Sunday, 26 January 2014

TESLA IN NEW YORK - Greg Klymkiw's Report on the World Premiere of the work-in-progress Opera collaboration between filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and composer Phil Kline at the Centennial Concert Hall, January 26, 2014 during the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival

History is made in Historic Winnipeg,
the Forgotten Winter City of Death, Dreams and Dashed Hopes

"MUSIC is the most beautiful form of artistic expression.
FILM is the most closely related artistic form to music.
IMAGINATION is always the beginning of any
Artistic or Scientific endeavour."
Tesla in New York (2014) *****
World Premiere - A work-in-progress of the New Opera
A Collaboration Between Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and Composer Phil Kline
Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival
Centennial Concert Hall - January 26, 2014
Artistic Directors and Curators: Alexander Mickelthwaite and Matthew Patton

Report By Greg Klymkiw

TESLA IN NEW YORK: Metal Machine Music on Lithium
A night sky, an ocean, wisps of white and a blue, so radiantly, yet alternately nocturnal and aquatic, cast a glow upon a stage empty of human figures on a landscape of instruments, music stands, speakers and amps - all standing forlorn in silhouette, waiting to be held, caressed and lovingly brought to life by the warmth of a human touch as the vaguely industrial aural pulsations of an unsettling drone wash over all in its path. It's like Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music" on Lithium - so uneasy, so disorienting, yet so lulling - a magnet drawing us closer to either death or rebirth. Or both.

This is the appetizer to the main course of several new musical pieces performed by a myriad of brilliant, talented performers which, in turn reflects the public world premiere of the beginnings of a new opera entitled Tesla in New York, a collaboration between film director Jim Jarmusch and composer Phil Kline. These childhood chums, now well into their august years, have come together, bearing the armament of their mutual love, appreciation and admiration of the legendary inventor Nikola Tesla.

The performance is unveiled in the acoustically rich Centennial Concert Hall and though, in typical Winnipeg fashion, a Winnipeg Jets game proves to be enough of a rival that the 2000+ seats appear mostly empty - save for about one half the capacity of the majestic hall's Orchestra level - those Winter City denizens who are not eyeball-glued to the town's newly-restored-to-NHL-glory Jets are treated to an event of such artistic magnitude that they will carry the memories of it to their progeny and subsequent generations, long before they flutter away to their eventual respective deaths with the sounds and images of a work that seems destined for greatness, dancing across their cerebella and into the warm, white light that awaits us all.

This was, to coin a phrase from one of my mentors, the late, great Meyer Nackimson, the legendary octogenarian film distributor who refused to retire and ran the MGM/UA distribution branch office on Hargrave Street in Winnipeg until he was forced to leave the movie business when the office was completely shut down in the late 80s:

"Kid, Estelle and I saw the picture, the other night and it was ONE HELLUVA GOOD SHOW!"

Though what we witnessed was indeed one helluva good show, it was not a motion picture in the traditional sense (and the late Meyer and wife Estelle could have only viewed the proceedings from the Heavens), Tesla in New York was most definitely a profoundly moving experience. Like so much great art presented within the picture-perfect magic of the proscenium, it was a visual and aural treat that made expert use of the stage in terms of the placement of singers, musicians and conductor/artistic director Alexander Mickelthwate (adorned ever-so stylishly in a perfectly fitting suit of Winnipeg Grey as he wielded his mighty baton).

The simple, but beautifully focused and operated lighting cast its sweet glow over the renderings of exquisite music whilst, most notably, the aqua-blue screen morphed into an astounding montage of early Edison motion picture footage, edited by Deco Dawson (who, according to Jarmusch, has "liquid hands") and Matthew Patton (the New Music Festival's fancifully chimeric co-curator) and under the guidance of Mr. Jarmusch himself (who self-decribed his own words of directions in this matter as an "oblique strategy").

Oblique or otherwise, it all pays off.

With Mickelththwaite and company, plus the audience itself, being enveloped in the historic Edison footage (stolen for this production on, it seems, Tesla's behalf in a perverse retaliatory act for all that Edison stole from Tesla - and, in fact, what Edison pilfered from pretty much everybody), I simply cannot imagine any subsequent production of this work without motion picture footage.

Though I was somewhat embarrassed to have used the cliched word "electric" to describe the production to Messrs. Mickelthwaite and Patton in their sumptuous Green Room after the show (well stocked with a fridge full of lovely spring water from the majestic Loni Beach in Gimli, Manitoba), I think, in retrospect, that it's perfectly fine to have used "electric" to describe the performance of Tesla in New York. Tesla, the Serbian inventor from Croatia who eventually found fame in the New World was nothing if not the Father of all things electric (in spite of Edison's thefts) and it felt to me like the music and the performance were definitely infused with the very quality of electricity - aurally, emotionally, thematically and yes, at times, even visually.

Take, for example, the stunning, partially improvised Overture wherein Mickelthwate guided singers and musicians alike to provide both melody and a fluffy, comfy bed for the onstage extension of the Lou-Reed-like Metal Machine Music drones in the pre-show. Kline and Jarmusch took to opposite ends of the stage and created some of the most haunting electric guitar feedback I've yet to experience - signalling precisely what this show feels like it's all about - the force and power of electricity and all the ramifications and permutations of its magic as borne from the mad genius of Tesla's mind, and to put a perfectly appropriate fine point to it - Tesla's boundless imagination.

