“Sátántangó” at Cinematheque, Octo Octa at The Sett, and more events of note in Madison this week.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 30
Keeping up with Madison band Mr. Chair is a bit like having one of those friends who has a new bright idea every week and is always totally stoked about it: The four-piece released a triple album last year called Nebulebula, celebrated it with a show that featured 13 guest musicians, has an ongoing collaboration with a UW-Madison geoscience professor, and seems to try out new themes and different expanded lineups at just about every live show these days, including a whimsical circus- and aviation-themed night in November. On paper it seems scattered and almost manic, but all this reaching for new themes and context seems to really fuel Mr. Chair’s central focus: music that pull together elements of jazz, contemporary classical, and progressive rock. Pianist Jason Kutz, trombone player Mark Hetzler, bassist Ben Ferris, and drummer Mike Koszewski’s performances on Nebulebula tackle weighty original compositions like “Mile Of Ledges” and “Burner Phone” with brisk and playful chemistry.
There’s yet another twist in store for this North Street Cabaret show: Guitarist Chris Bucheit (who also took part in November’s “Mr. Chair’s Flying Circus” show at BarleyPop Live) and trumpeter Dave Cooper will be collaborating here with the band’s core quartet. Both guest players know the value of patience and understatement. Bucheit’s 2019 solo EP Guitar Music and his work in instrumental trio Major Vistas blend concision with grace, using melodies that draw on pop music as much as they do jazz, and clean electric guitar tones that feel warm and clear but never over-polished. Cooper has worked extensively in both jazz and classical settings, developing an incredibly full trumpet sound that pairs well with the harmonic richness of his work as a composer and bandleader, including on his 2015 album The Journey and with his more recently formed quartet Quad.
Combined with the venue itself, Cooper and Bucheit might help to bring out more of Mr. Chair’s subtleties, but add two versatile musicians to an already volatile brew and it could really go in any number of directions. Kutz says he’s looking forward to hearing Bucheit’s electric guitar and Hetzler’s trombone, “à la Godzilla v. Mothra.” The show will also be a chance to hear some of Bucheit’s original material in a different setting. “We’ve arranged some of our pieces (‘Correction,’ ‘Purity,’ ‘Freed,’ and more) to include trumpet and guitar, and we’ll be playing a couple of Chris’ tunes,” Kutz says. In the months ahead, Kutz says, Mr. Chair’s activities will include performances with vocalist Leslie Damaso, a brass choir, and with added strings, “plus some other very exciting collabs being planned, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.” —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY, JANUARY 31
New Hampshire’s Maya Bouldry-Morrison, aka Octo Octa, and Chicago’s Eris Drew have formed a powerful partnership over the past few years, after each making distinctive marks as DJs and producers. In their joint efforts, Drew and Bouldry-Morrison bring together a range of approaches to house music, and joyously amplify the role of trans artists and audiences in the electronic-music world. Their first release together, 2018’s Devotion, was a split EP of original productions issued on Portuguese label Naive, which also released Madison-based producer Ilana Bryne‘s debut EP. On Devotion‘s first three tracks, Drew put gritty breaks front and center, creating a raw but entrancing start-stop rhythm on “Hold Me.” Octo Octa’s offerings on the EP are two variations on a track called “Beam Me Up,” and while they’ve got plenty of breakbeat punch of their own, it’s easy to trace a line back from these productions to the lush and moody synth arrangements of the excellent Octo Octa albums that preceded Devotion including the 2017 album Where Are We Going? and 2013’s Between Two Selves. They recently also started a label together, T4T LUV NRG, which released Octo Octa’s 2019 solo album Resonant Body and Drew’s Raving Disco Breaks Vol. 1 mix.
On their current tour, the two will visit the Sett for one of their joint DJ sets, which say just as much about Drew and Bouldry-Morrison’s interlocking visions as their production work. I believe this will be their first time playing Madison together, though Bouldry-Morrison last visited Madison in 2017 for the summer Musique Electronique series and Drew played Robinia Courtyard’s Jams series in 2018. Judging by recent examples, including a Boiler Room set from last fall, we’re in for a jolt of pounding exuberance and the kind of dynamic ups and downs that requires two DJs to not just pick up on the audience’s vibe but also to have a deep sense of each other’s instincts.
The bookers at WUD Music also couldn’t have snagged a better opening act for this show. Chicago producer and DJ Ariel Zetina uses the fundamentals of house and techno to open up gorgeous and unsettling sound-worlds. The two EPs Zetina released last year, Organism and Shell, combine brash rhythms with influences from Belizean dance music and vocals, both spoken and sung, that crack open challenging emotional and sociopolitical dimensions. Her DJ mixes are bold voyages in their own right, variously incorporating elements that range from Caribbean soca to acid-house to more abrasive and experimental areas of dance music. Zetina spoke with our own Digital Warmth podcast last year. —Scott Gordon
Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. Union South Marquee, through Feb. 2, see link for all showtimes (free)
Perennial fanboy favorite Quentin Tarantino regales us with a tragic American tale out of the late-sixties as the façade of American exceptionalism was slowly but surely starting to crumble. Anyone who has seen a Tarantino film (from Pulp Fiction to Inglorious Basterds) has an idea of what to expect on some level: ultra-violence, urbane and witty dialogue, and close-ups of feet. These features are present to be sure, but Tarantino has mellowed-out to some extent in this film. Less stylistic and more focused on his actors, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood (2019) might be the director at his most vulnerable.
