Madison calendar, February 7 through 13
Klack’s delightful throwback synth-pop, a masterful character study in “Margaret,” and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Reid Kurkerewicz, Grant Phipps, and Joel Shanahan
Sponsor message: The weekly Tone Madison calendar is made possible with support from Union Cab of Madison, a worker-owned cooperative providing safe and professional taxi services.
THURSDAY FEBRUARY 7
The late director Jonathan Demme left behind an astonishing range of work, from the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense to a documentary about Jimmy Carter to a 2004 update on The Manchurian Candidate to a couple episodes of the entrancingly gloomy police procedural The Killing. Demme had a way of balancing that versatility with mastery, and there are few better examples of that tha 1991's The Silence Of The Lambs, which plays like the work of someone who'd been making brutally taut serial-killer tales for decades. (Granted, anyone who experienced the whiplash third act of 1986's Something Wild couldn't have been completely surprised.) The film's treatment of gender identity issues has always been a problem, yet it also holds up as one of cinema's greatest thrillers.
Anthony Hopkins' performance as incarcerated serial killer Hannibal Lecter has launched a million creepy slurping impersonations and brilliantly layers a macabre humor into the film's exploration of the obsession and damage that motivate people to torture and murder others in all manner of crazily specific ways. But it's Jodie Foster who still gives the film its thematic backbone, as a rookie FBI agent hoping that Lecter can provide her with the insight that will help her catch another serial killer, nicknamed "Buffalo Bill" (Ted Levine). Agent Clarice Starling is young but not naive, and faces down the depths of human depravity with a steely resolve, even as Lecter cruelly toys with her and manipulates her into confronting her own traumatic memories. Demme turns all this into a richly detailed film—complete with a subplot about death's head moths and setpieces that capture Dr. Lecter's elegant brand of cannibalistic malice—that still makes most other films and TV shows about serial killers feel a little cheap in comparison. —Scott Gordon
As part of Cinematheque's "African-American Pioneers" February series at the Chazen, curated in conjunction with the Southern Rites photography exhibition, Oscar Micheaux's Within Our Gates (1920) will receive its second area theatrical screening in the last 12 months. (WUD Film screened it last year.) Micheaux's silent feature, one of the earliest surviving films by an African-American director, boldly advocates for black education in the South.
While an array of slightly hyperbolic characters populates its tortuous plot threads, the film's sustaining, principled heroine is Sylvia Landry (blues singer Evelyn Preer), a schoolteacher who shuffles back between the North and South in search of work and security. She answers a newspaper ad at the Piney Woods School, which is on the brink of closing—unless the school can come up with $5,000, it will fall victim due to overcrowding and the state's underfunding (still a familiar theme in American public education 100 years later).
By near-fatal happenstance, Sylvia encounters philanthropist Elena Warwick (Mrs. Evelyn), who, racked with guilt and genuine interest in social equality, seems sympathetic to a Sylvia's request to help the school. Of course her plan and black civil rights in general meet with hostility from a disparate and duplicitous group of people who either distill the essence of white prejudice or tragically reinforce white supremacy, particularly in Within Our Gates' third-act flashback to the false accusations and chaos surrounding Sylvia's adoptive family. Amidst the wild tonal shifts and disorienting intercutting, Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky)'s latter-day score attempts to unify the events by blending Dixieland jazz drumming with ragtime piano, acoustic Americana, and even the occasional sampled beat. —Grant Phipps
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 8
Birds Of Passage is an at once vibrant and muted crime thriller, directed by filmmaking duo Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, that never stops to wonder about the law. This shortlisted submission for the 2018 Foreign Language Oscar follows a family of the indigenous, northern Colombian Wayuu people through the opening decades of the drug trade. The Pushaina clan begins smuggling marijuana in the late 1960s when one ambitious young man, Rhapayat (José Acosta), seeks to pay a dowry that was meant to be too expensive for him. Defying the powerful matriarch Ursula (Carmina Martinez), Rhapayat supplies peace corps volunteers with bulk shipments of the powerful plant after teaming with his outsider friend Moisés and a cousin's rival family. As successfully stoned Americans frolic on the beach, a belligerent Moisés declares, "Weed is the world's happiness."
