Friday, December 20, 2013

Some More New Old Books

So, wow, been a little bit...  Sorry for the absence, life has come in the way as usual, but things are finally settling into a proper enough groove again, and I can get rid of any excuses and finally get to work on here.  In fact, I've been working on a few longer articles that keep tripping me up, and while the completion of them is important to me, I feel like a continued presence is just as important.

Yeah.  So, what have you guys been reading?  This has been a pretty good time for new releases, and even better for finding things that are new to me that have been around for ages, apparently.  This is also a great season for rereads for me, so it's been a blast the past couple months getting back into things I love and exploring things I didn't know I loved yet.  It feels like I haven't been without something to read in forever, and that's a pretty hard feeling to beat, so if you're looking for something to read, maybe this will help then, yeah?

First off (and only first off because of my excitement level), Viz released volume 2 of Sunny last month, and I couldn't be happier with the experience.  This will probably come as no surprise to anyone who has read this blog before, but I can think of very few other writers/artists working now that excite me as much as Taiyo Matsumoto.  His material is constantly fresh feeling, and there is no reason to believe that this kind of output won't continue until the end of his career (which is something I don't even wanna joke about).  Sunny again revolves around the lives of the children of Star Home, and if you haven't read my previous article on volume 1, make sure to check that out.  Volume 2 exhibits the same kind of wonderful storytelling that it's predecessor absolutely exuded, and Matsumoto again manages to both surprise and engage us in a story that is as sad as it is hopeful.  Although this is a couple years old, I am told, it's fourth installment was just released in Japan around the same time, so if nothing else, there are at least two more volumes of this beauty to look forward to, so long as sales stay up and Viz doesn't drop it like it had with Taiyo Matsumoto's No. 5.

Next up was Dark Horse's latest volume of the Manara Library Edition , the third and final of the Erotica series.  This was probably the most jam-packed volume yet, including Butterscotch, Gullivera (a personal favorite), Sexy Camera, Three Girls On The Internet, and Piercing, which was kind of a follow-up to Three Girls...  I don't know what else to say about Manara that I haven't said here before: his work is immaculate, and I have yet to find an example where I was let down.  Mt only real issue with this release, is although I understand this edition better shows off Manara's flawless linework, I still prefer some of these stories in color, and it would have been nice to see these get the same treatment as Indian Summer or Gaucho.

First released in 1989, Kyoko Okazaki's Pink was, I'm told, a pretty big deal, and I like to believe that that's true, since it was just weeks ago released in English by Vertical Inc.  I honestly know very little about the author or her works, but I was struck by the book's cover, so different looking than most of the manga releases I see come and go throughout the months that just don't interest me; the soft, yet stark colors and unconventional linework looked more at home on my shelf of European imports than the manga section of most US bookstores, though I will concede that Vertical has been doing a pretty decent job with it's choices, releasing the first ever English edition of Satoshi Kon's Kaikisen (here translated and titled Tropic Of The Sea) only months prior.  Though I guess technically still shojo manga, Pink is much more adult than many of it's contemporaries, and if the rest of her work is anything like Pink, then it's no wonder that she is considered one of the mothers of the josei manga genre.  Pink is a wonderful little story about love in the bubble economy, all in a light yet deliberate style, quickly summed up as a story about a girl who becomes a prostitute to feed her pet crocodile (say those words together, they feel similar, what with their syllabic structure!).  Read it, it will make your day!

In older releases, I just picked up, but haven't yet read, Jacques Tardi's The Arctic Marauder, which I really can't believe I missed!  I've talked about other Tardi books before, and I believe this story is supposed to take place within the same universe as Adèle Blanc-Sec, so I'm sure I have a lot to look forward to (it should be mentioned that I don't usually like to talk about things that I haven't fully explored, but I want to at least add this to my list of recent grabs, since I am such a fan of the previous work of Jacques Tardi).
Lastly, in my spare time between new purchases, I have been catching up with Lone Wolf & Cub volumes.  There were 28 in all of Dark Horse's previous editions, and it's always kind of nice knowing that I still have so much to read whenever I want, as the narrative rarely feels like it needs to be tackled in quick succession.  It is mentionable that Dark Horse has just begun a release of the material in larger omnibus editions, but really, any edition of this work suits me just fine.  As a casual read, it mostly ensures that on top of everything else recently, I shouldn't be without anything to read for quite some time.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Short Piece.

Sooooooooo, I suppose this is a long time coming.  For all the references I've made in the past about Akira, I've been fighting writing an actual article about either the comic or the film.  This is partly due to just not knowing where to start; as many readers may have already gathered, I am a tremendous fan of Katsuhiro Otomo, and I have admired and maintained a relationship with his work unlike any else that exists in my life.  His body of work occupies my shelf not only as entertainment, but as inspiration, instruction manual, and proof that hard work and dedication is worth it; as cheesy as that sounds, I guarantee that the top of my bookshelf is more effective than any Hang In There cat poster.
Another reason I haven't spoken more at length about author or (mega)work is because there hasn't been too much more relevant information pertaining to either recently that hasn't been said better elsewhere, and rather than add to the deluge, I thought it best to not add secondhand information on exhibits or works I unfortunately didn't get to experience firsthand.  Excitingly enough, the 25th Anniversary Edition of Akira is being released in North America on Blu-ray on November 12th, so I found my excuse and decided to take it to say a few words in anticipation.

One of the main things that has always impressed me with Otomo was his wonderful sense of design.  In all of his work, especially that found in his first volume of Kaba (1971-1989 Illustration Collection), his skills as a designer, are readily apparent in both his commercial and personal work.  His mastery of such concepts easily transfers to the comics page, where one could practically draw a line tracing the eye-line on the page.  His meticulous draftsmanship takes a backseat to the concepts so simply derived from an intimate knowledge of how visual design works, and it's done in such a manner that the reader never has to think about what combination of principle elements are rushing him ever forward from one page to the next, only that the comic works fundamentally as it should.  In that way, Otomo's comics can be said to epitomize comics themselves.

It is apparent in Otomo's early comics career that he was interested in exploring themes and people beyond the casual manga landscape of the time.  I often compare Katsuhiro Otomo to director Shohei Imamura in that both men seemed very interested in exploring the far more interesting lower rung of society.  Much like Yoshihiro Tatsumi in the late 50s through the early 70s, Otomo's comic work would encapsulate a newer generation of young energy, angry and full of subversion, only this time with an even more cinematic approach.  If Tatsumi and the Gekiga movement was inspired early on by post-war noir and jidaigeki, then Otomo's new brand of manga looked more toward the Japanese New Wave and New Hollywood for inspiration, taking as much stock in the social relevance of Easy Rider as it did, most likely, to the work of Nagisa Oshima.
Inspired further by the European comics movement, Otomo's comics were suffused even further with a fantasy and science fiction influence, spreading all the way from shorter stories such as the more humorous Hair and Electric Bird Land (the latter of which was inspired by the Charlie Parker's Bird Land), to the more serious hard sci-fi pieces, Memories, Farewell To Weapons, and Fireball.  Otomo would then go on to create Domu; one of his most successful works in which he would combine the casual horror and science fiction tropes audiences would find accessible with his previous explorations of urban isolationism within a rapidly growing, and often personally suffocating Japanese society.