While the denouement of this film builds up toward altering the course of the notorious Tate-LaBianca murders of 1969, its other two acts primarily focus on the lives of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they navigate their way through the film industry in Hollywood. Rick Dalton is the fading television star of Bounty Law with Booth standing in as his stunt double. As Dalton struggles with the sun going down on his career, Booth offers moral support and remains faithfully at his side. Margot Robbie even has a turn here as the luminous Sharon Tate theatrically taking in her perceived ascent into stardom in her real-life bit part in The Wrecking Crew (1969), foreshadowing the end of the free love, hippie-dippie counter-culture, which was not as peaceful as many people happen to remember.
Bloody vengeance notwithstanding, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is really a film about male friendships and how they evolve through time and age. It’s about a man searching for his ever-changing place in the world that seems to be quickly moving along without him, just as Tarantino’s life may mirror Dalton’s experiences. He has been great, but are his best years behind him? In a scene with a precocious eight-year-old actress (Julia Butters), DiCaprio reminds us why he indeed is one of the finest actors of his generation and deserved every bit of that Oscar for The Revenant (2015). This is a film that movie buffs will want to digest on the big screen, so be sure to take advantage at the Marquee. —Edwanike Harbour
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1
Distilling one of the most sprawling theatrical films of the twentieth century is inevitably a fool’s errand, but if one were to scout for a concise tag and description of retired auteur Béla Tarr’s noir-drenched Expressionist filmmaking, renowned critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has called it, “Andrei Tarkovsky without the religion.” In his seven-hour magnum opus, Sátántangó [Satan’s Tango] (1994), adapted from the novel of the same name by László Krasznahorkai and split into twelve sections (complementing the tango’s six forward and backward movements), Tarr constructs character portraits of desolate Hungarian villagers like surreal black-and-white still-lifes. The cumulative effect of its extended takes, including a masterful eight-minute opening tracking shot, aided by cinematographer Gábor Medvigy’s methodical pan, and scored by the chilling reverberance of distant bells, simultaneously invites viewers to absorb every minute detail and induces a state of trance.
But rather than gaze unto the divine everlasting like Tarkovsky envisioned in his works, Tarr keeps his films grounded in the earthly and profane. The endless traversal of sodden landscapes is as arduous as it is aimless, as if the characters, like the drunken doctor (Peter Berling), are stuck in the muck of purgatory. Tarr’s commentary on contemporary rural life in his home country extends beyond the vagueness of the film’s vagabonds and “slow cinema” aesthetics, however, as he casts his own composer, Mihály Víg, into the proceedings as principal profiteer and false prophet Irimias, who carries with him direct allusions to Eastern Europe’s fall of Communism and creep of Capitalism. From his spectral, mythic appearance, Irimias seems to be the blackened heart of the film’s insular universe, swindling the townspeople’s money in exchange for the promise of a better society. He publicly seeks a model farm to “bind this tiny group of the dispossessed together” but, in actuality, plans to literally decimate it.
Delving much further into the film would ruin its intended invocations and indelible, otherworldly visages, but it would be an incomplete assessment without the catalyst for Irimias’ scheme in the form of young Estike (Erika Bók), who is perhaps most spiteful and tragic for her behavior towards a particular cat in Sátántangó‘s most brutal on-screen representation of violence. In this sequence, Tarr establishes parallels between oppressors and the persecuted, empowered and powerless, as with Irimias’ desire for self-ruination in the film’s collectively doom-laden crawl. If one can stomach the tortuous scenes of torture, its revelrous tango dances in the pub are not only a necessary reprieve but all the more absurd (and entertaining). Considering its severity and general bleakness, it’s equally intimidating and inspiring that Sátántangó has withstood as a singular film entry after 25 years; and it serves as the occasion for this Cinematheque presentation in a new 4K restoration (with a short intermission and 90-minute dinner break at 5:30). Tarr’s mammoth presence in world cinema is even still proliferating in his filmmaking workshops and mentoring, as we have seen in the framing of one of 2019’s most acclaimed epics, An Elephant Sitting Still (dir. Hu Bo). —Grant Phipps
1/30: Better Days, Union South Marquee, 7 p.m. (free) [This screening was cancelled.]
1/31: Waves. Union South Marquee, 8:15 p.m. (free, also on 2/1, 2/2) [Read more about the film in our review from December.]