Tuesday, June 30, 2009

VOLTAIC, a Trylon preview

Perhaps it's a testament to how boring my life is, but there is nothing more exciting to me right now than the introduction of the Trylon Microcinema to the Twin Cities film scene. Birthed and groomed by Take-Up Production's Barry Kryshka, the Trylon offers something totally new for the cinema goer. A cinema on a small scale, it combines the best components of you local theater and the intimacy and comfort of your own home. The 50 plus seat space has two 35mm film projectors, one of the best digital setups in town, and plush rocker seats that are way more comfortable than my sofa. Last Wednesday the Trylon opened its doors to the public for the first time for an early Sound Unseen selection. Bjork fans, some unwittingly, got a sneak peak of the Trylon for a screening of Voltaic: The Volta Tour Live in Paris and Reykjavik. I love Bjork, but the star of the evening was the Twin Cities new microcinema.

The Trylon is located in the building on the northwest corner of 33rd Street and Minnehaha Avenue in south Minneapolis. Signage was one thing missing, so I was glad to see posters in the front window on the Minnehaha side—with the promise that there will be a more permanent sign soon—but I was even more thrilled to round the corner on the 33rd Street side, past the fish mural, and see the "Trylon Microcinema" mega-sign being painted on the wall right at that moment. Further proof that the Trylon is here to stay.

The interior of the space has undergone a major transformation. From a bare-bones space a few months ago, the Trylon has been built from scratch into a very respectable screening room. A platform was built, enclosing the two behemoth projectors, and a terraced floor for the fantastic seats that were procured from the Waconia 6. Although there are still some finishing touches to be done in the next couple of weeks, the change has been pretty incredible. Even though I was helping screw down rows two and three just a few days before the Voltaic screening, walking into the space with appropriate cinema lighting and the hub-bub of fellow patrons filling the room made me pretty giddy. I wanted to turn to all my fellow rocker-chair neighbors and introduce myself by way of enjoying the communal experience. But I didn't. I calmed down and decided not to creep everyone out.

Before <--------> After

Bjork has never come to Minneapolis, so Voltaic at the Trylon seemed like the second best option. (The closest I have ever come to a Bjork concert is when the Sugarcubes opened for PIL in Kansas City back in the day.) The program was presented by Sound Unseen, gearing up for their 10th edition this Fall. The bulk of the film was a complete live concert in Paris. She was accompanied on stage by a drummer, a keyboardist, two gadget guys (with very cool gadgets) and—the icing on the cake—a ten piece all female horn section! The trumpets, trombones, french horns and tuba added a dimension to the electronic music-making that was pretty impressive. She played songs spanning from Post to Volta. I was disappointed that she didn't play anything from Debut, and was also kind of waiting for "Oceanic" which would have been awesome with the horns, but whatever. Voltaic made me realize how long it had been since I listened to any Bjork and how much I love her music. I was incredibly jealous of the people in the crowd, dancing and singing aloud, doing all the the things that might get me kicked out of the Trylon on my first visit. But then I contemplated, gently rocking in my seat, just how expensive a ticket to see Bjork would be and then further contemplated just how expensive a ticket to see Bjork would be in Paris, and decided I was content with the 8 bucks I spend on my ticket and the dollar I spent on my soda.

Seeing Bjork perform is the draw, and a concert video should provide you with the best seat in the house. The frenetic editing, however, made me feel like I was watching the concert from a roller coaster. I was desperately trying to count how many horns there were on stage, but the camera would move or the shot would cut to another shot before I could count to ten. Someone in the editing room decided that if the music got really crazy, so should the editing. As if the various outfits weren't jarring enough, you had to deal with constantly being unable to focus on anything. The concert turned political with her encore of "Declare Independence" as much of the audience waving Tibetan flags. I couldn't help but wonder how much of that was staged. I would be glad to wave a Tibetan flag, but I don't exactly keep on in my pocket.

