Free screenings of “The Lighthouse,” record-release shows from Wilder Deitz and Woke Up Crying, and more events of note in Madison this week.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 23
The Mills Folly Microcinema program launched in summer 2018 at Arts + Literature Laboratory, with the goal of showcasing experimental and ultra-low-budget films that otherwise rarely get screened in Madison. With its home venue currently in the middle of a move to a large new space on East Main Street, Mills Folly is making a temporary move to the Central Library’s third-floor screening room to showcase short works from Madison-area filmmakers. The first installment of the Project Projection series runs for about 70 minutes in total, and its offerings run the gamut from straightforward documentaries to disorienting experiments that involve dreaming dogs and nude badminton players.
One clear standout in Thursday’s program is Andrea Oranday’s Ueita, a patient 10-minute exploration of food and memory. Oranday uses still images and a sparse but tightly manipulated sound mix to immerse us in scenes of family gatherings and pastoral landscapes. Many of the images show a family gathering in cluttered kitchens and around outdoor tables for festive meals, while the audio balances kitchen sounds (the click of a gas burner lighting, the rustle of utensils) with the occasional burst of music and lively conversation. The approach here evokes both the social power of food and the power of cooking as a solitary ritual. “I believe film captures memory and nostalgia exceptionally well,” Oranday writes in an artist statement for the screening. But Ueita goes well beyond that, offering a quiet but undeniably moving experience of loss.
Christian Cuévas’ documentary State Street is, well, very true to the kinds of random and at times uninvited interactions one can have while walking down State Street, though walking around with a camera tends to invite more of those interactions. Anders Nienstaedt’s A Long Winter At The World’s Center is an experimental and at times playful portrait of Marquette, Michigan, while Nicholas Wootton and Will Fry’s Grand Yoke dives right into dizzying collage-film territory. Several of the films at this screening were made by students of the Odyssey Filmmaking workshop, under the tutelage of filmmaker and UW-Madison film scholar Hamidreza Nassiri. There are some resourceful surprises in this batch of shorts. The two-minute Milan’s Video, by Milan Shrestha, may or may not be a horror film, building up an eerie layer of paranoia as its protagonist prepares a skillet of wide rice noodles. Mai Neng Thao’s The Mischief wrings a minute of fun from the simple premise of a home burglary. Lakoye Buford’s Note To A Younger Self is a work of brave vulnerability, reflecting on both childhood traumas and adult struggles. Any given viewer’s mileage will vary throughout this program, but it’s great to see Mills Folly providing a good platform for an adventurous mix of local films. —Scott Gordon
Pianist and composer Wilder Deitz leads an ensemble that works along a continuum of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop, offering a fresh and joyous perspective on the many points where those categories bleed together. The lineup can change a lot between shows and recording sessions, but Deitz’s group has consistently managed to balance accessibility with a rich understanding of their historical and musical context, often tying it all together with the show-stopping efforts of a rotating cast of vocalists including Deja Mason, Chakari Woods, Nikeya Bramlett, and Bobbie Briggs. On a 2017 summer mixtape that was available only as a CD at live shows, Deitz and company showed off their boisterous side, with help from Madison MCs like Protege The Pro, though tracks like the somber, tense “Song For A Slave Mother” opened up a whole other dimension for the group. At this North Street Cabaret show, Deitz will be celebrating the release of Y’all, a new album that’s available only on vinyl and finds his cast of collaborators in a more restrained mood.
“With earlier songs, and especially on the mixtape, I often wrote about that which infuriated me,” Deitz says. “Now I mostly write about that which enchants me.” Percussionists Matt Allen and Jacob Bicknase and bassist Sam Galligan supply their share of funky grooves here, especially on the instrumental “Workin’ On Em” and the cheeky strut of “Sun Dance (For Cooper),” but the vast majority of Y’all is decidedly focused on pulling back and contemplating. Mason’s vocals and Deitz’s lyrics on “Sweatin’ The Joneses” celebrate the importance of love and strong relationships over material wealth, as Deitz’s electric piano plays gracefully off his brother Mitch’s bright guitar figures. But it’s Chance Stine’s flute solo, toward the end, that really brings the track to its gently euphoric apex. “Darbo Worthington Davis,” framed in glittering synth chords, honors the enduring impact of bassist and UW-Madison professor Richard Davis, its title referring to an east-side street that was recently re-named for Davis.
