CQ (2001)

Cynthia Fuchs

The subject of CQ is Paul, artist, coffee-drinker, American in Paris.


Director: Roman Coppola
Cast: Jeremy Davies, Elodie Bouchez, Angela Lindvall, Billy Zane, Gérard Depardieu, Giancarlo Giannini, Jason Schwartzman, Dean Stockwell, John Phillip Law
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First date: 2001
US Release Date: 2002-05-24

Roman Coppola's CQ names its subject right off the bat. Paul (Jeremy Davies) narrates a black and white film he's making, all about him. This is my bathwater going down the drain, he offers, my passport, my strong French coffee, and my girlfriend's shoes that I bought her. They don't fit, he observes, as she slips them off and rubs her pretty feet, but she wears them anyway. "September 1, 1969," Paul murmurs, so seriously, "Pieces of me, me in pieces."

The subject of CQ, in other words, is Paul. Artist, coffee-drinker, American in Paris, young and arrogant, certainly, but also unformed, only pretending to know himself. "Everything is important," he observes, as if it's true. Paul's capacity to concoct and swallow lies is not unusual, but it's discomforting nonetheless.

Unable to see beyond himself, he's increasingly unable even to speak with his patient girlfriend Marlene (Elodie Bouchez). She's exceedingly practical, an airline stewardess who comes in and out of their apartment in her uniform, ever ready to declare her love (when she's not rubbing her feet from those crucially tight shoes). "I've missed him," Marlene tells his camera, willing to play along for a minute as she walks through the bathroom. She's more right than she knows. Plopping herself down in his lap, she encourages Paul to think, even act, off camera. After all, she warns him, wise and baffled by his obsession, "Just because you film every visible thing in your life doesn't mean you'll understand yourself any better."

Still, he's determined to put the fragments together, to find order in his editing. Paul's "personal" document, the film he believes is "honest" and groundbreaking, grants him access to daydreams where he's the star of an interview session, all mics pointed his way. Paul, for all his ostensible lack of affect, is full of it, and quite taken with himself. This self-conception emerges from his time and place: he works as a film editor and second unit director on a Barbarella-ish SF-action film named Dragonfly. Part '60s art cinema, part assault on the very idea of art, mostly hyper-kitsch, it's a way to make a living, for the present, as well as a way to look toward the future.

Dragonfly is a gorgeous secret agent, played by the gorgeous actress Valentine (played by the gorgeous model-turned-actress Angela Lindvall). She's hired by important men, who proclaim she will help defend "our way of life," against a "radical" colony living on the moon, led by beret-wearing poet-philosopher-martial arts expert Mr. E (Billy Zane) has developed a new technology, a dangerous weapon; apparently no one on the set has quite decided how dangerous or what Mr. E will do with it. Suffice it to say that his encounter with Dragonfly results in wild, "'60s-style" sex (unfocused close-ups of body parts = art), and then she steals his weapon anyway.

Confused by his inability to organize his own life, even as a film, Paul is seduced by Dragonfly's very white, very clean world, circa 2001. She wears white pleather, boots, a wide belt on her hips, and lots of tousled hair. In an early scene, when she receives her assignment from the nervous men ("She's expensive," mutters one; "Exasperating," says another), but they all concur in hiring her, for she is the Best and that's what they need in this time of crisis, the Best.

Dragonfly lives in a world where, once payment is agreed on, the money flies out of her computer, immediately transferred directly to her, so she can roll around naked with it on her bed. At the same time, Paul is struggling to get by, to keep his apartment (and Marlene's leaving doesn't help matters). To support his own "habit," the film diary, Paul pilfers excess celluloid, determined to make a homemade, gutter-budgeted, gritty-truthed masterpiece.

