Showing posts with label music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label music. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

CinDi 2012: The Boxes of Death, The Live (죽엄의 상자, 더 라이브) 2012

Part of MKC's Coverage of the 6th Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival.

A number of bizarre and interesting works were presented at this year’s CinDi but none fit the tag ‘meta’ better than this curious Korean cinema-centric documentary. The Boxes of Death, The Live is about a live musical staging of the debut work of a titan of classic Korean cinema which was actually a showcase at last year’s CinDi. I didn’t see it in the exact same theater but it was certainly strange witnessing the proceedings unfold at the same event.

The Boxes of Death (1955) was the first film of Kim Ki-young, a masterful Korean cineaste who is slowly, and rightly, being recognized as one of the greats of world cinema. Most famous for his incendiary work The Housemaid (1960), Kim’s oeuvre stretched over a few decades and always pushed the medium to its limits. Films like Woman of Fire (1971), The Insect Woman (1972) and Iodo (1977), explored our darkest desires and shed an often unflattering light on Korea, in stark contrast with the image that the then-authoritarian government wished to promulgate. The Boxes of Death is perhaps more interesting as an historical artifact but the truth is that it is difficult to make a proper judgment on the film as the only existing print is lacking its soundtrack.

Friday, August 31, 2012

8th Jecheon International Music & Film Festival Wrap-up

Part of MKC's coverage of the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival.

It took me a while to gather my thoughts on the eight films I saw during my brief weekend at the 8th Jecheon International Music & Film Festival but now that I've really had the time to think about it, I can say that it was well worth my time. I saw some very good films and a few bad ones but most of all the event reminded me that I'm actually a huge music enthusiast. These days as I try to keep up with everything going on in the film world, it's very easy to forget that. I often go weeks at time without ever opening iTunes. So for that, as well as the great films I did see, I am grateful for the Jecheon film festival and I will gladly be returning for its 9th edition next year.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

JIMFF 2012: Abba (阿爸, Taiwan) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival.

Though not always convinced by the films, the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival was definitely a period of musical discovery for me. It reawakened my love for Tropicalia and Serge Gainsbourg, made me wish I had more time to play my guitar (Jason Becker: I’m Not Dead Yet) and introduced me to flamenco singing (Morente). On the flipside I also discovered that I am not too keen on Thai country music (The Moon). The Taiwanese documentary Abba (which features a number of flashback scenes) led me to more uncharted territory as it immersed me in Taiwan's pop music scene.

This doc’s subject is Hong Yi-feng, the late King of Taiwanese Pop. Much of the proceedings involve the staging of a tribute concert being put on by his three sons (themselves successful artists) following his death. It’s a tribute film that commemorates his achievements as a pioneering musician in Taiwan but it is also a portrait of a deeply flawed man who was a strict father, an adulterer and ultimately an absentee family man. Most of the film is told from the viewpoint of his sons, all of whom are grown up with their own families.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

JIMFF 2012 - Gainsbourg By Gainsbourg: An Intimate Self-Portrait (Je suis venu vous dire..., France) 2012

Part of MKC's coverage of the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival.

When I noticed this documentary among the many titles on offer at this year’s JIMFF, I quickly saved a spot for it in my schedule. It was my first time hearing of it but as I count myself one of Serge Gainsbourg’s many fans it was out of the question that I should miss it. However, following the thrill of seeing it in the schedule and my rising excitement as I recalled this great artist’s legacy, my initial enthusiasm soon turned to trepidation. Gainsbourg, of course, is no mere pop star (not that I mean to denigrate anyone associated with that label). He is one of the most complicated mainstream artists of the 20th century. Following his death, the president of his native France declared him a national treasure, placing him in the same pantheon as Apollinaire and Baudelaire, two of the finest poets to ever put pen to paper.

My fear was that he is a towering figure, a versatile musician with an enigmatic persona: how does one adumbrate his life and work in a mere 100 minutes? There was no doubt in my mind that the music would be up to par (as it would be his) and that I could expect a number of interesting anecdotes coupled with footage and audio of the great man himself outside of his recorded oeuvre. What did nag at me was that I could scarcely imagine how the film could live up to the man.

Monday, August 27, 2012

JIMFF 2012: The Moon (พุ่มพวง, Pumpuang, Thailand) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival.

Generally speaking I’m not a huge fan of music biopics. As the Jecheon film festival has proven (or not in some instances), musicians tend to make better documentary subjects. With the latter format you can improvise and approach their life and work from a variety of angles. By staging a full blown narrative feature, you’re assuming that the musician has a life that is worth the film treatment. Very often this is not the case. While musicians lead very interesting lives, these rarely amount to a good feature-length narrative.

The Moon is about Pumpuang Duangjang, the queen of Thai country (luktung) music. Born in poverty, Pumpuang worked hard to get herself taken in as an apprentice by an established musician in Bangkok and quickly made a name for herself with her powerful voice among a male-dominated scene. The film chronicles her steady rise and later her battle with illness, all the while exploring her marriage as she grows more famous and distant.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

JIMFF 2012: Morente (Morente, flamenco y Picasso, Spain) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival.