Though far from his final piece of work, it could be said that all of the themes previously explored by Otomo came to a head with Akira.  The easily accessible post-apocalyptic science fiction setting of a rapidly modernizing Neo-Tokyo landscape worked perfectly as the backdrop to a very personal (albeit rather epic) vision.  His exploration of modern youth culture in an often oppressive and high-strung society on the brink of collapse showed that things hadn't changed so much since the destruction and rebirth of the book's fictional interpretation of Tokyo, and perhaps it reflected Otomo's views on Japan itself and it's struggle to reinvent itself after it's own destruction and rebirth.  Whatever the case, Akira remains Katsuhiro Otomo's most well-known work to date, and it's something I doubt will change in the foreseeable future.  Through all of the hype, Akira remains a benchmark work in both comics and animation, and perhaps beyond the themes of the work itself, the true benchmark and inspiration to artists in any field should be the love, dedication, and professionalism put into the project by Otomo.  Rather than borrow it's themes or take inspiration from individual scenes or moments, become inspired by what it takes to produce such a work.  Become infatuated with pushing yourself and creating something new; what truly exists in Otomo's work is a focus and understanding that you actually can create.  To me Otomo makes me want to try that much harder.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Keep Me In Mind

Years of being a vinyl record addict have taught me a lot of hard lessons: Always put the white inner-sleeve away facing up so that the record doesn't simply drop to the floor when you get the album out next time. You'll never listen to a record set, even a double album is pushing it. Truly great records look like they were put together by a 1940s yearbook committee.  Maybe most importantly, the price of a record doesn't reflect on its quality.

Which brings me to the artist spotlighted in this article, because i'm about to do you a huge favor. I would conservatively estimate that 65% of the used record bins in the world, from high-end boutiques to Goodwills & garage sales, contain at least one Miriam Makeba album. I'm not really sure why this is. I don't know if the Columbia House record club simply mailed one to every household in America, or if the introduction of fluoride into our municipal water supplies sparked a national craze for world music. For whatever reason, there are a ton of Miriam Makeba albums out in the world, and the chances are that somebody would be willing to sell one to you for $1. Take them up on that offer.
Miriam Makeba was a singer from Johannesburg, South Africa, so beloved that she was nicknamed "Mama Africa." Her renown stems from both her powerful voice and her political activism, particularly as one of the resounding spokespeople against apartheid. She is credited with introducing African music to the worldwide stage when she performed in 1959 for 60 million viewers on the Steve Allen Show.
Armed with beauty, forthrightness, and stunning music, Miriam Makeba became a citizen of the world. Through a strong friendship with Harry Belafonte, she was signed with RCA Records in the United States and released her first solo album, Miriam Makeba, in 1960 featuring Belafonte's backing band. Her 2nd album, The World of Miriam Makeba, released in 1963 built on it's success and charted as high as number 86 on the Billboard Top 200.
Though she would say that she didn't sing political songs, that she simply sang the truth, Makeba was exiled from South Africa, and threatened with arrest should she return. This led Miriam Makeba to testify to the United Nations about the realities of apartheid, the government-codified racial segregation in South Africa, on three separate occassions in 1963, 1975, and 1976.

In 1964, Miriam Makeba was married to another of my favorite musicians, Hugh Masekela, whom she had first met in 1958 while performing in a South African musical of King Kong. Their marriage only lasted 2 years, but their influence on each other is readily apparent in all of their music.
Miriam Makeba led a long and storied career until her death in 2008. She left a legacy of amazing recordings, 28 albums, spanning 48 years. She toured endlessly, fighting through serious illnesses her whole life, passing away from a heart attack following a benefit concert in Italy. She remained an outspoken political advocate of the oppressed and marginalized. She was an unshakeable voice for freedom, love and harmony.
This article was once again written by good friend and World Music aficionado, Andrew Burger.  Aside from being a total dude when I ask for some help writing articles, Andrew also founded The Harmony Society record label and keeps his own blog, Stupid Scientifical, where you can keep up with all of his regular record-buying exploits.  Find him on Twitter, and when you get the chance, stop into 720 Music, which he co-owns and operates in Pittsburgh, Pa.  Also, if you haven't read it already, check out his excellent article on Marcos Valle from (what feels like) way back in July.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A One And A Two.

Even though the summer is over (and it is, despite the unseasonably warm weather), I was browsing through my movies recently, and I was struck with the urge to finally shove off the lingering season by watching Edward Yang's sumptuous, slice-of-life/coming-of-age/delinquent youth epic masterpiece, A Brighter Summer Day (牯嶺街少年殺人事件 Gǔ lǐng jiē shàonián shārén shìjiàn), whose title was derived from the Elvis Presley song, Are You Lonesome Tonight?
I was first introduced to Yang via his most widely available (thanks to the Criterion Collection), and final film, Yi Yi.  Watching either film is a slight undertaking due to their length (Yi Yi is 3 hours long, and A Brighter Summer Day closes out at around 4), but the way in which Yang portrays his linear events in his pictures have an almost episodic feel to them, allowing the viewer's attention to continually refocus as the momentum keeps at a steady rhythm.  It's not all jump-cuts or high-kinetic pacing though; Yang lets the seemingly stable and everyday moments in his films speak for themselves, allowing them the attention they deserve, and in the process, keeps us fascinated by such seemingly mundane activities.  There is a natural tension to real life, and Yang recognizes that an afternoon in the principal's office can be as tense as a run from the police, and the real life alienation that the two feel are often times very similar.

In fact, it was those themes of alienation explored by Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni that helped Yang find his place as a filmmaker himself.  Although he always had a fascination with film, Yang instead studied electronic engineering at National Chiao Tung University (sounding familiar to anyone else?) before giving it a try at UNC Film School after getting his Masters degree in electrical and computer engineering.  Yang found the curriculum and teaching at UNC too commercial-driven and limiting, and after leaving USC was accepted to the Harvard Graduate School Of Design, where he did not attend.  If all this is sounding a bit too convoluted, hang in there: While Yang was working on microcomputers in Seattle, Washington, he was struck by the film Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, by Werner Herzog, and later discovered the work of Antonioni before returning to Taiwan to pursue a career in film and TV.

