Film

Fear(s) of the Dark aka Peur(s) du noir (2007)


Peur(s) du noir

Director: Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire
Cast: Gil Alma, Aure Atika, François Creton, Guillaume Depardieu, Sarah-Laure Estragnat, Nicolas Feroumont
Distributor: IFC Films
Studio: Prima Linéa Productions
UK Release Date: 2009-10-27
US Release Date: 2009-10-27

As a cinematic rule of thumb, animation and horror do not go well together. Not that many have tried such a mix however, and with its wealth of invention and imagination possibilities, it seems odd that cartooning and the creepshow haven't comfortably co-existed before. Maybe the right artists weren't approached. Perhaps the studios who sell pen and ink to the public believe no fresh-faced family will sit through an example of hand-drawn dread. But again, since so few have actually made the effort, the verdict is still out on the craven combos possibility. Thanks to the French, and the fabulous anthology Fear(s) of the Dark (new to DVD from IFC Films), however, we get our first real glimpse at how the two genres would function collectively, and it's an eerie, ethereal experience indeed.

Divided into sections, with some clever linking material in between, the five stories here (delivered by five different directors) each deal with a differing dynamic of terror. Filmmaker Butch brings us a glorious pencil to paper tale of a nobleman, his hounds from Hell, and the fatalistic fun he has with said pets. Charles Burns then gives us the story of Eric, his love of gathering insects, and his unearthly experience with a girlfriend named Laura. This is followed up by an Asian inspired saga from writer Roman Slocombe and director Marie Caillou. It centers on a young girl, a group of bullies, and the surreal spirit of a dead samurai. We then travel to a terrified township where people have been disappearing. Lorenzo Mattiotti gives us the details from the perspective of two young boys, one of which may know more than he lets on. Finally, a burly man breaks into a seemingly abandoned house, looking for shelter from a snow storm. Inside, he finds a sinister secret, and as Richard McGuire illustrates, a fate worse than the elements.

There is also an attempt by abstractionist Pierre Di Sovillo to deal with the essence of fear, his monochrome designs deconstructing audio only interviews with people as they admit their deepest phobias and apprehensions. Sometimes it succeeds, but more times than not, these otherwise obtuse images detract from the real macabre meat. In fact, much of Fear(s) of the Dark is so powerful, so solid in its scary movie statements, that we wonder why others haven't been bothered to try this kind of project before. Right from the very start, as Butch's bedeviled dogs snarl and growl with near demonic desire, we understand how animation can amplify fright. But it's the moment when Burns pushes 3D CG to the point of perversion where we drop all pretense and get lost in the lingering terror.

Indeed, the unusual tale of love and locusts would probably seem silly if not for the artist's well known style. The use of sharp, bold lines and simplistic, primal shapes creates an unsettling sense of heightened reality. Then, as the narrative plays out, we feel the impact of every plot twist, the spine-tingled truth behind every previously referenced act. Since it is rendered in black and white (all of the short films featured here use the same bi-color palette, with just a little ripe red bloodshed for added effect), there is a wonderful sense of old school schlock at play as well. It's an approach that really works flawlessly for the rest of the segments as well.

Mattiotti makes wonderful use of it during his subtle tale of superstition and folklore gone gangrenous. As the narrator informs us of the various indistinct clues that seem to indicate a monster in the marshes, we get chilling imagery that suggests more than it shows. In fact, at a pivotal moment in the narrative, an important reveal is offered in a barely visible blurry design. Sensational! Things aren't as understated in Caillou's homage to Japanese ghost stories. The look is divine, but the plot is obvious in its revenge/payback ideals. We anticipate what happens with little suspense, allowing the lush application of Asian imagery as a means of making up for a lack of shock.

There is no need for such substitution with the last effort. McGuire's classic dark house tale is masterful in its no frills approach to narrative. There is no dialogue, no voice over explaining what's going on. As a lumbering ox of a man breaks into a secluded home, we see nothing except what the available light illuminates. It's all eyes, odd angles, statements in silhouette, glimpsed deviousness, and subtle suggestion. As the layers build, as we learn about the building's history, about the person who presumably still lives there, and the terrifying truth of our protagonist's fate, we keep waiting for the other shocking shoe to drop…and wait…and wait…and wait…

If this DVD presentation from IFC films has a failing - and it’s a minor, non-feature film misstep at best - it's in the inability to hear the creators speak for themselves. The extras consist of material that comments on the project (an art exhibit of some of the drawings) or discusses the basic nuts and bolts of the process (like how Burn's images where turned into 3D shapes for computer manipulation). What Fear(s) of the Dark really needed was a collection of commentary tracks, or at the very least, interviews which would allow the artists to explain their ideas and judge the final product. Without said content, we feel like we're missing something integral to this unusual (and otherwise masterful) marriage.

Still, the resulting feature is fabulous, a true integration of one artform into another. Fear(s) of the Dark should put to rest once and for all any qualms about mixing animation with angst. In fact, with the recent renaissance in CG titles, one could easily see someone like Pixar picking up the bedeviled ball and running with it. Considering their current track record, the possibilities literally boggle the mind. Still, just because a chosen few can make the concept work does mean it's a universally applicable standard. Fear(s) of the Dark is special because of its rareness and singularity. Once horror and cartooning establish a norm, we will see what sort of benchmark it truly is/was.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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