opening evocation of Malian folklore felt like a breath of fresh air right off the bat. The rest of the film gloriously lives up to that opening; its transcendent finish suggests a rebirth with some of the same abstract purity of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Thin Red Line (1998, Terrence Malick), screened at home in East Brunswick, N.J., on 20th Century Fox DVD  
Yes, I finally caught up with my one Malick blind spot on Friday afternoon...and while DVD is far from an ideal viewing format for a film as visually grand and spiritually ambitious this, I was still mightily impressed; in fact, I might consider this my favorite of his last three features (though that second viewing of The Tree of Life still awaits to possibly nudge me in another direction). I do hope I get another chance to see this on a big screen eventually, having forgone a chance to do so a few weeks ago at the Museum of the Moving Image in favor of singing, among other things, Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" at a karaoke bar with friends in midtown Manhattan. I regret nothing.

X-Men: First Class (2011, Matthew Vaughn), screened at AMC Bridgewater Commons in Bridgewater, N.J.  
With the exception of a couple of scenes involving Magneto lifting an anchor and, later, a whole submarine, the action scenes aren't especially memorable, and some of the CGI is just shoddy. Nevertheless, I ended up enjoying this overall, much to my surprise. This prequel, of course, spends much of its time charting the path toward the eventual rift between Magneto and Professor X—two enemies with vastly different paths toward a common goal—and on that front, it's surprisingly involving and intriguing; Michael Fassbender (Magneto) and James McAvoy (Professor X) are the clear MVPs here. Plus, the whole thing is done with a reasonably light touch, in contrast to the dogged Dark Knight-like self-seriousness that seems to be the comic-book norm. I had fun. (By the way, I saw the film in one of New Jersey's three AMC Dine-In theaters—which one could consider the big-chain equivalent of the Alamo Drafthouse chain in Austin, Texas, in which one can order restaurant-quality food—as opposed to just popcorn, nachos, soda, and so on—before and/or during a movie. It was cool. It's also something that, as far as I know, isn't in any New York AMC theaters on this front, New Jersey 1, New York 0!)

Film Socialisme (2010, Jean-Luc Godard), screened at IFC Center in New York  
This was my second time seeing Godard's latest film, my first being at a New York Film Festival press screening last year; I pooled some initial impressions from that screening here. I think I have a clearer idea of what Godard is up to in this film, though its politics still mostly go over my head. Either way, this is a film that defiantly resists easy interpretation—and to my mind, that's to Godard's credit (Christy Lemire's protests to the contrary). At the very least, its visual beauties remain undiminished, and I actually found it a funnier and warmer film than I had remembered the first time around. It's good to know that this grand old man of French cinema is still capable of being playfully amusing in his perpetually irascible state.

Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock), screened at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y.
This was my first time seeing Hitchcock's masterpiece in a theater, though I doubt I saw it in actual Vista-Vision; apparently, San Francisco's Castro Theatre, not BAM, is the place to go to see it in its full 70mm glory this week. The film—one of my personal top five, I'd say, at the moment—is still as deeply disturbing an experience as ever. I recently wrote a bit about it for this year's Muriel Awards here.


Op. (2002, Ryoji Ikeda)  
An especially noteworthy album for Ikeda, if only because this one features actual string instruments making the melody-free noises instead of his usual barrage of electronic manipulations.

Dataplex (2005, Ryoji Ikeda)
Wherein I heard a lot of the sounds I recognized from Ikeda's new art installation the transfinite


I hope one day to be able to discuss cinematic techniques and the meaning they create with as much intelligence and eloquence as Kehr can. I knew he was a great critic based on his Chicago Reader capsule reviews and his New York Times DVD columns, but this compilation establishes him as an important one as well—or important to me, at least.


Lady of the Camellias (1978-81, John Neumeier), performed by the American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House  
This was my first time seeing the American Ballet Theatre live (I have tickets to two more performances in their brief spring season, one coming up later in the week), and at the very least I enjoyed the fact that I had far better seats this time around than I did when I saw the Metropolitan Opera's production of Nixon in China a few months back (I had a $22 standing-room ticket for that one, and ended up standing the whole time). Pity that the work itself isn't better.

The umpteenth adaptation of Alexandre Dumas fils's famous novel of the same name—also the basis for Giuseppe Verdi's opera La Traviata and the 1936 Greta Garbo vehicle Camille, among many others—this one apparently hews much closer to the book in its flashback-heavy structure and its mingling of literature-driven fantasy and reality. Problem is, in trying to stay faithful to the book, Neumeier doesn't always make the action easy to follow as ballet, and the whole thing ends up seeming overstuffed. Worse, the level of choreographic inspirations runs hot and cold: for every breathtakingly intimate pas de deux, there are larger-scale dances that struck this admitted dance novice as rote decorative pageantry.

Still, there are some indelibly stylized romantic tête-à-têtes here, especially in its tragic third act, and the dancers brought as much expression as possible to the complex, and sometimes rather violent, movements Neumeier calls upon them to pull off. Oh, and all of it is scored to Chopin—not only some of his piano music, but his entire Second Piano Concerto and parts of his First. The pit orchestra's performance was disappointingly perfunctory, to my ears, but the solo piano playing—handled by three soloists, some of them onstage—was solid enough. If nothing else, Lady of the Camellias immediately made me want to dive into Chopin's music in more depth. (If you haven't heard his piano concertos,'re not missing much. They suck.)

If you're interested in watching Lady of the Camellias and won't be able to see it at the Met...well, someone apparently uploaded a filmed live performance of Neumeier's ballet onto YouTube. Here's Part 1, to start you all off:

No comments: