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In Review
In Review

In Review



German experimental filmmaker Christoph Girardet has been plumbing the depths of cinematic history since the late 1980s, rooting out ill-constructed illusions and conjuring images of taut enigma. His forthcoming show at Berlin’s Campagne Première gallery, a go-to destination for heavyweight conceptual and experimental art, is the first survey of his prints. As with his moving image works, these pieces on paper are made from found movie stills and highlight the mechanisms and constructs used in film. “The Diver” is a stand-alone image of a man in mid-air falling to the ground already marked by the blood stains of his imminent crash. “Seven Strokes” is a series of stills taken from different movies, in which the same artificial lightening device was used. This isn’t, however, just a clinical mythbusting exercise—Girardet creates mystery as much as he bursts bubbles, and he leaves a lot to the viewer’s own imagination. “The Seascapes” is a series of 12 ink-jet prints of empty sea stills extracted from Titanic, pirate movies, and other sources; under each image he’s added a series of geographic coordinates that correspond in some way to the location in the shot—either where it was filmed or the fictitious place it was meant to be in the movie. But nothing is explained and the numbers in conjunction with these nameless, unplaceable wavescapes are as intriguing and obtuse as the ever-present sequence of digits in J.J. Abrams’s Lost. While Girardet might have movie-making all figured out, you get the feeling he’s never lost his love for it. DALE BERNING


The Internet is the ultimate leveler—guided by numbers, any image search renders pictures both great and throwaway in tiny, uninspired pixels. And yet we stick with it, perhaps because every once in a while it offers up something remarkable. While French artist David Lefebvre’s painting is figurative, it is largely about the process of painting and it revels in the materiality of the medium. Paint is left to drip and dry as it wishes, heavily worked-on sections sit alongside stretches of blank canvas, preparatory gridding and pencil drawings are integral elements of the finished work. To this self-referential approach to painting, Lefebvre brings an additional conceptual layer. His source material—the images he paints from—are mostly found online. And his interpretation of these images doesn’t involve straightforward transcription. Lefebvre plucks images for no particular reason and in no particular order from the overflow of online stuff, and then chooses to edit out banal fragments—a bridge, a background, a roadsign, a parked car—using pixelization, white squares over faces, or flat silhouettes devoid of any detail. As the viewer, your curiosity is immediately piqued—why hide that bridge, what’s with that car? Online glazed-eye boredom is replaced with something arresting and special. With painterly deftness and a keen understanding of his contemporaries—Peter Doig, Marc Desgrandchamps, to name but a few of his references—Lefebvre elevates the poor-quality visual offerings found so readily on the web into images with unexpected staying power. DALE BERNING



Wendy Lawless’s first book, a memoir, reads like a screwed-up fairytale. There’s the rags-to-riches chapter (a trailer park in North Carolina to the iconic Dakota building on New York’s Central Park) and there’s the wicked witch—in this case, Lawless’s mother, Georgann, and she’s worse than anything the Grimm brothers dreamed up. She locks her children in the closet for a day, fires their beloved nanny, and cancels Christmas before kidnapping Lawless and her younger sister, Robin, and dragging them to London (in the middle of an IRA bombing campaign, no less), primarily to keep them away from the only person who might be able to help them—their father. But when the girls are teenagers and the money that’s kept their beautiful mother in Chanel all these years dwindles, they move back to the States, where Georgann slides further into madness: “She grabbed this shirt off the floor and lit it on fire with a Bic lighter...she tried to throw [it] at me, but it landed on top of my stereo.” Only then does Lawless realize that if she and her sister are to survive, they need to stop trying to save their mother and start trying to save themselves. Lawless, a Broadway actress and essayist, keeps her prose straight forward, letting the story shine in this shockingly entertaining memoir. JOHANNA LANE


