Film

An Interactive Medium: The 48th Annual New York Film Festival

Certified Copy

This year's organizers offered a reinvigorated idea of what the New York Film Festival can be: elite and cerebral, topically, tonally, and globally diverse, and eager to foster a dialogue with its community.

Last year, the New York Film Festival programmers took a critical drubbing for choosing films that were too intellectual or inscrutable. It was an old complaint, a cliché really, concerning the impenetrability of the avant-garde or glacially paced, black and white art films. I thought the charges were overblown, but there was something tepid and unwelcoming many selections, which were notably lacking in the genre pictures and star-driven movies that had previously rounded out the Festival and given it a crucial patina of fun.

This year, organizers returned with a reinvigorated idea of what the New York Film Festival can be: elite and cerebral, topically, tonally, and globally diverse, and eager to foster a dialogue with its community. The selections ranged from the Mexican horror movie We Are What We Are (Somos Lo Que Hay) to the Russian-Merjan meditation on death Silent Souls (Ovsyanki). Carlos Assayas’s five-hour take on Carlos the Jackal, Carlos, was shown alongside the brisk heist movie The Robber (Der Räuber). Special events included a new documentary by Frederick Wiseman (Boxing Gym), a 3D movie by Joe Dante (The Hole 3D), and Andrei Ujică’s experimental portrait of Nicolae Ceauşescu (The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu) After years of construction, the Film Society’s new Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center stood ready to open, and the whole enterprise felt imbued with bright energy.

The Festival programmers' savviest move was to open with The Social Network, whose buzz rubbed off on the Festival. That movie’s controversial subject matter, skillful construction, and Hollywood entertainment value was a potent auger for what followed.

Associate program director Scott Foundas introduced Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy (Copie Conforme) by referencing the art house films of the ’60s and ‘70s that would send their audiences out into the night brimming with talk about what the movie might mean. With an earnest excitement that was refreshing in the stuffy Lincoln Center environment, Foundas said that he looked forward to the conversations that this audience would be having after leaving the theater.

Certified Copy offers much to talk about, concerning how we interpret what is real in life and in art: it's a portrait of a relationship as filmic essay, surreal meta-object, and brutal realism. The action follows a woman (Juliette Binoche) and a man (William Shimell) on a day trip through the Tuscan countryside. He is a philosopher who has just written a book about art reproductions and she is a wary reader who may be interested in him romantically. As the day progresses, it appears that they are in fact husband and wife. Or maybe they're playing an emotionally unhinged game at being a couple. As if to emphasize the interpretive role of the viewer, cinematographer Luca Bigazzi uses natural settings and manmade architecture to divide the frame; for instance, mirrors and windows create multiple images. Sometimes either the man or the woman is facing the frame directly for long takes, effectively in dialogue with the audience.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Loong Boonmee Raleuk Chat) was another highlight. Weerasethakul’s movies have a welcoming quietness and spiritual humanity so that, despite their slow pacing, the oblique and open-ended symbology, and references to Buddhism, Thai history and folktales, they make themselves available to a wide audience. Uncle Boonmee, which won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in May, takes place o a farm in northern Thailand, where the title character is dying of kidney disease. He is visited by his sister, the ghost of his dead wife, and his son, who returns as a monkey spirit. Weerasethakul uses subtly different shooting styles for each section, all reflecting on the cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation. Even as it is gentle in appearance, the film also offers acerbic commentary regarding the effects of violence.

There is a similar sort of communion going on between the living and the dead in Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry (Shi). It opens with a suicide of a young woman, set against a gorgeous river in the background. The grandmother at the center of the story, Mija (an amazing Yoon Jeong-hee), learns that the teenage grandson she cares for was involved in the girl’s death. As she ponders this, she's also taking a poetry class, and her attempts to find beauty in words -- the “flowers in her heart” -- begin to seem like a dangerous dip into happy delusions. The movie avoids sentimentality through its sensitive, sometimes critical characterizations. The artfully constructed story is as subtle and exacting as the choice words that Mija strives for her in her poem. With Poetry, Chang-dong leaves behind the reliance on climactic melodrama that has marred his earlier films.

Poetry

Mike Leigh returned for the umpteenth but still welcome time with Another Year. And again, his portrait of a mildly liberal British bourgeoisie, like a good Belle and Sebastian song, incorporate devastating emotional consequences. In a series of connected episodes, Another Year follows the too-cutely named and deeply contented couple Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) from spring to winter. Their relatives and friends come and go, bringing their problems and seeking stability in Tom and Gerri’s settled life. It soon appears, however, that the couple's gentle demeanors mask a very conservative every-man-for-himself outlook. (Especially startling in the case of Geri, a therapist at a hospital.) This becomes more alarming as we see how their relationship with Geri’s disturbed work colleague Mary develops. Lesley Manville, in a brave performance, first defines Mary by a series of cloying mannerisms that made me groan, “My God, I have to spend two hours with this character?” But it eventually becomes clear how troubled she is, and viewers may feel sympathy even as Tom and Gerri begin viewing her as a nuisance, making for a movie as subtly realized and unpredictable as any of Leigh’s finer efforts.

Against Leigh’s narrative familiarity lay Jean-Luc Godard’s familiar difficulty. The archetypical art house director, audience divider, and NYFF regular made what will no doubt be one of his final submissions with Film Socialisme, an essay in three parts. The first is set on a cruise ship representing the wayward, ahem, ship of Europe; the second is set at a gas station where colonialist and democratic politics are hashed out. The final section is an exploration of western culture using film clips from Battleship Potemkin, John Ford, and Roberto Rossellini. Rather than translate the dialogue directly, Godard has provided what he calls “Navajo” subtitles, which only give two or three words to cover the gist of what is being discussed, such as “corrupted by suffering” or “Africa out.” This leaves huge holes that need to be filled by the viewer. I found myself grateful for remembering what I did from my high school French class, for having limited access to layers that would have otherwise been lost. As with any Godard movie, the vast room for interpretation is both exhilarating and frustrating. This is partially alleviated by the technical exhilaration of Godard’s editing and the digital photography by Fabrice Aragno and Paul Grivas, which capture bright colors that can be blocky like corporate iconography or smeary as an iPhone photo.

Film Socialisme

The layering of layer French and other languages suggests a layering of meaning, and we might guess Godard means to frustrate understanding as well. Yet it provided a sense of hard-won hope and openness, a renewed conceptual energy and a tamping down of the hectoring and resignation of his previous films. The title itself indicates a hope for a universal language through film. A subtitle says, “Images in language are in the desert, go find them.”

It is striking that the grandfather of art house, the radical and obscurist who worked his way through impossible optimism for the medium, only to grow increasingly pessimistic in old age, was able to locate a positive vein for film’s future. With a dash of humor, Film Socialisme is good news and an apt symbol for the resonant history and confident artistry that permeated this year’s New York Film Festival.

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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