Fire-Toolz at The Rathskeller, “The Hours And Times” at UW Cinematheque, and more events of note in Madison this week.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 14
Joker. Union South Marquee, through February 16, see link for all showtimes (free)
It will be a real eye-opener thirty years from now to look back at our political zeitgeist and cultural artifacts through this current lens. What did we find offensive, profane, and/or sacred? Who did we deem worthy of praise and adulation, and who did we deem worthy of being “cancelled” as our culture has labeled it? For better or worse, we have decided to either shy away from or embrace certain topics as too delicate, and instead issue warnings of violence for those of us bold enough to sit in a theater to consume more controversy.
Despite forewarnings of copycat violence, Todd Phillips’ Joker (2019) raked in over one billion dollars, as armed security guards stood idly by at screenings across the country last October upon the film’s initial release. I personally did not hear of incidents at any of them, but what I do recall was a great swelling of emotion and empathy for a fundamentally broken Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) doing his best to function in a fundamentally broken society that has turned its back on any of those deemed different or less capable.
Fleck suffers from a neurological condition called pseudobulbar affect (PBA) that causes him to laugh or cry uncontrollably when under extreme duress, so he must try to mimic controlled laughter in order to fit in socially with his peers. Every attempt he has made to connect or bring joy to the world as a professional clown is upended, until, like any human being, he reaches his breaking point. Joker, as Fleck asks to be called on a nightly talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro), soon realizes tragedy plus time will equal comedy.
Perhaps because of DeNiro’s presence, the film has drawn numerous comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and The King Of Comedy (1982), which is not inaccurate. What is most intriguing is how little we have gleaned about being civil to one another after the hateful screeds in some of Scorsese’s earlier works, like the aforementioned. We cannot continue to be surprised when the outgrowth of inhumane treatment results in violence and mayhem. If you’re itching to see a Joker performance that rivals Heath Ledger’s turn in The Dark Knight (2008), this is by far the definitive one. —Edwanike Harbour
Burnidette (EP Release), Barely Civil, Trophy Dad. Communication, 7:30 p.m.
Madison band Burnidette grew from the acoustic songs guitarist/vocalist Karl Schultz started recording by himself to cope with some emotional lows. On a new EP, George Gloomy, the material has evolved into shaggy, jangly rock that balances charm with volatility. “What would you say right now / If I threw up in your car? / I would not say sorry,” Schultz sings over the raucous brightness of “Weekender,” in a voice that waivers between vulnerable pleading and unhinged defiance. Across the EP’s three songs, Schultz lays out a lot of such unfiltered thoughts, in a way that might reassure anyone who’s ever felt unstable or needy or just plain at a loss.
There’s also an element of self-awareness and acceptance in the way Schultz delivers lines like “I got your name tattooed on my tongue / Hope you like it,” which starts off the opening track, “Voicemail.” At times these songs might come across as darkly funny, even though they’re really just meant to be a raw outlet, paired with melodies that brighten things up a bit. “I’m definitely very critical of myself at all times, so I guess I understand how the bluntness in the lyrics comes across as humor,” Schultz says. “I’m actually glad it does, but that was totally not intentional. It’s really just how I perceive what I experience. If that comes out humorous to some people, then I’m glad I could help crack a smile, I guess.” The motivation behind the songs is pretty simple: Schultz says: “Writing music that makes us feel good and just getting it out there.”
This Friday’s release show at Communication follows an abrupt name change. Until a few days ago, the band was named Tom Danks. There’s another artist out there using the same name, as Schultz discovered when Apple Music somehow merged the two artists’ profiles. (The other one, a rapper of some kind, wasn’t happy.) Burnidette’s live lineup has Schultz on guitar and vocals, Steve Higgins on bass, and Erik Schultz on drums; the EP was recorded with Isaac Marquardt on drums and Brett Schlidt on bass. Marquardt’s band Barely Civil will be headlining the show, which also features the first appearance in a while from Madison indie-pop standouts Trophy Dad. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 15
The Hours And Times. Vilas Hall. 7 p.m. (free)
Historical fiction can often fall into the trap of letting its subjects’ fame do most of the dramatic heavy lifting. On the other hand, the best films in the genre can give life to rich reinterpretations of their subjects, finding characters that are worth investing in regardless of who they were in real life. Christopher Munch’s speculative queer drama The Hours And Times (1992) is firmly in the latter camp, turning a sensitive eye towards a mysterious bit of Beatles trivia.
The film takes place over a long weekend in 1963 when John Lennon (Ian Hart) and The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein (David Angus), traveled to Barcelona together. Still adjusting to the spoils of celebrity in the wake of Beatlemania, Lennon is meant to use this time to relax, as Epstein merely accompanies him to make sure he behaves himself. However, the men’s apparent romantic feelings for one another only complicate their dynamic as the trip goes on.
