Posts Tagged ‘Madison’

The bad, the bad and the bad

July 17, 2010

So the Found Footage Festival screened a film entitled “Computer Beach Party” (1987) at the Orpheum’s Stage Door Theater last night. Yes, I was there. Yes, I wrote about it for Isthmus. Yes, the article can be found here. Yes, “Computer Beach Party” lived up to almost all of my expectations, though as far as bad movies go, it was definitely hurt by its utter lack of aluminum foil UFOs, flashlight laser beams and recycled footage of Bela Lugosi. But seriously, it was incomprehensibly bad.

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“The Cool World” at the Cinematheque

July 15, 2010

As you may or may not know, the Cinematheque will continue its summer program tomorrow night with Shirley Clarke’s “The Cool World” (1964), her mock-cinéma verité drama shot and set in Harlem. Jacques Rivette, whose “L’amour fou” (1969) is often said to have been influenced by Clarke, named “The Cool World” one of his ten favorite films of 1964, placing it alongside such remarkable achievements as Jean-Luc Godard’s “Band of Outsiders,” Carl Th. Dreyer’s “Gertrud” and Michelangelo Antonioni’s “The Red Desert” (any of y’all seen that last one on Blu-Ray yet?). That, ladies and germs, is lofty company.

While I’ve yet to see any of Clarke’s films, I have seen the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research’s extensive collection of her films, home movies, personal documents, etc.; for whatever reason, Wisconsin definitely seems to have a thing for her. The screening, which begins at the C-tek’s new start time of 7PM, will surely be one of the most worthwhile cinematic events ’round these parts all summer. Be there.

Opening in Madison, finally

July 8, 2010

Well, it’s an unquestionably beauteous day here in Madison, WI, but I’d nevertheless like to try to persuade you to spend some time indoors this weekend (when, as it happens, it’s going to be 80+ and rainy): two films that attracted plenty of attention when they were released in NYC last month, “Cyrus” and “I Am Love,” are both opening at Sundance Cinemas tomorrow. In my book, this marks the most significant event in commercial cinema ’round these parts thus far this summer. Here’s Manohla Dargis’s review of “I Am Love” and David Denby’s review of “Cyrus.” That is all.

“Dishonored” at the Cinematheque tonight

July 2, 2010

The Cinematheque begins its summer program tonight with a screening that is, in my book, cause for celebration: Josef von Sternberg’s “Dishonored” (1931), starring—who else—Marlene Dietrich as “smoldering secret agent X-27, an Austrian spy behind enemy lines (and between enemy sheets) in WWI” (this wonderful description comes courtesy of the Cinematheque’s website, where you can also find the rest of its schedule for July).

Jean-Luc Godard deemed “Dishonored” the 10th best American sound film in the December 1963/January 1964 issue of Cahiers du cinéma, placing it alongside such untouchable masterpieces as Orson Welles’s “The Lady From Shanghai,” Otto Preminger’s “Angel Face,” Nicholas Ray’s “Bigger Than Life” and Charles Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator.” The opportunity to see this film, which isn’t currently available on DVD here (or anywhere, it seems), is not to be missed.

The Dietrich-Sternberg alliance shined with a sort of negative luminosity and emotional fragility when “The Blue Angel” played at the Play Circle in January; expect tonight’s screening to be a similarly phenomenal—though probably more baroque, thanks in no small part to the Paramount C.R.E.A.M. with which the film was made—display of Sternberg’s singular cinematic artistry. The screening begins at 7 at Vilas Hall. See you there?

The screen on the stage

June 21, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I caught a matinee of the Broom Street Theater’s current production, “Television (The Play),” written and directed by Amanda Jones. I had a seriously enjoyable time spectating and briefly participating in the farcical proceedings; the intimate scale of the Broom Street Theater combined with the play’s unusual staging (featuring an all-over style of blocking, video projections and four different entrances/exits onto the stage) to yield a consistently interesting work of experimental comedy. “Television (The Play)” is largely reliant upon audience participation, making use of contingency in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen in theater. (Then again, I’m no expert.)

If “Television (The Play)” occasionally erred on the side of crude immaturity, well… the title ought to tell you why that is. Head on over to the Daily Page to read my full review.

Summertime Cinematheque

June 17, 2010

I wanted to direct your attention toward the UW Cinematheque’s newly released summer schedule, which was announced just yesterday. The ‘theque will be rolling out an absolutely stacked (though somewhat abbreviated) program, to say the least: Josef von Sternberg’s “Dishonored” (1931), John Huston’s “The African Queen” (1952), Shirley Clarke’s “The Cool World” (1964) and a series of contemporary Baltic films, to name just an eye-popping few.

Yes, the wait was painfully long, but the Cinematheque’s summer program, so full of rarities and relatively obscure classics, looks as good as anything to grace the Madison film scene in recent memory. I hope to see y’all there.

Water on the roof

June 11, 2010

The MMoCA will continue its already outstanding Rooftop Cinema series tonight at 9:30 with “H2O,” a program of experimental shorts that take water as their central subject, or rather, that treat water as the vehicle by which to mediate on a number of ideas, moods, techniques, etc. “H2O” will include films by Stan Brakhage (1997’s sublime “Commingled Containers”), Kenneth Anger and UW-Madison’s own J.J. Murphy. (It almost goes without saying that I’m particularly excited to finally get a chance to see one of Murphy’s films.) Admission is $5. Cross your fingers for a cool, dry night. Keep ’em crossed until further notice.

