Friday, December 31, 2010

a note on The Social Network:

To my mind, the key moment of the film, where everything clicks into place, doesn’t come until the final moments of the movie. Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerman sits in front of his laptop, debating whether or not to send an ex a friend request. It’s a simple irony, and one the film gets a lot of mileage out of – the creator of the social networking juggernaut is himself an anti-social prick. He ultimately sends the request (in what Dave Kehr has dubbed the film’s ‘Rosebud moment’), and then begins repeatedly refreshing the page. It’s in that succession of clicks that the film’s power grows, as it suggests the nadir of on-line culture. Isolated, we wait for the page to update, continuously, forever, and so on and so on… It’s an obsessive moment worthy of Zodiac, a compulsive stretching into nothingness.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Godard's Top Ten Films of 1956, from Cahiers du Cinema:

1. Mr. Arkadin (Welles)
2. Elena et les hommes (Renoir)
3. The Man Who Knew Too Much (Hitchcock)
4. Bus Stop (Logan)
5. Slightly Scarlet (Dwan)
6. The Saga of Anatahan (von Sternberg)
7. A Man Escaped (Bresson)
8. Fear (Rossellini)
9. Bhowani Junction (Cukor)
10. My Sister Eileen (Quine)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mann without men #1:

Literary Interlude:

...Amalfitano asked him what books he liked and what book he was reading, just to make conversation. Without turning the pharmacist answered that he liked books like The Metamorphosis, Bartleby, A Simple Heart, A Christmas Carol... Leaving aside the fact that A Simple Heart and A Christmas Carol were stories, not books, there was something revelatory about the taste of this bookish young pharmacist... who clearly and inarguably preferred minor works to major ones. He chose The Metamorphosis over The Trial, he chose Bartleby over Moby-Dick, he chose A Simple Heart over Bouvard and Pecuchet, and A Christmas Carol over A Tale of Two Cities or The Pickwick Papers. What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.

Roberto Bolano, 2666

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Manderlay Burns (Rebecca, '40):

Experiment Perilous:

‘One reason why Jacques Tourneur remains a major but neglected Hollywood filmmaker is that elusiveness is at the core of his art. A director of disquiet, absence, and unsettling nocturnal atmospheres whose characters tend to be mysteries to themselves as well as to us, he dwells in uncertainties and ambiguities even when he appears to be studiously following genre conventions. In other words, his brilliance isn’t often apparent because he tends to stay in the shadows.

Jonathan Rosenbaum, ‘Art of Darkness: Wichita’

There's something exhausted, and helpless, and fragile, and old… They have a strange quality of-- I don't know where it comes from; I'm trying to think of some other films of filmmakers who walk that same land, films that seem to generate their own, some kind of oblivion inside of them.

Pedro Costa in conversation with Chris Fujiwara on Tourneur

With all due respect to those who are currently immersed in the movie-event-of-the- moment (Read: Venice, TIFF, NYFF, etc.), to my mind the most exciting thing around is the series of Jacques Tourneur films playing every Saturday and Sunday morning at the Music Box. It’s a healthy sampling of his entire career (although by no means an exhaustive retrospective), encompassing arguably his best Lewton film, a great western, a late-period horror classic, a post-War espionage thriller, and an odd ball entry that we’ll consider here: a Rebecca-esque gothic melodrama called (rather misleadingly) Experiment Perilous. It’s never been available on home video until very recently (courtesy of Warner’s burn on demand Archive service), so the prospect of discovering it on the big screen is doubly enticing.

Costa’s notion of ‘oblivion’ is instructive here, as on paper, Experiment Perilous strikes one as another post Rebecca woman in peril/old dark house exercise. But Tourneur infuses the proceedings with an atmosphere of dread that threatens to engulf everyone, even the picture itself, at any moment. After a chance encounter on a train, Dr. Bailey (George Brent) becomes entangled with a beautiful, possibly insane woman, her potentially murderous husband, and a damaged, emotionally fragile child. Echoes of ‘Gaslight’ (released the same year) abound, as well as ‘Laura’ and ‘Vertigo’: Bailey falls in love with a portrait of Allida Bederaux (Hedy Lamarr); when they finally meet, she is wearing the same dress and poised in the same position; Lewis’ ‘My Name Is Julia Ross’: an insane patriarch struggles to drive his faux-wife insane as she professes her sanity to no avail, and Lewis’ ‘So Dark The Nigh’t: in each film one of the main characters willfully and symbolically eradicates a part of themselves by destroying their own reflection (in a pool of water and a window pane, respectively); as well as Tourneur’s own ‘Cat People’: a beautiful woman becomes a symbolic repository of male angst and phallic anxiety.

The important thing here isn’t how the film does or doesn’t mirror its contemporaries, but how Tourneur conjures a distinct sense of what Rosenbaum describes as ‘disquiet(ing) absence’. Tourneur’s camera creeps around the Bederaux mansion like an uninvited guest, tracking along walls and peering around corners, observing the bric-a-brac of the rich and disturbed. Heddy Lamarr’s Allida is constantly ensconced/trapped by people and objects – in a literal sense, as Tourneur forcefully arranges figures around her within the frame. At one point, the camera crawls along a hallway to focus on a table decorated with vases and flower bouquets. The camera stops and pans right to reveal a recess to the room; Allida is seated, surrounded by standing figures and vases in the extreme foreground. The image works as both a claustrophobic confinement of the body as well as an exhibition: Allida is another beautiful thing to be displayed. Another nice detail: the Bederaux home’s foray has a series of elaborate fish tanks built into the walls, an understated variation on a bird in its gilded cage – indeed, Tourneur’s sense of objects both defining and trapping his characters rivals that of Sirk.

Tourneur eschews exposition in favor of a long, detailed flashback, revealing the origins of Nick Bederaux’s (Paul Lukas) fascination with Allida – Nick is the rich, dashing and cultured older man who takes a young, naïve Allida under his wing, with promises to show her the world and educate her. This ‘education’ is clearly a molding, as Allida is transformed into a bourgeois. Tourneur explicates these changes with simple yet forceful visual corollaries, creating a sense of pre-marriage and post-marriage, i.e. pre and post assimilation. The ‘pre’ Allida is vibrant, always smiling, and associated visually with the land (open fields, vast landscapes, sitting on the ground, a willingness to ‘get dirty’). ‘Post’ Allida has been trained to sit still, maintain ‘composure’; she is seen only indoors, always seated and wearing dark dresses; the scenario becomes ‘clean’. Tourneur’s critique of ‘polite’ society snuffing out a vivacious personality is damning in its precision; the above mentioned shot of Allida wiping away her own reflection immediately follows Nick’s marriage proposal, and we are meant to understand that her gesture signifies not only her agreement (which we are never shown – the words themselves would be redundant), but her own complicit and tacit understanding that her old life is no more.

Tourneur further explicates these themes with recurring visual motifs. The Bederaux’s grand stair case houses an elegant, Greek-style sculpture of a woman that Nick refers to as his ‘goddess’ (SPOILER: he will meet his demise when this ‘woman’ collapses and literally crushes him); Bailey and the Bederaux’s share a common friend, a bohemian sculptor who has also harbored feelings for Allida – his studio houses a huge, oversized Medusa bust (tellingly, he refers to this as his masterpiece), as well as a large room with various molds of body parts strewn about. The medusa bust suggests, obviously, an object of great beauty that one must nonetheless refrain from looking at (denying the ‘gaze’, as it where), while the miscellaneous body parts floating around seemingly wait to be ‘assembled’, not unlike Allida herself.

* * *

Perhaps due to his reputation as a ‘horror’ director (a designation that is admittedly inadequate, like calling The Rules of the Game a film about a weekend hunting party or Citizen Kane a movie about a guy who runs a newspaper), one is always waiting for something horrific to happen in a Tourneur film. No one uses black and white quite like him; it’s neither high contrast nor inky, where blacks tend dominate everything else, but a silky, gray laden thing. Every scene seems to be waiting to be filled with smoke or fog, almost anticipating an oncoming haze that will envelope the frame, and everything in it. Indeed, Experiment Perilous ends in a kind of apocalypse, the home erupting in an inferno – the patriarchal homestead, built on corruption and subjugation, must be leveled.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Limits of Control redux:

To the best of my knowledge, this piece wound up generating more comments than any other on the old Tisch Film Review site. Along with a defense of Shyamalan's The Happening by this mad man, people seemed to generally hate my assessment of Jarmusch's odd ball hit-man/New Wave homage. I still think the film is a lot of fun, and I had a lot of fun writing this essay (in retrospect, it is perhaps slightly more pretentious than I had intended).

* * *

Opaque – adjective: “hard to understand; not clear or lucid; obscure: The problem remains opaque despite explanations”

Uncertainty, aridity, peace – all things will resolve themselves into these and pass away.
- Kafka

By the looks of it, Jim Jarmusch has committed the cinematic atrocity of the year. Despite a couple of reasonably high profile defenders, The Limits of Control has to be one of the worst reviewed films of recent memory. Even more curious is the vicious hyperbole and acidic vitriol being hurled his way, questioning Jarmusch’s integrity, sincerity, intelligence – as if the simple act of viewing his most recent film has somehow damaged the individual critics psyche in unknown, irreparable ways. Perhaps this is the price one pays when playing the kinds of games Jarmusch seems interested in here. Mysteries abound, and more to the point, remain unsolved, open ended…

1. Mystery:
A mysterious man has appeared, as if from nowhere, to perform mysterious tasks, apparently at the behest of mysterious people. He will go on to meet other mysterious people, interacting with them in mysterious ways, before seemingly attaining his ultimate goal – a goal which, by and large, we are unclear about.

2. Being and Nothingness: In his dismissive one star review, Roger Ebert assumes the persona of Isaach De Bankole’s elusive hit-man spectre in a snarky speculative fiction about a day-in-the-life on the set. His Isaach wonders about what the director and cinematographer will ask him to do, and how long he will have to wait before being done. Presumably unwittingly, Ebert sums up much of the film’s modus operandus, the idea of languidly waiting, of simply being.

3. Repetitions:
“You don’t speak Spanish do you?”; two espressos, in separate cups - not a double espresso; Diamonds, Matchbooks; Unintelligible, yet edible, notes; “he who believes himself bigger than everybody else ought to visit the cemetery”.

4. Point Blank:
As Jonathan Rosenbaum has pointed out, the film bears a resemblance to John Boorman’s pseudo-psychedelic thriller, with De Bankole assuming the role of Lee Marvin’s carved-out-of-granite perpetual motion machine, a pit bull on a singular mission who’ll be damned if he’s letting go. Jarmusch honors the film, and lays bare his intentions, with an opening credit – the production company that birthed the film has been named after Boorman’s film. But to what end?

5. Godard, et al:
Not quite (not simply) a homage to the French New Wave, Jarmusch instead casts his net a bit wider. Glenn Kenny, as well as Rosenbaum, sense the spirit of Rivette at work in Jarmusch’s puzzle-without-an-answer. There is a bit of Antonioni’s spiritual and spatial ennui, as well as odds and ends from the noir love-letters/deconstructions of Breathless and Shoot the Piano Player. De Bankole’s stone faced non-acting aligns him with a legacy of Bressonian models, while Chris Doyle’s elusive, shimmering cinematography, beyond the most obvious connotation, evokes that other great contemporary DP, Agnes Godard. The other Denis connection? The presence of Alex Descas, Denis’ favorite leading man. The camera ogles the local architecture like it was a Gaudi masterpiece, and there is a diffusive sense of space that Pedro Costa has been exploring in his recent pictures. The narrative (which does actually exist, although perhaps not in the sense that most people would prefer) proceeds in fits and starts, with scenes seemingly motivated by exquisite corpse-like free associations, or, (Kenny again) Robbe-Grillet zero-degree word play. Another association, again involving play – the games/narrative puzzles of Resnais’ early trifecta (Hiroshima/Marienbad/Muriel).

6. Doubles and Doppelgangers:
Having nothing to say - having no point - is different from arriving at ones point in a round-about way. Jarmusch seems to have a handle on his material at all times, and while one can disagree with or dislike that point, or its system of delivery, it is entirely inappropriate to confuse that dislike with idiocy on the filmmaker’s part. Whatever one makes of The Limits of Control, to assume that, like Ebert, every shot and gesture is simply a passing whim is, not to put too fine a point on it, missing the point. Paz de la Huerta’s “Nude” is the quintessential femme fatale, her goal stated and pursued with, um, naked abandon. She is all surface, every gesture simply there, and truthful. She seems incapable of subterfuge, although her existence implies it, and her eventual death is simply inevitable. Her role (and there is nothing else – the lack of depth is (purposefully) comical) requires it. She occasionally reappears as Tilda Swinton, her double/opposite – fully clothed from head to toe (not naked, unfortunately), with pale skin and blonde hair (not dark skin and deeply brown hair). Jarmusch also links them with raincoats – neither functional, one is heavy and thick, the other is totally transparent. Descas and De Bankole could be brothers, and both speak French, although Jarmusch has them interact, perversely, with a translator. The brief cameos by John Hurt (“Guitar”) and Gael Garcia Bernal (“Mexican”) are, despite obvious differences in age and ethnicity, linked by similar garb – the film briefly digresses into trying to redefine bohemia in the modern age – as well as interest in a particular guitar case. There is also a visit by Youki Kudoh as “Molecules”, who provides a dubious scientific explanation for the film’s far-fetched, comical ending. Needless to say, an international cast of actors meeting in terse vignettes and having pseudo-comical interactions, interrupted by the occasional language barrier, should be no surprise to Jarmusch fans.

7. Politics:
Make no mistake – beyond the genre trappings (lovingly violated), Jarmusch has made a boldly political film. I don’t necessarily agree with Rosenbaum’s assertion that Bill Murray’s “American” is a Cheney stand-in (an unreasonably limiting perspective, to my mind), but I do agree that Jarmusch has, for better or for worse, laid out a very specific statement of purpose – a kind of personal declaration/summation. The limits of a very particular kind of “control” become clear, as Jarmusch is railing against a society that no longer values art, museums, film, genre, the act of looking and sitting quietly, waiting, meandering through quasi-defined space, repetitions that become mantra-like – those elusive secular prayers.

8. Repetitions:
“You don’t speak Spanish do you?”; two espressos, in separate cups - not a double espresso; Diamonds, Matchbooks; Unintelligible, yet edible, notes; “he who believes himself bigger than everybody else ought to visit the cemetery”.

Postscript: In the most recent issue of Film Comment, there is an appreciation of the film by Kent Jones, which I very purposefully avoided. And, as it turns out, with good reason – as usual, Jones elucidates difficult material with remarkable poise and a disarming ease. I don’t think there is any critic working right now in English that makes the art of writing seem so incredibly effortless. I worried that the above post would come off as the very snark I was decrying, or even worse, as pretentious. But if that is the case, so be it. While writing about film as a pastime engenders quite a few benefits – reflection, hindsight, sometimes a second or third viewing – it can also be encumbered by all the cultural noise around it. Unless one lives in a vacuum, it is impossible to avoid reviews, conversations, all those opinions both pro and con, and it becomes something of a chore to sift through the avalanche of words and try to remember something of ones initial response to the film at hand. In other words, it is entirely possible that I value The Limits of Control so highly simply because everyone else dismissed it so easily. I certainly hope this isn’t the case – only time, and a few more viewings, will tell. I’ll end with Jones’ words, “Jarmusch’s new film stands alone, within his own body of work and in the landscape of current cinema. It is militant, and it is serene.” I can’t wait to see the movie again.

Triangle redux:

About a year ago I wrote a few essays for the Tisch Film Review, the brain child of a New York based filmmaker and critic. Various factors have conspired to render the site defunct; in the interest of keeping these pieces available, I'm re posting a couple of them here. I've tweaked a few typos here and there, and the pieces are missing illustrations that originally accompanied them. Otherwise, they remain unchanged. Unfortunately, I was unable to save a piece on Jia Zhangke's 24 City, which remains my favorite among anything else I've ever written. It's now lost somewhere out there in cyber-space.

* * *

Three men plan a heist in a shady backroom – loot will be stolen, no one will trust each other, and a cheating wife will be thrown in for good measure (her lover? A cop!). What could go wrong? Or more importantly, how long until something goes wrong? Usually, either the planning of the heist or its inevitable unraveling are the most common narrative conceits on which to hang such a thriller – the cosmic certainty of disaster. But here we have a unique gimmick – the hook is not the plot, nor the various machinations that propel the plot, but the way in which the film itself was made. Three directors perform a large scale exquisite corpse, with Tsui Hark writing/directing the first thirty minutes or so of the film before passing it along to Ringo Lam, who in turn sends it to Johnnie To for the grand finale. If the heist gone horribly awry genre is middling and far too familiar, the opportunity to see three distinctive visual styles juxtaposed together in such a fashion is, as far as I know, entirely unique – most omnibus films function as discrete units, or if there are recurring characters/motifs, will still stop to identify who is doing what at any given moment. Interestingly enough, despite no identification of “chapter stops,” even the untrained eye will have no difficulty distinguishing almost exactly where each director transitions to the next. This is a master class in the practical applications of wildly different, and ultimately wildly opposed, film technique.
Hark’s madman, anything-goes aesthetic has, in recent years, began to show its seams. What was once a wild, razors edge approach to narrative and visual story telling has become simply incomprehensible. Canted angles, unmotivated zooms, frantic rack focuses and bizarre whip pans have worn out their welcome, and revealed a filmmaker and the end of his tether. David Bordwell’s recent post on the legacy of Hark reveals the limits of his tenuous (and now tedious) tight rope act – what was once fresh, unpredictable and dangerous has turned into one Ghost Story too many, with a few Once Upon a Time’s thrown in for good measure. Hark franchised himself too willingly, and the wild inconsistencies of his last great film, Time and Tide, have come to predominate. Perhaps one would be more forgiving without the context of two superior directors – one good, one great – and an interval of increasingly diminishing returns (I’m sorry, for you and myself, for having sat through Seven Swords and Zu Warriors).
Lam comes off slightly better, his slick, horizontally based compositions gliding the action smoothly across the 2:35 frame (he ensconces where Hark fragments). Tarantino’s appropriation of City on Fire notwithstanding, Lam never reached the heights of a Hark (or Woo, for that matter). His success with low budget, low expectation Van Damme fodder seems both a blessing and curse – Lam sidestepped the downfall of more epically minded directors ala Ronny Yu (who went from Bride With White Hair to Bride of Chucky, alas), but never strived for grandeur in the same way as a Woo or Yuen (again, for better or for worse). Here, Lam is allowed a bit more atmosphere, and his penchant for enclosing the frame in geometric compositions is almost Sternbergian. Sleek architecture creates an atmosphere of constant forward propulsion, as various characters move from point A to point B with acute precision, enveloped in chiaroscuro lighting. His episode culminates in a beautiful dance amidst stoic pillars in an amphitheatre-like parking garage – drama is displayed as if one is on a Grecian stage.
Leave it to Johnnie To to integrate wild abandon and cold architecture into something resembling filmmaking. From his first epic composition, with various characters stacked in depth and filling the widescreen frame, we realize instantly the auteur of Exiled, Sparrow and Breaking News (to name just a few). As our good friend Ignatius has pointed out over at The Auteurs, To is left with the task of synergizing these disparate threads, and he comes through with flying colors. After so much spatial fragmentation, To’s sense of space unifies plot, character and theme into a thrilling conclusion, with a late night shoot-out that rivals the finale of Exiled in aesthetic bliss, plumes of muzzle smoke drifting like clouds over stalks of tall grass. It’s a mesmerizing choice, the confusion and discontinuity of the plot evoked in purely visual terms, while To’s camera reveals a larger pattern of spatial configuration that never disorients the viewer – this is geometry as catharsis.
Perhaps unwittingly, To’s segment serves as a final nail in what was considered the Hong Kong New Wave. The second generation of HK action gods turned their eyes towards Hollywood over a decade ago, choosing Van Damme as their conduit to Hollywood fame and fortune. Fittingly, Hark and Lam (along with Woo) eventually made their way back to HK, but the game was up (I hasten to add that Woo’s Windtalkers might be one of his finest achievements, followed closely by Hark’s Double Team, an absurdist action amalgamation of twenty different movies, disintegrated into one ludicrous master stroke – sublime stupidity. Lam never fared so well, and Woo’s triumphant HK return is the laughable, wannabe-pseudo epic Red Cliff). Regardless, a few minor successes were far outweighed by embarrassment after embarrassment. One-too-many Better Tomorrows later, current HK action has disintegrated into self parody, the visceral action of yesterday replaced by slipshod FX (Yuen Wo-Ping gone digital) and increasingly uninteresting pop stars-turned actor (see, for instance Storm Riders). Wing Chun becomes Her Name is Cat, Fist of Legend turns into Black Mask 2; Corey Yuen has gone to work for Luc Besson while Ching Siu Tung choreographs for Uwe Boll and the recently nationalized Zhang Yimou. Perhaps, like most New Waves, the initial burst of youthful energy and vigor where what mattered most – a sense of daring and anything-goes-not-giving-a-fuck aggressiveness. Such smoke and mirrors can only last for so long before one demands something more – and, as if in a face-off in one of his own films, To is the last man standing.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

