Friday, March 02, 2007

Spring Break/Dance-Pop

Spring break arrives in a week. Boy, did I pick—by pure accident—a good weekend to head for New York. There’s a Kiarostami retrospective at MoMA, and next weekend they’re doing exactly everything I haven’t seen by him—his shorts, dating all the way back to the early 70’s. I hope to take in a half dozen screenings.

Also, there’s an Imamura series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Cinematheque, and I’m seeing two I’ve been hunting for years: Pigs and Battleships and The Insect Woman. Back at MoMA there’s an Ernie Gehr/Michael Snow program with Still, another film I’ve long heard about but never managed to see. And finally, there’s Inland Empire to (finally) catch up with. At three or four films a day, it’ll be like a film festival.

So, if you have recommendations for other unmissable New York events—films, art exhibits, music—that weekend (of March 9), I’d love to hear about them even if my schedule is rapidly filling up with movies….

* * *

Here's a specific dance-pop arranging device I love: twin electric rhythm guitars in interplay, and placed at extremities—hard left and hard right—in the stereo field.

Rita Coolidge’s disco-era hit “You” [mp3] (1978) is a good example. (Coolidge, who was married to Kris Kristofferson, was a folkie and soft-rocker whose sound got more dance- and pop-oriented as the 70’s wore on.) On the verse to the song, one guitar (left) spins rhythmic single-note melody-lines while the other (right) counterpoints with straight, terse chords. On the break (1:40), they ingeniously reverse roles, and invent new parts for themselves. On the choruses, they both chord, but play contrasting figures, and never get in each other’s way.

Madonna’s “Holiday” [mp3], on her terrific, epochal 1983 debut record, uses the same idea, e.g. at 1:33. On the right, we hear brief metallic bursts of melody figures parry against funk-style chording on the left. The two parts intertwine and interact, but also leave lots of space for each other. This version of “Holiday” is off The Immaculate Collection (1990), not the debut album, and is a bit different: the arrangements are slightly (almost sneakily) more elaborate, and the individual instrumental tracks have been tweaked and boosted. I’m normally a bit suspicious of such revisionist attempts at ‘erasure’ of original versions but not here because, let’s face it—there’s absolutely no danger of her debut record ever going out of print, is there?

My favorite tune off that record, “Burnin’ Up” [mp3] also uses a two-guitar sound but very differently. The two guitar parts are: (1) a fire-breathing snarl (so apropos!—given the boiling sexual urgency which is the song’s subject); and (2) a shimmery high-frequency glow of harmonics. You hear both of these in the song's first 15 seconds; all through, they don’t counterpoint each other but instead take turns, calling and responding.

Sonic Youth’s experimental alter-ego Ciccone Youth—named for Madonna—released a weird and wonderful record called The Whitey Album in 1988. (Many of my fellow SY-loving friends think of this record as a self-indulgent ‘wank job’ but I must admit that it had a serious effect on my young and innocent ears at the time; it was the first ‘experimental’ rock record that I truly, viscerally, connected with.) From it, here’s a lo-fi cover of “Burnin’ Up” [mp3] sung, bear-like, by Mike Watt (ex-Minutemen). Legend has it that he phoned in the vocal—literally!—into an answering machine and the recording certainly sounds like it was made on a simple four-track deck. An interesting experiment but no serious threat to Madonna’s original.

* * *

I’m getting ready to place my first order with Superhappyfun. I first learned about them through a Jonathan Rosenbaum article in Cinema-scope. Here’s my order list: a gang of Melville (La Silence de la Mer; Les Enfants Terribles; Deux hommes dans Manhattan; Le Deuxième Souffle); a couple of Masumuras (A False Student; A Wife Confesses); Nick Ray (Run for Cover); Edward Yang (A Brighter Summer Day—the long version); and Imamura (Eijanaika).

See any obscure gems you’d recommend I add to my order list…?


Blogger Tuwa said...

Sounds like you have a wonderful Spring Break planned.

You always surprise me with your musical picks (and you write as cogently about them as you do about film).

March 03, 2007 1:09 AM  
Anonymous J Robert said...

