We Go Way Back (2006) dir. Lynn Shelton movie review

We Go Way Back 2006 review

How would your 13-year old self view grown-up you? This is the question explored in the magically surreal directorial feature debut from Lynn Shelton, We Go Way Back

We Go Way Back movie review
image: Geisha Films

“Hey, grown-up Kate! What’s up? It’s me, your 13-year old self. How are you? Where do you live? Seattle? Paris? Are you happy? Do you have a boyfriend?”

These questions haunt We Go Way Back, underscoring a life that is both eccentric, strange and utterly banal. We Go Way Back tells the story of Kate (Amber Hubert), a 23-year old accountant by day, actress and theater patroness by night. Every year on her birthday, Kate opens a letter written to herself when she was 13. These letters serve as a haunting counterpoint to the confusing, triumphant ridiculousness of adult life. Until the haunting becomes more literal… 

We Go Way Back is a quiet, slice-of-life film following the sometimes interesting, sometimes painful frustrations of Kate-At-23. Kate spends her nights working at a small local theatre in Seattle, where the film takes place. She’s a textbook case of putting everybody before herself. She does the theatre’s bookkeeping, runs every errand by the eccentric theatre director, played by Robert Hamilton Wright, and performs often demeaning roles on-stage, including spending most of her last play as a decapitated corpse. We Go Way Back follows Kate as she undergoes experiences all-too-common for young women – drinking, smoking, having casual sex in the wake of a messy breakup. The words from her 13-year old self are repeated like a mantra underpinning the film, giving a poignant sub-text to these experiences while avoiding heavy-handedness or moralizing. 

We Go Way Back Lynn Shelton
We Go Way Back does for local theatre what Steve Buscemi’s Living With Oblivion does for indie film. image: Geisha Films

Much of We Go Way Back focuses on Kate getting cast as the title role of Hedda in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. There’s one catch – the director wants her to deliver her lines in the play’s native Norwegian. Except Kate doesn’t know Norwegian. Much of We Go Way Back revolves around Kate’s late-night study sessions, while enduring her boringly banal day job as an accountant. All the while, the words from Kate’s 13-year old self continue to underscore her day-to-day struggles. 

We Go Way Back Lynn Shelton movie review
13-year old Katie was a real wild child. image: Geisha Films

Katie, played by Maggie Brown, was a real wild child, spending her days roaming the forests with a battered old camera. She is the spirit of pure, primal, unbound creativity, forcing Kate to ask the question – “How did I get here?”

The slice-of-life quietude gets interrupted when things take a turn for the magical. Katie becomes real, dogging Kate’s footsteps. She spends much of the film trying to escape this shadow, only to finally submit and befriend her younger self. The two walk down long Pacific Northwestern roads, talking of life. “What’s beer like? Are you drunk? What’s that like?”

We Go Way Back review
image: Geisha Film

While the magical realism could make We Go Way Back light and trite, instead it allows subtle, unspoken themes to ring out, loud and clear. The image of adult Kate walking desolately down the road, followed by her younger self, will likely resonate with any frustrated artist, or anyone confused about navigating adulthood, wondering where our youthful dreams went.

The back-and-forth between magical realism and the painful mundanity of her day-to-day life makes both threads work. We Go Way Back might not be much if it just focused on the arthouse play rehearsals of Hedda Gabler, with Robin Hamilton Wright playing the flaky director to a T. We Go Way Back does for local theatre what Steve Buscemi‘s Living With Oblivion does for indie film. It offers some humour and levity in what could otherwise be an oppressively heavy film. It also serves as a poignant lens to view the string of casual sex Kate engages in. She’s rarely an active participant, it’s just one more realm where Kate prioritizes others before herself. 

It’s a good opportunity to note a content warning – a number of the sexual encounters throughout We Go Way Back are non-consensual at best. Those who have trouble viewing sexual assault should tread lightly. It’s a painfully clear depiction of what many women have to deal with, their entire lives. We Go Way Back is an important feminist film for that reason alone. 

It’s worth watching for the cinematography, as well. Benjamin Kasulke’s cinematography lovingly recreates young Kate’s wild gaze, lingering on the primordial forests of the Pacific Northwest. It’s a quintessential vision of Pacific Northwestern film, full of rural roads carved out of sprawling, ancient forests; the nearly molecular detail of mushrooms and moss. For anyone not fortunate enough to live in this beautiful part of the world, We Go Way Back offers a welcome window into the Pacific Northwestern wilds.

We Go Way Back is the directorial feature-length debut of Lynn Shelton, best known for 2009’s Humpday. If you follow movie news at all, you may have heard that Lynn Shelton passed away last week due to a blood illness. She was only 54. Watching We Go Way Back, we are reminded of what a great talent we’ve lost. It also offers a depiction of what can happen when mumblecore, a movement Shelton was often associated with, is paired with higher production values, hinting at an indie/Hollywood hybrid that really should be explored further. 

We Go Way Back is an unexpectedly moving experience, especially for creative types who wonder how their life’s turned out the way it has. It invites us all to rediscover the joy, optimism, imagination, and endless possibilities of making art when we’re young. 

We Go Way Back is screening for free tonight via the always excellent NWFilmForum.

It can also be streamed on Kanopy.

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Snowpiercer Episode 1 Review, “First, The Weather Changed”

Jennifer Connelly Snowpiercer

TNT’s unexpected dystopian sci-fi tv series based on Bong Joon Ho’s adaptation of Snowpiercer gets off to a slow and subtle but steady start. 

Snowpiercer TV review
image: TNT

There is a moment when Andrew Layton (Daveed Diggs) steps into bright sunshine from the perpetual gloom of the tail for what, we presume, is the first time in years. Despite being angered, confused, frustrated, he stops and drinks in the sunlight, tries to catch a glimpse of life outside the window. Despite all his rage, his convictions, most likely his fear, he still tries to drink in the light like a starving infant. 

This sentiment is further driven home when we see Layton eat a grilled cheese and a bowl of tomato soup. Here, we see a strong, proud man driven to the point of near-tears with a simple sandwich.