This innocuous line wraps the otherwise secluded group into a global black market, as they grow accustomed to unregulated prosperity. And when governments don't regulate capitalism, esoteric rituals do. Gorgeous ceremonies of birth, death, marriage, and the interchange of powerful objects permeate the flat desert, as the glories of international greed mingle with ancient rituals, and the worlds of business and family make conflicting demands of honor. Many of the array of characters express a sense of desperation, and the performances are mostly withdrawn, as the factions act out roles they didn't quite choose, both within their communities and on the world stage. After two decades of increasing precarity lead to entirely avoidable bloodshed, Rhapayat must prevent the explosion of his empire into total devastation. —Reid Kurkerewicz
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 9
Channeling the groovier side of 1980s industrial music, EBM, and synth-pop, Klack is a duo comprised of Matt Fanale from esteemed industrial-metal outfit Caustic and Eric Oehler of Madison synth-pop mainstays Null Device. On the freshly released EP Introducing The 1984 Renault LeCar, the duo blazes through sample-powered, Paul Hardcastle vibes ("Le Car"), militant industrial plodding ("With Precision"), and moody synth-pop ("Lost Without You"). What's especially remarkable about Introducing is that despite it being a love-letter sent from two lifers to their formative years, it's also insanely polished from a production standpoint. There aren't a ton of contemporary artists in this particular lane who can hammer out such detailed tunes with seemingly equal attention paid to songwriting and processing. —Joel Shanahan
Chicago bassist Joe Policastro does compose original material, but the trio he leads has turned the endless re-purposing and re-contextualizing of the jazz world into a calling card of sorts. His first three albums in a trio setting variously took on West Side Story, film soundtracks ranging from Blade Runner to Yojimbo, and the Pixies' "Wave Of Mutilation," so even the most casual listener can't help but notice that Policastro is reaching for all manner of source material and hoping to make you hear it differently through the lean but subtle harmonic shadings of drums, bass, and electric guitar. Policastro, guitarist Dave Miller, and drummer Mikel Avery start the new album Nothing Here Belongs with a similar approach, unpacking the coiled suspense of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire." And it ends with the trio's affectionate take on the loveliest of Talking Heads songs, "This Must Be The Place." But six of the record's nine tracks are originals. Policastro has cited the jazz-bass great Ron Carter as an inspiration for "Oceans Of Notions," which builds off of a few deceptively simple phrases and includes a warm, conversational bass solo. "Plain Song" finds the trio in a meditative slow-burn mode that reminds me a bit of Madison bassist/composer John Christensen's 2018 album Dear Friend, which also featured Miller on guitar. Avery, whose work also includes playing with the brilliant Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society, bolsters "In The Quiet" with gently stirring rhythms and a range of drum textures. All in all, Nothing Here Belongs gives us reason to hope that Policastro and company can bring the same versatility to originals that they bring to far-flung covers. —Scott Gordon
Chicago musician John Daniel has created a vast and resourceful body of ambient work under the name Forest Management. Across three dozen or so albums, EPs, and collaborative recordings since 2013, Forest Management has ventured into spaces that feel scratchy, nocturnal, and elegantly sculpted in spite of what sounds at first like a more lo-fi approach. Tracks like "Club Vantage Point," "Flying Through The Night," and "All For A Moment Of Pleasure"—all from his 2018 album 21st Century Man—also have unmistakable momentum as compositions, giving the listener rich melodic elements to grab onto amid Daniel's hazy and at times unnerving soundscapes. There's no end of textural detail to sink into if you're listening for it, but the real power here is in Daniel's patience and harmonic backbone.