Post Paris romp was an excerpt from a much more subdued concert held in a church in Reykjavik. The ambiance and acoustics couldn't have been more different from the full-on production in Paris. Audience members stayed in there chairs, politely clapping when the song was fully over. Bjork also sported a more matronly look, staying very serious for the performance. Backed once again by her horn section, but also adding a chorus and a harpsichord to mix. The Reykjavik show offered an interesting contrast that reminded me of the beautifully staged Sigur Rós concerts in Heima. No screaming fans, just fellow countrymen sitting down to enjoy their cultural icons.

Bjork + Trylon = true love? Almost. Voltaic was screened from a DVD, and even though it looked great, I can't wait to hear the hum of those projectors. The Trylon is building up to its grand opening in July when six Buster Keaton films will be screened over three weekends starting July 17. All films will be accompanied with live music from the Dreamland Faces on accordion and singing saw. Excited? Hell yeah! And so are other people. The first screening is almost sold out, so buy your tickets soon!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Queer Takes at the Walker

Read my rundown of the Walker's film series Queer Takes in the Star Tribune here.

On the eve of Sacha Baron Cohen's blockbuster excuse to laugh at the gay guy comes a batch of films that not only acknowledges the audience's intelligence, but make the assumption that we are not homophobes. Crazy! The Walker's annual Pride Week film series begins tonight and runs through Thursday. Queer Takes: Standing Out starts out with a comedic bang and builds to the grand crescendo of a masterpiece. John Greyson's Fig Trees, screening Thursday night, is a work to behold. Visually stunning and cerebrally exciting, Fig Trees balances artistic experimentation with an authenticity to reality. It is completely unique and I can not stress enough that it is not to be missed. (It's free, for god's sakes.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Talkies with Guy Maddin

Last week marked the the fifth installment of The Talkies series (and the second to be featured at the Heights Theater in Minneapolis) with Guy Maddin and The Saddest Music in the World. Offering a live director commentary to a film is a brilliant idea, and one that has been well utilized with eclectic selections: Herschell Gordon Lewis and 2000 Maniacs, John Waters and Polyester (if you can imagine), George Romero and Night of the Living Dead, John Cameron Mitchell and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Thursday's Guy Maddin and The Saddest Music in the World. If you are a film geek, The Talkies presents the kind of production that is hard not to be excited about.

I missed John Cameron Mitchell and Hedwig in February, but there was no way I was going to miss Maddin and The Saddest Music. I've been a fan of Maddin's ever since I saw Twilight of the Ice Nymphs staring Shelley Duvall and Frank Gorshin. It's not exactly the most accessible film, but I still spent the two days I worked in a video store putting the DVD in the unsuspecting hands of customers. Since then I have worked my way back through his work and followed everything he has made since. It was almost too good to be true when the Walker hosted a dialogue and retrospective of Maddin's films in 2004, premiering The Saddest Music in the World. I was completely taken with this subversive stab at a straightforward narrative. I subsequently saw the film two more times theatrically and own the DVD which I have watched at least a few times. Have I admitted too much?

I've listened to my fair share of DVD commentaries, and more often than not will watch a DVD and turn right around and start the commentary if its available. This is the exact same tact of The Talkies: they provide a straightforward screening of the film, immediately followed by a screening with the director live. Maddin is no stranger to audio commentaries. The majority of his films on DVD contain fascinating commentaries that often include collaborator George Toles. The Saddest Music DVD, however, is one that doesn't contain a commentary but does have two 20 minutes featurettes that are perhaps even more revealing.

I bought tickets to both screenings in advance, and after a long day at work I considered skipping the first screening. I'm glad I didn't. The first surprise was the bonus of Maddin's The Heart of the World, a frenetic short film that nearly moves me to tears with its odd mix of humor, perversity and beauty. Like most things these-a-days, The Heart of the World is not that hard to find, but seeing it in the theater is really like nothing else. The second surprise was how much I found in The Saddest Music to revisit or discover. The film is rich in other-worldly detail and whip-cracking dialogue that I hadn't seen or heard for at least a couple years. It was definitely a good primer for the next screening.

