Midyear lists 2018

kid-cudi-kanye-west-yeezy-s3

Albums

  1. Hailu Mergia, Lala Belu
  2. Carla Bozulich, Quieter
  3. JPEGMAFIA, Veteran
  4. Virginia Wing, Ecstatic Arrow
  5. Kids See Ghosts
  6. Cities Aviv, Raised For A Better View
  7. Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread OST
  8. Leon Vynehall, Nothing Is Still
  9. Beach House, 7
  10. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Hope Downs
  11. Daniel Avery, Song For Alpha
  12. Elysia Crampton
  13. Galcher Lustwerk, 200% GALCHER
  14. Spa 700, 700 Bliss
  15. Phonte, No News Is Good News
  16. SOPHIE, OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES
  17. DJ Richard, Dies Irae Xerox
  18. Peder Mannerfelt, The Screws That Hold The World Together
  19. Ben Vince, Assimilation
  20. Vanessa Amara, Manos 

Films

  1. Phantom Thread
  2. 120 BPM
  3. Loveless
  4. I, Tonya
  5. Hereditary
  6. The Hymns of Muscovy
  7. The Shape Of Water
  8. Dark River

 

kero-kero-bonito-only-acting-1518456890-640x427

Songs

  1. Ravyn Lenae, “Sticky”
  2. Hailu Mergia, “Tizita”
  3. SOPHIE, “Immaterial”
  4. MGMT, “Little Dark Age”
  5. Essaie pas, “Les Agents de Stups”
  6. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, “An Air Conditioned Man”
  7. A. A. L., “Some Kind Of Game”
  8. Kero Kero Bonito, “Only Acting”
  9. Parquet Courts, “Almost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out Of Patience”
  10. Rezzett, “Hala”
  11. 700 Bliss, “Ring The Alarm”
  12. Jonny Greenwood, “House Of Woodcock”
  13. Snail Mail, “Heat Wave”
  14. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Hunnybee”
  15. Pangaea, “Bone Sucka”
  16. Kids See Ghosts, “Cudi Montage”
  17. Beach House, “Girl Of The Year”
  18. Loma, “Sundogs”
  19. Cities Aviv, “Marionette”
  20. James Blake, “If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead”
  21. Park Jiha, “Accumulation Of Time”
  22. JPEGMAFIA, “Does This Ski Mask Make Me Look Fat?”
  23. Elysia Crampton, “Sollunita”
  24. Sons of Kemet, “My Queen Is Harriet Tubman”
  25. Carla Bozulich, “Sha Sha”
Advertisements

Dark River (2018)

mv5bmtkzndc3mzg4nf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzk5oda4ndm-_v1_sy1000_sx664_al_

unfortunately and eerily shortsided throughout. of the past 18 months’ creeping provincial dramas about familial trauma and the patriarchal structure of british farming communities, featuring maltreated dogs at the beginning and climaxes with shotguns in the rain, it’s the second best. but not by far.

there’s a great cut near the beginning from a flashback sequence at the waterfall, which introduces a sense of alice being separated from her past rather than rejoining it, to a shot of her silhouetted against a night skyline with a torch on the way home, which resembles bergman’s danse macabre. where the levelling showed a process of natural and moral exhumation, dark river shows how survivors can yet remain buried with their experiences.

7

Il Grido (1957)

1417085507_d7d04b95d7_o

surprise late first-period gem from antonioni. i now feel he needn’t have revisited these themes and scenes for Red Desert, though can see why he felt compelled to: there’s such cold richness in the peeling provincial sets, lunar Italian landscapes and untethered characters like blasted topsoil.

maintains sympathetic gravity despite having to reel in an initially repugnant protagonist (a kind of disaffected labouring Zampanino) on a linear-cyclical narrative line – paced excellently i might add, with antonioni not always reliable in this department in his heyday. elegant score too, and a characteristically bold but satisfying ending.

8

100th film post in just over a year, after a distinct lack of effort recently. letterboxd is useful but constrictive. plus it’s the summer now and i’m still spending all day in an office.

recent listening includes Snail Mail’s ‘Heat Wave’, Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, Kids See Ghosts, Songs: Ohia and REM’s ‘Harborcoat’. recent reading is My Struggle 5, The Vegetarian, and Leonora Carrington’s Down Below.

