Passages

Craig Brenner’s seventh album reflects a difficult time in his life  

By Mike Leonard

It’s been said that artists sometimes create their best work when their stress and anxiety metrics are high, and the observation could easily apply to Craig Brenner’s seventh album, Passages.

Shortly after receiving a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission to record the album, the longtime Bloomington resident learned that his younger brother, Dan, his “oldest and dearest friend from the time we were little boys,” was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

After that, his mother, now 96, took the latest of several age-related falls, fractured her femur, and was confined to a long-term healthcare facility near her home in Florida. While she never contracted Covid-19, the health precautions caused by the pandemic made access to seeing her difficult at times and impossible at others.

The pandemic also put the brakes on live performances — a dispiriting and financially impactful development for virtually all working musicians. The spread of Covid-19 also pushed back the recording schedule for Passages and required a rethinking of an important component of the arts commission grant, teaching and performing the music with students.

The perennially good-natured pianist and composer takes a “and can you believe it” tone when he adds that his beloved black cat, Tut, died in the middle of all of this. Tut, the lovable jazz cat that hopped up on the piano whenever Brenner played at home and occasionally pranced across the piano keys — mostly to Brenner’s amusement, but not always.

The trips to Florida to settle his brother’s estate and grieve, visit his mother and grieve, and deal with the chaos and uncertainty took a toll. “The last year-and-a-half has been horrible for me,” Brenner acknowledges.

It all figured in to Brenner’s state of mind in making “Passages.” How could it not?

“I feel that there’s somewhat of a dichotomy in the album in things that are poignant and sad and things that are more upbeat,” he mused.

Poignancy might be the better descriptor, despite the sadness the composer felt. The opening track, “Life is Precious” is something of an opening and closing statement. It was originally titled “You Won’t Hear It Again” but it’s far from gloomy. More like a celebration of the beauty and elegance of jazz piano, with Dan Hostetler on drums and Ron Kadish on double-bass.

“There’s a dichotomy in the album,” Brenner muses. There are “things that are poignant and sad and things that are more upbeat.”

“Tut’s Boogie Woogie” pays homage of Brenner’s feline buddy and shows off the rollicking boogie woogie piano chops for which Brenner is well-known. For the uninitiated, Brenner launched the Bloomington Blues & Boogie Woogie Piano Festival in 2015 and has brought to Bloomington artists including Bob Seeley, Henry Butler, Marcia Ball and C.J. Chenier. His peers.

Brenner also demonstrated rock, blues and rhythm-and-blues proficiency during years of playing with Bloomington’s best bar band, The Ragin’ Texans. His tastes, and skills, are broad.

“Some Sexy Blues For Ya Right Here, Y’All” got its name from Brenner’s wife and vocalist Lori Brenner, who heard the song fleshed out and made the memorable observation. She nailed it, as did the supporting cast of Hostetler, Kadish, cool blues guitarist Gordon Bonham and hot saxophone player, Joe Donnelly.

And in the ‘it’s harder to do than it sounds’ category, “Paradiddle Boogie Woogie” romps to an unusual twist with Brenner alternating hands on the piano to carry the role drumsticks normally pound out. 

Are there sad songs on “Passages?” Again, poignant seems to be better word. “No One Should Die Alone” feels like a tribute to the beauty of the human spirit and the fragility of the mortal coil, inspired by the isolation of his mother at her health care facility and the fate of many COVID-19 patients unable to receive visits from their families.

“For My Brother” is elegiac and majestic, with violinist and viola player Dana El Saffer elevating the piano-based tune into the realm of regal. “I wrote lyrics to it but I couldn’t bring myself to sing it,” Brenner said. “Maybe some day.”

Sonically, “Passages” sparkles with the all-star cast of mostly Bloomington-based musicians finding ways to ply inventive solos and fills within the framework tone of the songs. Recorded primarily at Airtime Studios, it also benefits from the recording, mixing and mastering of Airtime owner Dave Weber and his much-admired Yamaha concert grand piano. “The sound of that piano is incredible,” Brenner said. “It’s definitely one of the best pianos around.”

