My Films of the Week #6: Borat 2, Office Space and More

As a lifelong cinephile, I have always consumed a copious amount of films. In this new feature, I keep track of the films I watch during the week.

Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm
(Jason Woliner, 2020, USA)

Probably better than it deserved to be. Yet, despite its best intentions, its a pale imitation of the incendiary original Borat movie, complete with a forced conclusion.

Up in the Air
(Jason Reitman, 2009, USA)

Despite its contemporary aspects, some of which feel directly inspired by early 21st-century American recession, this is a standard revisitation of traditional mid-life romance narrative tropes. However, its standards are considerably elevated by George Clooney’s charming lead performance.

Bare
(Aleksandr M. Vinogradov, 2020, Belgium)

A documentation of eleven naked dancer working on an ambitious choreography. Remains a visually stimulating document of the link between observation and voyeurism, though it lacks narrative focus and generally doesn’t dare enough.

The Last Hillbilly
(Diane Sara Bouzgarrou, Thomas Jenkoe, 2020, France/Qatar)

A poetic insight on the American hillbilly culture driven by a charismatic protagonist, who acts as his community’s spokesperson and dictates the energy of the documentary. Almost inadvertedly becomes a profound portrayal of Trump-era stereotypes.

Office Space
(Mike Judge, 1999, USA)

Cartoonish satire on life as an office worker. Inspired by male frustration an aware of an underlying societal repression, the film certainly benefits from its surrealist vein though it lacks big-hearted laughs. It has most likely picked up vintage bonus points as a document of the immediate pre-internet era.

Idiocracy
(Mike Judge, 2006, USA)

Interesting satirical spin on the time travel movie, also partly recalling zombie movies. Fun, despite its inconsistencies and imperfections, and definitely not as sharp as it probably thinks.

Extract
(Mike Judge, 2009, USA)

Mike Judge continues to draw inspiration on societal repressions in this story about a middle class small company owner. As usual, he does it without enough bite. As such, the entire affair appears as severely lacking in energy.

Bad Words
(Jason Bateman, 2013, United States)

Popular funnyman Jason Bateman’s directorial effort about an obnoxious adult entering a children’s spelling bee contest. Suffers from general lack of intention and finally disappoints despite its interesting original subject.

Horrible Bosses
(Seth Gordon, 2011, United States)

A famous addition to the childish, repressed average white men, who come up with a plan to murder their abusive bosses. The leading trio’s chemistry and Kevin Spacey’s turn as the obnoxious baddie is worth the price of the ticket.

Ziyara
(Simone Bitton, 2020, France/Morocco)

A documentary celebrating Muslim’s guarding of Jewish culture in Morocco. As well as its historical and political importance, Ziyara is enhanced by the pure aesthetic delight of its documentation of older religious artifacts and places.

My Art Picks of the Week #3: Joseph Stella, Albert Pinkham Ryder & More

Here are some artworks that have been rocking my world lately for you to feast your eyes on. This week’s list includes works by Joseph Stella, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Dorothea Lange and more.

Untitled
Jean Dubuffet, 1973

Luna Park
Joseph Stella, c. 1913

Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
Dorothea Lange, 1936

Quadro di Filo Elettrico – Tenda di Lampadine
Michelangelo Pistoletti, 1967

Aku
Latiff Mohidin, 1958

A Lady in Her Bath
François Clouet, c. 1571

The Lone Scout
Albert Pinkham Ryder, c. 1880

The Day Billy Joe Shaver Saved My Life

A few days ago, I was on a train from Rome to Genoa, after a coverage of the Rome Film Fest. It’s a long ride, about five hour long. Usually, I don’t mind. I’m actually quite fond of trains. I’ve always appreciated their romanticism. But this time it was different.

October has been the worst month for me. As many people, I have experienced hardships in the time of COVID and feeling trapped. This month, a whole bunch of worries piled on me that I won’t discuss here. All this amounted to some kind of panic attack. I could hardly breathe.