I admittedly have not seen all of Yang's work (I'm certainly working on it, though), but the films of his I have seen are some of my absolute favorites.  Unfortunately, the director passed away from colon cancer in 2007, so we'll never get to see what heights his later films could have reached (2000's Yi Yi is considered his best film, by many).  He was reportedly working on a full length animated film with Jackie Chan (the fucking best) titled The Wind, and if you're like me, you can throw that film on the pile with Jodorowsky's Dune and anything else Satoshi Kon was going to do as the greatest sounding movies we'll never get to see (I know there is a Dune documentary coming out soon, and maybe The Dream Machine will get finished, but still...).  For all his hiccups towards his film career though, Edward Yang was able to create some of the most memorable moments I've had watching films, and in a way, with such a short career, much like Satoshi Kon, the audience was always on the upswing of his work; his films were only going to get better, and we can only imagine, in selfish elation, what would have come next.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Taiwanese New Wave, which Yang shared with fellow directors, Hou Hsiao-hsien (if you haven't watched Daughter Of The Nile, please do), Wu Nien-jen, and Tsai Ming-liang (among others).  It's interesting to note that not all directors in the Taiwanese New Wave were Taiwanese, and I think that says some interesting things not only about it's film industry, but about Taiwan itself.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Foreign Demon Now On Twitter!

Er, sort of.  I'm on Twitter, at least.  Even though I talk about all sorts of things, I will still be mentioning stuff pertaining to what I do here all the time.  If you can put up with some random shit now and again, follow me, why not!  Now that it's the future, you can check out any quick information about anything I wanna talk about!  Follow me @Arzachary

Monday, September 9, 2013

Lo Sai Vittorio?

What does Italy, electrical engineering, and the international comics scene have in common?  Can't guess?  Even with the title and/or opening image of this article?  Well, I'll tell you.  It's Italian comics creator, Vittorio Giardino, who, at 31, quit his job as an electrical engineer and devoted his life to comics, only to gain international acclaim with his series of WWII era espionage and intrigue comics starring Max Friedman, an obvious stand-in for the author himself.  Sound overly specific?  Well, it is, but that's okay, Vittorio Giardino is pretty specific, himself.

I first discovered Vittorio Giardino through his Max Friedman series; specifically the first volume of NBM's No Pasaran, found at my local comic book store in a discount box for like, five dollars.  I didn't know anything about it other than his name sounded Italian, and I loved the artwork.  It turned out that although there were two more volumes of that story, a couple preceding Max Friedman tales, and a few shorter collections, not a lot of his work has been published in English.  What was available, at the time I discovered the author, was sometimes hard to come by or a few dollars more than I was expecting.  To an extent, I can understand a more modern comics fan having trouble relating to his work; imagine your dad, who loves WWII, Robert Ludlum and John le Carré novels, and beautifully exotic-looking naked women, decided he was going to quit his job and use his meticulous drafting skills to draw comics that he also wrote.  Doesn't sound awesome?  Turns out it is!
 Born in Bologna in 1946, and premiering in 1981 with his private eye character, Sam Pezzo, it's not hard to imagine that Giardino was inspired by other notable Italian comic creators such as Hugo Pratt and Milo Manara (both of which I have mentioned before), though I would compare Max Friedman more to Pratt's Corto Maltese than Manara's freewheelin' Giuseppe Bergman (both are, as discussed elsewhere, also stand-ins for their respective authors).  Though Giardino also took express inspiration elsewhere, this being my blog and all, I feel free to speculate that the aforementioned authors must have had some impact on our subject, especially given his penchant for historical fiction and eroticism (if you are even mildly interested in either, spend less time looking for weird shit on the internet and pick up whatever you can by Pratt and/or Manara, you won't be disappointed).  Though only one volume of Sam Pezzo P.I. was released in English (that I'm aware of, at least), what is available is nonetheless entertaining, and really wonderful to see as a starting point for Giardino.  Collected in the first (I imagine sales fell short of projection, leading to the cancellation of the translation project before volume two could be produced) volume are The Jockey Rides, and the appropriately hard-boiled-sounding Shit City, through both of which you can see the artist's graphic storytelling skills improving.  As early as these first stories, it seems apparent that Giardino knew the kind of stories he wanted to tell.  While still not the startling quality of his later works, his thoughtful, intelligent style of writing, paired with his blend of precision draftsmanship and cartoonish black lines are all present, waiting to be refined, as his later works would certainly prove to be.
 No Pasaran is the third English Max Friedman story to appear in English, following Orient Gateway,which was itself preceded by Hungarian Rhapsody (I'm listing them as such because, unfortunately, that was the order in which I read them).  Hungarian Rhapsody expertly introduces the character as "...someone who doesn't burn up so easily, someone unknown... In short, someone skillful but an amateur."  He plays the part of an unwilling participant in a life that is alluded to be behind him after the First World War.  As you learn later in his life story (No Pasaran), Friedman was part of the International Brigades, and although each book works as a stand alone subject, there is definitely a sense of linearity to them.  I have a feeling, from illustrations that I have come across in art books and collections of his work that there are more Max Friedman stories out there, but I haven't found any hard information on where they might be; in his Glamour Book, there are several pages of illustrations and story involving the character, but I have yet to find specific titles or years that any missing stories may be attributed to (in fact, it took Giardino several years to complete No Pasaran, with the three NBM volumes released in 2000, 2002, and 2008, respectively).

After making my way through all the Max Friedman I could find, I immediately scoured any outlets I could to get my hands on more work in English, which brought me of course, firstly, to Little Ego.  Inspired by Winsor McCay's Little Nemo, Little Ego is an adventure in sexuality, in which the titular protagonist, a twenty-something heroine, continuously finds herself in the middle of one erotic dream after another.  Like Nemo, she soon wakes, only to declare her need to tell her therapist all about it (in McCay's Nemo, the young boy would wake from his very vivid dreams only to tell his mother all about them).  Though seemingly a simple exploitative adventure (Little Ego was, after all, reprinted in Penthouse Magazine in the mid-nineties, after a successful initial serialization in Glamour International in 1984, Comic Art in 1985, Epix in 1986, and Heavy Metal in 1993), Giardino fills his strip with all the psychological trappings that McCay did himself; in one installment, Ego is confronted and seduced by a crocodile in her bathtub (the crocodile a symbol of duplicity and hypocrisy in dreams), before finding pleasure in literal mirror images of herself in the next episode.  The sheer beauty of the linework and brilliance of paneling again, brings to mind Winsor McCay's obvious influence; though decades later, Giardino was keeping the linge claire style as relevant as McCay and Hergé had done in the early part of the twentieth century (though the "clear line" style origins are attributed mostly to the early Franco-Belgian comic movement, reaching  the height of it's popularity in the 1950s, the style was initially inspired by the work of American cartoonists like McCay and Gluyas Williams).  Little Ego eventually abandons it's initial series of unrelated psycho-sexual misadventures to give way to a more installment-based continuous dream in which our protagonista jumps from one thrilling moment to another, at some moments making the reader forget the trouble that led her to where she is at any given moment.  It's all very dream-like and disorienting, even if each separate installment feels lucid and makes sense within itself.  Ego is not to be trod lightly upon, though as a casual read it can be pure escapist entertainment as well.
Giardino's other long-form collected work, Jonas Fink: A Jew In Communist Prague, stars Jonas Fink, a, uh, Jew in communist Prague.  It takes place during Joseph Stalin's regime in the 1950s and focuses on the persecution of Jonas and his mother following the arrest of his father.  The art and writing are again superb, as one would come to expect from his other work.  Jonas is obviously more youthful than his counterparts in Giardino's other tales, but he remains generally very similar in tone as Max Friedman.  The third volume, Rebellion, even went on to win a Harvey Award for best foreign material in 1999, so that's something!
 As I mentioned before, I had a little more trouble, at the time, finding too much more of his work for a little while.  I ended up finding a few of his books in either French, Italian, or German, though I did end up finding a copy of Deadly Dalliance, an English language Catalan Communications edition of Vacance Fatales, a French language hardback published by Casterman, which I had founds a few months prior.  Unfortunately, as is most often the case with foreign imports of the time (Catalan's edition is dated January of 1991), the printing quality and general presentation is much lower in the English language edition, with printing being offset to the point of blurriness on many of the pages, and even the cover seemingly a low-resolution scan.  Dalliance is also missing about half of it's counterpart's chapters; and while the short stories are generally, in no way related to one another, it's still sorry to see that the full work was not translated in full, for whatever reason that may have been.

