Sunday, August 27, 2017

RADIOHEAD







Mug shots:  Colin Greenwood (bass), Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar, keyboards, other instruments), Thom Yorke (lead vocals, guitar, piano, other instruments), Philip Selway (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Ed O'Brien (guitar, backing vocals).  From Oxfordshire.  Formed in 1985.  Their 1992 single "Creep" ultimately made them famous; they still play it at concerts because their audiences love it, but they reportedly don't much care to do so because of its hit singledom.  I see/hear it as their Nirvana "Smells Like Teen Spirit" song.  Eminently singable.  One of the few you can clearly hear the lyrics to, sing along with.  But I imagine that, every time someone in the audience requests it, it's like what Joni Mitchell said about asking Van Gogh to "paint another 'Starry Night,' man."   

Radiohead has mainly worked with producer Nigel Godrich since 1994--he's their George Martin.  Nine albums and 30 million album sales later, their music has evolved incorporating electronic music, looping, sampling, 20th century classical, jazz, krautrock, and Jonny Greenwood's orchestral arrangements (Jonny also does film scores for writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, and Thom is currently doing his first score for Luca Guadgnino's "reimagining" of the horror film Suspiria).

No matter how many times I listen to their songs, I find myself looking up the titles on my Sonos controller--even to my favorites.  Not because the songs are indistinguishable, but rather because they bleed into each other, and they engage one in a liminal way--like waking dreams.  Listen to the audio of Thom and Jonny's concert (pictured below) at the Macerato Sferisterio (a stripped down concert benefitting 2016's Le Marche earthquake) and you'll understand.  The music is gorgeous and haunting.





Radiohead's techniques have become more and more elastic and experimental through the years as they've shifted from rock instrumentation to a more electronic orientation, with all members switching among various instruments.  Songs are credited to all of the members, and Jonny Greenwood has said that he sees the band as "just a kind of arrangement to form songs using whatever technology suits the song.  And that technology can be a cello or it can be a laptop."

Paul Thomas Anderson directed the video below for "Daydreaming," from Radiohead's latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool.  The video features Thom Yorke opening door after door, wandering through corridors, up stairways, through landscapes, hospitals, schools, middle-class homes.  Opening front doors, exit doors, ultimately sliding a heavy metal door releasing Thom out into a snowy landscape and a mountain, up which Thom trudges in his street clothes, finally burrowing into a tunnel and collapsing next to a fire, uttering what appear to be backwards lyrics that seem utterly primeval.  What better visual metaphor for the experience of their music I described above as liminal--every song opens another door; they're like a series of doors, one leading to yet another.  No beginning, no ending, but a cycle, evolving, devolving, endlessly searching.  Like filmmaker David Lynch, Radiohead seem to have a direct connection to the unconscious in their work.

For a more biographical--and fascinating--exegesis of the video, check out "The Hidden Secrets in 'Daydreaming.'"



"Dreamers/They never learn.../This goes/Beyond me/Beyond you.../We are.../Just happy to serve/You."


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Sunday, August 6, 2017

WIND RIVER



Wind River is the third script in a trilogy written by former actor (Sons of Anarchy) Taylor Sheridan.  The first was the stunning thriller Sicario, directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and James Brolin.  The second, directed by David Mackenzie, was Hell or High Water, with Ben Foster, Chris Pine, and Jeff Bridges.  Wind River is Sheridan's directorial debut.


For Sheridan, the theme of the trilogy, he's said, is a question:  how does one move on without getting closure?  He also sees it as dealing with issues of masculinity and fatherhood.  (Interestingly, when asked during a Q & A about his approach to writing female characters, Sheridan said he writes his women characters as if they were men, and leaves it to the male actors to react to them as if they were women.)


If you're a screenwriter or an aspiring one, it's easy to hate Sheridan.  Sicario was the first script he'd ever written, after he departed Sons of Anarchy for trying to lowball his salary.  Out of acting work, Sheridan completed all three scripts in three months, and gave Sicario to his entertainment attorney (since he'd fired his acting agent).  His attorney read it, loved it, sent it around, and the rest is history.