Brenner notes that his “favorite singer,” his wife Lori, not only contributes vocals to the album but also the handsome album art. The family contributions also include electric bass from his son, Nate, and vocals from Nate’s wife, Merrill Garbus, the nucleus of the eclectic Oakland, California-based group Tune-Yards (whose 2011 album, Whokill was named album of the year in The Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop critics poll).

Nate and most of the album’s musicians dive into a musical pile of funhouse balls in the album’s final cut. “I originally wrote and performed ‘Looking For A Job’ back in the 1980s with both Kruise Kontrol and Sajonner, a trio with Saaku Saar and T.J. Jones,” Brenner said. The reggae-influenced song was inspired by the unemployment and economic sputtering and shifting under the Reagan administration and includes honks and squeals and synthesizer sound effects to capture the unpredictable mood.

It’s the most incongruent track on “Passages” and clearly the most fun. Perhaps it’s Brenner’s way of bookending the album. Life IS precious. And music feeds the soul. 

Passages is available on CD (discounted at Landlocked Music) and downloads at www.craigbrenner.com. Videos of several students performing pieces from the album are also posted on the website.

CONTACT: Craig Brenner, 812-929-1784, craigbrennerboogies@gmail.com

Mike Leonard retired from The Herald-Times after nearly 35 years as a columnist and reporter. He is currently a freelance writer and adjunct lecturer in The Media School at Indiana University. Mike Leonard, 812 369-1532, leonardbtown@gmail.com 

The Forgotten Folk: B-Sides from The Harry Smith Folk Anthology

The Carter Family (left to right) Maybelle, Sara, and A.P.

By Tom Roznowski

For masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.
– Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Down by a western water tank
One cold December day
–  Dick Justice,   The Harry Smith B-Sides (Track 1, Disc 1)

And now it lies broken. Probably for the length of our lifetimes. The deep divisions in America around race and class, which were always rooted in wealth, have stunned us all into collective dysfunction. The depth of our divisions were clearly exposed in a yea or nay national referendum. The result of that democratic exercise illuminated this estrangement for all to see. As for the business of resolving policy issues or choosing a future direction, the outcome of this once-in-a-generation election decided nothing.

Backward glances are not natural to Americans. If we have never quite measured up as a forward-thinking people, we can at least be considered a forward-looking people. Each of the major migrations in our nation-building: across the Atlantic to North America, westward into the frontier, or more recently from farm to city, required a personal resolve to never glance back at the consequences of your actions, or stop and consider how they might be slowly gaining on you.

One manifestation of this resolve has been the exploitation and subsequent abandonment of large portions of lands and people, stretching from sea to shining sea. You don’t have to look far for evidence of the damage done anywhere east of the Mississippi: the vacant small towns, the impoverished mountain communities, the tired aging cities. No question that daily life was hard for many even when these areas were thriving. In fact, as we can see now, that’s exactly what allowed them to thrive in the first place.

The Harry Smith B-Sides, recently released as a handsome boxed set by Disc-To-Digital, provides listeners a director’s cut of an already legendary work. These are the companion tunes for the A sides from original 78 r.p.m. releases that appeared on The Anthology of American Folk Music curated by Harry Smith. That initial collection, released by Folkways Records in 1952, featured 84 performances of American roots music, the majority recorded in just three years, from 1927 through 1929. The selections are divided into three categories: Ballads (the English folk tradition of storytelling through song), Social Music (played and sung where people gathered: primarily church and dances) and finally, Songs (covering the waterfront with meditations on birds, prison time, rough neighborhoods, and fishing).

As distinctive as the sources and subjects of these performances are, there is a cohesion that binds each of these collections together as a concept. This is astounding, especially given the social, racial, and class divisions that coursed through America at the time. A period photograph of African-American and Cherokee musicians Andrew and Jim Baxter (Georgia Stomp b/w 40 Drops) reveals perhaps more than was intended. The two men are seated outdo15ors posing with their instruments. They are apparently the invited entertainment for the day. Behind them, at a remove of perhaps 10 yards, a group of fashionably dressed white women stand behind a long table. Welcome to Gordon County, Georgia in the 1920s.   