Fortunately, the theater filled up a bit more for the second screening. I quickly got a Blizzard from the DQ next door and shuffled back in, noting Maddin in the lobby just hanging around talking to people. Maddin's personality is one you could probably intuit after seeing a few of his films: humble and polite, but wickedly funny with dry sarcasm and no filter. His delivery is so dry that you are never really sure whether to believe what he is saying or not.

Talkies coordinator Tim Massett introduced Maddin with little fanfare, and Maddin proceeded to explain what he was about to do (shoot from the hip was the feeling I got) as he tried to get comfortable on what looked like the most unstable chair someone could find. He admitted that he had recently sat down to re-watch The Saddest Music in preparation and indeed had some notes in case the whole improvising thing went south.

Instead of doing a commentary for The Heart of the World, Maddin had agreed to read the intertitles. Although there aren't many, they fly by at a break-neck speed and I noticed that Maddin was holding the microphone with both hands in concentration. But once he got to the end and the reverberation of "KINO KINO KINO" he was almost having as good of a time as the audience.

Maddin was sitting off to the right of the screen, slightly lit. Settling into to the film took a couple minutes with some pregnant pauses that made me a little nervous. But once Maddin got rolling telling stories and anecdotes about the movie, the flow went pretty well. One thing that I noticed right away was that it was counter intuitive to watch the film. Perhaps it was because I had just watch the film, but I spent almost the entire time watching Maddin as he spoke. And, much like a DVD commentary, there is little or no chance you would be able to hear the dialogue over the live commentary.

Maddin was incredibly free-wheeling, unspooling stories about how he met Isabella Rossellini and how the actor who played Gravillo the Great, Ross McMillan, had slept with his wife. When Maddin was at the Walker five years ago, interviewer and critic Elvis Mitchell sort of stole the show as Maddin receded, almost seeming shy. On his own, he was much more open and funny. Most of what he touched on about the film I had heard before, but I certainly didn't mind hearing again: Maria de Medeiros' issues with the temperature, the incredible inside set, and Rossellini's character being a form of Lon Chaney. It was his off-the-cuff remarks that really made the commentary interesting. When I was watching the film at the early screening I was making a mental note about how Gravello the Great looked like Hamburglar, with that big hat and huge eyebrows mimicking a mask, and ironically Maddin said the same thing: that there must have been some miscommunication with the costume designer and she somehow heard Hamburglar in reference to McMillam's character. I also enjoyed his story that about how he and Rossellini found their hands both in the same dogs mouth by chance, and his proclamation that the unspeakable 'c' word in his films is continuity.

The Talkies boasts the fact that the commentary is completely un-moderated. In theory, that is exactly the way it should be. But more than once throughout the evening I thought that there needed to be an open door for audience participation. Without acknowledging the fact that audience and director and film are in the same room, The Talkies verges on being very similar to the home viewing experience. That being said, I don't know how audience participation would work without some sort of moderation. During the first screening, there were moments in the film where I thought to myself, "Oh, I would like to ask him about that." or "I hope he talks about this." Perhaps there is a way to take questions from the audience during that first screening, organize them and present them to the director for the commentary.

Overall, Maddin vs. The Saddest Music in the World was more than worth my 20 bucks, and I will eagerly sign up for the next edition in the series. In a world where we blindly stumble into the multiplex, The Talkies is a new way to discover (or rediscover) a film and its director.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Camera Obscura: Live at the Cedar Cultural Center

My review of the Camera Obscura show at the Cedar a couple weekends ago is up on In Review Online. In a weekend where I went to three shows (Santigold, Holy Fuck and Camera Obscura), this one was the overall winner. I met up with fellow blogger and friend Joe who makes me feel a little more normal about my schizophrenic musical taste. (I'm pretty sure we were the only two people in the room who had been at Mastodon, Wolves in the Throne Room and Camera Obscura!) He also did a summery of the show here.

