In the Cut (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

Their affair proceeds as the steamy-seeming trailers suggest it will, in the interest of promoting Ryan's 'breakout' self-exposure.

In the Cut

Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sharrieff Pugh, Kevin Bacon
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Sony
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-10-22 (Limited release)

Frannie (Meg Ryan) and her half-sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) don't look much alike, but they're increasingly alike in their defiant, sad desires. Now that they've found one another, apparently years after their father abandoned their mothers, they share everything, from dresses to beds to secrets. "Broccoli," explains Frannie as they head out the door one morning, "It means pubic hair." If it doesn't exactly make sense that Frannie's instructing her sister on this point -- Frannie's an English professor, collecting slang for a book; Pauline lives above a New York strip bar called the Baby Doll Lounge -- the underlying point is clear enough: Meg Ryan said "pubic hair." She's trying yet again to escape the pesky perky sweetheart image that's dogged (and profited) her for so many years.

It's a worthy goal, surely, and she's a smart, convincing performer with all kinds of range. That Jane Campion's In the Cut, which she and Susanna Moore adapted from Moore's crisp novel, serves her so badly is worse than frustrating (especially as it opens with a cover of "Que Será, Será," the song made famous by a similarly dogged actor, Doris Day). Frannie's project takes her to a "seedy" part of town, in particular a bar with pool tables and dark corners where she meets her student, Cornelius (Sharrieff Pugh), described by Pauline, not incidentally, as looking "like he wants to eat you!" Frannie takes out her notepad, Cornelius delivers a word -- "meow." Oh, she mutters, "This is valuable shit." He pauses, then presses her about "People like you who think the brothers are guinea pigs."

Before she can show that she's embarrassed, Frannie spots an out, namely, a guy in a suit headed into the basement with a hooker-looking girl. She excuses herself and follows them downstairs, where she doesn't see well, no faces, only the blowjob, his three of clubs tattoo, and her blue fingernails. And this provides the point of paranoid departure, as everything from this moment seems partly material reality and partly framed by Frannie's anxious, fearful mind's eye.

That's not to say that earlier events might not also be functions of Frannie's self-doubts, as when she's being stalked by agitated, scrubs-wearing former lover John (Kevin Bacon), who drags his pipsy little dog along wherever he goes, or when she notes and encourages Cornelius' peculiar interest in John Wayne Gacy, subject of his term paper (which will be turned in with blood drizzled over the pages). "I got a radar for the truth," says Cornelius, "You know I got vision." Frannie appears to believe him, as if the truth has to do with urban underbellies and aggression, the dreary clichés that trail black men in the movies.

But if Frannie is naïve and afraid, she is also yearning for ways to expand, to alter her own vision. (Pauline's options are limited from jump: she's in love with a married man, presumably a patron at the club, and willing to believe he'll leave his wife for her.) Lucky for Frannie, I guess, a murder takes place near that very bar where she met with Cornelius, and "part of her body" is dumped near Frannie's apartment window. The detective on the case, Malloy (the incredible Mark Ruffalo) comes by canvassing, asking go-nowhere questions and taking note of mundane details, the quotations she has tacked up to her wall ("You a writer?"), the literature on her shelves. And then he gives her a word, a frankly incredible word: "The body was disarticulated." And with that, Frannie, so vulnerable and so loony, is smitten.

Her interest, indicated by her brief fingertip caress of Malloy's business card, leads to risk-taking and more paranoid camerawork, skittery and unfocused; cinematographer Dion Beebe's offbeat composition makes the movie more interesting than its plot warrants (if you can't see the killer coming a mile away, you need to get out more, much like Frannie, apparently).

Their affair proceeds as the steamy-seeming trailers suggest it will (in the interest of promoting Ryan's "breakout" self-exposure), all naked flesh and heavy breathing, with some abusive initial language at a bar to make it seem dangerous. His butchy partner, Rodriguez (Nick Damici), coppish inflections ("I got faggot hands, they're soft"), circa-'70s mustache, and not-exactly-muscular frame make Malloy seem something of a throwback, a character from another era, perhaps another effect of Frannie's limited experience, or perhaps his own. And this is the film's most absorbing aspect, its attention to how desire shapes narrative and experience, the viewers' no less than the characters'.

As if to underline the ways that desire is overdetermined, that is, as if to underline his own constructedness (is he the monster? is he the hero? does it matter when you're a woman seeking love in this dark city?), Malloy shows his object of affection some photos of bloody body parts; then, when she's assaulted outside a bar, he invites her to the station to look at "some pictures," even though she's said upfront that she didn't see her attacker (he comes up from behind her, leaving her bruised enough that Malloy has to nurse her cracked face). This repeated act of looking and identifying, of reading accurately, might seem the film's interest -- the act, in some permutations, frames the sex scenes as well as the murder investigation scenes. Frannie doesn't appear to learn from what she sees, however; rather, she descends into a difficult, incoherent intrigue, repeatedly getting into cars with men she doesn't know, as if she hasn't been living in New York City.

But if this notion is complex, In the Cut also works overtime to reduce the mystery and ambiguity, to haul you out of Frannie's constriction, to let you see through and out and so feel assured, that you do have vision, that what you see is the truth. The fact that Cornelius' own gift doesn't help him much when he feels duped by the white lady and judged guilty by the cops might not feel relevant for you, as you look on from a distance. But next to Frannie's increasingly silly girl-in-a-slasher-film antics, his case provides the film's most pressing object lesson.

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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