Reviews

'Chronicle of a Summer' Is a Dazzling, Shot-from-the-Hip Mini-Masterpiece

Rouch and Morin's engrossing and powerful French sociological documentary is a fine example of cinéma vérité, and it changed the course of non-fiction filmmaking forever.


Chronicle of a Summer

Director: Jean Rouch, Edgar Morin
Cast: Various
Distributor: BFI
Extras: 7
Studio: Argos Films
UK Release date: 2013-05-27
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Film director Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin’s celebrated French documentary Chronicle of a Summer represents all you could ever want from a visual sociological document. Shot mostly in Paris in 1960, the film is a pioneering example of cinéma vérité, and is aligned with the Nouvelle Vague of non-fiction filmmaking, subsequently influencing the style and format of many other documentaries.

There is a refreshing, loose and honest atmosphere to the film’s proceedings. Gone is the stylistic formality associated with many earlier international documentaries, the staid narration and carefully constructed narratives of those films representing the antithesis of what both directors were attempting to achieve with the people-centric, largely hand-held aesthetic of Chronicle of a Summer.

In contrast to traditional documentary methods and practice, Rouch and Morin’s film is a dazzling, shot-from-the-hip mini-masterpiece, and its striking and exciting mixture of intellectual interview and human observation is unlike anything that preceded it. The directors' remit was to present contentious (although not necessarily controversial) subjects to a group of people, then turn on the camera and film the resultant discussion.

The nucleus of this concept may be brilliantly simple, but the subsequent discussions are multifaceted. What transpires ensures that the film is as important as an historical document as it is an examination of the individual lives of the Parisians that feature in it. Through debate, observation and interview, the film examines the subjects’ attitudes towards race, politics, gender, love, commerce and so on.

To keep things stimulating, Rouch and Morin employ participants from a fairly diverse variety of backgrounds, among them disillusioned factory workers, precocious young intellectuals (including Régis Debray, now a world-renowned philosopher and political advisor), a young Italian woman interning at the office of the legendary Cahiers Du Cinéma, a troubled sociologist in the process of ending a relationship with her boyfriend, a young family facing a housing crisis, and a poor artist couple living hand-to-mouth but are very happy and content, nonetheless.

Perhaps most interestingly, there is a young black student from the Ivory Coast, and his presence inevitably leads to discussion revolving around French colonialism, including the situation in Algeria. Again, this is indicative of the filmmakers’ agenda: honest discussion of sometimes contentious issues, with minimal directorial intervention. It naturally helps that almost all the participants, regardless of background or education, are eloquent, intelligent and self-aware. The key to the film’s appeal is the personal context of each of them.

As an example of the aims of the filmmakers, Chronicle of a Summer is bookended by an examination of what constitutes happiness in one’s life. Indeed, this is a subject that appears throughout, in a variety of guises. Such a deceptively straightforward question sets the tone of the narrative, and it inevitably prompts a searing range of exploratory and philosophical reflections and discourse in the "see-where-it-goes" tradition; the truthfulness and openness displayed by some is heartbreaking.

It would be futile to attempt to concisely précis the contents of the film. There's purposely no strong or obvious authorial voice here, despite the directors appearing onscreen much of the time. Like the finest documentarians, Rouch and Morin ensure the presence of the camera is as unobtrusive as possible, and cutting and multi-shot placement is kept to a minimum. As a result, most of the subjects seem uninhibited, and subsequently bare their true feelings during the discussions and interviews. Of course, there's occasional evidence of a directorial hand (one participant, Marceline, recounts her experience in a wartime concentration camp, her monologue delivered against a long and beautiful tracking shot that glides through the early Parisian morning), but overall the content comes across as non-stylised.

Another of the film’s powerful scenes features the Cahiérs du Cinema intern, Marliou, who becomes distraught when discussing her loneliness and solitude; as the camera focuses, in close-up, on her obvious pain, she finds it increasingly difficult to speak, her emotions in turmoil. It’s tremendously affecting sequences such as this that demonstrate that the most resonant moments can be skilfully induced by simply filming a person talking about an issue that is greatly troubling to them, however simple the context of the interview appears to be.

One minor quibble with the film concerns a stylistic quirk that afflicts many European documentaries of the period (particularly Jacopetti and Prosperi’s films about Africa), and it’s the occasional and unnecessary sound effects dubbing. When the human voices featured in Chronicle of a Summer speak so honestly and eloquently, do we really need post-production Foley work to embellish the action onscreen? When obvious dubbing is apparent, it only breaks the meta-discourse of a film and makes us aware of the inherent artifice involved in the construction of a cinematic narrative; Chronicle of a Summer doesn’t need such a distraction, because the film overall is breathtakingly truthful, immediate and honest. There's certainly an infinite debate to be had about the extent to which documentary film is “constructed”, but creative dubbing slightly cheapens the reality of the sequences during which it appears.

That said, this is a trivial complaint. Rouch and Morin always manage to retain a feel of freshness by never staying with one individual or group for too long; as soon as you feel you are getting familiar with certain subjects and beginning to understand their motivations, personalities and personal philosophies, the directors move along to the next sequence and so to a new set of opinions, experiences, problems and perspectives on life. It’s all effortlessly watchable, intellectually satisfying, and with its specific focus on the mores and attitudes of ‘60s Parisians, it’s historically fascinating, too.

The disc is a dual-format DVD/Blu ray.The extras are excellent, and include a making-of documentary and recent interviews with some of the participants, a lecture given by Rouch at London’s NFT, and a fully illustrated booklet with an essay by the esteemed film academic Ginette Vincendeau.

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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