A solid LGBTQ film fest at Union South, a much-anticipated visit from Angel Olsen, and more events of note in Madison this week.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 7
LBGTQ Film Festival. Union South Marquee, through Nov. 10. (free)
In recent years, WUD Film has held a series of socially conscious film festivals each November in the Marquee, including one that highlighted “Hyphenated-Americans” on screen and another that assiduously tackled the question, “What is Family?” This time around, from Thursday, November 7, through Sunday, November 10, WUD FIlm’s student programmers have selected nine features, spanning revered classics and standout films of the current decade alike, that explore LGBTQ themes in relationships and romance.
Thursday’s opening night screening returns to one of the 2019 Wisconsin Film Festival’s most colorful and vivacious entries, Rafiki, directed by Wanuri Kahiu, her first feature in nearly a decade. The Kenyan drama chronicles the burgeoning affection between two teen friends Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) in a political and social environment that seeks to oppress their identities.
Friday evening brings Gus Van Sant’s avant-garde adventure and seminal New Queer Cinema statement, My Own Private Idaho (1991), which features a relatively early dramatic performance from Keanu Reeves and an equally indelible role for the late River Phoenix as a street hustler. The film, loosely borrowing from Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V, retains the same intrigue it possessed during its theatrical run over 28 years ago. Indie hero Sean Baker’s subversive Christmas comedy, Tangerine (2015) is scheduled to follow. Shot on an iPhone 5S, the micro-budget feature finds a pair of transgender sex workers, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). chasing down Sin-Dee’s pimp Chester (James Ransone), rumored to have been cheating on her. The night concludes with John Cameron Mitchell’s screen adaptation of his and composer Stephen Trask’s original musical, Hedwig And The Angry Inch (2001).
Like Tangerine, Saturday’s centerpiece, Carol (2015), celebrates the Christmas season a bit early with its opulent production design that pays loving homage to Sirkian melodramas of the 1950s as well as David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945). Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett play the two destined lovers, who both earned Academy Award nominations in 2016. The day’s programming is bookended by the drag queen documentary, Paris Is Burning (1990), and Lilly and Lana Wachowski’s kinky neo-noir directorial debut, Bound (1996) , in desperate need of modern reappraisal.
Sunday boasts an overlooked gem of the Japanese New Wave and one that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, Funeral Parade Of Roses (1969). Transgressive as ever, Toshio Matsumoto’s film resolutely plunges into Tokyo’s underground queer culture of the period; and it is yet another work to reference classic literature (in this case, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex), blending elements of avant-garde cinema and documentary. For its final selection, the LGBTQ+ Film Festival returns to the themes of its opening film from the mind of another black female director, Dee Rees, with Pariah (2011) , a decisive coming-of-age tale. —Grant Phipps
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 9
Leave Her To Heaven. 4070 Vilas Hall, 2 p.m. (free)
John Stahl’s 1945 film Leave Her To Heaven, with its pleasantly color-saturated and Oscar-winning cinematography, feels at first like a very different film than the one it becomes. This, though, is part of the film’s design. Keeping its cards close, the film lets its secrets and betrayals gradually reveal themselves against the verdant backdrops.
After opening with the film’s male lead, Richard (Cornel Wilde), being released from jail, the rest of the film takes place in flashback, focusing on Richard and Ellen (Gene Tierney), who meet by chance on a train and fall in love. Ignoring her clear Electra complex (part of her attraction to Richard is based on him looking uncannily like her father), Richard agrees quickly to be engaged to Ellen. Here, the film begins its gradual shift from melodrama to noir, as Ellen’s obsession with having Richard to herself begins to manifest itself in increasingly unsubtle and twisted ways.
While Leave Her To Heaven offers many pleasures, including a commanding supporting performance from Vincent Price, the main draw of the film is its visuals. A rare example of a Technicolor noir, the film’s vibrant backdrops serve to juxtapose the film’s thrills with an idyllic landscape. The colors heighten intrigue both scenically and personally. Like an animal whose neon colors indicate poison, Tierney’s noticeably brighter wardrobe is well complemented by the saturation. Of course, Tierney’s Oscar-nominated acting speaks for itself, but the 35mm print Cinematheque screens here is likely to make it all the more clear why her performance deserves to be remembered among the all-time great femme fatales. —Maxwell Courtright
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 11
Lana Del Rey. Sylvee, 8 p.m. (sold out)
Los Angeles-based songbird and self-proclaimed Venice Bitch Lana Del Rey has inspired more than one comparison to Joan Didion, and often seems to be picking up where Didion’s early works left off. Where Didion searches the fractures in a dream of the American West, collecting the very real architects and inhabitants of its disintegration into essays, Del Rey sifts through its deserts and cityscapes for something worth exalting in song. Del Rey moves in the realm of mirages, bringing form to her chosen subjects while using her knack for poetics to keep them shrouded in a sense of mysticism that’s all but divine. On Del Rey’s 2019 album Norman Fucking Rockwell!, tiresome man-children, bartenders who work and love late into the night, and bright eyed young things who come to California in search of a something that they cannot even name join Del Rey’s pantheon of pop Americana. It’s the most ambitious addition to Del Rey’s discography by a long shot.