Harlem in the ’60s was not a desirable place to visit, much less document. Many of its buildings were deteriorating, riots broke out regularly, and poverty was the norm. But in 1967 photographer Gordon Parks—known for his portraits of the working class citizens and ghettoes of America—set out to expose the Manhattan neighbourhood’s sad and neglected state with a collection of tragically beautiful black-and-white photos. Originally captured for a photo essay titled “The Cycle of Despair” that was featured in a 1968 issue of LIFE magazine, A Harlem Family 1967 showcases more than 80 photos of the Fontenelles, one of the many impoverished families struggling to simply survive. Parks spent roughly one month with the family—10 people, as well as a cat and a “bad-tempered dog” (there solely to keep the rats and roaches at bay), who shared a dilapidated apartment that they rented for $70 a month. Shots of normally mundane household tasks and activities become striking and poignant within the Fontenelle quarters: 14-year-old Rosie scrubs the tub in a bathroom littered with trash and rags; 13-year-old Norman Jr. sleeps beneath a thin blanket on a waning mattress pushed against a wall full of holes; five-year-old Ellen and three-year-old Richard share a glass of milk atop a pile of rubbish in the living room. It’s a tale so candid and engaging that you can practically feel the bitter cold and the sense of hopelessness emanating from the pages. Most crushing perhaps are the words that accompany the images. “All this needing and wanting is about to drive me crazy,” Bessie, the family’s mother, says at the end of a routine day. The story of the Fontenelles is bleak, and it only seems to get worse as the days of Parks’s documentation progress, though he offers us brief moments of light with his descriptions of the family members. “[Norman Jr.’s] hostility is balanced by an overwhelming tenderness at times,” Parks writes. “He will suddenly lift Little Richard off the floor and smother him with kisses. At times he stands beside his mother, affectionately fingering her earrings. ‘You’re pretty Momma, real pretty,’ he’ll say without smiling.” CAITLIN SMITH



Glee star Chris Colfer’s first film as screenwriter begins with a bang, as the clouds part and high-school outcast Carson Phillips (Colfer) dies on the way to his classic Chevy Corvair. Three days later, the community that so mistreated Carson gets to pantomime grief, while Carson, from beyond the grave, offers “Yeah, my funeral sucks.” This snappy set-up contains some of Colfer’s best words, and they’re surprisingly wicked at times. What comes after death—we rewind so that Carson can explain himself—finds Colfer testing the limits of his budding craft. Carson lives at home with his bitter mom, Sheryl (Allison Janney), who, since kicking out Carson’s detached dad, spends her time on the couch or at the pharmacy. She’s the kind of mom who jokes with her son about aborting him. Carson’s the kind of son who tells her, “The morning isn’t supposed to hurt.” Carson dreams big—he sees himself at The New Yorker—and tries to get there by running the laughable school paper, with kooky Malerie (Rebel Wilson, doing her thing) at his side. When Carson catches two seemingly straight popular boys making out, lightning strikes again—in the form of inspiration: He’ll blackmail kids to contribute to a literary magazine, which will impress those responsible for Carson’s bright tomorrow. Oh the irony. What is wrong with Colfer’s script is what would be wrong with any script written by a precocious, talented 22-year-old: the narrative repeats itself; the voiceover evokes YA novels (Colfer’s tie-in book, Struck By Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal, was published in November) and rarely adds anything beyond laughs; a character with Alzheimer’s is a cheap contrivance. But Colfer is naturally witty, and, best of all, lacerating when exposing the awful trap of convention. MIKE HARVKEY