Of course, being uniquely American, the original Anthology American of Folk Music was a serendipitous combination of creativity, evolving technology, and market forces. In the mid to late 1920s, the process used to capture live music took a huge leap with the introduction of electronic recording, vastly improving the fidelity of performances. Voices and instruments no longer had to shout to be heard. Almost overnight, Enrico Caruso became Bing Crosby.

These advances moved in lockstep with a growing consumer market eager for portable, re-playable versions of folk songs by rural artists; performances that a couple decades earlier could have been absorbed only in the moment. What Gutenberg’s press did for story, the 78 rpm record did for roots music. Yet another step away from the imme15diate and the individual, anticipating that a broad acceptance would surely follow.

Harry Smith was not a musician, but he listened like one. He was a genuine eccentric born of eccentrics. His mother claimed to be the vanished daughter of Czar Nicholas, Anastasia. His father had once been a cowboy. Every bit as essential as his fascination with American folk music was young Harry’s penchant for collecting. Whatever he earned at various odd jobs was largely spent acquiring ephemera: catalogues, paper airplanes, painted Easter eggs. Around 1940, Harry Smith began to accumulate commercially released folk recordings created during this rich three-year period of the late 1920s. Conveniently, Harry’s curiosity and energy coincided with yet another enormous shift in recording technology that had occurred during the late 1940s: the emergence of LPs (Long Players) spinning at 33 1/3 rpm and the conversion of two song, A and B side releases from 78 to 45 rpm., which facilitated the growing popularity of jukeboxes.

In the 1920s, the B-sides were often where the racy, and racist, songs were consigned.

In response to this market shift and eager to create warehouse space for new releases, major record labels began off-loading their remaining stock of 78s to local retailers for pennies on the dollar. Much of that stock had been sitting undisturbed during the Depression and World War II. With few notable exceptions, the musicians who had performed on these recordings had either moved on with their lives or simply died.

The initiative to release The Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952 was guided by Moe Asch of Folkways Records. The new LP format had made it marketable. Harry Smith’s vast collection provided the content. The resulting wave of inspiration arising from the public’s exposure to the songs and styles of these lost artists is evident in the original music created during the folk, blues, and rock boom of the 1950s and 60’s. “One singer playing an instrument and telling a story” pretty much sums up the majority of cuts on the original anthology. Earthy vocal styles. Driving rhythms. All of a sudden, it was daylight again.

But in that generation between the last recordings featured on the original Anthology and a young Bob Dylan playing at the Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village, the world had become a different place. The books included with each Harry Smith collection show us just how different. Consider the names of the artists, or the titles of the songs: Columbus Fruge, Uncle Bunt Stephens, The Williamson Brothers and Curry, or “I Heard The Voice Of A Pork Chop,” “The Royal Telephone,” “My Mamma Was A Sailor.” Clearly not from around here, at least these days.

This is what, in the first anthology’s introduction, Greil Marcus refers to as “the old, weird America.” But actually, that’s only because we collectively closed our ears, turned our backs, and walked away. Even in 1952, these recordings must have sounded raw and primitive by comparison. The emergence of multi-tracking in the mid-1960s made these initial performances seem even more remote. A little math to consider: The distance between the releases of The Anthology of American Folk Music and The Harry Smith B-Sides is 68 years. Reverse that amount of time back from the original release and you are midway between the patent for Thomas Edison’s phonograph and the formation of his company to market recorded wax cylinders.

The sudden availability of The Harry Smith B-Sides, much like the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels at Nag Hammadi in 1945, basically takes a hard right turn off of our accepted reality. It’s not that these added performances are inferior or secondary by appearing on the flip side. Rather, they enhance and broaden our understanding of these rare artists, the music they played, and significantly, the America that surrounded them.

