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by tjmHolden

25 Oct 2009

It may not be for everyone, but if you are a fan of live music, in general, and U2, in particular, and you are not able to get to The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Sunday evening (8:30 p.m., Pacific Time; 4:30 a.m. in Paris; 12:30 p.m. in Tokyo), you can have the next best thing: watch the boys from Dublin, streamed live on YouTube. It is the first such streamed concert on YouTube and best of all . . . it’s free.

The Los Angeles Times has coverage here, indicating that, thanks to novel stage configuration based on the design of Los Angeles airport’s Flight Control Tower, seating capacity has been increased by 20%. It will be the largest attendance in the Rose Bowl since the 1994 World Cup.

 

by Stephen Stirling

25 Oct 2009

Imaad Wasif
Bowery Ballroom, New York City
Imaad Wasif is chock full of two things: Hair and love. In case you weren’t certain of the latter half of that combo, Wasif took the time to remind the crowd at Bowery Ballroom… after every song: “I love the city. I love being insane. I love being insanely in love.” Though Wasif was somewhat awkward while trying to make conversation with the crowd between songs, he was at home while performing his brand of classic rock. All of his songs, all of which he was quick to point out were “love songs,” were well-crafted and well-performed. Wasif was the star of the show, but would have been helped if he had a more animated supporting cast—his bassist and drummer seemed disinterested no matter how much Wasif thrashed about the stage. I’m not certain I really felt the love like Wasif, but perhaps if I find the man he awkwardly hugged at the end of his set, he could shed some light.

 

by Vijith Assar

25 Oct 2009

The Temper Trap
Ace Hotel, New York City
Superb guitar parts.  So much so that at first I had trouble understanding singer Dougy Mandagi’s vocals—and I’m not talking about a bad audio mix nor a heavy accent, just why he was bothering at all.  “They’d be better off as instrumental post-rock band,” I thought (then promptly scolded myself for using such a silly term.)  Prescient, then, that their only request to the sound guy was “more vocals” (in the monitors)—it all started to make sense after a few songs when other band members started joining in with twisty-turny background vocals, each secondary line every bit as interesting as the lead if you listened closely enough. Godspeed, you Aussie hotshots.

by Bill Gibron

25 Oct 2009

“I am not a number. I am a free man”
- Number Six (Patrick McGoohan)

It is the line that leads us into every episode, a reminder of the show’s most obvious and undeniable theme. Unlike other late ‘60s entertainment, lead actor (and series creator) Patrick McGoohan wanted everyone to know that his hour long spy drama was not your typical espionage experience. Like an uprooted and reconfigured 1984, or one of Anthony Burgess’s dystrophic cautionary tales, McGoohan meant to challenge the stifling status quo. Borrowing a little of America’s counterculture creativity, and marrying it to the pop art poetry of his native Britain, the performer embraced the idea of treating the audience as participants, not patsies, in his weekly game of cat and mouse. As a result, The Prisoner became the Twin Peaks of its time, the Gravity’s Rainbow of secret agent science fiction and a stunning television classic. 

Perhaps second only to the original Star Trek in terms of concrete cult status and lingering fanbase frenzy, McGoohan’s gamble remains an astounding masterpiece of mangled mainstream intent. Tired of playing the standard special operative, and realizing that the entire James Bond franchise had upped the anti when it came to such storylines, McGoohan, a UK superstar, decided to completely deconstruct the rules regarding such shows. Instead, he devised a puzzle box of prospective mysteries, filtered them through an inventive framework, and then proceeded to make each episode an illustrated battle between conservative, Establishment ideologies and the personal preferences for freedom, liberty and choice. Even the title held a three-pronged connotation. It created an image that reflected the lead character, his state of mind, and the world(s) in which he lived.

Premises don’t get any more intriguing than this one. McGoohan plays a nameless British intelligence officer who quits his post and prepares to leave town. Just before he’s able to escape, he’s gassed and wakes up in a weird little seaside burg known only as The Village. There, he is referred to by a numeric tag, in this case, Number Six, and forced to report to a Big Brother-like interrogator named Number Two. A captive, and held for the information in his head (the main question being “Why did you resign?”) Number Six learns that there is no fleeing this bizarre, baffling place. Indeed, whenever he or anyone else attempts such a strategy, a large floating orb (nicknamed “The Rover”) is released from the ocean. It tracks down anyone attempting a getaway, and encases them in its opaque elastic shell. Then it’s straight into The Village’s hospital for a little ‘R’ & ‘R’: re-education and re-indoctrination.