See “Venice Bitch,” Del Rey’s nearly-10-minute reflection on the blissful everyday of a relationship and her longest track to date. Del Rey’s sweet remembrances of the simple moments shared with a lover, backed just by the simple strum of an acoustic guitar, wades deeper and deeper into psychedelic grandeur. Her love becomes something of a disco ball, illuminated by the light of Del Rey’s soaring vocals and erupting with the light of possibility. She hasn’t fully ditched the Sad-Girl-Whose-Favorite-Novel-Is-Lolita aesthetics that launched a thousand think pieces and a million GIF posts on Tumblr, but she’s traded in some of the languor that once drove them for a hopeful sense of determination. Del Rey visits here on the third leg of her Norman Fucking Rockwell!, bringing her sonic portraits of the American spirit with her. —Sannidhi Shukla
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 13
Synonyms. Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 7 p.m.
Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s newest film, the 2019 comedy Synonyms, is a film concerned less with the semantics of language than with the way language drives personal and national identity. Building on a filmography that includes the intimate and emotionally resonant Policeman (2011) and The Kindergarten Teacher (2014), Synonyms is flashier and funnier than Lapid’s previous work, but no less thought-provoking.
The film follows an Israeli Francophile named Yoav (Tom Mercier) who, after being robbed on arrival at his new Parisian apartment, struggles to eke out an existence in the city and follows purely his blind need to be French. His neighbors and primary supporters, Emile and Caroline (Quentin Dolmaire and Louise Chevillotte), are walking stereotypes of the French bohemians—part-time creatives with seemingly endless money and free time who are mutually fascinated with Yoav’s brutish but naïve insistence on becoming French.
Shot in a multimodal style that alternates between adopting and deconstructing Yoav’s own perceptions, Synonyms is a jumble of allegories that is also ultimately about allegories themselves. When Yoav gravitates towards the prototypical French film couple, he is himself grafting an idea of the French onto his acquaintances in the same way that a viewer attempts to align the film’s characters with broad and one-dimensional nationalistic associations. But just as Yoav is unable to frame his experiences fighting as part of the IDF in the romantic style with which he attempts to describe them, he finds that his distressingly three-dimensional national identity isn’t so easily replaced. While some of the film’s points are made more didactically than others, Lapid has crafted an intellectually complicated film. In exploring the limits of a self-imposed cultural amnesia, Lapid serves up a timely and blistering critique of his native country. —Maxwell Courtright
Back in 2012, Angel Olsen was a mostly unknown Chicago based singer-songwriter who’d just released a debut album, Half Way Home, to minimal fanfare. Seven years later, Olsen worked her way up the ranks to something like icon status, making late-night appearances and headlining large venues internationally. All Mirrors, Olsen’s latest, is the current culmination of an increasingly impressive career. Far and away the songwriter’s most ambitious work, All Mirrors finds Olsen fully embracing orchestral arrangements, sprawling compositions, and the art of understatement to craft an unlikely epic. Critics have already taken note, naming the incredibly recent release to prominent Best of Decade lists.
“Lark,” All Mirrors’ grandiose opening track, serves as a necessary re-introduction to Olsen’s world. Exceeding six minutes in length yet still serving as one of the record’s singles, “Lark” allows Olsen to showcase the production nuances that make All Mirrors thrive. Expansive, fearless, and teeming with the subtleties that serve as hallmarks of practiced composers, “Lark” boasts a near-confrontational loveliness. Much of that’s owed to a daring string section, which provides the track a certain level of calm and, eventually, menace. The track also neatly sets up the remainder of the record, recalibrating listeners’ expectations as it establishes a new normal. All Mirrors as a narrative is enhanced by the ornate production, the music driving home all of Olsen’s devastation and solace, rendering the entire affair extraordinarily gripping. Fortunately for live audiences, the album’s lush string sections won’t be confined to the record as Olsen will be bringing a small orchestra on the road for All Mirrors’ supporting tour.
Joining Olsen for the tour will be opener Vagabon, another artist who’s recently made some bold stylistic shifts. Spearheaded by Laetitia Tamko, Vagabon first found success in Brooklyn’s DIY punk circuit, frequently playing venues like the Silent Barn, Palisades, and Shea Stadium over the course of their short-lived runs. Over the past few years, Vagabon’s recognition has grown along with the project’s sound, which has gradually unfurled to include bold experimentations in modern pop. “Water Me Down,” Vagabon’s most recent single, is a testament to this evolution, eschewing a traditional rock setup for a warm bed of synths. In several ways, Vagabon’s recent moves have been just as ambitious as Olsen’s, making the pairing an appropriate one. —Steven Spoerl
11/7: Mossmen, Treatment, Parsing, Like A Manatee. BarleyPop Live, 9:30 p.m.
11/8: Fox: An Appreciation. 4070 Vilas Hall, 7 p.m. (free)
11/8: Tyler, Suvi & Coop, B. Ortiz, Irie, Donnie Kaptcha, Dirty D, Kid Vibe, Killswitch, Red The Bully. Communication, 7:30 p.m.
11/8: Darren Sterud Trio. Arts + Literature Laboratory, 8 p.m.
11/9: Union Maids + 9to5: The Story Of A Movement. 4070 Vilas Hall, 7 p.m. (free)
11/9: Mad Max Elliott, DB Rouse, Wise Jennings. Communication, 7:30 p.m.
11/9: Jams: Cooper Saver, Sage Caswell. Robinia Courtyard, 10 p.m.
11/10: Interlude. Chazen Museum of Art, 2 p.m. (free)
11/10: Persona (Rob Clearfield, Caroline Davis). Café, Coda, 7 p.m.
11/12: Malevich, Closet Witch, Black Cat, Warbastard. Mickey’s Tavern, 10 p.m. (free)
11/13: No-F35s Benefit: BingBong, Rebulu, Oak Street Ramblers, Angela Puerta. Crystal Corner Bar, 7 p.m.