In the late 1920s, the B-sides were often where the racy, and racist, selections were consigned. A small note included in this set of 4 CDs states that three songs which matched contributions on the original Anthology are not included here because of racist lyrics. One of the artists, Uncle Dave Macon, had either a natural affinity or a supreme indifference to racial epithets. Another one of his recordings included a slur right in the title. A popular Grand Ole Opry performer, Macon still stands enshrined in the Country Music Hall Of Fame today.

There are other names in these collections that might be familiar to folk, country and blues fans today: The Carter Family, Dock Boggs, Mississippi John Hurt, but the vast majority of performers here would only be fleetingly captured in their brief recording sessions before being cast back into the river of time to sink or swim. These include voices that belie age and broader influences. Richard “Rabbit” Brown sounds like no one has since, though you’d imagine many a soul with a guitar on their knee might have thought it was a style one could learn through imitation. Dock Boggs was only 29 when these initial recordings were made, sounding twice that old because of all that he had seen, heard, and swigged. As one listens here, there is a creeping realization that as technology continues to guide us away from the sensory and what’s become lost in the process is something personal, immediate, and genuine.

The opportunity for individuals who had only played locally for town folk, family and friends to record in a professional studio must have involved a leap of its own. Imagine a visit to New York City or Chicago for someone raised without electricity. Consider too the fragile trappings of fame that might suddenly surround them: a printed poster for their performances, a professional photograph posing with their instrument, then this brittle black disc with their name and song neatly printed on a light blue label. All this when there might have been two phonographs within five miles of home.

This thrilling feeling, this startling moment in time, was all gathered in two and a half minutes of recorded music. On the second disc included on The Harry Smith B-Sides, The Alabama Sacred Harp Singers encourage you have to a little talk with Jesus. Heart and soul while making every small stop in between. Then, there’s the foot-stomping careening fiddle tune “Old Red” by Floyd Ming and his Pep-Steppers. Country music is often described as three chords and the truth. “Old Red” is two chords touching eternity.

The question one is left with after a visit to the days before tube microphones, multi-track overdubs, and isolation booths is not how much better the finished recording might have been than a live rendition but exactly the opposite. Listening to the sheer raw force of these sessions, one aches for the lost experience that must have preceded them. Maybe a random Sunday in a tiny church with Blind Willie Johnson testifying. Or maybe searching Appalachia with a name and destination in mind: Back roads traveled, directions asked, until you hear the banjo and fiddle a little further up the hill, just before your scent reaches the dogs.

All this time and distance allows for the fact that the lyrics here are frequently offered a strange patois or shouted, garbled, and growled in a way that defies understanding. As Om Kalthoum or the Rolling Stones have proven, this alone does not preclude a listener’s transcendence.

Technology continues to guide us away from the sensory.

What’s become lost in the process is something

personal, immediate, and genuine.

Can this collection of 165 songs spread out over two releases nearly 70 years apart be considered essential listening for someone who loves the American music genres of country, rock, and blues? Is reading the Bible cover-to-cover a given for a devout Christian? Or visiting the Pyramids for someone who loves travel? It’s out there. You decide.

Perhaps it’s enough for now to simply extend thanks to the folks at Disc-To-Digital for the enormous effort and collaboration necessary to present these artifacts for your consideration. One thinks about the thousands of early films shot on silver nitrate stock, the vast majority lost to the ravages of time, fire, and indifference. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, originally shot in 1928, was thought lost forever until a complete copy was discovered over 60 years later in the closet of a Norwegian mental hospital. Often, the margins of extinction are just that slim. But still the search continues.

This is 20th century archeology, which in the case of The B-Sides involved using model airplane glue to restore the only surviving recordings. This collection may provide entertainment but beyond that, it may provide some cause for hope. Can something so fragile from so long ago survive the rough transition to our current reality? It is a question that involves remembering and mending as part of the answer. Acknowledging that it’s been badly broken. Needing it to somehow be made whole again.   

