It’s not your tempo at a Cinematheque Damien Chazelle retrospective, a reading and potluck with Gabrielle Calvocoressi, the Marilyn Manson tour not even crushed legs could stop, Elysia Crampton’s pathbreaking electronic music, and more events of note in Madison this week.
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THURSDAY FEBRUARY 1
Robert Altman kept very good company during the American New Wave movement and few of his gems shine so brightly as McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971). Shot in 35mm, this film is a great introduction for viewers less familiar with Altman’s body of work. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie star as the titular characters, who embark upon the American dream in the untamed western wilderness. Beatty, an unrepentant gambler, teams up with Christie, who is quite the formidable madame. The pair run the most profitable brothel in the area until a mining interest comes to town to disrupt their enterprise. A cast of characters including Altman notables Shelley Duvall and John Schuck round out this unconventional western. The added touch of Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and Leonard Cohen’s score lift this film to near perfection. It screens here as part of the Central Library’s Cinesthesia series. —Edwanike Harbour
Walkabout, released in 1971, was Nicolas Roeg’s first solo-directed film after the hallucinatory head-fuck collaboration Performance, but his filmmaking powers had already been fine-tuned by a 20-year career as a cinematographer. Therefore it’s not surprising that the story of Walkabout is primarily told through visuals, using the kaleidoscopic editing technique Roeg would employ throughout his career. Walkabout is the story of two children lost in the Australian outback who are rescued by an Aboriginal teen on his rite-of-passage walkabout journey.
Roeg fills the film with powerful visual metaphors, startling imagery and ironic juxtapositions, turning Walkabout into a much larger story than its plotline. Touching on themes of coming-of-age, colonialism, culture shock, alienation in the modern world, and Western culture’s confused relationship to the natural world, Walkabout is a powerful art film that still has a lot to say nearly 50 years later. —Ian Adcock
Set in the Meiji era, Toshiya Fujita’s 1973 film Lady Snowblood depicts Japan’s struggle between transforming to Western modernity and grasping the ways of its feudal past. And killing. Lots of it. As beautiful as it is bloody, Lady Snowblood tells a brutal tale of mayhem and revenge. Born in a women’s prison during the first snowfall, Yuki (Meiko Kaji) has one purpose: to seek revenge on the man who violently brought her into this world. Her life is devoid of emotions and the connections that bring fulfillment and joy, as killing is all she knows of the world. Fans of Tarantino’s Kill Bill saga will want to familiarize themselves with his source material—he has been open about how heavily influenced he was by Lady Snowblood and its 1974 sequel Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance. —Edwanike Harbour
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 2
Jerry Seinfeld is at once an important comedic relic and a very current problem. No one can ignore his legacy, not because it would be some sort of an affront but because it would be literally impossible. The endurance of Seinfeld (the comedian) and Seinfeld (the show) through the years has been buoyed by the comedians and shows that continue to benefit from their respective genius, as well as the comedian’s popular YouTube show. Still, what does that mean for Seinfeld to be a comedian and cultural influence in the present? In his newest Netflix special, Jerry Before Seinfeld, he opens with a riff on…misunderstanding Uber? “Do we even pay for this?” he asks, exasperated. Jokes like these are still funny, though because there’s a truth to the surreality of Uber but also because Seinfeld pokes fun at himself, now a little older and very not much the prototypical man of the present. This is harmless enough, but sometimes it’s not. Case in point, when he makes statements that call political correctness creepy or says it will destroy comedy. These statements show that even though Seinfeld is now on the edge peering into today’s world, rather than in the center looking out, he still has considerable influence in comedy and the potential to give bad, reactionary takes. Viewing Seinfeld’s comedy today requires a sharp, critical lens, not a rose-tinted one which filters his comedy of today through his legacy of bygone years. —Henry Solo
Commencing Cinematheque’s month-long Damien Chazelle retrospective (which includes an in-person visit on February 23) is his Oscar-winning breakout, Whiplash (2014), which expands upon the ideology of his short film from the prior year. In an uncanny way, the intense and riveting feature, set almost exclusively at the reputable (if fictitious) Shaffer Conservatory of Music in NYC, feels like a more dramatic re-envisioning of the Freaks And Geeks episode “I’m With The Band” when Nick Andopolis (Jason Segel) awkwardly auditions for local suburban rockers Dimension. While the scene in the television show possesses a playfulness of spirit, Chazelle’s script takes a deeper dive into the psychological ambition of aspiring 19-year-old studio session drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller). Manipulated into exalting the very Jo Jones and Charlie Parker story that the intimidating, merciless professor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, channeling his inner Gordon Ramsay) idolizes, Chazelle fervently leads his narrative with sharp rhythmically-timed editing (aided by Tom Cross) to the tune of the titular Hank Levy jazz standard and other compositions of the ilk.
