Farming in space at Indie Arcade II, David Lynch hits the road at the Marquee, the Wisconsin Iranian Film Festival returns, Nick Cave speaks on the philosophy of "soundsuits," Jesus weeps for Machine Head at the Majestic, and more Madison happenings this week. | By Scott Gordon, Edwanike Harbour, Reid Kurkerewicz, John McCracken, Grant Phipps, Joel Shanahan, and David Wolinsky
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THURSDAY FEBRUARY 15
Indie Arcade's showcase of videogames created by small but talented teams of Midwestern developers should dispel any notion that games don't deserve to be called art. If the demos and trailers made available on the event page hold up in person, the only two words that will tie the diverse array of games featured for people to play at this event will be "beautiful," and "fun." The retro-shooter Risk System mixes traditional side-scrolling shooter action and a compelling sci-fi plot, with a unique power-up system that compels the player to get in close to the enemy. Verdant Skies is a beautifully rendered, Harvest Moon-style farming game (in space!) where the player develops a colony and flirts with fellow space-people. Stacks On Stacks (On Stacks) takes Tetris into the 21st century, with 3-D blocks that must be balanced along Egyptian pyramids and musical notes. Manifold Garden is basically M.C. Escher in game form, as the player travels through crazy illusionistic landscapes to solve puzzles, while the arena-brawler The Moon Fields delivers fast-paced and quirky 8-bit fights with tons of characters and weapons.
With several other games announced for the night, the showcase should have something for a variety of gamers, from the casual to the fiercely competitive. Each game I've been lucky enough to play a demo of takes off on genre concepts where the corporate world of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo left off, invigorating an art form that only a few years ago seemed locked in the hands of multinationals. A $10 donation here will support Maydm, a local organization that helps students underrepresented in STEM fields find support for their education. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Nick Cave, the sculptor, dancer and performance artist, is well known for combining fashion, surreal design, and everyday objects to make his unique "soundsuits." These full-sized and wearable suits are strange-to-behold costumes displayed on stands or worn by performers and dancers, and sometimes by Cave himself. Soundsuits have been made of human hair, aluminum, wire and feather, and, like normal clothing, serve different purposes. The first soundsuit was constructed to provide armor to those threatened by the police state in the wake of the Rodney King beating. Others are celebratory costumes for rituals like carnivale or a ballroom dance. Oftentimes, these second skins are intended to block understanding of the wearer's gender, race, or class, making the identity of the wearer fluid.
Cave's sculpted objects are similarly often collages of everyday objects, which, when brought together, speak to the overcoming of trauma caused by the dominance of white men in American society. The way everyday objects can be infused with dream-like power is a central theme of Cave's work. Back in October, he gave "instigator objects" to UW-Whitewater, students who will also give presentations based on their objects at this lecture. These objects and their changing symbolic power will be forced into a dialogue between the young artists and the visiting lecturer, transforming aspects of Cave's talk that would usually exist in the ephemerality of language into physical and visual displays. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Some comedians embrace the artifice of the stage and a spotlight as an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and only the truth. Championed early in his career by the ever-avuncular Bob Odenkirk, Los Angeles comedian Nick Thune has taken his time to settle on an intriguing onstage sleight of hand: embracing the absurdity of performing as a lens on life itself. Cultivating a mixture of sarcasm, deadpan, and wit that you're likely worn out on by now, Thune digs deep on the banality of modern life and the alienation of people trying to relate with clotheslines of pop-culture references.
But, to be clear, Thune doesn't take himself or this position too seriously—which is good, because his comedy would be utterly depressing if he did. It's a strange spectrum, but recently on both ends of it are 2016's Good Guy and perhaps the gimmickiest podcast in the era of gimmicky podcasts, "Do You Know Who Jason Segel Is?" In the latter, Thune and stand-up Brendon Walsh literally randomly call all over the world to see if they are familiar with the screenwriter-actor. (Many aren't.) In the former, Thune spoofs people congratulating themselves for starting on journeys of self-improvement: "I wanna be a good guy, and that should be your first clue that I'm a bad guy. Good guys don't say that." —David Wolinsky
"Hotter'n Georgia asphalt," this steamy David Lynch crime drama offers all of the salaciousness of a soap opera and all the stylistic visuals and dreamy atmosphere one would expect from Lynch. Part southern Gothic and part road movie, 1990's Wild At Heart centers around star-crossed lovers Lula (Laura Dern) and Sailor (Nicolas Cage) as they go on the run from several people Lula's mother, who disapproves of the relationship, has hired to kill Sailor.
