Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Punk Singer

Sini Anderson's The Punk Singer opens with a vintage clip of its subject, Kathleen Hanna, at a 1990's spoken word event. Anderson never returns to the clip or explains exactly what Hanna is talking about, but the charisma and self-possession Hanna displays signal the changes to come that she would help bring about. Hanna emerged from what sounds like an unhappy lower middle-class childhood to go to college in Washington State and become the singer of the band Bikini Kill. That band's feminist punk ignited the "riot grrrl" scene and (the film argues) helped create a space for women in music that they're still enjoying today. The clips of Bikini Kill that Anderson deploys throughout The Punk Singer are a remarkable display of Hanna's force, she is equally comfortable inviting women to fill in front of the stage as she is dealing with hecklers or having the word "slut" scrawled on her stomach. An array of Hanna's band mates and her better known peers (Kim Gordon, Joan Jett) provide context, but the most fascinating voice in the film is of course Hanna herself.

As an interview subject Kathleen Hanna is honest and probing about her own life and the pressures that come with leading a movement. Bikini Kill grew apart as they became better known (I wanted more about Hanna getting punched by Courtney Love at Lollapalooza), and after a promising beginning with new band Le Tigre Hanna's career slowed down. Hanna is happily married to Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, who emerges as a funny and supportive presence, but the early 2000's brought trouble. The last act of The Punk Singer details Hanna's struggles with late stage Lyme disease, the delayed diagnosis of which cost her much anxiety and years of performing. Anderson ends The Punk Singer with a tribute concert and a performance by Hanna's new band The Julie Ruin, and Hanna seems as defiant and engaged now as she did in those clips from the 1990's. The exuberant The Punk Singer reclaims Kathleen Hanna as a vital musical force and a teller of important truths.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier does feature a character called “The Winter Soldier”, a assassin of mysterious origins whose strength and speed are a match for the Captain’s own. The Winter Soldier is really more of a presence than a character through most of the film, so why does he merit a place in the title? The real Winter Solider of course is Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) himself, and the first Captain America film set entirely in the present does a good job of putting our hero out in the cold. In the opening sequence Rogers and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) are tasked with rescuing a hijacked ship, and Rogers is angry to find Natasha more concerned with saving S.H.I.E.L.D. intelligence than rescuing hostages. Rogers didn’t sign on to serve someone else’s agenda, and in the early scenes of The Winter Soldier he’s thinking about leaving the superhero life.

The first Captain America film considered the difference between being a symbol and hero, and here the issue is protection vs. control. To put it another way, what is S.H.I.E.L.D. for? Rogers’s boss Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his boss Alexander Pierce (a well-used Robert Redford) are pushing a project that involves giant airships monitoring the world, but the amount of power S.H.I.E.L.D. is amassing feels very dangerous to a hero who battled fascism firsthand. Steve and Natasha discover fault lines within S.H.I.E.L.D., some of which call back to the Captain’s work in the last film, and they’re faced with the question of whether the organization should even be saved. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (whose action sequences are well-staged, intimate, and frightening) couldn’t have known when they signed on that a film about surveillance and government power would feel so relevant in 2014, but the immediacy of the concerns is of great help to Marvel’s attempt to build a new superhero mythology. Steve Rogers’s doubts about his place at S.H.I.E.L.D. are much more interesting than Tony Stark’s sobriety or Thor’s maturity, and whatever happens with Evans’s “retirement” going forward Captain America is positioned as the conscience of The Avengers. To someone without a knowledge of the comic canon The Winter Soldier feels like a transitional work in the series, a film designed to get the characters out from under the machinery of “super” heroism. The next time Captain America and the Avengers get together it looks like they will have only themselves to rely on, and that’s a ticket I’ll be buying.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"Half artist. Half businessman."

Roger Corman talks to Jonathan Demme, and looks back on a career built on equal parts love of movies and an eye for the bottom line.
DEMME: I'd like to start off with the following: You used to say that in order to succeed, a director had to be 40 percent artist and 60 percent businessperson. Does that still hold true for you, and if so, how did you come up with that formula?

CORMAN: The formula was made up. I would actually modify it now, although the business side seems to have taken over motion pictures. I would probably make it 50-50. Half artist, half businessman.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Music: Nirvana w/ Lorde - "All Apologies"

It's not a spot on the original of course, but I like Lorde's take on Nirvana at the Rock Hall of Fame ceremonies and I think Kurt Cobain would have enjoyed having a woman sing his song. (Joan Jett, Kim Gordon, and St. Vincent are on stage as well and also performed Nirvana songs that night.) For further description, go here. Sorry about the shakiness of the clip, but it was the best I could find.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

"I take on a lot more now."

Jim Jarmusch's new film is finally here, and the director has no thought of slowing down.
The film is part of a productive swoop for Mr. Jarmusch. It’s the first in which his five-year-old band, Sqürl, provides much of the soundtrack, in collaboration with the composer and lutist Jozef van Wissem; alongside musicians like Zola Jesus and Yasmine Hamdan, they have played shows in Berlin, Paris and New York to promote the accompanying album, from ATP Recordings. Coming projects include a quasi-documentary about the Stooges (“a little poetic essay,” Mr. Jarmusch said); an opera about Nikola Tesla, in collaboration with his friend the composer Phil Kline and the international director Robert Wilson; and another feature, about a bus driver and poet in Paterson, N.J., that Mr. Jarmusch wrote in the years he waited for “Only Lovers” to come together.

“I take on a lot more now,” he said, partly out of age, experience and desire, and partly out of professional gumption.

Sunday Music: Little Feat (w/ Bonnie Raitt & Emmylou Harris) - "Dixie Chicken"

No great story behind this one, I just stumbled on it during some YouTube browsing. I do wish Raitt and Harris could be heard a little better.