MARY LOU WILLIAMS: THE LADY WHO SWINGS THE BAND

You can watch this film right here, right now, until February 25th

Mary Lou Williams was ahead of her time, a genius. Her musical career began in the 1920s; in an era when jazz was the nation’s popular music, she was one of its greatest innovators. As both a pianist and composer, she was a wellspring of daring and creativity who helped shape the sound of 20th century America. And like the dynamic, turbulent nation in which she lived, Williams seemed to re-define herself with every passing decade. From child prodigy to “Boogie-Woogie Queen” to groundbreaking composer to mentoring some of the greatest musicians of all time, Mary Lou Williams never ceased to astound those who heard her play.

In the 1950s, jazz icons like Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Bud Powell regularly visited Mary Lou Williams at her Harlem apartment to gain knowledge and inspiration. And in the 1970s, after her conversion, Mary Lou Williams took jazz in whole new direction—inside the Catholic Church.

But away from the piano, Williams was a woman in a “man’s world,” a black person in a “whites only” society, an ambitious artist who dared to be different and struggled against the imperatives of being a “star.” Above all, she did not fit the (still) prevailing notions of where genius comes from or what it looks like. Time and again, she pushed back against a world that said, “You can’t” and said, “I can.”

Prior to her career as an independent filmmaker, Carol Bash worked in broadcast television at CBS News and the BBC. Currently, she is developing Clean Justice, a  feature documentary on the environmental justice movement; Coming To A School Near You, a  short documentary on the impact of Betsy DeVos’ educational policies on the Detroit public  school system; and Blueprint For My People, an experimental film exploring the history of African  Americans through poetry and rare archival images.

New Film From Hungary: PREPARATIONS TO BE TOGETHER FOR AN UNKNOWN PERIOD OF TIME

You can watch “Preparations” right here, right now

Márta Vizy (Natasa Stork) is a 39-year-old Hungarian neurosurgeon. After 20 years in the United States, she returns to Budapest for a romantic rendezvous at the Liberty Bridge with János (Viktor Bodó), a fellow doctor she met at a conference in New Jersey. Márta waits in vain, while the love of her life is nowhere to be seen. When she finally tracks him down, the bewildered man claims the two have never met.

Like Madeleine in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Adèle H. in Truffaut’s The Story of Adèle H., or the women of Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy, Márta is a strong yet vulnerable force who anchors herself in her feelings when faced with uncertainty.

For her second feature, following 2015’s The Wednesday Child, writer-director Lili Horvát spins a delicate web of contrasts and silent explosions that shift the viewer’s understanding. Shot with impeccable symmetry on entrancing 35mm, it is an Orphic tale reminding us that, while the heart is an abstruse trickster, the human brain — ruling us with over 80 billion interconnected neurons — is our most complex organ. (Hungary / subtitles / 95 min )

A neurosurgeon pursues the man of her dreams in this simmering portrait of obsession by the Hungarian filmmaker Lili Horvat. Critic’s Pick! -The New York Times

You Will Die at Twenty

You Will Die at Twenty opens on Friday, Feb 12th in our virtual cinema.

Winner of the Lion of the Future Award for best Debut Feature at the Venice Film Festival, You Will Die at Twenty is a visually sumptuous “coming-of-death” fable. During her son’s naming ceremony, a Sheikh predicts that Sakina’s child will die at the age of 20. Haunted by this prophecy, Sakina becomes overly protective of her son Muzamil, who grows up knowing about his fate. As Muzamil escapes Sakina’s ever-watchful eye, he encounters friends, ideas and challenges that make him question his destiny. Sudan’s first Oscar submission, You Will Die at Twenty is an auspicious debut and a moving meditation on what it means to live in the present. Directed by Amjad Abu Alala (Sudan / 102 mins / Arabic with English subtitles)

“A rapturous debut feature… finds boundless enchantment in every frame.” The New York Times


Here’s a complete movie calendar


And here is a copy of the Jan/Feb issue of The Ryder magazine.

