The hook here is the investigation when Courtney Stephens (Terra Femme) finds mysterious recordings in her aunt’s house. But the movie is less about the mystery than about soaking in a certain vibe (a recent cliche, but with all the sound vibrations here, it’s fitting). She’s in a California town without any “normal” residents around to smirk at the weirdness on display – instead everyone here is into avant-garde music, history, and sound recording technology. Between that and the measured pace and all the plants and gardens on display, it’s a calming movie which reminded me at times of Jacques Rivette, Alvin Lucier, and Peter Strickland (but in a good way).
The mystery begins with a hurdygurdy full of microcassettes found in a locked closet, and well before the Sirens arrive the movie lets us know it’s not too concerned with realism when Courtney sees a TV ad for an “always open” hurdygurdy store where she might learn more, trading her extremely rare but nonfunctioning hurdy for a centuries-old working instrument. She visits a local TV station because their jingle is the only recognizable sound on the tapes, and starts flashing the tapes’ handwritten symbols around to shopkeepers, unlocking new secrets.
interesting patterns, given I watched Symphonie diagonale the same day:
I’m mad that I didn’t realize The Love Witch was one of the Sirens. I could’ve seen either of Courtney’s musician friends Whitney Johnson or Sarah Davachi at Big Ears (but did not). No surprise that Davies is a sound and music guy on other films (including the recent Ham on Rye, which shares significant crew members with this).
doesn’t work as a still, but this is one of the finest shots of the year:
Jordan Cronk in Mubi:
As a musician himself, Davies is unsurprisingly fascinated by analog technologies and the way sound can tell stories and transform reality—here, literally so, as Cas’ existential quest eventually summons a breach in which characters slip away, identities split, and storylines fold into a space where the familiar is rendered strange and intoxicating. Forgoing garden variety narrative markers in favor of a more meditative form of storytelling, Topology of Sirens opens up avenues for thought and reflection that precious few films afford.
It was instructive to watch a perfect 35mm print of a 1970’s movie at the Plaza the night after watching a 4k DCP restoration of a 1980’s movie from the same seat. The 35mm cost more to attend, since screenings are increasingly rare – this is probably my first time seeing a movie on film since The Grand Bizarre 3.5 years ago. I forget who it was who said digital projection is just watching television in public but… I couldn’t really tell the difference?
I remembered the very end of this – Hackman playing sax in his ruined apartment after failing to discover how he’s being surveilled – but not most of the rest, and especially not that his secretive rich client Robert Duvall is the one who gets murdered in the hotel – presumably by the client’s wife and bf whom Hackman’s group was recording in the park at the beginning.
Hackman’s character is especially memorable here – he’s catholic, lives by a strict code, appears to be a master of his craft, but keeps taking jobs that end in murders, getting tricked and betrayed and spied on. Nice spy-movie construction too – we never learn everything, like what the Director’s assistant Harrison Ford was up to. If this was influenced by Blowup, then Blow Out is kinda a remake of both movies.
One of Strickland’s insular alternate-reality weirdo movies, about an artistic residency by a group of “sonic caterers,” is secretly a comedy about bandmate relationships. “I’d say misunderstanding between us is probably the key to our sound.” Of course it looks excellent.
On the residency side of things, Gwendoline Christie (returning from In Fabric) is famed Director Jan. Beardy journalist Stones, documenting the musicians, is a Greek guy from Chevalier whose digestive issues are more fascinating to the group than to hilariously snipey Dr. Glock. After music performances, the invited audience “pays tribute” (sexually), which Stones also documents. And another music group was rejected from the institute, is now threatening violence. In a tie-in to Crimes of the Future, everyone in this movie wants to be in a culinary art collective.
Stones vs. the Doctor:
The band is led by Strickland muse Fatma Mohamed, who says within earshot of the others that they’re not a collective – she’s the leader and the others are replaceable. Ariane Labed and Asa Butterfield (Hugo himself) make up the rest of the trio. Asa is especially cute in this – his emo haircut sticking out through the eyeholes of his crime-catsuit is a nice touch.
