Saturday, September 13, 2014

Public Art, a Quad and an Endowment Honor David Finney

Posted By on Sat, Sep 13, 2014 at 4:30 PM

"Audeamus" by Chris Curtis - COURTESY OF STEPHEN MEASE
  • Courtesy of Stephen Mease
  • "Audeamus" by Chris Curtis
Winning a public-art commission is all too rare for most sculptors. Even rarer is getting a college quad named after you. Both those opportunities collided today — albeit were in the works for months — when Champlain College president emeritus David F. Finney was honored in a surprise (to him) ceremony at the newly renamed Finney Quad.

In addition, a $2 million Endowed Chair for the Future of Professional Education in his name was announced at the ceremony, a gathering of campus and community members and supporters, and led by new president Donald J. Laackman. Finney retired on June 30 after leading the college for nine years — a period that has seen tremendous growth, including the construction of student housing and other campus buildings, the development of new degree programs and, not least, the establishment of the Robert P. Stiller School of Business. For that last accomplishment, Finney secured the school's largest single gift ever. 

And the public art commission? That honor went to Stowe sculptor Chris Curtis, co-owner of West Branch Gallery & Sculpture Park, for his steel-and-granite work titled "Audeamus." Aptly, the piece is installed in the center of the new quad on the Burlington campus at Maple and South Willard streets. Its Latin name is derived from the school's motto, and also honors Finney's "let us dare" spirit.

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What I'm Watching: Wake in Fright

Posted By on Sat, Sep 13, 2014 at 9:15 AM

The great Donald Pleasence, coinèd eyes a-gleam - DRAFTHOUSE FILMS
  • Drafthouse Films
  • The great Donald Pleasence, coinèd eyes a-gleam

One of the most exciting cinematic rediscoveries of the last few years is now available to anyone with a Netflix streaming account, thanks to the splintered nature of modern film distribution. I'm referring to the unearthing of Ted Kotcheff's 1971 film Wake in Fright, an Australian-American coproduction that is surely among the bleakest films I've ever seen. And I've seen Salò, Grave of the Fireflies and Nil by Mouth.

The story of Wake in Fright is very simple. At the end of the school year, John Grant, a teacher at a one-room schoolhouse in the Australian outback, leaves the remote town in which he's stationed and does his best to get back to Sydney. He gets waylaid, though, in the even more remote (and fictional) town of Bundanyabba, where he soon falls into alcohol- and violence-fueled dissolution. He loses all sense of propriety, all his morals and all hope of ever getting home.

I won't reveal the ending (though it's more than 40 years old, this still somewhat obscure film has been reintroduced into circulation only within the last two years). But suffice it to say that even Grant's last-ditch attempt to escape his own personal hell is unsuccessful.

The "train station" in Tiboonda - DRAFTHOUSE FILMS
  • Drafthouse Films
  • The "train station" in Tiboonda

The story of Wake in Fright's rediscovery and rerelease is far more complex. Made with a small budget for United Artists, the film was released (in some locations under the title Outback) to generally favorable reviews. Even some critics prone to moralizing viewed the film positively, despite its harrowing depictions of violence and vicious alcoholism. Wake in Fright achieved little success in the U.S., UK and Australia, but it was greeted more warmly in France. It vanished quickly from most theaters.

This is just one of those films that fell through the cracks. In the 1980s and '90s, it received limited release on video, and screened only occasionally on Australian television. Extant prints, of which there were never many, existed only in various states of deterioration, and the original negatives were apparently lost.

Somehow or other, that negative was discovered in a vault in Pittsburgh and saved from destruction in 2002. It turned out to be in bad shape, too, but a better negative was surprisingly located a couple years later. Restoration of Wake in Fright, which had since acquired a favorable reputation as a "lost" cult film, commenced at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia later that year.

A full 4K digital restoration was finally completed in 2009, and the film has screened at many major international festivals. (It's apparently one of only two films to screen more than once at the Cannes Film Festival.) I don't know when Netflix added it to its streaming catalog, but the fact that Wake in Fright has gone from nearly lost to potentially in anyone's living room is astonishing.

Another astonishing thing about Wake in Fright is its aforementioned bleakness. The film depicts the outback as an empty, backward, violent, stultifyingly hopeless place populated by violent, drunken, amoral assholes who are addicted to the basest forms of gambling. (A pivotal scene shows a group of sweaty, disgusting men betting on, of all things, a series of coin tosses.)

When Grant gets stuck in "the Yabba," he has no choice but to swill massive quantities of beer and commence an association with the local drunken thugs. A viewer expecting anything other than bleakness, though, should heed the warning that director Kotcheff provides in the film's very first shot, a 360-degree pan of "downtown" Tiboonda. The absolute void at the heart of the film's story is presented symbolically right there at the start.

