Reviews

Must Read After My Death

Must Read After My Death makes narrative sense out of experience, but also leaves much of the nonsense in place, not explaining or rationalizing.


Must Read After My Death

Director: Morgan Dews
Cast: Allis, Charley, Anne, Chuck, Bruce, Douglas
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Gigantic Releasing
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2009-02-20 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

Editor's Note: Outside of New York and L.A., the film is available for digital viewing at www.giganticdigital.com beginning 20 February. The cost is $2.99 for a three-day, unlimited viewing ticket.

"These are just conversations back and forth, as if we were talking on the phone. They are only valuable for the impact and effect they have when you listen to them. I don't think there's any reason they should be kept for posterity." Charley's assessment of his long distance exchanges with his wife Allis is both right and telling. The Dictaphone recordings, records, 8mm movies, and transcripts that she accumulated during their marriage are at once private and representative, meaningful one way for the correspondents at the time, but also resonant and revealing for the rest of us.

Allis and Charley's communications, excerpted and edited by their grandson Morgan Dews as the documentary, Must Read After My Death, reveal not only their own tensions and efforts, but also the beliefs, ambitions, and regrets of their time and place. Culled from 50 hours of tapes and some "201 home movies" discovered after Allis' death in 2001, the movie offers impressions of a marriage in trouble. "I love my children, I want to be a good mother to them," Allis says over familiar-seeming images of a circa-mid-'50s suburban home and proud young parents with chubby babies, "But I'm not a person to sit around and sew and decorate and paint and do things like that. I am not a housewife. I have never been a housewife."

And yet, that is what Allis became for much of her adult life, tending to four children while Charley worked, often traveling for "16 weeks out of the year," she says. His recorded letter provides context: "Hi mommy and the kids. It's nice to be in Australia where there's no snow, but it's not as interesting as Hartford, Connecticut." Shots of snow streets and bare branches are intercut with home movies of "the kids" in kimonos, gifts sent home in his absence. The children pose for the camera, their faces alternately smiling and strained. Daughter Anne hopes he'll come home soon, promising that he'll find a "completely in-order house."

Anne's assurance hints that perhaps their family is not so idyllic as the posed images suggest. "I think maybe in recent years," Allis suggests, "You and I have not talked to each other enough, communication has broken down."

Indeed, as Must Read After My Death shows, the very concept of communication is ambiguous. For along with Allis and Charley's conversations (with help from the children as they grew older), the film also includes her recordings to therapists, as the family sought help from psychiatrists and psychologists (one of the boys was institutionalized at age 14, after he threatened his father). As it emerges that they have an "open" marriage, it also becomes clear that this both indicated and caused fundamental frictions. Following clips of Charley on a dance floor ("People say, 'You love women,' which I do; there have been three that are very interesting and very delightful"), the film offers up clips of a happy family, Charley and the children laughing in the backyard. "As I've told mommy," Charley instructs, "The only principle source of any unhappiness in our family, I think, is keeping the house picked up and looking like the place it should like. And I'm thinking particularly about bedrooms." If everyone does his or her part to keep the house "picked up," he pledges, "Then I'll do my part to try to be nicer and more pleasant and to spend more time with you. Is that a fair bargain? "

As the movie makes combines self-recorded imagery with a sort of "found narration," it recalls other recent films about families coming apart, 51 Birch Street, Capturing the Friedmans or even Tarnation. But Must Read After My Death includes no overview, no story of discovery by the filmmaker or interviews with family survivors, no look back on the tumult except for the self-analysis provided by Allis as she's in the midst of it. But the film provides its own associations and judgments, drawing Charley as a villain from Allis' perspective.

His recordings repeatedly suggest his tendency to dominate ("You probably don't really agree with my philosophy on love and sex, I think you try to tell me that you'd like to be a one-man dog and you'd like to be possessive," he says, over images of the happy family on the beach with a dog). At the same time, hers suggest her increasing frustrations. "Do I have the right," she asks over shots of a mother dog and puppies, "To take the time from the family to do anything?"

Allis' voice and concerns shape the film. These include her disagreements with Charley over his excess drinking and other indulgences (he's "so much nicer to be with when he's sober," she says, but when she asks Charley during an argument, "Can I say something? You shut me up every time I open my mouth," he responds, "Because you have no damn business to. "It's none of your business what I spend on my expense account") as well as complaints to and about her doctors, who want to commit her son Bruce and suggest she's to blame for her children's dysfunctions ("I told Dr. Lenn, 'Why don't you let me leave? Why can't I leave?'").

The film doesn’t pretend to diagnose the marriage or Allis or Charley. Instead, it appears to let them speak for themselves, as they describe hopes and betrayals, yearnings and disappointments. He describes for her a woman with whom he "would love to get together," and hopes, "You'll foster this yourself." She laments that, even though she loved school and had four languages, she gave up college, in part, as she remembers it, because "He had no college because he is very, very sensitive."

But if Must Read After My Death doesn't diagnose, it does indict -- an era, a culture, and a set of expectations that produced both Charley and Allis, as well as their children (Anne being Morgan's mother). "When I say 'shenanigans," Allis explains, "I mean paid-for shenanigans. I don't care what he does. I don't like to have him pay for it." In the next instant, she's describing an assault. Charley "slapped me in the jaw," she says, "My jaw hurts, my teeth hurt." If she doesn't explicitly draw a connection between Charley's sense of prerogative and control in the marriage and his abuses, psychic and physical, the film does it for her. Sort of.

It's in this "sort of" space, in the perpetual mix of story and reflection that Must Read After My Death is most interesting and innovative. As it makes narrative sense out of experience, it also leaves much of the nonsense in place, not explaining or rationalizing, but showing that such inclinations -- by doctors, husbands, and even mothers -- can be as disturbing as the chaos they seek to fix.

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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