Reviews

Global Lens 2010

My Tehran for Sale

The films assembled for Global Lens 2010 look through the prisms of individual experiences to find resounding truths.


My Tehran for Sale

Director: Granaz Moussavi
Cast: Marzieh Vafamehr, Amir Chegini, Asha Mehrabi, Mobina Karimi
Rated: NR
Studio: Cyan Films
Year: 2009
US date: 2010-01-28 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

Ocean of an Old Man

Director: Rajesh Shera
Cast: Tom Alter, Iris Maya Tittleback, Phalguni Ganopadhaaya
Rated: NR
Studio: Raj Shera Productions
Year: 2008
US date: 2010-01-21 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

The Shaft (Dixia de Tiankong)

Director: Zhang Chi
Cast: Luo Deyuan, Huang Xuan, Zheng Luoqian, Li Chen, Gong Qiya
Rated: NR
Studio: China Film Association
Year: 2008
US date: 2010-01-21 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

Men shuffle and button shirts, their heads down, their silhouettes slender. The light is low in the locker room where they prepare for work, but in the next few minutes the shadows grow even more pronounced, as they crowd into an elevator and clang close the gate of a door, their helmets bobbing, lamps casting shafts of light. They're coal miners, and as the elevator grinds into gear, they head down into the shaft where they will spend the very long day.

These opening scenes reveal the remarkable combination of depth and delicacy that structures The Shaft (Dixia de Tiankong). Zhang Chi's first feature opens 21 January for a week's run during MOMA's Global Lens 2010, and offers up he literal shaft as a broadly resonant metaphor -- for the focus, limits, and intensity of lives lived day-to-day. Among the nearly faceless workers who muddle and bump in small spaces, the story of Jingshui (Luoqian Zheng) and Song Daming (Chen Li) begins. When Daming emerges from the mine each afternoon, he gives his girlfriend Jingshui a ride home on the back of his bike. They pause regularly to watch the train on its way to Beijing, the city they imagine provides other options, far from their crushing routines in rural Western China. But when she announces she's leaving ("I don’t want to live like this the rest of my life"), he doesn’t know why, or how desperately she means what she says.

Jingshui's oppressing complications are sketched when you see her called into the unseen Manager's office: she stands reluctant at the office door, head bowed as she begins her own daily descent. You don't see details, you don't even see inside the office, but the bend of her neck tells you everything. When he hears rumors of her "affair," reduced to raunchy gossip in the men's shower, Daming is distraught, another moment that occurs off screen, as he stumbles into the shower room and the camera remains poised outside, so only the sounds of punches and raised voices and running feet on wet tile can be heard.

The Shaft underscores the difficulty of communication in the absence of hope in two more, related stories, concerning Jinghsui's brother Jingsheng (Xuan Huang), an unenthusiastic student and aspiring pop singer who has long refused to work in the mine, and their father Baogen (Deyuan Luo), who has worked there all his life. (Jingsheng, like his sister, is determined to leave town, explaining to a friend, "All the pop stars are in Beijing," even as he can only imagine, based on his TV viewing, what a "pop star" is.) Each night, the family eats at a small table, clicking chopsticks to porcelain as a TV eerily illuminates their faces. When Baogen tells his daughter that an aunt in the city has a man for her to meet, she resists only briefly, hoping Daming might give her reason to stay. His utter inability to articulate his sense of betrayal or even to ask her about what he's heard is made clear in a long shot of the couple, standing forlorn as the sun sets over a lake. When she tells Daming about her aunt's proposal, he literally jumps into the lake, leaving her alone on the bank, her slim form barely visible in the fading light.

The Shaft

Other sorts of devastation shape Ocean of an Old Man (screening 21 and 24 January) and My Tehran for Sale (screening 28 January). Set in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, Rajesh Shera's Ocean follows the efforts of a British-born schoolteacher (Tom Alter) to accept the loss of his wife and daughter, while also searching for missing students on the Indian islands of Andaman and Nicobar. As he gazes on the endlessly stretching sea, his face reflects a mix of wonder and fear, yearning and determination, meaning to survive but also imagining alternatives. His past is rendered in full-color clips, his wife (Iris Maya Tittleback) and young Mui dressed in perfectly nostalgic dresses, their images dissolving in and out of his flashbacks.

His search for the missing children is at once poetic, forlorn, and ambitious, the film arranged as a series of shots and reverse shots -- the ocean or the island, observed by and absorbing the old man. Tree branches wave in the wind, waves lap on the shore, and birds soar overhead, each element mirroring the man's shifting emotional state. In the classroom -- a tiny space with a blackboard on the front all and a few rows of rudimentary wooden desks -- he faces his charges, their faces upturned, their attention distracted when a man arrives with moving pictures in a box. All travel from island to island -- home to school -- by small boat, so that each day's travel invokes the unpredictable power of the ocean. The old man respects this, even as he rages and weeps, succumbs and doubts each step of his so-called healing process.

Granaz Moussavi's My Tehran for Sale starring Marzieh Vafamehr as Marzieh, an Iranian actress detained for two years in Australia. As she recounts her story, her shaved head and drawn face indicates both her frustration and her patience. Answering a government interrogator's questions, Marzieh describes how she came to be so far from home, or more precisely, how home became so distant.

Flashbacks reveal that she and Saman (Amir Chegini), an Iranian-born Australian citizen she meets at a rave, plan to marry and move to Adelaide. Their ambition to escape finds a kind of correlative in the art they make and seek out -- her performances on stage, part mime and part modern dance, illustrating violence against fearful yet resilient citizens, as well as musicians they support in underground clubs, including Mohsen Namjou (the "Bob Dylan of Iran"). Cinematographer Bonnie Elliot's camera seems as restless as Marzieh's spirit: much of the film was shot illicitly, chaotic handheld images showing the authorities breaking up a rave, scenes of parties and social gatherings cobbled together from footage that was smuggled out of Iran in backpacks.

All three movies trace emotional upheaval, and especially the strength individuals find in themselves when faced with what seem impossible constraints. While My Tehran for Sale and Ocean of an Old Man focus on particular crises, The Shaft alludes to what might be termed ongoing catastrophe pictured in images that are nearly abstract and frequently breathtaking. Each film -- like all those assembled for Global Lens 2010 -- looks through the prisms of individual experiences to find resounding truths.

6

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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