[editor’s note: Tom Roznowski has spent most of his creative life singing, writing, and exploring in his particular locality, the hills of Southern Indiana. Currently, Tom is the host of Porchlight, airing on WFIU Saturday evenings at 6PM]

This Week’s Ryder Films: Dec 9

We’ve just added two films to our movie calendar: FREE TIME and DAMNATION. You can read about these as well as the other films playing in our virtual cinema, right here ….

FREE TIME

You can watch Free Time right here, right now
Free Time, the latest film by one of our greatest documentarians, Manny Kirchheimer. A New York Film Festival selection, Free Time presents meticulously restored and poetically assembled 16mm black-and-white footage shot in New York between 1958 and 1960, set to the stirring music of Ravel, Bach, Eisler, and Count Basie. Manny Kirchheimer is one of the great masters of the American city symphony, as is clear from films like Stations of the Elevated (1981) and Dream of a City. In his latest work, the 88-year-old Kirchheimer has meticulously restored and constructed 16mm black-and-white footage that he and Walter Hess shot in New York between 1958 and 1960. This lustrous evocation of a different rhythm of life captures the in-between moments—kids playing stickball, window washers, folks reading newspapers on their stoops—and the architectural beauty of urban spaces. The breathtaking footage was shot in several distinct New York neighborhoods, including Washington Heights, the Upper West Side, and Hell’s Kitchen, and features impressionistic stops throughout the city, making time for an auto junkyard in Inwood, a cemetery in Queens, and the elegant buildings of the financial district. An indispensable New York filmmaker, a noticer and listener without peer.— A.O. Scott, The New York Times A jazzy montage of exquisitely lensed Manhattan street scenes — musical passages from the likes of Bach and Basie share a soundtrack with select cues. In FREE TIME, you don’t hear noise, you hear notes.— Eric Hynes, Film Comment

WHERE CAN I PURCHASE A TICKET AND HOW MUCH ARE THEY?


DAMNATION

You can watch Damnation right here, right now

A loner tries to win back his estranged lover, a lounge singer in a bar named Titanik, in Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr’s otherworldly film noir. Some of you may have seen Tarr’s classic, 7-hour film Sátántangó when it was screened at the IU Cinema in 2019. Relax, Damnation is a mere 1 hour, 56 minutes. Shot in 1988 in atmospheric black-and-white, Damnation has recently been in released in the States in a new 4K restoration by the Hungarian National Film Institute

Made in 1988 but virtually unknown in the United States, Damnation is the movie with which the great Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr fully became “Bela Tarr.” Aside from a mayfly run some 30 years ago at Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan, the movie has been all but invisible. The movie is a brilliant calling card. Its melancholy, hurdy-gurdy score, exaggerated sound design, ritual ensemble dances, inexorable camera moves suggest a dry run for Tarr’s 1994 masterpiece, the immersive, 7-hour “Satantango” — at less than one-third the length. – J. Hoberman, The New York Times


ZAPPA

“We were loud. We were coarse. We were strange. And if anyone in the audience ever gave us any trouble, we told them to fuck off.” There has yet to be a film about the life and times of the brilliant and genuinely maverick musician Frank Zappa. The music he composed and performed with his band, The Mothers of Invention — a mash-up of doo-wop, jazz, classical, and atonal kazoo kookiness by way of dada — was, by his own cheery admission, “designed to annoy people.” Filmmaker Alex Winter has crafted Zappa from over a thousand hours of mostly unseen material from Zappa’s personal vault. Zappa is an expansive and intimate portrait of an extraordinary artist who was also fully engaged with the turbulent politics of his day. (USA; 129 min)

You can watch Zappa right here, right now

CRITIC’S PICK! “Zappa” foregrounds the laudable and often astonishing aspects of the man’s work and personality. A self-taught musician with a near-maniacal work ethic, over the years he came to regard his efforts in rock ’n’ roll as a day gig, necessary to support his more ambitious composing efforts. – The New York Times

“Zappa” gives its subject his well earned due within the rock firmament. But even more valuable, Winter gives Zappa pride of place among the most important composers of the 20th century, sharing some extraordinary performances of his little-known classical work. – The Washington Post


COLLECTIVE

You can watch Collective right here, right now

Journalism’s role at exposing corruption has rarely been as dramatically portrayed as in Collective, in which filmmaker Alexander Nanau follows an unfolding investigation in real time. Romania’s Gazeta Sporturilor newspaper isn’t internationally known, but its reporters are as dogged as any Pulitzer winner. One revelation leads to another as they uncover a vast health-care fraud that enriched moguls and politicians, and caused the deaths of innocent citizens.

