Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Most Beautiful Soundtracks Of François De Roubaix

 So, I recently picked up volumes 1 and 2 of Les Plus Belles Musiques De Films De François De Roubaix.  These are part of what I am pretty sure is a three volume series, designed as a kind of "best of" collection, putting together some of François De Roubaix's most famous film soundtracks.
For the most part, there is only one track from each soundtrack, though it appears that he has used some of the same music for multiple films.  Those specific tracks still differ from each other, and they are placed strategically throughout their respective volume, so it gives the sense of an actual album instead of just a collection of songs, which I feel pretty good about.
The nicest thing about these collections, is that while they can still be a little pricey depending on where you find them (volume 3 was still a little too pricey for me when I last looked), this collection is still way way less expensive than trying to find some of the records that were released specifically for each movie, and some of them don't even exist, according to my own research (which I would love to have proven wrong, if anyone could help me out).  Either way, I have been looking for an affordable vinyl copy of Le Samouraï for years, and while I may never find that, even having one selection from that film on wax is exciting to me.
Some of his music reminds me a little of pre-YMO Ryuichi Sakamoto, and I wouldn't call it too much of a stretch to say that the latter was probably influenced by the former, though that is just speculation on my part.  Unlike Sakamoto, however, Roubaix was a self tought musician, studying and learning jazz at around fifteen years of age.  His father was a filmmaker as well, and François got his start by getting to score his his educational films before moving on to work for directors like Robert Enrico and Jean-Pierre Melville; completing over fifty film scores before his fatal diving accident in 1975 (his final score, Le Vieux Fusil, was released posthumasly in 1976 and received a French César award in that same year). 
Though as above, I haven't found any evidence to support this theory, I would also wager that Roubaix was heavily influenced by Claude Debussy, who not only influenced entire generations of jazz musicians, but was also a heavy influence on other composers who worked for film, such as Phillip Glass, Toru Takemitsu (who had to have been an influence on a young Roubaix), and even the above mentioned Ryuichi Sakamoto.
François' style is comprised of a myriad of sounds; at once rooted firmly in both folk and jazz instrumentation, he is often wont to include electronic instruments like more modern synthesizers of the time, and even early drum machines, and could even be categorized as musique concrète (which was invented by French composer, Pierre Schaeffer, and based on principles developed simultaneously by both Schaeffer and Takemitsu; which supports my above theory just a tiny bit).

I find it hard to differentiate between his later influence and those he influenced, as many of his contemporaries continued making music long after Roubaix's early death, but either way, his style can still be heard throughout much of the later krautrock and post-rock scenes in both Europe and America.  I have heard similar sounds in modern groups like Stereolab, Nobukazu Takemura, and much of the Chicago post-rock/jazz scene, though his is obviously not the sole influence within those groups.
Those not interested in spending too much can still find some great reproductions of his work through a series of CDs on France's Emarcy Import label.  In fact, my first introduction to the film Les Aventuriers (now one of my favorite movies, and probably the subject of a future post) was by buying the Le Samouraï /Les Avenureirs CD on Emarcy.  Either way, I wholeheartedly recommend anything you can get your hands on, especially if you are familiar with any of the other musicians i mentioned but are still new to François de Roubaix.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

If It's Spring And You Know It Clap your Hands

Weeellllll, Spring is finally here, so it seems only fitting to try to beat my old clapping record and reread/rewatch Blue Spring, by Taiyo Matsumoto (film version appropriately helmed by 9 Souls and Pornostar director Toshiaki Toyoda).  If you are or were ever a young man who has ever been bored or pissed, you will almost certainly find something in common with Blue Spring, whose title refers to the emotion and season, respectively.

