The Proposition (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs
Guy Pearce as Charlie Burns

Signaling death and dryness, the flies also mark transitions from one location to another: everywhere, it seems, someone is dead or dying.

The Proposition

Director: John Hillcoat
Cast: Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, Danny Huston, Emily Watson, John Hurt, Richard Wilson
MPAA rating: R
Studio: First Look
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2006-05-05 (Limited release)

Flies buzz incessantly in The Proposition, a grim, gory Western set in the Australian outback around 1880. They buzz over corpses, over desiccated soil, and over any hope of survival. They signal death and dryness, of course, and the flies also mark transitions from one location to another: everywhere, it seems, someone is dead or dying.

With all this buzzing in the background, the British Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) has his work cut out for him. Declaring that he means "to civilize this land," he first appears in mid-effort, as he and his deputies rampage a house where two Irish brothers, Charlie (Guy Pearce) and Mikey Burns (Richard Wilson), are holed up. Wanted for the killing of a "good Christian family," and especially, the pre-murder rape of a pregnant member of that family, the brothers are soon taken prisoner and tied to their chairs, as the good Captain sets about interrogating them. He wants their older brother, Arthur (Danny Huston, who is excellent), leader of the notorious Burns gang.

Several bodies lean broken and bloodied against the hideout's walls, as dull sunlight filters through dozens of bullet holes. Stanley peers at his captives, then walks to a window. Looking out, he ponders, "What fresh hell is this?", which might refer equally to the carnage behind him, the desertscape before him, or the roiling forces within him. For in order to bring order, he knows now, post-massacre, that he must become his opponent. The means to and end of civilization are both violence, whether vile or sly.

Having tasted the vile part, Stanley wrangles what he sees as a sly bargain with Charlie. Arthur -- whom Stanley calls "a monster, an abomination" -- remains at large, as Charlie, apparently appalled by the gang's latest atrocity, took young, slow-witted Mikey and left the gang. Stanley offers this impossible deal: if Charlie kills Arthur, the captain will spare Mikey, as of now scheduled to be hanged in nine days, on Christmas. It's a terrible arrangement, everyone knows it, based on distrust and contempt.

It's not like Stanley has come up with such an idea of "civilization" on his own. As much as he resembles his sweaty prisoners and filthy, low-thinking deputies, Stanley is plainly a product of his officially sanctioned background, embodied most plainly by his wife Martha (Emily Watson). For the most part, she keeps to the nice white house they've got on the edge of town, where she's surrounded with remnants of a life they had before: china plates, heavy draperies, polished chairs. But just after Stanley returns to the jailhouse, Mikey in tow, she shows up, demanding attention, complaining of loneliness and boredom: she's been waiting for three days, after all.

When she judges the prisoner to be "no more than a boy," that is, undeserving of the obvious beating he's received, Stanley sends her away, to protect her but also to maintain his own sense of order, the woman who waits for him at home, safe and unbearably sensual. But not before Sergeant Lawrence (Robert Morgan) declares Mikey "man enough." Startled into contemplating what this assessment means -- what it suggests about her husband's judgment, daily activities, and means to get to his ends -- Martha blanches. Stanley sends her off, still trying to keep his two worlds separate, even as you see they are the same. And when she's gone, Stanley sets parameters with the sergeant: "What happens in the flats is between you and me," he asserts. "Because if it were to become known, there would be consequences."

Indeed. Stanley feels this threat especially from his twitty superior, Fletcher (David Wenham), who rides into town wearing an expensive suit and decrees punishments knowing he'll have nothing to do with their execution. As Fletcher dispenses consequences, he doesn't have to deal with them, leaving that physical and moral mess to his underlings. Stanley, living somewhere in the middle, executes consequences and also suffers them. And so, as soon as Stanley learns Fletcher wants to have Mikey flogged in public, he perceives that the cycle of retribution will only go on. Abusing the boy, who barely comprehends his imprisonment, will gratify spectators, perhaps, but will also, more significantly, enrage Mikey's protectors, who are not so far off as they might seem.

That Martha becomes an eager party to the cycle (at least initially declaring that her friendship with the rape victim grants her a say in the aggressor's fate, as well as a desire to see him whipped) emphasizes its insidious endlessness. And her participation (in the decision as well as its execution) reframes this set of masculine genre clichés, so that the film offers, if not "fresh hell," at least a rethinking of the sources of community cruelty and individual arrogance, the fears and ignorance that make them seem rational responses. While Martha plays the role usually ascribed to women in Westerns (the emblem of domestic law), she suffers horribly for doing so. She is also the sign of Stanley's excessive ambition and awareness of his failure.

Charlie's sense of consequences is more skewed than Stanley's but just as acute. He knows that Arthur, who essentially incarnates the cycle, is unkillable. His route to Arthur's cave in the hills (where he's rumored among local aborigines to be transformed into a "dog," literally) takes him through the bounty hunter Lamb (John Hurt), whose reading of Darwin's proposal that "at bottom," white men and aborigines are "one and the same," enrages him. Full of self-hate on top of his abject loathing for "others" (including aborigines, Irishmen, and criminals), Lamb seeks Arthur too, for the money and the sport.

While Charlie's aim (to save Mikey) might appear to be less objectionable than Lamb's, the film's circuitous, implacable series of events -- less a plot than an accumulation of horrors -- suggests that intention is, at last, irrelevant. Like Fletcher and Martha's desire to see Mikey bloodied for his crime, Arthur's craving for vengeance and Stanley's for security are naïve but also relentless, cultural values that only undermine culture.


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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