The story starts in 2015 with a fire at the Bucharest nightclub Colectiv. The tragedy killed 27 people on site and injured over 100 more. Romania’s Health Minister promised the burn victims would get the highest-quality treatment, but, in subsequent months, dozens more perished. What was going wrong inside the hospitals? Gazeta Sporturilor‘s investigative team, led by Catalin Tolontan, digs into this with old-fashioned gusto, conducting stakeouts, analyzing data, and working sources like the whistle-blowing Dr. Camelia Roiu. Their revelations shake Romania all the way to the upper echelons of business and government. One target of investigation winds up dead. Was it suicide or murder? (Romania/Luxembourg; subtitled; 109 min)

ONE OF THE GREATEST MOVIES ABOUT JOURNALISM and the Dark Forces in Confronts…Alexander Nanau’s bracing, relentless documentary plays like a gripping real-time thriller, merging the reportorial intensity of Spotlight with the paranoid uncertainty of The Manchurian Candidate. When Nanau screened Collective to rave reviews at the Venice, Toronto and Sundance festivals, he had no idea that his exposé would prove to be all-too predictive of a world not prepared to cope with a rampaging virus pandemic.  – Indiewire

CRITIC’S PICK! Whatever questions you have are eclipsed by the bombshells that keep exploding. Collective sketches out an honest, affecting, somewhat old-fashioned utopian example of what it takes to make the world better, or at least a little less awful. The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice. But as “Collective” lays out with anguished detail and a profound, moving sense of decency, it takes stubborn, angry people — journalists, politicians, artists, activists — to hammer at that arc until it starts bending, maybe, in the right direction. – The New York Times


FRANCISCA

You can watch Francisca right here, right now

A rising young novelist falls in love with the daughter of an English army officer. Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira made this amazing film in 1981, at the age of 72; as powerful as it is stark, it suggests a blending of the modernist, minimalist techniques of Jean-Marie Straub with the elusive spiritual subject matter of Max Ophuls. With its elaborate title cards, its abundance of shots in which the action is oriented directly toward the camera, its evocative interiors, and its show-stopping gala set-pieces, Francisca is an exacting, sumptuous and utterly inimitable cinematic experience, and one of Oliveira’s crowning achievements. (Portugal / subtitled / 166 min)

Francisca premiered in 1981 as an official selection in Director’s Fortnight at Cannes. The new 4K digital restoration by the Cinemateca Portuguesa premiered at the 76th Venice Film Festival in 2019.

co-feature: If you are a fan of movies about aspiring writers, you might also want to watch Martin Eden

A masterpiece of modern cinema!  A story of great subtlety, density, and emotional impact. – Dave Kehr, When Movies Mattered


CITIZENS OF THE WORLD

You can watch Citizens of the World right here, right now

It is never too late to change your life. Three Italians in their seventies, all single and looking for a change, decide to leave their beloved Rome and settle abroad. But where? A rash decision?–perhaps. The Professor, retired after teaching Latin his whole life, is getting bored. Giorgetto, one of the last true Romans, struggles to make ends meet every month. Attilio, an antiques dealer, wants to experience once again the sense of adventure he had while traveling as a hippie-youth. Things will change for our three musketeers, but not quite as expected. Writer/director Gianni de Gregorio has been called “the Italian Larry David.” He also co-stars as “the Professor.”   90 min  / Italy / subtitled / 2020

co-features: if you like pasta and Italian-language films, then you might want to check out Martin Eden, The Mouth of the Wolf and Sicilia, all playing this week in our virtual theater


