MEDIA

Miss Anthology teaches the power of comics

Fueled by a Precipice Fund grant, Miss Anthology puts storytelling in the hands of diverse teens

By HANNAH KRAFCIK

Sequential art has a magical quality that is difficult to describe. The most beloved American comics seem to pique the imagination in particular way, with a perfect mix of narrative and imagery that keeps the comic book reader coming back and the graphic novella lover hungry for more. But for Melanie Stevens, one of the founders of the Miss Anthology project, there is far more potency to sequential art-making than meets the eye.

Stevens is originally from Atlanta, and she’s currently finishing her MFA in Visual Studies at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. This winter, she and her collaborators Emily Lewis and Mack Carlisle were awarded a grant via Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Precipice Fund to kick off Miss Anthology, a project that will enable racially and economically diverse female and genderqueer youth, ages 13-18, to create their own stories through sequential art (aka comics). Miss Anthology will offer a series of comic-making workshops, followed by the publication of an anthology of graphic work this fall.

I sat down with Stevens in early March to discuss Miss Anthology. She has a background in graphic novels and comics, a field she turned to when she could not afford art supplies and did not have access to an art studio space. The DIY nature of comics offered her a way to make narrative work and share it online, avoiding a slew of gatekeepers.

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‘Heart of a Forest’: Navigating environmental understanding

Multimedia 'acoustic portrait' of Cascade forest explores the experience of nature, deforestation and more

“Music is a mirror we hold up to society,” says Paul D. Miller. “It shows us things we didn’t think about or engage with enough.”

Better known as DJ Spooky, Miller’s new project Heart of a Forest, which he performs this week in Portland, Bend, and Newport, wants us to think more about, and engage with the forests we Oregonians cherish, yet may take for granted.

“People take a lot for granted right now,” he says. “That’s a tragedy at the beginning of 21st century. The issue for me isn’t about information. Now we get plenty of that stuff from politicians. Trump and politicians in the southern states are denying climate change. The [Republican] governor of Florida has forbidden state employees to use the words. We have too much information. The problem now is how to navigate it in a compelling way. ”

DJ Spooky performs 'Heart of a Forest' this week in Portland, Bend, and Newport.

DJ Spooky performs ‘Heart of a Forest’ this week in Portland, Bend, and Newport.

For more than two decades, the composer / turntablist / multimedia artist /author has been brilliantly remixing music, images, science, history and a wide range of interests into acclaimed projects like Re-Birth of a Nation with Kronos Quartet. Often seen at universities, festivals like the Venice and Whitney Biennales, venues including Carnegie Hall, TED Talks and more, lately the creative polymath been exploring the interaction of nature and art and information.

“It’s such a pleasure working with scientists,” he says. “Scientists in the Oregon state forestry department are concerned about the human impact on nature. Scientists are more important than ever. They really care about information. Information is one of the critical tools for thinking about the world around us. Art and information are reflections of each other, and science is the bridge.”

Representatives from Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word at Oregon State University reached out to Miller after learning about his National Geographic Explorer Award and similar projects he’d shown at the Sundance Film Festival. They offered him an artist residency at the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest in the Cascade Range under the project’s Long-Term Ecological Reflections program, which for a dozen years has invited writers and artists to interact with environmental scientists, explore the forest, and write or create art. Beginning in fall 2015, Miller visited the forest in each season to get a sense of how the environment changed throughout the year.

The result: Heart of a Forest, which Miller calls “a composer’s response to how art and music can interact with science and nature.

“I wanted to explore how to remix some of the ways we think about traditional forms of music versus digital interpretation of nature,” he wrote in his artist’s statement. “I am inspired by Thoreau and the collision of data, sound, and new ways to think of the absence of ‘origins’ – no one owns the forest and the sounds that it inspires.”

Its initial expression was a score for chamber orchestra performed last May in Corvallis’s LaSells Stewart Center by the OSU Wind Ensemble while Miller mixed electronic music and images of the forest. Inspired by Thoreau, the multimedia production draws on both classical (including a sly Vivaldi quote) and electronic music influences and incorporates video shot by drones floating over the forest, which Miller edited to complement his music score. This week’s performances will use only two to four musicians, with Miller mixing in samples from that score, loops and other electronic elements along with the projected video. It will be followed by an onstage conversation with a forest ecologist.

Which raises the question faced by other composers from Oregon and the Northwest and beyond: how do you turn a landscape — in this case a forest — into a composition?

“I think of these projects as ‘acoustic portraits,’” Miller told ArtsWatch. “Some people will go into the forest with a mike and record the crickets and that’s the piece. That’s cool, but that’s been a done a lot over the last 40 years, so for me it was important to try different paths.”