For the boys of Kitano High School, spring signals the approach of a summer that can't come fast enough.  Their days are pained with boredom and rebellion, and punctuated by violence and a dangerous game where they are willing to bet their very lives to set a new record and gain the respect of their fellow students.  It's as if the longing for adulthood were so excruciating that they would rather chance young death than die of boredom.  They talk crudely, write graffiti, get in fights, and make more than a few passing remarks about masturbation and sex, all the while competing for popularity and respect.

Throughout the seven separate stories, the narrative seems fragmented and unrelated at first, though it quickly becomes apparent that throughout each individual character's vignette, a larger picture is forming of a school whose students have no role models and where every adult in their life has essentially given up on them.  They exist in a world that is very much their own, where they have built their own hierarchies and social dynamics without any sense of consequence outside that world.

Kitano High brings to mind the Eighth District Youth Vocational Training School (8th District Youth Prison! Entry Free!) from Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo.  In Akira, Otomo uses the Youth Vocational School to help give life to a larger story, where every character and location helps to create a believable Neo-Tokyo; itself a larger backdrop for a very personal story with cosmic repercussions.  Matsumoto's Kitano High on the other hand, is the key to Blue Spring; it's the feeding trough, the water cooler, the melting pot where everything takes place.  It is the crux of everything for these students whose episodes we get to see.  It is a place that embodies and magnifies every negative element of their lives.  It is where every bad habit is nurtured and festers, despite the attempts of a few teachers who you get the impression actually care.  Even the school principal delights in seeing the students entertain themselves with their deadly game, and whose own statuettes of dollars signs and calligraphy scrolls reading "Nothing Beats Money" is reflected in the students' graffiti; and while the principal himself engages in an abusive relationship with his secretary, it is hard not to see the correlation between how these young men view their surroundings and how they live out their own social dichotomies.
The graffiti serves another purpose as well, letting the audience see the authors influences, turning the manga into a kind of high school notebook, giving the sense that this is a novel about a very specific youth, and this is less a random set of stories and more of an autobiography.  Matsumoto-san literally writes his influences on the walls; from specific works like Otomo's Boogie Woogie Waltz and Jean-Jacques Beineix's 37°2 le matin (Betty Blue) to including names like Kurosawa, Nakagawa, Ohta, Inoue, and Takada, in which he lists, almost as a timeline of important people, right before the names of his protagonists, Kujo, and then Aoki, who who has just unseated his predecessor.  The characters of Kujo and Aoki themselves bring to mind the relationship between Akira's protagonists, Kaneda and Tetsuo.
There is a wonderful quality about his drawings that make them seem light and effortless while still being intricately constructed and complex.  The signs and graffiti that seem so haphazardly placed have real purpose in the story, and it's easy to get a sense that they were meticulously placed; much like so many other Japanese arts, where the intention is to give the feeling that everything is placed there naturally, as if that is the only place it could be, Matsumoto almost crowds his panels with scribblings but manages to never overwhelm the reader or have anything seem out of place.
The film version focuses mainly on the opening story concerning characters Kujo and Aoki, entitled If You're Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands, though it manages to weave in pieces of the other stories while maintaining a more focused narrative structure.  As opposed to the manga, which tells each story in turn, Toyoda's film uses the tale of Kujo and Aoki as the main body of the work, taking moments to explore the other characters and their specific vignettes to paint a larger picture of Kitano High.  As the stories follow no real linear fashion, the viewer finds it easy to return to the main protagonists and pick up right where they left off.  Finally, the film's more classic style of photography meshes well with the subject matter, and the rock soundtrack by Kenji Ueda takes it right where it needs to be: balancing right on the edge of beauty and nihilism.
Blue Spring is one of the few occasions when a film lives up to it's source material.  I am usually not a fan of comic adaptations, and generally believe that too often comics are used as glorified storyboards rather than it's own separate medium, but ever once in a while something comes along and becomes the exception to the rule.  I love film and comics for totally different reasons, and most of the time, great comics are great because they are comics; the medium they exist in has certain allowances that other do not, and a great story that is written specifically for one format or the other has difficulty translating that experience.  Blue Spring, however, works as both a film and a comic book.  The manga gives you the ability to pour over every page and examine the subtext of the graffiti at your leisure (even the English language edition, in which Kelly Sue DeConnick masterfully and painstakingly translates every scribble), while the film's pacing and accompanying music make it an antithesis to any classic coming-of-age tale.  We see this film not as a transition for these boys, but as the most important moment of their lives.  Every choice they make affects them in the here-and-now.  There is no future for some of them, and we find it painful to think of what made them this way.  Blue Spring sits as a sign in the hallway, offering us a small service for ¥100: Know Your Future, Forget Your Past.    