Rooftop Cinema tonight at the MMoCA

June 4, 2010

Just in case you’ve forgotten, tonight marks the first event in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Rooftop Cinema” series; the program is entitled “Associations: The Short Films of John Smith,” and the MMoCA’s website describes it as follows:

Rooftop Cinema kicks off with a wonderful collection of short films from one of the avant garde’s leading humorists. “The films of John Smith conduct a serious investigation into the combination of sound and image, but with a sense of humor that reaches out beyond the traditional avant-garde audience. His films move between narrative and absurdity, constantly undermining the traditional relationship between the visual and the aural. By blurring the perceived boundaries of experimental film, fiction, and documentary, Smith never delivers what he has led the spectator to expect.” —Mark Webber, Leeds International Film Festival (2000)

More information, including brief descriptions of each of the six films that comprise the program, can be found here. The screening will begin at 9:30 and admission is $5. See you there?

Wisconsin on video

June 1, 2010

By now I’m sure that most Madisonian aesthetes and local lovers of art in all its various mediums have visited the Wisconsin Triennial, which will run at the MMoCA through August 15; for those who haven’t, I’m pleased to report that the exhibit is well-worth an open-minded perusal.

While the exhibit features many paintings, sculptures and photographs that are of great interest—I was particularly drawn to Richard Knight’s borderline-infantile compositions of abstract and figurative elements that seem like near-definitive statements on the ADHD tendencies of contemporary consciousness, as well as Curtis Whaley’s at once humorous and existentially morbid schematics—the works that most attracted me were the video installations by Erik Gunneson, Kitty Huffman, Laura Stewart, Toby Kaufmann-Buhler and Chele Isaac.

Gunneson’s “Old Hickory Lane” is an assemblage consisting of a wheeled apparatus made up of dollies, tripods and six monitors screening slow, Dreyeresque tracking shots filmed in a recreation of his childhood home that he constructed in a studio in UW-Madison’s own Vilas Hall. This work requires its spectator to circle around it several times, engaging with each individual image on its own while also recognizing the overall form of the apparatus to which the images are conjoined. “Old Hickory Lane” bares the device in a totally unique way; its sheer manufacturedness  implies a poignant artificiality in Gunneson’s nostalgic efforts to excavate the memories of a bygone (and somewhat idealized) period of his own life.

Kitty Huffman’s “Self-Portrait” is my favorite of the installations on display. The work is a five-minute static long shot of a nude woman (Huffman herself) lying on her side with her back to the camera in a desolate, snowy winter setting. The human figure remains utterly still in the left middle-ground of the widescreen composition; behind it a small pack of deer wander in single-file along a path that slices the composition in half horizontally. The deer sense some sort of menacing presence in the woods and flee. The passivity of the nude woman while threatened by unseen danger makes this exercise in pictorial and performative minimalism all the more unsettling.

Chele Isaac’s “There Is No Fixing the Drift” is probably more interesting as a work of assemblage than as a video installation per se. The video centerpiece is a slightly monotonous sequence of images and sounds of the sea foaming and rolling in waves of varying sizes. The room in which the video is projected also features a mannequin clad in a nineteenth-century dress and an aquarium whose bottom is a screen presenting images similar to those being projected on the wall. The work is meant to evoke contemplation through its meditative qualities, but I found it much more engaging to skip back and forth between the installation’s objects (the mannequin, the aquarium, the two screens), focusing on the tensions formed by the juxtaposition of its constituent elements rather than on the calming flux present in its images and sounds of water.

Laura Stewart’s three videos are the most conventional of any that appear in the Triennial, in that her subjects and themes are well-established territory for avant-garde cinema (indeed, the title of one of the works, “Come Back Scorpio Rising,” is a reference to the canonical Kenneth Anger short): the lives of the derelict, of the marginalized, of the desperate, of modern-day nomads who have never come to know the concept of home. The lo-fi videos were short enough not to give me the sense that they blaze beaten trails, yet I can’t help but think that they feel a bit like old news rather than like something old imbued with new energy.

Lastly, Toby Kaufmann-Buhler’s “The Same But Different (Everything Becomes Round)”, like “Old Hickory Lane,” evokes nostalgic feelings through its slice-of-life imagery and the general wonderment it finds in the quotidian. However, it is also the most formalistic of the Triennial’s installations, presenting its images and sounds, themselves thoroughly fragmentary, through a montage that becomes something of an audiovisual game, recalling the infectious patterning of Hollis Frampton’s “Zorns Lemma” (1970).

Kaufmann-Buhler dances from image to image to the beat of dissonant, abrupt noises; a shot of dripping water serves as the master image, which is in turn interrupted by glimpses of everyday life’s more picturesque phenomena, often for only a split-second. The staccato structure of “The Same But Different” stands in stark contrast with the long takes of Huffman’s “Self-Portrait” and “Old Hickory Lane,” while the disorienting character of its image-sound interplay forms a striking antinomy with the sense of serenity engendered by “There Is No Fixing the Drift,” despite that work’s inescapable if latent heterogeneity.

I neglected to check Bruce Charlesworth’s “Love Disorder” out, but I’m sure I’ll get around to it soon enough. The Triennial contains a decent amount of proof that Wisconsin-based artists are producing legitimately interesting work in what is arguably art’s most cutting-edge medium.

Is there a programmer in the house?

May 25, 2010

I just stopped by the Cinematheque’s website to see whether they’ve announced their summer schedule yet (they haven’t) and discovered this: The ‘theque is looking for a new Director of Programming. Information about the job and how to apply for it can be found in a pdf here.

If I were to stumble upon such an opportunity, say, a decade from now, I’d be all over it. Alas, the “at least 3 years of programming experience” and “experience writing successful grants and managing budgets” requirements disqualify me in a big way.

So if you think you’re up to the task and you’re dying to line up at least one more phenomenal retrospective for me to catch before I leave town, you should definitely throw your name in the hat.