On Letterboxd: “Some Might Say” by Oasis
Tilda doesn’t even seem unhappy about The Sound, she’s just very interested. On her quest for understanding, everyone she meets – sound engineer Juan Pablo Urrego, archaeologist Jeanne Balibar, fish scaler Elkin Díaz – is open to her about their work, inviting her to sit down with them and participate. It feels utopian about human connection before we even reach the final stretch, then Elkin’s death and resurrection reaches Tsai-like duration, and the alien time-wormhole source of The Sound (and Juan Pablo being potentially the same person as Elkin) turn the movie into a cosmic puzzle. I haven’t seen a movie on the big screen at The Plaza in years, and was very happy to return with this one.
The compositions and edits offer suggestive juxtapositions that Apichatpong trusts you to generate meaning from. As usual with Apichatpong, scenes unfold in long, static takes, and important information is revealed without fanfare in hushed conversations that you really need to pay attention to. The urban settings of the first half are grey and overcast, and the rural setting of the second half is sumptuous, but Apichatpong does little with his camera to underline the ugliness or sweeten the prettiness.
Hou is weirdly good at capturing technology in transition. Lead character Yoko has a cellphone in this, but there are pay phones around, and you could still call a bar and ask to speak with a customer. There’s also a minidisc recorder, which is very exciting to me. The story, not so much though – Hou thought it would be interesting and Ozu-like to follow a Japanese girl around. His follow-up Three Times was slowly sensuous, while this is just uneventful.
a womb of trains:
She visits her parents, tells mom she’s pregnant over a late night snack. She won’t marry the baby daddy, who lives in Thailand and works at an umbrella factory, bringing her umbrellas when they visit. She researches a dream she had about a goblin stealing a child, and interviews locals to locate a cafe which a Taiwanese author used to frequent. Her book store friend records train sounds on minidisc, and people murmur to each other about art and memories and technology.
Rosenbaum called it “a provocative and haunting look at Tokyo and the overall drift of the world that’s slow to reveal its secrets and beauties,” and I was disappointed not to agree. Yoko’s parents are stars – Kimiko Yo of Yumeji and Hiruko the Goblin, and Nenji Kobayashi of Twilight Samurai and a bunch of Obayashis – and the minidisc guy is Ichi the Killer star Tadanobu Asano.
Eight years in the life of a Philly family. Dad runs a local recording studio, but his star artist Price is progressing further as an addict than a musician. Mom makes peanuts working at a shelter. Their older son has a kid but can’t look for work due to his cancer treatments, and their bright, active daughter gets an eye shot out from gang fighting down the street. Style of the film is low-key observational, and overall mood (when nobody is getting shot) is of great generosity and warmth.
Their daughter P.J. grows from a lively 8-year-old to a high school graduate during the course of this 105-minute film, and when something traumatic happens to her, half the audience at the screening I attended gasped “Oh no!” Quest opens with the 2008 Obama election, and his eight-year presidency is a source of pride and hope, but it doesn’t raise their income above the poverty line.
Photos from a promo site, can’t remember if they appear in the film:
Squeamish British sound engineer Toby Jones arrives in Italy to work on a movie called The Equestrian Vortex, not realizing it’s an extra-bloody horror film. Supposedly he was hired because the film’s director Santini holds him in high regard, but nobody else in the studio could care less, and his requests meet with blank stares and insults, as over the weeks of work he gets more shaken by the company and his work stabbing and snapping vegetables as torture-foley.
Like the 1970’s and 80’s Italian horrors Berberian claims to be recreating (we never see a scrap of footage from the film-in-a-film except its opening titles), this movie cares much more about atmosphere than anything else, and does a great job creating that through image and sound. With Jones playing a foley artist and sound recorder, they knew we’d be paying close attention to the soundtrack, and it’s wonderful. But while the Argento and Fulci movies have overstuffed but ultimately empty stories submerged in their gothic atmosphere, this one mostly dispenses with story and lets its atmosphere do all the talking. In fact, they seem to have forgotten to give the movie an ending. It has a neat build-up, as Toby’s letters from home bleed into his work, a story of a birdnest rampage paralleled in the inner film’s carnage and in editing-room chaos after a wronged actress takes out her frustration upon the audiotapes, but then it peters out after that.
Very nice touch that sound equipment is activated by a black gloved hand in close-up. Shot by Nic Knowland (Institute Benjamenta, Piano Tuner of Earthquakes). I must find Strickland’s earlier feature, a Romanian revenge drama.