Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Images 25 - Yo La Tengo & Painlevé's Closing Gala

For the 25th Images Festival's last hurrah, New Jersey indie stalwarts Yo La Tengo provided a post-rock soundtrack for a number of films by masterful experimental filmmaker Jean Painlevé.

Drawing from early classics like the animal-centric The Sea Horse (1933) to later accomplishments like Acera, or the Witches' Dance (1972) and the psychedelic Liquid Crystals (1978), the established and nearly 30 year-old band brought their ambient score to Canadians for the very first time.

Ranging from noisy pieces experimenting with guitar pitches and timbre to slowly plucked pieces working with a humming organ and digital EBow, the veteran band created a sonic palate that drew as much from early Sonic Youth as it did from later aural provocateurs in Slint and Tortoise. These pieces added a new dimension to Painlevé's works that just aren't as apparent in their original forms. The music eschews much of the didacticism apparent in the filmmaker's hybrids of avant-garde/informative cinema, and though subtitles onscreen still teach the audience about the inverted mating habits of the tiny seahorse, it is easier to just get lost in the French artist's stunning visuals.

The program, drawing from eight of the director's works, was thrilling. It is one thing to hear Yo La Tengo's already well-known score on the Criterion Collection's DVD compiling the filmmaker's best-known works, but it is a completely different and immersive experience to see them recreate it in a live setting. Every note is perfectly placed and it is obvious how much thought has gone into each section's arrangement, but its moments of chaos are that much more explosive and cathartic for it. Some audience members were moved to tears, and when you really think about what you are seeing - an octopus suckling upon its mate, or a small crustacean shedding its skin - it is difficult to grasp in a logical manner. The fact of the matter is that the band and the films working together create a visceral experience that digs its claws into the viewer's emotional centre. The films, as banal as they may seem on their own, have so much going that they become identifiable in a manner that affects us beyond anthropomorphism.

Kudos must also be given to the Images staff for locating, tracking down, and getting the original prints of these films. They were absolutely beautiful to witness and really added to the 'live' experience: we actually saw the original material as it was meant to be projected while a great band played right before our eyes. This was a great idea and a great way to end the festival. Fucked Up played overtop Tod Browning's West of Zanzibar (1928) last year, and this year we got Yo La Tengo with Painlevé. I can only wonder what next year will have to offer!

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