Once the several pieces beyond this staggering overture began, one could, at points, gently close one's eyes and launch into a very private place in our respective imaginations to recreate Teslas's heart and soul, allowing Kline's often heartbreaking and alternately, elatedly-soaring score to take us to those hidden, magical places of what Nikola Tesla wrought for us all, but what, he in fact, wrought for himself. The evening's musicians and singers were all in superb and inspired form, but it would be remiss of me to not make special mention of the stunning work wrought by mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek whose voice took us to places of both darkness and romance.

I must also single out counter tenor David James (of the astonishing a cappella Hilliard Ensemble who so gorgeously opened the evening's program). James feels like he fits this score like a glove. When I think of Tesla, I am always infused with thoughts of madness, genius, passion and an overwhelming sense of the unrequited (in terms of both love AND career). James took me to places I both wanted to be and didn't want to be and I can think of no better approach to a figure as important and complex as Nikola Tesla.

In all, the importance of this event to the cultural fabric of our new century seems clear. This was history in the making and from this point forward, one can but marvel and dream as to what magic will ultimately be wrought when Kline and Jarmusch move forward with this work that will explore one of the great human beings to have ushered us all into the 20th Century.

Now, however, as we face in this 21st Century both the power and danger of manmade resources and accomplishments, Tesla seems even more vital a figure for us to consider. To do so with art, with imagination, with music, with a myriad of multi-media and live performance seems very much a no-brainer. After the evening's performance, Jarmusch cited the following inventions as the greatest manmade accomplishments: "Mapping the human venom, the Hubble telescope, the electric guitar and the bikini." One would like to think Tesla might approve.

Good Goddamn! My appetite has been whetted.

The buffet will follow and it will be sumptuous.

"Tesla in New York", a collaboration between Phil Kline and Jim Jarmusch is currently a work-in-progress for an opera that will eventually take the world by storm. Thanks to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival, the first gold bricks have been laid down to take all of us to the Castle of Operatic Oz - a place of beauty, of imagination and wonder. Nikola Tesla himself would have it no other way.

A similar scene to the one experienced by Jim Jarmusch and others in New York during the 70s and 80s and captured in the documentary BLANK CITY as well as many other works in the "Forgotten Winnipeg" series was happening in Winnipeg wherein a very cool explosion in indie underground cinema that I and many colleagues and friends were involved with was spawned. This period, coined by film critic Geoff Pevere as Prairie Post-Modernism included the works of John Paizs, Guy Maddin, Greg Hanec and many others.

A great selection of early Guy Maddin, many of which that I produced and were written by George Toles, can be secured directly through the following links:

Another great film from Winnipeg during this period is Greg Hanec's extraordinary DOWNTIME which has the distinction of being a parallel cinematic universe to Jim Jarmusch's "STRANGER THAN PARADISE". Both films were made at the same time in two completely different cities and scenes and both Hanec and Jarmusch premiered their films at the same time at the Berlin Film Festival. One's famous, the other isn't - but now that the "lost" and "found" DOWNTIME has been remastered from original elements to DVD, it can now be purchased directly online.

Order DOWNTIME directly from the film's new website by clicking HERE

Perhaps the greatest Canadian independent underground filmmaker of all-time is Winnipeg's John Paizs. It's virtually impossible to secure copies of his astounding work which, frankly, is responsible for influencing the work of Guy Maddin, David Lynch, Bruce McDonald and an endless number of great indie filmmakers the world over. Paizs' great short film SPRINGTIME IN GREENLAND is available for purchase in a beautiful remastered edition from a fan website, the inimitable Frank Norman. Norman has Paizs' blessing to provide copies of the film, so feel free to directly make your request to Mr. Norman by clicking HERE.

Visit Frank Norman's CRIME WAVE
fan site by clicking HERE

Alas, it's super-impossible to get a copy of Paizs' masterpiece CRIME WAVE (not to be confused with the super-awful Coen Bros/Sam Raimi film of the same name that was released the same year Paizs' film was NOT released properly by its scumbag Canadian distributor Norstar Releasing, which eventually became Alliance Films (where the boneheads sat on the film and turned down several excellent offers from small indie companies to release the film properly on DVD in super-deluxe special editions because they lazily purported to be negotiating a massive package deal on its catalogue titles with some tiny scumbag public domain company that, as far as I can tell, has neither purchased nor released the film). This truly great and highly influential film is, no doubt, languishing in some boneheaded distribution purgatory within the deep anal cavities of the new owner of Alliance Films, a humungous mega-corporation called E-One. Feel free to repeatedly bug their stinking asses and demand a proper release. In the meantime, VHS copies of CRIME WAVE can still be found with the ludicrous title THE BIG CRIME WAVE. Here's a copy available on Amazon:

BLANK CITY and other works in the "Forgotten Winnipeg" Series can be accessed here: