Thursday, December 28, 2006

songs of the year

I'm (also!) not really as up-to-date with the latest in music as I'd like to be, and it can get hard for me to get out of comfort zones I have with certain folk or electronica artists, but I have heard some really good, varied stuff this year which I feel like sharing. At different times, these songs were the most repeatedly-played for me. For the most part, the source albums correspond with my favourite albums of the year (the unmentioned: Scott Walker's The Drift - how to pick a performance and separate it from the rest? - and William Basinski's amazing The Garden of Brokenness, which is one continuous piece). Anyway, here they are:

(I'd recommend right-clicking and then saving the mp3 file, rather than just clicking on the title which may not necessarily work)

Josephine Foster - 'An Die Musik' - scroll down for song (album)
Joanna Newsom - 'Sawdust & Diamonds' (album)
Espers - 'Dead Queen' (album)

Meg Baird's voice in 'Dead Queen' is the easiest to like from these three enchanting folky trillers, while Newsom's and Foster's seem to emerge from another time, another consciousness. Two songs surprise and awe us by the sudden appearance of an electric guitar, taking the songs to spooky new levels altogether, while the third is transporting on the strength of the words, a restless harp, and one of the most distinctive voices in music today.

The Skygreen Leopards - 'William & the Sacred Hammer' (album)
Tenhi - 'Sarastuskävijä' (album)
Akron/Family - 'Gone Beyond' (album)

Three more of my favourite folk outings of the year; male voices for a golden sunset.

Subtle - 'Midas Gutz' (album)
Matmos - 'Semen Song For James Bidgood' (album)

I'm not familiar with underground hip hop at all, but surely Subtle's very experimental For Hero: For Fool is one of the best things to happen to the genre? The surreal lyrics need closer attention. Matmos' tribute to James Bidgood is probably the most gorgeous song from their new conceptual artwork: delicate piano and harp, shimmering strings, and Antony's voice backgrounded by... semen?!

São Paulo Underground - 'Balão de gás' (album)

A fantastically busy song from a busy album. Come for the Afro-Brazilian drums and percussion, stay for the wandering trumpet and chanting.

Kettel - 'Sekt I Sing' (album)
AFX - 'Cilonen' (album)

From two highly listenable electronica outings of the year. 'Sekt I Sing' is a sexy mutating beast, and one of the most uplifting songs of the year. 'Cilonen' is just plain nasty (of the low-key Aphex Twin kind).

The Knife - 'We Share Our Mother's Health'
Ellen Allien & Apparat - 'Leave Me Alone'

Cut yourself on 'We Share Our Mother's Health' (or a couple other songs from Silent Shout). Wish Apparat sang more on Orchestra of Bubbles as he does on the gorgeous 'Leave Me Alone'.

El Perro Del Mar - 'Candy' (album)
The Pipettes - 'Because It's Not Love (But It's Still A Feeling)' (the awesome album)
Amber Smith - 'White' (album)
Beirut - 'Postcards from Italy' (album)

Pop/radio songs of the year, give or take Sean Paul's 'Temperature' or T.I.'s 'What You Know'.

images of the year

Since I haven't yet seen most of the key films of 2006, I won't do a traditional 'top ten of the year'. This being a film-centric blog, however, I wanted to end the year with a set of film mentions - a personal greatest hits of 2006 - composed of excavated 'older' films, immortal images, if only for the sake of some clarity before the start of a new year, along with an expression of fondness for these films, which were seen in a variety of formats during the year - from theatrical screenings to DVDs to DVD-Rs to VHSs, etc. I didn't include videos streamed online from sites like YouTube, Ubuweb, or Directors' Lounge TV, although I should mention that there have been some wonderful additions during the year to all three (such as the Toshio Matsumoto short films added a few weeks ago at Ubuweb, or the original conceptual art videos of David Anthony Sant at YouTube, or the films of André Werner at DLTV). And I haven't been keeping a film log this year, so I hope I'm not forgetting something major...