It was a good evening. All I wanted to say about the show I said here. In the photo on the left, Tracyanne is holding the awesome avocado maraca I mention in the review.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Home Movies - May

My picks for May are up on In Review Online: Home Movies - May. InRO's fearless leader, Sam, was in Cannes, so this week's is a double issue (to make up for all his slacking on Croisette.) Check out his coverage of Cannes as well as a new music podcast and a boatload of music and movie reviews.

The biggest news for May on the DVD front was the Criterion Imamura set which includes his career defining Pigs and Battleships, The Insect Woman and Intentions of Murder. I pre-ordered the set shortly after it was announce and have been working my way through the movies and the extras before I go back and watch them again. I'll offer my thoughts at some point, either individually or collectively.

I'm equally excited about Chris Marker's A Grin Without a Cat which I am going to pick up thanks to some birthday mad money. Not only does A Grin have re-watch value, but I will gladly pass this DVD around to friends. Unfortunately, the DVD is low on special features.

Check it all out here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

DRAG ME TO HELL + Dolsot Bibimbap + Guitar Hero = Happy Birthday

My perfect day? Pretty damn close. I don't get too worked up about birthdays but birthdays are an excellent excuse for selfish digressions.

Gift one: Drag Me to Hell
This year, May 29th was on a Friday, and I felt like films were opening just for me! And in my area of the world, that meant choosing between Up, Adoration, Rudo y Cursi, The Song of the Sparrows and Drag Me to Hell. Hidden within these choices is probably an excellent personality test: Which film do you most identify with? In my case, I am firmly, with no hesitation, a Drag Me to Hell girl. Equal parts guilty pleasure and sheer joyful entertainment, Drag Me to Hell was an excellent birthday gift.

Much has been made in the past few weeks about Sam Raimi's journey from cult horror hero to indie innovator to blockbuster salaryman. Whatever. Raimi marches to his own drum whether it is huge or small, great or schlocky. Ironically, Drag Me to Hell seems to be the amalgamation of all those things in the best possible way. If Drag Me feels like a return to Evil Dead, it is because the balance between scary, funny and completely offensive is perfect. But for better or worse, Drag Me has control and gloss that Raimi did not possess 28 years ago.

Raimi, fully aware of genre expectations, throws the handbook out the window. Scary things happen only at night? Forget it. Our poor heroine, Christine Brown, is taunted by demons during the day. Aren't you men tired of being the maniacal horror film menaces? Well, you can rest easy this time: it is an old lady who is turned into one of the creepiest characters you will ever have visit you in your dreams. Think horror is all about torture these days? Aw hell no. Raimi does more with mucus, maggots and nose bleeds than Eli Roth can shake baseball bat at. And lastly, don't be so friggin' serious! Let's have some kitten sacrifices, some crazy girl fights with biting (sans teeth) and hair pulling, and corpses that fall out of their coffin and spew embalming fluid all over the place. Yeah! And as for the good girl never dying...you're just going to have to check out the movie to find out about that one.

Gift two: Dolsot Bibimbap
Actually to be a little more precise: haemul pajeon, kimchi jeon, dolsot bibimbap and a big can of Sapporo beer at the best Korean Restaurant in the Twin Cities: Kings. If you live in the area and you haven't been to Kings, I suggest you go there as soon as you can. Don't let a strip mall in Fridley fool you: this place is a hidden gem. (Vegetarians beware: the wait staff will have a hard time not laughing when you ask for suggestions that do not have meat or seafood.)

Gift three: Guitar Hero III
I got a PS3 a while ago for Blu-Ray capabilities only. As much as I love playing video games with my nephew, I need another distraction like I need a swift kick to the head. So I have been resisting the game option that the PS3 offers (while silently perusing the video games at Target.) Best way to not feel guilty about playing video games? Receive them as a gift! My friends got me Guitar Hero III and NBA Live so I can get away from all those movies and join the real world occasionally. We spent a good part of the evening practicing "Barracuda" and "Talk Dirty to Me." Seriously fun and seriously funny. As for NBA Live, I am looking forward to deluding myself with a video game that Minnesota has a good NBA team.

Until next year (its a big one!), happy birthday to me.