As I looked for songs to play on Spotify to calm me down, my mind went to Billy Joe Shaver. I thought about his life and how he hadn’t had it easy. I felt I could do with the voice of a man like him to come to my aid in a time of need.

I put on Old Five and Dimers Like Me, probably my favourite outlaw country album. Released in 1973, this was the record that ought to have shot shaver into superstardom. However, mismanagement and general business decisions proved insurmountable obstacles. He’d be forced to watch the star of Waylon Jennings rise while remaining in the shadows as the forever unsung hero of the genre.

In a way, the tragedy of his career makes him all the more iconic. Would Billy Joe ever truly fit in with the “in crowd”? I doubt that and in a way, I even hope no. Guys like Billy Joe are the guys whom I trust. The forever outlaws, honest and free. A little bit scary and strange but the type of guy you’d like by your side when hell comes calling.

Not one song on the album did not help me a little and by the third listen, I felt much better. The song that soothed my mind the most was “Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me.” I really listened to it, its every word. I could hear it resonating in my soul and made me smile, looking at the reflection of my face in the filty, small toilet on that ghost train.

People hating country music have always seemed silly to me. It’s such a narrow-minded and unfounded prejudice. Why should someone who likes jazz or rock or dance and any other genre not also take an interest in country? In fact, the more music you like, the more options you will have when you’ll need music to save your life.

The next day, I sought comfort in a music completely different: Luciana Souza’s Duos II, a guitar and voice duo album revelling in the tradition of Brazilian percussive music. Today it was another and tomorrow, it will be another.

What links all music together is a fundamental spirituality. Some people label it differently. Billy Joe Shaver would have referred to it as God. Regardless of labels, it is a spirituality that even the greatest of atheist looks for and believes in when he is confronted with it. And it is a spirituality that only exists in art, from the paintings of Picasso to the films of Fellini to the music of Billy Joe Shaver and beyond.

My Albums of the Week #8: Ozzy Osbourne, Marc Ribot, Luciana Souza

I would consider myself an “albums guy” and my taste in music is very varied. In this new feature, I list the albums that I listened to most intensely during the week. The list will include albums old and new, and the number of albums listened to every week will most likely vary on a week-to-week basis.

Luciana Souza
Duos II (Sunnyside Records, 2005)

Tracklist (favourite tracks underlined): 1 – Sai Dessa / 2 – Nos Horizontes do Mundo / 3 – A Flor e o Espinho/Juízo Final / 4 – Muita Bobeira / 5 – Modinha / 6 – No Carnaval / 7 – Sambadaú / 8 – Aparacida / 9 – Trocando Em Miúdos / 10 – Chorinho Pra Ele / 11 – Atrás Da Porta / 12 – Vocé

A sublime acoustic guitar-and-voice album that traverses the wide range of Brazilian music traditions. Also a great showcase of Luciana Souza’s vocal versatility and lyrical poetry, performing this program in duos alongside four different guitarists, each bringing a distinctive style.

Ozzy Osbourne
Ordinary Man (Epic, 2020)

Tracklist (favourite tracks underlined): 1 – Straight to Hell / 2 – All My Life / 3 – Goodbye / 4 – Ordinary Man / 5 – Under the Graveyard / 6 – Eat Me / 7 – Today Is the End / 8 – Scary Little Green Men / 9 – Holy for Tonight / 10 – It’s a Raid

An amazing late-career effort by beloved rocker Ozzy Osbourne. Dare I say it even ranks among his best records, including his Black Sabbath releases. Includes some interesting collaborations and also features some of Ozzy’s most profound and personal lyrics, though never at the expense of his iconic rocker persona.

Marc Ribot
Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 (ANTI-, 2018)

Tracklist (favorite songs underlined): 1 – We Are Soldiers in the Army / 2 – Bella Ciao / 3 – Srinivas / 4 – How To Walk in Freedom / 5 – Rata de dos Patas / 6 – The Militant Ecologist / 7 – The Big Fool / 8 – Ain’t Gonna Let Them Turn Us Round / 9 – John Brown / 10 – Knock That Statue Down / 11 – We’ll Never Turn Back

An inspired, eclectic program of protest songs, whether original, rearranged or hybrid. An eclectic blend of various music genres tied together from visionary, militant musician Marc Ribot, featuring a star-studded and multicultural cast of guests. Released in 2018, it also feels like a powerful reflection on the first two years of the Trump administration.