The first side of the album closes with the instrumental “Spirit’s Lullaby (For Ikal),” which illustrates that taking it down a notch diminishes none of the group’s lively interplay. Mitch Deitz’s guitar line weaves between Wilder’s arrangement of both electric and acoustic piano, and the arrangement pulls back to make way for Alex Charland’s raspy but subdued tenor sax solo. While the record and the group is simply attributed to Wilder Deitz, the group dynamic is key to making these compositions come alive. “Every part was more or less written for a particular player’s style, and, happily, most of those players will be there Thursday to perform those parts,” he says. The record does close with one solo-piano track, “Meditation On Compassion,” composed in tribute to the late Rev. Jack Hicks, whom Wilder Deitz calls “the Midwest’s answer to Fred Rogers.”
Deitz is currently also working on a set of classical compositions that he hopes to release this spring. “It’s called ‘Border Suite’ and is a reflection on the places, people and politics of several different borderlands,” he says. “It will be my first effort in both the classical and solo piano idioms, and I’m really proud of how it’s shaping up. I’ve found that this writing will demand some new virtuosity from me as a player, and I’m excited to take on the challenge of actually playing this stuff.” None of Y’all‘s tracks are currently available to stream online, so here’s Deitz’s rendition of the Reading Rainbow theme. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY, JANUARY 24
It’s been 12 years since the untimely death of Heath Ledger. It’s also hard to imagine what body of work he would have created in the last decade or so, given the tremendous talent that he turned out to be (Brokeback Mountain 2005). Ledger’s take on the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), released after his death, ended up defining his career. Ledger also upended what audiences expected from the character—his interpretation of Joker was a far cry from Jack Nicholson’s campy rendition in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film, for instance. As another Joker (also coming to WUD Film the weekend of February 14) eats up an excessive amount of awards-season attention, it’s worth revisiting Ledger’s crazy-for-the-sake-of-crazy portrayal.
Christopher Nolan built his brand as auteur with The Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins in 2005, The Dark Knight in 2008, and The Dark Knight Rises in 2012), which prompted many a debate among fans as to whether or not these were “Batman” movies. Clearly drawing deep influence from the comic books, Nolan’s darker take on Gotham City and its denizens gave more heft and dimension to the characters, particularly Joker. Some men just want to watch the world burn, and that’s all you need to know in terms of his motivations. Ledger’s Joker is simply a monster who wants little more than to see people suffering for his own amusement, which makes him more frightening than most villains in the Batman canon.
Ledger projects a palpable evil but also evokes a very slight sense of empathy during one of The Dark Knight‘s most iconic scenes, in which he leans out of the window of a stolen cop car, silently, after he is done creating even more havoc in Gotham City. After all, he describes himself as a dog chasing a car who would not know what to do with one if he caught it. The Dark Knight may not have been the Batman film we deserved, but provided one that we didn’t know we needed. While Nolan’s weight and heavy-handedness can get in the way of his own premise (as in 2010’s Inception), The Dark Knight strikes all the right notes and should be viewed on the big screen this weekend at the Marquee if you did not see it during its first run. —Edwanike Harbour
A24 had a banner year in 2019 with releases that included Midsommar, Uncut Gems, and Waves. Cinephiles have come to expect nothing less than stellar releases from this company and rightfully so: In a year full of risk-taking films, A24 consistently took risks that paid off. Robert Eggers’ black-and-white Promethean horror, The Lighthouse, was especially a breath of fresh air (and/or pungent slime) in 2019’s crowded cinematic landscape.