Favourite film seen for the first time this year: Philippe Garrel's L'Enfant secret (1982), experienced not projected as has been a dream of mine for some time, but on the DVD release by a Japanese label, Uplink DVD Collection. This film marks the beginning of his narrative period and remains, from what I've seen of his works, his most stunning achievement to date: an extemporaneous convergence of fragmented autobiographical content and the (early) Garrelian experimental form, of seeming studies of portraiture and painfully intimate fiction that moves as if dictated by a pulse ("a camera in place of the heart"). By describing the film's characters (ex-Bressonian models, Anne Wiazemsky and Henri de Maublanc) as 'silent cinema phantoms' is not to deny them of their corporeality or their psychological force - which is on display here, perhaps more than anywhere else in Garrel's oeuvre - but to draw attention to Garrel's eternal engagement with the birth of cinema, the discovery of movements, the dawning of new eras. Also worthy of mention: his Elle a passé tant d'heures sous les sunlights... (1985), a 'meta' companion piece that anticipates the sublime incompleteness of Sauvage Innocence (2001).

Philippe Grandrieux has been a major discovery this year, a figure whose films I still find myself processing - La Vie nouvelle (2002) is surely one of the great films of the past few years, but Sombre (1998) is perhaps the more daring investigation of the plasticity of images, a descendent of L'Enfant secret in this respect, but instead of an exploration of the rhythm of sounds and expressions, we have an exploration of the rhythmic use of light and its absence, and its violence upon the body. The local Maurice Pialat retrospective which I attended in July brought forth films which specifically stressed the performative elements in the cinematographic 'window to the world'; films as agitated, wounded bodies. My favourite remains La Gueule ouverte (The Mouth Agape, 1974), an overwhelming cinematic measurement of death ('time exists to kill'), followed by Le Garçu (1995) and À nos amours (1983).

Île de beauté (Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Ange Leccia, 1996): this hypnotic masterpiece is composed of a few wordless scenes of landscapes that seem to have been caught from a moving car, a boat, and a train, while pop songs and recordings of TV images form the flesh, the text. The spectator gets comfortably lost within the filmic space, and shares the loneliness in the unseen traveller's gaze (there is probably a story there, just beyond our reach). Its closest cinematic cousin is Bill Viola's video Hatsu-Yume (1981), which also offers the immobile spectator a long (and in its case, mystical) voyage to Japan associated with a mysterious and complex perspective. Hopefully more on their films in 2007 once I check out the precious MK2 release of 11 of their short films.

William A. Wellman's Track of the Cat (1954): a white canvas with bodies and landscape painted in broad strokes; of all things, its restrained use of colour (along with the image of Robert Mitchum by a dying fire in a frozen cave) haunts me. The frequently comic and astonishing, Talking To Strangers (Rob Tregenza, 1988), is also one of the most unique American films of its time: it's composed of nine ten-minute plan-séquences that follow a young, struggling artist and his encounters with an assortment of characters. The camera is in constant motion within the film's limited space, and as the film progresses, it becomes an exploration of the tension between the fictive process and reality within the frame that is beyond Tregenza's control. Godard himself puts it well: " fiction, the slut, trips up reality as soon as reality wants to possess her". Tregenza was one of the cinematographers for Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies, and has made three other features following Talking to Strangers, which I look forward to seeing some day.

Others - ritualistic movements within (pseudo-)erotic performances: La Marge (Walerian Borowczyk, 1976), Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (Borowczyk, 1981), Score (Radley Metzger, 1973), The Story of Joanna (Gerard Damiano, 1975), Angel Mine (David Blyth, 1978); resisting, Land: Red Psalm (Miklós Jancsó, 1972), From the Cloud to the Resistance (Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet, 1979), Subarnarekha (Ritwik Ghatak, 1965), 79 Primaveras (Santiago Álvarez, 1969), Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969); chased by/chasing memories in the night: Moonrise (Frank Borzage, 1948), Night of the Hunted (Jean Rollin, 1980); registering haunted spaces: In Vanda's Room (Pedro Costa, 2000), Méditerranée (Jean-Daniel Pollet, Volker Schlöndorff, 1963), Tren de Sombras (José Luis Guerín, 1997); boredom, consumptive inertia, madness: N-Zone (Arthur Lipsett, 1970), Last Chance For A Slow Dance (Jon Jost, 1977), Acéphale (Patrick Deval, 1969); new frontiers: The Land Beyond the Sunset (Dorothy G. Shore, 1912), India (Roberto Rossellini, 1959), Unstabile Materie (Jürgen Reble, 1995), On Top of the Whale (Raul Ruiz, 1982), The Last of England (Derek Jarman, 1987), X (Roger Corman, 1963).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

