Asylum (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

The affair leads to disaster, not least because Stella feels compelled to punish Max for his emotional abandonment.


Director: David Mackenzie
Cast: Natasha Richardson, Ian McKellen, Marton Csokas, Hugh Bonneville, Gus Lewis, Joss Ackland
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Paramount Classics
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 1969-12-31 (Limited release)
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Stella (Natasha Richardson) hates her life. Or so it seems from frame one of David Mackenzie's second film about married lady distress. The first, Young Adam, encrypted its interest in the unhappy wife by a focus on her psychopathic lover. In Asylum, she is the initial center, unraveling before your eyes.

As Asylum begins, sometime in the 1950s, Stella and her stuffily ambitious psychiatrist husband Max (Hugh Bonneville) are moving into a new home, moving slowly through rooms and not speaking to each other. The furniture is covered with sheets, the floors are shined, the champagne in the fridge serves as modest welcome to Max, new director of Broadmoor Asylum, a high-security psychiatric hospital. The couple leaves their 10-year-old son Charlie (Gus Lewis) inside as they wander, separately, over to a derelict greenhouse, where shards of glass litter the ground. "We should have this repaired," notes Max. "Goodnight." Got it: the marriage is broken.

The next few days reveal the extent of Stella's frustration. At an airless garden party (no liquor, as patients are present; lots of cigarettes), she can hardly hide her boredom, eluding Broadmoor's very proper director, Jack (Joss Acklund), and turning her attention to the arrogantly disaffected Dr. Cleve (Ian McKellen). Restricted from looking into the asylum cells, instructed to attend meetings with other staff wives, Stella sighs and fiddles with her fingers. "How did my predecessor fill her days?" she asks the maid one morning. "She sewed tapestry," comes the answer. Stella finds another way.

His name, unsubtly, is Edgar Stark (Marton Csokas). A sculptor incarcerated for killing his wife in a jealous rage, he's now acting as something of a maintenance man (assigned to fix the greenhouse), and technically the charge of Dr. Cleve (whose talent for "arranging things" proves particularly despicable by film's end). After they exchange a couple of meaningful glances and Edgar saves Charlie after he's fallen from a tree, Stella starts making some very strange and overtly bad decisions (though it's never explained, her decision to marry Max seems a precursor to these), so fast and un-desperate that her crisp shift-dresses are barely wrinkled as she hikes them up, her red lipstick hardly smeared. Offered up in an affected, montagey sequence, their early trysts don't suggest passion so much as a series of poses.

The affair leads to disaster -- actually, a series of disasters -- not least because Stella feels compelled to punish Max for his emotional abandonment, and according to the movie's version of this environment, she has no "right" to punish, only an endless sentence to be punished. He chides her for wearing a sexy black sheath to a holiday dance, he spends all his time working, not even seeming to notice that she spends large snatches of hers in the arms of another man, though his coworkers certainly do. Asylum hints that Max's emotional clumsiness stems from an overbearing mother (Judy Parfitt), who comes for a visit and immediately voices what everyone else is tippy-toeing around. "Is Stella behaving herself?" she asks. Max responds with the sort of sigh that means she's hit a nerve he can't possibly admit: "Yes, mother."

Surrounded by this sort of oppressive hushing, Stella's largely nonverbal relationship with Edgar looks like a form of attention. But by the time he escapes and she runs off with him to the London, leaving behind Charlie as well as Max, the movie has quite lost sight of what's moving her. (Cleve, concerned with his missing patient, accuses Max indirectly: "Your wife destabilized him"). And much like the women in Young Adam, Stella will be punished for her insatiable desire, though that desire is vaguely understandable because Max is so difficult, though in the long run, not nearly so difficult as the increasingly violent, possessive, and off-his-meds Edgar or the increasingly meddlesome Cleve.

Though Cleve remains at the margins of the affair at Broadmoor, lasciviously remarking on Stella's suspected activities, he comes forward once the institution, in league with the police, embarks on a search for the escapee (Cleve's patient, after all). to his own (and the film's) center who presses Jack and Max to pursue the escapee (his patient). He suggests they need to repair their own damaged reps, but he also wants to regain control of Edgar, whose condemnation of the doctor as an "old queen" suggests Cleve's particular interest in Edgar, in turn complicated by Cleve's professed interest in Stella, and then again by his absorption by the sculptor's latest work, a teeny little bust of Stella that Cleve finds and hides away, so that he can contemplate it in private. (The film only suggests what this bust might mean to Cleve [or Edgar, for that matter], but it is a mightily creepy prop.)

As Stella recedes before this deluge of objectification -- by Max, Edgar, Cleve -- Richardson digs into Stella's many moods and miscues with something like relish (though her descent into depression, physical abuse, and seeming starvation is marked primarily by dark circles under her eyes and frizzy hair). No matter Max's sense of wounding and resentment, Stella is the film's primary victim -- again and again, she's punished. And while you're distanced from her repeatedly, by the end of Asylum, you feel battered as well.

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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