Jeff Tweedy at the Henry Fonda Theater

With Wilco on a brief hiatus, Jeff Tweedy must be feeling restless
again. This year he’s revisiting the myriad side projects that often
confound fans of his critically slobbered band: another record with his
Albert Ayler–meets–Poco trio Loose Fur, another whimsical collaboration
with Scott McCaughey’s Minus 5, and another back-porch jam session with
alt-rock supergroup Golden Smog. Tweedy’s ever-changing set lists on
this brief solo tour have thus far unveiled new tunes like “Is That the
Thanks I Get?” and “The Ruling Class” as well as Smog faves,
underplayed Wilcoia, Uncle Tupelo chestnuts and a cover of Mott the
Hoople’s “Henry and the H Bombs,” a song he’s been doing since Wilco’s
first tour in 1995. Tweedy’s band mates open both shows: drummer Glenn
Kotche on Sunday night and prodigal-son guitarist Nels Cline on Monday.
6126 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. (213) 480-3232. (Matthew Duersten)

Eleni Mandell at Tangier

Eleni Mandell comes in many guises. There’s the noirish underground romantic from such early albums as Thrill and Snakebite,
her languorous phrasing accented by her softly decisive acoustic-guitar
strokes. Then there’s the warmly inviting down-home cowgirl of Country for True Lovers, contrasted by the late-night jazzbo captured on 2004’s smoke-filled Maybe, Yes EP. The local singer-songwriter reveled in her breezy pop side on Sex, Fashion and Money,
the 2005 debut CD by the Grabs, a side project with Blondie’s Nigel
Harrison and W.A.C.O.’s Steve Gregoropoulous. Miss Eleni even rocks out
on occasion, as with her seductively glammed-up version of Cole
Porter’s “I Love Paris,” from Paris Hilton’s notorious burger-chain TV
ad. At heart, though, Mandell is an unrepentantly dreamy balladeer with
a gift for cinnamon-streaked, horchata-sweet melodies. Expect to meet
all of these personas during this monthlong Tangier residency, where
she’s backed by a full band. (Falling James)


Gajin Fujita and Pablo Vargas Lugo are clearly in the forefront of a
pan-Pacific sensibility, marrying Mexico to the Far East. Fujita, an
east-Los native, weds his heredity to his environment with outsize
renditions of Japanese visual pop, from ukiyo-e to anime, overlaid with
bold graffiti tags. The cultures smash but don’t clash, roiling
together in noisy concert, the eye-candy equivalent of koto sampling
hip-hop. Mexico City–based Vargas Lugo takes a subtler approach to
bridging the pond, slyly infusing an already abstracted Latin urban
sensibility with a delicacy of line and image he attributes to the
models of Pacific-Asian art. For all his soft-spoken deftness, though,
Vargas Lugo produces works — out of concrete, music paper, outsize
light boxes — as big and crisp and in-your-face as Fujita’s
billboard-size paintings. There’s more here than meets the yo. At
LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Mon.-Tues. and Thurs., noon-8 p.m., Fri.,
noon-9 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; thru Feb. 12. (323) 857-6000.
(Peter Frank)


Purporting to be the autobiography of a man more inclined toward
discussing the difficulty of writing an autobiography than actually
writing one, and who tends to reminisce about events that occurred
before he was even born, Laurence Sterne’s 18th-century novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
departs from the narrative straight and narrow early on, never to
return. Momentary asides lead to parenthetical digressions that blossom
into full-blown anecdotes that eventually loop back over themselves, by
which time we’ve ended up somewhere entirely other than where we
thought we were going. As Sterne, writing as Shandy, said of his own
penchant for straying off course: “Digressions, incontestably, are the
sunshine — they are the life, the soul of reading, — take them out of
this book for instance, — you might as well take the book along with
them.” But I digress. For the matter at hand is not Tristram Shandy
the book, but rather the remarkably fecund film that has been made from
it — in spite of the conventional wisdom that even to attempt such an
endeavor would surely prove a fool’s errand. Foolhardy British director
Michael Winterbottom and his frequent screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce
(here collaborating under the pseudonym Martin Hardy) have responded to
Sterne’s daunting fragmentation by fragmenting it all the further. What
begins as a note-perfect Shandy
adaptation (starring the game-faced Steve Coogan as both the title
character and his father, Walter) soon gives way to a behind-the-scenes
chronicle of the making of said film, complete with its own
Winterbottomesque auteur (Jeremy Northam), an insecure star (Coogan
again) trying to distance himself from his sitcom past, and an eager
co-star (the delightful Rob Brydon) yearning for his moment in the sun.
(Plus, lest I forget, a last-minute cameo — both in the movie and in
the movie-within-the-movie — by Gillian Anderson.) The layering of the
real and the reel is as intricate as in Adaptation or The Stunt Man, but underneath the movie’s tricky hall-of-mirrors surface lies a warm, delicate and, yes, distinctly Shandy-esque
portrait of the struggle of creation, the general folly of human
endeavor and the infrequency with which our lives turn out as we would
have scripted them. By not even attempting to follow Sterne to the
letter, Winterbottom and Boyce have triumphantly captured his impish
creative spirit. (ArcLight; Monica 4-Plex)