From such a foundation, The Prisoner took a multi-level approach to its individual storylines. Ritualistically, we are introduced to a new Number Two each time (creating its own interest level of internal intrigue) and the elusive Number One is always mentioned, but never shown. In each episode, we witness another in The Village’s odd assortment of festivals (art, costume gala), events (elections, speed education broadcasts) and personnel. It’s the final facet that’s the most interesting, since it sets up the biggest dichotomy in the show. Number Six is always viewed as a fighter and a rebel, unwilling to conform to the brainwashing, psychological control and outright attempts to undermine his spirit. By comparing him to people who either love The Village, wish to join him in any plan of escape, or use friendship as a mask to proceed as an agent for the omniscient officials, The Prisoner provides many of its most memorable exchanges.

Indeed, beyond the stunning art design with a great deal of Londonderry air and Carnaby Street whimsy tossed in to increase the arcane factor, and the terrific technological twists (phones are angular and modern, rococo buildings housing elaborate science labs and room sized computers), it is the interaction between people that makes The Prisoner so special. Thanks to the wonderful writers responsible for the program’s intelligent and biting scripts, conversations crackle with meaningful political and social suggestion, while dry Brit wit bubbles beneath all the intrigues and enigmas. Initially, the first few shows stutter a bit in providing us with recognizable hooks to get a handle on. This is partly because The Prisoner was never devised with a wholly linear format to follow. It is also an obvious attempt to keep us squarely in Number Six’s shoes, allowing us to experience the adventure right along with him. Still, in an episode like “Dance of the Dead”, where a washed up body and an available radio are utilized in one of Number Six’s many escape plots, we can feel rushed toward a resolution.

By “The Chimes of Big Ben” and “A, B and C” however, we find the dynamic settling in, and except for a strange instance toward the end where Number Six magically changes human form, and acting ability (McGoohan was off filming Ice Station Zebra at the time) for the “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling” installment, The Prisoner perfected the art of audience expectation evasion. Relishing the chance to play with both the Village and its residents, stellar episodes like “Hammer Into Anvil” (Number Six avenging the death of a young girl) and “Many Happy Returns” (Number Six thinks he’s made it back to London) also pick apart the approach to the entire premise. Instead of limiting the narrative to the fairytale like location with all its Alice in Gestapoland style, the plots placed our hero in all manner of outside situations (parties, offices, his old haunting grounds) as a means of reconfirming his personality. We are not only supposed to cheer for Number Six, but sympathize with and support his plight.

Thanks to the iconic way in which McGoohan is presented here, it’s impossible to think of anyone denying the character’s emotional and ideological pull. Shot from an angle that suggests a man used to slipping under the radar (from above and downward) and always featuring the performer in a semi-smirk, eyebrow cocked in knowing perception of the situations at hand, Number Six looks both dominant and deceived, a man caught up in a world which he didn’t create, but able to navigate its weird waters with cunning, drive and more than a little moxie. Toward the end of the run, we see our star slowly manipulating the format to force a confrontation between himself and the dreaded dictator of The Village, Number Two. “A Change of Mind” sees McGoohan’s character creating a bond with a female doctor (all the medical staff seem to be women, for some reason) with the intent of thwarting his nemesis. Similarly, “Once Upon a Time” sets up something called the ‘Degree Absolute’ which turns out to be a battle to the death between these long time antagonists.

With American Movie Classics gearing up to offer an update on the series (starring Passion of the Christ‘s James Caviezel and Ian McKellen), A&E has overseen a painstaking remaster of the original series, complete with a stunning Blu-ray release that brings everything brilliant about the show to dazzling life. The extras packed presentation, including new commentaries, making-of featurettes, character and setting documentaries, and a bevy of bonus background gives the Prisoner fan as much context as they could possibly want. With gorgeous imagery, razor-sharp sound, and a load of exciting content, the new format box set answers a lot of questions about the material…except one.

Indeed, the lingering concern that every fan has centers around the identity of Number One. The final episode, “Fall Out”, offers its own somewhat imaginative take on the answer (something about how a famous line in every introduction is read), but many The Prisoner faithful find such a solution unrewarding. The reason for this, however, is understandable. Something strange happened along the way toward a reasonable resolution to all this mysterious spy stuff. McGoohan, who only wanted a very short run to begin with, agreed to a full 13 episodes understanding that ITC executive Sir Lew Grade was only willing to contract for same. Surprisingly, Grade actually wanted two seasons, not just one. By the time the requisite number had been reached for series one, McGoohan was shocked to learn that Grade had pulled the plug. After several meetings, the men came to an agreement. Four more episodes were allowed, with the finale wrapping up the series for good.