Though many of his works remain untranslated (not to mention his bevy of illustration work for magazines, advertisements, and any other number of graphic related productions), I encourage any reader interested to keep their eyes open for anything they come across; translating Latin based languages has become easier with the inception of the internet, if one has time to pursue such a task, and the art honestly stands on it's own enough to warrant such purchases, granted the fee is not too steep.  I would still love to see more translations of his work, if only to find more of it available without hours of searching or paying import shipping costs, but for now we will have to be content with what is available; and while most if not all of his translated work is out of print, it's definitely still out there if one is interested in looking.  Vittorio Giardino has become one of my personal favorites in European comics throughout the past decade, and I again encourage any reader to explore and discover his work for themselves; highest recommendation.
As a quick post script, I want to point out that I have attempted to, upon request, provide more hyperlinks within the text of my articles.  I often forget that some readers may not know many of the references made here, and when it comes to comparing the work of other creators or forerunners in whichever medium I am speaking about, I think that that bit of constructive criticism is appropriate, as I hope to encourage readers to explore beyond my modest-yet-well-meaning articles.  To that point, though many of the links provided throughout this blog often redirect to Wikipedia, I in no way mean for that to be the end of any inquisitive mind's journey.  While I appreciate the ease with which Wikipedia delivers certain information, it is rarely if ever complete, instead providing a very good bouncing off point for those interested in pursuing any information further.  Just saying.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Lazy End To A Busy Summer

 Now that summer is coming to a close (I know we still have a little bit left, but late August has always felt like it's own season for me), I wanted to look back at all of the stuff I have consumed over the season.  Though the summer is usually (and still was!) populated with an overabundance of summer blockbusters and general fluff, I managed to keep up with what I wanted to see; both with new-ish releases and some older fare that I only recently got around to absorbing.
To be completely straightforward, I have been incredibly lazy this summer.  I mean, I have had some very busy moments and have been working all summer, but I really didn't do anything outdoorsy or get to travel anywhere.  On my off moments, I spent most of it indoors either working, reading, or watching movies; all of which I am a fan of, but it was still pretty lazy of me, and though I got some great experiences out of it, I can't endorse that kind of lifestyle for anyone generally interested in a great summer experience.
So (clap!), let's get down to it.  What wasted my summer, you ask?  Well, let's start with France, shall we?  Few things took up my time this year like France managed to do, and whether it was a slew of movies I parked myself in front of, or the great experiences I had with some really wonderful comics, it was this stuff that unintentionally dominated my palate for the past few months.  For the longest time I had always been more familiar with Japanese cinema than any other, and even in what I feel is a reasonable knowledge of some Hong Kong and European film, France, though my favorite of what I knew, still didn't occupy a very large room in the stupid warehouse in my brain that stores all the garbage I pick up on a regular basis.  That isn't to say I didn't love French film (I still know more about their comics than anything else that country ever produced), I just didn't know all that much about it.  Outside of a few directors I know particularly well, I still didn't explore their cinema as randomly as I do with Japanese film up until the past few years or so; this summer though, I got a little stuck and just wanted to see more.
I try my best, on this blog, to stay positive about the material I write about.  For every article I write on something I love, there are at least ten more in my head written about stuff I generally didn't enjoy or thought was straight-up awful.  Many of the films on this list, while not terrible, just didn't exactly warrant posts of their own; a few of them did, and there are some drafts of articles about them, and I really meant to finish them, but for some reason or another they fell out of focus, or the context of the original articles didn't apply anymore as time would go by and they sat in my drafts folder.  Some of it might still see some life beyond this post (some revisited works did!), but some of these works have been shoved to another room in my brain full of shit I love but don't have time or the proper context to talk about (I'll post a diagram of this thing sometime, I promise).
Criminal Lovers, In The House, A Curtain Raiser, A Summer Dress, Under The Sand, Water Drops On Burning Rocks; I pretty much really really enjoyed all of these.  I don't want to get into too much detail, as I plan on giving François Ozon his very own article, especially in anticipation of his newest film, Young & Beautiful (Jeune & Jolie), but suffice to say, he has become one of my favorite directors over this past season. 
 Lila Says, Ultimate Heist, and The Blonde With Bare Breasts, all starring actress, Vahina Giocante; I liked Lila Says a lot.  It wasn't incredible, but I enjoyed the intimate feel of the setting and the sensuality of the actors.  The film did a great job of portraying affected, perhaps abused youth, while still keeping the sexuality and building relationship beautiful and intimate.  Ultimate Heist was kinda dumb.  It was pretty much just a French blockbuster, and as such, was kind of mindless.  There was a plot, but even after watching it pretty recently, I can't for the life of me even remember what it was; none of which I would really say is any fault of the actors involved (Jean Reno, baby!), but rather just a very lukewarm plot; I don't know what would have made this film any better though, honestly.  The Blonde With The Bare Breasts was not at all interesting to me; I feel like it played more on the sensuality and appearance of actress Vahina Giocante, and less on any actual string of events.  Sure, things happen, and maybe they happen for a reason, but the dialogue, coupled with the insane sequence of events/character developement really made this one hard to get through, despite the aforementioned actress.
Read My Lips, by director, Jacques Audiard; I admit that I missed last year's Rust & Bone, but if Read My Lips is any indication of Audiard's work, I am pretty pleased with that and am willing to take my familiarity a step or two further and check out what else his modest-ish body of work has to offer.  It stars Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Devos (the latter I am not too familiar with, though the former is a personal favorite) in a sort-of crime, sort-of maybe romantic film.  It's all played out very well, with believable performances from both actors, and although the story was a little bit of a stretch, I still enjoyed it once I was in.  Some of the problems were of a scripting nature, as I said before, it all felt well acted, but I would call it a solid B.