MARTIN EDEN

You can watch Martin Eden right here, right now

Based on the 1909 autobiographical novel by Jack London, young Martin Eden is a charming, impoverished, self-taught sailor who dreams of becoming a writer. If he becomes a success, he believes, he might win the affections of a young, wealthy university student. Starring Luca Marinelli. Directed by Pietro Marcello. (2020 / Italy / subtitled / 129 min)

Martin Eden might be the BEST FILM OF THE YEAR! The film is a masterpiece, so you should see it any way you can. But it’s also nice to know that even by viewing it at home you can help out a struggling, indispensable [theater].” – Vulture

CRITIC’S PICK! An INGENIOUS adaptation of the Jack London novel. The true miracle of this film is how Marcello translates London’s lush, character-revealing prose into pure cinema.The entirety of the 20th century — its promises, illusions and traumas — sweeps through the AUDACIOUS and THRILLING Martin Eden. – The New York Times

One of the most thrilling aspects of the novel is how well it dramatizes Martin’s intellectual hunger, as he becomes a voracious reader and, in time, a writer. It’s not easy for a movie to depict the acquisition of knowledge, but this one comes as close as any I’ve seen. Sometimes Martin Eden evokes Italian neorealism, and sometimes it has the mad stylistic energy of the French New Wave. There’s no denying that THIS GORGEOUS AND PASSIONATE FILM IS SIMPLY ONE OF A KIND. – NPR

Co-feature: THE MOUTH OF THE WOLF  Pietro Marcello’s debut film won major prizes at the Berlin and Turin film festivals. The Mouth of the Wolf interweaves two love stories: the 20-year romance between a Sicilian tough guy and a transsexual former junkie whom he met in prison, and a poetic reverie of the Italian port town of Genoa, depicted in all its mysterious, fading glory. Commissioned by the Fondazione San Marcellino, a Jesuit order dedicated to helping society’s poor and marginalized, the film masterfully combines documentary with fiction and melancholy home movies from the past century with poetic images, sounds, and music of the waterfront today.


BUNGALOW

You can watch Bungalow right here, right now

A major work of the celebrated Berlin School, the debut of Ulrich Köhler is a mesmerizing portrait of a young German soldier named Paul who goes AWOL and returns to his childhood home in the countryside. Over a few summer days, Paul evades the responsibilities of everyday life and falls in love with his brother’s girlfriend, disrupting the lives of everyone in his circle. With Köhler’s penchant for deadpan humor and subtle performances, Bungalow becomes a quiet mockery of militarism, familial estrangement, and youthful ennui. New 4K Restoration.

Critic’s Pick! Köhler’s first film, newly available in the U.S., is a secretive and beautifully observant study of teenage disaffection. The New York Times


ALONE

You can watch Alone right here, right now

A cat-and-mouse thriller, adapted from a 2011 Swedish film and reset in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. Alone follows Jessica, recently widowed, who is kidnapped and held captive in a remote cabin. She escapes but is lost in the heart of the untamed wilderness, with only her wits to rely on for survival. Meanwhile, her mysterious captor closes in.  Directed by John Hyams (98 min)

John Hyams directed last year’s fabulously zippy zombie series, “Black Summer.” Alone unfolds with elegant simplicity and single-minded momentum. -The New York Times


12 HOUR SHIFT

You can watch 12 Hour Shift right here, right now

12 Hour Shift is a heist-gone-wrong film set during one strange night in an Arkansas hospital. Nurse Mandy is desperate to make it through her all-night shift without incident. This is particularly hard to do when you’re involved in a black market organ-trading scheme. When her hapless but dangerous cousin Regina misplaces a kidney, Mandy and Regina frantically try to secure a replacement organ by any means necessary. Talk about bedside manner! 12 Hour Shift is an edgy, madcap odyssey directed by Brea Grant. This is actress Grant’s first film as writer-director, and she elicits wonderful performances from her largely female ensemble cast. 87 min


SICILIA

You can watch Sicilia right here, right now

Film has never seen a collaboration like that between Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, a fiercely intellectual husband-wife duo whose decades-spanning oeuvre aimed to spark a revolution among the masses. It contains adaptations of Kafka and Brecht, homages to D.W. Griffith, Renoir, and Bresson, and treatises on political matters both current and eternal.