After his dad dies, the self-involved and casually abrasive Dave (Chris Messina, who has a story credit) blows into coastal Fairhaven, Massachusetts, after a decade away like a bitter winter wind. But while that’s the set up, this first feature from Tom O’Brien is less concerned with Dave than it is with the too-familiar crisis of Jon (played by O’Brien), a fisherman and a writer in the Hemingway mould. Jon’s a former high school football star, but those bright Friday nights have long since burned out, and now, as he’s manning the nets, he dreams of sailing away, much like Dave, the only one from their old gang to get out. Where Dave went, and what he did is less important than the functionality of his return: He will shake his friends out of their mundane routines. Over late nights full of booze, weed, and existential ennui, Jon hides from his failures in a fling with New Age therapist Angela (Alexie Gilmore); Dave hides the feelings he developed for Kate (American Horror Story’s Sarah Paulson), his friend Sam’s ex-wife, after a tryst nobody knows about; Kate hides that fling’s lasting impact on her life; and Sam (Mad Men’s Rich Sommer, a natural), now a single dad, can’t quite hide the fact that he still loves his ex. O’Brien, a successful theater actor, has a hard time commanding the silver screen, a pity, since Jon—and not the more interesting Dave—is the film’s primary subject. Considering this is a quiet domestic drama, it’s odd that O’Brien chose to film in widescreen; instead of lending the film an epic quality, it feels portentous and clashes with the low-key naturalism of the performances. MIKE HARVKEY



When Christopher Owens left Girls last July, following a year of touring behind the San Francisco band’s near-perfect second album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, any hard feelings were swiftly washed away by optimism—what would Owens, the singer, songwriter and emotional heart of Girls, release next? That album of country ballads he often mentioned in interviews? Or perhaps a more familiar solo LP of winding, heartbroken confessionals, not unlike Girls’ “Hellhole Ratrace,” “Just a Song,” “Laura,” and “Solitude”? Either way, the future seemed promising. But instead he’s given us Lysandre, Owens’s paean to the 1970s folk-pop he was weaned on as a youngster in the Children of God cult (now his live covers of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” are utterly apropos). Lysandre’s 11 songs are rife with finger-picked Spanish guitar, saxophone, Renaissance fair flutes, and background vocals (from Owens’ girlfriend, Hannah Hunt, formerly of Dominant Legs). There are lush, meandering, baroque arrangements and a recurring melody, “Lysandre’s Theme,” which appears in, or between, numerous songs—as a samba groove here, a flute melody there. Gone is the druggy interpretation of 1950s pop and rock sounds that Owens mastered with Girls. The hip-shaking “Here We Go Again” and the softly-rocking “New York City” border familiar territory, but Owens fails to connect, even lyrically. The album follows a loose narrative, chronicling his first tour with Girls from San Francisco to New York City to France, where he falls in love with a girl named—you guessed it—Lysandre. It’s a personal story, yes, but the happy-cheesy, are-you-serious dude? sounds that carry it negate the chest-crushing emotional power and intimacy that Owens achieved with Girls. Owens has long aspired to write one perfect, timeless pop song. He may still—he’s one of indie rock’s most talented new voices. But it’s not on Lysandre. WILLIAM GOODMAN



New bands are often guilty of mythologising their formation, suggesting that fate had a hand, kismet, a magical aligning of the stars. Criminal Hygiene, a punk act from Los Angeles don’t, to their credit, labor under such illusions. The details of their own creation, which occurred in late 2011, are far more earthly: James Watson (singer) and Michael Fiore (guitarist) decided, over a burger, to make some music, but then chose to get drunk first. Later drafting in a drummer, Sean Eriksson, they continued to get drunk throughout their debut album’s recording. CRMNL HYGNE is 17 tracks long. That’s a lot of beer. The band sounds precisely as their name suggests—like they haven’t washed in months. “I’ve got blood on my teeth,” goes the opening line of the track “Teeth,” and you are not surprised. Everything is bloody here: the guitar feedback, Watson’s artless vocal, the disaffected lyrics. Even the quieter moments (when they come) seem debauched. “Kangaroo” is all echo and reverb, a sonic imagining of the morning after the night before, with the mother of all headaches. At their best—“Rearrange Me, Alan I’m in Love”—there are echoes of Hüsker Dü, but it’s early days yet, and right now all Criminal Hygiene really represent is nihilism for the sake of it. But they do at least represent it well: Watson has proudly lost his front teeth to a skateboarding accident, and they’ve been barred from a Los Angeles club for bad behaviour. All part of the nihilist’s territory. NICK DUERDEN