Nathan Goldman (managing editor): Before 2020, I went to see live music as often as possible. When the pandemic arrived, canceling tours and shutting down venues, it resulted in the longest stretch I’ve spent away from shows since I was 14. After catching two concerts in late 2021—when widespread vaccine availability made packing into a room of strangers feel reasonable again—I went back into lockdown at the beginning of 2022, with the premature arrival of my twin sons. Since then, I’ve settled for the occasional livestream, biding my time until I could return to the real thing.
I finally ventured out to a show on Monday night, when I caught Sunset Rubdown at the Fine Line in my home city of Minneapolis. One of my favorite bands since high school, Sunset Rubdown began in 2005 as the solo project of Spencer Krug, one of the two main singers and songwriters in Montreal indie rock mainstays Wolf Parade—he’s the one with the warbling voice you’ll hear leading songs like “I’ll Believe in Anything” and “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son.” Krug, along with Jordan Robson-Cramer, Michael Doerksen, and Camilla Wynne Ingr (of the underappreciated indie pop band Pony Up!) made three excellent albums of increasingly elaborate art rock, marked by intricate, often bombastic compositions and Krug’s dense, surreal lyrics. The group disbanded unceremoniously in 2009, before I ever got a chance to see them, and reunited at the end of last year. (Fittingly for a band whose songs often traverse mystical terrain, Krug says the reunion was inspired by a dream.)
After more than a decade of hoping I’d have this opportunity and years of nearly no live music, my expectations were high, but the show exceeded them. The sound was pristine and the performers’ enthusiasm clear as they rocketed through a set list of tracks that spanned their brief catalog, from the anthemic desperation of “Stadiums and Shrines II” to the manic jubilation of “The Mending of the Gown.” The audience’s energy matched the band’s, as attendees bounced and swayed, mouthing or shouting along with Krug’s knotty lyric; it seemed that nearly everyone else had also been eagerly anticipating this day. Standing in the crowd, catching glimpses of those around me, I had the strange sense that something latent had been activated in all these neighbors I’d never met—that this band’s return from the dead had assembled a community that had been there all along, waiting.
Cynthia Friedman (operations manager): A few weeks ago—seemingly out of nowhere—I had the thought, “I’d love to get high and watch Fantasia.” I am an infrequent smoker, and I had not seen the animated classic since I was a kid, but I remembered loving it. Fantasia is a series of seven orchestral arrangements accompanied by cartoon vignettes, and the only dialogue in the film comes in between scenes, when the silhouette of a conductor, flanked by his orchestra, earnestly provides context for each piece in the program. I had not realized that it was first released in 1940, and that it was Disney’s third-ever animated feature (Snow White and Pinocchio were the first and second). Rewatching it now, it feels clear that Fantasia was created during a special, early period of experimentation in commercial studio animation. It’s artwork created for art’s sake, brought into the world simply because a group of people thought it would be beautiful.
I gathered a small group of friends to watch the movie last weekend. If you have seen Fantasia before and are planning a rewatch, I can’t recommend enough doing it with people who have never seen the film! It was fun to witness their joy at the moving images on the screen. One friend had been scared of it as a child, citing the violence of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” the canonical vignette where Mickey Mouse, as the titular apprentice, brings a broomstick to life to help him fill a well—only for everything to go terribly awry. Truthfully, that’s my least favorite piece of the bunch; the logic of the story feels more disciplinary than compassionate. The group also agreed that it might have been more enjoyable had Mickey not been the lead. (Eighty years ago, his inclusion may have been a cute or winking addition; today, his figure feels overdetermined with the power of the multi-billion dollar Disney empire.)
My fond memories of the movie largely held up, and it was interesting to revisit some of my early impressions. My absolute favorite vignette remains the penultimate “Dance of the Hours,” which features hippos who, clad in ballet flats and tutus, daintily, playfully pirouette and drowsily float on bubbles. I have an analysis now for why I love it—having to do with the intersections of fat positivity, bodily autonomy, and gender performance—but I had none of that language then; I just knew that I loved it. Similarly, the gracefulness of the fairies in “The Nutcracker Suite”—as they turn the green leaves into autumn hues and, later, light their surroundings with frost and snowflakes—is as visually stunning as I remember. However, now that I’ve migrated from the West Coast to the East, the changing leaves are no longer an abstract concept, but a referent to part of my experience of the world.
