The Bolero / In Search of Cezanne (1973)

Marc Calderaro

These films provide two cases for the preservation of the art of short filmmaking.

The Bolero / In Search of Cezanne

Director: Allan Miller
Cast: Zubin Mehta
Distributor: First Run
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 1973
US DVD Release Date: 2007-05-22

Short film has been suffering from a disease. Not incurable, but certainly genre-demic, this plague is known as YouTube. With the recent proliferation of quirky, fun, free, immensely popular viral videos on the Internet, where can the short film go as a medium to separate itself from the dudes falling off trampolines? This comparison is not to equivocate personal injury with any art form, but short films create an elegant efficiency of visual language, not unlike a poem. Alas, with the diminishing attention span of the movie-going public, perpetuated by visual bursts of prepubescent girls singing into their hairbrushes and squirrels being shot out of catapults, how long can short films’ brevity be viewed as a conscious choice instead of a requirement? What focus and meaning does a short film have to offer over a feature-length? For responses to these imperative questions, we need look no further than short films of the past.

Allan Miller supplies two different answers with The Bolero and In Search of Cézanne. Filmed over 20-years apart, this oddball pairing from the Oscar-winning director showcases two gentle uses of the medium that, successful or not, provide evidence for the case for short films.

The Bolero, though perhaps a short subject documentary, won Miller the 1973 Oscar for “Short Subject (live action)” (the last year before the award was renamed “Short Film”). Focused on the Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Bolero presents a series of interviews with the powerful conductor, Zubin Mehta, and other members of the orchestra, and gathers tons of ideas and opinions, sometimes as simple as the role of classical music in the members’ lives, to better personalize the complicated and swirling nature of the Ravel masterwork, “Bolero”, the orchestra is currently rehearsing.

Most of the comments shown are passing thoughts about the piece, or little tidbits to give the orchestra members individuality amidst the large ensemble. After some introductory vignettes, it focuses on the instruments and intertwines solo performances with a full orchestral rehearsal of the parts just highlighted. After Mehta remarks, “it’s actually the bassoon that makes [The Bolero] the sexiest,” we are treated to the exact section the conductor’s referring to, giving an almost step-by-step breakdown to what the orchestra enjoys most about “Bolero.” After the interviews are over, we see “Bolero” performed from beginning to end; and instead of the static “best-seat-in-the-house” video-work common at the time, Miller is right on stage and close to the faces of all the musicians, constantly scanning the emotional rises and falls of the players. This closeness provides an intimacy with the work and the performance that classical music had not seen before, and has been oft imitated since.

Zubin Mehta

Mehta’s on-camera presence during the performance is beautifully suppressed until the ending climax. His emphatic arm-waves and dramatic facial expressions embody our own newfound understanding for the “Bolero” and close out and impressive, Oscar-deserved film.

The film is amazingly successful in creating a viewer attachment to Maurice Ravel’s work. Anyone interested in music on the whole will find enjoyment and understanding with an incredibly gifted orchestra’s performance and analysis of the towering, pre-modern work. With that in mind, the film’s failure, ironically, is it’s own brevity. The only people who are interviewed for more than a few seconds are the first-chair flautist, bassoonist, and Mehta, himself. When the performance begins, you feel connected specifically with those three people, but you want more. What about the violin section, slowly plucking muted strings louder and louder until their much-delayed entrance? Or the french horns gracefully carrying the underlying theme? Perhaps just five or seven more minutes of interviews before the performance would have opened up the entire piece. As it is, we clutch to these few, fragmented moments.

Noticeably less successful, and less inspiring to the short film world is In Search of Cézanne. About the life and inspirations of French pre-cubist, Paul Cézanne, though educational, this film provides a more defeatist attitude towards the future of short films by proving a much-aligned and almost degrading use for art: public-school education. Even the film’s length, the half-period before Lunch and Recess, is conducive to nothing more than a cursory glance at the lengthy and legendary catalogue of a lifetime painter.

Where The Bolero seems to place the onus of musical comprehension on the viewer, In Search of Cézanne follows an invented documentarian through her made-up trials of what art means to her (complete with painfully acted voice-over monologues), and if she better understands Cézanne’s work at all if she better understands Cézanne.

Visually, the film is breathtaking. Whisking “Martha” from the Metropolitan Opera House in New Yort to Cézanne’s hometown of Aix-en-Provence to the man-made caverns of Bibémus, all interspersed with close-up, detailed shots of many amazing works of art, In Search of Cézanne would have been much more focused and moving if Miller would have abandoned the half-written narrative to simply portray the images.

As it is, the whole dynamic of our faux-filmmaker, “Martha”, seems shoddy and half-hearted. Pseudo-montages with existential “what-does-art-mean” dialogue detract from actual meaning and cater to those 4th-to-6th graders who can’t yet think critically. Combine these reasons with at least three different drops of the boom microphone and very odd continuity glitches and you’ve proven to your viewer that your film was hastily made. If this is the future of short films – forever rolling from classroom-to-classroom on a locked and labeled television cart – count me out.

The extras are nearly non-existent and hardly worth reviewing. The Bolero was a landmark in its time, though now a bit outdated technologically. Today's use of cranes and multi-camera operations can easily achieve what made it so unique at the time, though it’s personal feel cannot be outdone by simply adding giant sweeps and dynamic editing. However, education and documentation are two effective justifications for the short film format, regardless of how successful the films are on their own. Visions of catapulted squirrels and the like are probably here to stay, but it’s nice to understand they won’t completely obsolete the art of short filmmaking.


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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