Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chaos Ensues

From time
to time, I'll
be excavat-
ing reviews that aren't otherwise available online.

Before I started freelancing for Amazon, I used to contribute customer reviews. In 2000, I reviewed Alice et Martin. Since then, the DVD has gone out of print (I've been writing for Amazon for 10 years now). On
the off-chance it disappears from the site, this review also lives here.

(André Téchiné, France, 1998, 120 mins.)

When I first read a description of this film—man falls for his
gay brother's female best friend, chaos ensues—I didn't think
it sounded too promising. Then I noticed who directed it, An-
dré Téchiné (Les Voleurs), and who co-wrote the screenplay,
Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep). I got more than I was expecting.

ly, there's
Martin (newcomer Alexis Loret), but that's not what it's really about.

Alice et Martin plays more like a modern-dress Crime and Punishment than some torrid French romance, because its true subjects are regret and redemption, but Téchiné doesn't reveal
until the end why Loret's Martin is so tortured. The 20-year-old
fashion plate seems to have everything going for him—like Bin-
oche's beautiful and devoted violin player Alice—but inside
he's so wracked with guilt, he suffers a breakdown.

The film cuts deep and the acting follows suit. At its worst, Al-
ice et Martin suffers from an excess of plot—it could be short-
er, it could drop a few extraneous details—but the unique struc-
ture serves the story well. The action starts in the recent past,
moves forward to the present, returns to the past again to show
why Martin acts the way he does (he's harboring a terrible sec-
ret), and then returns to the present by which point our Raskol-
nikov has figured out what he needs to do to put his soul at rest.

Some may find Alice et
Martin too slow and oth-
ers may find the acting too
flat—still others may prefer
a torrid French romance—
but fans of Binoche's subtle
work in films like Blue will
probably disagree. Loret,
who looks like Jeff Buckley,
whose version of Nina Sim-
one's "Lilac Wine" features
on the soundtrack, is a real
find. He's weird, hand-
some, and intense.

Special bonus: the always-dependable Mathieu Amalric
(Assayas' Late August, Early September) as Alice's friend,
and Martin's half-brother, Benjamin, through whom prod-
igal son Martin meets Alice, who helps him to become an
adult in ways his two sets of clueless parents never could.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original posting. Click here for my review of Téchiné's The Witnesses. Images from the BBC (Binoche and Amalric), French Premiere (Loret, Binoche, and Téchiné on the set), and Time Out New York (British DVD cover).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

the Muse

The Gift
Own Rec-

"I may
be green,
but I did-
n't fall off
the truck, goodbye, goodbye/goodluck."
-- the title track

The fourth full-length from the Gift Machine arrives in a striking silk-screened sleeve on which black and white ceram-
ic owls cluster beneath a deep-red sky emblazoned with the re-
lease details letter-pressed in gold. If the band's propulsive pop isn't as stark or dramatic as that cover suggests, it gets the job done, recalling a lo-fi Beatles or Velvet Underground in a laid-
back mood. Andrea Gruber's delicate backing vocals soften
Dave Matthies's deep, Lee Hazlewood-esque lead lines as the
instrumentation drifts and buzzes around them. Dreamy.

Loney Dear, Dear John,
Polyvinyl Record Co. [1/27/09]

"That's how I fell from top of
12 stories/to the ground."
-- "Harm/Slow"

Dear John represents Emil Svanängen and Co.'s fifth record
in five years (including Sub Pop's 2007 reissue Loney, Noir), and the press notes describe it as his last, hinting that the Swedish multi-instrumentalist will continue to pursue his muse in
some other form or under some other name (good thing, too, since people often mistakenly call his project Lonely Dear).

Compared to countryman Jens Lekman, Svanängen inhabits
darker territory—like a cross between David Bowie and the
Hidden Cameras—but bears similar melodic gifts. Andrew Bird,
currently touring behind Noble Beast, adds violin to "I Got Lost."

Stuart and Caan, The Mayfly
Dance, Knw-Yr-Own Records

"God asked me up to heaven for tea."
-- "Lord of the Cosmos"

Stuart and Caan, the British duo behind The Mayfly Dance,
have an Incredible String Band thing going on, which will surely
strike some as entrancing, others as precious, i.e. wavery voic-
es, scratchy violin, rough-hewn recording, and hippie-dippy
lyrics. As a Libra, I tend to seek the middle ground, so I
vote for entrancing and precious, since their charm
feels more heartfelt than calculated...though I could
do without the funny voices on "Cosmos." Fans of
the Bevis Frond, Animal Collective, and their
pal Devendra Banhart would do wise
to give these groovy guys a listen.