Easily the most highly anticipated film of last year, The Lighthouse was shot in 35 mm with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, making it claustrophobic and quite personal. As the titular lighthouse’s two keepers (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) are on screen for the bulk of the film, the square-ish field of view gives the viewer even more of a sensation of being castaway on a rock with the two grizzly seamen. Thomas Wake (Dafoe) has been tasked with operating “the light” for years and has seen many sailors come and go. Some of them have gone mad after a series of bad omens. His younger subordinate, Winslow (Pattinson), tries his best to stay sane and sober, adjusting to the cramped quarters and grueling routine of dirty, backbreaking tasks. But the two men’s booze-addled visions, in addition to Wake’s refusal to let Winslow access the top of the lighthouse, are a recipe for insanity.
While A24 campaigned for Pattinson to get an Oscar nomination for this film, surely Dafoe deserved one just as much, portraying Wake as a wild-eyed Poseidon-like figure and delivering one of the best soliloquies ever seen on film. (The Academy opted for neither, nominating the film only for Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography.) Eggers definitely flexed his skills with 2015’s The VVitch (2015), but in The Lighthouse he really was able to allow two brilliant actors the space to craft superb performances. It is a slow burn that builds up to the point of explosion and stays with you for days afterwards. —Edwanike Harbour
SATURDAY, JANUARY 25
Madison trio Woke Up Crying’s new EP, 3:27 a.m., demonstrates that a simple approach doesn’t have to confine a band’s sound. Indeed, the very sparseness and directness of punk rock gives musicians the opportunity to color in the details on their own terms. The band is guitarist and vocalist Dana Rowe’s first chance to have a project that focuses on their own songs, which tend to use just a few lines to call up a host of specific imagery and emotional in-betweens. Bassist/vocalist K8 Walton and drummer Ada Lynn flesh out Rowe’s vision of queercore with a balance of aggression and tenderness, complimenting guitar parts that jangle as much as they crunch. Rowe also embraces what they call the “ambiguity” of their voice, which tends toward aching melody and takes on a hint of hoarseness at only one point across the EP’s five tracks: “Living’s boring me to deaaaath,” Rowe growls on “Ingratitude.”
“I think when I am being really honest, I will admit that I have played so much punk music without ever having been that into punk standards,” Rowe says. That attitude is what makes Woke Up Crying so rewarding: As tough and lyrically direct as this music is, there’s always room for a twinge of ambivalence. “Now And Then,” titled after the 1995 Christina Ricci movie, reflects on Rowe’s experiences growing up as a poor kid in Madison: “My Grandma used to buy me jelly shoes at the Prange Way on Sherman Avenue / They left a lattice tan on my feet when I wore them down to Tenney beach.” The specific places, the jelly shoes, and the name of the defunct discount store chain all do a lot to make the listener think about life’s small pleasures and the precarity that surrounds them. “I get so nostalgic about the ’90s…but also, there was so much not going well,” Rowe says.
The band’s emotional contrast grows even sharper on “Sweater Weather,” which also gets things pretty far away from anything like conventional punk territory. Rowe’s clean-toned guitar part uses an open tuning (DADAAD) to create ringing arpeggios that feel both tense and idyllic. The lyrics are about embracing a crappy relationship to get a little respite from seasonal depression, Rowe says. The chorus especially captures both the thrill of romantic possibility and the numbness of disappointment: “We can be lonely together / It’s hat scarf and sweater weather / Come in make the emptiness better / It’s hat scarf and sweater weather.” Woke Up Crying celebrates the EP’s release at this show, which will also feature a solo performance from Alivia Kleinfeldt of Madison band Dash Hounds and a set from Seafoam In My Swimsuit, which showcases its expansion from a duo to a turbulently dreamy full band on a just-released single, “Impostor Syndrome.” —Scott Gordon