Can you imagine what it would be like to not see the sun for seven years? To not taste cooked food? 7 years ago, the United States was watching unemployment numbers fall while still arguing about same-sex marriage, to put that into context. I’m not sure that any of us can truly conceptualize what 7 years of hardship and privation can do to someone. But it’s the engine that makes Snowpiercer work, as a series. 

Can you imagine what it would be like to not see the sun for seven years? To not taste cooked food?

“First, the Weather Changed” begins with a chunk of exposition detailing the creation of the train, 1,001 cars long, to help humanity weather a sudden global Ice Age, brought on by scientists attempting to reverse climate change. We see an armed insurrection storm the train, in an attempt to survive the deep freeze. Many don’t make it, but some manage to make their way onto the train’s tail cars. These are “The Tailies,” the train’s unexpected, and unwanted, lower class. 

Jennifer Connelly Snowpiercer
image: TNT

The  scene cuts to First Class, a sterile white Kubrickian idyll, where we meet Melanie Covill, meticulously brought to life by Jennifer Connelly in a truly exceptional performance. Covill is the “voice of the train,” beginning each day with a status update over an antiquated intercom system. We quickly cut to the tail, where we see the tailies plotting a revolt. Their rebellion is cut short when Layton is removed, brought forward into the train’s forward sections. 

There’s been a murder. 

Turns out the mysterious Mr. Wilford, the beneficent wizard-behind-the-curtain entrepreneur who created the train, didn’t account for the possibility of crime. After all, how could there be crime if only the wealthy are on-board? (cue sarcastic laughter.)

Andrew Layton is the only hope they have of solving this murder, as a former homicide detective in a former life. It puts him in the unique, unenviable position of being branded a traitor or navigating the train’s complex social structure. He decides to help, bargaining for increased rations and a life on the forced sterilization of The Tailies, which has meant no new births in five years. 

For the remainder of “First, the Weather Changed,” we’re introduced to more of the train’s complex society, including the libertine “third-class citizens” as well as catching a glimpse of the uber-affluent First Class. We’re offered a glimpse of the train’s “first-world problems,” where a rich socialite woman complains about Scandivanian passengers visiting the sauna nude and singing. While, back in the tail section, passengers are having their arms snapped off, as dipped in liquid nitrogen, and living off of half rations of gelatinous goo.

Snowpiercer TV review
image: TNT

It’s a rather heavy-handed illustration of the “haves” and “have-nots” of late-stage capitalism. Ultimately, that’s what makes Snowpiercer a success, so far. Dystopian sci-fi is particularly effective at satirizing the present day, in a way that contemporary media seldom can. You can see all of the graphs and numbers and charts about wage stagnation and income inequality you want. Watching someone diving in oceanic splendour while eating fresh sushi and strawberries while little children eat literal grease drives that point home in a visceral way, however. 

So far, Snowpiercer is off to a great start! There’s been some exceptional performances, already, and the society is interesting and engaging. It seems on track to be more of a sociological study than Bong Joon Ho’s action epic. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with it. 

Snowpiercer airs on Sundays at 9/8C. If you missed the first episode, you can watch on TNTdrama.com/snowpiercer.

Snowpiercer

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Design of the Day: Needle Studio’s Minimalist Alfred Hitchcock Movie Posters

Needle Design Vertigo movie poster

Desginer Matt Needle’s alternate movie posters for 3 of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous film seem both timeless and utterly fresh. 

Good design is as little design as possible,” states Dieter Rams’ 10 commandments of Good Design. While there is no one single metric that differentiates “good design” and “bad design”, if you pay attention to contemporary design, cross-referenced with how we tend to interact with the world around us – speaking as a Westernerer living in an Information Age society – a sense of “the good” in design does begin to emerge, no matter what branch or offshoot you’re looking at. 

Minimalist Design
Minimalism has been trending in recent years in everything from architecture to photography to interior and web design. Image: Sam Cormwell

One of those design trends you can’t help but ignore is minimalism. Writing about minimalist graphic design for Visme, author Orana Velarde begins “Minimalism is a visual concept that never goes out of style. It has been around for 60 years and it’s still relevant today. The main idea in minimalist design is to say more by showing less. Minimalist design is clean, crisp and timeless.”

She’s not wrong. Minimalism is the visual design trend that just won’t die. In recent years, we’ve seen everything from minimalist interior design trends to minimalist web design. And while it’s not necessarily the purpose of this blog to act as arbiter of good taste or gatekeeper of good design, it’s hard to argue that good design is minimalist design, in 2020, at least to some extent. While we find that some minimalist design is snooty and sometimes reeking of privilege, we feel like each design element should at least serve some function. We’re not here to way in on the “busy vs. clean” debate, or “ornate vs. austere,” but it does seem like in design and art, that the creator should have an idea of what they’re trying to achieve, and should ask themselves if some detail serves that vision or not. “Edit ruthlessly,” as advised by the fashion designers. “Don’t be precious with your art,” recommend the novelists. 

This is the long way of saying that designer Matt Needle’s minimalist movie posters for three of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous movies are good design, by almost any metric you’d care to throw at them. 

Needle Design Vertigo movie poster
image: Needle Design

Look at this gorgeous alternate movie poster for Vertigo, for instance. Needle plays up the negative space in what seems to us a very modern way. The visual information is reduced to the bare minimum, and shunted out of the way while still communicating the relevant details. A simple ombre gives from turquoise to indigo gives the impression of sunset. The visuals are iconic, showcasing the Golden Gate Bridge of Vertigo‘s notorious San Francisco setting, the hatted silhouette of Jimmy Stewart and the distant, ghostly mystery of Madeline looming in the distance. If you’ve seen Vertigo, there’s a good chance you’d recognize Needle Design’s movie poster even without the text.  

That’s not where the good design stops, however. Otherwise, this would just be a good movie poster – always nice, but not necessarily that exciting. If you look closely, however, you’ll notice a faint texture of concentric circles – a subtle nod to Vertigo‘s iconic set design. Combined with a slight distressed, grunge effect to give the poster a more analog feel, and we’re left with a thoroughly modern design which remains rooted in the original. 