emerging from the earth, like trees

The Muses
MNEMOSYNE: My dear, has it ever happened to you that when you saw a plant, a stone, a gesture, you experienced the same thing?
HESIOD: Yes, it has.
MNEMOSYNE: And did you discover why?
HESIOD: It was only an instant, Melete. How could I grasp it?
MNEMOSYNE: Have you ever asked yourself why an instant can suddenly make you happy, happy as a god? You are looking, say, at the olive tree, the olive tree on the path you have taken every day for years, and suddenly there comes a day when the sense of staleness leaves you, and you caress the gnarled trunk with a look, as though you had recognized an old friend, and it spoke to you precisely the one word your heart was hoping for. At times it's the glance of a man passing in the street. Sometimes the rain that drives down for days on end. Or the hoarse cry of a bird. Or a cloud you think you've somewhere seen before. For an instant time stops, and you experience the trivial event as though before and after had no existence. Have you ever asked yourself why this should be?
HESIOD: It's you who say why. That instant has made the event a memory, a model.
MNEMOSYNE: Can't you conceive of an existence entirely composed of these instants?
HESIOD: I can conceive of it.
MNEMOSYNE: Then you know what my life is like.
HESIOD: I believe you, Melete, because your eyes confirm it. And the fact that many men call you Euterpe no longer surprises me. But these mortal instants are not a life. If I wanted to repeat them, they would lose their freshness. The staleness always comes back.
MNEMOSYNE: But you said that instant was a memory. And what else is memory but an experience repeated in its intensity? Do you understand me?
HESIOD: No. What do you mean?
MNEMOSYNE: I mean that you know what immortal life is like.
HESIOD: When I talk with you, it's hard for me not to believe. You saw things as they were in the beginning. You are the olive tree, the glance, the cloud. You speak a name, and the thing exists forever.

- Cesare Pavese, Dialogues With Leucò (1947); translation by William Arrowsmith.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

night fever

Images: Nude vampires and stony stairs in Lips of Blood (Jean Rollin, 1975).

I'm glad I persisted with Rollin's cinema after a frustrating initial encounter with The Living Dead Girl (1982). From what I've seen so far (which isn't much despite several of his films being available on DVD), his body of work can appear fairly uneven but his films always seem to be coming from another level of consciousness altogether. The somnambulist style of acting that is displayed by his amateur performers (many of whom were hardcore porn actors) is a more specific kind of performance rather than mere 'bad acting' and, when at his best, the leisurely unfolding of his elegant, expressionist images set in medieval Gothic castles and cemeteries, take on the form of sustained spectacles of violence, revised myths, the naked and the nude, while actively pursuing enduring obsessions such as memory, childhood romanticism, and performance. Are any readers admirers of his work?

A couple of links: Rollin interviewed, more from Kinoeye.

-- -- --

Sounds: Tenhi - Maaäet, Ash Ra Temple - Le Berceau De Cristal (the soundtrack to the Garrel film from '76), Yo La Tengo - I'm Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, Fela Kuti & Africa '70 - Expensive Shit / He Miss Road.

regular phantoms

It is recovered!
What? - Eternity.
In the whirling light
Of the sun in the sea.

O my eternal soul,
Hold fast to desire
In spite of the night
And the day on fire.

- excerpt from Arthur Rimbaud's A Season in Hell.