some 'Joe' talk, with plenty more to come:

‘APICHATPALME’ screams the headline from last month’s issue of Cinema Scope – something of a victory lap for the venerable underground Canadian institution, spearheaded by the delightfully surly and irascible Mark Peranson. Certainly, they’ve got as much right as anyone (more even) to triumphantly proclaim the first genuine experimental filmmaker to win a Palme d’Or in who knows how long – along with Denis and Tarr, Peransons’ crew has been pushing Lisandro Alonso, James Benning, Lav Diaz, Miguel Gomes, Albert Serra, Pedro Costa, Jia Zhangke and Jean Louis-Guerin long before most of us had ever even heard of them. Champions of the unknown, for sure, and we all owe them a little something for fighting the good fight, as well as doing quite a bit of festival leg work. In other words, if anyone deserves that victory lap, it’s Peranson and Co. The object in question is, of course, Mr. Apichatpong ‘Joe’ Weerasethakul, who’s most recent feature ‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives’ just walked off with (arguably) the most prestigious film prize in the world (that it was awarded by a jury headed by Tim Burton is subject to another essay altogether, rife with speculation as to the worn-out Disney shill/whimsy-as-corporate-trademark/man-child’s private motivations).

So is this the year that ‘Joe’ breaks out? It depends. As with most things, who and what you’ve been reading plays no small part. Weerasthakul is not only on his 5th feature film, but has made a number of digital shorts and gallery installations – and while this might not exactly garner the attention of Entertainment Weekly, it aint’ nuthin’ either. In other words, he’s been a major figure for some of us for quite a while. Conversely, the bestowal of the above mentioned, internationally recognized, ‘wow, that guy is hot shit’ trophy is bound to make just about anybody sit up and pay attention (if only for a minute or two). Peranson dubbed his 2010 Canne’s coverage ‘The Year We Made Contact’, a fitting title that suggests a couple of perspectives – not only that of himself and his magazine, but a more general section of cinephilia at large. And if we haven’t quite ‘made contact’ with the mainstream (something that neither Peranson nor Weerasthakul could give a shit about), it’s a shot across the bow nonetheless. More than a few entities have reported on ‘Toronto Star’ critic Peter Howell’s dismissive thoughts on the award winning director after the announcement of the top prize: Scott Foundas expounds: ‘In a jeremiad so hostile to the very notion of alternative cinema that it could have been bought and paid for by a major studio, … Howell assailed Apichatpong’s film for being “so resolutely uncommercial, even Thais can’t figure it out”… He then went on to tsk-tsk Burton for “one of the most political and cynical moves ever from a Cannes jury,” which evidently “wanted to show how cool and cutting-edge they were” by awarding the kind of film destined to be “shunted off to single-screen art houses” and “play to tiny audiences and miniscule box office receipts before vanishing from the minds of all but film critics and the most adventurous of regular film-goers”. Another year, same as the last – I’m reminded of a long chapter in Rosenbaum’s ‘Movie Wars’, in which he chronicles David Cronenberg’s battle against Harvey Weinstein during the 1999 Cannes Festival; Cronenberg was required to defend himself for awarding top prizes to the Dardenne Bros’ ‘Rosetta’, as well as its non-professional cast, while Weinstein bitched and moaned about the festival not recognizing ‘real films’ (i.e. Miramax product). Pick a side. It seems like nothing changes, other than the titles of films and the ‘critics’ talking about them (remember the ‘Film Socialisme’ flap?). Ultimately, I’m not entirely sure how far an ‘us vs them’ attitude is going to get anyone, although I increasingly fear that mainstream studio product won’t rest until it has steam rolled everything in its path. It’s not enough to be the biggest kid on the block, they want to be the only kid on the block.