That, to us, is one of the commandments of good design that references the past, and the purpose of this blog in general. We must know the past, and understand it, to choose what to keep and what to get rid of. 

Which seems as close to a minimalist mantra as one could hope to get. 

Needle Design’s alternate movie poster for North by Northwest is similarly stunning. 

Needle Design North by Northwest movie poster
image: Needle Design

The one for Psycho is also a thing of beauty. 

Psycho alternate movie poster
image: Needle Design

Needle Design’s minimalist movie posters are things of such beauty, you want to hang them on the wall so you can admire them 24/7. The good news is, you can! The Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho movie posters are all available as prints from their Bigcartel shop. 

We’ve fallen for Needle Design’s work in a big way. They’ve applied their minimalist aesthetic to other cinephilic subject matter, like a series of portraits of Audrey Hepburn and another of famous directors. They’ve also got ’60s Pop Art-style original art, design, and illustration, 

Full disclaimer, it could be that Needle Design’s aesthetic just so happen to pretty much identically mirror our own. We are freaks for all things distressed and textured, when they’re well-done. Their sometimes soft or bruised color pallets, like the Vertigo poster or the faded rose of the Ladybird alternate movie poster, drive us to distraction. We’re also huge fans of minimalist 60s art and design. So, it just might be that we’re the perfect customers for Needle Design. Or they just might be stunningly good design. 

You be the judge. 

Needle Design

@needledesign
ig: @needledesign
MattNeedle.co.uk
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Design of the Day: Boston City Hall, the “World’s Ugliest Building”

Kallmann McKinnell Knowles architecture

Kallmann, McKinnell & Knowles’ brutalist construction shows what beauty and grandeur are possible with concrete – even if not everybody sees it that way. 

Boston City Hall Brutalism
Credit: Ezra Stoler/Esto

Brutalism has been trending all over, the past several years. It’s been enjoying a resurgence in architecture for several years. It’s been adapted for interior design. It’s been increasingly prevalent in web design.  

Why is this blocky, streamlined design style seeing a comeback? Is it a sign that we’re returning to futurism? That form is following function again, in visual design? Is it a suggestion we’re returning to Cold War paranoia? Is it just more historic appropriation, mining the dustbin of history for irony and inspiration?

Whatever the reason, people are taking another look at brutalist architecture. Rather than the clunky, chunky, blocky, soul-crushing uninspired buildings they are sometimes seen as, designers and architects are discovering there is some actual beauty to be found in brutalism. Some genuine inspiration, as well, and an optimistic, utopian flavour not often associated with these bureaucratic-looking buildings. 

Boston City Hall Brutalist
credit: Berkshire Fine Arts

The Boston City Hill is a particularly noteworthy example of the style, with all of the unjust scorn and criticism to go with it. It has often been referred to as the “World’s Ugliest Building,” since its unveiling in 1968.

Kallmann McKinnell Knowles architecture
credit: Wikimedia Commons

The controversial building, designed by the architectural firm Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles, was intended to be provocative, as noted by Senator Ted Kennedy at the time. During the public unveiling, he makes the claim “Every important building is controversial. The Parthenon was called ‘remote’ because it was set upon a hill; and Faneuil Hall was called ‘a scar upon the landscape.’ I think we owe a debt of gratitude to those who had the vision to design this city hall and those who had the courage to accept the design.”

It seems the public sentiment was anything but grateful for Boston City Hall’s first 50 years. People hated it from the start, kick-starting a campaign and abuse that almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy. There have been cries to tear the whole thing down, to rip it up and start again. Luckily for those of us who appreciate modernist architecture, this didn’t come to pass. 

The History of Boston City Hall

Historically, brutalism was designed to uninspire. While its original connotations may have been futurist, when Le Corbusier began exploring the style in the early ’50s. Brutalism was quickly adopted to indicate a no nonsense, getting back to business attitude in the wake of World War 2. This is in large part due to the cheapness and availability of concrete, however. 

While Brutalism is often compared to Stalinist and Soviet Bloc construction styles and techniques, the approach was towards a much more democratic goal for Boston City Hall. It was part of a larger campaign to revitalize Boston’s City Center, which was beginning to slide into economic stagnation, decay, and disrepair. 

Michael McKinnell Architecture

Professor Mark Pasnik, of Wentworth Institute of Technology and author of Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, puts it like this. ““Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles did have an idea that this would be a very democratic building.They saw it as open. There’s very large columns that allow you to enter into the building in multiple ways. It doesn’t work like that anymore, but that was the original idea of that.”

““The whole thing was conceived with that sense of openness and aspiration to be very public, to be grand, to represent the civic realm,” Pasnik said. “You might just flip through it like you might a galleria in Europe or something.”

Michael McKinnell Architecture

Everything from the open plaza at its center to the decision to build with concrete itself had a democratic ideal at its heart. The concrete was meant to deliver a sense of heaviness and weightiness and as a direct counterpoint to the stark, sleek steel, chrome, and glass modernism favoured by corporations. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that the new City Hall was quite as by, for, and about the people as the architects had in mind. A campaign of abuse and neglect, beginning almost as soon as the building was unveiled, almost found the monolithic building fall beneath the wrecking ball. 

Boston City Hall renovation

The Renovation of Boston City Hall

Thank goodness the sentiments of architectural historians and enthusiasts came around before this fabulous, imposing, impressive,building would be binned for all time. Boston City Hall is now recognized as one of the most important brutalist buildings in the world, and one of the most inspiring examples of civic architecture in North America. This is in part due to an extensive redesign in honour of the building’s 50th anniversary. 

The renovation is truly a model of architectural revisionism done right. Rather than trying to rewrite the past, overlapping teams of designers worked together to take advantage of today’s technology to adhere to and emphasize the ideals of the original design. 

Boston City Hall Architect

Boston City Hall was originally meant to convey and represent greater transparency in government, which was symbolized by the concrete protrusion over the central plaza. Boston architecture and design firm Utile worked closely with city planners and lighting designers, Lam Partners, to draw out key features of the existing structure.

brutalist architecture

The interior got a much-appreciated update, as well, while still holding onto as many of the original features as possible. The open floor plan, concrete pillars, walls of glass, and exposed brickwork are all preserved from the original. 

