Four Star Video Heaven’s grand re-opening, “Crimson Gold” at the Chazen, and more events of note in Madison this week.
THURSDAY, MARCH 5
After nine studio albums, the name Kayo Dot may still conjure connections to the extreme music scene or they heyday of post-metal, as the band’s initial recordings dramatically executed some of the most transfixing and dynamically daring compositions of the aughts. However, in the past five years, lead singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Toby Driver has not only consistently demonstrated his artistic perseverance and adaptability but his outright commitment to creating music that challenges classification and expectations of genre. In ’90s critical circles, Keigo Oyamada (Cornelius) may have garnered a reputation as being truly boundless in their inclusive free-form approach, but in the 2010s, the progressive music crown belongs to Kayo Dot.
The New York-based band’s most recent album, 2019’s Blasphemy, is a continued evolution of what began on 2014’s Coffins On Io, which saw Driver generously deconstructing his own serpentine songwriting into the arenas of gothic rock, slowcore, and electronic music with a previously unheard directness that has since carried over onto his tempered solo output. With a new lineup that includes two percussionists (Leonardo Didkovsky and Phillip Price) and returning guitarist Ron Varod, Blasphemy emerges as a multifarious beast that is perhaps as much of an expansive love letter to Driver’s equally chameleonic inspirations like Tiamat and David Tibet (of Current 93) as it is an engrossing expression of the increasing intimacy of ideas in his own musical canon that dates back over 20 years to maudlin of the Well.
Although the record’s lyrics are penned by longtime lyrical collaborator Jason Byron, and comment on narcissistic greed and perversity of religion through an allegorical, apocalyptic lens, there’s something unmistakably original and distinct about their delivery on the synth- and guitar-driven single, “Blasphemy: A Prophecy.” Driver assumes the role of the song’s omniscient narrator, theatrically chanting, “See the fools and see the lies / The bargaining of lives / Remove their hands / Put on their eyes / Walk away as airship dies.” Another highlight, “Lost Souls On Lonesome Way,” pairs well with the craggy, aquatic landscapes of Jenya Chernoff’s cover art in all its percussive, tom-heavy thunder, with Driver’s agile voice, shifting between fiery croons and hushed spoken word, anchoring the song’s cryptic course.
Not to be overlooked is touring act Psalm Zero, featuring former NYC avant-rock guitarist and innovator Charlie Looker (Extra Life, Zs), Varod of Kayo Dot performing double duty on bass, and a drum machine. On their long-awaited third full-length, Sparta, Looker maintains the intense philosophical bent to his lyrics while transitioning from a more industrial rock aesthetic that defined his earlier songwriting to a cleaner, more organic alternative metal sound with his signature sticky hooks on teaser track, “Animal Outside.” Local support will be provided by the spacey, structured Krautrock improvisations of Telechrome. This show is presented by us here at Tone Madison, there is a no-fee presale, and there is a discount for Tone Madison Sustainers. —Grant Phipps
FRIDAY, MARCH 6
Gabriel Mascaro’s latest film, Divine Love (2019), is a deadpan, dystopian dive into a near future ruled by the perversity of religious doctrine, stamped in neon fluorescence and disseminated throughout Brazil. The omniscient voice of a mysterious boy establishes this reality in the year 2027, where “the party of Supreme Love” has overtaken Carnival as the national celebration. But this conflating narrative preface is quickly pared down and affixed more intimately to the routine of one woman, Joana Martins (Dira Paes), who dutifully works at a registry office assisting in the paper and electronic legalities of divorce proceedings.
Perhaps cinematically inspired in part by Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) and even Lucas’ THX 1138 (1971), Joana’s pseudo-altruistic efforts in a vast bureaucracy are comically futile, as she continuously attempts to dissuade couples of divorcing; instead, she redirects them through her titular cult-like place of worship. Replying in her own words to her superior, she hopes to make bureaucracy more humane, as she believes in systematic order and obedience of guidelines that may offer a personal gateway to transcendence, which is in spiritual alignment with her belief in God’s will and counsel.
These working life matters are contrasted and complicated by the uncertainty of domesticity with husband Danilo (Julio Machado), with whom she has been attempting to conceive a child. The two have even taken drastic and experimental measures by visiting endocrinologists and buying a brand-name fertility heat lamp that involves Danilo’s absurd bat-like suspension. Inevitably, the ordeals begin to resemble a sort of surrealistic parody of something one might have seen in Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life (2018). But as these trials tip over into the third act, complete with Joana’s recurring trips to a see a pastor at a drive-thru prayer service, the film’s themes intriguingly shift to the significance of divinity and the miraculous, as Joana finds herself as a Mary Christ figure.