As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000)

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 17.03.57

Second time with Jonas Mekas after Lost, Lost, Lost. I have learned, by comparison of the two, that there is a limit to the watchability of only loosely thematised tranche-de-vie home movie footage, and also that it is possible for me to review a film after only 60% of its runtime in good conscience.

Again organised into chapters, though Mekas confesses at the beginning that he tried and abandoned a project to order the streams of amateur recordings chronologically, opting eventually for a random distribution, ‘as he found them on the shelf’. Mekas’ explanatory narration actually pops up at the beginning of each chapter, constructing a kind of periodic apologia for the piece. ‘This is a political film’ and ‘Nothing happens in this film’, we are told by recurrent intertitles, while Mekas reinforces this defensive stance with commentary on the film’s lack of content, his compulsion to film any and everything, his status as a ‘filmer’ rather than a legitimate filmmaker, his general and total lack of knowledge about life and his place in it.

Except it’s either disingenuous or tactical to describe the content of the film as ‘nothing’. Mekas’ subjects over the decades here (largely between the 60s and 80s, largely in New York City) show a considerable degree of consistency. He balances the urban (architecture, pedestrians, weather) with the natural, favouring flowers, trees, birds, cats, moving water, and wild landscapes in particular locations. Family is a central and predominant presence, broad enough to include close friends but focusing especially on children (playing, reciting, rehearsing, eating) and babies (usually just looking at the camera). Most notably, I think, there are plenty of moments of actually considerable significance: holidays, reunions, births, baptisms, weddings, anniversaries.

The dominant theme is leisure. Mekas is a true amateur and his filming is hobbyistic: a regular enough part of his life not to disrupt his subjects, but leaving space for him to live around it and actually participate in the scenes he captures. But labour is conspicuously absent, save in idle peoplewatching. Anger, distress, and even ennui are also suppressed. The subject of the film is therefore – perhaps unsurprisingly – moments of beauty, unthinking and unencumbered living around life’s obligations (other plans), where the only reflective awareness usually comes through Mekas’ camera. It’s a fine topic for a film but it isn’t ‘nothing’, and it’s therefore freighted with sentimentalism (Mekas admits he is a romantic living within his own imagined world, as each of us live in our own).

In one of his verbal prologues (delivered haltingly, returning to resonant phrases for emphasis) Mekas advertises the film’s lack of tension. I’m sad to say I think calling attention to this isn’t sufficient to deflect the problem (I watched Von Trier’s The Idiots yesterday). What we see is a beautiful parade of scenes which cover times and places but still exhibit fundamental similarity. Again, that’s fine, but it invites questions about the runtime of almost five hours (which incidentally would have made it the fourth* longest film I’ve seen to date).

Hence my lack of qualms about calling it a day after three. Mekas’ projects are interesting** and exude a devotion to film, people and good living which is humbling. But the pitch of this one is too consistent and perhaps too sentimental to keep me hooked (I found it a lot easier to sink my teeth into Lost, Lost, Lost until the tedious experimental coda). I would have preferred to watch it loud and projected; perhaps that would have helped me immerse myself in it.

6

 

*At number three is Homeland, another honestly observational documentary about family environments, but one which locks you into emotional grooves rather than washing past you like a weightless stream of light. Other stuff As I Was Moving reminded me of were Varda’s Daguerrotypes and Gavin Bryars’ ‘The Sinking Of The Titanic’.

**To what extent are these snippets accurate depictions of memory (leaving aside whether or not that’s what they’re intended to be, for a second)? I like the way he plays with the speed of the footage, lingering on details and accelerating interstitial action (reminds me of Barthes’ codes). The use of visual overlays is also affective as well as endearingly analogue. But I think the development of these episodes is too linear (chronological, non-repetitive, self-contained) to accurately emulate recollection.

Red Desert (1964)

8e77d68d08f5782d7ebb2a6fd211e8a6

Sickly and weird, like its protagonist. A mother unable to “mesh” with the poisoned world around her, in the words of her impassive husband. He has distanced himself from a traumatic episode which torments her still, bleeding out from her feverish dreams into her waking perspective on people and existence.