The architects and designers were able to take advantage of shifts in technology to redefine and reorganize the interior. Instead of a space to pay parking tickets, which is now handled online, the renovation team created furniture-like fixtures throughout the lobby, as well as adding a coffee bar and a front desk, to better take advantage of misused space and create a sense of flow throughout the lobby. 

brutalist architecture revival

Many of these revisions were handled in conjunction with Michael McKinnell, one of the original architects who worked on Boston City Hall.

We wish we could announce that the inspiration for today’s Design of the Day is a happier one. Unfortunately, Michael McKinnell recently passed away due to the Coronavirus/COVID-19. He’s another in a tragically growing list of losses in the design and architecture community because of Coronavirus. That list is constantly expanding, and we’ll be exploring the myriad of ways Coronavirus/COVID-19 is impacting various sectors, in months and weeks to come. 

In the meanwhile, we take this opportunity to look back and remember the passion, wisdom, and inspiration of Michael McKinnell, while we take stock and assess of what we’ve lost. 

Michael McKinnell’s passing, and his work on Boston City Hall, was brought to our attention via a recent episode of the 99% Invisible podcast. Many thanks to them for the heads up, and for their exquisite work, as always. Our hearts go out to Michael McKinnell’s loved ones, to the city of Boston, and to any and everybody struggling with Coronavirus in any way. 

KMW Architecture

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Design of the Day: Adam Brockbank’s Dark Rey Concept Art

Adam Brockbank Dark Rey concept art

Illustrator Adam Brockbank reveals three alternate visions of Dark Rey from The Rise of Skywalker

Adam Brockbank Dark Rey concept art
image: Adam Brockbank

[Spoiler Alert: This discussion of Adam Brockbank’s illustrations discusses a minor spoiler from The Last Jedi and beyond. If you haven’t seen all of the final Star Wars triology – first of all, you should! Secondly, you might want to skip the rest of this article. Go read some of the other Design of the Day articles instead.]

Are you a fan left wanting more of Dark Rey towards the final act of The Rise of Skywalker? How could you not? We’re only offered a brief glimpse of Rey as a Dark Sith lord on the ruins of the second Death Star, in the wake of learning Emperor Palpatine is her father. In the movie, Rey sees herself wearing all black instead of all her signature all white. .  

Turns out that wasn’t the only concept art floating around. 

Illustrator Adam Brockbank shared three alternate vision to his Instagram account.

Adam Brockbank Rey concept art
image: Adam Brockbank

One sees Rey shrouded in all black. 

One sees Rey with Kylo Ren’s helmet:
Adam Brockbank Star Wars
image: Adam Brockbank

The final illustration depicts Rey in a pleated blood red robe, similar to the Emperor’s Royal Guard.  

 

Adam Brockbank Dark Rey concept art
image: Adam Brockbank

 

This is the most recent in a rash of new The Rise of Skywalker concept art. Much of this has to do with the release of The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker artbook, released in March of this year on Harry N. Abrams.

This is not the first time Adam Brockbank’s done concept art or illustrations for Star Wars. He’s done series for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Last Jedi and Solo. He’s also done lavish illustrations in his iconic oil style for nearly any and every genre film of the last 10 years. Browse the rest of his homepage for more illustration inspiration than you can handle.

Adam Brockbank

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SXSW Movie Review: I’m Gonna Make You Love Me

I'm Gonna Make You Love Me SXSW

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me is an insightful, in-depth, loving look at the life of Brian Belovitch/Natalia “Tish” Gervais, a gender-fluid gay man who lived for many years as a trans woman during the 70s and 80s.

I'm Gonna Make You Love Me movie review
image: Amazon

To say that Brian Belovich has had an interesting life would be an understatement, as well as a misnomer. Lives might be more apt, as Brian has had numerous – first as a sensitive, effeminate gay boy; then as a larger-than-life transwoman and personality; then, finally, as himself.

Gender and sexuality have been two of the most hot button topics of the last 10 years. It’s such a sensitive and personal topic for nearly everybody, it’s easy for people to get worked up or their feelings hurt. It’s notoriously difficult to talk about, even when you’re in agreement and on the same side. The absolutist language of binaries lends itself to hurt feelings and black-and-white thinking, where you just end up talking past one another and in heated arguments, even when you don’t want to. That’s what makes director Karen Bernstein’s work with I’m Gonna Make You Love Me such a laudable achievement. She doesn’t shy away from hard or sensitive topics, while remaining sympathetic and empathetic, all the while.

I'm Gonna Make You Love Me SXSW
image: Amazon

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me starts off with Brian as a small child, growing up in Providence, Rhode Island. He started showing signs of “femininity” (as in, behaviour which American culture reads as ‘feminine,’ which is bullshit in its own right, but a topic for a whole separate lengthy essay all its own.) He speaks of being misgendered even as a baby, and of getting positive attention for entertaining people by singing and dancing. Some of the onlookers would mistake him for a little girl, much to his Mother’s horror. That’s the first heartbreaking thing about I’m Gonna Make You Love Me. Today’s more inclusive, understanding, celebratory world (even as a bubble) is a recent development. Bernstein’s documentary reminds us of the pain and trauma LGBTQIA+ folks had to endure not very long ago, and are enduring still in probably most parts of the world. It breaks yr heart, when you see what a lovely, loving child Brian was.

Fast forward to the 70s, with Brian coming out, getting into drag and exploring the burgeoning gay scene in Providence. This proved to be of little solace to Brian, an effeminate man when bearish, bullish masculinity was all the rage. It seems Brian couldn’t even find a home in the gay scene. Instead, he decided to lean into the drag and begin living life as a woman.

And thus Natalia “Tish” Gervais was born. As Tish, she even went so far as to get married, to a G.I. no less, and lived for a time as an Army housewife in Germany. She did all of the things an Army housewife did during that era, but she ultimately felt bored and unfulfilled and moved back to the States, relocating to New York City just in time to become a celebrity in the burgeoning Downtown Art scene.

