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Béla Tarr Regis Dialogue with Howard Feinstein

A lovely conversation with the great Béla Tarr. Feinstein is perhaps a little overt-talkative here, but it’s still wonderful to listen to Tarr discuss his career.

Video-Disc by Maciej Cwiek

A little while ago, I uploaded this short film by Polish experimental animator, Maciej Cwiek called ‘Video-Disc’ to YouTube. I thought it would be sensible to share it because it’s quite lovely. I’ll upload more Polish animation over time because it’s wonderful.

- Matthew Revert

Just because…

…Rohmer is one of the absolute greatest.

Documentary of the Week: Pretty As A Picture – The Art of David Lynch (1997)

Here’s a great documentary from 1997 about David Lynch, filmed during the making off and premiere of ‘Lost Highway’. My personal feelings about Lynch are somewhat mixed, but I respect him enormously and really think this documentary is worth your time.

From an early age, David Lynch was inspired by the arts and the warm inner glow that comes with the pursuit of creative expression. “Pretty as a Picture:The Art of David Lynch” examines how this modern day Renaissance man makes a motion picture, and examines, through his artistic explorations, the very nature of creativity.

Please enjoy ‘Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch’ and have yourself a great Sunday.

- Matthew Revert

‘Forbidden Planet’, the First Electronic Movie Score

For those of us obsessed with the early days of electronic music, the film, ‘Forbidden Planet’ represents a significant milestone. Louis and Bebe Barron’s phenomenal score is credited as the first all-electronic score in movie history. This predates the emergence of the infamous Moog synthesizer by eight years and, in actual fact, has roots extending into innovations from the late 40s. As a film, it’s difficult to place ‘Forbidden Planet’ on a pedestal above the bulk of big budget sci-fi flicks from the 50s. It’s certainly not a bad film and has plenty going for it but, in the opinion of this music geek, the score is the main reason to seek it out.

The score to ‘Forbidden Planet’ as we know it was the result of a chance encounter at a beatnik bar in New York between MGM producer, Dore Schary, and the Barrons. Upon witnessing their performance, Schary hired the duo to compose the score which, in order to avoid paying industry music guild fees, was called ‘electronic tonalities’. One imagines that Schary was desperate to save money and decided upon what he viewed as a novelty in hiring the Barons. Whatever the motivations, this decision would prove to be a groundbreaking one.

Louis (left) & Bebe Barron

Bebe and Louis Barron were a married couple whose interest in the exploration of sound cannot be understated. After marrying in 1947, the couple relocated to New York and were given a tape recorder as a wedding gift. This led to an immediate study of musique concrete techniques, which soon segued into an interest in electronic music. While their score for ‘Forbidden Planet’ would be the first electronic score in movie history, perhaps of more significance is a piece they composed in 1950 called ‘Heavenly Menagerie’, which is regarded as the first electronic composition made in America. This was primitive electronic music that took a painful amount of time to produce and involved physically cutting and arranging the tape. These electronic techniques, and the refined techniques that would become the score to ‘Forbidden Planet’, are grounded in the theories espoused in the 1948 book, ‘Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine’ by mathematician, Norbert Wiener. Rather than attempt to explain how Wiener’s book inspired the Baron’s electronic work, here is the description from Wikipedia:

The 1948 book Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, by mathematician Norbert Wiener from MIT played an important role in the development of the Barrons’ composition.[5] The science of cybernetics proposes that certain natural laws of behavior apply to both animals and more complex electronic machines.

By following the equations presented in the book, Louis was able to build electronic circuits which he manipulated to generate sounds.[5] Most of the tonalities were generated with a circuit called a ring modulator. The sounds and patterns that came out of the circuits were unique and unpredictable because they were actually overloading the circuits until they burned out to create the sounds. The Barrons could never recreate the same sounds again, though they later tried very hard to recreate their signature sound from Forbidden Planet. Because of the unforeseen life span of the circuitry, the Barrons made a habit of recording everything.

Most of the production was not scripted or notated in any way. The Barrons didn’t even consider the process as music composition themselves. The circuit generated sound was not treated as notes, but instead as ‘actors’. In future soundtrack composition, each circuit would be manipulated according to actions of the underlying character in the film.