Little White Lies, Park Benches, The Players, and The Lookout; this is the part where we start getting into large casts or well known actor territory.  Little White Lies, by Guillaume Canet, was pretty much both of those concepts; a summer movie in and of itself, Canet's third full-length directorial outing focused on a group all of friends, all played by currently famous French actors, still going on vacation after one of them gets in a very serious, drug and alcohol influenced auto accident that leaves him mostly paralyzed and disfigured in a hospital bed.  This wasn't a bad movie at all, and for all of it's star power, something that generally doesn't do anything for me, the cast worked very well together, and I bought was the story was trying to sell me.  Park Benches, on the other hand, bored the shit out of me.  It wasn't terrible, but it dragged like a bag carrying all of the actors in that movie.  There is a gag-laden, extended third (or fourth?  I couldn't keep track) act in a hardware store that I thought was never going to end, and the payoff wasn't as such that I cared too terribly what happened.  The Players, starring Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche (reunited after Little White Lies) was an omnibus film from several of France's lofty directors pool, all focused on the concept of infidelity.  Quite a few of these were funny, a couple were not, but as a whole experience, I would have preferred these were all individual shorts (and maybe they were somewhere) that I could have seen on a weekly, serialized basis, rather than all in one go.  The Lookout was, meh, a movie.  It starred Mathiew Kassovitz, who I am still pissed at for never making anything as good as La Haine ever again.  It's a blockbuster, and it was okay as that, but it didn't stick with me; like Ultimate Heist, I really can't even remember what happened.
Elles, Sweet Evil, and Q; It took me quite a while to see Elles, but I think that I really liked it.  Juliette Binoche was fantastic, and Anaïs Demoustier, did a pretty believable job as a chic, twenty-something, student prostitute, and I liked her performance more in Elles than I did in Sweet Evil, which was a much sillier movie, despite it's serious intent and general lack of humor.  Q is something else, though.  If I had to make one of those stupid this-movie-is-a-cross-between descriptions, this movie feels like a cross between Lila Says and a Tinto Brass film.  Like Lila Says, the film explored troubled youth and sexuality, but it managed to be much more explicit, and even had unsimulated sex, which can usually go either way in a film.  For the most part, I actually liked it, despite it's Cinemax-in-the-90s style plot description.
Lastly (honestly there are some more I know I watched, but I can't even remember them), I finally got to see The Bride Wore Black, from François Truffaut, circa 1968.  I have been wanting to catch this gem for quite some time now, and I finally got around to it a couple weeks ago.  Without getting too into Truffaut's career, I love his Antoine Doinel series, and I loved this.  When it came out, Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill got more press as a take on martial arts and action films, but there are some sequences in this movie that were straight-up lifted and used in that film.  Watch twenty minutes of The Bride Wore Black and tell me that I'm reaching, please.  This was a wonderful cap to the season's long list of movies for me, and though there were plenty of great domestic and other-foreign films I saw in the past few months, this film, especially lumped in with everything listed here, was one of my favorites.  This summer felt very very long, but at the same time I feel like it blazed right by me.  Hopefully whoever is reading this had a great summer experience, and be happy I watched all these things so you didn't have to.

P.S.  Quit doing stupid shit outside and watch more movies.

Monday, August 12, 2013

An Endless Song

 Sooooooo, I apologize for the distance between posts recently.  Late in the summer has proven itself to be much busier for me in terms of projects and workload, and I have yet to balance that with also keeping up a consistent blog, so again, I apologize.  One such issue I have been dealing with is the matter of a beat automobile; it's not that it's an all encompassing matter, as I've been walking everywhere this season, but, in picking the right day to finally deal with the issue, there was the inevitable bit of revisiting the previous season's shit built up in the back seat of said automobile.  There was no greater gift to myself than finding my equally as beat CD copy of The Blue Hearts' self titled album from 1987 (I haven't had the album that long, I just wanted to put their work in some perspective), and as I pulled out of the repair shop parking lot, nothing made the annoying task feel more worthwile than the first few bars of the album's high-energy opener, Mirai wa Bokura no Te no Naka (未来は僕等の手の中 The Future is in Our Hands).
The Blue Hearts certainly aren't an unknown or niche band by any means, and I wondered whether or not an article on here would even be necessary, but I gotta think there are still some people out there unfamiliar with the legendary Japanese punk band, out of either being unfamiliar with punk rock in general, or just it's countless foreign interpretations, though I can think of very few as prolific as The Blue Hearts (there is a successful movie named after and built their most famous single, for shit's sake!).  Also, I just can't stop listening to them right now, and I like talking about things I like.
Formed in 1985 and officially debuting in 1987, The Blue Hearts, over their ten year career, managed to do what few punk bands were able to do; they were able to achieve both critical success and high album sales while still remaining relevant and credible within the punk scene in their native Japan.  In fact, their 1988 single, Chernobyl, a criticism of nuclear power, found the band in trouble with their label, Meldac Records, which was formed with funding from several large companies, one of which being Mitsubishi, who was also involved in the nuclear power industry.  Instead of dropping the song around the time of their third studio album, Train Train, the band instead decided to ditch Meldac records and released the single independently (along with it's A side accompanying track, Blue Hearts Theme, a personal favorite of mine) before eventually signing to East West Japan.
The Blue Hearts release eight studio albums and a ton of singles before breaking up in 1995, but soon after, members Hiroto Kōmoto, Masatoshi Mashima, and Mikio Shirai would continue playing music together as The High-Lows.  Similar in sound to The Blue Hearts, The High-Lows would last for another ten years before Kōmoto and Mashima would go on to form The Cro-Magnons (no, not the Japanese jazz-infused-funk band Cro-Magnon, but nice try) in 2006.  Former bass player Junnosuke Kawaguchi would even go on to be a record producer and studio bass player; more importantly though, he became a deputy propaganda director for the Happiness Realization Party in 2009.  I would suggest checking out that last hyperlink and then looking into the current state of politics in Japan before totally throwing that guy onto the crazy boat, though I will add that that doesn't diminish The Blue Hearts first album to me in any way.
 Lastly, I think it's also worthwhile to mention that 2005's Linda Linda Linda, by Nobuhiro Tamashita, is an excellent film.  Named after one of The Blue Hearts most famous songs, the film centers on a group of high school girls forming a band to play Blue Hearts cover songs for their school festival.  While that might not sound all too interesting to some, the payoff in that film far surpasses an easy explanation; and if anyone reading this blog has even been in a band or played music with friends, the central momentum in Linda Linda Linda is apparent from some of the earliest moments in it's still rather lighthearted plot.  It's also cool to mention that the girls in this movie even learned how to play all these songs together, and while no one really slouches in this film, it is of course Bae Doona (whos is actually Korean, and I'm pretty sure learned Japanese for this movie), who's performance as South Korean exchange student, Son, really shines and elevates a meager storyline into something both wonderfully heartfelt and hilarious.
Also, check out this awesome live performance by The Blue Hearts from 1987; they were pretty fucking rad.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Terra Form