Life wasn’t easy for Tish. A series of events culminated with her de-transitioning in the late 80s and returning to life as Brian Belovitch, a charming and lovely man, sparking with life, generous of heart and spirit. Each chapter of his life is more interesting than a lot of people’s entire experience. In many ways, Brian’s lived three lives, and lived each one to its fullest.

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me is a thoughtful, insightful, and in-depth look at a tricky subject. Some members of the transgender community get touchy around telling stories about detransitioning, afraid it’ll get picked up as ammunition by bigots. To their credit, both Karen Bernstein and Brian don’t shy away from this, but also don’t let it stop them from telling their story. Bernstein remarked to interviewers for The Queer Review, speaking about some of the hard feelings and conversation that might arise, “I think she thought about it a little more than I did, and we had to have a really long talk about it and I did consider whether we should bring somebody else in and finally I just said ‘no, this is one person’s story’. It’s one person, two different lives perhaps, maybe more depending on how you want to count it, but I am not making a polemic here, I’m not making a political film.”

Brian’s very forthcoming about the roles that toxic masculinity and homophobia may have played in this decision to transition. He commented to the Austin Chronicle, “I rejected this idea that in order to be a man this is how you had to act. It was like garlic to a vampire to me. I guess I was just such a sensitive, aware kid that I recognized that there was something wrong about it at a very early age, and it was something I wanted no part of it. Of course now, as a man, an older man, a more mature man, I realize that there are very many facets of what it is to be a man in today’s society. It’s a very different world we live in.”

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me realizes that gender is complicated. Brian sums it up succinctly with the observation “Gender for some people is a destination. For me it’s a journey.”

“Gender for some people is a destination. For me it’s a journey.”

I don’t always like to include my own personality or history when it comes to writing reviews. I’m mostly here for you, merely sharing some thoughts for movie lovers and cinephiles wondering what to watch. This aspect of I’m Gonna Make You Love Me speaks to my personal journey, however. As a gender non-conforming/feminine man growing up in the Midwest in the 80s, i relate all-too-well to the struggles he faced, the garlic revulsion to toxic American masculinity, and the confusion that can come with it. Seeing the peace that Brian discovers brings a certain contentment to my own spirit. I’ve also come to grips with the confusing journey around gender, and come to a similar conclusion that Brian did.

That’s the beauty of I’m Gonna Make You Love Me. This is not a political film, it’s a personal one, and a fascinating one at that. Like Brian himself says, “gender is a destination for some.” May everyone find their way to a gender presentation and identity that works for them, that makes them happy and free to express their own unique spirit.

For anyone interested in such topics and themes, I’m Gonna Make You Love Me is a must-watch!

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me | Trailer from Karen Bernstein on Vimeo.

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me is streaming, for free, as part of Amazon’s SXSW film festival until May 6!

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Design of the Day: Supreme X My Bloody Valentine collab

Supreme X My Blood Valentine collab

The lords and ladies of streetwear meet the kings and queens of shoegaze with the Supreme X My Bloody Valentine collab! 

Supreme x My Bloody Valentine collab
image: Supreme

NYC’s upscale skateboarding boutique brand Supreme are no strangers to collaborating with underground music. The iconic brand has previously done collaborations with Peter Saville of Factory Records fame, The Supremes, James Brown, Raekwon, RZA, Bad Brains, Bunny Wailer, and even The Velvet Underground. It’s a true model and microcosm of the give-and-take between High Fashion and underground culture. The underground gets the nod of appreciation and approval so often denied them during their heyday. The fashion houses seem to benefit even more, however, borrowing some of underground music and culture’s street cred, which may be the one thing that’s not for sale in today’s hyper-capitalist world

It was probably only a matter of time until Supreme would get around to lauding – and profiting – off of My Bloody Valentine and the shoegaze aesthetics they helped to define. 

Supreme X My Blood Valentine collab
image: Supreme

Last week, both the fashion and music worlds erupted with the announcement of the Supreme X My Bloody Valentine SS20 collab. The fact that one news item would make the frontpages of Pitchfork, NME, Vogue, and Highsnobiety alike is reason enough to include this collection in our Design of the Day series. And, honestly, it does feel slightly validating to see My Bloody Valentine get the nod of approval from the reigning champions of upscale streetwear, skate, and hip-hop fashion. 

Some of the designs of the small SS20 collection feel notable in their own regard, as well. .The Supreme X My Bloody Valentine collaboration features a jacket, three button-down shirts, a hoodie, and two t-shirts. 

Supreme X My Bloody Valentine collab
image: Supreme

The trucker jacket, featuring the Feed Me With Your Kiss album artwork, is truly a thing of beauty Both of the button-down shirts – one featuring the iconic pink Loveless artwork and the other also boasting Feed Me With Your Kiss’ bruised lips – are something we would totally wear. Even the t-shirts are well-done, looking more upscale than your average MBV shirt you’d find on Redbubble. 

Supreme My Bloody Valentine shirt
image: Supreme

What remains to be seen is if the Supreme X My Bloody Valentine collab is worth the ticketprice. We were sorely tempted, for a moment, to snag one of the t-shirts while they were still available from the store, but the $48 tag gave us pause. The jackets are already going for over $250 and are long since sold out at the source. 

At first, we were going to write about the Supreme X My Bloody Valentine collab as it wasn’t entirely sold out, which is almost unheard of for a Supreme collection. It seems that’s since changed, but the designs themselves still seemed worthy of mention. 

shoegaze fashion
image: Supreme

Not everything that will be featured on the Design of the Day series will be the most legendary, breathtaking, epic, world-shattering design in whatever medium the world has ever seen (although most of it will be, as that’s what we like to look at and for, as well as what we like to spread the word on.) As designers – whether that be graphic designers, fashion designers, web designers, or whatever discipline you follow – it’s our job to look at all of the designs. It’s our job to study the good, the great, and the not-as-good, to get a sense of what people are into while deciding for ourselves what works and what doesn’t. 