Given his fascination with information, Miller’s starting point was clear. “I look at data as sonic palette,” he explains. “So first I looked at patterns: not just natural patterns but the history of American forestry, the ratio deforestation to reforestation. Then how people have looked at issues facing the forest and how that bleeds back into peoples view of materials. [Musical] instruments are made from wood. Violins set the tone for a lot of classical music and they were made at a certain time from wood from forests in Europe starting in the Renaissance. Other instruments are made from more current materials.” His forest music skillfully employs both ancient acoustic instruments and modern electronics and digital sampling and loops.

I spoke to Miller the morning after a national election that will likely change the course of environmental protection, and therefore affect the fate of humanity. It makes this multimedia exploration of our precious Oregon forest even more urgent. Miller’s multimedia project may help us navigate that information through the musical lens  — make that the musical mirror — of some pertinent lessons from his time in the forest and other natural settings like the Antarctic.

“I just tend to think humanity has a deep arrogance about its relationship to power,” he says. “We still think we can control nature. We might be foolish, like lemmings rushing off a cliff. But when I was in the forest, I felt humbled. Nature is not sad or bad or good or evil. We’re part of it. That’s what I learned from the forest. We’re part of it.”

DJ Spooky Performs Heart of a Forest on at 7 p.m. November 9 at  Cheatham Hall at Portland’s World Forestry Center, on November 10 at Newport Performing Arts Center, 777 W. Olive Street, Newport, and on November 11 at High Desert Museum, 59800 South Hwy 97, Bend.

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

HBO’s ‘Divorce’: Over-dressed and underprepared

Sarah Jessica Parker's new HBO series has taken the safe route and that's a problem

By KOURTNEY PARANTEAU

Whenever actors portray characters of landmark importance, their subsequent roles carry the ghost of those past performance. Take any of the actors who’ve donned James Bond’s three-piece suit, Seann William Scott, or Sarah Michelle Gellar. An audience’s expectation can haunt the plausibility of an actor’s presence outside of the role they’ve become synonymous with.

Perhaps no one knows this better than Sarah Jessica Parker. Although already a success prior to appearing as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City (1998-2004), her legacy in Hollywood will always be sealed with a Cranberry Kiss and the click of Manolo Blahniks.

Carrie Bradshaw and her three best friends forever altered the face of television; unapologetically feminine and graphically sexual, Sex and the City proved there was a market for a female-dominated cable show. Since its airing, shows like Girls, Damages, Broad City, and many more of their ilk carry Carrie’s legacy. Now, over a decade after its finale, Divorce reunites Parker with HBO and teams them with Catastrophe co-creator, Sharon Horgan.

Sarah Jessica Parker in HBO's DIVORCE/Courtesy HBO

Sarah Jessica Parker in HBO’s DIVORCE/Courtesy HBO

Delivering on its title, Divorce tracks the crumbling marriage of a couple just past middle age. After settling into roles as professionals, parents and homeowners, the pair have grown out of their partnership and now live under a veil of passive aggression and resentment-laden antagonism.

Frances (Parker) and Robert (Thomas Hayden Church), while attending a birthday party, brush against their own mortality, and for Frances, the flash of crisis sobers her on the comfortable haze of her current life. She blindsides her husband with the request of divorce. Long disillusioned with her marriage, Frances maintains an affair with a granola-making, Peter Pan type, performs a job she empathetically coasts through, and harbors aspiration of opening an art gallery. The oppositions between Frances’s husband and her lover, her job and her passion, make her appear lost in the maze of “having it all” feminism that popular culture wants, maniacally, to believe exists.

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Music@Home: Desktops and devices are the new venues

Burgeoning availability of live streams gives Oregon contemporary and classical music lovers home access to concerts from around the world

Story and screenshots by GARY FERRINGTON

As I grow older, I find it more difficult to go out on those dark, wet and blustery Oregon evenings to enjoy a concert of classical or contemporary music. Although I’d prefer sitting in a venue enjoying a live performance, I know it won’t always be possible. So, it is with much personal pleasure that I’ve discovered Internet live-streaming and have spent the last couple of years exploring the availability of both statewide and worldwide concert performances.

Live From Beall: Otis Murphy (Saxophone) and Haruko Murphy (Piano) May 17, 2016.

Live From Beall: Otis Murphy (Saxophone) and Haruko Murphy (Piano) May 17, 2016.

With the click of a mouse or a tap on a trackpad or screen, music lovers can connect to streams of live music performances from most anywhere around the world on the internet. From major international festivals and concerts overseas to two Oregon colleges taking the lead in bringing live performances online, viewers and listeners who may seldom or never be able to experience distant concert events have the option to do so on their computers or mobile devices. The increasing availability of live streaming offers real benefits, beyond mere convenience, to composers, musicians, and music lovers in Oregon and beyond.