That may explain the rushed nature of the resolution, especially when you consider that McGoohan originally wanted to make seven installments total. Besides, it’s hard to labor inside a storyline that keeps delaying revealing to the audience the story’s purpose.  All the techo-babble and pseudo sci-fi speak can only get you so far. At some point, clues have to be clarified and hints explained or fans will fade out. This is why the initial Peaks comparison is so apt. David Lynch designed his ‘90 show around the solution to the question “Who killed prom queen Laura Palmer?” Once revealed, the series lost its narrative purpose. As a result, it turned into an idiosyncratic mess for eccentricities sake. With The Prisoner, the problem was more metaphysical. In the finale, during his speech to a gathering of Villagers, the President of the Assembly says the following about our hero:

“We are honored to have with us a revolutionary of a different caliber. He has revolted. Resisted. Fought. Held fast. Maintained. Destroyed resistance. Overcome coercion. The right to be a Person, Someone, or Individual. We applaud his private war and concede that despite materialistic efforts he has survived intact and secure. All that remains is recognition of a Man.”

As the main symbolic and dogmatic thesis to the show, The Prisoner faced the daunting task of making such a stance seem new, fresh and exciting each and every episode. For some, seeing McGoohan defiant and flip every scene could certainly create a stigma of staleness. Also, there are moments where The Village feels purposefully and pointlessly insane, merely making up new elements to fluster and fool Number Six. Like any series with an ambiguity at its core, The Prisoner rests and falls on its handling and revelation. It did a decent, if not quite definitive job.

If simplicity and easy answers are all you’re looking for in a one hour thriller, then perhaps you should focus your entertainment attentions elsewhere. The Prisoner is more of a sum of its parts than a cleverly considered bit of clockwork creativity. There are slow spots (“Free for All”‘s election element takes a long time getting started) and one extremely odd bit of mindmeld exploitation (“Living in Harmony”‘s take on the Western genre and its archetypes). Still, the energy the series gives off, and the experimental way in which it handled ideas both distinctive (the balloon like bounty hunter “Rover”) and deranged (“A, B and C”‘s use of dream/memory manipulation science) makes it a stand out example of an ambitious series that celebrated its epic ideals and aesthetically challenging execution of same.

And that’s what’s most riveting about this nearly 40-year-old program. The Prisoner defied the corrosion of conformity and mocked institutionalized violence and state sanctioned interference with personal freedom. It celebrated the human being and blasted any society wanting only compliance and control. There were nods to Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, the increasingly bitter political process and the “tune in, turn on, drop out” dream of the peace and love generation. For Number Six, and the actor playing him, anything remotely resembling a group or collective conscious was to be considered corrupt and anti-individual. It was as if that famous ‘60s saying – “Never trust anyone over thirty” – was reclaimed and retrofitted by the show to state, “Never trust anyone but yourself”.

In the end, it really didn’t matter who Number One was, which side of the Cold War The Village sat, why enumeration was used to identify the citizenry, or what in the world that killer beach ball really was. The Prisoner was more interested in one’s individual capacity for choice than any future shock folly. In fact, one could successfully argue that this entire experience was a test, a proving ground created to test Number Six’s loyalty and tenacity. If he really wanted to resign from a world loaded with underhanded dealings, back stabbing best friends and governments grasping to one-up each other, how far would such a man be willing to go to prove his point? Would he be willing to challenge every facet of his humanity, including his personality and his soul? Would he allow himself to be locked away, only to champion his desire to be free? The way in which the answer is discussed and discovered is one of The Prisoner‘s best features. It’s what keeps the series timeless…and very telling.

by Bill Gibron

24 Oct 2009

It’s fairly obvious that vision is in short supply in Hollywood. Just look at what passes for art among the mindless mainstream movies that make their weekly pilgrimage to your local Cineplex and see if it’s not true. We live in blank, bland times. But there’s something that goes hand in hand with imagination and daring, a word that many misconstrue as consistent with arrogance, pretention, and ego. Some even use it as an excuse for limiting clear creativity. Yet “audacity” is equally lacking in today’s motion picture landscape. Few filmmakers simply take their ideas and run wild with them. Typically, they simply slink along, looking to make their money before moving on to the next journeyman job.

To put it mildly, Lars Von Trier is not your typical anything. Over a career that has seen him embrace the strictures of the no-frills Dogme ‘95, dabble in TV terror, and defy convention with musicals and haughty historical period pieces, he has avoided easy description as his films have lacked commercial consideration. Now comes Antichrist, a work of unqualified brilliance - and impudence. Some have even dubbed it the most misogynistic movie ever created. Actually, it will probably stand as Von Trier’s masterpiece.

