Eames: The Architect and the Painter is a vividly detailed, fascinating look at Charles and Ray Eames, whose groundbreaking furniture pieces were only one small part of an influential career that pushed the boundaries of architecture, graphic design and filmmaking. Interviews with former assistants and art historians, in addition to a wealth of archival images, animate the mid-century design revolution sparked by Charles’ and Ray’s complicated story of love, ambition and idealism. Their freewheeling California office, known as the Eamery, along with their idiosyncratic beachside home, serves as the film’s geographic and emotional center and provides a glimpse into the obsessive, imaginative world created by the charismatic Charles and introverted Ray. As the film traces the populist threads in their work as mass-market furniture designers (their motto was “the best for the most for the least”), experimental filmmakers, and corporate design partners, it also highlights Ray, a trained abstract expressionist painter, as a key partner in everything Eames. In the patriarchal 1950s, Ray was viewed as little more than Charles’ assistant, so it’s gratifying to see her mastery of form and color recognized as an essential counterbalance to her husband’s scientific, analytical style. It’s a vibrant reminder of how one couple’s love of art and design changed not just themselves but the constructed world.
Alex de la Iglesia‘s The Last Circus isn’t for the faint of heart; people are mutilated, disfigured and emotionally scarred beyond the point of saving. But behind the terror lies a simple story of love gone wrong; after sad clown Javier (a fearless Carlos Areces) falls in love with Natalia (Carolina Bang), girlfriend of the sadistic happy clown Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), both men start to lose their grip on reality. Everything about the movie, from the eyepopping costumes to the overly saturated colors and deliberately un-circuslike score, flirts with over-the-top craziness, but Iglesia’s ability to find truth in the most bizarre situations grounds the film in a semi-realistic state. The film veers from jet-black humour to crazed fantasy (sometimes within the same scene), creating a tension that’s barely relieved by the film’s vertigo-inducing ending. The realization that Natalia’s masochistic nature seems hardly worthy of Javier’s descent into madness drives home the subtle message that equates Javier and Sergio’s brutal fight for her with the bloody civil war between passionate Republican and Nationalist forces battling for the heart of Spain. Horrifying and hilarious, The Last Circus challenges the idea that all is fair in love and war.
Created by actress Laura Dern and writer/actor Mike White, Enlightened is a blend of cathartic drama and caustic comedy that revels in life’s raw and uncomfortable moments. The series centers on burnt-out corporate executive Amy Jellicoe (Dern), whose spectacular meltdown and subsequent rehabilitation at a Hawaiian retreat empowers her to remold her life–and the world–in her newly enlightened image. But as the show progresses it becomes clear that Amy’s blissful recovery wasn’t the end of her struggle; it was just the beginning. She is the cog in the wheel that refuses to turn smoothly, and Dern gives a powerful, vanity-free performance that captures the idealistic anger and genuine compassion of a woman whose continual attempts to do the right thing often come off the wrong way. Each episode, whose raging emotions are grounded by a naturally fluid camera style and bouyed by composer Mark Mothersbaugh‘s sparsely melodic score, grants Amy small victories, most gratifyingly with her reproving, distant mother Helen (Diane Ladd) and her self-destructive ex-husband Levi (a surprisingly emotional Luke Wilson). White, so shyly earnest and dryly humorous as Amy’s friend Tyler, has managed the rarest of feats; Enlightened is both infuriating and soothing, trivial and significant, and a devastating look at the high costs of living.
Seven years in the making, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is a poetic and hypnotic look at the strangely beautiful relationship between performance artist and musician Genesis P-Orridge and her wife, Lady Jaye. Filled with grainy home videos, archival performance footage, and stylized re-enactments, the film follows Genesis, Lady Jaye, and their Pandrogeny Project, an ongoing collaboration in which they experimented with molding their physical bodies into one spiritual self. In 2005 Genesis (born Neil Anderson Megson) underwent breast implant surgery, and later they both had cheek and lip surgeries to further resemble one another. Genesis’ transformation from the dark-haired tempest of electronic music pioneers Throbbing Gristle to the peroxide-blonde leader of a reformed Psychic TV is thought-provoking and extreme, raising issues of gender and socially-constructed identity. Experimental filmmaker Marie Losier humanizes Genesis and Lady Jaye by including scenes of them riding the subway, cooking dinner, and enjoying other mundane activities in and around their New York City home, and makes no effort to seem directorially neutral. Lady Jaye’s heartbreaking, unexpected death in 2007 is the bittersweet ending no one could have envisioned, but Genesis’ all-consuming love for her lives on through her dedication to continuing their boundary-pushing exploration of what it means to be human.
Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel is an affectionate, hilarious tribute to trailblazing independent filmmaker Roger Corman. Packed with footage from dozens of Corman’s sensationalistic, low-budget films, director Alex Stapleton exuberantly traces the director’s evolution from lowly story analyst to obsessively disciplined producer and director who launched the careers of some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Despite having no formal training, Corman established himself in the ’50s with campy sci-fi and horror genre flicks that showcased his no-frills aesthetic and crafty business acumen. The film rightly points out Corman’s hugely successful series of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, as well as a run of exploitative teen drive-in movies, as having paved the way for his later counterculture successes like Easy Riders and The Trip. Corman acknowledges his cheap-thrills cult status with an air of detached bemusement, though the failure of 1962’s The Intruder, a rare foray into social drama centered on a rabble-rousing segregationist (William Shatner), still clearly stings. Heartfelt and candid interviews with A-listers like Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard–all of whom wholeheartedly credit their success to Corman’s early support– color a portrait of an ambitious man whose genial, softspoken demeanor masks a lifelong obsession with playing the Hollywood game by his own rules.
Bursting with poetic tributes and never-before-seen footage, and woven through with the gravely voice of the writer himself, William S. Burroughs: A Man Within is a surprisingly moving portrait of an artist whose obliteration of literary and social conventions made him a generational icon. The film’s carefully curated blend of archival footage and on-camera interviews with close friends and collaborators reveal the very-human heart of the grim-humored writer. Burroughs’s well-documented gun fetish is explored as a manifestation of his passion for control, and it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that the issue is presented in personal, not political, terms. A segment on his landmark novel “Queer” dives into the troubled waters of Burroughs’s complicated sexuality, and reinforces his avoidance of labels and societal identification of any kind. The film only briefly dwells on what is known as ‘The William Tell Incident,’ when Burroughs accidentally shot and killed his wife Joan, though its impact on his writing is sadly alluded to. As friends like Patti Smith, Genesis P. Orridge, and John Giorno recount their long relationships with Burroughs, it becomes clear that the writer lived by an indecipherable inner compass that made him at turns charming, alienating, and insightful. Even as the film places Burroughs at the nexus of counterculture cool, it grounds him as a bemused observer of a world he never wanted to be a part of.
The Unsound Festival, which began in Poland in the early 2000s and has been successfully exported to New York City two years running, is renowned for its mix of abrasive sound performances and thoughtful workshops. Though many of the artists that took part in the event were truly legendary, with several of them making their New York debut, one performer clearly stood out. Alan Howarth, the synthesizer mastermind who became John Carpenter’s frequent collaborator during the ’80s and ’90s, was booked at Le Poisson Rouge to perform excerpts of some of his most classic movie scores, including Halloween, Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China.
Watching Alan play this jangly riff in a darkened room with about 250 other people was a seriously nerdy thrill. As he ran through other films (Christine, The Thing) I hoped against hope that he’d also play the soundtrack from Prince of Darkness, a personal favorite that involves an evil green liquid and Alice Cooper as a trench coat creeper. Sadly he didn’t but made up for it by playing the amazing nuevo-cowboy jam of a theme to They Live.
After an extended, spooky take on the Halloween theme Alan’s all-too-short set was up. Thankfully, he came back at the end of the night to collaborate with Emeralds, who have taken up the banner of atmospheric, synth-heavy sounds and infused them with a simmering menace that’s both melodic and haunting. Before they began their set Alan spoke briefly about a new project he was working on with them, which involved measuring and exploiting the natural resonant frequencies of the Egyptian pyramids. Consider me intrigued.