https://online.flippingbook.com/view/1009496/

Census Taking in a Divided America

by Mason Cassady

While perusing the stacks at the Monroe County Public Library on a brisk winter day in 2019, my eye couldn’t help but be drawn to a man in a makeshift booth, adorned with a sign indicating he was hiring for jobs that paid a $20-$25 hourly wage, courtesy the US Department of Commerce. He fit the bill for what I’ve always imagined a U.S. Government employee to be — age somewhere in his sixth decade, dressed casually in a plaid button-up shirt and khaki trousers, and possibly the whitest shade of pale a white man can be. I decided to investigate further, and the man — The Man? — peaked my interest by enthusing about a flexible schedule, low on-the-job oversight, reimbursement of gas mileage, a higher hourly wage than ever offered before (underscored with a hand motion toward the large sign)… and a chance to help the country. 

Unlike the military, the job didn’t come with combat pay, but for anyone who’s volunteered to go join up in the once-every-decade Army of the Census, after you’re done, you surely feel like you’re due some kind of special bonus.

Every ten years, the US Census Bureau hires hundreds of thousands of citizens as enumerators, a short-term position whose tasking is to collect household and demographic information from area residents. While much of the census data is collected by mail, enumerators are inevitably deployed to reach out to citizens who, for whatever reason, didn’t get their questionnaires back to Uncle Sam. This year’s census was especially problematic for various reasons: Due to Covid-19, the 2020 count started months late, and due to particularly contentious political disagreements and funding issues, it ended early. Though I remembered hearing tales during the last census about all manner of craziness enumerators were forced to deal with — usually reports of rifle-brandishing homeowners or extremely defensive animals (in 2010, an enumerator’s encounter with a vicious duck left her with fifteen bite marks and a battery of tetanus shots) — as the alabaster bureaucrat made no mention of itchy-trigger-finger residents or surly waterfowl, I left the consultation feeling optimistic about my prospective Covid temp job. Later that day, I completed an online application to become an enumerator for the 2020 U.S. Census. Some weeks later, I was hired, thus becoming the latest in a long and distinguished line of citizen-workers without whose work America couldn’t exist.

In 1790, George Washington’s administration presided over the first national census, with Washington assigning then-Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to marshal a small cavalry of equestrian enumerators to saddle up and tally America’s citizenry in the name of establishing our first Congressional districts. While Jefferson’s mounted tabulators had recorded a total of 3.9 million people in the young nation, the numbers were disingenuous: In addition to excluding Native Americans, the enumerators also hewed to the letter of the Constitution, which then included a sop to the South: Designed to placate white racist sensibilities and ensure political power through numbers, Virginia and North Carolina, with their large slave populations and by way of example, accounted for just over 20% of the entire US population. The Three-Fifths Compromise, though eliminated in letter by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, has hung around in spirit ever since, in some places more than others. 

Fast forward to 2020. This year’s census estimates a population of 330 million residents (up 22 million since 2010) in the United States, with census-related issues such as district-packing and citizenship questions as contentious as others that have come before and maintain. The changes that have occurred since that initial census are mind-boggling; our world would be unrecognizable to those horsemen conducting the census in the 18th century. (We can but imagine how those temporally closer to the Second Amendment and deadly epidemics circa 1790 might consider their ostensible latter-day Tea Party-cum-Trumpist inheritors in covid-defined 2020.) I wondered if the census was more efficient in Jefferson’s day of horseback riders on dirt roads with old maps and landmarks, in contrast to our efforts today, fueled by big data, smartphones, and 5G connectivity. But that’s like comparing the visuals of Atari’s Pong to the virtual reality of Star Trek on the Oculus Rift.

The experience of Census workers can be wildly different based on a number of variables, geographic location chief among them. Employees in metropolitan areas walk city streets and dodge traffic, while census takers in rural regions traverse backroads with their heads on a permanent swivel, alert to potential sneak attacks from dogs and other hidden dangers. The bulk of my cases were found in rural areas, with the occasional visit to addresses in medium and small towns of southern Indiana — a mix that gave me a glimpse into different and diverging demographics of modern America. What I saw is a divide that looks a bit like two icebergs drifting farther and farther apart — a reflection of political climate change that, like it’s environmental cousin, seems only to be accelerating.

