'Cinema' --That's Italian for Cinema

From Federico Fellini'sThe Clowns (1970)

New DVD provider RaroVideo USA is coming out of the gate with two lavish Criterion-worthy releases: The Clowns and the Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection. One is nominally "arty" and the other "lowdown", but the lines deserve to be blurred.

We welcome a new DVD company, RaroVideo USA, and offer a not-so-silent prayer for the success of its mission. In fact it's not a totally new company, since RaroVideo has existed in Italy for some time. What's new is that the company opened an American label to capture the Region 1 market. According to its press release, RaroVideo made this decision after hooking up with the owner of Cult Epics (a label that's been releasing the output of Italian eroticist Tinto Brass) and distribution company Entertainment One.

The PR declares that directors featured in the RaroVideo catalog include Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti, Derek Jarman, Roberto Rosselllini, Shinya Tsukamoto, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, Lars von Trier, Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava, Francesco Barilli, Tinto Brass, Jean Cocteau, Pedro Almodovar and Martin Scorsese. Bear in mind that this doesn't mean they'll be distributing all these folks in the US. It says, "Raro Video was also the first company in the world to release on DVD Andy Warhol’s: The Chelsea Girls, My Hustler, The Nude Restaurant and Lonesome Cowboys. RaroVideo will continue to spotlight the works of major Italian directors next year with plans to release Antonioni’s The Vanguished (I Vinti), Pasolini’s The Anger (La Rabbia) and Carmelo Bene’s Our Lady of the Turks (Nostra signora dei Turchi).

From this I conclude that RaroVideo US will emphasize Italian films, as well it should. At least one other label this century, an outfit called NoShame, flourished briefly with an excellent and ambitious slate of Italian items ranging from horror to crime to sex comedies to highbrow titles. Alas, NoShame went belly up. Another label, Blue Underground, still reissues Italian horror titles now and then, and of course Criterion often puts out deluxe versions of Italian classics. There's plenty more where these came from, and RaroVido is coming out of the gate with two lavish Criterion-worthy releases. One is nominally "arty" and the other "lowdown", but the lines deserve to be blurred and they are.

A Rare Fellini

Made for TV in 1970, The Clowns is an act of prestidigitation posing as a documentary. In this it resembles another TV project of the era, Orson Welles' F for Fake, and The Clowns is as much a distillation of Fellini as the other distills Welles.

As historian Adriano Aprà observes in a very good visual essay on the film, the opening sequence seems to owe as much to the comic strip "Little Nemo" as to autobiography. Roused by noises in the night, a boy in a nightshirt goes to the window and witnesses a tent being raised next to his house. Unlike the nomads who supposedly steal away silently under cover of darkness, these people are arriving in the wee hours with some clatter. This whole sequence tends to present the boy from the back or with his face in shadow.

DVD: The Clowns

Film: The Clowns

Director: Federico Fellini

Cast: Federico Fellini, Anita Ekberg

Year: 1970

Rated: Unrated

Release date: 2011-03-01

Distributor: RaroVideo

Image: next morning, the camera follows him out the door into the new world of wonder, and we witness a lengthy montage of circus acts. Crucially, we never witness any act all the way through. It's a series of jump cuts -- acrobats to wrestling ladies to tigers -- as though these are the highlights in a fragmentary memory. The proceedings are dominated by many clowns of extravagant violence. There are more axes and hammers to the head than dreamed of by the Three Stooges, and it all happens at once all over the scene in pairs and trios. The boy is dragged home crying. Instead of laughing at the clowns, he finds them frightening and sad.

Fellini's voiceover tells us that despite their exaggerations, they don't seem so unreal because any small town has characters like that. The rest of the sequence is series of memories of local oddballs, drunks, petty tyrants, and otherwise vivid faces that populate Fellini's memories and films. This segment feels like a dry run for Amarcord, except that where that film was a more generalized series of childhood memories, this one is thematically linked to the clownish grotesqueries of human behavior.

This has been the first third of the film. Then we are in the modern day, and Fellini introduces us to his alleged film crew. They're certainly a motley crew--not literally, though that would be appropriate for a clown picture. Although we seem to have transitioned from fiction to documentary, it's a lie because these people who will accompany him throughout the following scenes, "filming" as he interviews many retired clowns in France and Italy, clearly aren't his real crew. They're his own private circus, there for flavor and perhaps to remind us that there really is a crew following him around, only not this one. Just as surely, all the interviews and lunches and visits are elaborately staged, even if some of the ex-clowns are saying more or less what they might really say in a straight documentary. Really they don't give us many facts, just their faces.

When we visit a working circus, whom does Fellini discover wandering by the tiger cages but Anita Ekberg, his star from La Dolce Vita, and many edits compare Anita to the tigers. One of the people we visit is fellow film director Pierre Etaix, whose output includes clown material and who married into an illustrious clown family. He's supposedly going to show us a rare film but things don't go as planned. Another tour-de-force involves viewing a rare film in a TV station, and this sequence is all elaborate tracking shots. At one point we're told that a woman is Charlie Chaplin's daughter; she resembles Geraldine Chaplin but it's not her. Aprà identifies her as sister Victoria Chaplin, married to the magician in the scene.

The raucous final part of the movie (dream? reconstruction?) is a long big-top performance centered on a clown's funeral to convey the idea that a certain type of clown is dead. After this melée comes a haunting coda of beauty and mystery about death and time in the form of another clown skit. At various points in the film, the movie had interrupted itself to illustrate anecdotes, and this final digression is our fade-out. Naturally, we're exposed to Nino Rota's music throughout, and in the final moments the jauntiness segues to trumpetary melancholy.

Aprà's essay clarifies several things besides Chaplin's daughter. By reading aloud from Fellini's concurrent book on clowns, he tells us Fellini's ideas on the social meaning of the clowns that have peopled his circus-like output. Europe's clowns traditionally worked in duet with one as the "White Clown", an authoritarian figure, and the other as the hapless "Augusto", a victim and childlike anarchist. Fellini extends this to explain which categories his fellow directors fall into (Visconti and Pasolini are White Clowns while Antonioni is Augusto), or that Freud is a White Clown while Einstein is Augusto.

A bonus short is Fellini's segment from the 1953 Love in the City, an important film. The influential screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, one of the guiding forces behind neo-realism, produced this as a showcase for that movement as employed by himself, Fellini, Alberto Lattuada, the young Michelangelo Antonioni, Dino Risi, and Carlo Lizzani. At the request of Italian censors, Lizzani's segment about prostitution wasn't shown abroad. It kicked off what proved a hardy Italian genre, the anthology or survey film, of which there were dozens through the next two decades. This movie, available on DVD in Europe, deserves its own Region 1 release.

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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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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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