Reviews

The Early Works of Cheryl Dunye

Sarah Hentges

“Dunyementary”is a style that blends narrative and documentary, “a mix of film, video, friends, and a lot of heart”.


The Early Works of Cheryl Dunye

Director: Cheryl Dunye
Distributor: First Run
MPAA rating: N/A
US DVD Release Date: 2008-12-09
First date: 2008

Whenever a woman achieves at a high level in a field typically dominated by men, we are compelled to compare her to an iconic man. This is exactly the case with Cheryl Dunye whose experimental, playful films have earned her the titles of: “The lesbian Spike Lee” (Newsday) and “Woody Allen refashioned as an African American lesbian” (New York Press). While the work of both of these men certainly have helped to make room for artists like Dunye, and while Dunye’s lesbian subject matter certainly distinguishes her from Lee and Allen, The Early Works of Cheryl Dunye also deserves to be recognized for the elements that she brings to film and filmmaking that Spike Lee, and others, cannot bring by virtue of subject position, access, and popular appeal.

Dunye’s more popular work, her first feature film, The Watermelon Woman; HBO film, Stranger Inside; and her most recent film My Baby’s Daddy, that played in theaters across the US, explores and challenges race and sexuality and tells stories about women that are rarely told in mainstream popular culture. Because much of her subject matter includes lesbian themes, Dunye’s work is also compared to other landmark lesbian films. For instance, one reviewer describes Watermelon Woman as “Go Fish meets She Gotta Have It”, once again proving that when critics attempt to fit someone like Cheryl Dunye into a preconceived box, she’s not going to fit.

Dunye’s early work demonstrates exactly why she doesn’t fit and why she deserves her own place within and across each of the categories her work crosses including narrative, experimental narrative, video montage, and experimental documentary. Dunye is recognized for her unique style, referred to as the “Dunyementary”, a style that blends narrative and documentary techniques and that Dunye describes as “a mix of film, video, friends, and a lot of heart”. This style brings a variety of interesting elements to these works from the interspliced narration that frames and unfolds the story in “She Don’t Fade” to the montage, photo album feel of “An Untitled Portrait” to the artistic, exploratory feel of “Vanilla Sex”. These short films represent the development of Dunye and her work and this DVD is a valuable resource for Lesbian, Women’s, and African American film as well as for the larger tradition of American filmmaking.

Spanning 1990-1994, The Early Works of Cheryl Dunye explores identity, race, culture, desire, sexuality, politics, family, relationships, and provides stories that help to fill the chasm that Dunye recognizes as the impetus for her work—the lack of films about, and images of, African American lesbians. The DVD cover and menu options provide a helpful guide to The Early Works of Cheryl Dunye. The DVD cover includes a short blurb about each film while the DVD menu takes the viewer to a short intro screen for each film with year, time, and title as well as words from Dunye about the film.

Some DVD cover blurbs are more helpful than others. “The Potluck and the Passion”, for instance, is described as: “Sparks fly as racial, sexual and social politics intermingle at a lesbian potluck” is an accurate and intriguing title. On the other hand, “Janine” is described as “the story of a black lesbian’s relationship with a white, upper middle class high school girl”, which is accurate, but does not fully capture the importance of what this film is about.

“Janine” was Dunye’s first film as an MFA student (info we find on the DVD intro screen) and more than being about her relationship with Janine, a best friend from childhood and adolescence, this film is about the pain that Janine caused Dunye not only because Dunye wanted to be like her, wanted to be white and rich, but also because Janine was judgmental, narrow-minded, and of a world that didn’t have to be concerned with others’ worlds. Thus, this film is more about the social and cultural contexts than it is about the lesbian relationship. The raw emotion that Dunye shows during and after the telling of this story is moving and this film provides a fitting introduction to Dunye’s work as well as the DVD as a whole.

From the DVD features we also learn that “Greetings from Africa” where Dunye, playing herself, explores lesbian dating in the 1990s, was the first film for which she had a real budget and crew and this was the film that allowed her to raise the money for The Watermelon Woman. The expectation via the tile is that this film will somehow explore Dunye’s African roots. Instead, the “greetings” from Africa are the contents of a strange postcard from an enigmatic white woman who was one of the failed dating attempts that Dunye’s character(s) experience. A successful love connection is found in “She Don’t Fade”; and the “sequel” follows in “The Potluck and the Passion”. These works, and the entire DVD, demonstrate just some of what is unique about Dunye and her work.

Bonus materials on the DVD include an interview with Cheryl Dunye from a 1997 DVD compilation Lavender Limelight: Lesbians in Film, the Director’s Introduction, and a piece, “About the Watermelon Woman”. While the latter is pretty useless, throughout the DVD there is a personal touch with Dunye’s first-person descriptions, the interview, and Director’s introduction that mesh nicely with the personal stories in her films.

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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