So here we are on the quickly approaching eve of another TIFF, where ‘Boonmee’ will be screening (and a couple of friends will be viewing), as well as another upcoming edition of CIFF, also where ‘Boonmee will screen (and I’ll be viewing). I’m not sure how ‘cool’ or ‘cutting-edge’ I am, nor how tiny the audience will be when I finally get to see it. I am positive that the film will ultimately play to ‘minuscule box office receipts’, although it is questionable how quickly the film will vanish from the minds of those who see it. I for one can’t stop thinking about ‘Joe’.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Dinosaur and the Baby:

'Godard was not satisfied with his own ideas and he said, "Fritz, do you have any ideas how we can end this picture?" I had written something that I had never used, so I said, "How would it be if [I say], 'Murder - killing - is no solution.'" And he loved it. That's how we worked - and it was really very pleasant. I think he is the greatest hope for motion pictures.'

Fritz Lang in conversation with Peter Bogdanovich, on Godard and the making of 'Contempt'

Monday, June 14, 2010

McTiernan Lives:

If you’ll take a look at the lower right side of your screen, you’ll notice a new ‘essentials’ link (listed conveniently in alphabetical order): allow me to officially introduce Mission: McTiernan. The brain child of yours truly and the estimable Mr. Jake Barningham (and, update, now including the participation of The Auteur’s regular, Sounds/Images proprietor, friend of this here blog, and all around nice guy Ignatius Vishnevetsky), the site is dedicated to, well, John McTiernan, and all things McTiernan related. Spurned on by an early morning screening of The Thomas Crown Affair (recently anointed with a stunning blu ray release), the idea hit us like some foregone conclusion – why on Earth had no one done this yet? Furthermore, why hadn’t we thought of such a thing before now? Despite some box office success, and the occasionally favorable critical notices, no one had, to the best of our knowledge, ever thought to consider McTiernan as an auteur – as if the visual qualities of Die Hard, The Hunt For Red October, DHWAV, and Predator (to name his biggest hits) had nothing to do with him, or, conversely, that those same qualities simply disappeared in films like Basic, The Thirteenth Warrior or Rollerball (to name his biggest commercial/critical disasters).

Nevertheless, during that fateful viewing of Thomas Crown, the revelations came quickly – alternately tight and loose compositions, a propensity for location shooting, an emphasis on converging lines highlighting the horizontal, rhyming placements of figures and objects over separate images, taunt, seemingly effortless editing – it became startlingly clear that this was a major work, criminally under seen and undervalued, as if forgotten (or, more precisely, never heralded in the first place). McTiernan’s ability to navigate the fickle world of large-budget studio filmmaking has led to some undeniable commercial and artistic successes, yet the inevitable downside is equally visible – in Hollywood, you’re only as valuable as you are profitable. The mission became clear: to revisit, rewatch, and in some cases re-evaluate the McTiernan oeuvre, as well as tracking down those unseen (his first feature, Nomads) as well as those lost to that curious limbo of commercial misfires/genre oddities (Medicine Man and Last Action Hero).

On a more personal note, it’s clear to me that John McTiernan was in fact the first director that I recognized as an auteur. Long before the term became a part of my vocabulary, I had nonetheless already realized, to a small degree, what a ‘film by John McTiernan’ was. I had the good luck to see both Predator and Die Hard in theatres in their original releases (1987 and 1988, respectively), and it would be an understatement to suggest just how much of a formative influence this was for a young me – clean and crisp, a lack of fussiness, with solid yet simple narrative through lines (usually of the men-on-a-mission type) that were always subservient to the precision of the image. It must have been around the time of Hunt for Red October that it was somehow brought to my attention that it was a new film by the director of these personal favorites (I hasten to add that these were films that lingered, as the ability to rewatch, to revisit and somehow possess these various movies on video was still a few years away in my home). With the exception of Nomads, and, years later The Thomas Crown Affair, I’ve managed to see every McTiernan film on the big screen at least once, if not several times. I’ve grown up with McTiernan, and erected my own Sarris-like pantheon around him. As a younger man, any and all action films were measured against McTiernan’s accomplishments; I find myself now measuring most any film against McTiernan. Visual grammar seems to no longer exist in big budget studio releases, and by and large, people don’t seem to notice (see also: the rapturous acceptance of Shutter Island)

The point here is not to force comparisons of McTiernan to Hitchcock, or Ford, or Hawks, nor Bresson, Mizoguchi, Mann (Anthony or Michael), Godard, Brakhage or Ozu. The point is, however, that while these filmmakers have had reams of ink spilled on their behalf (and rightly so), an accomplished artist like McTiernan languishes largely in critical obscurity. To that end, we are simply attempting to redress the balance, if only to a small degree. Our focus has started small, with a smattering of screen grabs highlighting visual symmetries/correlations, some thoughts on the very (very) beginnings of several films, a brief visual essay, and a typically idiosyncratic appreciation by Mr. Vishnevetsky on the ‘basics of Basic’. We’ve found a French interview with McTiernan never translated into English (once again, they’re a step ahead – see also James Gray) that Mr. Barningham was kind enough to post, doing as much proof reading as possible. The site is a work in progress, and we hope to steadily amass more material, including more visual essays and, eventually, full length audio commentaries for key films. I’m not entirely sure that the end product is going to somehow magically revitalize McTiernan’s career, nor am I naïve enough to think that our modest endeavor is going to secure him a place in the annals of film history. But we will have tried, at the very least. We love John McTiernan, and we want you to love him too.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Literary Interlude:

'Like the celebrities who would follow, Gatsby was a symbol of twentieth-century America, where so many were discovering the fairy's wing on which to found their own unreal reality. Decades later, advertisers would invent a motto to accompany the symbol. It came from an oft-shown television commercial of the 1980s featuring a soap-opera actor pitching a pain reliever. 'I am not a doctor, but I play one on TV,' he said. In the same way Gatsby might have said, 'I was not an Oxford grad, but I played one,' or President Reagan might have said, 'I was not a president, but I played one,'... In a culture of personality, playing one was just as good as being one, which threatened to make us a faux society of authors without books, artists without art, musicians without music, politicians without policies, scholars without scholarship.'

Neal Gabler, 'Life: The Movie'

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Polanski's Ghost:

The first thirty minutes or so of Roman Polanski’s ‘The Ghost Writer’ contains some of the most assured, most precise, most exciting filmmaking that I’ve seen all year. We are clearly in the hands of a master here, as Polanski sets up a kind of culmination of all of his thematic concerns in a seemingly effortless manner (that this may in fact possibly be his final film is an unfortunate coincidence). The dialogue free opening is a marvel: a large ferry looms into view, as we cut to an interior shot of the ship. Cars begin exiting, slowly inching around a parked, unmoving vehicle. Attendants begin directing traffic and peering inside the vehicle. Cut to an empty ship, the SUV still motionless. A tow truck removes it, while investigators peer through the windshield and search the undercarriage for bombs (three minutes in, and already a reminder that we live in a post 9/11, post Iraq invasion world). Cut to a limp body washed up on a beach, motionless as waves crash around it: an evocative use of emptiness to suggest death, an overwhelming sense that there is an absence.