Endnote: Opening for Mr. Bird, Loney Dear plays the
Moore Theater on 2/23, while the Gift Machine guests
on KEXP's Audioasis on 3/14. For more information about
Loney Dear, please click here; and for Stuart and Caan,
here. Gift Machine images from their MySpace Page
(Melissa Stager took the picture; dig that tinted bottle).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Flowing Outside of Time: An Interview with Stephen Kijak

From time to time, I'll
be excavating unedited
versions of interviews that aren't otherwise available online. To that end, here's the first draft of my conversation with director Stephen Kijak. The finished edition, tit-
led "Great Scott," appear-
ed in the 9/07 issue of
Resonance, which ceas-
ed publication in 2/08.

In the 1960s, a good looking Ohio-bred baritone named Scott Engel fronted the chart-topping UK baroque pop outfit the Walk-
er Brothers. (Yes, the unrelated trio preceded the Ramones in tak-
ing the same surname.) In Stephen Kijak’s eye-opening docu-
mentary Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, tour mate Lulu confesses, “Let's be honest, I had the biggest crush on him. First
of all, the voice resonates with you, but he was so gorgeous.”

Click here for the trailer

Times have changed a lot since then. Now the reclusive Walk-
er only emerges every decade or so to release eerie albums like 1995’s Tilt or last year’s inscrutable Drift. In the film, Brian Eno claims, "He really should be recognized as, not only one of our great composers, but one of our great poets, as well.” Pulp's Jar-
vis Cocker muses, "It's like an intrepid explorer...somebody who goes to a part of the world that nobody's ever been to before.”

Resonance spoke with Kijak while he was in Texas for the US premiere at SXSW. The goal was to find out how he discover-
ed Scott Walker and why he made such unusual choices, like filming fans listening and responding to his music in real time.

Kijak clearly remembers the first time he heard the man’s expres-
sive voice. It was during a late afternoon in San Francisco in 1991. He explains, “You know how it is—the way it happens with anything you discover—music geeks get together to play stuff for each other. Fontana had just put out Scott One through Four for the first time on CD. And then there was the Boy Child compilation. So there was that. It was very basic. The song was ‘The Old Man's Back Again.’ I heard it
out of these gargantuan speakers, and it blew me away. It was
one of those moments when you hear everything that you're influenced by and you're into in this music. And I didn't peg it
for 1960s music. It was this thing that seemed to be flowing outside of time in a way. And that was the beginning. I just collected everything I could get my hands on from then on in.”

In 2001, the New York-based, Boston University-educated filmmaker began work on 30 Century Man. Seven years lat-
er, he was finished. Along the way, he convinced David Bowie
and actor Gale Harold (Queer as Folk) to produce and Michael Winterbottom cinematographer Mat Whitecross (The Road
to Guantánamo
) to provide a portion of the camera work.

In working on the film, Kijak learned as much about the Scott
of the past as the Scott of today. As he acknowledges, “I didn't know that this was some guy who was famous in England and had throngs of female fans chasing him around. I didn't know about any of that. So, he was very much in isolation. It was a voice, it was a persona, and it was a songwriter, and that was really what pulled me through. So when you see the film, you're seeing the point of view of someone interested in the songwriting, and I wanted to make it about the journey of a songwriter and yes,
of course, create a history and try to communicate the grand-
eur of his fame for people to see what effect that had on him.”

Until Kijak got ahold of him, Walker, who relocated to Great Britain in 1965 during the height of Walkermania, had kept his secrets to himself. Kijak respects that decision and accomplish-
es a neat trick with his impressionistic portrait. First, he encour-
aged the infamous enigma to open up about his career and to al-
low cameras into the studio during the making of Drift. This was
a first for Walker, and 30 Century Man will surely stand as
the definitive document of the man’s working methods—
which are unconventional, to say the least.

At the same time, Kijak lets his subject retain the air of mystery that’s long been part of his allure. Walker’s on-cam-
era commentary stems from two different conversations, but there’s precious little a-
bout his personal life—and that’s by design. As far as Walker is concerned, it’s “all about the music,” and Kijak takes the same approach. Granted, he does allude to a drinking problem, but doesn’t go into detail. Regarding Walker’s private life, Kijak says, “If you're a little intuitive, you can read between the lines, but I don't want to spell it out. At the end of the day, it's not real-
ly that interesting to me, but maybe it is to some people. I mean, there are obviously people who want more of it, but is it because we're trained to want more by some of the crap television we see?”

