Reviews

A Mighty Heart

Stuart Henderson

At last, all we have is the horror we began with. Pearl will be beheaded, for nothing, and the world gets a little darker.


A Mighty Heart

Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Irrfan Khan, Dan Futterman, Archie Panjabi, Will Patton, Denis O'Hare
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Paramount Vantage
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2007-10-16

The coordinated attacks against the US on 9/11 were brutal, shocking, and spectacular, but for all of their ghastliness, they made a degree of sense. No matter how much one’s brain boiled with anger and revulsion over the outrage, it was always hard to accept the “why us?” position so disingenuously taken up by the Bush administration. US foreign policy is frequently deplorable, and above all unfair, and to expect the rest of the world to accept that without anyone plotting revenge was foolhardy. Indeed, as many non-Americans have (quietly) remarked in the years since the attacks, it had only been a matter of time.

For many of us, there was a kind of solace to be taken in this truth, in the belief that this was not a motiveless crime, not merely a baseless act of ignorance and religious mania. In short, the fact that Bin Laden and his followers had a clear statement of purpose (which was carefully swept under the rug by the Bush administration) helped to at least provide some understanding of the whole thing. They had an agenda, a rationale (however repulsive), and above all, a reason (however odious) for doing this terrible thing. Back in those early days of the suddenly declared War on Terror, there was a brief stretch of a few months when a certain meaning seemed to hover around the events.

But when, in early 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was murdered by a group of Pakistani and Afghani thugs, it became impossible to take cold comfort in the idea that Al-Qaeda was working a logical (if poisonous) political game. His death was somehow different, a signal that things had changed. Indeed, Pearl’s murder was proof that this concept of jihad, of an unending war against Jews and the “great Satan” that is the US, is indiscriminate, vulgar, and, finally, morally bankrupt. To exact a meaningless price from this reporter, whose work was, by all accounts, fair and levelheaded, was to demonstrate the final idiocy of the politics of these jihadists. This wasn’t about meaning anymore, was it?

September 11th was a demonstration of power, of will, and of capability. Pearl’s murder was a demonstration of a hollow politics of hatred. Here was a man whose murder benefited no one, an action that brought nothing but further pain and hardship to the people of Pakistan (who had to suffer increasing losses of civil liberties in the wake of this high-profile kidnapping). Here was a murder of such ancient brutality that it signaled to all that this was a politics of regression, of infantile reckoning, predicated upon the misreading of one of the world’s most beautiful books. Politics, suddenly, wasn’t the right word to define this thing.

Michael Winterbottom’s study of all of this, last Spring’s extraordinary A Mighty Heart, works like a live action documentary without offering much of an editorial on its subject matter. Following the fraught few weeks between Pearl’s kidnapping and his murder, the film places us in the midst of the unfolding horror as every clue leads to some new bit of unhappy news. At the center of the film is Marianne Pearl, Daniel’s pregnant wife (also herself a journalist), and her close friends and colleagues. As good reporters, they try to turn this into a story, scribbling names in notepads and on whiteboards, having roundtable discussions that look and feel like editorial sessions, and pushing sources for information. They collaborate with local police (and some American law enforcement services including the FBI), and at times the film takes us on extended missions with the police as they try to track down something useful. It rarely works.

Throughout, Marianne Pearl (Angelia Jolie in what is undoubtedly her finest performance to date) remains amazingly calm, even steely. Her logic and rationalism contrasts visibly with the rambling chaos of Karachi that unfurls just outside her gated compound. As the search for her husband grows increasingly fruitless, she perseveres. “Their point is to terrorize people,” she explains, defiantly. “Well, I am not terrorized.”

A Mighty Heart maintains a close, fly-on-the-wall presence throughout, its hand-held cameras and improvised dialogue (replete with stutters and coughs) providing a remarkable sense of immediacy and verisimilitude. The ensemble cast (including a warm, heartening performance by the beautiful Archie Panjabi) is sharp and attractive, but appropriately bedraggled. It’s all very compelling, and certainly at times fascinating as a study of a remarkable woman in a time of unparalleled apprehension and grief. But, in the end, what we have known since we sat down in front of the screen (reluctantly, I might add) has to take place. Daniel has to be murdered and Marianne’s world has to be shattered.

What this leaves us with is an odd bit of entertainment. As with Paul Greengrass’ masterful play-by-play of the highjacking of United 93, we know exactly where this film is going from the opening credits. It simply can’t surprise us. Suspense, then, is always already muted by the simple fact of inexorability. At last, all we have is the horror we began with. Pearl will be beheaded, for nothing, and the world gets a little darker.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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