This film may have been a guilty pleasure in 1990, but 28 years later it's a classic, holding up in that improbable way Lynch's work tends to. Lynch has always been masterful at exposing the fallacy and myth of Americana and holding the rotten corpse from within right in our faces. If nothing else, Wild At Heart is a good chance to see a young Nicolas Cage in rare form. —Edwanike Harbour
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 16
Before writer-director Damien Chazelle embarked on the ambitious, starry-eyed, and Academy Award-winning La La Land (2016), which reinvigorated the modern movie musical, he put his own spin on 1950s classics with Guy And Madeline On A Park Bench (2009), a microbudget feature debut he assembled at just 24 years old. Shooting on 16mm black-and-white in Boston, Chazelle uses a narrative template about competing artistic aspirations comparable to the aforementioned film in the fading, short-term romance between titular trumpeter (actual jazz player Jason Palmer) and waitress/graduate student (Desiree Garcia). As the more assertive Elena (Sandha Khin) steals Guy's attention, the tone slips into something grittier and more elegiac of the lost love that coexists with the film's fantastic forays into symphonic and big band-fueled song and tap-dance numbers (composed by Justin Hurwitz of La La Land).
While the sketched quality of the characters may prove to be a point of criticism, Chazelle elevates their emotional responses and harnesses a distinct sense of spontaneity in the moment with vivacious homages to Shadows (1959) by American indie film legend John Cassavetes and the breadth of the French New Wave in Godard's Band Of Outsiders (1964) and Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (1964). Guy And Madeline holds up as a lavishly modest production—intimate in its frequent handheld close-ups and naturally poetic observations of urban life, but also ecstatic for distinctive, inimitable expression through group choreography. This program, which highlights Chazelle's filmmaking roots, will commence with the original 18-minute Whiplash (2013) that inspired the feature, also starring J.K. Simmons. —Grant Phipps
For some of us, the golden age of Chicago post-emo outfit Joan Of Arc is the late 1990s. Albums like 1997's A Portable Model Of and 1998's How Memory Works feel like near-perfect successors to the dissolution of the Kinsella brothers' landmark emo band Cap'N Jazz (which also featured Davey von Bohlen, who went on to form The Promise Ring). What makes those albums so exciting is how they almost serve as a preview of all the lauded Kinsella-related projects—like American Football, Owen, and Owls—that would pop up in the following decade. You can hear the growth and experimentation develop tastefully—the jangled polyrhythmic guitar harmonies of "White Out" would be shifted into focus by American Football and Owen, and the slanted rhythms and raspy crooning on "The Hands" would end up pouring over into Owls. Both records had plenty of range and fresh ideas, but they really didn't feel self-indulgent.
Fast forward 20 years and 20-plus albums, and Joan Of Arc has developed a reputation for being mercilessly self-indulgent and not especially cohesive—even amongst Kinsella diehards. And while 2016's groove-driven He's Got The Whole This Land Is Your Land In His Hands (and that title, what the fuck) sounds way more like an album than, say, 2004's Joan Of Arc, Mark Twain, Dick Cheney, it's still pretty straining to listen to.
He's Got The Whole… opens with "Smooshed That Cocoon," which pretty much sets the tone. We've got an infectious and promising, Timbaland-esque groove that resembles Nelly Furtado's "Maneater," but then it just kind of meanders aimlessly as cloudy vocals and synth bloops walk all over it, and the song never fully congeals. "This Must Be The Placenta" is a similar story—it's got a tight drum groove with what resembles a beautifully designed entanglement of synth and violin dancing circles around it, but it just sort of wanders into a void. One of the stronger cuts, "Grange Hex Stream," peels away some of the pretentious whims and actually feels pretty focused in contrast—packed with fuzzy and squiggly electronics, a stabby bassline, and anxious crooning. What's most frustrating about Joan Of Arc is that we know what they're capable of and their albums tend to feel overly jammy, indulgent, and non-committal, despite the fact that its members have arguably been responsible for some of the most influential emo and math-rock monuments of all time. Maybe I'm just an asshole, but coming from musicians with such a pedigree, there's something troubling about lyrics like "I know how the nicest guy in ISIS feels" and the word "boink" sung in "New Wave Hippies" or "I'm Phil Collins, I drum and I sing even if my arms are tired" on "Never Wintersbone You." —Joel Shanahan
Chaotic grindcore/progressive-metal duo The Central reinvent themselves on a new EP, Sick And Dying, which they'll celebrate at this show. While the Madison band's earlier releases, like 2014's We Hate Metal and 2013's A Clean Burning Hell, showcase their talents as experimental grindcore aficionados, The Central's vision really started to become clear on the 2016 album Discovery Of A Rat. Guitarist-vocalist Frankie Furillo and drummer Alex Robert's approach to blending daring syncopation with poppy chords made it one of the best local albums released that year.