Leonardo and Michelangelo: An Ideological Rivalry

The history of art teaches us that the status of any given artist is elevated in accordance with the status of said artist’s antagonist. This is true in modern art as it is true of ancient art. It appears that we, as humans, are simply programmed to tell stories that way. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh. Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. The list is endless.

Another renowned rivalry was that between Leonardo and Michelangelo. Leonardo Da Vinci was born in 1454. Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in 1475. Both were active around the same time, between the Renaissance and the High Renaissance. In fact, both embodied the archetype of the “Renaissance Man,” one who is able to express creativity through a wide-variety of artforms.

Yet, both were radically different and their feud was not only generational. It was profoundly ideological. For instance, they did not share the same views on which was the higher of the artforms. Leonardo thought that painting was the most important of artforms because of the versatility and freedom it granted an artist to represent things, even those unseen. We see such potential expressed, for instance, in the Mona Lisa, including via the spectacular vastness of its landscape that could only have existed in the mind of Leonardo himself.

Michelangelo, on the other hand, appears to have been inspired by the more rigorous artform of sculpture. He preferred to focus on the detail of one thing, which generally was the naked male body. In such works as the David, more than the concept, we admire the size and anatomical details. There’s great poetry to be found in the composition itself. The David is not perfectly proportioned and yet, such apparent imperfection makes this giant all the more cerebral and dramatic.

This ideological disagreement is even more evident when we compare the paintings of these two artists. Leonardo’s paintings are rich in multiplicity whereas Michelangelo often pays little to no attention to backdrops. Even his paintings are rather sculptural and in the most famous of cases, his subjects seem to burst out of the canvas.

It is a lesser-known fact that Leonardo was also a musician. Obviously, he lived long before audio recording was possible. Because of that, no primary source documentation of his music exists. What we know through his journals and writings is that he admired the art of music for the same reasons as he did painting – for its lack of restrictions. By the same degree, he did not think much of poetry. Poets, he believed, were restricted by language itself, forced to follow a word with another and another and another…

Again, it should not be surprising that Michelangelo was also a poet and revelled in the challenge of the restrictions posed by semantics. In fact, his approach to poetry appears to be sculptural and for a period of time, he dedicated himself to it almost wholly – despite the many commissions of sculptures and paintings that began piling up before he had reached the age of 30.

Biographical accounts tell us that their ideological divergences were reflected in their opposite character traits and personalities. Leonardo was charming and elegant. Michelangelo was a recluse with little time for vanity or fashion. From this, we may deduce that both also used different approaches in landing prestigious commissions. Leonardo’s charm helped him pitch the works to wealthy patrons. On the other hand, wealthy patrons trusted Michelangelo’s diligence and commitment, which Leonardo sometimes appeared to lack.

It must be said that both men knew each other and may even have respected each other at some time. But their relationship came to an abrupt end in the early 1500s after a public quarrel in Florence, supposedly over the interpretation of a passage from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Shortly thereafter, there was a missed opportunity for a direct confrontation when both men were commissioned to produce a work depicting the same famous battle between the Florentines and the Pisans that ultimately did not come to fruition.

Yet, it is undeniable that both men also influenced each other’s art. For instance, Leonardo returned to his research of anatomy, which Michelangelo was a known practitioner of. Michelangelo, on the other hand, would come to see Leonardo as his rival and use the energy this generated within him to fuel his furnace of ambition.

My Films of the Week #5: Totally Under Control, True Mothers & More

As a lifelong cinephile, I have always consumed a copious amount of films. In this new feature, I keep track of the films I watch during the week.

Faithful
(Hélier Cisterne, 2020, France/Belgium/Algeria)

A tale of love and revolution set in late colonialist Algeria. Beautiful cinematography enhances the poetic power of what could also be considered an alternate take on the theme of terrorism at large.