In an era of information confusion, flooded with phone scams and social media misinformation and foreign disinformation on the Internet  — which can sometimes feel like a Wild Wild West of Trolls — upon seeing my approaching figure, many of my fellow citizens looked at me skeptically, sometimes even with hostility, as if I were some sort of government operative actively working to take away their freedoms. Even with a badge, a bag tagged with “U.S. Census Bureau,” and a damn good elevator speech about the purpose of the census, I nonetheless sometimes found myself on the receiving end of the hairy eyeball. In such cases, I reminded residents that the primary reasons for the census is to reapportion the House of Representatives and allocate federal funding to communities for things like infrastructure, transportation planning, and educational or community facilities. Yet such words did little to soothe the generic seething Census cynic. When the questionnaire prompted me to ask a woman about home ownership, she all but hollered, “THIS INTERVIEW IS OVER!” and proceeded, successfully, to slam the door in my face. 

Apparently I had found the limits of Hoosier Hospitality.

Stories from the Road

Prior to beginning the fieldwork, I was required to complete 15 hours of online training on how to do the job of an enumerator — about 12 hours too many, but at $20 an hour, who was I to complain? After I finished training, I moved onto the next stage: conducting the first handful of field assignments under the supervision of my manager.

My supervisor and I set out one morning in her Toyota Prius to fight the good fight of counting people in the name of democracy. On our first home visit, the respondent opened the door with a beer in hand at about 1pm on a Tuesday. He was a middle-aged man, balding head with a five o’clock shadow and bags beneath his eyes. Rather energetically, he invited us into his home to complete the survey, but we courteously declined the offer due to restrictions of the job (among other concerns — is he just a guy with a beer or a Hoosier version of Leatherface?). The man was in a hurry and said he only had about 5 minutes. I thought to myself, But you’re drinking a beer… chill, bro, and we told him a white lie and said we could complete the survey within five minutes (it really takes ten minutes or more) and so I began firing questions from the questionnaire his way. 

About two minutes in, he said, “You are not gonna complete this in 180 more seconds, bud. Come on back another time.” I agreed without hesitation. Demoralized, my supervisor and I walked away, started up the car and drove onward towards new horizons, to new addresses, and with determination not unlike Ash Ketchum in the theme song to Pokémon. “Gotta catch em all!” indeed.

Next up: I ascended a rotting wooden staircase to attempt an interview at a house. Knock knock. (Who’s there? I thought to myself). No answer. Knock knock. Nobody. Dejected again, I placed a Notice of Visit (NOV) slip in the door and began to walk down the wooden staircase. About nine steps down my right foot, along with the whole step, slid out beneath me. My clipboard and all my papers took flight as I fell backwards. My arms flailed, along with my pride, as my supervisor witnessed the whole shebang from the comfortable seat of her environmentally-conscious automobile. I instinctively hollered out, “I’m okay!” in an act far too common among those with XY chromosomes (hiding pain and acting tough, this would be). There I was, on the ground on my first day of fieldwork, a fresh bruise forming on my arm. Morale was low, and I was losing my optimism for my U.S. Census stint.

Whether it was pity, delusion, or a desperate need for census workers, my supervisor certified me as competent, and gave me the go ahead for solo census expeditions.

Whenever I checked my smartphone for caseloads at the beginning of each day, I never knew what to expect. As I drove and walked along rural roads eerily resembling those in Deliverance, I was frequently reminded by locals of the death of a census worker in the year 2000. Outside a rural cabin in Brown County, a woman was killed by a pack of dogs while on the job. Each time someone brought that incident up, I cringed and carried on to the next address, hoping I wouldn’t fall victim to a similar fate. I enjoyed both the adventure and the novelty, which made the job interesting to me; but the chance, however slim, of getting shot, or attacked by a canine while on the clock, gave my adrenal glands permission to flood my system with stress hormones.