We are quickly introduced to Ewan McGregor’s ghost writer (never named in the film, and referred to only as ‘The Ghost’ in the film’s credits) and his agent in a restaurant. As they converse, Polanski refrains from the insufferable ping-ponging effect of shot-counter shot; instead, he lines people up behind his speakers, these figures creating a sharp straight line leading into the background of the shot. A minor detail, perhaps, but consider the effort in assembling these extras, directing them, and choreographing continuous action in the visible background: all of this instead of simply pushing the camera in for tight close-ups of faces.

Polanski moves immediately from the lunch scene to McGregor entering a publisher’s headquarters for an interview (the set design of the building’s foray, all glass and intersecting planes, would delight Assayas). Entering a room with a clearly displeased book editor, Polanski does several things very quickly: the screen is black as the shot begins, the camera placed squarely on McGregor’s back. As he walks away from the camera, light enters the frame, as well as a figure. Without cutting, the camera momentarily pushes in on this new character, before promptly stuttering to the right, introducing another new character. Again, without cutting, the camera pans right once more to reveal a third figure, this one recognizable as McGregor’s agent from the previous scene. It’s a brief sequence, but a highly suggestive one. Polanski has made several things clear with his mise en scene – this world purports to clarity and transparency, yet it is an illusion (the irate editor for one, also the fact that the actual meeting takes place not in the crystal clear world of panes of glass, but behind closed doors, in a windowless room). The precision of the framing is equally suggestive – more than a fascinating bit of manipulating offscreen space, it implies a fundamental instability. Within a certain confined (even claustrophobic) space, the frame can always fluctuate to reveal something new and unexpected (a powerful visual metaphor for the narrative mechanics of a thriller).

McGregor is assigned to begin ghost writing a political memoir for ex-British Prime Minister Adam Lang (a thinly veiled stand in for Tony Blair, embodied with an admirable mixture of bombastic self-awareness and aw-shucks-why-me ignorance by a very game Pierce Brosnan). McGregor travels to the politician’s private island sanctum under the auspices of interviewing Lang, only to become gradually immersed in, then enveloped by, and ultimately consumed in a vague conspiracy involving all sorts of pseudo-Haliburton/Middle East/extraordinary rendition escapades. The notion of private corporations, in conjunction with the US Government, manipulating world events is nothing particularly new. Again, what is fascinating is how Polanski marshals the pat topicality of the screenplay into a compendium of his own personal obsessions. Lang’s island stronghold is one of the great sets of recent cinema – a modernist fortress of sorts (complete with its own media/communications center), it represents a key duality, as well as a particularly dark Polanski joke. Each room of the house is equal parts wall and window. The visual dichotomy is clear: encased, McGregor is allowed glimpses into the outside world (Polanski makes great use of the symmetrical possibilities of the design, a solid gray filling half of the frame while the other half reveals an expansive view of the beach/ocean), but only glimpses: the island is gray, gloomy, foreboding and largely off limits. Polanski’s joke (one that sticks in the throat) is simply this – the vision of a world beyond the walls reveals only another prison, be it one that is larger than his current cell. Ultimately, McGregor’s Ghost is entrapped by a series of enclosing environs, and while some might be larger than others, they lead, inexorably, to the same fate.

* * *
McGregor’s ‘Ghost’ is another in a long line of passive Polanski protagonists. Even when they are investigating, and they almost always are, inevitably the Polanski hero stumbles across something bigger than himself - something that he thinks that he can control, yet ultimately proves far too grand to master. I’m thinking of Nicholson’s Jake Gittes, Depp’s Corso, Hugh Grant’s Nigel, Polanski himself as the hapless Tenant Trelkovsky, Adrien Brody’s Szpilman. Each character initiates, sometimes aggressively and usually against their better judgment, various mysteries and intrigues (even sometimes seemingly solving them, to a point), only to be crushed by the cruel vicissitudes of fate. The Pianist is particularly affecting in this light, as the context is neither supernatural nor a bit of existential ennui, but world historical events that crushed millions. Polanski’s origins have lead to a very specific, clearly defined world view. McGregor’s final destination in the grand, master narrative of political affairs is to remain nameless, his minor victory destined to be lost in a sea of powerful people manipulating events to their own liking.

Friday, May 28, 2010


'Some films that we admire discourage us, 'How can we do any better?' But they're not the best ones. The best films open doors. Cinema seems to start and restart with them. My Life To Live is like that.'

Truffaut, as narrated by Jean Narboni

'It's easy to get anxious about the place of Jean-Luc Godard in our cultural slipstream. He's held a top shelf slot of honor that has seemed unassailable for nearly sixty years, but sometimes I fear that his currency is becoming drastically devalued in our always renovating purgatory of digital 3-D candy corn... It will remain a Godardian world, no matter what comes, but who will know it?'

Michael Atkinson

a recent interview with Godard, courtesy of (and translated by) the indispensable Craig Keller.

'I don't believe in the body of work. There are works, they might be produced in individual installments, but the body of work as a collection, the great oeuvre, I have no interest in it. I prefer to speak in terms of pathways. Along my course, there are highs and there are lows, there are attempts... I've towed the line a lot.'


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The People vs JLG, or, Cannes 2010:

Another year, another Cannes. Amidst the usual griping (wasn’t last year supposed to be the worst competition line up in recent memory? Or was that the year before?), who would have thought that the big conversation starter would be JLG? The octogenarian has been doing his own thing his own way for so long now, I didn’t think anyone could muster the enthusiasm to feign outrage. Really, at this point who would even be surprised? As it goes, very few people involved in the fracas have actually, you know, even seen the film. Instead, it’s now a debate between ‘ivory tower elitists’ and more practical, level-headed viewers who have just had enough of Godard’s ‘pranks’. Start at Glenn Kenny’s blog, where the comments section has reached unheard of levels of vitriol (and length). Kent Jones stops by to give his usual calm, clear and concise input (it helps that he’s seen the film); Kristin Thompson touches briefly on the topic here, before branching out in another direction about distribution patterns, etc. Godard ‘apologist’ (or is that acolyte?) Jonathan Rosenbaum has some pertinent things to say here. Daniel Kasman has a nice write up here, where he talks about the film itself and not simply the critical conversation (argument, food fight, etc.) surrounding it.