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Better Late (or Tardi) Than Never

After stumbling upon The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec early this past winter, i found myself invariably getting lost down a Jacques Tardi rabbit-hole.  I can honestly say that I didn't expect where I found it leading, but I couldn't be more pleased with where it took me.

As I understand it, Jacques Tardi apparently got his start in comics after attending schools in both Lyon and Paris for fine and decorative arts, respectively, when he joined the likes of Albert Uderzo, Philippe Druillet, and Morris (the working name of Belgian comics artist Maurice De Bevere), on the renowned French periodical Pilote, where he even illustrated short stories for comics legend Moebius, alsoamong the publication's ranks.  He later went on to do work on several other publications, such as Métal Hurlant and À Suivre, where he would continue to collaborate with other well known authors such as Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Claude Forest.

Moving on from his impressive history, Jacques Tardi's work more than speaks for itself, and despite his clean, cartoon-like line work, his stories are still very mature and at times among the bleakest I have ever read.  Don't mistake bleak for dreary though, as much of his work still manages to include a lot of humor and action, especially his adaptations of Jean-Patrick Manchette, who i would list as my favorite among his illustrious collaborators.

West Coast Blues was the first of the Manchette stories I read, and I instantly understood what was so popular about this book.  The frank, derisive attitude of the protagonist immediately brought to mind the most hard-boiled of pulp heroes I was already familiar with; but instead of aimless rage, I found more melancholy in the character of George Gerfaut.  From the very beginning we are introduced to a man fed up with his current situation in life, and are immediately told of his past deeds which we are about to read.  In contrast to Tardi and Manchette's eponymous sniper, Martin Terrier, who lines up his shot with mute efficiency, Gerfaut is simply a man caught up in a situation in which he is bluffing his way through, though he comes to find a kind of tranquility in his escape from his more mundane surroundings.
Again, in contrast with his West Coast Blues counterpart, Martin Terrier is a much less dynamic character, betraying any impression the reader might get of a character in chrysalis.  He instead is often contemplative of the past, acknowledging the moments that shaped his life while still being either unable or uninterested in changing his character to redefine his future.  Both stories however, share similar sensibilities, and the observant reader will catch clever artistic cues that will keep the pages feeling ever thoughtful while never slowing down the pace of the storytelling.

In the books of his that i've made my way though so far, It Was War Of The Trenches stands out as his heaviest collection.  The stories are bleak, vulgar, and riddled with the kind of violence that sits in the pit of your stomach and refuses to digest, no matter how hard you try.  In an introduction to the book (the edition released by Fantagraphics books, who are responsible for most of the English language Tardi I have come accross, and whose editions I am reviewing in this post), Tardi hismelf admits that most of these stories are fictional.  The gravety of each vignette is nonetheless felt throughout, and the reality of each individual's plight is engrained in the reader despite knowing that most of these characters are fabrications, though all are still representative of the average French soldier in the trenches during The First World War.

