Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sam-urai // 1000 Herz

my blogging caesurae have been pretty much inexcusable so i won't even start up w/ trying to justify them. i hope everyone is having a good monsoon season.

so what are the haps? two of the main ones are these happily concurrent festivals occurring in our fair city. you've got to know about the Sam Rivers festival. this is important stuff. get thee to WKCR immediately for nonstop Rivers till next Friday. the fest culminates in a performance by Rivers, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul, i.e. 3/4 of "Conference of the Birds," a helluva jazz record.

tuned in tonight as Laal and i were taking a long rainy drive up to Tarrytown for some housewarming activities. "Conference" was spun, as was--and this is pretty rad--all of the Rivers Blue Notes. much like the Andrew Hill Blue Notes or the Don Cherry Blue Notes, the Rivers ones are part of that incredible inside-outside strata of the label's output; that really fucking edgy and wired stuff that also has a mile-wide orderliness streak or somesuch. just beautifully arranged and pro-recorded as all hell. "Fuchsia Swing Song" is undoubtedly the one to get. surely one of the finest BNs of them all. "Contours" is very killing too; it's a more elaborate date and the writing is a bit more fleshed out, though one undoubtedly misses Tony Williams and Jaki Byard from the earlier sesh.

we also got "A New Conception," which is this incrediby upbeat and just life-loving session from '66 where Rivers does standards. when folks talk about inside-outside, this is kind of the epitome in a way, b/c it's familiar formally but it's just got this adventuresome, color-outside-the-lines spirit as well. Steve Ellington drums tremendously on this, as he does on the following sesh, "Dimensions and Extensions." that's even more lush than "Contours," a large band featuring the great James Spaulding on alto and Julian Priester on trombone.

wish those damn Mosaic sets didn't kick the bucket so quickly, but that Rivers set is indispensable. second only to the Hill box in most spun for me. so yeah, we got to dig those Blue Notes with a little typically great discourse by Phil Schaap (who w/ typically superhuman memory recalled the date of the recording of "Conference of the Birds" as a particularly rainy Monday. this was in '72 mind you...). gotta hand it to WKCR, man, for doing this festival when Rivers is still alive. those memorial broadcasts are the shit, but there is no time like the present to hand it to big Sam. please do tune in and i'll see you at the show Friday!


also being celebrated is the great documentary work of Werner Herzog. Film Forum is totally crashing the backboard on this one: an astounding range of shit; makes me wish i could camp out there for weeks. (it's like three weeks or something...) these damn fests stress me the hell out b/c i want to attend so much but w/ work and extracurriculars it's just so damn hard to make it to the movies any other time than a Saturday afternoon, and so many of them are one day only and aw man, it's a tough life... like the Altman fest at IFC a little while back, i've got the whole damn thing in my datebook and i'm gonna try to get there as often as possible.

like i've said on here before, i'm generally down for anything Herzog, but i much much much prefer his documentaries to his fiction dealios. to me it's much easier to admire a movie like Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo than to actually enjoy it. i'm kind of a documentary nut to begin w/ but there's something about Herzog's nonfiction that just sits right--it's just the right amount of entertaining and affecting. and his presence in the films--the wonderful stark sensitivity of the narration--is really welcome. you miss him in the features, you know?

and what about his subjects? man, there is absolutely no one on earth w/ a better nose for goddamn news than this guy. think about these unbelievable scenarios he unearths: Grizzly Man (duh!), The White Diamond (about a guy flying a home-built dirigible over the jungle), Wodaabe: Herdsmen of the Sun (about an unbelievably strange mating ritual among an African tribe)... hell, even My Best Fiend (which chronicles Herzog's perversely symbiotic relationship w/ Klaus Kinski). it seems like he hasn't made a doc about anything that isn't absolutely outlandish and/or incredible and/or just riveting.

once he finds these rather sensational premises though, he kinda lets things be, lets the events speak for themselves, lets the participants kinda work through what's gone on. that's something i really figured out today while watching the double feature of Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Wings of Hope: many of Herzog's docs are really a kind of therapy for their subjects and for the filmmaker.