Anyone who knows me or who has visited this space before knows very well my feelings on JLG – simply put, he’s probably the most important living filmmaker we have. Not to say that he’s my favorite – those are two different things entirely. But he’s the artist who has taught me the most about what sounds and images can, at least potentially, mean. He’s an experimenter in the best sense of the word, and like all experimenters, sometimes he fails and sometimes he succeeds spectacularly (frustratingly, sometimes within the confines of the same film). One doesn’t need to know that the factory set of Tout va Bien is modeled after Lewis’s ‘Ladies Man’ set – what is important in the film is linking the factory and the supermarket: the mode of production leading to the mode of consumption. Godard has given me more than I could ever give him, and for that I am grateful. Sure, go ahead and call me a disciple. I don’t mind a bit. I can't wait to see this movie.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


see you in May friends...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Drumroll Please....

At long last, I'm glad to finally point you towards the InRo Decade in Review feature. One of the benefits of online writing is the unlimited space, hence some lovely full color graphics and a few words on each title (as opposed to say, the recent Film Comment decade project, featuring a laundry list of titles and a few scattered words to suggest significance or contextualize within larger happenings during the decade). The down side is the lack of pay and the reliance on someone's word, as opposed to a deadline backed up by a paycheck. Nevertheless, I think it turned out pretty well, despite the usual oversights that will always accompany any project of this sort. So scoot on over and check it out. I'm responsible for one of the honorable mentions, as well as numbers 21, 44, 45, 51, 53, 54, 60, 61, 66, 68, 86, 96 and 99. If I'm not mistaken, #'s 100-51 will go live tomorrow, with the rest to follow the day after. I'll update each number as they become available with a link. Big props to Mr. Andrew Alexander Dowd for spearheading and organizing this fairly massive undertaking, as well as taking on a lion's share of the writing duties. You make it look it easy sir.

I suppose this officially puts the decade to rest, at least as far as writing about it goes, but movie love is a full time job. I look forward to the day I glance back at this list and kick myself for neglecting to include some great, as of yet undiscovered talent. Let's keep watching, shall we?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

List-O-Mania: The Year (Finally)

Is it possible to talk about the year in film 2009 without bringing up Avatar? James Cameron’s behemoth has become, as of this writing, the highest grossing picture world wide of all time, and the domestic record (set by his majesty’s own Titanic) is set to fall any day now. Of course, crunching the numbers reveals that only around half as many people that flocked to Titanic have seen Avatar. So what does all of this mean? I’m not entirely sure myself. I’m particularly cautious of zeitgeist criticism (as David Bordwell is fond of saying – which zeitgeist do you want to talk about?), and the notion that Avatar is some kind of game changer akin to the coming of sound, color or Cinemascope is particularly vexing. One thing is for sure – Avatar isn’t doing much in the way of storytelling, character development, or political discourse, nor is particularly interested in changing the grammar of the action-spectacular (for that, you’ll need to go and see Mann and To). Record setting box office grosses being what it is, Avatar is certain to influence a new crop of imitations, while continuing the fad of extra expensive 3D spectacle. Dave Kehr has an essential article in the current Film Comment that talks specifically about the new generation of 3D, as well as its history and formal properties. The article is also a bracing reminder that while the history books are fond of ‘eureka’, ‘lightning-in-a-bottle’ moments, the coming of sound and color went through many incarnations and incremental gradations before becoming the standards that they are today. I have no intention of getting all Bosley Crowther on you; for all I know, 3D might very well eventually become normalized, just another tool in the filmmaker’s arsenal. As Kehr notes, just such a normalizing was taking place when the studios decided to kill the 3D experiment, releasing Hitchcock’s 3D produced Dial M For Murder in 2D versions and abandoning the process all together. So perhaps what I’m arguing against is not the process itself, but its new found place in the sun courtesy of Cameron’s onerous, simple minded fantasy spectacle.
One thing is for sure: the films that mattered most to me this past year have nothing to do with Avatar or its ilk. I’m not interested in trying to yolk together thirty odd disparate films, but a quick glance reveals more than a few filmmakers concerned with where we are right now, and how we are doing, as opposed to where we can travel with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of special effects. And as an exercise in world-building and fantastical speculation, Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus has Cameron beat hands down.

So here you are, in no particular order:
24 City (Zhang-ke)
Tokyo Sonata (Kurosawa)
Summer Hours (Assayas)
35 Shots of Rum (Denis)
Bright Star (Campion)
Public Enemies (Mann)
Shirin (Kiarostami)
Two Lovers (Gray)
The Headless Woman (Martel)
The Beaches of Agnes (Varda)
The Limits of Control (Jarmusch)
Lorna’s Silence (Dardenne Bros.)
Treeless Mountain (Kim)
Sugar (Boden/Fleck)
The Sun (Sokurov)
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Gilliam)

That’s a hell of a year, no matter how you look at it. I could have also made room for Soderbergh’s twin experiments Che and The Girlfriend Experience, one an epic spectacle made with the most intimate of means, the other a quick one-off that happens to be a bold statement about capitalism; Rian Johnson’s The Brother’s Bloom, a charming lark of a film that’s ostensibly about con men, but is actually a profound meditation on the nature of storytelling; Steve McQueen’s installation in search of a gallery Hunger; Laurent Cantet’s public schools docudrama The Class; Brillante Mendoza’s pseudo-verite riff on 'Goodbye Dragon Inn' Serbis; Philippe Garrel’s fevered, doom laden romantic mind-fuck Frontier of Dawn; Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are and Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, two ‘kids films’ that sneak in more adult emotional baggage than this adult might be willing to admit; John Hillcoat’s noble failure The Road, Park Chan-Wook’s fuck you to ‘Twilight’ Thirst; Gotz Spielmann’s slow-burn (damn near glacial) knife-twist of a revenge thriller Revanche; and of course, so as not be left out of all the other reindeer games, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (yeah, at this point it's become a bit over hyped. But damn do those action scenes work like gang busters).

