Four avant-garde shorts from Mills Folly Microcinema, a visit from artist Lemi Ghariokwu, and more events of note in Madison this week.
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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 26
In the contemporary conversation around U.S.-Russian relations, much attention is paid to governments as an extension of the people, with little regard given to how regular folks from each country understand their counterparts in the other. A starting point for bridging that chasm could be found in Ghosts In The Machine, a collaboration of Russian and American filmmakers commissioned by the Chicago film group Media Burn Archive and screened here through Madison’s own Mills Folly Microcinema Series. Ghosts In The Machine is one film made up of four shorts from four different filmmakers—“Deceive With Belief” by Lori Felker, “Denial Ain’t Just A River In Egypt” by Dimitri Devyatkin, “This Is A Test” by Dmitrii Kalashnikov, and “Who Will Remember You Forever?” by Mikhail Zheleznikov—all commissioned to create experimental found-footage pieces from Media Burn’s archived material. Each chapter draws from a similar collection of footage, much of it covering protests and public gatherings in both the United States and Russia. That the footage is collected from several different places and events is not terribly important; they all share in a common, timeless narrative of the battle between a country’s marginalized people and their oppressors.
All four films touch on the process of editing and creating narratives, which is somewhat inevitable given that they’re in conversation with each other over the same material. The films together show us that, as beguiling as it can be to see footage engaging with some of America’s ugliest history, a glimpse into the process of framing said history can be just as engrossing. The final chapter of the film, “Who Will Remember You Forever?” engages with this idea most directly and playfully, placing the viewer in a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure in which you view a recently deceased stranger’s collected footage for an unfinished project while deciding whether to be the executor of his estate. It’s the most high-concept and absurd approach to the material, and by extension finds the freshest exploration of the age-old question in both history and film of how we construct meaning. Media Burn Executive Director Sara Chapman is scheduled to do a Q&A via Skype after the screening. —Maxwell Courtright
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27
It’s a cliché that children are often wiser than adults. Abbas Kiarostami’s cinematic focus on children in his 1987 film Where Is The Friend’s House? adheres fully to this idea, studying one child’s own commitment to his fellow humans to create a touching parable about civic and spiritual devotion. The first installment of Kiarostami’s Koker Trilogy (all three of which Cinematheque is showing this fall), Where Is The Friend’s House? also serves as a sort of emotional core to the trilogy. It’s a straightforward dramatic exercise on which to base the more experimental meanderings of the later two films. When the protagonist Ahmed’s friend and classmate, Mohamed, leaves a notebook at Ahmed’s house, Ahmed takes it upon himself to return the notebook that night so that the friend won’t be reprimanded for not bringing it to class the next day. Ahmed then spends the entire rest of the day attempting to return the notebook to Mohamed in the neighboring village, only to eventually fail and complete Mohamed’s homework for him instead.
Kiarostami brilliantly frames the clusters of dwellings in both neighboring villages in sometimes claustrophobic geometric detail. Centering a young child in these spaces, the small number of close-knit communities become an impossible labyrinth through which to navigate as Ahmed tries to complete his Sisyphean task. One of Kiarostami’s greatest gifts is his earnest empathy for the people in his films, but it’s the physical spaces explored in this film that underscore the purity of purpose felt by its lead character, creating one of his most endearing films. —Maxwell Courtright
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 29
Cannon Films made its reputation in the 1980s as one of American cinema’s finest purveyors of lurid, trashy films. What makes this golden era persist in the minds of cinephiles today is that some of these films were, despite their budget and subject matter, actually quite good. Case in point: Andrei Konchalovsky’s 1987 film Shy People. Sure, the Southern Gothic canon is full of easy stereotypes about the region, but those other films don’t have this one’s sticky Tangerine Dream score, or expertly fog-laden cinematography by Chris Menges.