One day, I pulled up to a house that had a sign that said, DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE GUARD DOG. WORRY ABOUT THE HOMEOWNER WITH A GUN.Not much to leave to the imagination there! Three dogs in the area were barking in my direction; humans were nowhere to be seen. The dog-loving side of me thought, “How cute, these dogs are saying hello!”. But just in case I was wrong — and remembering the great admonition that discretion is the better part of valor — I did a cost-benefit analysis of the situation: multiple canines and an uninviting sign vs. Helping the Nation.

Concluding that neither man, beast, nor nation would ultimately be well-served by any number of accidents that might follow cracking my car door to say “Good doggies,” I fired up the engine and got back onto a gravel road sandwiched between deciduous hardwood trees in an Indiana forest. About one hour later, my caseload app led me to an address on a road I had lived on in my diaper days. I skimmed over the case notes (prior enumerators can leave comments on addresses that they have visited) which said something about cats; I’m cool with cats, I thought to myself, and so I proceeded down a long driveway through the understory of forest foliage. 

I closed my car door, turned the key, put the pedal to the metal, and that banjo tune from Deliverance just randomly popped into my head.

At the end of the drive there was a house. The yard was totally fenced in. Within that fence, I saw about 25 cats lounging around. I opened my car door and immediately the cabin was permeated only to be nearly overtaken by the overwhelming odor of feline waste. As particles in the air shot up my nostrils, I thought about toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease found in the cat family, that can cause numerous unwanted symptoms, including crazy cat lady syndrome (well, the verdict is still out on that). With no car in the parking lot, and a fence that basically said “don’t even bother,” I closed my car door, turned the key, put the pedal to the metal and that banjo tune from Deliverance just randomly popped into my head.

Down the road, I turned into a parking lot of an address on my list. A woman stood sternly by her house with a darting gaze in my direction and her hands tight to her hips. I parked and was momentarily frozen — not unlike a deer in the headlights — as I wondered how this woman would receive me. I opened my door, stood up and, lest I be taken for an armed, jackbooted, freedom-hating thug, hollered, “I’m with the Census!” 

The woman took a few steps in my direction, lifted up her right arm with her pointer finger sharply pointed to the sky and yelled at the top of her lungs, “GET OUT!!” 

“But this is my job!” I yelped, my voice suddenly cracking in a way it hasn’t since puberty.

She advanced slowly but deliberately, flames in her eyes. “You’re the sixth census person to come to my house,” she fumed. “I done did the interview!!”

I peered down at my government-issued iPhone 8, asked for clarification on the address, and then realized I was at the wrong address. I apologized for the blunder and, much to my pleasant surprise, with that, she warmed up. She told me her name, and I asked if it was Italian. “It sure is…” she replied, as I informed her of my own Italian heritage. She said with a smile, and maybe a wink, “I can tell, we can pick each other out from a crowd.” Then she went on, sans prompting and in a quite Midwesternly way, to unload the gossip on all the residents of the entire block. 

I decided she would be a good “proxy,” enumerator lingo for utilizing a neighbor to retrieve information on a resident that is not home. Using the proxy always felt a bit like I was speaking to a snitch or interrogating someone to catch the ringleader of some nefarious group, which is of course ridiculous; but for some people, the combination of disconnect from and distrust of society is so great I didn’t envy the US Postal Service mail carriers working these rural routes. 

Not all interviews were tense, though. One of the more benign, if not charming, interviews occurred with a woman in her eighties. As we went through the questionnaire at a leisurely pace, she answered each question without concern, in an accent as sweet as apple pie, and then began to inquire about my life outside of the Census. I shared a few stories from my traveling life, and then she asked, “Do you have any experience with house painting?” This was more than a bit out of left field. “Very little,” I replied, “but yes, I do” She then asked if I would be interested in painting the exterior of her home because, “I got a few estimates, and golly, they are high!” I thought about the offer for a moment, kindly declined, and carried on with my day surveying Hoosiers. 

Another day, I’d glimpsed a woman wearing a pink gown with a floral pattern watching me park nearby her home. She began walking toward my car. She moved at the speed of an Eastern Box Turtle. When she got to my car she said, “Do I know you?” I replied, “I don’t believe so,” and then I informed her of my official enumerating duties. She too, went on to tell me all about the area, and eventually told me, with a giggle, that she was 92 years old; or, as I thought, just over nine census’ old, with her first being the 1930.

