Film

V for Vendetta (2006)

Cynthia Fuchs

The Natalie Portman film is an earnestly angry, vaguely philosophical, but ultimately generic action movie.


V for Vendetta

Director: James McTeigue
Cast: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Sinéad Cusack
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Warner Bros.
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-03-17
Every time I've seen this world change, it's only been for the worst.

-- Evey (Natalie Portman), V for Vendetta

Sometimes, if you have a government that is committing violence and you are just passive, it's a violence in itself.

-- Natalie Portman, Good Morning America (13 March 2006)

Violence can be used for various purposes, good, ill, and incoherent. This would be the primary and crude observation made by V for Vendetta, an earnestly angry, vaguely philosophical, but ultimately generic action movie. The underlying, irresolvable question here has to do with terrorism: why and how are people pushed to commit it, and what might it achieve, aside from terror?

The terrorist at the center of James McTeigue's film (written by the Wachowski brothers, it's based on Allan Moore's 1980s' anti-Thatcher comic books, but he removed his name from the credits) is the most formidable V (Hugo Weaving). Swirling a black cape and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, V claims inspiration from the Catholic activist who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605. V first appears in a dark alley, where he saves Evey (Natalie Portman) from being raped by a brace of grubby cops.

She's out after curfew, a dire offense in this post-WWIII police state version of England, and V dispatches her badge-flashing assailants with elegant knifery and digitized martial arts moves familiar from the Matrix franchise (for which McTeigue was an assistant director). Repeatedly during this rescue, the camera looks up at a placard displaying the national credo: "Strength Through Unity, Unity Through Faith." Got it.

V's mask, of course, hides a terrible and superhero-making trauma, having to do with childhood abuse and institutional cruelty: the government regularly incarcerates and tortures minorities, queers, and anyone else deemed an "enemy of the state." And a recent history of increasing violence has been instigated by "America's war," noted by occasional television reports (which also show the States' "second civil war" and ongoing unrest in the Middle East and Eastern Europe -- Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan now roundly recognized as imperial projects). "What was done to me was monstrous," V tells Evey, who is appalled by the violence he deploys in response: "And they created a monster."

While the movie allows that torture only reproduces terrorism and violence, it also presents V's own scheme as revolutionary and effectively symbolic. At the start of the film, he explains that he has detonated the Old Bailey "to remind this country of what it has forgotten." Evey knows something about the loss of free speech, as she works at the tv station that broadcasts the proudly conservative "voice of London," Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam), former jackboot cop and pharmaceuticals manipulator. And so she's intrigued by V's promise of a new and improved state, where information is accessible and citizens are unafraid.

When V infiltrates the station in order to transmit his threat against the state, Evey helps him escape from well-intentioned cop Finch (Stephen Rea). When Finch's partner, Dominic (Rupert Graves), assess v according to his surface ("He's a terrorist, you can't expect him to act like you and me"), Finch nods sagely and adds, "Yes, but some part of him is human." Now this can mean V is bound to err, or it might mean hat all terrorists are not aliens, but only humans gone wrong. The movie doesn't spend much time pondering this complication -- that terrorists produced by social imbalances are not evil or good, but produced in ways that can be understood and so, addressed -- but rather, observes Evey's own transformation as if it's a coming to her destiny.

V adopts her as his protégé. The fact that her social activist parents were murdered by the government ("It was like these black bags erased them from the face of the earth") makes her a ready candidate in the most stereotypical way (terrorists and superheroes emerge from the same nightmare backgrounds). But when she resists V's initial nice-guy indoctrination (he makes her tea and eggs for breakfast), she is subjected to more drastic methods: she's locked up, interrogated, and tortured for some unknown time, living in a cell with rats and reading the written-on-toilet-paper story of a radiant-in-flashbacks lesbian prisoner, now dead and much romanticized. And this torment makes her stronger, battle hard and street smart.

It's a simple trajectory, one in need of interrogation. Evey's grim education makes her appreciate V's rage and venom. And in her eyes, he becomes one of those nominally ambiguous superheroes, moody, tormented, and dedicated to his plan. As usual in such sagas, V's occasional dementia is nothing compared to the patent villainy of his adversaries -- the odious Prothero (who showers surrounded by mirrors and monitors, so self-involved he doesn't hear his assassin enter), a bishop who beds young girls ("I love the confession game," he squeals), and the secret police, led by aptly named Chief Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith). All operate under the auspices of Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt, oh-so-cleverly cast as the Big Brother he battled in 1984), who meets with his minions via a boardroom big screen tv and makes public pronouncements on gigantor monitors.

The unsubtle Sutler's sensational self-effects underline the film's interest in the ways "truth" is refracted through mirrors, monitors, and masks. Distortion is inevitable in this system. Sometimes the film makes this obvious (as when Evey first appears applying makeup before a mirror, or news producers rewrite a botched effort to capture V as a "heroic raid"), sometimes referential (V's favorite movie is The Count of Monte Cristo with Robert Donat, which leads Evey to lament the hero's lack of compassion for his lady love), and sometimes just ham-fisted (a closeted gay man [Stephen Fry] laments, "You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it"). The film never lets a metaphor speak for itself ("If you're looking for the guilty," asserts V, "You need only look into the mirror") or lets you forget an image, as when a scene showing V's youthful abuse is replayed several times, to ensure the connection between his experience and Evey's.

Such irritating distrust of the audience to keep up makes V's political and social commentary seem more cartoonish than insightful. Yes, imperialism is really bad, and yes, Nazi-ish iconography is a sure sign of a regime's need for change. What's less clear, and could use some reflection, is how V's own violence will or will not produce more victims and vigilantes. "Freedom and justice are more than words," he says, "They are perspectives." And as such, they need rethinking at every step.

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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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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