Jackie Raynal's Deux Fois (1968) and Patrick Deval's Acéphale (1969): Both are key films made under the Zanzibar banner - which saw experimental works based on improvisation made by young artists and writers, many informed by the events of May '68, and mostly shot on 35mm, on tiny budgets and in small amounts of time - and both films with some striking similarities (Raynal and Deval were partners at the time, as Adrian Martin's profile of Raynal informs).

There seems to be an expression of a need to return to the origins of cinema in both films - a distinctly Garrelian fantasy involving a transformation of the film's characters into silent cinema phantoms. Le Révélateur is obviously an important immediate influence - for starters, its lack of sound and stark lighting effects are frequently reproduced in both films.

Deux Fois, which Raynal directed after some editing gigs for Eric Rohmer (namely, his early short films and La Collectionneuse, the star of which - Daniel Pommereulle - went on and directed his own unique short film under Zanzibar, Vite) and more significantly, Jean-Daniel Pollet (she had the important task of editing his magnificent, Méditerranée (1963)), is the more consciously theatrical of the two films - a theatricality that has been compared to Rivette's by Martin. It recalls the spirit of the Situationists and some of its imagery warrants a comparison to the surrealist works of Buñuel and Cocteau. Raynal's gazes toward the camera, her initial isolation from crowds, the ritualism of her actions recall Maya Deren's in Meshes of the Afternoon and anticipate Chantal Akerman's self-exile in her flat in the first segment of Je, Tu, Il, Elle.

But the one aspect which haunts me most about Deux Fois ('Twice Upon a Time'), this silent symphony of repetitions - a film which, like Acéphale, I can't really fully comprehend until I see it a few more times (Adrian Martin has attempted to comprehend its "phantasmal logic" and has come up with some fascinating observations) - is how there seems to be an almost symbiotic coexistence of violence (both literal and metaphoric) and sensuousness, primarily seen in the shifting balance between sound and silence. Next to the sheepish, smiling young girl on the train, we are shown the rapidity with which the outside world moves by: dangerous, violent. Jackie silently observes cameras lined out on a bench, but she also flashes a mirror reflecting the set lighting 'directly' into the spectator's eyes. Jackie looks at various brands of soap at the drugstore, but the repetition of the sequence becomes its own violence (or its own sensuality, depending on how you look at it), as when she skips along the dirt road like a child and falls. Later, her windblown hair is caressed by male hands which have slowly entered the frame - before being pulled, and Jackie with it, violently out of the frame, and, the most direct display of this co-existence being the neon billboard animation, which features a man and a woman appearing to be in physical combat. But their movements: balletic, erotic.

Acéphale (the title comes from the secret society founded by Bataille after he broke off from the Surrealists, and literally means, 'headless') is perhaps even more Garrelian than Deux Fois - it's intense ritualistic passages prefigure those in La Cicatrice intérieure , and the fragile gestures and some of the framing (of faces, of beds, of corridors, etc.) looks forward to his early narrative films. The aimless drifting of Youth caught in a transitional political (and seemingly, post-apocalyptic) landscape anticipates such '90s elegies of displacement and disenchantment as Fred Kelemen's Fate and Sharunas Bartas' Three Days.

So, coming back to Acéphale, what to make of this man and his amants réguliers (which includes Jackie Raynal, the unique beauty of her presence intact), who seem to be in search of something beyond themselves ("It's necessary to become quite someone else or else cease being...")? Of their retreat into a cavern where they talk about Nero around their fire torches? Of their drugged-out exiles into intensely whitewashed rooms? Five years later, Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore will bring these figures into the medium shot (leaving behind the overt image/sound experimentations associated with the Zanzibar films) and hold them there until they are embedded in our subconscious. Till then, there may be a glimmer of hope within Acéphale after all; perhaps in the form of an unextinguished desire that is communicated in the film's final images, not through words, but the gesture of an unending smile and an open embrace.

There will hopefully be more on these films (and other related ones from the same era, made with the same purpose/'logic') later as I properly discover them with time...

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