After recording the sounds, the couple manipulated the material by adding effects, such as reverb and tape delay. They also reversed and changed the speed of certain sounds[2]. The mixdown of multiple sounds was performed with at least three tape recorders. The outputs of two machines would be manually synchronized[3], and fed into an input of a third one, recording two separate sources simultaneously. The synchronization of future film work was accomplished by two 16 mm projectors that were tied into a 16 mm tape recorder, and thus ran at the same speed.

While Louis spent most of his time building the circuits and was responsible for all of the recording, Bebe did the composing. She had to sort through many hours of tape.[5] She described it, “it just sounded like dirty noise”. Over time, she developed the ability to determine which sounds could become something of interest. They may also have invented the tape loop. The tape loop gave the Barrons’ sounds rhythm. They mixed the sounds to create the otherworldly and strange electronic soundscapes required by Forbidden Planet.

This innovative approach to sound ultimately gave birth to one of the most stunning film scores to this day. It is a travesty to consider that the Barons were not eligible for an academy award in either the soundtrack or sound design categories because they were not members of the musicians union. This travesty is further compounded by MGM’s decision not to commercially release the soundtrack. What compounds this sequence of unfortunate events even more is the brief existence of a 7″ release of the original ‘Forbidden Planet’ theme which was discarded from the final film in favour of the Barons’ sound alchemy.

It wasn’t until 1976, in honour of ‘Forbidden Planet’s’ 20th anniversary, that the soundtrack was finally released (of course) by the Barrons themselves on their own label, ‘Planet Records’. Since this time, the importance of this soundtrack has gained deserved prominence, especially amongst fans of electronic and experimental music. What follows is a selection of pieces from the soundtrack for your listening pleasure. The soundtrack is readily available and can be purchased here (among many other places).


Documentary of the Week: Helvetica (2007)

Here’s a wonderful documentary by Gary Hustwit that I first saw a few years ago. It charts the emergence of the famous Helvetica font and the ubiquity in which it has been absorbed into our society. If you have an interest in typeface and/or design, I think you’ll love this. Here’s some information about the documentary taken from its official website:

About the Film

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type.

Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day. The film was shot in high-definition on location in the United States, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium.

Interviewees in Helvetica include some of the most illustrious and innovative names in the design world, including Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli, Wim Crouwel, Hermann Zapf, Neville Brody, Stefan Sagmeister, Michael Bierut, David Carson, Paula Scher, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Experimental Jetset, Michael C. Place, Norm, Alfred Hoffmann, Mike Parker, Bruno Steinert, Otmar Hoefer, Leslie Savan, Rick Poynor, and Lars Müller.

Helvetica had its World Premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2007. The film subsequently toured film festivals, special events, and art house cinemas worldwide, playing in over 300 cities in 40 countries. It received its television premiere on BBC1 in November 2007, and will be broadcast on PBS as part of the Emmy award-winning series Independent Lens in fall 2008. The film was nominated for a 2008 Independent Spirit Award in the “Truer Than Fiction” category, and was shortlisted for the Design Museum London’s “Designs of the Year” Award. An excerpt of the film was included in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

About the Typeface

Helvetica was developed by Max Miedinger with Edüard Hoffmann in 1957 for the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland. In the late 1950s, the European design world saw a revival of older sans-serif typefaces such as the German face Akzidenz Grotesk. Haas’ director Hoffmann commissioned Miedinger, a former employee and freelance designer, to draw an updated sans-serif typeface to add to their line. The result was called Neue Haas Grotesk, but its name was later changed to Helvetica, derived from Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland, when Haas’ German parent companies Stempel and Linotype began marketing the font internationally in 1961.

Introduced amidst a wave of popularity of Swiss design, and fueled by advertising agencies selling this new design style to their clients, Helvetica quickly appeared in corporate logos, signage for transportation systems, fine art prints, and myriad other uses worldwide. Inclusion of the font in home computer systems such as the Apple Macintosh in 1984 only further cemented its ubiquity.

Please enjoy Gary Hustwit’s, ‘Helvetica’. Please excuse the Spanish subtitles (unless you speak Spanish, in which case you can thank me later). Have a great Sunday.