One of the things that annoy me most about these kinds of year-in-review type articles is that we frequently forget that cinephilia is a full time job. I saw a couple of hundred films this year that were entirely new to me, although less than half of those were current releases. Of course, whatever isn’t currently in release isn’t in the position to become a hot commodity, and is therefore unlikely to generate much ado about anything. Dave Kehr and The Auteurs are doing their part to redress the balance, with Kehr’s weekly NY Times column on older films hitting dvd (and presiding over the web’s best discussion forum) and The Auteurs maximizing the autonomy of the web to talk about whatever the fuck they feel like. One of the years most important events had nothing to do with what’s new and hot, and everything to do with exploring the past as a way towards pointing to the future. The Gene Siskel Film Center provided a near-exhaustive retrospective of Nagisa Oshima (courtesy of the estimable James Quandt of the Cinematheque Ontario), a criminally under rated auteur of the Japanese post-war cinema and, along with Shohei Imamura, an essential voice of social critique and protest (Imamura himself got some past due recognition of his own with a Criterion box set release of three hard-to-see early features). Often dubbed the Japanese Godard, Oshima dabbled in a lot of genres, appropriated a lot of styles and ruffled a lot of feathers while exploring deeply embedded themes of psycho-sexual disgust, self loathing, institutionalized violence, post-colonial racism and macho self-aggrandizement, sometimes within a strikingly modern meta-idiom. We’ve still got a lot to learn if we are only now discovering the likes of Oshima while hailing Cameron and his obliteration of the human body (you can take that literally or figuratively).

Way back in 2000, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote an essential essay lambasting critical complacency and the lazy, counter-productive, Hollywood sponsored notion that the cinema was ‘dead’. A decade on, she’s proving more resilient than ever.

Random thoughts:

Seven essential films by female directors? Now we’re talking. More please.

The release of ‘Farber on Film’: an essential collection, poised to bring Farber to a new generation of people hungry for authentic movie talk. His voice is missed, but it lives on.

The death of film criticism carries on unabated, or so I’m told. Myself, I can barely read all the words proliferating wildly all over the web. Yes, much of it is unpaid, and that’s a shame. Long live the passionate ‘amateur’.

Koch Lorber released Godard’s La Chinoise and Le Gai Savoir, and Masters of Cinema got their hands on the long unavailable Un Femme Mariee, while Criterion unleashed definitive editions of Made in USA and 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, with Vivre sa Vie on the way. At this point, someone has got to suck it up and get around to releasing Godard’s forgotten Dziga-Vertov Group films. It amounts to a kind of phantom oeuvre, and past critical assessments to the contrary, it’s time to let us decide for ourselves the (potential) value of these (lost?) films.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Francis Ford Coppola in conversation with Adam Nayman in the Fall 2009 issue of Cinema Scope:

"I don't want a career. I had one and I gave it up. I'm just an amateur. I do it for the love of it... At my age, I can afford for film to be a passion and not a business. I approach it with respect, and with the knowledge of how lucky I am to be able to express myself in this beautiful art form that is so young that it still requires experimentation to learn about it. I want to learn about it."

Some thoughts for the New Year. Lets learn.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

List-O-Mania, Part 3: The Decade in Music

Because you demanded it:

Mastadon: Blood Mountain – epic and pulverizing; mixes the heaviness of Leviathan with a proggy intricacy that, arguably, went too far with Crack the Skye. This will make your ears bleed and have you begging for more.
Boris: Pink – epic riffs, and the best balls-to-the-wall guitar rock in ages. Loud and proud.
Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary – beautiful pop melodies.
Arcade Fire: Funeral – delicate, wistful arrangements that belie a certain kind of youthful longing. Dances on the edge of twee and heart breaking.
Explosions in the Sky: All of a Sudden I Miss Everybody – each song builds to a glorious, epically crashing crescendo before fading into a mournful silence.
TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain – art nerds decide to mix dance rock with elctro clash, adding just a hint of punk and some whispers of groovy Motown – aka, a fucking blast.
Shellac: 1000 Hurts – jittery, angular math rock; these guys have a precision that’s not unlike being inside the head of a schizophrenic.
Mono: You Are Here – a spacey, ethereal opera.
The Walkmen: You and Me – has a barroom jam session kind of vibe, until they build to a crashing chorus, mixing propulsive drums and brusque howling, all whiskey sours and cigarettes.
Animal Collective: Feels – are they freak folk? Noise rock? Crafty pop song writers hiding their riffs behind layers of sonic debris? Yes, yes and yes.
New Pornographers: Mass Romantic – the decade’s finest power pop, heir to the throne of Big Star.
Deerhunter: Microcastle – My Bloody Valentine lives on – moody trances segue into tentative rock, bordering on the creepy.
Broken Social Scene: S/T – insane Canadian super-group creates the most whimsical pop of the decade. Not surprisingly, the album switches gears about a dozen times, but every moment is spot on.
Liars: Drums Not Dead – dark crooning gradually gives way to explosions of noise and fury, before retreating into moody, opaque soundscapes.
Godspeed You Black Emperor: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven! – It’s not unlike listening to a gathering storm – there’s a slow, low rumbling as the sky darkens, clouds splintering, eventually releasing a violent downpour. Bleak and epic.
Sunn O}}} & Boris: Altar – music for the apocalypse.
Mission of Burma: the Obliterati – indie rock legends take a hiatus for a decade or two, and return with three strong efforts in as many years. This is the best of the three, old school, straight ahead rocking out.
Deerhoof: Runners Four – like Liars, but cuter and bouncier.
Battles: Mirrored – math-y post rock with a psychedelic edge; jam session improvisations grounded by a tight-as-nails rhythm section. These fuckers are having fun.
Pelican: City of Echoes: expertly mixes stoner sludge with prodigious riffs into a doom laden concoction that makes the soul hurt. Their songs build and build and build until you’re standing on the edge of a precipice, tempted to plunge ahead.
Wilderness: S/T – with all due respect to Interpol (who I also like), these guys are the true successors to Joy Division.
Runners up:
Pelican: The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw
Pig Destroyer: Prowler in the Yard
The Sword: Age of Winter
Angels of Light: You Are Him
Uzeda: Stella
Sunset Rubdown: Shut up I am Dreaming
Bloc Party: Silent Alarm
Parts + Labor: Mapmaker
Jesu: S/T
Sigur Ros: Tak
31 Knots: It Was High Time to Escape
Shellac: Excellent Italian Greyhound
Mogwai: Mr. Beast
Low: Drums and Guns