So what do you think? Are you into the Supreme X My Bloody Valentine collab? Do you like the designs? Or do you think it’s all hype and the fashion world profiting, yet again, off of the blood, sweat, and passion of the underground?

Discuss.

Got a graphic design project you think we should know about? Let us know in the comments or send us an email and we’ll spread the word in a future edition of Design of the Day!

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Design of the Day: Eric Nyffeler’s Escher-esque Album Art for Have A Nice Life

Eric Nyffeler graphic design

Portland-based illustrator/designer Eric Nyfeller’s serpentine art is a perfect visual metaphor for the complexities of aging.

Eric Nyfeller Have A Nice Life graphic design
image: Flenser Records

Doing a high-profile graphic design project is nerve-wracking at the best of times. It must be 10x as stressful designing the visuals for your favourite band. Portland-based illustrator/designer Eric Nyffeler more than rises to the challenge on last year’s Sea of Worry, by Middletown, Connecticut doomgazers Have A Nice Life.

Glancing at Eric Nyfeller’s dribbble account, his often-colourful, whimsical design might seem a weird pick for one of the most oppressively gloomy bands of the last 10 years. His often colorful, nearly-psychedelic designs look like concept art for an especially lysergic Super Mario Bros. level or a new series by Pendelton Ward.

Don’t let appearances deceive you, however. Nyffeler’s love of music predates his design career. Nyfeller actually got into design randomly taking a couple of courses in college, with the goal of designing art and merch for his own musical projects. Now he’s paid to “draw pastel trees and critters for people and companies all around the world!”, as he told Dribbble in an interview from 2019.

However unlikely the pairing might be at first glance, Have A Nice Life chose wisely when tagging Nyffeler for the album art for Sea Of Worry. Whether it’s due to the fact that Nyffeler being a huge fan of their music, a musician in his own right, or just being a thoughtful, sensitive designer, Nyffeler really took the time to come up with visuals to match the spirit and sound of Have A Nice Life’s sea of anxiety.

Have A Nice Life Deathconsciousness album cover
Image: Flenser Records

It’s a nice visual metaphor for the music itself, as well, which every album cover should strive towards. It replaces the feeling of depressive, baroque doom of Have A Nice Life’s influential debut Deathconsciousness, often considered one of the bleakest records not only of the 21st Century, but in the history of recorded music. On Sea Of Worry the band sound more human, letting their emotions and personality ring out through the murk, as the occasional acoustic instrument, cleaner singing, and a more immediate production style replaces Deathconsciousness‘s otherworldliness. The serpents twining through Corinthian columns mirror these human elements, giving a sensation of the organic trying to navigate the cruel, inhuman world of larger-than-life systems designed to imprison, wound, oppress, and kill.

 

Eric Nyffeler graphic design
The serpents twining through Corinthian columns mirror these human elements, giving a sensation of the organic trying to navigate the cruel, inhuman world of larger-than-life systems designed to imprison, wound, oppress, and kill. The serpents twining through Corinthian columns mirror these human elements, giving a sensation of the organic trying to navigate the cruel, inhuman world of larger-than-life systems designed to imprison, wound, oppress, and kill. image: Eric Nyffeler

The medium itself even helps to further this effect, combining clean, minimal digital design with analog textures. Nyffeler manages to make the best of both worlds, combining digital design’s precision with the tactile immediacy of analog materials. This makes his art and design stand out in a field so often generic and interchangeable.

It’s beyond inspiring to have such prodigious talent in your own hometown. Eric Nyffeler’s design makes us beyond excited to dig into other design talent here in Portland, the Pacific Northwest, and the West Coast.

Eric Nyffeler’s got a bunch of sweet swag for sale in his online shop.  While there’s no print of his outstanding artwork for Sea Of Worry, unfortunately, there’s plenty of music-related design goodness to choose from.  Like his uber-sweet Synth Dungeon print, for instance, which will undoubtedly make its way into our Design of the Day series sometime soon!

If you’d like to rep Eric Nyffeler’s sinister snakes, Have A Nice Life still have some Twin Snakes shirts available on their Bandcamp page, as well as some vinyl records, for which Nyffeler also designed the labels.

Got a graphic design project you think we should know about? Let us know in the comments or send us an email and we’ll spread the word in a future edition of Design of the Day!

Eric Nyffeler

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Design Of The Day: Continuum Magazine Redesign By Pentagram

Magazine Graphic Design

Pentagram Design Studio’s redesign of Continuum, the quarterly journal of the American Academy of Neurology, makes the bimonthly magazine more accessible with clean, colorful modern design.

continuum magazine graphic design
image: Pentagram

Even if you’re a clinical psychologist or lab technician, it might be slightly challenging to get fired up about a journal from the American Academy of Neurology. The very name itself brings to mind dense textbooks and impenetrable academic studies and clinical research. That’s all about to change, however, thanks to a bold, striking new design from Pentagram, the world’s largest independently-owned design studio.

Speaking on the motivation for the redesign, designers from Pentagram studios says “Continuum is the most academic of the AAN publications, dense with information. The goal of the update, the first since its launch in 1993, was to make the editorial design more accessible, straightforward and visually appealing.”

continuum magazine pentagram
image: Pentagram

We’d say that Pentagram were highly successful in achieving their goal. Working closely with Continuum editor Steven L. Lewis and the AAN editorial team, designers from Pentagram break with the tradition of putting the Table Of Contents on the back cover, reserving the front covers for more minimal, colorful, striking designs. The effect is complete with text rendered in LuxTypo Fabrigo font, by designer Greg Lindy, for the headers and FS Brado for the text..

Fabriga Font
image: Fabriga Font by LuxTypo ad FS Brado by Fontsmith

Pentagram were tasked with the challenge of updating a legacy imprint, adhering to Continuum‘s existing brand identity while simultaneously being fresh, timely, and modern. Pentagram chose to stick with the journal’s tradition golden-orange colour scheme to achieve this sense of continuity. This is just one example of the clever use of colour in the academic journal’s redesign. Pentagram use colour coding to organize articles inside the magazine. Coloured dots on the spine are used to differentiate the volume numbers.