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INTERVIEW: Vanessa Renwick talks “Next Level Fucked Up”

The veteran experimental filmmaker discusses her current installation at PAM, her upcoming retrospective at the NW Film Center, and the decline of Portland

Vanessa Renwick has been kicking ass for over twenty years. It says so right there in the name of her website, the Oregon Department of Kick Ass.

Using a variety of media, primarily film and video, she’s probed the uncomfortable intersection between nature and so-called civilization, the paradoxes of humanity’s relationship with the wild, and the shifting fortunes of her adoptive city, Portland. These concerns intertwine in Renwick’s newest installation, “Next Level Fucked Up,” which currently inhabits the Apex Gallery of the Portland Art Museum.

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Dead cert: an extra’s adventure in Grimmlandia

A first-time television actor discovers the real world in the fantasy of NBC’s made-in-Portland "Grimm": just lie down and play dead

By CYNTHIA D. STOWELL

Two days before NBC’s Grimm wrapped its fifth year of occupying the streets, cafés, forests, and psyches of Portland, good news came to the cast and crew: the show had been granted a sixth season. Cheers went up on Twitter and Instagram from actors who had settled into houses in their adopted city, and from writers who’d been indulging in black humor about the number of characters they were going to kill off before the “finale” (ominously, they weren’t saying “season finale”).

It had been making me nervous, both as a fan and as a recent performer on the show, so I celebrated, too—happy that I’d have another whole season of mythological beasts, intrepid detectives, and Black Claw revolutionaries to watch … but also relieved that my amateur acting hadn’t singlehandedly driven the show into the ground.

Magic in the "Grimm" makeup trailer was performed by Morgan Muta, makeup artist, Corinna Woodcock, key makeup artist, and Laura Loucks, department head makeup. Their wizardry transformed 64-year-old extra Cynthia Stowell into 90-year-old Summer Blake. (Morgue-worthy wig by Shelia Cyphers, department head hair, and Emie Otis, key hair.)

Magic in the “Grimm” makeup trailer was performed by Morgan Muta, makeup artist, Corinna Woodcock, key makeup artist, and Laura Loucks, department head makeup. Their wizardry transformed 64-year-old extra Cynthia Stowell into 90-year-old Summer Blake. (Morgue-worthy wig by Shelia Cyphers, department head hair, and Emie Otis, key hair.)

“Acting” is an exaggeration of my contribution to Season 5 of Grimm. It’s more accurate to say that I sat in a makeup chair for three hours, laid down, held my breath, and played dead. And got paid an amount that certainly didn’t bring NBC to the brink of financial ruin.

But for the three months I had to wait for my Skin Deep episode to air, I worried that I’d not looked dead enough, that I’d twitched a finger or flared a nostril, and that they’d had to replace me with someone who knew what she was doing. Never mind that almost any transgression of mine could have been corrected with editing or CGI. In my imagination, the whole success of that episode—and the entire future of the series—was resting on my wrinkled body.

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Travels with Wim: Northwest Film Center serves up a baker’s dozen of Wenders’ wonders

Dive into the German filmmaker's five-decade career with this month-long retrospective

The Northwest Film Center’s retrospective of the work of German filmmaker Wim Wenders, which runs from Friday, March 5 through Sunday, April 3, is called “Portraits Along the Road.” It’s an apt moniker for a series devoted to a director known for his peripatetic characters and his fascination with character studies and photography as a medium. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Wenders was born in August 1945, barely three months after the surrender of Nazi Germany. Like the other standard bearers of the New German Cinema who emerged in the late 1960s, being a member of the first German generation to have little or no memory of the war shaped his work in significant, not always readily apparent ways.

His characters are more likely than not to be uprooted souls travelling through a world they struggle to make sense of, and the temptation would be to describe them as symbolically running away from the past. Instead, though, it’s more like they’re on a railroad track parallel to history, where it can be contemplated but remains forever out of reach.

Rudiger Vogler in "Alice in the Cities"

Rudiger Vogler in “Alice in the Cities”

Wenders was one leg of a triangle–with Werner Herzog, born 1942, and Rainier Werner Fassbinder, born in May 1945—who played a huge role in revitalizing German film. (Other notables included Margarethe von Trotta and Volker Schlöndorff.) If you ever want to impress someone with your knowledge of New German Cinema, be sure to drop the phrase “Oberhausen Manifesto” into the conversation. It was a 1962 document, signed by 26 German filmmakers, that promised a new style of film “free from all usual conventions by the industry.”