With a recent run at the Kyoto International Manga Museum in, uh, Kyoto, I thought this would be a pretty decent time to talk about Katsuya Terada; an artist I have long admired, and whose most recent book, Katsuya Terada 10 TEN-Ten Year Retrospective, just showed up on my doorstep.  As a companion to his recent exhibit (that unfortunately, I wasn't able to get to), the book acts as a kind of omnibus of his work in the past, let's say ten years.  Though not as expansive as the still-fresh feeling Genga artbook from Katsuhiro Otomo (you really need to hold that book in your hands to grasp it's weight; no pun intended), this book is still a wonderful introduction to Terada's work for the uninitiated, especially for the price and availability (though not accounting for import prices once this book is gone, TEN is still much easier to find overseas than many of his previous works).
Born in Okayama, Japan, Katuya Terada's first work recognizable to foreign audiences would probably be his illustrations for Nintendo Power Magazine.  Though I'm not sure if he was ever properly credited in the magazine, fans of his work now can easily go through so many of the back-issues (well, as easily as you can get your hands on 80s-era back-issues of Nintendo Power) and recognize his work immediately.  He employed many of the same techniques then as he often does now, using minimal line work and color to illustrate scenes that the games could only imply, and his domination of space and anatomy imbues such simple and effortless looking drawings with a weight and depth as unique and unmistakable as anything he has done in even the past ten years.  That isn't to say that he doesn't have a diverse body of work; in fact, though instantly recognizable as any of his work is, his range as an illustrator is surprising.  He is just as comfortable, it seems, crafting intricately detailed, digitally-painted fantasy illustrations as he is with clean-line or hatched, black and white ink drawings.
In addition to his Nintendo Power contributions, Terada has also contributed designs for several other videogames and anime productions, including a special edition strategy guide for Dragon Warrior and promotional materials for the Detective Saburo Jinguji series.  Most famously, Terra contributed character designs and promo illustrations for Blade: The Last Vampire, an excellent anime production from 2000 directed by industry veteran, Hiroyuki Kitakubo (not to be confused with the series, Blood + and Blood-C, or the 2009 live-action remake).

Even his sketchbooks delight, and it is no wonder that he has also given himself the alias, Rakugakingu (ラクガキング), meaning graffiti, sketch, or doodle king; Rakugakingu is also the name of an artbook he released in 2002, totaling 1000 pages taken from his sketchbooks.  The pages of Rakugakingu are thin and translucent, and being able to see through them gives this voluminous tome the feel of a real life sketchbook, and it's great to see the design of the book reflect the contents within.  In a recent interview, Terra commented on the book, saying, "Even when I did Rakugakingu, I thought, well it's just scribbles so it need to be 1000 pages.  We're charging money so it needs to feel worth it".  His attitude towards what he feels comfortable charging money for is reflected in his output of work, and his books often exhibit some kind of interesting design or value to them; whether it's a collectable, durable cardboard sleeve and packaging justifying it's sum, or just keeping the book price low through smaller size and multiple printing techniques, his printed material is always as much of value as it is entertaining (again, it would have been nice for TEN to have been a larger production, a la Genga, but for the price this book was released at, making it available to a wider audience that may have missed some of his previous artbooks was obviously the key issue going to print).

One of my favorite releases of his so far was 2008's Viva Il Ciclissimo, a two volume, joint project between Terada and Katsuhiro Otomo (who has to be mentioned on this blog at least once per post, apparently), centered on the Giro d’Italia cycling tour.  The first (hardback) book is centered around the tour itself, filled with beautiful illustrations from both artists, chronicling not only the tour itself, but some really wonderful moments of imaginative daydreaming that only the two of them could create.  Both artists being avid cycling enthusiasts, the second (softcover) book is full of sketches and ideas, and the looseness of the presentation is fun and exciting to look through, and it keeps the reader pouring over each single drawing, eagerly in anticipation of what awaits them on the next page; and while the first volume is split in two, giving each auteur equal measure (as well as their own opposing covers), the second is a mishmash of ideas, even including Hiroyuki Kitakubo, properly illustrating the enthusiasm many Japanese illustrators have for professional cycling (who knew?).  There was even a neat little cycling bag featuring an illustration by Terada thrown in with the early limited edition printings of this book.

Though I'm not really as much of a fan of his comic works than I am of his illustrations, I would be remiss if I didn't mention his Monkey King series, published by Dark Horse in the US.  While I don't realy dislike it, what I enjoy in illustrations is not always what I enjoy in comics, and his ultra-detailed digital illustrations don't work for me as much; my feelings are much the same for guys like Alex Ross, who, although are great painters and draftsmen, just use too many colors on a page and it always appears as if they worked on a painting, and then made it fit onto a page with other paintings; they lose the sense of flow a page should have, and while each individual painting is great, they have only managed to fit more than one on a page and I find it incredibly difficult to focus on any real action (basically, one has to readjust what their looking at in each panel).

I know this article seems a little fragmented or less focused than some previous posts, but to be honest, that is kind of Katsuya Terada.  The man has managed to be incredibly prolific while also being in so many different illustration fields.  I wish, in a way, that this article was purely images, but even then, it is hard to grasp the full picture of what Terra is capable of.  The most I can recommend is that if you are interested in his work, or you find anything of his striking, find his work.  He has more out there than even I am aware of, and he always surprises me with something I never knew existed.  He has a wide range of interests, and he does a wonderful job of taking advantage of his position to include those interests in his work, so I find it hard to believe that there is someone out there that can't appreciate his work on some level.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Beautiful Summer Sounds Of Marcos Valle

It's summer in Pittsburgh.  The snow drifts are gone.  Instead, the pothole-pocked streets are heavy with a haze of humidity.  We don't get much Spring here.  There is no gentle acclamation to sunlight. The cold that permeated and collected in our bones over the course of an 8 month Winter is bleached out in a matter of days.

One thing that helps make the abrupt transition easier is to adjust the soundtrack. We've worn down another copy of Slint's dirgy masterpiece Spiderland, and it's time to shake our atrophied limbs about and feel the vitamin D coursing through our translucent veins again.  It's time to sweat off our extra, insulating pounds with something upbeat and, dare I say it, happy.
If you are looking for the soundtrack to summer, there may not be a more perfect fit than Marcos Valle.  The Rio de Janeiro artist's catalog is full of feet-shuffling rhythms and breezy melodies, and it's infused with an adventurous, experimental spirit, keeping it from being pandering and tame.
Coming up through Brazil's music scene in the mid-1960's as a Bossa Nova performer, Marcos Valle was a respected artist in a style that was beginning to fade.  The political climate in Brazil was volatile, with a newly asserted military dictatorship and widespread poverty, disconnecting Bossa's airy soundtrack to Rio's idyllic beaches from the mood of the people.  By 1968, the Tropicalia movement was born, infusing traditional Brazilian music with Rock n Roll, the more turbulent sound better reflecting the country's tension, and, although Marcos Valle was not a part of the Tropicalia movement directly, he was aware & inspired by it.  For his self-titled 1970 album, Marcos Valle, filled out his session players with the heavy psych-rock band Som Imaginario who embued his still rather traditional sambas with hard-edged flourishes of complexity. The resulting record marries the sweet, dancing mood of the care-free Bossa Novas, carried on the mellifluous melodies of Valle's Portuguese, with the playful, challenging energy of the 60's youth revolution.  Heard in the tasteful touches of fuzzed-out guitar, American R&B choruses, and disembodied piano notes. Over the next 4 albums for Odeon Records, Valle continued to make rich, exciting, soulful music, helped by great musicians including psych band O Terço and the legendary jazz fusion band Azimuth.
When I was first introduced to Marcos Valle by amazing musicians and Brazilian music enthusiasts BusCrates and Nice Rec, it was through MP3s, because his records on the Odeon label were impossible to get here in the United States. They fetched second-hand market prices in the $200-300 range. I even came across a copy of his 1973 'Previsão Do Tempo' album and the disparity between my wallet and the price tag burned the image of its cover into my subconscious want-list forever. The already bold image of Marcos Valle submerged underwater is still there when I close my eyes, but, luckily for all of us, the record and 3 others from the same period in Valle's career have been lovingly reissued by Light In The Attic Records! These pressings are beautiful in gatefold sleeves on thick vinyl with extensive liner notes. From experience, these sorts of reissues will dry-up within a year or two and then command second-hand market prices nearly as steep as the originals.
If you are having a hard time deciding between Marcos Valle (1970), Garra (1971), Vento Sul (1972), and Previsao Do Tempo (1973), I would recommend Garra as it contains some of Valle's most infectious songs.