Wind River was financed by Native American tribes (Sheridan had spent much time on reservations) and shot in Utah (for Wyoming) in 30 days.  A key scene with many characters was rehearsed for a month and shot in a mere 45 minutes--because that's all they could afford.



The film stars Jeremy Renner in perhaps the best role he's had since The Hurt Locker. Sheridan described Renner as an actor who "can wear his emotion on his skin."  And indeed he does in the film--with his ex wife, his Native American grieving friend, and particularly in a scene towards the end, with Elizabeth Olsen (below), his co- star, who plays an FBI agent who is out of her element and smart enough to seek out Renner's tracker character's help.


This thriller is ostensibly about finding the rapist and killer of a Native American woman found dead in the snow (in reality, many women on reservations have gone missing), but its emotional core is loss, grief, friendship, doing the right thing, and trying to move on.  If one scene defines the film, it is the one below between Renner and his friend, the father of the dead woman, played by Apesanakwat of the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin, in which the two friends sit with their grief.



Wind River is a quiet thriller and a thoughtful one.  Sicario is still my favorite, followed by Hell or High Water, but this one must also be seen.  When asked what films influenced Wind River, Sheridan said it was one:  the tone of Michael Mann's The Insider.

Sheridan's next project is a limited series with Kevin Costner titled Yellowstone, which he described as being about the "gentritifcation of the West"..."The Godfather in Montana."

Here's the trailer for Wind River:





P.S.  Music by Nick Cave!

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sofia Coppola's THE BEGUILED




Sofia Coppola has not so much remade the 1971 Don Siegel film; she's re-envisioned it through a more modern and less sensationalistic lens.  It's still a Southern gothic, but it's no longer a B movie; as Sofia (only the second female to win Best Director at Cannes, for this project) said in a Q & A at the L.A. Film Festival on June 15, "I wanted to make something beautiful."  Since pictures are worth thousands of words, the differences between the two films is more than evident in their trailers.

First, the Siegel version of Thomas Cullinan's novel starring Clint Eastwood:



And Sofia's, with Colin Farrell (and the "vengeful bitches"):




Sofia's Beguiled is very much a corollary to her 1999 film The Virgin Suicides (based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides), and the two would make a superb double feature.  The 1999 film involves a group of pre-teen boys spying on the beautiful, cloistered Catholic girls across the street and becoming beguiled by them.  If you haven't seen it, it's wonderful--perhaps Sofia's best film after her superb Lost In Translation (which she disclosed she wrote at her dining room table in Los Feliz, feeling like a "lost trophy wife"--I presume when she was still married to director Spike Jonze).


Sofia Coppola initially studied painting at Cal Arts, then focused on photography, with particular interest in fashion photography (if you recall, she also made a foray into clothing design).  Sofia was influenced by photographers David Hamilton and Helmut Newton; she found the latter's work dramatic and liked how he saw women.  When Sofia began planning the look of The Beguiled, she revisited at lot of photographs and talked to DP Philippe Le Sourd about how she envisioned the movie's look and palette.  

Sofia wanted a film that was "stark," "naturalistic," "minimal," "tense."  (I might add that it also has humor.)  So she also opted for very little, subtle music (some source music and other music adapted by Phoenix, whose frontman Thomas Mars is Sofia's husband).  The most prominent sounds are those of the Civil War in the background and cicadas on the grounds of the house fallen into desuetude.

The stars of the film are Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning, but the entire ensemble of females, from the 12-year-old who finds the wounded Union soldier on up, play democratic roles in this iteration of the plot--I loved that.  Their resident teacher, played by Kirsten Dunst, instructs them in everything from French to sewing (sewing skills turn out to be a trĂ©s important motif here).

Sofia has made a more emotionally complex film while respecting its genre roots.  Farrell's character's presence causes not so much a sexual hysteria among the females (well, at least the older ones), but more of a sexual awakening, and, for all of them, relief from their dogmatic slumbers and the isolation of the war.  And Farrell's character is far more complex--he initially alternates between sympathetic and manipulative. 

Sofia shared that re-making the 1971 film was originally suggested to her by her production designer-producer Ann Ross; the two are friends, and both have 6-year-old daughters who reportedly made their own 30-minute version of The Beguiled.  Now that's the one I'm really curious to see....


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