Reviews

The Fountain

Zachary Garrett

The Fountain worries too much about crafting its symbols... to have time for Tom and Izzi's lives.


The Fountain

Publisher: Vertigo
ISBN: 1401200591
Contributors: Artist: Kent Williams
Price: 29.99
Writer: Darren Aronofsky
Length: 176
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2006-11-28
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With The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky (director of Pi and Requiem for a Dream) lets a touch of optimism into his work, but it doesn't survive the book's fatalism. What seems like it could have been a departure into new territory turns out surprisingly similar to work that's been done before. The Fountain is bleak, oppressive and surreal, with the major difference between it and Aronofsky's films being that it wants to say something nice without knowing how to express it. The words stutter out in melodramatic sentence fragments. It's a shame, because the fairy tale concept and structure of the story are engaging, and like Aronofsky's films, this graphic novel is a visual pleasure. Artist Kent Williams' loose pencils and paints complement the tale's malleable reality. But as the story relentlessly demands a focus on its themes, it leaves out too much of the core relationship between its characters.

Fans of Aronofsky's previous films should be pleased to know that, even though it's made in a different medium, the work is recognizably Aronofsky's. Metaphorical imagery abounds, Tom (the main character) is a man driven by obsession, and the element of Judaic mysticism from Pi is present. The latter shows up as the Tree of Life (though it's conflated with the similar Mayan Tree of Life, Yaxche), which Tom tries to find in 1535, use as a drug in 2005, and save from death in 2463. Tom's journey is rather like Max's in Pi, in that they're both searching for God. While Max looked for a god in the machine, Tom hopes to create a god within himself, through the use of God's forbidden creation. Whether or not the Toms of every time period connect in a completely literal way is left ambiguous, which encourages readers to look for cohesion in the ideas of the story rather than in its events.

Tom's lover, Izzi, also appears in each time period, and she creates an additional goal for him. In the present time, she's dying of cancer and he's a scientist searching for the cure. Tom can't stand the idea of death, and he so desperately wants to save Izzi that he fails to care that she wants to die without making a fuss about it. Mortality is human, and as he rejects his humanity, he neglects to be human to his dying wife. However, just as Tom neglects her, so does the story itself. Izzi of the present time is the emotional focus of the book, which is unfortunate because she is so underdeveloped. Her absence of recognizable traits idealizes her, and this gives their love an artificial, dull feeling.

The Fountain worries too much about crafting its symbols, like Tom's wedding ring, and touching upon the whole mythology in each time period, to have time for Tom and Izzi's lives. More scenes emphasizing the pre-cancer relationship were needed not just to increase the book's emotional impact but to give support to the argument for life and love. The fact that the Tree of Life does exist within The Fountain's world, making eternal life and cures for cancer actual options, in part necessitates some real argument in favor of letting life go. But at the very least, the story's creed of fatalism would be more palatable, and as uplifting as the book thinks it is, if it had invested some time in life's more positive aspects.

As you've perhaps heard by now, The Fountain comes from a once-abandoned film script that was later greenlit again and filmed as the book was completed. Due to this unusual arrangement, neither work is an adaptation of the other as would normally be thought, but instead they're two creations working off the same blueprint. However, there's a difficulty with the story's narratives, especially in the past and future sequences, in that they sound like holdovers from the film script, like stage directions. A great deal of sentence fragment narration ("Father Avila, out of breath" states one caption) merely doubles what can already be determined from the visuals, betraying a mistrust of the art. In other cases, the narration's problem is too much melodrama, with lines more suited to the obnoxious pronouncements of common theatrical trailers. It's like the fast beating repetitions found in Aronofsky's films, except it doesn't work nearly as well on paper.

What does work is the art, which shifts between simple contours, heavy blacks and fully rendered paints, making ample room for symbolism. It's refreshing to see a graphic novel done this way. Pages in the future section are particularly enchanting, with golden lights erupting across them. The detail level sometimes varies across a single panel, where full colors create the focus and background characters are mere sketchy lines, which is not only visually striking but also contributes strongly to the story's otherworldly feel.

My only complaint regarding the art, and it is a minor one, is the odd reuse of images, where subsequent panels will zoom in or out on what is clearly a previously used drawing. This shortcut hampers the moment to moment storytelling. While many of these reuses appear no more than a panel or two after the original image occurred, some even show up again later, such as a drawing of Captain Tomas's shocked expression that appears twice upon encountering the Mayan temple at the start of the book and again when Silecio threatens Queen Isabel later on.

Queen Isabel and Tomas have their brief moment of happiness together, but their lives appear to be ones of struggle followed by death. The Fountain gives itself too little time to show what's so great about the lives that follow death when lives have to be so tragic. It suggests love, but it's too uninterested in the object of its affections to be convincing. It does display a very pretty looking life, however, and could be worth a glance just for that.

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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