All in all, I will say that I am a tremendous fan of Jacques Tardi thus far.  He (like much of the European comics scene I have seen) has the wonderful ability to bounce between genres and subject matters effortlessly; from his delusional and at times madness-inducing Arthur There (You Are There/Ici Même), his singular female lead Adèle Blanc-Sec, and everyone else in between, the reader never feels as if he is out of his depth, and instead is brought ever deeper into the understanding of a man who is able to illustrate so much with so few lines.  Fantagraphics has a few more books of his lined up (Goddamn This War!, The Astonishing Exploits Of Lucien Brindavoine, Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell), and I am anxious to spend much of my summer getting through them; and with the promise of more extraordinary adventures from Mlle. Blanc-Sec, I'd say English language readers have a lot more Jacques Tardi to look forward to.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

New(ish) Catune!

Man, Catune just keeps putting out music that I love.  Straight outta Tokyo, Catune was founded by Kensuke Saito of 9dw, and for some reason he is on some insane mission to only release music I want to hear.  Though initially only releasing records from Japan, they are incubating a pretty solid roster of international artists, and i wouldn't be surprised to see them get even more successful, as they hold a pretty firm seat among the best coming from independent music in Japan.

I recently was able to hear their upcoming release from Windsurf/SHOCK alumni Sorcerer, and i couldn't be more excited to get that one in the mail in April.  My first introduction to Windsurf was from a 9dw remix of Weird Energy, but i was super into it.  I checked out their first Windsurf EP after that and was super into that, and everything i've heard from the Weird Energy album was fantastic and exactly the kind of super-pretty, ambient downtempo-y, house-y shit I wanted to hear.

Well, wither way, this new Sorcerer release is is on the same kind of wavelength.  It's got a little more of a deep house feel to it, but it's still super upbeat and proves to be even more accessible than the Windsurf material.  I've always been a sucker for the simple two-chord structure, and this record has got that in spades.  No matter how far away it gets, both the title tracks keep themselves firmly grounded within that structure without ever getting monotonous.  The remixes get a little deeper than their original counterparts, but never lose the spirit of the record's intended feel.  Check out the sound samples here:
Step Pyramid/Universal Vision EP

I will admit to knowing pretty much nothing about Lord Of The Isles.  A little detective work has told me that he's a UK producer from Scotland, and that wounds pretty cool to me.  Apparently his real name is Neil McDonald, and like a lot of other UK producers I know so very little about, he's got quite a few other records that are probably worth trying to scoop up down the line.

Either way, his recent release on Catune is super good and worth grabbing now if you can find a copy.  Like the Sorcerer record, it has a deep-yet-accessible feel to it, especially if you're familiar with any of the records coming off of the 100% Silk record label out of the States.  Again, you can check it out here:
Geek Chic/Radio Lollipop EP

 A little more detective work has proven that he is worth investigating further:

New Old Books

So February and March have been pretty good in terms of comic grabs this year.  February was my month of picking up shit-I-already-own-but-want-new-or-better-versions-of books, and March continued Darkhorse's great job of releasing stuff I already love over the past couple years, and i am constantly torn with myself about what I actually have to buy again.

The newest volume of their Manara Library series is also probably my favorite volume, and I have been anticipating this one for quite some time.  Any of The Manara Libray volumes are a great way to revisit, or even introduce yourself, to this fanatastic Italian comics creator.  The first story in this book, The Adventures of HP & Guiseppe Bergman, is where a lot of Manara authorities would say he began to develop a style that we've come to recognize as purely Manara.  While he was also undoubtedly under a heavy influence from the likes of Moebius, it was still very easy to see that where he was going with this one was someplace else entirely.
The previous version of this story that I own is the Catalan Communications edition from 1988, and though the original translation by Jean-Jacques Surbeck is by no means unreadable, the newer translation by Kim Thompson really feels more natural.  The lettering is more legible as well, though I still have an affinity for whoever was doing the lettering at Catalan around that time; I would put money down that whoever lettered this book in 1988 also did lettering on both the Catalan and NBM prints of any of the Vittorio Giardino (another fantastic Italian writer/illustrator) books put out since that time (the capital A is unmistakable in all of those books).
As for the story, all my instincts want me to call this pulp adventure, but I feel like that term is either too broad or too narrow to be applied to any of the adventures of Guiseppe Bergman; who, i will point out (though it has been pointed out since the history of pointing shit out), shares more than a passing resemblance to the artist himself.  Although the first story is much more specific in that the eponymous hero is looking to a mysterious man named H.P. (while we're still treading familiar water, let's not forget to mention the humongous influence Hugo Pratt had on Manara) to help him find adventure, both this story and it's follow up, The Indian Adventures of Guiseppe Bergman, feel incredibly episodic.  It's almost as if Manara understood that though we (as readers as much as a stand in for his protagonist), long for adventure, we oftentimes can't even find the time to read a simple story in a single sitting let alone go on an adventure ourselves.