Girish, it doesn't look like you'll be there when it shows, but Homework is actually my favorite Kiarostami, a brilliant essay film acting in the guise of a documentary. It's ostensibly about boys and why they don't do their homework, but it's actually about truth and lies, authoritarian control and how people react to that, and the place of the filmmaker. Paired with Close Up, which has somewhat similar concerns, it's one of the best pair of movies I can think of. Maybe in honor of the Kiarostami retro, I'll post my review of Homework on my blog. But I look forward to your reactions to the shorts, none of which I've seen. I'll be most jealous if they don't travel to Chicago.

March 03, 2007 9:40 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Tuwa and J. Robert!

Tuwa, I enjoyed your new Otis Spann post....

J. Robert, I noticed that too...drat. Maybe I should drop Jim Healy at Eastman House an email begging him to program Homework....And I hope the retro travels to Chicago for ya...

March 03, 2007 10:18 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Oops, typo: on Madonna's "Holiday" above, I meant "at 0:33" and not "1:33"....

March 03, 2007 10:31 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Re: Kiarostami, I've seen almost all the features starting with the Koker trilogy in the late 80s/early 90s, plus The Traveller from the mid-70s. (Close Up is my favorite.) I'll be seeing Five in New York. I had problems with Ten on 10 (this could be my fault--I need to see it again) and major problems with Roads of Kiarostami, his half-hour short from last year. Either this film is outrageously hokey or I was fantastically 'misaligned' for it....

Re: Kiarostami reading, I have Rosenbaum's book in the U/Illinois "Contemporary Film Directors" series, plus there's some great stuff in Gilberto Perez's The Material Ghost. Also: Alberto Elena's book on AK, plus Hamid Dabashi's Iranian cinema book. Any other suggestions on good writing on AK (books, essays, print or online) are welcome....

March 03, 2007 11:14 AM  
Blogger CINEBEATS said...

That Imamura series looks fantastic!

I've had a "want list" of Superhappyfun DVDs for a couple of years now, but I've only managed to get a few of the ones I've wanted so far. They have so many great movies available! The Melville films are on my want list, so I hope you'll share some reviews after you have a chance to watch them.

March 03, 2007 3:05 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Looks like you're just missing the March 6th NYC tourdate of an amazing Bay Area band (ok, I admit they're my friends, but they're definitely the best band I'm friends with) called Dora Flood. They've been labelled as shoegazer but I've never had a My Bloody Valentine or Lush song so enjoyably stuck in my head as I've had their songs.

But I'm envious of your shots at rare Kiarostami and Imamura films! And I'm curious to hear your take on Inland Empire which I finally caught myself last week. Have a great trip!

March 03, 2007 5:40 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Cinebeats and Brian--thanks!

Cinebeats, if I may ask: were you generally pleased with the quality of the Superhappyfun DVD-R's? I ask because I noticed they have a 10-point ratings scale for quality, and many of the ones I'm ordering were 7-ish....But yes, they do have a nice selection. I did flag several rare Lubitsches to order (Monte Carlo, One Hour With You, The Love Parade) but now find that they have gone poof from their catalog...

Brian, your friends sound good! And I like their tag line ("Life is what the meaning is of"). I've heard (around here on the Net) that Inland Empire cries out for a minimum of two viewings. Is this true? Did you feel this way too...?

On another note, I wait a year for Iraq in Fragments to get to Buffalo and then it does and plays the exact same days when I'll be in NYC...! It's pretty comical...

March 03, 2007 6:22 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Around and about today:
-- Kieslowski blog-a-thon at Walter's place, Quiet Bubble and Billy Wilder blog-a-thon at Jeff Duncanson's, Filmscreed.
-- Tom Gunning on Kenneth Anger in Artforum.
-- Mike Newman at Zigzigger on "The Future of Online Scholarship".
-- Two Frances Farmer posts from the Siren.
-- AO Scott on Kiarostami in NYT.
-- Dave MacDougall posts some excerpts from writings on cinema from Mohsen Makhmalbaf's site.

March 03, 2007 6:38 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Girish, glad you liked Dora Flood's myspace presence.

Per your question on Inland Empire, I'd say any good or great, or even potentially great film cries out for two viewings, and therefore Lynch's latest does too. I'm not terribly confident that it would be a less opaque viewing experience on a second try, as Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. mostly seemed to be. Though I suspect its virtues of mood, emotion, and composition would be nothing but enhanced with a second and third viewing, I'm not convinced they'd be vital to a real appreciation of the film.

Easy for me to say, standing between my first and (as yet unscheduled, but hoped-for, if I can find the time) second viewing.