- Matthew Revert

Documentary of the Week: The Life and Times of Don Luis Bunuel (1984)

The following documentary was made in 1984, the year after the death of the great Luis Bunuel. Apologies for the quality. It was taped off Australian television back in the day, but it is still a fascinating insight into one of cinema’s greats. To make matters slightly worse, part 5 is missing due to a copyright complaint. What a world! I still insist on you watching what is available.

- Matthew Revert

Documentary of the Week: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

If you’re an old-school videogame geek, this is simply one of the most enjoyable documentaries out there. Have a fantastic Sunday! From Imdb:

In the early 1980s, legendary Billy Mitchell set a Donkey Kong record that stood for almost 25 years. This documentary follows the assault on the record by Steve Wiebe, an earnest teacher from Washington who took up the game while unemployed. The top scores are monitored by a cadre of players and fans associated with Walter Day, an Iowan who runs Funspot, an annual tournament. Wiebe breaks Mitchell’s record in public at Funspot, and Mitchell promptly mails a controversial video tape of himself setting a new record. So Wiebe travels to Florida hoping Mitchell will face him for the 2007 Guinness World Records. Will the mind-game-playing Mitchell engage; who will end up holding the record?

Film Review: The Fruit of Paradise (Ovoce Stromu Rajských Jíme) 1969

We wake up into a world of art – art that permeates every facet of the life we’re enslaved to. It’s there, lying in wait, growing in power via the act of discovery. Some of us actively seek this art out, hoping for a moment of transformation – a moment of pure experience. Discovering art can be an addiction, occupying your waking moments totally. Unlike most addictions however, with art, the dragon you chase can be recaptured. Rather than eluding you, art’s first high leads one toward greater highs. If you keep looking, you will keep finding.

Vera Chytilová

I am often struck by the idea that I’m yet to see the greatest movie I’ll ever see. No matter how many films I watch – no matter how deep I plunge, I never come close the reaching the bottom of this fabulous pool. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been deeply immersed in Vera Chytilová’s, ‘Ovoce Stromu Rajských Jíme’ (The Fruit of Paradise), which was her followup film to ‘Daisies’. Anyone who knows me will tell you that ‘Daisies’ is a film that I hold very near and dear to me. I rate it as one of my all-time favourites and am still stunned with each subsequent viewing. With ‘Daisies’, Chytilová proved that a new cinematic language was possible. It taught me to expect more from the films I watched ever after. Despite being advised to, I avoided watching ‘The Fruit of Paradise’. Apart from not being readily available, I was also reluctant to dilute the near-sacred relationship I had with ‘Daisies’. The trouble now is, that having watched ‘The Fruit of Paradise’, my relationship with ‘Daisies’ has been compromised… you see, I think ‘The Fruit of Paradise’ is actually a better film.

‘The Fruit of Paradise’ was released in 1969, which was the latter period of the Czech New Wave. After this film, Chytilová was banned from making movies for 8 years thanks to a harsh political regime that aimed to stifle artistic dissent. The films made after this period of censorship never managed to attain the true originality and brilliance of her pre-censorship years. Had she not been forced to take such a hiatus, who knows what may have developed. It is a great injustice that the world was robbed of such a talent in the prime of her creative life. The society her art was designed to help set free was the same society that successfully imprisoned her art.

‘Daisies’ boasted an irreverent, wildly inventive visual style – it was punk before punk. Upon watching ‘The Fruit of Paradise’, we are rewarded with a visual style equally as inventive, but more mature and restrained. The opening sequence, depicting Adam and Eve in the garden of Edan is one of the most stunning passages of film I’ve ever seen. We watch Adam and Eve wandering naked through a tapestry of organic textures and colours. The breathtaking musique concrete score of Zdenek Liska forming a perfect unity with the visuals. This opening sequence could sit as a standalone short film. I have uploaded this clip to YouTube, as it will do more than my words ever could.

It is after this that we are introduced to the narrative proper (although the term ‘narrative’ has to be applied quite loosely here). Eva and Josef, who are our modern day Adam and Eve, are sitting beneath a tree when an apple falls from above. From nearby lurks our modern serpent, Robert, who, as we will discover, is never far away. At this stage the biblical inferences are strong, and one could be forgiven for expecting this will eventuate as an idiosyncratic re-telling of the fable, but it is my assertion that, although used allegorically, this is completely incorrect. Eva and Josef are a married couple. Eva is initially portrayed as the obedient wife, fetching food for her lethargic husband and conducting herself with naivety. Although it isn’t made clear, the two seem to be attending a retreat of some sort, along with the outwardly charming, Robert. Eva’s possession of the fallen apple attracts the attention of Robert while Josef sleeps. Eva takes a bite from the apple, but her husband refuses.