The redesign is complete between the covers. Pentagram have veered away from the wall-of-text so common to so many academic journals for a cleaner design, with plenty of white space for enhanced legibility.

Pentagram’s redesign of Continuum is just one more example of how the best modern graphic design can be rooted in the past, but updated for today’s needs. When done properly, it conveys a sense of class and authority and innovation.  As graphic designers, we don’t need to necessarily re-invent the wheel for every project.

Magazine Graphic Design
image: Pentagram

Got a graphic design project you think we should know about? Let us know in the comments or send us an email and we’ll spread the word in a future edition of Design of the Day! The Continuum redesign was brought to our attention via Print Mag.

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American Academy of Neurology

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Becoming The Subject: Secret Gardens – Women In Underground Film screening @ Church of Film; Clinton St. Theater, 8.21.19

feminist film reviews

Writing on the paradox of women’s subjectivity in cinema, film theorist Teresa de Laurentis quotes psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche on the necessity of seeing one’s self represented on the screen. 

“The questions of identification, self-definition, the modes or the very possibility of envisaging oneself as subject-which the male avant-garde artists and theorists have also been asking, on their part, for almost one hundred years, even as they work to subvert the dominant representations or to challenge their hegemony-are fundamental questions for feminism. If identification is “not simply one psychical mechanism among others, but the operation itself whereby the human subject is constituted,” as Laplanche and Pontalis describe it, then it must be all the more important, theoretically and politically, for women who have never before represented ourselves as subjects, and whose images and subjectivities-until very recently, if at all-have not been ours to shape, to portray, or to create.”

This is taken from the essay Rethinking Women’s Cinema, from de Lauretis’ Figures of ResistanceEssays in Feminist Theory. De Lauretis’ investigation asks us to redefine our notions of feminist cinema, going beyond the push-pull dichotomy of either “serious” documentary work of feminist causes and ideals as well as positive images of women and the other being a deconstruction of the film medium itself, being built around patriarchal ideals and distorted representations. 

To put it more succinctly, the movement of feminist film-making is twofold. One, is the depiction of feminine images and stories. The other is a new approach to film-making, a disruption of the subject/object dialectic, the viewer and the viewed. De Lauretis breaks it down into ‘feminine’ and ‘feminist’. Both are important. 

In another essay, Female Directors, Female Gaze: The Search for Female Subjectivity in Film, direction Rubayait Hossain quotes Agnes Varda about her visual vocabulary. “A woman’s vocabulary exists, linked to the feminine universe. I feel this occasionally in that I am inspired by a certain number of attractions, subjects which always draw me rather more than they would if I were a man…I don’t want to make feminist cinema either, just want to tell women’s stories about women.”

This push/pull, this feminist filmmaking rhetoric, as well as depictions of women’s experiences, served as the connecting thread for a particularly brilliant series of short films, curated by Church of Film‘s Muriel Lucas, screened at the Clinton Street Theater

Secret Gardens was comprised of 10 short films, from a wide array of brilliant women film-makers. Altogether, the collection showcased nearly every experimental film-making technique you could think of, as well as numerous innovative, imaginative ways of looking at their subject matter, not even to mention that many wouldn’t begin to think to look at these topics in the first place. 

It’s as de Lauretis comments in Rethinking Women’s Cinema, discussing a hooked rug in Sylvia Plath‘s The Bell Jar. Much of women’s experiences are perceived as “pre-aesthetic”, belonging to the domestic but not the artistic, despite the fact that these are the images and realities we inhabit most frequently. Take the brilliant Schmeerguntz by Swedish filmmaker Gunvor Nelson. Schmeerguntz peels back the surface of polite society, all the pristine packaging that makes this society turn, hiding the ugliness and filth from our everyday gaze. It’s done in a way that’s both sickening and hilarious, strange and sad. 

gunvor nelson schmeerguntz review

Schmeerguntz is also one example of why this kind of filmmaking is so vital. It helped inspire a protest of the 1968 Miss America contest. 

barbaras blindness wielandMontage was seen frequently throughout the evening, with many films using creative editing techniques to show hidden connections between images. Like the first film, Barbara’s Blindness, by Canadian directors Joyce Wieland and Betty Ferguson. Barbara’s Blindness cut up images of a little blind girl, eyes wrapped in gauze, with scenes from Silver Screen monster movies and romance/adventures, then degraded and manipulated in a variety of ways, usually involving analog film manipulation, such as painting or scratching the film. 

Film’s physical properties was another common technique found throughout a number of the films, such as the psychedelic visual poetry of Peyote Queen by Storm de Hirsch. Or the hypnotic strobing of My Name is Oona, also by Gunvor Nelson; a stark, dramatic depiction of Nelson’s daughter told in cutting black&white, made all the more trance-inducing with a minimalist soundtrack of only the film’s title looped and slurred throughout its 9-and-a-half minutes. 

Film’s physicality, both literally as well as subjectively, are fully on display in the evening’s finale, Fuses by Carolee Schneemann, my personal favourite “erotic” film of all time (which i also wrote an essay about for the fabulous Film & Fishnet webzine), as well as avant-garde and feminist. Fuses shows Carolee Schneemann having sex with her then-husband, the poet James Tenney, while being watched by her cat, Tench. 

carolee schneemann fuses review

Fuses is a riot of nearly every avant-garde filmmaking technique you could think of. Surreal, abstract montage, with images of the couple fucking giving way to fields of wheat, waves crashing on the shore. The film is painted on and scratched, in a style intentionally like that of Stan Brakhage.

Fuses was created as a response to Brakhage’s Window Water Baby Moving, depicting his wife giving birth. Schneemann sought to reclaim the female body from Brakhage’s male gaze. It worked. Beautifully. And poetically. Fuses is a window into the nearly mystical qualities of love and physicality, the way that times seem to stop, the languor. It shows the often illogical ways our minds wander, in a style much more honest and accurate than yr typical linear narrative plot. It lets you feel what it feels like to be in love, you can practically feel the breeze on your skin as the curtains billow on a sunny, endless afternoon. 