Furillo calls Sick And Dying "more of an experimental weird rock album that we've been intending to make for six years that anyone who likes our other records will probably hate." But the record is less of a shock than Furillo makes it out to be, because The Central has always taken plenty of experimental detours. Tracks on Discovery Of A Rat would often abandon blast-beats for harmony, after all. The first single released from Sick And Dying, "Quiet Mouse In Muscatine," sounds more like a dream-pop ballad than the work of a metal band. It stretches for seven minutes, weaving soft vocals and bluesy chords with the menacing sounds of disjointed, scraping metal. "Sick And Dying Pt. 1 & 2" form a dream-like epic that highlights the band's gift for harmonic complexity. The more aggressive and chaotic side of the band comes through in the driving double bass and pentatonic sweeping of "Whatever Happens."
If this is The Central's attempt to admit that they have an identity crisis, it is a very-well managed identity crisis. The EP ebbs and flows in a way that would make fans of Tera Melos and The Number Twelve Looks Like You bond over its frantic energy. At this release show, The Central will be supported by one of the most impressive and exciting power-violence/mathcore acts in the Midwest, Closet Witch. Stoughton grindcore band Mellow Harsher will be opening as well. Limited-edition cassettes will be available for the night, alongside custom chalk-heart Valentine candies with endearing messages for fans. —John McCracken
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 17
In Madison's film-centric month of April, the inaugural Wisconsin Iranian Film Festival in 2017 was yet another reason to celebrate our city's theatrical influx of first-rate international cinema. Bolstered by the local community in a fundraising campaign, UW-Madison teaching assistant and filmmaker Hamidreza Nassiri helped organize a modest but wide-ranging selection of the most accomplished contemporary cinema from his native country over the course of two weekends at Union South's Marquee Theater, with the notable draw of 2017 Oscar winner The Salesman.
The second annual edition of the festival again takes place at the Marquee but has been moved up to February—and it has grown, not only in terms of the number of dramatic features and animated and live-action shorts (on February 18 at 1 p.m.) but also in its embrace of guest speakers and audience discussion on Iran's current social and political climate. The talks this year include two Q&As (following Mohsen Abdolvahab's tense domestic drama, Being Born, on February 17 at 3 p.m. and Vahid Jalilvand's psychological portrait, No Date No Signature, on February 24 at 3 p.m.). The programming also extends beyond the typical Saturday-Sunday window for one Monday night film, Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Hello Cinema (February 19 at 7:30 p.m.), a charming 80-minute hybrid of documentary and narrative.
The ambitious lineup collects Iran's most compelling visual artists, and was initially scheduled to honor the legendary Abbas Kiarostami with the Madison premiere of his final film, an interdisciplinary memoir, 24 Frames (February 25 at 1 p.m.). However, that screening has been canceled, and has been replaced with Kupal, a black comedy directed by Kazem Mollaie. Hello Cinema, Makhmalbaf's rewarding 1995 piece of metacinema, might be the biggest treasure here: It not only uniquely celebrates the centennial of Auguste and Louis Lumière’s first cinematic creations, but does so with the entertaining personal revelations of dozens modern actors in auditions. For the full schedule and additional festival information, please visit the Wisconsin Iranian Film Festival's official site. All screenings are free and open to the public. —Grant Phipps
The first Duck Soup Cinema presentation of 2018 at Overture Center is Victor Fleming's wild and winsome silent comedy, Mantrap (1926). Starring the iconic Clara Bow as manicurist Alverna at the height of the "flapper" era or Jazz Age (a year before her career-making "It Girl" role), the film faithfully translates the novel of the same name by Nobel Prize-winning writer Sinclair Lewis.