Eva captures a falling apple while Josef sleeps.

Robert, our serpent.

Will the apple be unbitten

And it is with this that we are introduced to our three main characters and the unnerving dynamic between them can unfold. Intrigued by Robert’s whimsical, flippant attitude to the world around him, Eva begins a shy pursuit – interested, at first, more in being a spectator to the action than an active player. While searching for food amid the wild world around her, Eva finds that Robert has dropped his briefcase and sets out to return it to him. For several reasons, I believe this briefcase to be the true apple of knowledge – reasons which I’ll discuss shortly. Eva discovers this forbidden briefcase at several points throughout the first half of the film.

This dance between Eva and Robert continues for some time. Robert is reticent to approach Eva, sensing something in her that he doesn’t have to confront in the countless other women he pursues. If we are to view Robert as the serpent, he is not one comfortable about giving up his knowledge. Eva’s drive toward the mystery of Robert is based on an innate sense that this man is in possession of something beyond her experience. It is important to note the re-occurring motif of the peacock. It’s call is the first sound we hear as the movie begins, and this call will punctuate the film throughout. Symbolically the peacock represents immortality. Its heavy presence in this film suggests that the knowledge about to be imparted upon Eva will extend beyond her, upsetting the world order.

The relationship between Eva and her husband, Josef depicts a status quo where the established order is comfortable yet servile and unfulfilling. Eva and Josef conduct themselves more as siblings than lovers. The mysterious sexuality of Robert pulls Eva away from her husband and one senses that none of the parties involved know exactly why. Eva continues to watch from afar as Robert engages in various seductions, feeling intensifying excitement. Each time Eva attempts to alter the dynamic and pursue Robert, he is overcome with anxiety and discomfort. Robert is clearly a man, ensconced in traditional masculine values who is unsure how to react to a woman who takes the active role. Eva is the antithesis of the sexual vixen. Her advances are the result of exuberance and curiosity. Her sexuality isn’t imposed upon her by the male gaze, rather it originates from within and radiates outward.

This dance occupies the first half of the film. Eva exists in an embryonic state, moving ever closer to her birth. This culminates in a scene where all members of the resort have congregated on the beach to participate in an aimless game involving a balloon and heavy petting. Eva, the only person not participating, sits off to the side, watching the others engage, including her husband who is flirting and wrestling with other women, completely unconcerned that he does so under his wife’s gaze. Eva is also unconcerned by her husband’s physical desire to be with these women. Decked in a crimson red robe, Robert is (of course) the leader of this game, inspiring the lust of those around him. When sand gets in his eye, he reaches into his pocket for a handkerchief and upon extraction, the key to his room falls out. The only person aware of this is Eva, who retrieves the key and decides to pay Robert’s room an unsolicited visit. The scene that follows is the turning point of the film – it is the true birth of Eva.

I spent a fair bit of time reading up about this film before writing this review. In so doing, I became aware of a frustrating trend. People have been unwilling to provide an interpretation of this film – some reviews have actively advised that you read nothing into it. It concerns me that one should view a film so rich in symbolism with superficial intent. There has also been a tendency to avoid prescribing feminist values upon the narrative, which in my mind is a mistake and detracts from so much of its power. ‘Daisies’ was unapologetic in its exploration of feminist ideas and was the better for it. ‘The Fruit of Paradise’, while not as overt, contains a feminist message that is, in my mind, even more powerful and revelatory.

When Eva opens Robert’s briefcase, she changes. The order of the world, and her place within it, becomes known to her and the dynamic established in the film’s first half is upset. The briefcase is the apple of knowledge that reveals the ‘truth’. Chytilová has presented us with a patriarchal order wherein women are subservient playthings in a world made for men. This is a role that both genders have embodied and a role that Eva, from the beginning, is placed outside of. Using the Adam and Eve myth as an allegorical representation of gender roles is ingenious when one considers the patriarchy established by the religion responsible for the myth. Even the briefcase that becomes Eva’s enlightenment is a symbol of masculinity. In the parlance of the narrative, the contents of the briefcase posits Robert as a potential killer and Eva as a potential victim, but this is the least of the briefcase’s significance.

