A no cell-phones allowed show resulted in one of the best nights of acoustic music LA has seen in recent memory, and may also result in a touring duo.
As we look back, Sam Beam might end up being the quintessential artist of US culture’s waning fascination with irony. With song lyrics full of meaning and allusion, onstage he is relegated to making self-effacing jokes with the underlying message being, “I want you to take me seriously, but I’m pretty sure that’s not possible.” His solo acoustic concerts can come off as a combination of stand-up comedy and tear-jerking maudlin songwriting.
His recent albums have also been an example of this inability to bare his soul to us. Starting out as all-acoustic demos recorded on a cassette-based multitrack recorder (2002’s The Creek Drank the Cradle), his albums now incorporate full bands and the occasional drum machine rhythm section, effectively covering up the poetic wordplay and raw emotion of Beam’s words. When it comes to a singer/songwriter covering up the best trait of his or her music, the lyrics, it is tantamount to heresy.
RBMA gathered Ken Scott, Tony Visconti, and Nile Rodgers for (separate) conversations in NYC regarding their production work on classic Bowie albums. They also talked with Brian Eno and have his '77 Million Paintings' on display.
Even without Bowie doing any press (outside of music videos) so far this year, following the surprise release of The Next Day, there continue to be exciting events stirring up enthusiasm for the artist. In London, there is the Victoria & Albert Museum’s ‘curated retrospective’ featuring hundreds of objects of Bowie memorabilia and running till August before traveling elsewhere. In New York, Bowie fans have turned out for unique Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) events to experience Brian Eno’s ‘77 Million Paintings’ multi-sensory exhibit and to hear him talk about his career. The RBMA also partnered with something called Classic Album Sundays to gather Ken Scott, Tony Visconti, and Nile Rodgers for separate discussions about their production work on classic Bowie albums, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Heroes and Let’s Dance respectively.
Even a non- or minor- Bowie fan would have found these discussions interesting and entertaining. Each producer provided insight into the production of the album and studio sessions from a period where cameras and photos weren’t around to document everything. Visconti described the process of setting up the last vocal track for the song “Heroes” with three microphones, at varying distances, that were gated—so that an additional mike would open as Bowie’s volume got louder. This resulted in some of the distortion heard near the end. Plus musical elements from the tracks were played, as Scott and Visconti played pieces of songs via their laptops and Rodgers (supposedly as I didn’t attend this one) incorporated his guitar into the production demonstration. Surprisingly (for someone who had never been to an event like this), following the discussions there was a listening session for each album. Each album was played on vinyl through some of the highest fidelity equipment possible. I don’t remember the last time I sat in a room with 100 or so people and listened to an album straight through (okay, I probably have never done that). It was a unique experience that seems the norm for Classic Album Sundays events. Aside from some photos below, there is a clip of Rodgers speaking at a different event and the new Bowie music video for your viewing pleasure PLUS click this link for video from Brian Eno’s ‘Illustrated Talk’ that was also part of the RBMA series.
Stories about the ordinary lives of young women have abounded at film festivals this year. As we look at two of the most popular at SFIFF, we ask whether or not these films are as interesting as they're made out to be.
Some of the most powerful films making the rounds at festivals this year elevate everyday experience to the level of art. Reminiscent of the driving philosophy behind happenings, these films allow viewers to see themselves reflected on the big screen and to value the craft of their everyday lives.
When done well, these films can be more touching than even the most weighty, deftly plotted dramas and thrillers. Among the most anticipated of these ‘mundane’ movies at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival are Frances Ha and Everyday Objects. These films celebrate daily life and the process of finding one’s self with varied levels of success.
The Slowest Vacation: Everyday Objects
Director Nicolas Wackerbarth’s film about Merle, a young German woman planning to meet her lover at his vacation home on the hills of Nice, is an interesting look at the absolute dullness of so many romantic struggles. Devoid of emotional fights and drawn-out relationship negotiations, the film reminds us that love is generally a lot more boring than the big movie studios would have us believe.
We watch Merle as she awaits the arrival of her lover, Romuald. His two children, Felix and Emma, have already arrived at the vacation villa. The relationship between the mistress and the kids is full of tense complexity and is no doubt the film’s grounding strength. As Merle works to find her place with the kids, she comes to realize that her relationship may not be what it seems.
A lot happens in Everyday Objects, even as nothing much seems to be happening. The audience at the screening I attended responded to the film either very positively or very negatively. It’s not a film that one will think is just okay or decent; it’s a film to love or hate. This, too, is part of its beauty.
Laughter or Not: Frances Ha
Noah Baumbach’s latest movie is described in SFIFF’s festival programming as somewhat akin to Woody Allen. Frances Ha is simply the story of a young woman (played by Greta Gerwig) who doesn’t really have a career or an apartment or any particular drive in life. The story, which is set primarily in New York City, has shades of Girls but doesn’t approach either the comedy or art of Woody Allen.
Like Everday Objects, this is a love-it-or-hate-it movie. Either you’ll fall in love with the protagonist or you’ll feel, as I do, that her ineptness and self pity is not worth your time. Though Baumbach co-wrote the script with Gerwig, it still has the distinct flavor of a man’s imagining of what it is like to be an irresponsible, somewhat dumb twenty-something woman. The character of Frances is dull and intolerable, as is (unintentionally) reflected in the film’s all black and white composition.
Mike Ott's Pearblossom Hwy is meant as a film about a generation of lost youth. Unfortunately, it just can't engage with the concerns that it raises, leaving viewers with no real way to empathize with the film's main characters.
Pearblossom Hwy, director Mike Ott’s follow-up to Littlerock, is billed as a movie that champions downtrodden, aimless youth trying to survive in suburban desert communities north of Los Angeles. The film raises many important issues, from the abuse of nitrous oxide to the sorrow of not knowing one’s father to the tragedy of prostitution as a last-ditch employment option for immigrants who are awaiting citizenship exams and the right to work in the U.S. without restrictions. While actors Atsuko Okatsuka (Atsuko) and Cory Zacharia (Cory) turn in strong performances, the film leaves too many serious questions unanswered.
As we watch Pearblossom Hwy, we are either immediately drawn to or repulsed by Cory. A jobless young man who dreams of making it big with his punk band, Cory is the epitome of an aimless drifter. In the beginning of the film he says that he always wanted to be “a rebel without a cause,” but we have to confront the fact that he can never attain this romantic vision of self. This is actually one of the more problematic aspects of the movie precisely because we sense that Ott wants us to empathize with Cory, but we have a hard time doing so because he just isn’t all that likable. He has no interest in taking responsibility for himself as a human being, so why should we be interested?
The 2013 NYIFF is holding screenings at Tribeca Cinemas and NYU's Skirball Center through May 4th.
The 13th Annual New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) is underway, having begun on April 30th with the film Dekh Tamasha Dekh by director Feroz Abbas Khan. To celebrate the opening night, the NYIFF organizers invited Indian filmmakers, actors and more to partake in the red carpet and gala dinner following the film screening. PopMatters has the schedule of screenings below some red carpet photos. To see the slate and to purchase tickets for any of the remaining NYIFF movies, please visit their website.