Jonathan Demme’s superb film of Neil Young’s 2005 performance at
Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium is as fervent a musical homage as was
Demme’s bubbly tribute to the Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense (1984).
But this new concert movie is also a warm, unhurried paean to the
considered pains and pleasures of middle age — as much, one senses, for
the director (who shot it while taking a year off from filmmaking after
The Manchurian Candidate), as for his subject. Aside from a sprinkling
of the old favorites (“Four Strong Winds” — the only number the
musician didn’t write himself — “Old Man” and the title song) that made
many of us fall in love with Young long before our joints began to
creak, Heart of Gold is far from a nostalgia trip. No big deal is made
of the near-fatal brain aneurysm that spurred Young to sit down and
write the melodies collected on his well-received Prairie Wind album.
Still, the crisis is all there in songs about marriage (Young’s wife,
Pegi, sings and plays guitar onstage with the band), his father’s
dementia, what it’s like to be a “rich hippie” and his empty nest, as
well as in those about 9/11, Chris Rock and the golden wheat fields
depicted in backdrops specially designed for the movie (and flooded
with the mellow amber light of cinematographer Ellen Kuras’ lyrical
camera). Along with Bruce Springsteen, Young is our most durable
troubadour of the ordinary, yet I doubt that anyone but his wry,
endearingly shambling self will ever dismiss him as an old-fart rocker.
As much a champion of punk as of country music, Young keeps on growing
without ever pandering to his audience or abandoning the old friends
he’s played with, in some cases, for 30 years. As they gather onstage,
guitars in hand, for the quietly thrilling finale, Demme tracks from
face to face (among them Emmylou Harris in all her precise, bony
beauty) and instrument to instrument, honoring the collaborative spirit
that goes into the making of a song. (ArcLight) (Ella Taylor)

Histoire(s) Du Cinema 

Arriving in the U.S. nearly a decade after its completion, Jean-Luc
Godard’s monumental six-part essay film–cum–incantatory tone poem —
originally conceived as JLG’s response to the 100th birthday of cinema
— stands as a pivotal, summary, perhaps even climactic, work in its
maker’s career, and thus in the history of film. Through a barrage of
visual and musical quotations, and using some of the most complicated
and evocative montage of his career, Godard addresses — passionately,
sometimes pessimistically and always with his characteristic slyness —
the cinema that intoxicated him as a child, that he upbraided and
fetishized as an iconoclastic young critic, and that he almost
single-handedly revolutionized as a filmmaker. Everything Godard
considers is part of one gigantic, category-smashing continuity of
ideas and images: film, art, literature, music. He can leap from
19th-century French painting and the rise of industrialism (“The 19th
century, which invented every technique, also invented stupidity . .
.”) to cleverly shuffled clips from his personal masters (Nicholas Ray,
Jean Vigo, Von Stroheim, Griffith, Hitchcock, Dovzhenko and Robert
Aldrich) and, of course, his own movies — all interleaved with Gaugins
and Giottos, cheesy porno footage and newsreel images from the
20th-century atrocities that Godard accuses the cinema of being unable
or unwilling to record or prevent. (For example, we see Errol Flynn,
then the slogan “CAPTAIN BLOOD,” then Hitler himself — connections,
connections!) Always we return from these rhythmic, free-associative
digressions to the director smoking cigars in his book-filled study,
intoning the chantlike, quasi-poetic aperçus that redirect and revivify
his discourse. The density of JLG’s editing, his eye-opening
juxtapositions of image against sound — and, through his many
back-and-forth lap dissolves, of image against image and sound against
sound — repeatedly amaze you with their shocking inventiveness. At one
point, a Monet painting of a sylvan stream appears, then footage of
German soldiers fording a similar stream in the summer of 1940, while
the flickering dissolves make it seem as though the Nazis are invading
Giverny itself — a staggering metaphorical violation in Godard’s eyes.
There is a bracing provocation like this every other minute in Histoire(s),
a film packed with astounding assertions, moments of searing poetry,
and tart political analysis. It takes five hours to watch, but a
lifetime may be needed to ponder and plumb its seemingly bottomless,
but ultimately fathomable, depths. The superlative for once is fully
warranted: masterpiece. (UCLA Film and Television Archive; Chapters 1 & 2 — Fri., Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m.; Chapters 3 & 4 — Sun., Feb. 12, 7 p.m. (John Patterson)

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