Secret Gardens offered an intimate, indispensable window into some women’s experiences and outlooks, in imaginative, thoughtful, and unique ways. Everything on display was also exquisitely beautiful, not that that’s necessary but always makes for a nice night out. Glimpse of the Garden (Marie Menken, 1957) is a 16mm symphony, a soft-focus whirl, “a very personal cinema without protagonists.” It’s like “the high art of the housewife,” which was used to describe another ridiculously gorgeous film on display, Water Sark, also by Joyce Wieland. Water Sark is “merely” a short film of Wieland’s kitchen table. It’s really an exposition of what can be done with a personal, handheld camera and everyday mirrors and prisms that surround us. Wieland creates a crystalline universe using water glasses and cut glass vases, using, as she puts it “no people, no outside world, no glamour, no money”

glimpse of the garden marie menken review

High art. Lowbrow. Narrative. Psychoanalytic. Joyful. Sexy. Sad. It was all here, all in attendance, on a drizzling Wednesday night at the Clinton Street Theater, as Portland slowly settles into early fall. More time for experimental films, that means. 

Church of Film will be screening Soviet Sci-Fi Animation on Sunday, 8.25.19, at Psychic Bar in North Portland. 

Complete List of Films Screened at Secret Gardens: Women in North American Underground Cinema (with program notes)

Barbara’s Blindness

Constructed from found and stock footage, Barbara’s Blindness is a meditation on vision and adversity, drawing humour and pathos from a moralising educational film. “We started out with a dull film about a little blind girl named Mary and ended up with something that made us get crazy.”

A Moment in Love

Clarke moves away from the strictly depictive perspective maintained in Dance in The sun and towards an expressive and interpretive use of the camera in A Moment in Love. As the dancers move, the camera not only follows them but exceeds and breaks their trajectories. It manipulates their perceptible movements to such an extent that the dancers appear to be gliding among the clouds, suspended in endless and even supernatural bliss. As Clarke explains: “I started choreographing the camera as well as the dancers in the frame”. With bright, lustrous tone, Clarke goes beyond subjective camera work to the point that her camera becomes subject itself.

Glimpse of the Garden

“[Menken’s] is a very personal cinema without protagonists. It searches to express the viewer’s emotional point-of-view to the limits of abstraction and rhythm” – Jon Gartenberg

Peyote Queen

A further exploration into the color of ritual, the color of thought; a journey through the underworld of sensory derangement.

Schmeerguntz

“Schmeerguntz” is one long raucous belch in the face of the American Home. A society which hides its animal functions beneath a shiny public surface deserves to have such films as Schmeerguntz shown everywhere – in every PTA, every Rotary Club, every club in the land. For it is brash enough, brazen enough and funny enough to purge the soul of every harried American married woman.”

Water Sark

“I wanted to make a self-sufficient film, photographing myself in those mirrors on the table with all that water and prisms, and glasses and cups. In a way I was saying I can do a film that needs no people, no outside world, no glamour, no money, and do it all in the kitchen.”

“I decided to make a film at my kitchen table, there is nothing like knowing my table. The high art of the housewife. You take prisms, glass, lights and myself to it. ‘The Housewife is High.’ Water Sark is a film sculpture, being made while you wait.”

My Name is Oona

An evocative film featuring a little girl, the artist’s daughter. The film is edited and rhythmically composed to accompany a simple spoken phrase that is repeated and looped in a minimalist pattern. My Name is Oona is a cinematic voyage between inner and outer worlds, between the safe and familiar and the frightening unknown.

“[it] captures in haunting, intensely lyrical images fragments of the coming to consciousness of a child girl. A series of extremely brief flashes of her moving through nightlit space or woods in sensuous negative, separated by rapid fades into blackness, burst upon us like a fairy-tale princess, with a late sun only partially outlining her and the animal in silvery filigree against the encroaching darkness; one of the most perfect recent examples of poetic cinema. Throughout the entire film, the girl, compulsively and as if in awe, repeats her name, until it becomes a magic incantation of self-realization.” – Amos Vogel

Lights

“Marie Menken’s Lights is a film of such joy, such pure sensual beauty, that it is breathtaking and overwhelming. In just seven minutes, with a breakneck sequence of abstract, colorful images of lights floating in a black nighttime field, Menken delivers an intoxicating visual experience. It’s an abstracted vision, like the work of Stan Brakhage, a celebration of light and color in which each frame is alive with furious scribbles of blurred light and tangled rainbow beams. It’s as though Menken is drawing with light by shaking her camera, unleashing small hash marks of white light and amber curlicues that twist around each other. Through Menken’s expressive stylization, the marks and lines of these lights become a form of handwriting, an abstract language inscribed in the twists and turns of motion-blurred neon, car brake lights and Christmas decorations. The film was assembled over the course of three years, during which Menken shot Christmas window displays and other seasonal decorations, working mostly late in the night, when she could be alone in the darkness with these vibrant beacons. ”

Take Off

Freaky and not a little transcendent, “Take Off” takes the strip tease well past its usual climax. By sprinkling a little Georges Melies magic over the peep show motif, Gunvor Nelson simultaneously revels in cinema’s earliest forms while exploding the medium’s customary reliance on (and objectification of) the female body.

“Ellion Ness, a thoroughly professional stripper, goes through her paces, bares her body, and then, astonishingly and literally, transcends it. While the film makes a forceful political statement on the image of woman and the true meaning of stripping, the intergalactic transcendence of its ending locates it firmly within the mainstream of joyous humanism and stubborn optimism.” – B. Ruby Rich

Fuses

A silent film of collaged and painted sequences of lovemaking between Schneemann and her then partner, composer James Tenney; observed by the cat, Kitch.

“…I wanted to see if the experience of what I saw would have any correspondence to what I felt– the intimacy of the lovemaking… And I wanted to put into that materiality of film the energies of the body, so that the film itself dissolves and recombines and is transparent and dense– as one feels during lovemaking… It is different from any pornographic work that you’ve ever seen– that’s why people are still looking at it! And there’s no objectification or fetishization of the woman.”

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