Wenders didn’t sign the Oberhausen Manifesto (neither did Herzog nor Fassbinder), but he did graduate from high school in Oberhausen the year it was signed. Coming from a presumably comfortable background—his father was a surgeon—Wenders may seem an unlikely radical. And in fact his films demonstrate a more detached, ironic perspective than Herzog’s operatic portraits of derangement or Fassbinder’s overheated queer melodramas. But he was a quiet revolutionary in his way.

After studying painting in Amsterdam, he returned to Germany and graduated from the University of Television and Film Munich. His thesis film and first feature, completed in 1970, took its title from the Lovin’ Spoonful hit “Summer in the City.” In the early years of his career, at least, Wenders shared the simultaneous sense of fascination and repulsion towards America that has animated so many European artists of the postwar era.

This is especially evident in “Alice in the Cities,” the 1974 film that’s the best and most significant of the three early Wenders features screening during the retrospective’s first weekend. In its first act, a German journalist named Philip Winter (Rudiger Vogler) has been travelling around the U.S., taking Polaroid photos of its highways, byways, and forgotten souls. He smashes a hotel TV at one point, enraged at the commercial interruptions to classic Hollywood movies, and attends a Chuck Berry concert later on.

The homeward-bound Winter is delayed in New York by an air traffic controller strike, and he strikes up a friendship with a single mother about to return to Germany with her ten-year-old daughter. The mother abandons Alice to Winter’s care, and they spend the rest of the movie meandering around Germany in search of her grandmother.

This familiar set-up—grouchy adult man bonds with precocious young girl–often leads to either quirky sentimentality (“Paper Moon”) or queasy subtext (“Taxi Driver”). But in the hands of Wenders, Vogler, and juvenile actress Yella Rottländer, “Alice in the Cities” is a refreshingly unadorned story of unlikely friendship and a man reconnecting with the world. It also continued fruitful, long-lasting artistic relationships among Wenders, Vogler (who played characters named Philip Winter in several later films), and Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller, whose black-and-white images in “Alice” are a direct antecedent to his work on Jim Jarmusch’s “Strangers in Paradise.”

“Alice” is often cited as Wenders’ first “road movie,” the first in an unofficial trilogy including “The Wrong Move” and “Kings of the Road.” But his second feature, “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick,” also stars Vogler as man on the move. Here he’s a soccer goalie who abruptly shoves a referee during a match and is ejected. He then begins an aimless, amoral journey across Germany, committing an emotionless act of violence at one point that seems to neither haunt nor hinder him. It’s the sort of depiction of existential malaise that a 25-year-old who grew up in a society haunted by unspeakable violence might make, and I mean that in a good way.

“The Wrong Move,” like “Goalie,” is based on the writing of experimental novelist Peter Handke, and it’s the least audience-friendly of these opening three films in the Film Center’s series. Volger again stars, again as a writer wrestling with how to engage with the world, and the people, around him. Travelling from his hometown to Bonn, he assembles around him, without trying, a makeshift crew of eccentrics that includes an aging athlete who competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, the mute young acrobatic woman accompanying him (Natassja Kinski, in her film debut), and the beautiful object of our hero’s desire (Hanna Schygulla).

There’s something Pirandellian about this random, allegorical group, although Handke’s screenplay is actually adapted from Goethe’s “The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister.” Even with very little real narrative to cling to, it remains a compelling experience, though not Wenders’ most memorable.

“Portraits Along the Road” will continue to trace Wenders’ career over the next few weeks, from the peak of his art house popularity in the 1980s and 90s with “Wings of Desire” and “Until the End of the World” (presented in its rarely seen 5-hour director’s cut!) to his Oscar-nominated documentaries: “Buena Vista Social Club,” “Pina,” and 2014’s “Salt of the Earth.” Along the way, there will be opportunities to see rarities including 1977’s “The Left-Handed Woman” (directed by Handke and produced by Wenders), 1982’s “The State of Things” (co-starring Sam Fuller), and 1985’s “Tokyo-ga,” a worshipful meditation on the cinema of Yasujiro Ozu.

The final moments of “Alice in the Cities” were shot from a helicopter, starting out focused on the face of Vogler in the window of a train and then rising into the sky. The opening of “The Wrong Move” is another helicopter shot, traversing the rooftops of a small town before settling on Vogler, again behind glass. He immediately shatters the window he’s looking out of, and soon embarks on his journey. These are the sorts of synchronicities that become apparent when you immerse yourself in the work of a film artist of Wenders’ caliber. There should be plenty more.

 

(“The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick” screens at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 4; “The Wrong Move” screens at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 5; “Alice in the Cities” screens at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 6; all at the Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. For a full schedule of “Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road,” visit www.nwfilm.org)