Some critics have knocked Whiplash for its unrealistic portrayal of competitive spirit, but the film is rather cleverly established as an emotionally lucid stand against bullying and the rigidity of old-school methods, as it analyzes the complex dynamics of mentor and student in the adaptable art of improvisatory performance. Chazelle obviously sees a bit of himself in the drive of Teller’s character; and his adoration for the roots and modern soul of jazz music have proven to be a recurring theme in his work. —Grant Phipps
Despite bringing a solid 10th album in Heaven Upside Down, 2017 was a tumultuous year for Marilyn Manson, who was arguably once the most relevant and provocative—at least in terms of sheer visibility—rock star in the world. He flicked a journalist for The Guardian, in the testicles during an interview, he was crushed under the weight of two giant prop guns while performing in Manhattan, and parted ways with longtime collaborator Twiggy Ramirez (née Jeordie White) in the wake of a rape allegation from former partner Jessicka Adams of Jack Off Jill.
Somehow, despite breaking his leg in two places and undergoing a serious lineup change, Manson really missed only a month of gigs. From the look of the setlists of prior Heaven Upside Down tour dates, Manson isn’t devoting a ton of time to the warmer, stonier vibe of his latest album, and instead pulls pretty evenly from the far reaches of his discography, with an emphasis on 1996 industrial-metal landmark Antichrist Superstar. —Joel Shanahan
Offering something quite different from the club-music deconstructors she usually gets lumped in with, Elysia Crampton’s incredibly personal sonic vision pulls from her twisted compositional flare, sharp sound design, and brilliant recontextualization of samples. Crampton has been outspoken about her work being a study and exploration of her Aymaran and Latinx roots, as well as her queerness and, like the rest of her discography, there’s nothing passive or easy about 2017’s Spots Y Escupitajo.
The album kicks of with a series of short pieces that partially resemble the jarring station identification drops that blast out of most mainstream radio stations every half hour and also conjure up the same feels you’d get from some batshit Erik Aadahl sound design from an explosion in a Michael Bay movie. However, the effect isn’t cheesy or laughable—it’s anxious and unsettling. The movements of Spots Y Escupitajo‘s piano-laden journey pieces—like the psychedelic and folky meandering of “Promesa (Placer County Pride)” and the delicately ominous “Spittle (Safeway Parking Lot)”—definitely have stories to tell. And while the compositions may not be as revealing to the listener as they are to Crampton, it doesn’t make them any less enveloping or affecting. Whether you show up this gig expecting some kind of post-club dance environment or a modern folk experience, it’s safe to expect Crampton’s performance will be challenging, powerful, and otherworldly. —Joel Shanahan
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 3
Gabrielle Calvocoressi is a poet whose work asks questions about how people understand language and gender. A professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Calvocoressi has won numerous awards and fellowships including a Stegner Fellowship and the Bernard F. Conner Prize from The Paris Review. They are the author of several books of fiction and poetry, including the 2017 release Rocket Fantastic. This new poetry book is daring and infinite. As the name suggests, the work is fantastic in the sense of wonder and possibility. Calvocoressi’s work shows the reader moments when language can bend and form infinite possibilities alongside a strong focus on gender.
This reading and signing takes place Everyday Gay Holiday, a queer- and trans-centered studio collective of writers and artists on Atwood Avenue. Ahead of the reading itself, the collective will be hosting a “New Economy Potluck,” which draws inspiration from a chapbook Calvocoressi helped to create that focuses on sharing recipes and stories in a communal setting. Calvocoressi comes to Madison with support from Everyday Gay Holiday, the Wisconsin Center for Creative Writing, and the LGBT Campus Center, UW Libraries, and other anonymous funders. Books will be available to purchase at the event courtesy of Room of One’s Own. —John McCracken
One of UW Cinematheque’s special presentations this semester is a pair of 4K restorations of Taiwanese films, and 1979’s Legend Of The Mountain is truly a restoration to be excited about. Director King Hu typically worked at an incredibly slow pace (his masterpiece A Touch Of Zen took four years to complete) in order to give his films a magnificent landscape-painting aesthetic. Legend Of The Mountain is full of his trademark lush, bordering-on-psychedelic cinematography. A supernatural tale of a scholar encountering beautiful mysterious ghosts, Legend Of The Mountainwas a major influence on the massively popular Chinese Ghost Story and further cemented King Hu’s role as a master artist of Wuxia (historical martial art films). No one’s ever made people fly through foggy bamboo forests quite like King Hu, and his painstaking artistic vision paved the way for martial-arts films to become more cinematic and artistic. —Ian Adcock
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 4
Madison native Nathaniel Bartlett’s primary instrument may be the marimba, but his work uses an ever-shifting combination of percussion elements, experimental electronics, complex sound design, and custom-coded software. His latest release, 2017’s Luminous Machine, draws inspiration from the three years Bartlett and his family spent living in northern New Mexico, and there’s an eerie, astringent openness to the solo-percussion track “Apical Topography,” which evokes the high desert in its own abstract way.