From the core of the title's play on words, a brisk but sinuous tale of restless affection surfaces. In Minneapolis, fish-out-of-water trader Joe Easter (Ernest Torrence) falls for the stylish, coquettish Alverna and promptly marries her. After escorting her to his backwoods Canadian cabin in the titular village, Alverna soon begins to find the remote locale to lack the excitement and invigorating air of the city. So, she lustfully ensnares divorce lawyer Ralph Prescott (Percy Marmont), Joe's younger vacationing friend, thus setting into motion an undeniably droll rivalry.
Mantrap is certainly not divorced from the antiquated gender politics of its time, but the director's eye for wily melodrama and sight gags still shines over 90 years later. The esteemed Jelani Eddington will provide live pipe organ accompaniment throughout, complementing the film's most rollicking qualities. And, as customary for Duck Soup Cinema, local vaudeville acts will properly warm up the Capitol Theater crowd prior to a 2 p.m. screening and the encore at 7. —Grant Phipps
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 18
Anatole Litvak's 1948 thriller-noir Sorry, Wrong Number holds up once you get over the extreme coincidence that moves its plot. Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck), an invalid Manhattan-bourgeois, happens to overhear a murder plot over crossed telephone lines, and proceeds to slowly discover the gruesome details from a series of phone calls without ever leaving her room. Soon after the first call, she learns her formerly poor yet stunningly chiseled husband (Burt Lancaster) is somehow involved in a federal criminal investigation, driving her into hysterics.
The plot, told through flashbacks within flashbacks, is driven by the spread of information through a world then only recently linked by telecommunications, and couples this technological theme with the inability of powerful men to listen to women. Even if Leona can shoot her voice all around the five boroughs, it doesn't matter if nobody's listening. The movie was written by Lucille Fletcher, based on her super-successful radio-play of the same name, which Orson Welles called "the greatest single radio script ever written." The convoluted story would admittedly make more sense in the intended radio format, where the spread of one's voice would be further highlighted. But if you can look past the plot-holes, the movie version has the bonuses of letting you gaze longingly at Mr. Lancaster alongside a dramatically limited performance from Stanwyck. In the end, the final scene is more than worth it. —Reid Kurkerewicz
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 21
The subtext of the question guiding this live panel discussion hosted by The Capital Times is that Madison has a spotty record with public art, especially for a community that considers itself educated, creative, and engaged. It runs the gamut, from the flashes of brilliance contained in the city-funded BLINK series of short-run public installations and under-appreciated sculptures in city parks to dippy corporate gestures like that electronic waterfall thing on West Wash. We do have public art pieces worthy of our civic affection, but the overall picture could be more robust. Cap Times arts reporter Lindsay Christians will discuss the way forward here with two public arts officials—the City of Madison's Karin Wolf and Dane Arts' Mark Fraire—and artists Kelly Snider and Faisal Abdu'Allah. —Scott Gordon
Usually when a solid metal band blows up, they make a couple shitty and overly strategic cash-grab albums, experience a backlash, learn a lesson, and shift back to prime form. With this year's Catharsis, Oakland, California's legendary thrash-metal and nu-metal hybrid Machine Head reminds us that if you stick around long enough, you can actually enter that cycle more than once.
Take it from someone who's stuck with the band for a long time: 1994's punishing and fresh Burn My Eyes was a massive game-changer for me. There are many memories of driving around and growling "Jesus wept" along with vocalist-guitarist Rob Flynn while blasting "Old" at full volume or sitting around trying to learn that nasty guitar riff with the harmonics on "Davidian." I even stuck around when Flynn started rapping and dressing like a member of Korn when 1999's The Burning Red arrived and then dipped out entirely for 2001 radio-rock bomb Supercharger, which still has to be their most disappointing and forgettable album to date.
By the time the band released 2003's Through The Ashes Of Empires, a fresh movement of metalcore, thrash-metal, and death-metal bands had all but eclipsed nu-metal and Flynn must have thought, "Oh shit, this is finally cool again!" From there, Machine Head proceeded to release a great run of albums that found them shedding the rap-rock elements they'd been flirting with and replacing them with shards of thrash and Swedish death metal.
This brings us to the freshly released and heavily produced Catharsis, which finds the band slumping back down toward forgettable guitar riffs, radio-ready song structures, and lyrics like, "Don't give a fuck if I'm banned / The fucking rodents down at Disneyland / Highway 5 down to 99 / I'm getting head near the Fresno sign" from "California Bleeding." While the new album is a bummer, Machine Head has released a ton of timeless jams, and it's pretty rare that we get a metal band of their stature in Madison, so you should probably go. —Joel Shanahan