From this point, Eva becomes aware of the sexuality that exists within her and, more importantly, of the affect this sexuality has on those around her. Robert no longer actively avoids her because he knows that she has changed. His pursuit has as much to do with Eva’s sexuality as it does with his desire to keep the secret hidden. Josef’s attitude toward Eva begins to change too and, perhaps for the first time, he experiences jealousy at the new attention afforded to his wife. Throughout this, Eva struggles with the revelation she now knows, and her desire not to know. The light Chytilová shed upon the power struggles that exist between man and woman isn’t a pretty one. Eva finds that she can manipulate the actions of the men around her with her new-found self awareness. The superficial confidence of the men melts away with the slightest glance, leaving them flailing, trying to reestablish purchase on their masculinity.

The commentary Chytilová is making isn’t quite as scathing as it sounds. Men aren’t painted with an unfair brush, rather they’re portrayed as (rightfully) trapped, just like women. Each have become enslaved to history and are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. This film is a clarion call for self-awareness on both sides of the gender equation. Eva learns the truth about the power she possesses but wishes she hadn’t. A scene toward the end of the film shows her crying, wishing to be freed from the horror of the truth. This is the painful birth that leads to change.

Beyond my very particular interpretation of the film (and I may be completely wrong), there is so much to love about ‘The Fruit of Paradise’ on an aesthetic level. The set design is nature itself, with the bulk of shots taking place within intricate organic textures. There is an emphasis on animals and natural food (food is a reoccurring motif throughout much of the Czech New Wave). The characters that populate the film are joined with nature, often covered in dirt, water, sand and foliage. The balance Chytilová strikes between humans and nature embodies the balance sought between the genders.

Special mention must also be made of Zdenek Liska breathtaking score. Utilising musique concrete techniques and choral arrangements, it is a component to ‘The Fruit of Paradise’ impossible to ignore. The score refuses to take a passive role and instead, actively engages with the visuals. Movements on camera are synchronised with the sound perfectly. When Eva sweeps her hand through water, each movement is heralded by aural clatter. This active, synchronicity is a technique Chytilová adopted in ‘Daisies’, and on ‘The Fruit of paradise’ it has been refined and even more seamlessly integrated. It bolsters the total experience of the film, overwhelming as many of your senses as possible.

Because ‘The Fruit of Paradise’ excels in so many different areas, it can be hard to take in at first. It’s for this reason that many may wish to avoid interpretation and just embrace the experience. If you’re willing to peel the exterior back just a bit, prepare yourself for a universe of writhing symbolism and layered meanings. Like the greatest artists, Chytilová holds up a mirror, forcing us to see a version of ourselves stripped bare. It is the rarest gift – equal parts terrifying and rewarding.  ‘The Fruit of Paradise’ is another dragon captured, and one of the greatest films I have had the sincere pleasure of watching.

- Matthew Revert

David Lynch’s ‘Crazy Clown Time’ Music Video

I seek your sage opinion… David Lynch. Everyone knows who he is and although I find many of his films lack depth, when his films are good, they’re very good. I find his skill resides within the sound design, lighting and general atmosphere of his films. So… outside of his filmmaking, he also dabbles with music, and last year, his album, ‘Crazy Clown Time’ came out. The music didn’t really work for me. While elements of the sound were good, I found that overall, it lacked depth (surprise, surprise).

A few days ago, this music video came from ‘Crazy Clown Time’ came out, directed by Lynch. When combined with his visual style, I now find that the music gains some of that depth. He wails a bit like David Thomas from the great, Pere Ubu. Now, I don’t believe this music comes anywhere near the majesty of Pere Ubu, but I’ve watched this video several times now, rather entranced by what I see. Lynch’s capacity for visual disorientation is here, as is his love of that damaged, classic era Hollywood look that made ‘Mulholland Drive’ so wonderful. So what do you think of this? Does it work? How does the music strike you?

- Matthew Revert


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