One of Straub-Huillet’s most engaging and accessible works, Sicilia! is the story of a man who returns to a village in Sicily after 15 years to visit his mother. Adapted from Elio Vittorini’s novel “Conversations in Sicily,” the film is so exquisitely rendered that herring roasting on a hearth or a meal of bread, wine and winter melon, can take on the humble aura of a Caravaggio painting. The actors, all nonprofessionals, declaim their extended discussions with grand, high-relief diction, and the film’s starkly exquisite black-and-white images set the dialogue as if to visual music. (66 minutes)

“One of their great later works.” – The Village Voice

“Straub-Huillet’s aesthetic abounds in anomalies. One finds comfort, albeit austere, in encountering patented elements of the filmmakers’ approach in Sicilia!” – James Quandt, Artforum


WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES

You can watch We Are Little Zombies right here, right now

One sunny day, four young strangers meet by chance at a crematorium. They have all recently lost their parents, but none of them can shed a tear. They are like zombies, devoid of all emotion. Alone in the world at 13 years of age with no future, no dreams, and no way to move forward, our protagonists dress themselves in scraps from a garbage dump, track down musical instruments, and decide to form a kick-ass band. They call themselves LITTLE ZOMBIES. This is a story about their quest to retrieve their ability to feel.

Directed by Makoto Nagahisa, We Are Little Zombies bursts with hyper pop style and unbridled imagination. Mixing inspiration from film, television, music, and, most importantly, video games, Nagahisa dazzles with a myriad of cinematic tricks, and he pushes his script in zany directions while never losing sight of its sympathetic exploration of grief and loss. (Japan / subtitles / 120 min)

CRITIC’S PICK! Wry humor, absurd dialogue and unflagging energy propel this dazzling, manic debut from Makoto Nagahisa…. he throws an entire box of tricks at the screen. Splitting it in two, fading to black and white, writing over it, and dunking an entire scene into a fishbowl, he fashions a fantasia of pranks so unexpected and colors so intense (the splendid cinematography is by Hiroaki Takeda), they could make you hallucinate. – The New York Times

WHERE CAN I PURCHASE A TICKET AND HOW MUCH ARE THEY?

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December issue of The Ryder

The new issue of The Ryder, funded in part by a Recover Forward grant from the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association, is on the virtual newsstands! Here’s your personal copy, and here’s some of what’s inside….

Passages Craig Brenner’s new album reflects a difficult time in his life. By Mike Leonard

Arts Alliance Artists shouldn’t have to sneak in through the back door. A look at the first ten years of the Arts Alliance of Greater Bloomington. By Rachael Himsel

The B-Sides A new collection of classic American folk songs asks us to consider if something fragile from long-ago can survive in our current age. By Tom Roznowski

Pedaling Peace and Global Activism Inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Dnyan Yewatkar has embarked on a global tour he calls Pedaling for Peace. He’s traveled 30,000 miles through 23 countries, and lived through close calls with a hungry tiger and a hungry drug cartel gang. By Mason Cassady

Queen’s Gambit Chess is not just a game but a discipline and the high-wire world of professional chess has never been portrayed with more care and respect. Who says “Girls can’t play chess”?. By Stephen Volan

Searching for Vito Scotti Hogan’s Heroes, Get Smart, Gilligan’s Island, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Columbo – it’s a never-ending list. You might not recognize his name but if you watched TV in the 60s and 70s you’ve seen Vito Scotti, character actor extraordinaire. And we haven’t even mentioned his work in feature films – including  indelible performances opposite Brando in The Godfather and the Monkees in Head. By John Bob Slone

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