Magical Substances: Music on Film
Curated by Pamela Cohn
Both color and sound move through time, and are similarly at once authentic and deceitful. They are mediums that connect to the vibratory quality of being, and mediums that encounter us in a way that doesn’t always give us the possibility to control their entry into our bodies and our psyches. –Jumana Manna
As each year passes, it gets a bit trickier to unearth moving image gems with music at the core of their stories. With many feature-length music documentaries becoming a bit stale and formulaic – more and more so every year – our music program tries to reveal a deeper layer of artist-made films, handcrafted, marvelously original glimpses into the less traveled territories of emotional vibration.
Consisting of half a dozen features and a 5-film shorts program, ranging in production year from 1930 up until the present day, each selection – fiction, nonfiction, somewhere in between – explores bespoke landscapes of monumental spaces, collective acts of recuperation through image and sound, and the ephemerality of hidden notes and tones that connote strong ties to things not quite earthbound. But they walk and talk and sing and dance among us just the same.
We are showcasing the legendary Les Blank’s feature from 1974, A Poem Is a Naked Person, along with a newly finished piece by his son, Harrod Blank, of a lovely 10-minute film Les shot on a trip to Thailand in 1967. Anna Rose Holmer’s outstanding fiction début feature called The Fits unveils a fresh and exciting talent in Royalty Hightower (yes, her real name) in a story about tomboy Toni bobbing and weaving through the bumpy trajectory of burgeoning womanhood and identity. Critic, Peter Travers, says that The Fits is “cinema poetry in motion”. The same can be said for Michał Marczak’s stunning ode to youth in his latest, All These Sleepless Nights, with scintillating performances from his trio of close friends. We dare you to stay in your seat.
In Earth, a silent film from 1930, we see newly re-mastered footage by Ukrainian director, Oleksandr Dovzhenko, accompanied by a new soundtrack by ethno-chaos band DakhaBrakha. Earth was banned nine days after its release and was only glorified in Ukraine after the director’s death. (Look for two other Ukrainian silent films playing in our Dream Cinema – Bread by Mykola Shpykovskyi from 1944, and In Spring by Mikhail Kaufman from 1929, both with new soundtracks.)
Jumana Manna is a Berlin- and Jerusalem-based artist and her film A Magical Substance Flows Into Me is a superb and moving exploration of the musical traditions of the complex networked communities living in and around Jerusalem through the work of ethnomusicologist Robert Lachmann for a series of radio programmes he made for the Palestine Broadcasting Service during the 1930s. And lastly, Jonathan Yi & Michael Haertlein take us into the wacked-out world of Japanese art-punk band Peelander-Z and their kamikaze – but thoroughly heartwarming! – meltdown and breakup.
Our music shorts program brings a beautiful selection of new work from artists and filmmakers Jesse Epstein, Guillaume Cailleau, Eloy Domínguez Serén, and Cynthia Madansky, each of which had their world premieres this past year at True/False, Oberhausen, FIDMarseille, and Rotterdam, each of them enlivened sacred objects containing the music of the spheres.
A Poem Is a Naked Person, Les Blank (1974, USA)
The Fits, Anna Rose Holmer (2015, USA)
A Magical Substance Flows Into Me, Jumana Manna (2015, Palestine/Germany/UK)
Mad Tiger, Jonathan Yi & Michael Haertlein (2015, USA)
All These Sleepless Nights, Michał Marczak (2015, Poland)
Earth, Oleksandr Dovzhenko (1930, Ukraine; 2015 soundtrack by DakhaBrakha)
Bethlehem Steel, Jesse Epstein (2016, USA)
Organ Movement (Elmer Kussiac), Guillaume Cailleau (2016, Germany)
Thailand Moments, Les Blank (1967, USA)
Rust, Eloy Domínguez Serén (2016, Sweden/Spain)
E24, Cynthia Madansky (2015, USA/Italy)