Downtown Bundanyabba - DRAFTHOUSE FILMS
  • Drafthouse Films
  • Downtown Bundanyabba

At the time of its original release, as well as during the period of its rediscovery, Wake in Fright's most controversial scene is that in which the main characters drink heavily, drive into the outback and shoot a bunch of kangaroos. Even though they take a few ’roo chunks back to the Yabba for grilling, this is no hunting trip; it's a massacre. The carnage — and here the film uses actual footage of a kangaroo hunt that was allegedly supervised by genuine hunters — is sickening, and apparently caused many a walk-out in theaters where the film has been shown. 

The notorious kangaroo hunt - DRAFTHOUSE FILMS
  • Drafthouse Films
  • The notorious kangaroo hunt

For its vicious violence, and for its symbolic function as the film's heart of darkness, the kangaroo hunt reminded me strongly of the rabbit hunt in Jean Renoir's 1939 The Rules of the Game. Both scenes serve the same function: showing the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of their respective film's societies.

Ted Kotcheff is a journeyman director whose career stretches back into 1950s television; his better-known films include North Dallas Forty, First Blood, Uncommon Valor .... and Weekend at Bernie's. Based on such a résumé, I wouldn't have expected much from Wake in Fright. But Kotcheff is on his game for the whole film, which is extremely well shot, edited and art directed. Though I haven't seen many of his films, I'd be surprised if Wake in Fright weren't the best of the lot. Bleak and harrowing, it's not for all tastes, but the daring moviegoer will find many rewards in it.

Heads or tails? You lose, either way. - DRAFTHOUSE FILMS
  • Drafthouse Films
  • Heads or tails? You lose, either way.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Movies You Missed & More: Gimme the Loot

Posted By on Fri, Sep 12, 2014 at 2:35 PM

  • IFC

This week in movies you missed: Two young graffiti artists scheme to pull off the score of a lifetime: "bombing" the New York Mets' Home Run Apple at Citi Field.

Local note: The film's editor, Morgan Faust, is or was a part-time Brattleboro resident. I wrote about her own Vermont-shot film project here.

What You Missed

Sophia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson) work well together. She's tough and surly, he's gangly and wistful — and they're both good at lifting spray cans from stores and leaving their mark on city buildings.

Fed up with the Mets fans who keep defacing their art, the platonic pair plot the ultimate revenge: defacing the Mets Apple. Footage from a vintage cable-access show informs the viewer that this seemingly undoable stunt has been the holy grail of NYC graffiti artists for the past 20 years, putting the fictional characters in a real context.

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The Case of the Phantom Polka Station

Posted By on Fri, Sep 12, 2014 at 1:08 PM

Recently, classic-rock fans in the Champlain Valley tuning to Barre's 107.1 "Frank" FM were surprised to find that, rather than their daily fix of "More Than a Feeling" and "Rock You Like a Hurricane," the frequency was broadcasting polka music. On repeat. Around the clock. Seriously.

In between revolutions of what appear to be the same handful of tunes over and over — though how anyone can tell the difference is a question for another day — an ad trumpets the impending arrival of "107.1 FM the Barrel: the Future Home of Polka in the Champlain Valley."

Apart from polka die-hards (we assume there are some), the staff at Das Bierhaus and maybe some Old World German grandparents, the collective response from most listeners in Burlington and surrounds was, roughly speaking, "What the f …?"

So is this a joke? Has Frank FM really changed formats? To polka? (Franz FM, perhaps?) Is the nonstop polka a predictor of imminent end times? What in the name of Lawrence Welk is going on?

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Middlebury College Installs (Yet Another) Massive Public Sculpture

Posted By on Fri, Sep 12, 2014 at 11:06 AM

"Youbie Obie" by J. Pindyck Miller - COURTESY OF MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE
  • Courtesy of Middlebury College
  • "Youbie Obie" by J. Pindyck Miller
Middlebury College's sprawling campus has no shortage of intersecting pathways or massive, publicly displayed metal sculptures, but "Youbie Obie" — a 15.5-by-15.5-foot construction installed in late August — may take the cake.

Located on the northeast corner of campus in a highly trafficked area near several dormitories, Bicentennial Hall, Wright Memorial Theatre and a college dining hall, the towering Corten steel structure was made by noteworthy contemporary sculptor J. Pindyck Miller, a 1960 Midd grad. The location was chosen to provide multiple visual perspectives on the sculpture, which appears deceptively flat when seen from the front, according to Middlebury College Museum of Art chief curator Emmie Donadio.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The War on Drugs' Adam Granduciel on His New Record (and U2's)

Posted By on Thu, Sep 11, 2014 at 3:47 PM

Adam Granduciel of the War on Drugs - COURTESY OF THE WAR ON DRUGS
  • Courtesy of the War on Drugs
  • Adam Granduciel of the War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream, the third album from Philly-based rockers the War on Drugs, released earlier this year, was born out of an emotionally dark period for front man and songwriter Adam Granduciel. Though rooted in isolation, heartache and questions of personal identity, Granduciel's plainspoken soul searching is wrapped in a warm, multilayered blanket of sound that is anything but dreary. Lost in the Dream is as uplifting as it is emotionally raw. 