While conducting fieldwork, I was impressed and frightened by the creativity of No Trespassing signs. Two of my favorites were: Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again; Due to High Cost of Ammo, There Will Be NO WARNING SHOTS FIRED. Signs containing such contemptuous gun messaging toward other humans seems to be unique to the American experience, and one more thing to keep us — some of us, anyways — up at night. 

When I saw signs of that sort, I imagined the contrast in experience of a census worker in a place like Finland, where they have jokamiehenoikeus, which translates roughly as Everyman’s Right, written into the law: it allows anyone to walk, forage or camp, at a certain distance from a house, on anyone else’s land. The only restrictions are on hunting and cutting timber. Finland is not unique in such right-to-roam laws; other nations like Denmark, Norway and Scotland have similar laws (with a few more limitations compared to Finland). Conversely, in the United States, we have castle doctrines, or defense of habitation laws, which in certain states gives homeowners the protected right to shoot trespassers dead.

Each employee of the 2020 census was issued an iPhone 8, which clearly indicates addresses where there have been dangerous encounters in the past: a yellow symbol indicates the need to yield caution while a red symbol signifies danger, do not attempt. The implementation of iPhone’s among census workers might be the most effective way to decrease incidents of violence while on the job. And while conducting the census in the year of a heated presidential election, where one side is fuel for gun-toting, “get off my land,” Americans, I was sure to give no trespassing signs full attention and respect as I marked the address as un-attemptable, and left the property swiftly with all my faculties, limbs and organs intact and in working order.

Counting the number of residents in a country of 330 million people is extremely complex. As noted previously, and without shame, I repeat: the census is vitally important for the allocation of funding to communities across the country. But that doesn’t stop conspiracy theories. Some respondents, skeptical toward any and all things governmental, looked at me as if I were a wolf in government-issued sheep’s wool, preparing to use their information for diabolical means. Contrary to what some residents may think, answering the census is mandated by the Constitution and is imperative for any nation that considers itself a democracy.

Working as a census enumerator can feel like a thankless job due to unpleasant interactions with some residents. It had similar tones to working in the service industry, but with the potential for more guns and unwanted interactions with furry-and-not-always-friendly animals. But there was one moment, when I was walking down the street, and a woman across the road cheered, “Yay! Go Census!” That made my steps a bit lighter that day, and reminded me of the value of the job. If you meet a Census worker, now or ten years down the road, give them a nod; the work they do ripples out and affects us all in innumerable ways. Counting the population equates to fair representation in the House and more equilibrium to the allocation of funding for things like schools, roads and health facilities centers in communities. Which, to challenge a slogan I hope I never hear again, are the things that actually make America great.

If you missed CAConrad’s live performance…

here’s the link

CACONRAD sat down with Tony Brewer of the Writer’s Guild of Bloomington for a fascinating conversation and a dynamic reading of some of their poems.

CAConrad is an award winning poet, the self-described “son of white trash asphyxiation.” The Book of Conrad follows the celebrated writer/performance artist as the poet confronts a violent past and the suspicious death of a boyfriend, Earth. The film attempts to unravel the mystery of Earth’s death, while Conrad wrestles with inner demons. Influenced by Eileen Myles, Audre Lorde, Alice Notley, and Emily Dickinson, Conrad writes poems in which stark images of sex, violence, and defiance build a bridge between fable and confession.

CAConrad is the author of several books of poetry, including The Book of Frank, Advanced Elvis Course, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon, and the newly released ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness.

CAConrad’s reading is funded in part by a Recover Forward grant from the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association and is co-presented by the Writers Guild at Bloomington.

Three New Films

We are opening 3 new films this week in our virtual theater and all three are “Critic’s Picks” in the NY Times.
Film About a Father Who (opening today) is Lynne Shelton’s autobiographical film about her relationship with her eccentric father. The Salt of Tears (opening Jan 27), a new film from France written and directed by the legendary Phillippe Garrel, is the story of a young, charming ne’er do well juggling relationships with three women. (You’d never guess Garrel was 79 years old when he made this.) Atlantis (opening Jan 29) sci-fi film set in the Ukraine in the near-future (2025). You can read more about these films and the rest of our virtual cinematic lineup right here.