Forest Management headlines this Tone Madison-presented show—the first of 2019—with one fellow touring artist and two lesser-appreciated but compelling Madison artists. Traveling up with him will be Chicago's Faithful, who incorporates elements of experimental electronic music, sound collage, and jarring beats into the 2010 release Truthless Repro Faith. Madison's Ilana Bryne has released a handful of tracks under the name Nothing Natural, some of them drawing on stark techno and others delving into suspenseful ambiance, but she's working under her own name and drawing on her love of house and drum 'n' bass on the new Low Earth Orbit EP, on Portuguese label Naive. Syneva, the project of Madison producer Hendrix Gullixson, has issued a series of dense and haunting ambient pieces over the past few years.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12
Before writer-director Kenneth Lonergan was receiving 2017 Oscar nods for his seaside chronicle of familial grief, Manchester By The Sea, he pored over the involving character Margaret for nearly a decade. While the film did not see a wide release until 2012 due to a turbulent post-production that failed to yield a cut that satisfied Lonergan, it was actually shot in Manhattan seven years prior. Whether in its ultimate theatrical presentation at 150 minutes or its extended, epic version at 186 that the Wisconsin Film Festival's Tuesday Night Movie Club series will present here, Margaret holds up as a time capsule of the mid-aughts' social and existential anxieties and an influence to the self-reproach and atonement that drives the Dardenne Brothers' The Unknown Girl (2016).
Working in the spirit of independent cinema pioneer John Cassavetes, Lonergan binds a fearless filmmaking ardor with a true screenwriter's ear for layered, confrontational dialogue worthy of a great American novel, or perhaps just as fittingly, the poem by Gerard Hopkins that informs the title. Lonergan's sentiments are largely channeled into the experiences of conflicted, quick-witted 17-year-old high school student Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), whose attempts to chase down a bus one afternoon end up distracting the driver (Mark Ruffalo) into a fatal collision with a pedestrian. Initially, Lonergan positions the film as an urban coming-of-age drama, but it develops into a complex moral play about the bureaucratic legal process and the fraught relationships born from tragedy, particularly Lisa's clinging to the victim's best friend and motherly figure, Emily (Jeannie Berlin). —Grant Phipps
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 13
Photographer and Eau Claire native Spencer Wells currently lives in New York City, but before that spent several years visiting and living in various parts of Wisconsin, where he started focusing his camera on a diverse array of musicians. His new photography book Forward captures a few slices of the music scenes that popped up around Wisconsin between 2010 and 2015, from rapper Milo playing a basement show in Eau Claire to the agrarian whimsy of the Rock County Folk Symposium, a festival Wells helped organize. Wells, takes an intimate approach here, favoring candidate and intimate shots of musicians, often working in home studios or walking around their neighborhoods, over the climactic polish that usually defines concert photography. The book also incorporates short essays on several subjects, including Adelyn Strei (aka Adelyn Rose) and experimental percussionist Jon Mueller.
At this last-minute book-tour event, Wells will visit in person to discuss the book. Middleton-based electronic musician Thomas Wincek (All Tiny Creatures, Field Report, Volcano Choir, etc.) will play a solo set, and Madison multi-instrumentalist/producer Trent Prall, best known for his project Kainalu, will provide a DJ set. (Full disclosure: Wincek has performed and given workshops at Tone Madison events.) The event's organizers are hinting at once more special guest to be announced the day before the event. I recently recorded an interview with Wells about Forward, so look for that soon on the Tone Madison podcast. —Scott Gordon
Rapper/producer/songwriter Rory Ferreira's work under the MC name Milo has at once drawn listeners into the intricacies of a restless psyche and utterly defied anyone to sum him up all too tidily. A lovably cryptic lyricist? A rapper of vast if understated skill? Radically vulnerable? Mercurial? Well, maybe a bit of all of the above, but try to pin Ferreira down from any one direction and his artistry and public persona will slip from your grasp. The most evasive maneuver yet came when he announced that his current tour would be his last as Milo, even though it follows the success of his 2018 album budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies and 2017's who told you to think??!!?!?!?! It's not clear what the future holds for his music under other monikers (including Scallops Hotel) and with his Ruby Yacht collective, but surely he'll let us know in his own time and under his own terms. He's also busy running a record store in Maine. In any case, he's given his listeners much to love and records that we'll still be puzzling over a few decades down the line. He's been generous about playing in Madison during his time as Milo, so return the love and bask in the complexity at this show. —Scott Gordon
2/7, CANCELED: Ha Jin. Central Library, 7 p.m. (free)
2/9: Uptown Saturday Night 5th Anniversary with DJ Vilas Park Sniper. Genna’s, 10 p.m. (free)