A married couple experiences a horrific tragedy when their infant son leaves his crib and crawls out an open window, falling to his death. Overtaking by grief, the mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) spends over a month in a mental hospital while her therapist husband (Willem Dafoe) disagrees with her chemical course of treatment. Removing her from the facility and forcing her to do away with all medication, he feels he can talk her through the pain. When she reveals an unnatural fear of the woods surrounding a cabin in a place called Eden, he decides to take her there.

Initially, she is frightened into a state of near inertia. He finds her anxieties almost comical. Slowly, they begin to probe her wounded psyche. But as her attitude improves, he begins to suspect something sinister. Indeed, she has used her research into historical crimes against women to conclude that the female gender is inherently evil. It’s become her post-motherhood mantra. He believes that is utter nonsense - until his wife turns violent, physically, emotionally, and above all, sexually.

Absolutely stunning in its visual flourishes, horrifying in its aggressive violence, and knowing in its psycho-sexual philosophical bent, Von Trier’s Antichrist is simply astonishing. It’s a structured walk through one woman’s terrifying mental breakdown, a deconstructed cry for relief and understanding. So obsessed with birth and biology that the symbols practically stand up and shout their intent, this is New Age therapeutics as Grand Guignol geek show.

It is obvious what Von Trier is messing with - what happens to a “mother” when she loses that title (perhaps by her own actions, or lack thereof) - and along with the awkward supposition that history has prove the woman wicked, he intends to explore every possible angle of attack. That’s why we get sequences of passion, bloodletting, comforting conversation, and unhinged insanity. In the end, he offers no real conclusions. Instead, we see one couple completely disintegrate over the impact of grief, and wonder what will come next. 

Like Dante’s Inferno, what we wind up with is a literal trip through Hell, a beautiful, beguiling place that holds many horrific truths barely simmering under its lush surface. Several times throughout the course of Antichrist, Von Trier pulls back the curtain to reveal the redolence underneath. Limbs are hacked. Body parts are beaten. We aren’t supposed to take what happens to the characters as being wholly realistic. Instead, the moment they leave their quiet urban apartment and head into this mythic wilderness, the lens purposefully distorts to argue against authenticity. It’s a piece of filmic finesse that happens several times during the story.

Unlike Breaking the Waves, which took an almost documentary approach on a similar subject and theme (human degradation and the females role in same), we get the kind of aesthetic aggressiveness that makes Antichrist another ‘love it or loathe it’ extreme. The prologue with its abundant monochrome slow motion is so remarkable, so hypnotic in its carefully composed presentation that we are instantly taken aback by its power. It’s shockingly handsome. Luckily, the rest of the movie lives up to this opening promise.

Indeed, the cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle (Oscar Winner for Slumdog Millionaire and previous Von Trier collaborator) deserves considerable praise. There are times when the movie almost stands still, the filmmakers using their incredibly long holds and static shot framing to build a considerable amount of texture and suspense. Of course, there are also handheld close-ups and action elements that tend to forward the film’s intimate, in your face nature. Along with the amazing work by Gainsbourg and Dafoe, Von Trier creates an insular realm where his dream logic and nightmare scenarios can play out - and the results aren’t always pleasant.

Both actors are required to bare everything onscreen - from their bodies to their souls - and they do so magnificently. Some will still be bothered by the narrative’s lack of crystal clarity. Others will take the obvious step and scream ‘hate’. But there is an intriguing middle ground which suggests we are watching Dafoe work through his emotional attachment to his wife and dead child. The violent struggle to resolve same appears to be part of the movie’s motive. The finale foretells his decision.

By delivering a faux horror film that’s as much about the bloodletting as it is about the basis for all human fear, Lars Von Trier provides a statement so profound, so difficult to embrace fully and honestly that Antichrist will leave many confused and angry. It will be seen as a blight, as exploitation disguised as artistic arrogance, all meant to cover up that most typical of complaints against the director - he hates women. But even as it embraces a similar stance and offers up one character’s physical proof of an anti-female agenda (Gainsbourg’s final act is too horrific to even consider calmly), it’s obvious that this movie is merely a meditation on what’s it’s like to give birth, to lose said biological immortality, and wonder if it was such a horrible crime not to care.

When our heroine argues that she’s afraid of Nature, that it’s “Satan’s Kingdom” on Earth, her husband translates that as a simple statement of self-loathing. For more than 90 minutes we’ve watched as she acts out on such irrational, apocalyptic ire. By the end, Antichrist suggests that almost anything is survival - except, perhaps, the battle within. It’s one cosmic war that never produces an actual victor.

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