The Shift
(Alessandro Tonda, 2020, Italy/Belgium)

Despite being content with dealing with the theme of terrorism in quite a superficial way, this thriller features a nice contrast of frantic rhythm and claustrophobic space, as most of it takes place within the confines of an ambulance.

True Mothers
(Naomi Kawase, 2020, Japan)

A relatively unoriginal adoption drama plagued by narrative clumsiness. The typical mediocre Naomi Kawase movie.

Climbing Iran
(Francesca Borghetti, 2020, Italy/France)

Fascinating documentary on an Iranian woman defying social and natural obstacles as a free climber. Redefines the meaning of the term “trailblazer.”

Il Cielo da una Stanza
(Virginia Valsecchi, 2020, Italy)

Almost unbearable ensemble documentary portraying the lives of a different people in Italy during lockdown. May become more valuable with time.

Totally Under Control
(Alex Gibney, 2020, USA)

A worrying investigation on Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID crisis. Released during the pandemic, manages to be quite clear-headed and frighteningly revealing.

‘Til Kingdom Come
(Maya Zinshtein, 2020, Israel/UK/Norway)

An investigation of the controversial link between U.S. Christian Evangelicals and Isreali Jews, and the political implications of said link. Reveals a hidden truth but does so in a ponderous and refreshingly respectful way, rather than aggressively.

Long Live Love
(Sine Skibsholt, 2020, Denmark)

Up close and personal documentation of the relationship between a mother and her health-ridden, rebellious teenage daughter. Warm and honest, speaks universal truths.

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

Announcing New Plans for InArteMatt Content!

Changes are coming! Aside from my work with FRED Film Radio and JAZZIZ Magazine, I fully intend to continue to pursue my personal projects, including new podcast conversations for my series Matt’s Art Chat as well as the return of The Art Movement.

The idea is to bring three Matt’s Art Chat podcasts each month and, on the conclusive week of each month, bring a three-hour-long episode of The Art Movement. While Matt’s Art Chat will be available free of charge, The Art Movement will be available behind a paywall.

For those who do not know, Matt’s Art Chat is my series of podcast conversations about the arts with creators, curators and art lovers from all over the world. The Art Movement is a radio show, where I share my thoughts about the arts and play clips from all the audio content I produce.

The hope is to one day find a terrestrial radio home in various territories for The Art Movement and also have it available online for a small fee. I will also continue to upload clips from the show for free on my YouTube site.

All this will not affect my work for JAZZIZ Magazine and FRED Film Radio. In fact, at JAZZIZ, we are excited about the launch of a new regular weekly livestream series titled Crate Digging. I will also continue to produce a weekly radio show on FRED on all things cinema, titled Big FRED Tuesday.

The new intensive schedule will kick off next week and more information will be available in the coming days.

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

5 New Podcast Interviews on Film You Need to Hear (October 2020)

Here is a roundup of some of my favourite interviews that I conducted for FRED Film Radio, the international online talk radio on all things cinema, this month (October 2020). Interviews are drawn from this month’s episodes of my weekly radio show, Big FRED Tuesday, and the extensive coverage of the 2020 Rome Film Fest for the radio that I was part of.

Roberto Salinas
director of Cuban Dancer

A conversation with the director of a passionate coming-of-age ballet tale, danced between Cuba and the United States, in a time of change.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW: http://www.fred.fm/uk/roberto-salinas-cuban-dancer-alicenellacitta/

John Waters
Filmmaker

John Waters was a special guest of the 2020 edition of the Rome Film Fest and I recorded a short chat with him on the red carpet.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW: http://www.fred.fm/uk/john-waters-romaff15/

Steve Massa
author of the book Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle

A chat with film historian Steve Massa, who recently wrote a book on early slapstick comediat “Fatty” Arbuckle that turns the attention back to his films rather than focusing on the huge scandal that continues to taint his career to this day.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW: http://www.fred.fm/uk/steve-massa-rediscovering-roscoe-the-films-of-fatty-arbuckle/

Tomm Moore
director of The Secret of Kells

My interview with Irish animator Tomm Moore, co-founder of Cartoon Saloon, whose Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells was selected as part of the inaugural program of the EU-supported online film literacy platform, European Film Factory.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW: http://www.fred.fm/uk/tomm-moore-the-secret-of-kells/

Gabriel Range and Johnny Flynn
director and actor of Stardust

A chat with the director and actor of Stardust, a film inspired by a formative period in the early career of a young David Bowie.