like the dude in The White Diamond, who's returning to flying after one of his friends was killed in one of his homemade machines, and like Herzog himself in My Best Fiend, who revisits the sites of his most bitter rows w/ Kinski, the people in Little Dieter and Wings of Hope are returning to places of terrible trauma after many, many years. with Herzog filming, they're essentially re-enacting their ordeals, retracing their anguish.

in the beginning of Little Dieter, Herzog talks about this whole idea that there are people out there living "normal" lives who have survived some intense trauma and how he's fascinated w/ how they cope. it's amazing how both the subjects of these movies, Dieter Dengler (that's him above), who survived horrible tortures in a Laotian prison camp during Vietnam, and Julianne Koepke, who lived through a two-mile fall after she was thrown from a crashing plane and wandered through the jungle for over a week before she was rescued, come across as incredibly well-adjusted.

in revisiting their trauma, there's no fear. in fact there's a lot of humor. Koepke is all smiles as she imitates the weird wheezing of a jungle bird, a sound which she remembers hearing during her ordeal and which helped her navigate. and Dengler is just an amazingly vigorous man, almost weirdly positive. he seems to have no darkness in him whatsoever. just seeing the house where he lived in San Francisco after retiring from the service: it's such an open, airy place, with this amazing kitchen and tons of light. he's an infectious guy. the look on his face in the photos from right after he was rescued is one of the purest expressions of joy that i've ever seen.

you've got to wonder what Herzog's getting out of all this too. he's drawn to these survivor types. he seems to feed off this trauma. like remember in Grizzly Man how he sits there onscreen and actually listens to the tape recording of Tim Treadwell being eaten by the bear? he says to Treadwell's girlfriend something like "You must never listen to this." but you know that he could've never stopped himself. there's something perverse about that trait, and thus all of Herzog's docs have kind of a voyeuristic thing going on.

but he's also all about finding the beauty, the abstraction in these tales. i loved how in Wings of Hope he took frequent detours to discuss Koepke's career as a biologist, or how in Little Dieter there were these awesome shots of Dengler strolling through the village where he was born during Christmastime. it's these moments that show you what respect Herzog has for his subjects; no tabloid portrait of these sorts of events would ever bother to show you the person behind the freak accident. he's interested not just in these people's misfortunes, but in how these experiences have shaped them as people, and in the case of Dengler and Koepke, how these people have moved on. i think he just loves the idea of human resilience, of the juxtaposition of the most extreme moments of life with the most mundane and how people cope with that static.

these movies obviously reminded me a lot of of Keep the River on Your Right, which i discussed here, along with My Best Fiend. Keep the River... is another movie about coming back to a past life you thought you'd left behind. it's a formulaic thing, but it's always going to be poignant, that idea of reckoning, of confronting your ghosts. most people get this stuff out on the couch, but Herzog's subjects exorcise on film.


ah yes, free music... thought i'd give you a tidbit apiece from two of my favorite '07 albums: Mirrored, by Battles; and Hope for Men, by Pissed Jeans. the latter ain't out yet, and i ain't sayin' much on either b/c i just ain't yet (be patient), but these tracks speak for themselves. totally diverse and totally awesome.

Battles - Rainbow (talk about your incredibly journey...)

Pissed Jeans - Secret Admirer (fuck. yes.)


thanks to Laal, i saw Kindergarten Cop for the first time too today. man, Richard Tyson sure is a terrible actor. i'm the world's biggest Three O' Clock High fan, but he's not called upon to be anything other than a stone-faced bully there; here, his portrayal of "Crisp" is laughable from note one. Arnie's expressions of anguish during the first day in the classroom are pretty hilarious as is the following line, my fave of all the cute-kid-isms that riddle the film: Arnie brings his pet ferret into the classroom and one kid goes, "Whoa, what happened to your dog?!?" loved that.

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