Analogous to the matter-of-fact religious drama Apostasy (a 2018 Wisconsin Film Festival premiere), writer-director Mascaro’s voice is strongest in the denouement, as he offers a condemnation of organized religion in a refreshing context that demonstrates the hypocrisy of postmodern Christianity’s favoring theoretical purity tests over unconditional love and acceptance. With further tonal comparisons to the themes of identity in Nadav Lapid’s challenging Synonyms (2019), Divine Love may be the most provocative and divisive film screening this year as part of the Cinematheque’s annual LACIS series, but it is absolutely worthy of comprehensive consideration. —Grant Phipps
SATURDAY, MARCH 7
Madison’s most formidable video-rental source, Four Star Video Heaven, spent much of 2019 bouncing through all sorts of doubts and ups and downs. Founded in 1985, Four Star has valiantly stuck it out in an industry that has put a tough economic squeeze on the whole idea of video stores, while the convenient but fickle experience of streaming services demonstrated why movie lovers need places that lovingly build up their collections and actually hold onto things for the long haul. Last April Four Star cut back its hours, then went up for sale, as a group of employee-owners who took over in 2014 understandably sought an out from the grueling pressures of running an underdog business. One of them, Lewis Peterson, decided to solider on. With help from some customer-volunteers and an anonymous backer, the store moved into a new location at 459 West Gilman Street—smaller, but about half the rent, which means Four Star can finally breathe a little easier. And the store’s collection of more than 20,000 titles still fits.
Peterson and crew are up and running, with a little more unpacking left to do. Four Star will celebrate its defiant survival and hopefully kick off a fruitful chapter with this Saturday’s grand re-opening party, featuring wide-ranging DJ sets from DJ Hanna of the TV Dinner DJs crew and Dan Woodman, aka Cult House Sound. Four Star will be offering some complimentary drinks, as well as food from Umami. Attendees are also encouraged to browse and rent some DVDs.
“We’re pretty well on our way to getting it how we would like it to be on a permanent basis,” Peterson says. “We’re getting more traction from people who didn’t realize we were still around, and people who just stopped coming in for one reason or another are coming back as well.” One of the advantages of the new space is a separate room where Peterson hopes to hold some in-store screenings and perhaps other events, building on the success of the benefit screenings Four Star held at Robinia Courtyard and Genna’s last year. The store’s deep collection and the team’s love for everything from prestige cinema to outrageous trash will come in handy with that. Help them break in the space—after all these years and especially after this past year, Four Star deserves it. —Scott Gordon
SUNDAY, MARCH 8
A slice-of-life look at class conflict in contemporary Iranian society, Jafar Panahi’s fourth feature, Crimson Gold (2003), begins with a botched jewelry store heist and unfolds in flashback to tell the story of the perpetrator, Hussein (Hossain Emadeddin), a humble, corpulent, and listless pizza delivery driver who ultimately reaches his breaking point after suffering a series of indignities.
The script, written by fellow Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami, was inspired by an actual news article about a pizza deliveryman in Tehran who shot a jeweler and then himself during an attempted robbery. Played by non-professional Emadeddin, a real-life pizza deliveryman who also happens to be diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, the actor’s portrayal has earned comparisons to Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976)— another isolated, mentally unstable war veteran driven to violent behavior.
Seething with quiet rage and self-contempt, Hussein rides across Tehran late at night, delivering pizzas to penthouses in upscale neighborhoods on his motorbike while being reminded of his socioeconomic status at every turn and noticing absurdities all around him. As his occupation offers him fleeting glimpses into the insular world of the privileged few, Crimson Gold meticulously observes the inequities and indifference that eventually push him over the edge.
In a conversation with Xan Brooks for The Guardian, director Panahi explains, “Take any human being, and you find that his situation is a direct result of his family, his education, his economic position. So this thriller is not about the crime itself. It’s about the background story.” Panahi also intelligently reveals Hussein’s essential decency and capacity for kindness, thus complicating his questionable actions. When Hussein tries to make a delivery at an apartment complex, he encounters police officers staking out a decadent party, who thwart his efforts and forbid him to leave or call the restaurant. In spite of this rude treatment, he offers them pizza free of charge.
In a haunting, dreamlike sequence before Crimson Gold returns to the tragic robbery attempt, Hussein appears with a stack of pizzas at an ultramodern high rise apartment, where an idle, lonesome young playboy invites him in to partake of the very food he has just delivered. The ambiguity and sense of unease that permeate this encounter urge us to reconsider everything that has happened so far. Although the themes of Panahi’s film may be bluntly obvious at times, the subtlety of his methods here make this multilayered, noirish descent into one man’s personal hell an indelible and powerful cinematic experience. With a deceptively simple screenplay, circular structure, humanistic underpinnings, and solidly convincing lead performance, Crimson Gold invites us to contemplate the harsh social realities that compel otherwise reasonable people to commit desperate, self-destructive acts of violence. —Jason Fuhrman