There were places, too, where the film showed its age. In a piece set in prehistoric times, the music climaxes just its characters—a set of imposing dinosaurs—die out from a series of natural disasters, including a widespread drought. It had never occurred to me, really, that there was a time before scientists understood that it was a meteor strike that catalyzed prehistoric mass extinction. In a more damning mark of its era—as one of my friends showed us, pulling up images on his phone—the original film included a caricatured Black centaur in “The Pastoral Symphony,” who serves the other (lighter-skinned or pastel hued) centaurs, as they primp and preen in preparation to meet potential mates. According to our research, she was excised from the film as of the 1969 re-release. I feel my review would be incomplete without mentioning this, and pointing out the subsequent absence of any Black representation. The centaurs’ storyline was also, unsurprisingly, completely heteronormative, but that didn’t stop my friends and I from lovingly chatting about the trans and lesbian couples we spotted among them.
Overall, it’s incredible that the film remains legible and a pleasure to watch. Next up: Fantasia 2000, the sequel produced for the 60th anniversary of its predecessor’s premier. I remember adoring the vignette set to “Rhapsody in Blue,” which includes characters colliding with each other as they traipse and skate through a bustling New York City. Now, having lived here for almost a decade, I still catch myself enchanted by the dynamism and chaos of the urban landscape. I’m looking forward to seeing what feels familiar and what resonates anew.
Mitch Abidor (contributing writer): In 2011, the Hungarian director Béla Tarr retired from filmmaking after completing The Turin Horse, a brilliant account of the later life of the horse Friedrich Nietzsche embraced as he descended into his final madness, a film Tarr co-directed with his wife, Ágnes Hranitzky. Tarr was only 56 when he left cinema for good, and his final films stand at the heights of 21st-century cinema—among them Werckmeister Harmonies, also co-directed by Hranitzky. Originally released in 2000, the film is now showing at Lincoln Center in a newly restored version.
Like all of Tarr’s most important works, Werckmeister Harmonies was co-written by the novelist Lászlo Krasznahorkai (and is based on his book The Melancholy of Resistance). Their collaboration is perhaps the most important one between a great writer and cineaste there has ever been, except for the brief partnership between Peter Handke and Wim Wenders. In Werckmeister Harmonies—as in Tarr’s 1994 adaptation of Krasznahorkai’s classic novel Sátántangó—their visions blend perfectly. Tarr’s cinematic aesthetic is a correlative of Krasznahorkai’s literary one, and vice versa; they are artistic twins separated at birth. Both men are preoccupied with the brutal conditions of the Hungarian countryside and those who inhabit it, and Krasznahorkai’s bleak, winding prose matches Tarr’s visual style—his long takes, the stark chiaroscuro of black-and-white cinematography—as each portrays a desperate, degrading world.
In Werckmeister Harmonies, the main character, János, is a kind of naïf, a man who lives in an unnamed town in which he is clearly not accepted by those around him. His uncle György, the local intellectual, is a composer obsessed with the horrors inflicted on humanity by the imperfection of the musical scale. A circus arrives, displaying a preserved whale, which enthralls János and no one else. While he waits to be the first to visit the specimen, hostile locals—followers of another member of the circus, The Prince—fill the square, and we soon learn that they are bent on the destruction of their town.
The ignorant masses’ blind following of ignoble leaders is a theme dear to Krasznahorkai, and Tarr deepens the darkness of his own vision to accommodate it: Joyless, intoxicated revels feature prominently in his films, but here the scale is expanded from the usual crowd of local drunks at a bar. The centerpiece of the film is a lengthy shot of the residents marching together to sack the town, and as the camera moves along with the crowd, Tarr portrays them as a body acting as one, with their cries adding to the terror they inspire. (Sound is always brilliantly manipulated in Tarr’s films.) Inexplicably, the townspeople attack the local hospital, beating up patients and destroying equipment, before returning home sheepishly, their senseless dreams fulfilled. This violent outburst drives János—the representative of decency—mad, and his uncle abandons his war on classical tuning. Goodness and thought have been vanquished.
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And Jewish Currents contributor and nightlight producer Fancy Feast is co-hosting an all-star, anything-goes, highbrow-meets-lowbrow burlesque and variety extravaganza on Sunday, June 4th at 7:30 at the Abrons Arts Center headlined by Drag Race winner Sasha Velour! The Fuck You Revue’s JEWTOPIA is co-produced by the New Jewish Culture Fellowship and the Jewish Museum of Maryland as part of “Material/Inheritance,” an exhibition of boundary-pushing, community-building contemporary Jewish art. You can buy tickets here, and if you’re in New York, you should check it out!