I’m very glad I saw the Spanish documentary Morente, as it introduced me to a wonderful style of music that I was not very familiar beforehand but particularly because it brought the formidable artist Enrique Morente to my attention: a man with a beautiful voice who sings with heartrending passion. However, aside from its resplendent, larger-than-life protagonist, I have to chalk this documentary up as a failure. It is poorly made and worse it comes off as indulgent.

Enrique Morente was a flamenco singer who had reached the pinnacle of his art. At the time of the making of this film, which incidentally were his last days (he passed away shortly after the project wrapped), he is attempting to breathe his art into the words of Picasso, Spain’s most revered artist.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

8th Jecheon International Music & Film Festival Preview

Part of MKC's coverage of the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival.

Following last month’s wonderful PiFan I begin August with what will be the first in of a series of film festivals. I made my way to Jecheon, which is a small town about 2 hours East of Seoul, at the crack of dawn to make the most of my brief weekend at the Jecheon International Music and Film Festival.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Children ... (A-i-deul...) 2011

Children… opens with a young boy running in slow motion in a red cape in rural Korea in the early 1990s, accompanied by stirring music, a Korean Mendelssohn-esque string symphony. Right from the bat this is an emotional affair, the kind of scene that Korean filmmakers are so adept at. They can wring out feelings from their spectators without even presenting a story or real characters. All they need are a few symbolic images and some top-flight mise-en-scene and we are powerless to resist. The next few minutes quickly set the scene for something ominous to happen, once again without giving us any real information. The cinematography and exceptional score do all the work and give us everything we need to know.

Opening shot
I went into this film not knowing a thing about it but it was easy to tell where it was going from those opening moments before the title shot. I was reminded of Friend (2001) and Memories of Murder (2003) in equal measure. Naturally I grew very excited and eagerly followed the plot as a group of children go missing and are not found. A few years later a shamed TV producer (Park Yong-woo) comes to the town and starts his own investigation in order to rebuild his reputation. He enlists the help a professor (Ryoo Seung-yong) with a few crazy ideas but encounters the resistance of the local law enforcement. The narrative doesn’t quite follow where you think it will after that but I will let you discover that for yourself.

The music in this film was truly extraordinary, not just in its quality but also in its power when combined with the visual medium. This brings me to an interesting question: how is it that from time to time we can experience a potent degree of catharsis without having followed a narrative or any character’s trajectory? Children… successfully raised a lump in my throat and made me feel something before I even knew any of the character’s names. Sadly the film did not ultimately follow through on this as I felt it was rife with problems, and yet at numerous points during the film I found myself affected by the evocative music and impressive technical skill on display.

Park Yong-woo as the TV producer
Music is used in cinema (and television) to heighten the emotions of a certain scene. The best examples of this are the short staccato and loud spikes in horror, the sweeping strings in melodrama, and the bombastic orchestral pieces used in epics, war, and action films. There are numerous other examples but those three display their effectiveness and their potential. Music can lift a dull scene, get the heart racing, or unscrew the valve to your tear ducts, but it isn’t often that it will completely hijack your state of mind irrespective of what is on screen. It does happen of course, there are certain pieces of music that are so well-known and beautiful that they will always prompt a strong reaction. Good examples are the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony and Debussy’s Claire de lune, both overused at this point but it’s easy to see why. On a purely subjective level each and every one of us may react differently to individual pieces, it’s extraordinary how one piece of music may change your perception of a film.

Ryoo Seung-yong as the professor
Korean films often have excellent scores, I’m sure that there are a handful of composers that are at the heart of this but I couldn’t tell you who they are. Children… started to lose me, especially in the second half but every times they broke out the strings I was helpless, captivated, but by what and why? Let’s go back to the opening scene and examine it, music, slow-mo, boy running in red cape, 20 years ago. The little information at hand is actually crucial and as much as this scene may elicit an emotional response from a foreign viewer, I imagine it must be even more so for a Korean. The red cape brings to mind the bloody Gwangju massacre of 1980, in which thousands of students dressed in red were slaughtered by the military government for protesting. The dinky village roads and muted colors (save for the red) evoke the still recent past of a country which has suffered an enormous amount of trauma. What’s impressive is that I think the scene is still powerful even if you are not privy to that information.

As for the rest of the film, there are a number of interesting themes that are presented. There is the process of grief in Korea, which is shown in a manipulative and rather ham-fisted way and includes themes of the role of the parent and sacrifice. Then there is a veiled commentary on the passage of time in modern Korean society as the disappearance of the youths is all but forgotten as the nation moves on. Not all move on though and it is not only the parents who refuse to let go but the professor as well. He reminds me of the intellectuals in the Korean New Wave films of the 1980s and early 1990s. It seems like a criticism of the systematic glossing over of a national history that has become too difficult to bear, it is easier to forget.

Emotional but somewhat manipulative
That last point seems very familiar, indeed I’ve already mentioned it, but I think that Children… takes more than a few pointers from Memories of Murder and as it warrants the comparison it must be said that it pales significantly in its wake. Other than that the film suffers from an odd structure, an excessive running time, somewhat undeveloped characters, and too much reliance on forced melodrama. The parts that work, and I’ve described them at length, work wonderfully and are more-or-less worth giving the film a chance but they are not supported by a substantive narrative. Maybe I’m getting a little tired of kids going missing films, the last 12 months alone have given us Children…, Man of Vendetta (2010), and No Doubt (2010), all of which fell short in some regard.

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