This article was written by Andrew Burger, a good friend and co-owner of 720 Music in Pittsburgh, Pa, a record store that specializes in hip-hop, funk, soul, jazz, and world music (he's also the owner of probably the best record collection I've ever seen).  Andrew knows more about records than anyone else I know, and when I asked him for some help writing an article on some foreign records, he graciously obliged.  Look forward to some more posts from him in the future, and keep an eye on the labels to see which posts are from him; in the meantime, I suggest you trust him and check out these records.  He was the one who introduced them to me, and they've been among my favorite all year.  Check them out at Light In The Attic Records, and check out 720's Online Store and Discogs Page (and if you find yourself in the Pittsburgh area, make sure to stop in!).  Andrew also owns and operates The Harmony Society, an excellent record label whose catalog is continuing to grow; among others, The Harmony society released, earlier this year, a split 12" record that included Tokyo, Japan's 9DW, who is also responsible for some excellent records on his own Catune label.  Lastly, make sure to keep up with Andrew's record-buying exploits on his own blog, Stupid Scientifical (it's in the links section, as well!).

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Estival du Look

 Now that summer is in full swing, and seeking the solace of shade and a moderate amount of air conditioning, I have begun revisiting some of my favorite films from one of my favorite periods in French cinema.  I am really not entirely sure what attracts me to this era of, in all honesty, some pretty esoteric, albeit relatively surface-driven filmmaking; I wasn't even alive when some of these films were made, and I generally hate most other mainstream, style-heavy films from the 1980s centered around a youth counter-culture making the transition into adulthood, a la St Elmo's Fire, or some other such bullshit, but maybe it's a case of finding the right film at the right time of my life, though it's even more likely that many of these films were just much better made and/or adhere to a more reasonable aesthetic for me that falls in line with my interest with what was going on in film and comics in Hong Kong and Japan as well.  Eeeeiiiither way, some of these films were great, some people thought they were garbage, but I really like them, and I can't help but think about them when the weather gets unbearably hot.
So, I think it's a good idea to talk a little bit about what was called Cinéma du look before getting into any of the films, as the name itself came much later than the actual films; so it wasn't as much the case of directors trying to adhere to a film movement at the time as it was a specific critic's way of describing director Luc Besson's aesthetic and how his "surface-over-substance" style of filmmaking was similar to two other directors with whom his films shared "the look."  The critic was Raphaël Bassan, a French film journalist who encouraged and specialized in experimental cinema and film history, and who even experimented in making three short films, himself.  He coined the term, Cinéma du look, as a way to compare the films of Luc Besson to those of Jean-Jacques Beineix and Leos Carax, in, I believe, his 1988 article, Three Neo-Baroque Directors: Beineix, Besson, Carax, from Diva to Le Grand Bleu in which Bassan urged that the three directors be taken seriously by critics.

Bassan also recognized similar themes throughout their films, and it was their young, alienated characters that were said to have been representative of the young, marginalized populace of the time in France.  It's no wonder, then, that the films were successful in terms of reaching a younger audience searching for more substance to their pop culture, even as the films of these directors were very much influenced by pop culture itself, taking inspiration from fashion photography, TV commercials, and music videos.  It is, perhaps, more interesting to see some of these films getting critical praise from more established critics, such as Roger Ebert, who in his review for Beineix's Diva, wrote:

"It is one of the best thrillers of recent years but, more than that, it is a brilliant film, a visual extravaganza that announces the considerable gifts of its young director, Jean-Jacques Beineix. He has made a film that is about many things, but I think the real subject of "DIVA" is the director's joy in making it. The movie is filled with so many small character touches, so many perfectly observed intimacies, so many visual inventions from the sly to the grand that the thriller plot is just a bonus. In a way, it doesn't really matter what this movie is about; Pauline Kael has compared Beineix to Orson Welles and, as Welles so often did, he has made a movie that is a feast to look at, regardless of its subject.

