2018 Updates

2018 in Review: October

This month: dancing witches, animation, indie games, war comics, mass extinction, and more.

The Viscerally Uncomfortable Feeling of Being Transported to My Christian Upbringing

I’ve had a lot of would-be harrowing experiences while exploring the immersive theater scene. Haunts and horror shows are its most popular genre, after all. A demon once pissed on me (pretty sure it was only water). A raving woman sat on my chest and bellowed directly into my face. A cult member had me post a Facebook update claiming I was somewhere I wasn’t, i.e. establishing an alibi for them in the event of my disappearance. One show had me remove a blindfold to discover I was sitting in a bathroom next to a “dead” naked woman in a tub whom I had apparently murdered. I once went through a simulation of being buried alive.

None of these things made me as viscerally uncomfortable as Rochester, 1996, a family drama that has far more in common with indie movies than with Sleep No More.

The World’s Largest Indie Video Game Festival Is Still Taking Risks

IndieCade is the world’s largest festival of independent games. Each year, it brings together some of the most accomplished creators of video games, board and card games, VR and AR experiences, and multiple permutations of all of these. As major game publishers grow increasingly risk-averse (sticking to a general format within shooters, open-world games, and the like), events like this offer new ways for the medium to expand creatively. Once again, we paid a visit to this year’s festival to see what was on display.

The space is designed to emphasize the common plight these animals share, though not all bear the same existential burden (some are endangered, while others are currently less of a concern). A common arctic fox hangs near an endangered newt. The creatures are often framed looking into the camera, and hence there’s a low-key confrontational feel to many of them. A recurring question posed to visitors is how many of these animals they can bear losing to the current age of human-driven mass extinction.
Last year, the Animation is Film Festival made an auspicious debut in Hollywood, packing some of the best of contemporary animation into one weekend. Now the festival returns for its sophomore effort, with programmers from the film distributor GKIDS and the Annecy Film Festival again highlighting some of the most innovative and unusual animated films from around the world. This year in particular, the festival has done an excellent job of bringing together movies with radically distinct visual styles and a common sense of down-to-earth humanism.
The result is a film with some interesting ideas left adrift, like dancers on a stage that’s far too large for them to move across efficiently. One of the movie’s many odder moves is that it takes the original’s dance company setting — a purely functional backdrop than anything else — and puts it front and center. This is actually more about dance than witches. In fact, it’s about many things before it’s about witches. Another throwaway element of the original that’s brought to the fore here is the time and place. Argento’s Suspiria was set in Germany but could have been anywhere, whereas this one incorporates events of the German Autumn of 1977 into its story and themes. Political violence is frequently in the background of various scenes, and references are also made to the residual effects of the Third Reich on German society. Dance company director Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) asserts that such times have shown that in art, “We must break the nose of every beautiful thing,” and incorporates this sensibility into the company’s (literally) ritualistic performance Volk.

“Susie loses herself when she’s dancing, completely. There’s a side of her that is very, very wild. She’s been contained her whole life, and being a technical dancer is not something that she was brought up knowing. She doesn’t have formal training, so this is all intuitive. It’s all emotion. When she’s dancing, it’s as though she’s speaking her native tongue.”

The Spectacular Power of Movies with Epic Runtimes

The China Onscreen Biennial is a relatively new program which brings the latest in Chinese film to multiple cities in the US. The stated mission of the series is to encourage “cross-cultural dialogue through the art of the moving image” — a relevant concern given current strained relations between the US and China. This year, the fourth iteration of the event, has a particularly strong lineup, bringing in a number of films that have dominated the international festival circuit.

New Publisher Dead Reckoning Tries a Big Entrance to the War Genre

Since Dead Reckoning is an offshoot of the Naval Institute Press, the publishing arm of the U.S. Naval Institute, one might peruse these graphic novels with a suspicious eye. What’s the angle? Where’s the propaganda? The USNI isn’t part of the government or military, but a good deal of its leadership consists of retired Navy or Marine members. War comics have experienced a boom in first-person accounts and journalistic ventures in recent years, but comics coming from an “official” source will for many conjure images memories of Superman hawking war bonds and Captain America punching Hitler. But both Trench Dogs and The ‘Stan are aware of and in conversation with this history. They aren’t dashed-off efforts, but involve talented artists not previously known for working in this genre. Dead Reckoning, then, is asserting their seriousness as a comics publisher.

An Archive Restores and Resurrects Hollywood’s Earliest Indie Films

“These smaller studios provided the B movies on double bills, but they also supplied the theaters in the sticks, a circuit called “state’s rights.” The rights were sold not to a national chain like Loew’s, which distributed all of MGM’s film, or Paramount, which distributed, of course, Paramount films, but to small companies buying films for individuals states and distribution there. The producers would make films in 10 days to two weeks. They would have budgets of around $50,000, whereas the big Hollywood features at that time cost $200,000 or more. They’d shoot them quick and dirty, and then they would be shown at the bottom of a double bill or in little theaters in the countryside.”

By Dan Schindel

Born and raised in Maryland and currently based in New York, Dan Schindel is an associate editor at Hyperallergic, freelance culture writer, and available for any copy-editing/proofreading needs you may have. This website was originally a blog called Days of Docs, and chronicled his attempt to watch and review a documentary every single day for a whole year. He was mostly successful at this, and now he knows everything. He puts this knowledge to use by writing about movies, TV, games, books, comics, art, and more.