Instead, he traces Walker’s career from the 1960s to the pres-
ent and gives numerous admirers the chance to have their say, including Marc Almond, Gavin Friday, Alison Goldfrapp, and members of Radiohead. Though some viewers may be disappointed that Kijak doesn’t delve deeper into Walker’s childhood or intimate relationships, the director emphasizes,
“I didn't want to do a 'Behind the Music.’ I didn't want to do the boring sex, drugs, and rock and roll bullshit. I mean, I'm sure he went through it, but...” He concludes that he finds those kinds of biographies “invasive” and that too many artists buy into them.

So Kijak honors Walker’s iconoclastic nature with a few unusual moves of his own. Consequently, he captures several musicians listening to and sharing their thoughts about Walker's music. It was, he agrees, a response to his own feeling about hearing Walk-
er for the first time. As he puts it, “I wanted to replicate the ex-
perience for people. For anyone in the audience who was being introduced to him by the film, it's like you're sitting there with [Blur's] Damon Albarn, and you're listening to tunes. And a lot
of the time, we had records. I had vinyl with me and a turntab-
le, or I shot in my friend's apartment with a DJ deck in the liv-
ing room. It can be tricky when you have live music, because
you are synched to it, but the emotion—the real authenticity
of the moment—was great. It wasn't some mind-blowing in-
novation, but it's something people really respond to.”

It’s a risk, but Kijak pulls it off. As director Atom Egoyan
(The Sweet Hereafter) remarked about the film at the Berlin International Film Festival, “I have rarely seen a biographic-
al documentary that is able to make the viewer experience the perspective of a devoted fan, a concerned friend, and a complete stranger at the same time.” And everyone on screen responds differently, honing in on different aspects of Walker’s work.

Kijak elucidates, “A lot of
it was led by their favorite songs, for the most part. Sometimes they would say, 'I'll let you pick.' And I would say, 'Let me play this for you,' but a lot of times they would just go for the vinyl and say, 'Ooh, play this' or 'Play that.' It was to replicate that exper-
ience and get back to the core of how I discovered it, because the foundation of my obsession was the groovy 1960s stuff, and spec-
ifically because it was coming off of that Boy Child compilation, it was his own writing. That's really what formed my point of view. I didn't hear him and then go buy a bunch of Walker Brothers rec-
ords, and then being a young American at the time—I was in my early-20s, coming out of college—I had no knowledge of all that.”

Already the filmmaker’s labor of love is off to a strong start
with sold-out screenings from London to Austin. It isn’t his first festival hit. Kijak is also responsible for the cult classic Cineman-
(2002), in which he and co-director Angela Christlieb profile a group of New York-based filmgoers who do nothing but watch movies all day. Just as they’re obsessed with movies, Scott Walker is obsessed with music—and so is Stephen Kijak.

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man will be making its way
to other US film festivals throughout the summer with plans
to open the film in limited release later in the year.

Endnote: The film didn't actually begin its run until 2008, but better late than never! 30 Century Man opens in the Bay Area on 1/23 and LA on 2/27, while a DVD is in the works for the spring. (For more information, please see the official website). Interview assistance by former Resonance editor and current IMDb impresario Arno Kazarian, who helped to interrogate Kijak.

Click here for my Slog post about the movie, here for Stev-
en Fried's Siffblog entry, and here and here for my Resonance interviews with the Brothers Quay and David Lynch. Incidental-
ly, I first encountered the title track, "30 Century Man," through the soundtrack for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Images from Plexifilm, Andrew "Filmbrain" Grant, and Sight & Sound.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

January Reviews These are the reviews and other pieces I'm working on this month. Amazon DVDs: The Rockford Files - Season Six [three-disc set] (click here and here for seasons two and three) and MGM - When the Lion Roars: The Story of a Hollywood Empire [two-disc set]. Amazon Theatrical: Notorious, my second B.I.G. review after Nick Broomfield's Biggie & Tupac, which I covered for Amazon and the SIFF '02 program guide. Still playing or yet to open: Burn After Reading, Doubt, Lakeview Terrace, Let the Right One In, Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Timecrimes, and Waltz with Bashir. Seattle Film Blog: Wendy and Lucy and the continuation of an interview with Tia Lessin. I also fixed some more links: Deep End, Lemming, Pierrot le Fou, Shopgirl, Married Life and Prefab People, and a chat with Michel Gondry. Still playing or yet to open: Gran Torino. Video Librarian: Absolutely Safe, The Cheetah Girls - One World [click here for my first Cheetah Girls review], En Vogue - Live in the USA, The Great Polar Bear Adventure, Ice-T - Live in Montreux, Inheritance, and Through the Eastern Gate. Endnote: Wendy and Lucy, Kelly Reichardt's fine follow-up to the excellent Old Joy, opens at Seattle's Varsity on 1/23 (that's Michelle Williams, above, as Wendy). Film still from Blake City.