Monday, August 27, 2012

Artistic Consumption Log, Aug. 20, 2012 - Aug. 26, 2012


Statues Also Die (1953)


Déjà Vu (2006, Tony Scott), seen on DVD in Brooklyn, N.Y.
As I mentioned in my last log, this film seemed to be the one many Tony Scott fans cited as one of the late director's best, especially among his more recent (post-Sept. 11) work. Last Monday, I finally decided to check it out—and, while its first five minutes of portentous slow-motion and quick-cut montage gave me unwelcome reminders of the headache I had while watching his previous film Domino (2005), eventually Scott calms the jittery aesthetic down—or at least applies that aesthetic more judiciously afterward—and allows the romantic elements of this high-tech science-fiction riff on Vertigo to come to the fore. The last thing I would have expected to find in a Tony Scott film is something approaching a spiritual component to it, but seriously, there's real, multifaceted depth of emotion to Doug Carlin's (Denzel Washington) quest to try to go back in time and save a woman (Paula Patton) from being murdered. To Carlin, it's not just about saving this beautiful woman whom he hardly knows, but also doing something unprecedented for him as an ATF agent: stop a devastating criminal act before it happens rather than just picking up the bloody pieces afterward. Tony Scott's best film? I'd have to see the rest of his oeuvre to determine, but this is certainly the best film of his I've seen to date.

El Velador (2011, Natalia Almada), seen on DVD in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Here's the next blind spot I filled in thanks to the Slant screener-exchange program: a near-wordless, impressionistic documentary that uses one setting, a handful of people and a detached camera style to make a broader implicit commentary about the Mexican drug war. The "velador" is an anonymous (to us) watchman who oversees a cemetery full of drug-war victims, many of them given fancy burials/burial houses; director/co-producer/cinematographer/co-editor Natalia Almada observes him and a handful of others going about their daily routines at that cemetery: mopping up tombs, watering dirt, building new structures, etc. The drug war waging outside isn't seen up-close, instead remaining as background noise thanks to television and radio news reports glimpsed/heard on the soundtrack. And Almada often find bits of grim beauty in this particular milieu, with some breathtaking wide shots worthy of, say, Michelangelo Antonioni in L'Avventura. Even the one ray of hope towards the end—when reports that one of the main drug bosses has been killed in a gun battle—is negated in a subsequent scene, suggesting a never-ending cycle; in such a context, it's fitting that one of the film's final scenes is of the watchman watering the dirt in a seemingly endless long take. Socially conscious documentary filmmaking of the best (read: least didactic/preachy/polemical) kind, the strangely lyrical El Velador is definitely worth seeking out once (it played for a week-long run at Museum of Modern Art a while back, but will hopefully find its way to home video and/or television at some point).

Blue Velvet (1986, David Lynch), seen at Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, N.Y. 
You will all note that there is no designation of this being a second or third viewing of this film. That's because it wasn't. When I went to the Museum of the Moving Image to see this David Lynch classic on Saturday evening, I was seeing it more or less for the first time (I had seen bits of pieces of it beforehand on cable, but never the complete film). Now I definitely see the seeds of Twin Peaks planted in Blue Velvet, though I think Lynch went even deeper and darker with his stylistic and thematic concerns not only in that television series, but in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), with that final act that resolutely refuses any of the ironic distance between us viewers and the horror he depicts onscreen that marks, and arguably sometimes mars, Blue Velvet and the Twin Peaks series. Blue Velvet is still pretty terrific, though—as much an essay on the dark allure of movies and movie-watching as it is about its more obvious subjects, the seedy underbelly of suburbia and Jeffrey Beaumont's (Kyle McLachlan) loss of innocence and recognition of violent inner impulses.