The New Issue of The Ryder . . .
…is on the virtual newsstands. Here’s your copy. This month’s magazine looks back at 2020 with critics’ picks in Music, Books, Film and TV. But there’s much more: feature articles on census-taking on the back roads of Indiana, writing obituaries for the NY Times in a time of Covid, producing original theater from Virginia Beach (where else?) and the definitive interview with James McMurtry talking about the late John Prine.


Do you have a comment or a suggestion for a film? Maybe you’d like to write something for our magazine. Send an email to editor@theryder.com. We can be talked into almost anything.

New issue of The Ryder

The Ryder Magazine - Jan/Feb 2021 Issue

Here’s your personal copy of the new issue of The Ryder

Unlike other publications that feature year-end reviews before January 1st, at The Ryder it’s a tradition not to start production on our annual retrospective until after the dawning of the New Year. We do this in part so some on our masthead can enjoy the holidays, but also so we can shoehorn in considerations of late-breaking events that happen right up to the moment the departing year gives up the ghost. 

Late-breaking events in 2020 once again validated our quirk – we’d have been heartbroken if we couldn’t have had John Bob Slone weigh in on the December 30th passing of Gilligan’s Island icon Dawn Wells as he does on page 56 of this issue.  Then, just as our production cycle was closing, January 6th happened.

Like many the world over, the extended Ryder family struggled to process what it saw.  As we prepare to publish, we have no idea what’s going to unfold in Washington, DC, between now and the Joe Biden inauguration on January 20th. And, in this, we know we’re not alone, either. But that’s kind the de facto theme of this issue: interconnectedness.

Bloomington isn’t Brigadoon. Geographically, psychologically, financially, artistically, politically, despite our “blue island” status, we are part of larger wholes: the region, the state, the nation, the world, the environment; formal and informal professional and social networks. So we asked not just some of our usual Bloomington contributors to weigh in with considerations, but folks from outside Bloomington as well. The New York Times’ John Schwartz, playwright Richard Byrne, jack-of-all-tradesman Kent Jenkins Jr, Aussie reporter Ross Coulthart, editor Jeff Sartain and, via Jason Vest, honorary Bloomingtonian James McMurtry all answered the call. And, in considering both immediate past and immediate future of living in a one-party state, ace Indiana political reporter Brian Howey reminds that possibly the only thing more divisive than a literal wall is a shrewdly-drawn electoral district line. 

These days of course, you don’t have to live a world away to feel like you’ve living in an unfamiliar land. And if you should go somewhere foreign, you might find that in some respects it’s not that different from home, as perpetual wanderlusters Mason Cassady and John Linnemeier share in this issue through two very different experiences: In Mason’s case, braving the threat of guns and dogs while roaming through the backroads of southern Indiana, armed with nothing but a US Census Bureau clipboard; and in John’s case, discovering a better angel of human nature alive in spirit on a remote Atlantic island.

From her perch in Madison, Indiana, author, Hanover College professor and former Bloomingtonian Robyn Ryle considers best reads of 2020 through an engagingly idiosyncratic lens, while closer to home our own Joan Hawkins locates her Best in Film 2020 list in the midst of quiet revolution of pandemic-bound US audiences against the provincialism not of Americans, but of American film distributors. Our own Brian Stout kicks off a diverse set of 2020’s musical standouts, with help from some of the best on-air personalities of WFHB. And in additional to asking local sci-fi/fantasy sage Dan Melnick to share his 2020 TV favorites, we also opened up considerations of memorable TV moments to the growing Ryder family. 
 
Someone once said, “Don’t look back.” Bob Dylan? Satchel Paige? Maybe both of them. This isn’t the first time we’ve ignored sound advice from our elders. Actually, that’s our job. We hope you have as much fun reading this issue as we did putting it together.
 