Setting aside the film’s historical baggage, one finds a tender and well-acted drama about two would-be lovers constrained by forces both external and internal. Hurt’s restless and sardonic take on Lennon is a fascinating one to watch on the screen, but short 57-minute feature’s melancholy lies more in the subtleties of Angus’ performance. Though only six years older than Lennon, Angus’ Epstein bleeds a lived-in gravitas, the wisdom of a gay man who has existed on the edge of acceptability, forced to stay only in the orbit of fulfillment. It is a minor tragedy that this is David Angus’ only leading role in an already tiny filmography, which makes UCLA’s new restoration at Cinematheque all the more necessary. —Maxwell Courtright
Fire-Toolz, Emili Earhart. Memorial Union Rathskeller, 9 p.m. (free)
The music of Fire-Toolz should force just about any listener to question their preconceptions and reference points: Producer/vocalist Angel Marcloid combines glimmering, immersive synths with bursts of rasping black-metal-like vocals, unabashedly stratospheric guitar solos, track titles that require a fluid grasp of dingbats and Unicode, and a visual aesthetic drawn directly from the early glory days of home desktop computing. It would be a mistake, though, to dismiss this music as just another exercise in trendy hyper-referential overload. Let yourself slip onto Marcloid’s wavelength on releases like last year’s Field Whispers (Into The Crystal Palace) and 2018’s Skinless X-1, and pretty soon a remarkably clear vision emerges from beneath the chaotic surface.
The screamed vocal outbursts of “✓ BEiNG,” from Field Whispers, crash over luxuriant, liquid spirals of guitar and grandiose percussion, at times recalling the fusion-y death metal of the great Florida band Cynic. That comparison aside, Marcloid’s hybrids are wholly her own, pulling together disparate strands with inspired confidence and production that feels as polished as it does instinctive. The fact that the video for “✓ BEiNG” rockets me back to being jealous of my friend’s really cool screen saver in the early ’90s doesn’t make the impact any less powerful or sincere. There’s a real generosity to Marcloid’s musical and visual universe, and the more you surrender to it the easier it is to let go of whatever you thought you knew about kitsch or about which sorts of sounds should go together.
Between the prog-like climaxes, Fire-Toolz invests just as much careful attention into works of prolonged, reflective calm. Marcloid delivers quite a few of those on Skinless X-1, including “In The Computer Room @ Dusk ☕” and “Ｕｐｐｅｒ Ｐｅｎｉｎｓｕｌａ ②⓪①⑧.” These tracks go beyond the great firewalls of internet culture and New Age music to find something gentle and brave. At this free Rathskeller show, we can look forward to sounds and projections that rattle our brains a bit but also help us open up to Marcloid’s expansive emotional range. —Scott Gordon
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 19
Social Cinema: American Factory. Union South Marquee, 6:30 p.m. (free)
Newly minted as an Oscar-winner for Best Documentary, American Factory (2019) has a lot on its mind. Drawing on a long and decorated career spent studying American labor and progressive movements, the filmmaking team of Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar used their charter funding from the Obamas’ production company, Higher Ground, to make not just a film about American factories, but the film about American factories.
Reichert and Bognar set out to explore Fuyao, an archetypal factory in Moraine, Ohio. A Chinese-owned glass manufacturing company whose latest branch occupies the carcass of a former GM plant in Ohio (whose closing was the subject of another Oscar-nominated film by Reichert and Bognar), Fuyao is a multinational business interest that shapeshifts depending on its host. As this new Ohio operation settles into production over the course of a year, its owners grow increasingly worried at the prospect of workers unionizing as well as the struggle to reconcile vastly different workplace expectations between their American and Chinese employees.
Moving through a variety of subjects and settings, the film sometimes seems like it’s packing a short series worth of information into a feature. The complexities of Fuyao’s operation offer a breadth of material, with the focus bouncing between struggling employees’ somber monologues and cringe comedy-like scenes of tongue-tied executives utterly failing at connecting with their workers. Thankfully, Reichert and Bognar’s shrewdness as documentarians makes this all work well together. With Reichert herself now entering her sixth decade of filmmaking, her understanding of American labor is unparalleled.
Their focus on Fuyao here presents a new direction for their work, as globalization changes our understanding of labor and what it means to belong to a distinct national identity. The title may also call to mind a golden age of reliable factory jobs in “Rust Belt” towns, but it rather brings the viewer up-to-date with a bleak reality: when other signifiers fade away, ruthless capitalism continues to be endemic to American life. The fact that Reichert and Bognar can hide that particular thesis in a documentary that’s still able to entertain speaks to their considerable skill, and marks American Factory as a deserving award-winner. —Maxwell Courtright
2/13: Patsy Cline Valentine. High Noon Saloon, 7 p.m.
2/13: Marlon James. Central Library, 7 p.m. (free)
2/13: The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open. Union South Marquee, 7 p.m. (free)
2/13: Queer IRL Personals Party featuring DJs Maggie Autumn, Kalycho, Saint Saunter, Daosavanh. Robinia Courtyard, 10 p.m.
2/14: The Mortal Storm (1940). Vilas Hall, 7 p.m. (free)
2/14: Jon Wade with Mike Gock. Cafe CODA, 5 p.m.
2/14: The Nightingale. Union South Marquee, 8 p.m. (free, also on 2/15, 2/16)
2/14: “Don’t Punk With My Heart” featuring Interlay and Coasting. The Rathskeller, 9 p.m. (free)
2/14: UHF (1989). Union South Marquee, 11 p.m. (free, also on 2/15)
2/15: Bury The Hatchet. Chazen Museum of Art, 6 p.m. (free)
2/15: Calexico And Iron & Wine. Sylvee, 8 p.m.
2/15: Gay U.S.A. Vilas Hall, 8:15 p.m. (free)
2/16: The Red House (1947). Chazen Museum of Art, 2 p.m. (free)
2/16: Beach Bunny, Lettering, Deadly Somber. High Noon Saloon, 8 p.m.