March 03, 2007 7:45 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Thanks, Girish.

You know I was looking forward to Iraq in Fragments as well, and then decided I'd rather watch a silly fun mainstream film. I can't decide if that's wimpy or bourgeois or forgivable in small doses. ^_^

March 03, 2007 10:47 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey thanks, guys...!

There's a fun post at David Bordwell's place dedicated to his high school French teacher. David discusses a few French cinema books he just received in the mail including Alain Bergala's book on Godard:

"Anybody who thinks that Godard just made it up as he went along will be surprised to find a great degree of detailed planning. (After all, the guy is Swiss.) Yet the scripts leave plenty of room to wiggle. “The first shot of this sequence,” begins one scene of the Contempt screenplay, “is also the last shot of the previous sequence.” Soon we learn that “This sequence will last around 20-30 minutes. It’s difficult to recount what happens exactly and chronologically.”"

March 04, 2007 2:43 PM  
Blogger girish said...

In the comments to Dave Kehr's last post, Andy H. quotes Dave:

Here’s hoping that “Cahiers” finds a place in an on-line environment increasingly full of gushing fan sites and spirit-crushing academia.

and then asks:

"If I read this correctly, you’re suggesting that the potential of internet-based film writing lies in the middle ground between these two extremes. Can we assume that the sites you link to on your sidebar occupy this middle ground, Rouge, for instance?

"Where would you would place e-journals like Senses of Cinema and Undercurrent or sites like David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s Observations on film art and Film Art on this spectrum?"

to which Dave replies:

"Andy, the soul-crushing academia I had in mind is of the race-gender-class variety that is still being pushed in many of our major universities, producing licensed scholars who can analyze every ideological nuance of “Rush Hour” without being able to identify Howard Hawks or Jacques Rivette. My friends at “Rouge” and “Cahiers” have definitely left that French academic fad of the 1970s behind them and are constantly moving into new areas of analysis, identifying new auteurs, and redefining the limits of criticism in a way that makes me feel as ancient and reactionary as Bosley Crowther."

March 04, 2007 5:45 PM  
Blogger CINEBEATS said...

I thought the DVDs I bought from Superhappyfun looked pretty good, but I'm not sure what rating they had (I just tried visiting the site but it wasn't working for me).

Keep in mind that I have pretty low standards when it comes to quality though. I buy Alphaville DVDs and enjoy them. I guess I just got used to watching movies on late night TV, at the drive-in, etc. so my tolerance for a low quality looking picture is rather high.

March 04, 2007 6:21 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Cinebeats.
Yes, esp. when it comes to films I can't see any other way, I've got a pretty high tolerance too...!

March 04, 2007 8:08 PM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

girish: Thanks for reminding me of! I've ordered a number of things from -- "Red Road" just arrived, in less than a week! -- but I'd never ordered from superhappyfun until now. Just put in for "Army of Shadows" (although it will be out on DVD in North America soon, I'm sure) and two of my favorite Wenders films that I used to have on VHS: "Kings of the Road" (one of my all-time favorite films) and "Alice in the Cities." They're both made from VHS copies, but I just want to have access to them again! It seems so odd that obscure early Fassbinder and Herzog films are easily available on DVD, but Wenders' still aren't...

March 04, 2007 11:13 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Jim, as it turns out, Criterion has already announced when it's going to be releasing Army of Shadows on DVD: May, the same month they release Vengeance is Mine, Sansho the Bailiff and a new two-disc edition of the Third Man. Quite a month!

I love Kings of the Road too, though I've only seen it in a VHS dub from a PAL tape.

March 05, 2007 12:08 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Jim & Brian!

Jim -- Yes! My favorite Wenders films are also Kings of the Road and Alice in the Cities!

I will always remember seeing Kings on a dynamite double bill with another great mid-70s film, Pasolini's Arabian Nights....and Alice, it seems to me, has some of Truffaut's influence (later revealed when he dedicated Wings of Desire to T., Ozu and Tarkovsky), specifically in terms of depicting children. I know Wings is thought by many to be his best (or maybe best-known) film but it doesn't quite affect me the way Kings and Alice do...

Brian, I had no idea about those Criterion titles! I saw Vengeance is Mine not long ago, and should have waited. But even an old VHS couldn't contain the searing power of that film!

