TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT January 2009

TOP TEN

Jim O’Rourke

Jim O’Rourke is a producer, musician, and sometime filmmaker living in Tokyo. He recently performed with Tony Conrad at the Yokohama Triennial 2008.

  1. WILLIAM FRIEDKIN, BUG (2006)

    Like seeing an old friend after years and years. Not since To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) has a William Friedkin film made his worldview so palpable. I’ve always enjoyed Friedkin’s take on plays—in this case, Tracy Letts’s drama of the same name—as source material, and it’s reassuring to feel that nervous energy which he brought to the earlier adaptations. After seeing Bug, I decided to revisit as many of his films as I could, and the one that struck me this time was the 1968 musical The Night They Raided Minsky’s, reminiscent of Alan Clarke’s Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire (1985) in undermining the camera’s narrative role in genre filmmaking.

    *William Friedkin, _Bug_, 2006,* still from a color film in 35 mm, 102 minutes. Peter Evans (Michael Shannon). William Friedkin, Bug, 2006, still from a color film in 35 mm, 102 minutes. Peter Evans (Michael Shannon).
  2. PETER LIECHTI, KICK THAT HABIT: A SOUND MOVIE (1989)

    This month, Peter Liechti’s Kick That Habit, focusing on performances by the art band Voice Crack, finally comes out on a North America–friendly DVD. The Swiss filmmaker’s works—including Roman Signer, Zündschnur (1990), which strangely enough focuses on artist Roman Signer—are quietly eloquent in their examination of how artists internalize their environments, both physically and socially.

    *Peter Liechti, _Kick That Habit: A Sound Movie_, 1989,* still from a black-and-white film in 16 mm, 45 minutes. Peter Liechti, Kick That Habit: A Sound Movie, 1989, still from a black-and-white film in 16 mm, 45 minutes.
  3. WERNER HERZOG, ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD (2008)

    Among Werner Herzog’s documentaries, this one, filmed in Antarctica, shows an unusual apprehension. Herzog typically explores the world through one person with whom he empathizes, but in this film he instead surveys a settlement that is a kind of existentialist’s sanctuary. And unlike Herzog’s other subjects, the folks here, living at this most extreme point on the map, are all too aware of the endgame in which they are involved. Great cinematography from Peter Zeitlinger and music direction by Henry Kaiser.

    *Werner Herzog, _Encounters at the End of the World_, 2008,* still from a color video, 99 minutes. Werner Herzog, Encounters at the End of the World, 2008, still from a color video, 99 minutes.
  4. MERZBOW, ANICCA (COLD SPRING, 2008)

    Featuring Masami Akita’s recent analog return to his junk instruments of the 1980s, this record nearly goes full circle, with Live in Khabarovsk, CCCP–era free-drumming filling in every hole left in this musician’s web. Pentimento style, Akita’s recent forays with Heldon’s Richard Pinhas have revealed his progressive-rock roots, from which he has been shooting off in all directions for the past thirty years.

  5. “ROBERT DOWNEY: A PRINCE,” RETROSPECTIVE AT ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES, NEW YORK

    I actually couldn’t go to this, but I would still vote it as the event of the decade. Robert Downey Sr. has been an enormous influence on me since childhood. The first time I saw his 1966 Chafed Elbows, my ideas of what could be done with film were shattered. Along with Lenny Bruce and other like-minded ne’er-do-wells, Downey gave a lot of kids their first glimpse of life unhinged.

     *Robert Downey Sr., _Chafed Elbows_, 1966,* still from a black-and-white film in 35 mm, 63 minutes. Walter Dinsmore (George Morgan) and Elsie Downey. Robert Downey Sr., Chafed Elbows, 1966, still from a black-and-white film in 35 mm, 63 minutes. Walter Dinsmore (George Morgan) and Elsie Downey.
  6. KŌJI WAKAMATSU RETROSPECTIVE, CINEMAVERA, TOKYO

    An amazing, monthlong retrospective of twenty of Kōji Wakamatsu’s works, as well as those of his coconspirators at Wakamatsu Productions in the ’60s—including Masao Adachi and Atsushi Yamatoya’s stunning Season of Betrayal (1966). There has been a recent revival of Wakamatsu’s best works (among his nearly one hundred films), some of which are currently traveling in film festivals and will hopefully find a DVD presence outside Japan. Now in his seventies, the director continues to do things any way he damn well pleases, going so far as to destroy his own house to shoot the final sequence of his latest film, United Red Army (2008).

  7. ALBERT MARCOEUR, TRAVAUX PRATIQUES (LABEL FRÈRES, 2008)

    Unfortunately little known outside his native France, Albert Marcoeur has for the past forty years worked slowly and painstakingly on a handful of records, composing incredibly complex works. The multi-instrumentalist, however, never foregrounds his own labor at the expense of retaining a light and transparent character to his nonetheless multilayered music. His interlocking rhythms—filled with small side steps that can change a song’s context entirely—and self-deprecating lyrics, like a magician’s sleight of hand, lead the listener to places absolutely unexpected.

    *Cover art for Albert Marcoeur’s _Travaux Pratiques_* (Label Frères, 2008). Cover art for Albert Marcoeur’s Travaux Pratiques (Label Frères, 2008).
  8. THE FILM MUSIC OF MAURICIO KAGEL

    Born in 1931, the German-Argentine composer and filmmaker Mauricio Kagel recently passed away and, sadly, his cinematic works remain generally unseen: His 1969 Ludwig Van was reissued a few years back, but his best films, Hallelujah (1968–69) and Antithese (1965), are still hard to track down, as are many others in his oeuvre. In film, Kagel found what might have been the perfect medium for his interests, which encompassed both a respect and a raspberry for classical music culture and its place in wider economic contexts. Like France’s music provocateur Luc Ferrari, Kagel straddled the fence between court jester and cultural ambassador.

  9. DAIDO MORIYAMA, TOKYO METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF PHOTOGRAPHY

    This solo exhibition from last summer featured huge black-and-white prints of works from the past four decades, including a new series shot in Hawaii. Around the same time, I encountered a small Moriyama exhibition in a Shinjuku bar, with images of chanteuse Yoko Nagisa. Here, a new aspect of Moriyama’s work was revealed: a focused stillness in sharp contrast with the frozen moments of activity for which he is best known.

  10. TOMOO GOKITA, TAKA ISHII GALLERY, TOKYO

    A strange and transitional show for one of my favorite artists: What may be one of his last wall constellations of ridiculously detailed drawings stood firmly against the large canvases he has taken up of late. The new works have an apparent disregard for current aesthetics in Japanese painting and instead serve as almost literal translations of Tomoo Gokita’s personal obsessions as if viewed through large fun-house mirrors, hazy with dust from years of disuse. Refreshingly nonillustrative and unrelated to any popular imagery today.

    *Tomoo Gokita, _Science Friction_, 2008,* gouache on canvas, 63 3/4 x 63 3/4". Tomoo Gokita, Science Friction, 2008, gouache on canvas, 63 3/4 x 63 3/4".