Diva is just that, though.  As much as I enjoy the story, I find myself wanting to rewind the film several times just to relive specific visual moments over and over again, regardless of the rhythm of the film.  The story can almost become negligible if you want it to, and there is enough visual lyricism to keep the audience engaged even as one forgets the verbal narrative (the first time I watched the film, it actually took me a little bit to realize that I didn't have the English subtitles on, as I was watching the dialogue rather than listening to it).  Beyond any lengthy description of a thriller about a young man swooning over an Opera singer and some criminals looking for some tape with some conversation on it about something or something, the film is simply stunning looking, and is equally as stunning and fun to watch (I maintain that the latter often has nothing to do with the former).  I also want to mention that the screenplay for Diva was co-written by Franco-Belgian comics writer Jean Van Hamme, and for all the dumb film or TV adaptations of his work that are out there, I like his comics, so that's pretty cool.
Apparently, Ebert's enthusiasm lasts only as long as the characters stay dressed though, as I thought his review for Beineix's third film, Betty Blue (37°2 le matin), was focused too much on the nudity of the film rather than anything lying beneath it.  It was as if he was made so uncomfortable by certain situations regarding either nudity or the behavior of the titular character and just couldn't move on from his soured disposition.  Betty Blue is a film about a guy who lives near the beach and does odd jobs, a girl he meets, some other people they meet, some bad (and sometimes good) shit that happens, and some places they go.  It can more easily be described as a film about love.  And madness.  Or is it mad love?  I don't know, either way, it's something the French are not unfamiliar with in terms of their cinema, and it had a wonderful impression on me, and it came as no surprise to me to find that it had a similar effect on other artists I admire.
Despite sounding broad, Betty Blue feels very specific to me.  Although being part of a film movement that favored visual panache and spectacle over a more solidly-paced narrative structure, Betty Blue does something similar to what Wong Kar Wai was beginning to do in Hong Kong around the same time (there is a retrospective on his earlier work coming sometime in the near future, I swear).  Though Beineix appeared to have adhered more strictly to a script, his film, once watched, leaves the impression of seeing a real relationship take place, much in the same way Wong was able to build relationships out of a series of scenarios in which the actors were given room to breath improvisation into their characters rather than even having a script in some cases.  In some instances the film gives off an almost "you had to be there" vibe, making it an uneven product depending on the audience; on one hand, I believe film should almost always be universal, and what truly makes a great film is that anyone can find themselves relating to the characters within; but on the other hand, part of what makes Betty Blue so wonderfully appealing is that the relationship that the film paints is instantly recognizable to anyone who has experienced something similar.  The downside of this is that it is potentially alienating, and in the same way that some people will argue that stoner movies are made for people that smoke weed and if you don't smoke weed you just don't get it and you're wrong if you don't like it 'cause you don't smoke weed and maybe you should smoke weed and maybe you will see how good that movie really is, maybe Betty Blue is like that?  I like to think that it isn't, but you know, who knows?  Good or bad is an objective way to look at things, and though there are some hard facts when it comes to good film or bad film, it's hardly fair to label something as bad when you just don't like it, and unfortunately, much of "le look" was written off for just that reason.  Oh well.
Most sources I have found cite Subway as an early example in the movement, and although I would still maintain that Beineix's Diva was the first true "look", Besson's earlier film, Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle), still exhibits signs of what was to come in his career.  Released two years after Diva and two years before Besson's own Subway, Le Dernier Combat was heralded mostly as a sci-fi film, generating a cult following because of it's nearly wordless presentation.  The style, however, exhibits some of the same trappings of other films within the Cinéma du look; having virtually no dialogue, the film is forced to tell it's story entirely through it's visual presentation, and though far from the neon signs and shiny-slick city streets, the effect was no-less striking than it's later counterparts.  In fact, the argument of style-over-substance takes on a new meaning when the style becomes the substance, something else that Wong Kar Wai would end up doing even so late as In The Mood For Love, from 2001 (again, a full post on Wong will be showing up soon, along with a complete essay on In The Mood For Love).
Besson's next films, Subway (which featured Jean-Hughes Anglade, who would the same year of release, star in Beineix's above mentioned film, Betty Blue, and who would also star in Besson's 1990 film, La Femme Nikita) and Le Grand Bleu, are essentially the beginning of what critics refer to as his true foray into the genre, though I still argue that Besson has basically been making the same kind of films his entire career.  His budgets or his subjects may have have changed, but even through to 1999's The Messenger, he was still making slightly subversive films that demonstrate his signature sense of style and interest in making art entertaining; that, no doubt, is due to his continued work with composer Eric Serra and cinematographers Carlo Varini and Thierry Arbogast.  Even the mainstream, audience-dividing, sci-fi blockbuster that was The Fifth Element couldn't escape some of Besson's signature style choices, and though it even goes so far as to grift elements from Moebius and Jodorowsky's The Incal, I still see it as a victory in tricking American audiences into being exposed to European science fiction, and it remains one of my favorite films ever (I was 14 when I first saw it, and it was still a few years before I would even discover film, Moebius, Métal Hurlant, or Luc Besson).  To make another comparison to Wong Kar Wai: both Besson and Wong would embark on the largest film projects of their careers (The Fifth Element and Ashes Of Time, respectively), only to take breaks during lengthy and difficult production times and embark on shorter, simpler films that would go on to great success (though Besson's Léon was no match for the revolution that Wong would create with his highly acclaimed and genre-shattering Chunking Express).
It's hard to actually look at some of these films as an actual movement, as, like I mentioned, the term, Cinéma du look, was a retroactive term to begin with; and being an after-the-fact observer, I can only tell from what I read whether or not any of it was made with an actual intent to conform to a certain "look", though it's hard to believe that even without a name for it, there wasn't a specific trend in their filmmaking.  It's particularly worthwhile to mention the early entries (Diva, Le Dernier Combat) as something truly inventive though, even as they were derivative of so many other forms of film.  Even as it was influenced heavily from current popular culture and the New Hollywood movement of the late 60s through the early 80s, it's even harder to believe that there wasn't also a credible influence from France's own New Wave movement, especially the influence of  Chabrol, Truffaut, and Godard (Luc Besson would even name his first true female character Hélène, which was a trait of quite a few women in Chabrol's films).  It even appears as though some of the films were influencing, or at least making references to one another; again it would be Besson who's villain in The Fifth Element would share a name with with the protagonist in Beineix's Betty Blue (an uncommon enough name, I presume, that it has to be a reference).

Though it's easy to see how Godard's visual pinache could be a viable influence on the "cinema-to-be-seen", I feel like Truffaut was an equally dominant influence, and in particular his Antoine Doinel character.  The blending of "high-culture" with pop culture was also a common theme of 'the look, and parallels can be seen between Antoine's love of classic French literature and Diva's protagonist, Jules, with his love of opera and "high class" friends he meets.  Perhaps I'm seeing signs that I want to see, as Besson's Joan would say, but I feel like they're worth mentioning at least, as it's something that came to my mind as I watched these films (it's also maybe worth mentioning that I was familiar with the New Wave movement before I was truly aware of the Cinéma du look, so my parallels may have been drawn from my limited knowledge of what I was seeing at the time).  It's also worth noticing that our aforementioned critic, Raphaël Bassan, was also a proponent of the New Wave and it's experiment in film, so perhaps the interest he found in the Cinéma du look movement was related in some way to what I also see as the natural progression of the avant-garde film evolution in France.  Just saying.

I want to admit, lastly, that I am not incredibly familiar with Leos Carax's work.  What I have seen I have found to be very much of the argument of style-over-substance, but a true watch of all of his films is more necessary for me to properly judge them, and I didn't want to just plow through them to make it in time for this post.  Once I get around to it I will give him a more honest shot, and that might end up being sooner rather than later given my film habits lately.  Also, I know there are quite a few films I glazed over or didn't mention at all; for instance, I didn't even mention The Moon In The Gutter (La lune dans le caniveau), and that is mostly because I wasn't particularly impressed with it.  It never grabbed me the same way many of these other films did, and it's (I'm prettttty sure) entirely studio-shot visuals failed to excite me in the way that Diva, Betty Blue, and Le Grand Bleu did with their beautiful, on-location photography.  Also, there are just some that I have never seen, and again, I would rather give them their proper chance rather than just watch them to watch them.  The rest I just didn't feel like mentioning because, well, I don't know; I don't know what else to say about some of these films that haven't been said, and they mostly just didn't fit into the dialogue I wanted to present in this post.
In one final post script; it is important, I believe, to mention that in every reference to Betty Blue I make on this blog, or any recommendation I make for it, I am always referring to the director's cut (version intégrale), which clocks in at a full hour longer than the film's theatrical release.  I think it's a better film, and that's the one I feel is complete.  It's also the version of the film I watched first, and the idea of watching the theatrical version at this point seems pointless to me.