March 05, 2007 6:24 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

I've ordered stuff from superhappyfun in the recent past. Beware of quality ratings of 6 and less! The pixellation on these tend to be quite prominent. They have some really great stuff though, many of which are yet to appear on dvd. Some of the films I've ordered from them include Katsu Kanai's Good-Bye, Sogo Ishii's Labyrinth of Dreams, Syberberg's Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King, and a couple of Toshio Matsumoto films which I've since replaced with the dvds. Just noticed they have some Daniel Schmid and William Klein films too...

PS: Have a great break in New York with all those great movies!

March 05, 2007 6:26 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Mubarak! And I had heard of none of those films...and also, I had my eye on Klein's Mister Freedom.

March 05, 2007 6:32 AM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

Brian: I've been waiting for Criterion to get around to "Sansho Dayu" (after having owned the LD for years). I'm convinced that movie is god -- or as close as we'll ever get to it!h

March 05, 2007 3:53 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I'm glad that one's finally coming to DVD, after having heard its praises in various places for the last ten years.

March 05, 2007 7:48 PM  
Blogger Ignatius Vishnevetsky said...

On Superhappyfun:

The quality varies, but for the most part they're the best you're going to find. They have a lot of national genres (such as Czech fantasy films and Soviet science fiction) that are not well represented anywhere else. Those Melvilles are worth it by the way.

The specialty video rental where I volunteer has well over 300 films from Super Happy Fun, and the more unfamiliar titles that we ordered have for the most part proven to be very interesting. I would recommend browsing through their site.

March 06, 2007 6:30 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for that, Ignatius. Wild coincidence: I was just about to post a link to your blog's recent, interesting posts when your comment came in...!

Also around the Nets:
-- Doug Cummings on Rossellini and Tag Gallagher.
-- Brian has a Morrricone post.
-- Filmbrain on the new Ozon film, Angel.
-- A brief review of "Postcards from the Cinema" at the Serge Daney in English blog.

March 06, 2007 6:51 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Zach sees Rivette's 13-hour Out 1 over two days.

March 06, 2007 8:07 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Jonathan Rosenbaum has a blog post on David Denby:
"In 1998, around the same time that Denby's New York review [of Taste of Cherry] appeared, he was lamenting the alleged decline of the art film in a long New Yorker piece called "The Moviegoers." More recently he's held forth on what he calls the new narrative disorder in movies. Noting that Alain Resnais "played the most extreme (and infuriating) games with time and narrative" in his early features but apparently remaining cool as a cucumber when it comes to a recent Resnais knockoff such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which owes a great deal to Resnais' Je t'aime, Je t'aime) or an antihumanist crossword puzzle like Memento, Denby shows nothing but awe and admiration for Pulp Fiction. Presumably Quentin Tarantino could teach Alain Resnais and Abbas Kiarostami a thing or two about "the courage, the surprise, the ravenous hunger for life, of a serious work of art.""

March 06, 2007 9:18 PM  
Blogger girish said...

-- Aaron Hillis interviews Jean-Michel Frodon for The Reeler.
-- Keith Uhlich on Kiarostami at MoMA.
-- Jean Baudrillard, 1929-2007.
-- Brendon Bouzard on Craig Brewer.
-- Mike Newman at Zigzigger points to Maid Marian, "a YouTube collection of classic silent cinema in the public domain (Porter, Dreyer, Stroheim, Buñuel)."

March 06, 2007 9:24 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Took a look at superhappyfun's site. Not too sure I know how to navigate the site, but far as I can see, there are at most five Filipino films there. I suppose this is not the go-to place for my country's films...

March 07, 2007 1:06 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey there, Noel...

I've been scrambling to get done with my teaching duties (giving and grading midterms; working with students on projects) before spring break arrives. I'm flying out day after tomorrow morning and will be buried by work till then. But freedom's near and I can taste it...

Drat, Inland Empire ended its NYC run yesterday...

March 07, 2007 6:30 PM  
Blogger Gareth said...

Thanks for the congrats, Girish; it was quite fun to see the traffic spike out of control for the day, and deal with e-mails!

March 08, 2007 2:32 PM  
Blogger girish said...

You're welcome, Gareth. That was pretty cool news...

New and interesting posts by Doug at Film Journey; Thom at Film of the Year; Keith Uhlich on Kiarostami (an interview with AK); and David Lowery on Zodiac.

Off to catch my plane; will report from NYC. Have a good one, folks...

March 09, 2007 4:47 AM  
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