People in places, people in places: Antonioni’s bread and butter. The return to the factory at the end reinforces disappointment at its absence for most of the film. The steam jets and winding pipes form a jungle around the foremen, who are usually framed off-centre and in the middle distance, robbed of any agency. Antonioni’s eye for evocative geometry is otherwise most apparent in Giuliana’s home, whose tank windows and industrial railings taunt and block her. She tends to her son who seems affected by an atmospheric poison, often unresponsive, surrounded by mechanical toys. Giuliana quietens a chattering robot before lovingly putting him to sleep.

People in places. Antonioni’s dialogue is sometimes a little too on the nose in its foggy glumness, and I’d put Red Desertalongside La Notte as far as this goes. “There’s something wrong with reality, and nobody will tell me what it is,” protests Giuliana to her would-be saviour Corrado, the itinerant businessman who has internalised the social deracination of his Patagonian project. Richard Harris plays him with a quiet and cruel coldness, while most other characters are literally squeezed into the initially engrossing set of a peeling riverside cabin, where an abortive and disoriented party substitutes for the African dancing scene in L’Eclisse (distanced and neutered bourgeois fascination with perceived passion and physicality of foreign cultures). Discomforting settings are important in Antonioni’s films – thinking of the continual, almost overtly redundant returning to the stock market in L’Eclisse – but we really soak up too much time in this little room with its pale company.

The palette is beautiful, as could perhaps have been expected from such a visual director’s first foray into colour film. There’s a boldness to abandoning the lonely concrete worlds of the city which made L’Eclisse and parts of La Notte so hypnotic. Boredom is the name of the whispering marshes, the sucking mud underfoot in Antonioni’s films and Red Desert sucks a little too hard. He made Blow-Up two years later though so it’s all good.

6

Red Road (2006)

red20road203

The film that slotted Arnold between Wheatley and Barnard in my trinity of today’s daring British filmmakers.

Interesting to go backwards to this after American Honey. The latter has pressure points of peril where Star inches through scenes of nauseating tension under the eyes or hands of quietly terrifying men. Red Road starts out as a drama of voyeurism, with the CCTV control room appearing both space-age and prefigurative of Black Mirror and NSA/GCHQ news.

Jackie’s journey out into the world at her fingertips is a sinking-in as if into quicksand; reminded me both of Scarlett Johansson’s excursions in Under the Skin and Jeanne Moreau’s slow spiral through Rome in La Notte, with the danger of the former crossing the psychogeographical dimensionality of the latter, the Red Road high rises looming Bradburyesque above bruised and battered Glasgow.

Interesting to watch after In The House: the filmmaker’s compulsion to ‘recreate’, re-stage influential traumas? (Jackie sees the human stories behind her screens) A desire to reach back into the past and correct course. That peril in American Honey is the quicksand that pulls Jackie in. The film becomes a lot braver, more physical, the kitchen sink a lot dirtier (Katie Dickie’s performance gains great depth here, too). There’s a sickening sense of parenthood in Jackie’s relationship to her situation, like she’s trying to undo some perverse birth. The denouement shows us the wan and cold world of the present day, the truths that have always been there.

Fund the arts.

8

Happy End (2017)

happyend

I always thought it was Charlie Brooker, the creator of Black Mirror who said “dialogue is just two monologues clashing” but I find that it was actually Charlie Brooker quoting Russell T Davies. Anyway, Michael Haneke’s film is another study of a modern world in which no-one is able to successfully articulate their sicknesses to each other, a condition largely accounted for (or symbolised by) the screens that have intruded between us.

As with The White Ribbon (perhaps more so) the script is elegantly decentralised across the experiences of the ensemble cast’s characters without feeling fragmented (interconnectivity without communication). Perhaps the tradeoff for this is absence of the black intensity of Amour, besides the most physical karaoke session ever witnessed. And while the pacing of individual scenes like Eve and Thomas in the car is perfectly judged, there’s maybe an over-reliance on those trademark set pieces which threatens to undercut moments of surprise.

Nevertheless, Haneke at his funnest and funniest here, but still the best on the bleak and abstract absurdity that connects life’s particular tragedies.

8