Fragmented Films 12th June 09

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When the American crime series the Wire (HBO) hit the small screen in 2002 it was television year zero. Suddenly the bullshit morality didn’t cut it anymore, ditto to models pretending to be super cops, or earnest life affirming resolutions that clock in at the end of every 50 minutes. It was all about ‘the game,’ an uncompromising and realistic portrayal of people trapped in hopeless claustrophobic worlds, lazy cops who hate their jobs, corner dealers who don’t expect to live beyond their teens, politicians fattening their pockets. There was a grim understanding that the system was broke, yet also that it is what it is. It unveiled people just like us, flawed, stupid, lazy, but also sometimes passionate and driven.

The Spiral (SBS/ Madman) is a post Wire crime series set in the seedy world of the French legal system. It’s a place of competing agendas, where career advancement, an uncompromising hunger for money, drug addiction and petty grievances are just some of the barriers to justice. It’s quite seedy, and a little vicarious, the first season starts with a women dumped at the docks with her face destroyed beyond recognition, the second with a corpse incinerated in a car boot. It delights in the slow reveal, as each investigation takes eight episodes to reach its conclusion, seemingly implicating everyone it touches in some way, hence the title. It spares few, even those most committed to upholding the law, like the idealistic hunky young prosecutor at the centre of the series, or the hard yet sexy police detective who both quickly become tainted and complicit. And then they root. It’s a constant test for all, your morality vs your chances of career advancement, to eat or be able to sleep at night. It’s compelling precisely because the characters are so compelling. In the end the crimes almost become irrelevant as you wonder who’s going to come out unscathed.

Orson Welles relationship with film is a love affair through the ages. You have the boyish precocious bravado of Citizen Kane where he is innocent yet cocky, just happy enough to get a leg over and smart enough not to blow the opportunity. Then there’s the bold slightly perverted the Trial where he’s discovered how to make film hot and already initiated a few tentative sex games. Then there’s the masterwork, A Touch of Evil, the experienced lover who could effortlessly make film purr under his fingertips. F is Fake (Directors Suite) is from of a man tired of monogamy. Made in 1975 it turns structure and genre on its head and is a bold confusing artistic montage of disparate footage woven together to create a quasi documentary tale pondering the worlds of fakes and impostors, all the while slyly tangenting away and cheekily manipulating the viewer with lies and red herrings. Perhaps more remarkable though is the fish that got away, a documentary profiling Orson’s latter unfinished work, with tantalizing clips featuring some of the most amazing editing you will ever see.

Short films are generally about as pleasurable as running your genitals along a cheese grater smeared with chilies. This is because they’re all too often calling cards for directors desperate to prove how clever they are, or are made by film students who’s only interaction with the world has been through cinema (yes Quentin I’m talking to you). Yet not always. Wasp, a story of a single mother in a UK public housing estate is incredible. It’s raw yet gripping with an overwhelming sense of dread, yet also a compassion for its characters that draws you into their world. Director Andrea Arnold won an Oscar for this in 2005 and she uses the short form like few have before her. It’s on Cinema 16: World Short Films (Warp/ Inertia), a 2 disc set with some early obscure films from directors like Guillermo Del Toro, yet also more recent work from Guy Maddin and three of the best short films Fragmented Films has ever seen from people he’d never heard of. Chacun Son Cinema (Directors Suite) gives 33 established feature directors 3 minutes to celebrate what cinema means to them. Lynch, Cronenburg, Egoyan, Ken Loach, Jane Campion, Van Sant, Von Trier, Polanski, Wong Kar Wai, Wim Wenders all self indulgently masturbate onto the celluloid, shooting fetish shots of their favorite cinemas. It’s left to the incredible Dardenne brothers and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu (Babel) redeem things with comprehensible narrative, and of course Lars Von Trier is typically juvenile and provocative. Thank god.

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Fragmented Frequencies 31st of May 09

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Scott Hicks has a fetish for eccentric and obsessive classical pianists. If fictionalising the life of David Helfgott wasn’t enough, the award winning Shine director recently spent two years stalking minimalist legend Philip Glass. The resulting film, Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (Madman) has just been released on DVD. (Note the sly reference to his seminal four hour work ‘Music in Twelve Parts.’ I suppose we should just be glad it wasn’t titled something like ‘Through the Looking Glass’ or ‘Those in Glass Houses…’). Glass is equal parts renowned, revered and loathed for his endlessly swirling highly repetitive scores in theatre, opera and film including the ultimate stoner film Koyaanisqatsi and the Errol Morris’ crime doco Thin Blue Line (here Morris drops the nugget that Glass does ‘existential dread better than anyone else’). Hicks presents Glass as equal parts a laid-back family man, an obsessively driven workaholic composer and an intelligent enquiring soul with a yen for the spiritual. The level of intimacy here is astounding, apparently for most of the film it was just Hick’s and a sound recordist blending in with the furniture, and it doesn’t ever feel like Glass or his family are putting up a facade. In fact the film manages to capture one deeply intimate and quite personal event in Glass’ life, which when Hick’s zooms in vulture like feels quite intrusive.

Yet let’s not forget the music. We literally sit next to Glass as he writes his scores, attends rehearsals, and drops in to discuss his film music with Woody Allen. We even attend a solo piano performance in Melbourne. “For me writing is listening to music,” he offers from his getaway cabin in Nova Scotia, I don’t think of it, it’s already there.” As a way of analogy he speaks of a country field in the morning. At first it’s thick with fog and you can’t see anything, then in time you see a vague outline of a tree, then perhaps after more time passes a building and maybe in time the fog will clear and you will see everything. “I hear something,” he says a little earlier, “something very little, and I’ve trained myself to follow the sound of it.” Perhaps most unexpected is that music theory matters little to him, as its engaging a different part of his brain, the thinking part, and that just gets in the way. “I’ve become content to see music as a mystery,” he offers with the kind of contentment that you can only achieve via rigorous at times potentially life threatening sessions with his Buddhist and American Indian teachers. “Tell me about the time he buried you,” instructs Hicks. “I don’t like to talk about that,” comes the stern reply.

With interviews with everyone from Martin Scorcese to Laurie Anderson, as well a second disc of extras with full performances of Einstein on the Beach and the Kronos Quartet playing Dracula amongst others, it’s a unique insight into the life of a heavily revered working artist. And as a portrait of Glass perhaps it might change, or at the very least challenge some of our assumptions about the man and his music.

Sabbatical Records is a local label releasing dark experimental music in limited (200 hand numbered copies) runs. Many of their 13 odd releases up to this point have tapped into the dark dangerous electroacoustic world utilisng experimental and often improvised techniques. The music is often quite extreme such as Absoluten Calfeutrail & Blarke Bayer’s Resolution Seminar, a sort of noise self help blast from artists better known in their day jobs in Whitehorse and My Disco. Yet the label also features some delicately nuanced drone work that becomes quite hallucinatory from Green Beret, a trio of Justin Fuller, Arek Gulbenkoglu and Henry Krips. In fact the entire label is comprised of some of the more interesting risk taking artists in the Melbourne experimental scene, often playing in new or unfamiliar contexts. They’ve just released Joe Talia and James Rushford’s duo Palisades and are looking forward to PIVXKI an Anthony Pateras Max Kohanne collaboration in the next couple of months. Check http://www.sbbtcl.com for more details.

And if you’re looking out for some Pateras action (and rounding off our discussion on eccentric obsessive pianists) he’ll be premiering a couple of new pieces under the banner of Percussion Portrait at the Melbourne Recital Centre on the 13th and 14th of June. Check http://www.anthonypateras.com for more details.