At this performance, his first since moving back to Madison, Bartlett will present “Apical Topography” and five other original compositions, with configurations (channeled through electronic performances here) including an array of snare drums on “Impulse Response” and the union of computer and marimba on “Neoteric Topology.” The centerpiece of the concert, though, will be groundbreaking experimental composer Edgard Varèse’s “Poème Électronique,” initially created for and performed at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. Varèse debuted the composition with an elaborate arrangement of speakers inside a dramatic fair pavilion designed by Le Corbusier, so it will be interesting to hear how Bartlett’s own ideas about space and sound shape the piece here. —Scott Gordon
Preston Sturges had an amazing run as a film director in the 1940s, delivering a series of sardonic comic masterpieces with speed, consistency, and a sharp point of view. Any director would be lucky to sign their name to one film as good as either Sullivan’s Travels or The Lady Eve. Sturges saw both of them released to theaters within a single calendar year. The creative prosperity didn’t extend much past the decade, though, and the 1948 comedy Unfaithfully Yours is, by any reasonable assessment, his last film of note. Following a disastrous professional dalliance with Howard Hughes—whose promises of artistic freedom were quickly betrayed in favor of trademark micromanagement—Sturges tried to establish a new home at 20th Century Fox.
The first film under that banner, Unfaithfully Yours follows a world-renowned orchestra conductor (Rex Harrison) as he dreams up increasingly elaborate scenarios for murdering his young wife (Linda Darnell) as revenge for a suspected extramarital affair. The plotting is clockwork perfect, and Sturges was practically unrivaled in crafting pungent comedic dialogue, which is gets an extra snap here from Harrison’s imperious diction. In the happy recycling factory of Hollywood, Sturges has seen surprisingly few of his works scavenged for updates, but Unfaithfully Yours received that very treatment for a 1984 Dudley Moore vehicle that has been largely—and justly—forgotten. Clearly, there was no improving on the original. It’s presented here in 35mm as part of UW-Cinematheque’s “Reinventing Hollywood” series. —Daniel Seeger
MONDAY FEBRUARY 5
Andrea Gibson is a poet, author, and songwriter with a knack for humor and warmth. Their writing is at times subtle and heartwarming, but often cuts through the mundane to tackle topics of sexuality, politics, family, and love. Gibson got started as a spoken-word poet in Boulder, Colorado, and they often blend music, poetry, and storytelling to reach their audience. They have travelled the world to perform honest and vulnerable work that centers around gender and survival. Gibson visits Room of One’s Own here for a night of stories, exploration, and understanding in celebration of their newest book Take Me With You. This new text is a small, pocketbook that is meant to be accessible at any point in time for the reader to delve into messages of healing and support. The book also features illustrations by Sarah J. Coleman. —John McCracken
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 6
Ahead of the 20th annual Wisconsin Film Festival this April, programmers have been revisiting their best-loved features of the past two decades with the monthly Tuesday Night Movie Club screenings in Union South’s Marquee Theater. February’s selection is Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar, which originally screened here in 2003, and remains one of the most underseen indies of its decade. The film is a lovingly stylish adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel about the titular Glasgow grocery store clerk (Samantha Morton), who passes off her boyfriend’s unpublished novel as her own in the wake of his tragic death and then decides to embark on a road trip of self-discovery.
With the poetic debut Ratcatcher (1999), Ramsay established herself as a significant voice in Scottish art house cinema, flirting with spellbinding surreality while immersed in the depths of trauma, all without losing an emotionally honest focus. These elements continue to define Morvern Callar, as Ramsay visually articulates wanderlust, inner turmoil, and feelings of temporality through a lack of conversation, instead shifting the dramatic weight to Morvern’s tactile sensory interaction in diverse environments like Costa del Sol in Southern Spain. This is further compounded by the film’s markedly cool, atmospheric soundtrack featuring Boards Of Canada, Broadcast, Holger Czukay (of Can), Stereolab, and The Velvet Underground. Perhaps this rare 35mm public screening of the film will also build anticipation for Ramsay’s new feature and her first in six years, You Were Never Really Here, which could turn up at this year’s fest. —Grant Phipps
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 7
The Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman explores Belle & Sebastian-surpassing levels of corniness while taking far more interesting musical risks than most in the indie-folk-rock realm. Though Lekman may appear to be just another sad-witty-white-guy-with-a-guitar, he delivers reasonably tight jams that gesture towards the authentically warm, fuzzy feeling that’s central to this kind of music. Lekman’s detailed stories (he explains eating an avocado and smelling a lover’s old shampoo bottle vividly) are by turns legitimately funny, thoughtful, or unconvincingly self-effacing. And word is that his stage banter is actually humorous. His songs tell stories, almost all about heterosexual love, except notably in his best song, “A Postcard to Nina.” This 2007 hit, from the album Night Falls Over Kortedala, mixes his trademark disco interludes with a twee narrative about pretending to be the boyfriend of a gay woman he actually loves. His most recent album, 2017’s Life Will See You Now, offers more of the same solid indie-pop storytelling he’s known for, but incorporates more disco and electronic elements that are sure to increase danceability at this show. —Reid Kurkerewicz