The Ryder is distributed free and costs are normally covered by advertising, but not during the pandemic. This issue of The Ryder is funded in part by a Recover Forward grant from the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association, The grant covers some of our expenses, but not all.
As you flip through this issue of the magazine (118 pages this month!) if you should see a story that you like, or if you would just want to support local, independent journalism, please consider making a donation.

tHIS wEEK’S rYDER fILMS

Here’s what’s showing this week in our virtual theater. And if you have not seen the new issue of The Ryder magazine, here it is

from Argentina: The Weasel’s Tale

Schemers meet their match in The Weasel’s Tale, a comedic thriller by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Juan José Campanella (The Secret in Their Eyes). Four long-time, showbiz friends share a decaying mansion in the countryside outside of Buenos Aires. Their peaceful coexistence is menaced by a young couple who, feigning to be lost, slowly insinuate themselves into their lives. It’s Sunset Boulevard meets The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, with a Latin twist. Financial gain, seduction, betrayal, and memories run amok are the elements that create the recipe for this delightful game of cat…and weasel. Find out more »

from Romania: COLLECTIVE

ONE OF THE GREATEST MOVIES ABOUT JOURNALISM and the Dark Forces it 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 …Find out more »

DAMNATION

A loner tries to win back his estranged lover, a lounge singer in a bar named Titanik, in Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr’s otherworldly film noir. Some of you may have seen Tarr’s classic, 7-hour film Satantango when it was screened at the IU Cinema in 2019. Relax, Damnation is a mere 1 hour, 56 minutes. Find out more »

MAYOR

Filmmaker David Osit subtly – and with a keen eye for black humor – explores the absurdities of a worldly politician trying to turn his city into a Middle Eastern Amsterdam while in the midst of a geopolitical storm. His ultimate mission: to end the occupation of Palestine. Rich with detailed observation and a surprising amount of humor, Mayor offers a portrait of dignity amidst the madness and absurdity of endless occupation while posing a question: how do you run a city when you don’t have a country? Find out more »

FREE TIME

Free Time, is 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…Find out more »

opens Jan 22: FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO

Over a period of 35 years between 1984 and 2019, filmmaker Lynne Sachs shot 8 and 16mm film, videotape and digital images of her father, Ira Sachs Sr., a bon vivant and pioneering businessman from Park City, Utah, the Utah skiing enclave where the Sundance Film Festival is held. Film About a Father Who is her attempt to understand the web that connects a child to her parent and a sister to her siblings. Critics’ Pick! This brisk, prismatic and richly psychodramatic family portrait finds Sachs assessing her relationship with her father, Ira Sachs Sr., described at one point as the “Hugh Hefner of Park City.” ” –The New York Times

opens Jan 27, from France: The Salt of Tears

Veteran filmmaker Philippe Garrel once again fashions a pinpoint-precise and economical study of young love and its prevarications, which ever so gradually blossoms into an emotionally resonant moral tale. Photographed in black-and-white, The Salt of Tears shares much of the sensibility of François Truffaut’s early romantic adventures starring the insufferable (and insufferably adorable) Antoine Doinel.…Find out more »

opens Jan 29: ATLANTIS

A prize-winner at the Venice Film Festival and Ukraine’s official selection for the 2021 Academy Awards, Atlantis is a gorgeous and visionary sci-fi drama….Eastern Ukraine, 2025. A desert unsuitable for human habitation. Water is a dear commodity brought by trucks. A Wall is being build-up on the border. Sergiy, a former soldier, is having trouble adapting to his new reality. He meets Katya while on the Black Tulip mission dedicated to exhuming the past. Together, they try to return…Find out more »

opens Feb 5 M.C. Escher: Journey To Infinity

A staircase that leads back to itself; waterworks that move towards and away from the viewer at the same time; an impossible box: M.C. Escher’s artworks feature perspective impossibilities that are world famous. To the eyes, Escher is simply a genius artist. But for art theorists, Escher was never easy to classify. M.C. Escher: Journey To Infinity is the story of world famous Dutch graphic artist M.C Escher (1898-1972). Equal parts history, psychology, and psychedelia, Robin Lutz’s entertaining, eye-opening portrait…Find out more »

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]

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