Reviews

Poldark Series I

All images courtesy of Acorn Media

Poldark hits all the right notes for a period piece: the roguish, conflicted hero, numerous intertwined backstories, a mess of romantic subplots, and a timeless, dramatic background -- and sexy British accents.


Poldark Series I

Rated: Not rated
Director: Philip Dudley, Roger Jenkins
Cast: Robin Ellis, Angharad Rees, Jill Townsend, Paul Curran
Length: 821
Year: 1975
Distributor: Acorn Media
Release date: 2010-03-02

It is easy to forget Poldark’s initial run in North America way back when in 1976. Broadcast on Masterpiece Theater, that famed presentation on PBS (America’s closest equivalent to the BBC in terms of both programming and funding models), Poldark gained a loyal, if modest, following of viewers on this side of the Atlantic, despite never having quite claimed a prior literary appreciation of Winston Graham’s novels.

Its appeal these days must seem somewhat distant. This “Novel of Cornwall” was inspired by a county few Americans can point out on a map and featured as its title character – gasp! – a soldier who fought against the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Yet all it took was Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis), astride his horse, careening with purpose across the Cornish hills, to win the audience over.

While we love Poldark for his gallant charm, smoky bedroom gaze, and seductively tortured soul, the novel’s original subtitle – A Novel of Cornwall – describes the very best of Poldark. This is a romantic adventure of the enjoyably archetypal fashion – we are promised, and have delivered to us, betrayal and love, daring and ambition, intrigue and danger. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: Poldark in its quintessential charm recreates, with vivid detail, a portrait of the 18th century to great majesty.

Cornwall – suspected of hiding, variously, Avalon, Camelot, and Lyonesse – resounds with mystical charm. Ross Poldark, formerly of the British Army, returns home to find his state of affairs in complete disorder. Family, business, and love have triply been reduced; the echt-rural charm of the Cornish village offers little in the way of a homecoming. Perhaps it is because he has lost the war…

A viewer might be casually mesmerized. Poldark focuses on a dramatic period in British history, plagued with deep social rifts and on the brink of industrialization. The production’s intense eye for detail is breathtaking. The look and feel of the sets, right down to the extras, clearly draws from a well-read designer and director who took pains to recreate 18th century Cornwall. An illusion cunningly created is a spell well-cast. The saga’s 821-minute rich mixture condenses the first seven novels of the series: its distillate is a provoking concoction that has fashioned a Cornwall now lost.

Unfortunately, it is very easy to get lost in the intrigues of Poldark’s life. The backstories that come with seven full-length novels jostle for attention - even across four DVDs, there will be the inevitable confusion and the curious gasp of ‘what?’ from a viewer. The soap of the Poldark dish comes thick and fast. While thoroughly enjoyable in (nearly) all its scenes, a viewer of moderate constitution will naturally be overwhelmed.

That, friends, is what the episodic breakdown is for – to collect your thoughts, gather and collate your notes, and quiz the heady drama for its myriad relationships and clashes. One cannot help but feel, strongly, for the delightful cast of characters – the investment in time and effort is real, and its payoff dramatic and exuberant. While not in any respect groundbreaking or particularly innovative, Poldark is period drama at its mesmerizing best.

Poldark’s grand scope has led to comparisons with America’s great romantic classic, Gone with the Wind. The comparison is not unfair. Both share the epic struggle, breadth, and scope of dramatizing the enormity of its age – the work of roman a clef for film. However, Poldark does demand your time for a lot longer than Gone with the Wind. If one is not spellbound by the first few episodes, it would hardly be worthwhile to see it through to the end.

The ultimate resolution is only for the seriously committed. The problem is that, despite the majesty of the source material and the stellar performances of the cast, Poldark can feel draggy at times. Although this was a TV serial of its time, it may appeal to a contemporary audience that find a range of feuds, entanglements, and little side adventures -- not terribly unlike current shows such as Damages and The Wire that, like the very best Tolstoy epic, bring in a whole cast of supporting characters -- make for a good watch, and compelling reasons to keep track of every character and scene.

Indeed, this was a truly great period in British television – the era of Fawlty Towers and I, Claudius -- and the acting is truly top-notch. Robin Ellis delivers a stunning marathon performance as the eponymous hero, coping with the immense challenge of being both proud to the point of arrogance, and holding a polished degree of honor and integrity. In a frock coat and riding boots, Ellis is Poldark. Anghared Rees as Cornish servant girl Demelza Carne and the gently menacing Ralph Bates as George Warleggan add dramatic stature to the impressive field. It would nearly be worth the price of purchase to see these fine thespians act off each other on the screen.

While the raw narrative itself remains quite brilliant, its transition to the digital era has been torturous. Having disgraced American DVD collections with its absence for years, Acorn’s reissue has not been best of efforts. Poldark has not been restored by technical boffins, resulting in predictably fuzzy outdoor shoots. Extras, too, seem to be a tagged on as mere afterthought – just a few cast bios and a short history of Cornwall. Nothing spectacular, but not, perhaps, fitting of a great series.

7

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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