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Music & Space 

I'm showing my geek credentials here, but every day as I ride past the apparatus on the edge of the Common that on Saturday will support all those rockin' sexagenarians, I think it looks like that bizarre construction from Contact. You know, the one that transported Jodie Foster all the way across the galaxy.

This morning I rode right by it through the foggy, foggy day to the Delta where I saw a good chunk of the Critics Panel, hosted by AFF senior programmer Ron Foley MacDonald. Joining him this year was Peter Wintonick, director of Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent, along with critics Peter Reiner, Denis Seguin, and Etan Vlessin. The subject was loosely “The State of Criticism Today,” and there were many windy words and slow, well-chosen phrases. Wintonick arrived late, and brought his hammer: “Critics are sheep,” he began. “Filmmakers are sheep. Gossip is currency. That's really all that counts. To get a mention in the gossip column is much more important than a mention in the New York Times.” He went on to remark that product placement and word of mouth is the most important thing, and that as filmgoers, we are better off trusting our friend's opinions than the critics. Wow. Peter Reiner had an interesting reaction to this, saying that critical culture as a marketing tool for the major studios is dying, but on the other side of this are the indie movie lovers and foreign film fans, they still pay attention to a critic. There was discussion about the impact of the internet, and its speed in the exchange of information, and that if we are film snobs, it's just because we expect movies to do more than just entertain.

Yeah, I'll go along with that, for the most part. But, if we are only entertained, sometimes that's not so bad, either. The fact is, it means the least we expect the big studios to do is entertain us, and sometimes they can't even manage that. Who was it that said there are still quality serious films being made, but fewer and fewer quality entertainments?

One on the review gag sheet is the film I saw at a media screening this afternoon, The Fountain. The new picture from Darren Aronofsky, much acclaimed cult director of Requiem for a Dream and Pi. Like those other films, this is a very stylized and art directed movie. Much thought gone into the presentation--it's gorgeous and hypnotic. I'm sort of happy I can't talk too much about the movie's plot at this point, because I'd be a bit stuck, but I'll bet it won't resemble any film released by a major Hollywood studio this year. Challenging and interesting, with two very photogenic stars, Hugh Jackman and the director's wife, Rachel Weiss, in three different time periods, dealing in themes of life, death, immortality and creation.

This evening brought two music documentaries. The first grabbed me by the lapels and didn't let go. Rock The Bells is about Chang, a music promoter in California who tried to do the impossible: get the various members of the Wu Tang Clan together for a show. The director and editors of this doc bring the high stress, high risk proposition of Chang's job right to the audience. As a promoter he's dealing with venue issues, security, money (get your mom to work the box office!), and, most of all, talent politics. Wu Tang hadn't performed on stage in over a decade, and the efforts to get them all up there, especially Ol' Dirty Bastard, is something to see. There's plenty of great hip hop to be enjoyed in the picture as well, though the Wu Tang set is disappointingly brief. Still, this is an amazingly intimate look at very particular job in a very hostile environment. Hey, wait, isn't that what I said about Baghdad ER last night?

I also caught Before The Music Dies. Someone who will go unnamed made mention of the interesting irony that this doc examining of the bleak state of music radio today is sponsored at the festival by C100, the local commercial radio station. A number of reputable musicians are interviewed on the subject of record company bottom-lines and radio homogeny that has effectively made commercial radio dull, repetitive, if not entirely unlistenable. Dave Matthews, Erykah Badu, Bonnie Raitt, Doyle Bramhall II, The North Mississippi All Stars, Widespread Panic, and Branford Marsalis are some of the artists who speak up. For anyone with an interest in new music and the music industry, there's probably not much here they're telling you that you don't already know, but the message is certainly worth reiterating. I do wish they'd spoken to The White Stripes, who in my mind are one of the only really fresh sounds to show up on rock radio this century. That they can still break through gives me some hope. I liked that some local musicians in various places across the United States are given a chance to perform onscreen. There is some dynamite talent out there, all with their own MySpace account, I'm sure, giving them a direct line to the prospective fan. There was something being discussed on the CBC recently called The Long Tail, about the diversity of culture and the efforts to market to specific niches. Does it mean we're all getting a little further away from each other behind our computers, or somehow exercising all of our very specific tastes, thereby getting closer to people who like the same things? I dunno. Pass my mackerel in tomato sauce with mayo sandwich, please, and I'll crank up Antibalas, Coral Egan, The Queens of The Stone Age, and Old Man Luedecke, and be damn happy to do it. Won't you join me?

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