As adults, our expectation of adventure changes, and I believe that Manara understands that.  As adolescents, our simple childish fantasies begin to evolve and include elements of our own personal growth; so where once stood a boyish dream of saving a princess in a high tower, that same dream has begun to mirror our own budding sexuality and reflect our own self-image.  By the time we find that same dream as adults, our personal sense of eroticism and adventure have become much more idiosyncratic and a part of our subconscious, which is exactly what Manara excels at showing to us.  As an author who is able to shapeshift so seamlessly between genres, he allows us to shift between action, drama, comedy, and eroticism without losing any of what makes each of those individual elements so important, though still knowing when to pull back enough so as to titillate rather than engorge the reader when the situation calls for it.
Emerald & Other Stories is the English language adaptation of Hiroaki Samura's Sister Generator collection.  Made up of short stories that showed up in various magazines between 2003 and 2009, the name comes from the fact that almost all of the protagonists in these stories are female.  It's a pretty decent collection of stories, though the quality of the work shares more of a likeness to Ohikkoshi (Samura's previous short story collection released by Dark Horse in 2006) than it does to his more widely lauded Blade of the Immortal series, which just wrapped up in Japan after a healthy run starting back in June of 1993 (I still can't believe how long it has been going).

I found most of these tales to be pretty innocuous, though it's title story, Emerald, is by far this collection's standout piece.  Though Samura's first Western (if not by genre, then at least by setting), this story actually shares a lot of similarities with his most long running series in that it employs an incredible amount of kineticism when the true action takes place.  It could have benefited from a slightly wider view in the world in which it exists in, and in that respect i think it resembles his other work, but i believe that to be symptomatic of his rushing through his shorter works most of the time.

One of Blade's best attributes is that from the very start, the author creates a fantastic view of the world in which his characters live.  It's not a purely fictional Japan, and though it stumbles a little bit in the early chapters in trying to make a unique setting of it's own, Samura slowly lets his strange inhabitants flesh out an already existing (and marginally more believable) past in which the entire story is able to benefit from a slightly more realistic grounding.  I believe that in his short stories, Samura expects his readers to already be familiar with their setting, as many of them take place in contemporary Tokyo.  Other stories that take place in Victorian England, or the American West, for example, are hampered by the artist's limited knowledge of such periods, making the production of those stories seem all the more hurried, though no less visceral or brutal.
His newest English release of his Blade of the Immortal series, on the other hand, continues to wow as it has for the past twenty years.  Though slightly behind the Japanese releases, Dark Horse's commitment to this story is pushing it ever forward to it's inevitable conclusion.  This volume contains some of the most brutal scenes of violence the series has seen since maybe it's Beasts storyline from all the way back in 2002 (though for different reasons), and although the backgrounds feel sparser and sparser in some snowy scenes, Samura's trademark wordless, kinetic action has been ramped up even further to punctuate it's sharp violence.  If you're already a fan of the series, there is no reason not to continue on at this point; and though the series has taken quite a few turns in terms of focus, the author is constantly outdoing himself when it comes to bringing the reader back into it's familiar footing after periods of prolonged quietude.

I say check them out.