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

Art Picks the Week #2: Michelangelo, Kurt Schwitters and more

Here are some artworks that have been rocking my world lately for you to feast your eyes on. This week’s list includes works by Michelangelo, Kurt Schwitters, George Frederic Watts and more.

Riccione – The Green Pearl of the Adiatic
Giovanni Maria Mataloni, 1930

The Torment of Saint Anthony
Michelangelo, c. 1487-88

Flight
Kurt Schwitters, 1945

Proserpine
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1874

Hope
George Frederic Watts, 1886

Ceramics from the Sepulchre of the Necropolis of Ervidel
Centuries XIII BC – VII BC

Rest 2
Chang Hong Ahn, Ko Chang-seok, 2010

Madonna of the Goldfinch
Raphael, 1505-1506

My Albums of the Week #7: Everything but the Girl and Giorgio Gaslini

I would consider myself an “albums guy” and my taste in music is very varied. In this new feature, I list the albums that I listened to most intensely during the week. The list will include albums old and new, and the number of albums listened to every week will most likely vary on a week-to-week basis.

Everything but the Girl, Eden (1984, Blanco y Negro)

TRACKLIST (Favorite tracks underlined): 1 – Each and Every One / 2 – Bittersweet / 3 – Tender Blue / 4 – Another Bridge / 5 – The Spice of Life / 6 – The Dustbowl / 7 – Crabwalk / 8 – Even So / 9 – Frost and Fire / 10 – Fascination / 11 – I Must Confess / 12 – Soft Touch

The debut album of British duo Everything but the Girl, backed by great session musicians. A classy fusion of pop with lounge jazz, cool jazz and bossa nova. A true peak in the sophisti-pop wave of the period, as noteworthy for its arrangements as much as for its lyrics, depicting scenes of tragic romance with disarming realism.

Giorgio Gaslini, La Notte Soundtrack (1996, BNF)

TRACKLIST (Favorite tracks underlined): 1 – Lettura della Lettura / 2 – Ballo Di Lidia / 3 – Voci Dal Fiume / 4 – Quartetto Sotto le Stelle / 5 – Blues All’Alba / 6 – Valzer Lento / 7 – Notturno Blues / 8 – Finale / 9 – Jazz Interludio / 10 – Country Club / 11 – La Notte (Suite)

Released in 2016, the remastered version of symphonic jazz great Giorgio Gaslini, closer here to pop sensibilities and trends of the time, both in jazz and pop music. A beautiful earful of the glamour and sophistication linked with Italy in the ’60s, composed for Michelangelo Antonioni’s international arthouse hit movie La Notte and performed in a quartet setting.

Billy Joe Shaver, Old Five and Dimers Like Me (1973, Monument)

TRACKLIST (Favorite tracks underlined): 1 – Black Rose / 2 – Old Five and Dimers Like Me / 3 – L.A. Turnaround / 4 – Jesus Christ, What a Man / 5 – Played the Game Too Long / 6 – I Been to Georgia On a Fast Train / 7 – Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me / 8 – Low Down Freedom / 9 – Jesus Was Our Saviour and Cotton Was Our King / 10 – Serious Souls / 11 – Bottom Dollar / 12 – Ride, Cowboy. Ride / 13 – Good Christian Soldier

A peak in the outlaw country genre, featuring some of the best-known and most-covered songs of the music. A depiction of how hard it is to be good as strong as this you’ll never hear. The record should also have launched Billy Joe Shaver into the mainstream. As it happens, personal demons and general injustice made it so that some who covered the tracks on this very program made it bigger than he did.