Seven Days recently spoke with Granduciel by phone in advance of the War on Drugs' appearance at the Grand Point North music festival at Burlington's Waterfront Park this Saturday, September 13. 

SEVEN DAYS: Were you as annoyed as I was to find a new U2 album in your iTunes library yesterday morning?
ADAM GRANDUCIEL: Is it in there? Lemme look at that. If it's in there I'm gonna fucking freak. [Checks his iTunes] Nope. I don't think it's there.

SD: Lucky you. Pretty much everyone else on the planet got it, whether they wanted it or not.
AG: I also haven't updated my iTunes in a while. Is it any good?

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New Tunes: Villanelles, "Zane's Little Brother"

Posted By on Thu, Sep 11, 2014 at 8:15 AM

  • Villanelles
Whither Villanelles?

Upon the release of a rollicking 2011 EP, Kiss My Grits — a follow-up to the sweet, breezy jangle of their self-titled 2010 debut full-length —  Burlington indie rockers Villanelles had assumed a place among the area's most promising local acts. And then … nothing.

For a variety of reasons, the band essentially went on hiatus shortly after the release of Kiss My Grits. Front man Tristan Baribeau would later release a fine solo record under the moniker Doctor Sailor. Otherwise, Villanelles went dark. All the more frustrating was the rumor that the band was close to finishing a full-length follow-up at the time. The question became whether the public would ever get to hear it.

Indeed, we will.

In anticipation of the band's appearance at Grand Point North this Saturday, September 13, Villanelles have unveiled a track from that forthcoming album called "Zane's Little Brother," via Soundcloud. They also announced that the record, titled Blue Heart Attack, will be out this fall. All of which is music to fans' ears. Oh, and speaking of music to your ears…

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Voilà! French Film and Music in Burlington City Hall Park

Posted By on Mon, Sep 8, 2014 at 7:38 PM

Cumulonimbus zaniness in Mood Indigo - BURLINGTON CITY ARTS
  • Burlington City Arts
  • Cumulonimbus zaniness in Mood Indigo

With a free program of film and live music this Thursday, Burlington City Arts reminds us that summer ain't over yet. Or should we say, l'été n'est pas encore fini?

An evening for Francophiles and art lovers of all kinds, the event in Burlington's City Hall Park features music by renowned Franco American performer Michèle Choinière, and the screening of several short films as well as acclaimed director Michel Gondry's recent feature, Mood Indigo.

Choinière, who grew up in northern Vermont, has released several albums of folk music and has been recognized as a "master artist" — she received a Governor's Heritage Award in 2007.  

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

What I'm Watching: The Core

Posted By on Sat, Sep 6, 2014 at 10:17 AM

This ray gun powered by science! - PARAMOUNT PICTURES
  • Paramount Pictures
  • This ray gun powered by science!
For some reason, I had the urge last weekend to revisit one of the most gloriously, gleefully preposterous films that I've ever seen: The 2003 sci-fi/disaster film The Core. I am happy to report that it does not disappoint — by which I mean that it remains profoundly silly. This is a quality I admire immensely.

Very little about The Core is not profoundly silly. Its premise, after all, is that a proverbial ragtag crew of mismatched oddballs can "restart" the flow of the molten metal at the center of the Earth. That molten metal has stopped moving, you see, quite possibly as a result of nefarious, government-funded experiments by one of the crew, the egotistical scientist Dr. Conrad Zimsky.

Under the guidance of another crackpot scientist who just happens to have figured out how to blast through solid rock with a beam of light, government forces construct, in just a couple of months, a subway-like vehicle that can withstand the intense heat and pressure at the Earth's core. This is because the vehicle is shielded by "unobtainium," a recently synthesized material that conveniently becomes stronger as the temperature to which it is subjected climbs. 

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Movies You Missed & More: Locke

Posted By on Fri, Sep 5, 2014 at 5:28 PM

And … this is basically the whole movie in one image. - A24 FILMS
  • A24 Films
  • And … this is basically the whole movie in one image.

This week in movies you missed:
 "That movie where a guy just talks on the phone in his car for 85 minutes."

Or: How interesting can an ultra-minimalist conceit be? Can you keep an audience absorbed in a film with one character and one set? Writer-director Steven Knight (Eastern Promises) decided to find out.

What You Missed

Somewhere in the UK, night. Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) leaves a large industrial plant and gets in his Beemer. As he speeds toward London, he makes a series of calls: to his wife and kids, his boss, his subordinate, and a frightened woman waiting for him in a hospital at his destination.

Locke is a construction foreman, and tomorrow his company will undertake Europe's largest-ever concrete pour for a new skyscraper. He's supposed to be there to oversee the complicated process; he won't be. His boss (voice of Ben Daniels) is apoplectic, his subordinate (Andrew Scott) terrified. He's never shirked a responsibility before.

Locke's wife (Ruth Wilson) is both angry and terrified — for a different reason. His kids, who expected him to be home for the game tonight, are just confused. But Locke is dead set on making it to his destination. It's the only way he can prove to himself he is the man he's always wanted to be.

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