The many pieces of CQ never quite cohere. That may not be an entirely bad thing, as a resolution could only be incongruous, given all that comes before film's end. The fact that it's named for the Morse code phrase for what it sounds like -- "seek you" -- suggests at once its own superficiality, too-cleverness, thematic concerns, and self-consciousness. Taking solipsism as subject and tactic, the movie digs itself into a hole that's both fascinating and tedious, the hole that engulfs and shapes so much art, perhaps especially the vérité kind.

And so, Paul sits on his toilet and looks into his camera, confessing and complaining, contemplating the higher functions of art, the pursuit of sincerity and meaning and love. (That he ignores Marlene in the meantime isn't lost on her, though he seems pretty self-servingly oblivious.) The difference between art and commerce, of course, is hardly clear or stable or even very substantial, and if Paul doesn't see this, you can't help but do so, as CQ references all kinds of previous history and art, from the aforementioned Barbarella to Danger: Diabolik to Jim McBride's brilliant deconstruction of vérité's essential pretentiousness and impossibility, David Holzman's Diary. (The small art film can be just as selfish and dense as any commercial venture.) (Carson appears as one of the wide-angled interviewers in Paul's I'm-a-star fantasy.) Roman Coppola's picture is no less annoying, more awkward and glib, but includes flashes of brilliance. If ever a movie knew its limits, this is it.

Given that it is a first feature by music video and commercial maker Roman Coppola (he directed The Presidents of the United States' "Peaches"), a young man related to too many celebrities, CQ is remarkably poised. Given that it's a function of its protagonist Paul, it's also predictably precious (his quest is romantic and large: he seeks truth, if not Truth). No wonder: he's enveloped by about three and a half movies -- Dragonfly; his own documentary; the love affair with Valentine that he imagines for himself (most often set in the film's futuristic sets); and CQ. None of these movies is quite complete, and each slides in and out of the others, layered and seeping, to the point that Paul's sense of fragmentation starts to feel unavoidable. The movie is about pieces making up a "me." Sort of.

Modeled after the legendary cinematic truth-seekers of the '60s and '70s, Paul is also a bit self-delusional, imagining that he's inherently more interesting than the other faux artistes who surround him. His director, the aging and lumbering lefty Andrzej (Gérard Depardieu), is prone to defend his work on political grounds: recalling his grander, younger days, perhaps, he fights for his right to make a visionary film, a "circle," without an ending. "We are making cinema! We are making revolution!" he exults. But Andrzej's voluble, money-minded Italian producer, Enzo (Giancarlo Giannini), decides against this tack. The film needs an ending, he declares, and Andrzej, for all his fervor and dedication, is out.

It's hard to tell just how Paul feels about this turn of events (or more to the point, whether it matters how he feels). Standing above the argument, he's observing two fathers, and he's thinking of his estranged, biological one, Ballard (Dean Stockwell -- and how scary is that, to have him for your dad?). Tossed between his two wildly "European" film-business fathers, Paul seeks out his U.S. dad, who delivers only more insanity and instability, more layering, in the form of a dream. In it, he meets a second son -- "You were here too," he assures Paul -- a Vietnam veteran, someone, in other words, with history (though the war is long from over in 1969), guilt, violence, and masculine substance. What if I have another son somewhere, Ballard wonders aloud, another son who looks like Paul? And with that, Ballard has moved on, to another appointment, leaving Paul dazed and even less sure of anything than before.

What if? Paul's own life remains unresolved, unfixed, at once too American, too violent, too youthful, and also too alienated from the Old World where he now lives. That it's an Old World defined in part by new technologies -- the Concord, cool little sports cars, and lightweight cameras (Paul gets a lovely one partway through his project, an Éclair 16mm) -- only exacerbates the anxiety expatriate Paul is feeling. Small, worried, almost eager, he's the kind of egoistic artist who might make something petty or great, but whose reward for it can only be troubling. When he realizes at last, that his mistreatment of Marlene, his lack of appreciation for her, is insensitive and wrong, he's already made his film, which is all about her. Or rather, it's about his obsession with her. Really, there's no outside to this circle.

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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