Film

The Front Page: Shrouded in Shadows - Ingmar Bergman (1918 - 2007)

He hadn’t made a theatrical motion picture since 1982’s Fanny and Alexander, vowing to retire after completing the highly autobiographical project. He spent his later years dabbling in theater, and working in television in his native Sweden. He even penned a few screenplays, some directed by his son Daniel, others directed by friends and former lovers. Yet it’s clear that, even in his absence, the influence and importance of Ernst Ingmar Bergman to the language and art of cinema remains as solid today as it did when he first splashed onto the international stage some six decades ago. With a creative canon that spans considered masterworks like Wild Strawberries (1957), The Seventh Seal (1957), and Scenes from a Marriage (1973), he almost singlehandedly defined the whole foreign film/arthouse genre. While many others can also claim part of this title, Bergman remains the consummate example of personal and professional philosophies folded into one other and presented -- open handed and open hearted -- for the world to witness.

Like a select few famous names -- Kurosawa, Fellini, Hitchcock -- that actually helped to evolve and develop the technical and aesthetic merits of film, Bergman was a true motion picture visionary. Some might argue with that determination, viewing his stark, darkness driven efforts as generic and plain, or worse, gloomy and dull. But with his reliance on extreme close-up, static tableaus, and monochromatic contrasts, he captured both the bitter cold of his numb Nordic home, as well as the often hidden yet simmering emotions of its people perfectly. Some considered him the consummate actor’s director. Others viewed his work in far more metaphysical, even ephemeral, terms. In true contrast to the pictures coming out of other countries -- Hollywood’s sensationalized pulp fictions, Italy’s earthy Neo-Realism, France’s deconstructing New Wave -- Bergman boiled down his awful early childhood (his Lutheran Minister father was a haughty and strict task master) into melancholy expressions of man’s place within God and nature’s overall design. In doing so, he elevated ennui into something close to epic.

The battle between religion and reality was essential to his creative concerns. He mused on faith, the power of personal belief, the notion of mortality vs. the promise of an afterlife, and the distinct tug of war between living, dying, and dealing with both. He could be arcane and obtuse, making his points with symbols and noticeably non- sequitored imagery, yet he considered himself a rather forthright presenter of existence’s larger mysteries. Whatever the case, few directors can claim influence over modern day moviemakers as diverse as Wes Craven (who based his 1972 breakthrough The Last House on the Left on Bergman’s 1960 The Virgin Spring) and Woody Allen, and yet such was this director’s strength that even the most divergent of artists could experience his work and take away something very personal, and very purposeful, from his oeuvre. Names as significant as Robert Altman and Andrei Tarkovsky more or less based their careers on his influence.

For some, his seminal effort remains 1957’s existential masterwork The Seventh Seal. An unusual narrative focusing on a medieval knight, fresh from the Crusades, traveling back to his home only to discover a country ravaged by plague, it offered the allegorical imagery of the hero -- a golden Max Von Sydow -- playing chess with a white faced, ghoulish Death. The stakes? The champion’s life. The motive? The meaning of life. In between, Bergman used clever iconography and fresh perspectives (a traveling caravan of circus performers, the ceremonial burning of a witch) to express the ongoing struggle between existence and the end, the significance of survival and the promised bliss in shrugging off this mortal coil. Very theatrical, almost Shakespearean in his approach, Bergman often stated that it was his belief in the intuitive relationship between actor and director, one where both worked together to achieve a greater, grander end, that marked the success of his films, not the ideas or issues they raised. Seal certainly celebrates both.

Through a Glass Darkly

Yet the ‘60s/‘70s remain Bergman’s main decades of artist triumph and acclaim. He won two Oscars (out of a total of three) for Best Foreign Film -- for The Virgin Spring and 1961’s Through a Glass Darkly -- and would go on to receive nine more nominations over the course of his time behind the camera. His name became synonymous with the growing movement toward the incorporation of world cinema in the discussion, and along with other noted names mentioned before, formed the basis for much of the film scholarship of the era. Indeed, it’s clear that Bergman remains one of the several noteworthy components that ended up transforming into the post-modern aesthetic that’s driven cinema over the last 30 years. Thanks in part to his scattered output over his so-called ‘retirement’, the current cinephile tends to relegate this formative founding ‘father’ among the artifacts of an important, if no longer resonant time.

Persona

By doing so, they are missing out on some of the most profound and provocative films of the 20th Century. Bergman remains a true lyricist within the medium, translating unspoken thoughts and unexpressed feelings into novel-like narratives filled with inference and depth. But he’s not merely an intellectual -- he’s a devotee of all the artform’s facets. There’s the dreamlike imagery of Persona (1966) and the brilliant cinematography and oversaturated colors of 1972’s Cries and Whispers (contrasting the film’s dark obsession with death). There’s the cruelty and comeuppance of The Virgin Spring, the charming choice of rather risqué subject matter (sex) for Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), and the hidden evils of a post-World War I Germany in The Serpent’s Egg (1977). To his credit, Bergman managed to stay true to his austere and sometimes tragic designs while avoiding repetition. Some viewed his work as the perfect reflection of the environment in which it was created while others noted that, while subtle, the filmmaker appeared to be dismissing the detached, distant stereotype associated with Sweden. There was no denying the personal nature of his canon. In fact, the parallels between his life and his livelihood are almost too similar to compare.

Fanny and Alexander

For all the considered and/or perceived perfectionism on screen, Bergman remained a decidedly incomplete and flawed figure in his personal life. Married five times -- four ended in divorce, the last with the death of his wife from stomach cancer -- he fathered nine children. A man of complicated political views, he waged a rather public battle with the Swedish government over charges of tax evasion (he eventually left the country for Munich until 1982, when he returned to make Fanny and Alexander). While some considered him warm and kind, others noted a tendency toward highly strung behavior and a very quick temper. Often, his interpersonal problems were blamed on an early life overloaded with discussions of sin and confession, allegiance and conformity. As much as he fictionalized his life through his films, Bergman truly remained forever linked to the emotional complexity and metal malaise found in his characters.

And now, with his passing on 30 July, 2007 at age 89, the last legitimate old school cinematic giant has fallen. He follows other luminaries into the realm of legend, and eventually through time, into the epiphany of myth. There will be retrospectives and reissues, fans will muse on what could have been while novices will note waiting too long to discover his undeniable talents. Yet all one has to do to see Bergman’s lasting impact is recall the numerous noteworthy films they’ve seen by students of this amazing auteur. Had he continued contributing directly to film post-Fanny and Alexander, had he not decided to divide his time between personal projects, stage work, and the occasional documentary foray, it’s possible that he’d once again remake movies in his own aging image. For what it's worth -- and it’s a great deal indeed -- Ingmar Bergman will be forever associated with the maturation of the motion picture paradigm. Its influence will shroud cinema in the shadows of the man who made such a visual dichotomy possible -- and poetic.

Trailer for The Seventh Seal

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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