Shy People follows Diana and Grace, a cosmopolitan mother and daughter (Jill Clayburgh and Martha Plimpton), as they attempt to reconnect with their estranged family in an especially isolated part of the Louisiana bayou. Culture clashes abound as they meet the remaining family, led by a ruthless matriarch, Ruth (Barbara Hershey), and learn a variety of sordid secrets about her clan. That the film doesn’t stay in the mind as a purely exploitative take on bayou living is a testament to its level of craft on all fronts. In addition to the technical achievements mentioned above, Barbara Hershey’s performance telegraphs the tension of her family’s dynamic, and thus drives the tension of the film around it. How do you confront the trauma you’ve perpetuated without understanding that which you’ve received? How does one define the self in complete isolation from society? We see these questions play out in Hershey’s alternately subtle and barn-burning performance, one which deservedly won her the Best Actress prize at Cannes. —Maxwell Courtright
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 1
Hailing from Oldham County, Kentucky, Knocked Loose has continually set and often exceeded the bar for hardcore since its 2013 inception, touring nonstop and capturing a powerfully distilled anger on its 2016 debut LP, Laugh Tracks. The follow-up, this year’s, A Different Shade Of Blue, will be looked at as a pivotal moment for the hardcore genre in the coming years. The single “Mistakes Like Fractures” has a pummeling velocity to it, and the song’s first chorus hits with enough g-force to break your neck. Vocalist Bryan Garris dwells on themes such as loss, anger, and self-reflection, which are prevalent throughout the album. “I followed the rabbit / and found my fucking end,” Garris cries out near the end of the song, as the band swells into slamming riffs that rival the power of death-metal pioneers Dying Fetus. Garris’ reflection on his obsessive process and self-pressure continues on “And Still I Wander South,” as he ponders a persistent need to escape the past, all while fast-paced drums fuse with Obituary-esque black metal riffs, eventually swirling around melodic, almost ambient guitars.
Newcomers SeeYouSpaceCowboy are one of the most exciting bands in hardcore right now, creating chaotic music that turns the masculine history of hardcore on its head. Packed with anti-capitalist lyrics and fast-paced, mathy riffs, the band’s 2019 full length, Songs For The Firing Squad is a contender for album of the year. The lineup continues to pack a punch with Richmond’s Candy, whose 2018 full length, Good To Feel, blends old school hardcore with harsh noise, and a strong sense panic. These three forces to be reckoned with in the genre play alongside hardcore vets Rotting Out and Stick To Your Guns, for a night where new and young blood is bound to spill. —John McCracken
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 2
Nigerian graphic designer Lemi Ghariokwu has designed more than 2,000 album covers, but he’s best known for his work with Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Ghariokwu will be speaking about his relationship with the Afrobeat legend as part of the UW-Madison African Studies Program’s long-running Africa At Noon lecture series. Ghariokwu designed album art for 29 of Kuti’s albums, developing a confrontational style that complimented Kuti’s pointedly political music. Ghariokwu and Kuti had a very close relationship, with Kuti giving the young artist an extraordinary degree of creative freedom.
Mixing collage, painting and political cartoon, Ghariokwu’s covers offer his own interpretations of Kuti’s political songwriting. His first cover for Fela was for Alagbon Close, a fantastical painting of Kuti as a giant bursting from a burning prison as a whale upturns a police boat. The photo collage cover of Zombie positions Kuti facing down gigantic military figures, critiquing the Nigerian government’s frequent attacks on Kuti. On Kuti’s 1989 album Beasts Of No Nation, Ghariokwu takes Kuti’s lyrics even further, depicting world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan with horns and bloody fangs. Ghariokwu still remains active as a graphic designer today, as the continued interest in Fela Kuti’s music has kept him in high demand. Ghariokwu has plenty of stories to tell about his tumultuous relationship with Kuti, so expect a lecture full of entertaining anecdotes. —Ian Adcock
Chicago electronic duo Grün Wasser balances industrial murk with sharply crafted hooks, creating a lot of darkly enveloping atmosphere with just a few meticulously sculpted elements. On “Fallen Knight,” from the 2018 album Predator/Prey, vocalist Keely Dowd cuts to the front of the mix with a raspy performance that rubs up uncomfortably against a loop of a voice (maybe Dowd’s, maybe not) murmuring the word “dust” over and over again, as producer Essej Pollock builds up a restrained but suspenseful pattern of grimy synth bass lines and itchy percussion. It’s satisfyingly catchy, but leaves plenty of room for unease to seep in. The two take a more densely layered approach elsewhere, especially on “Natural,” a track that shares a lot in common with the vocally driven avant-pop of Holly Herndon, but in any case, there’s always a sense of possibility in Grün Wasser’s music, never entirely bound by the dictates of electronic pop or those of experimental music.
The duo plays here ahead of the release of a new album, Not OK With Things. The two tracks that have been released so far from the album suggest Grün Wasser’s view of dark, adventurous pop is only expanding. “Driving” builds dissonant pockets of reverb around a talk-sing vocal from Dowd, building up a resolutely hooky momentum even as it unsettles. On “Stranger’s Mouth,” Pollock uses misty synths and spartan beats to frame one of Dowd’s most powerful and intimate vocal performances yet. I’ve yet to hear the album in full, so here’s hoping the duo shares a lot of new material at this show. They’ll share this bill at The Wisco with two other adventurous electronic duos, Minneapolis’ Materials and Madison’s Woodman/Earhart. —Scott Gordon
9/28: Brennan Connors & Stray Passage. Mother Fool’s, 8 p.m. (Read about Stray Passage member Brian Grimm’s solo work in a story we published this week.)