Statues Also Die (1953, Alain Resnais/Chris Marker), seen at Light Industry in Brooklyn, N.Y.
All the Memories of the World (1956, Alain Resnais), seen at Light Industry in Brooklyn, N.Y.
In honor of the late filmmaker Chris Marker, Light Industry—an independent organization devoted to screening avant-garde work here in Brooklyn—hosted a free day of screenings of all of Marker's films yesterday. Thanks to my day job, I was only able to check out these two early Marker collaborations with Alain Resnais (he's not credited as a co-director in All the Memories of the World, but he's nevertheless a major creative force behind it). But the combined 52 minutes of these two films managed to cram a lot more wit, intelligent provocation and insight than a lot of single feature-length works. In Statues Also Die, Resnais and Marker turn a celebration of African art into a pointed critique of French colonialism, addressing broader concerns about the changing meanings of art over time in the process; their subversive edge comes out in a different way in All the Memories of the World, a tribute to the Bibliothèque Nationale that pokes philosophical fun at the idea of an institution like that one housing pretty much all the memories of Western civilization, preserved for mass consumption and judgment by future generations. If La jetée (1962) and Sans soleil (1983) are anywhere as rich, heady, profound and funny as these two short essay films, then I'm already chomping at the bit to finally make their acquaintance.

You can find both of these shorts on YouTube, by the way: Statues Also Die here and All the Memories of the World here.

Bitte Orca (2009)


Bitte Orca (2009, Dirty Projectors)
Swing Lo Magellan (2012, Dirty Projectors)
Now I have finally reached the Dirty Projectors albums most people know and love—and yeah, Bitte Orca is as excellent as I'd heard, with Dave Longstreth effectively streamlining his experimental tendencies into more conventional song structures to fresh and exciting effect. The song in which the album's title is sung, "Useful Chamber," is one of the more joyous things I've heard from the band since maybe "Two Young Sheeps" from their New Attitude EP. I'm marginally less enthused by their newest album, Swing Lo Magellan, but it's still quite good. If nothing else, it has, in its last cut, "Irresponsible Tune," a short but touching celebration of music and art-making, with Longstreth singing,

Sing all day
Record and play
Drums and bass, and a guitar
Will there be peace in the world,
or will vile winds always own the truth?

The Roosevelts, seen live at 68 Jay Street Bar in Brooklyn, N.Y.
This a Wall Street Journal co-worker's band; I found myself with a free night on Saturday, remembered the co-worker had invited me to this, and figured it'd make for reasonable after-Blue Velvet entertainment. They're mellow and all right. 

Study for Homage to the Square (Terrassed Foliage) (1960), Josef Albers


Robert Wilson/Philip Glass: Einstein on the Beach, seen at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York
Ellsworth Kelly: Sculpture, seen at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York
Renaissance Venice: Drawings from the Morgan, seen at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York
Josef Albers in America: Painting on Paper, seen at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York
I made my first-ever trip to The Morgan Library & Museum (which was once known as The Pierpont Morgan Library after its founder, J(ohn) P(ierpont) Morgan) mostly to see the Einstein on the Beach exhibit, which includes not only Robert Wilson's storyboards for the 1976 opera and projected video of rehearsal footage, but Philip Glass's complete score, from his own hand, encased all along the gallery's right wall. Because I studied music performance back in grade school, I have a natural curiosity as to what beloved pieces of music look like on staff paper, so seeing all the music of Einstein on the Beach right in front of my eyes was a pretty cool experience; hell, if I wasn't with a friend, I might have stayed in that gallery longer just to examine that score.

Naturally, though, a minimalist work begets a minimalist exhibition—so, in order to get our money's worth, my friend and I explored some of the other exhibits at The Morgan Library & Museum. One of the ones we took in was a show devoted to German-born 20th-century American artist Josef Albers, a show mostly featuring experiments he tried out while creating his famous Homage to the Square series (a bunch of paintings that mostly consist of bold colors juxtaposed within concentric squares). Seeing this in fairly quick succession after seeing the Einstein on the Beach exhibit was a surprisingly eye-opening experience; in fact, I might go so far as to say that Albers's abstractions of color and form in his paintings could be seen as echoed by Glass's abstractions of melody and rhythm in his music. 

No comments: