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Ulysses’ Gaze

Ulysses’ Gaze

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For their sixth studio album, Marauder, Interpol brought in an outside producer for the first time in over a decade. Dave Fridmann, best known for his work with Mercury Rev and the Flaming Lips, encouraged the New York trio to commit their music to analog tape by recording over each previous take in a process frontman Paul Banks has referred to as “destructive recording.” The result is an album with the urgent, organic feel of a live performance.

Though Interpol’s music has leaned more heavily on a guitar-driven sound since founding member and bassist Carlos Dengler left the band in 2010, the rhythm section still plays an integral role on Marauder. Sam Fogarino’s drums often counterbalance Daniel Kessler’s alternatingly raspy and squealing lead guitar riffs to create a thrillingly unwieldy sound that—like the impulse-driven characters at the heart of these songs—threatens to careen out of control.

The band takes a more upbeat musical approach here than usual, but the album’s chugging rhythms and lively tempos belie some rather bleak lyrical content. Thematically, Marauder focuses on both the thrill and threat posed by an unbridled id, with the titular reckless persona—described by Banks as an unhinged, pernicious facet of his own personality—resurfacing throughout.

On “Stay in Touch,” Fogarino’s syncopated drumming adds an off-kilter beat to the song’s craggy guitar riff, evoking a sense of sonic instability as Banks sings of the unpredictable, nefarious marauder, who’s described here as someone who breaks bonds and “negates hope.” And the album’s lead single, “The Rover,” goes a step further by concocting an enigmatically charismatic figure whose threat is even more insidious, with Banks delivering this origin story of a cult leader in a heavily reverbed Ozzy Osbourne-esque wail.

Such nihilism recurs at different times on the album: “If You Really Love Nothing” asserts that survival in the modern world requires cultivating and maintaining a set of illusions, while “Flight of Fancy” touches on desperately reaching out into emptiness “until that reaching out feels empty too.” The band also explores the destructive power of technology: “Party’s Over” finds Banks lamenting that the voyeuristic undercurrent of social media serves to “enhance my bad intentions,” while “Surveillance” deals in the manipulation of our perception of reality by the powers that be.

Interpol, however, doesn’t belabor these themes. Marauder‘s cover art depicts Elliot Richardson, the former U.S. Attorney General who stood up to Richard Nixon, and Banks’s fascination with how a vitriolic cult of personality can sway the masses is timely, but the album isn’t an overtly political one, couching as it does big political questions in fiercely personal terms.

Marauder, on songs like “Mountain Child” and “The Weekend,” is content to bask in the magic of profound ephemeral moments. And whether through the shoegaze bent of “Surveillance” or the slacker-rock overtones of “It Probably Matters,” Interpol offers moments of even-keeled, contemplative atmospherics. These measured musical and lyrical tangents complement more than contrast the album’s thematic focus on reckless impulsivity. Rather than simply dwelling on the potential for ruin, Interpol acknowledges the euphoria that can greet those who following their whims, resulting in an album that crackles with the energy of embracing life’s unpredictable turns.

Anyone unfamiliar to Theo Angelopoulos’s work could start chronologically, or they can simply skip to his Landscape in the Mist and leave it at that. 1995’s Ulysses’ Gaze is considerably more evocative than the Greek director’s fatuous Eternity and the Day though it’s nonetheless laughably pretentious. This tediously paced epic traces a country’s political upheavals and one man’s misplaced nationalism. “A” (a clueless Harvey Keitel) must find three lost reels of films produced by two brother-filmmakers in 1905 and located somewhere in the Balkans. Ulysses’ Gaze is mindful of the protagonist’s staunch need to capture and liberate a myth. Angelopoulos’s signature elliptical flourishes are on full display here. During the film’s opening scene, “A” discusses the Manakis brothers’ works with a former assistant of the two men. Are they occupying the same space or have “A” and the old man met at a bridge that spans the space and time continuum, Angelopoulos seems to ask. There are many such elegiac moments in Ulysses’ Gaze but all feel calculated and beleaguered by their own weight. In one of the film’s most haunting sequences, an army of soldiers butts heads with a pack of townsfolk carrying umbrella. Their confrontation creates a wall between “A” and a lone female wanderer. There is no doubt that we are in the presence of greatness, but Angelopoulos’s compositions are so calculated they leave no room for spontaneity. (Curiously, Angelopoulos made a stink at Cannes when his film lost to Kusturica’s far superior Underground.) A statue of Lenin is taken apart and transported down a river. Though the sequence serves to shed light on the looming presence of communism, the scene goes on for what seems like the duration of the October Revolution. Not surprisingly, the film’s most effective scene is also its least pretentious. Angelopoulos stunningly recounts the protagonist’s entire family history via one long shot composed of moving snapshots from his many New Years festivities. The entire film reeks of Angelopoulos’s delusion of grandeur: he fancies himself a poet first and a filmmaker second. Regardless, he’s been making the same like since 1991’s The Suspended Step of the Stork. Don’t be surprised if Angelopoulos’s next picture finds Willem Dafoe playing some a cheese-maker travelling through Pompeii and contemplating the political and social importance of gouda.

Fox Lorber
176 min
Theo Angelopoulos
Theo Angelopoulos, Tonino Guerra, Petros Markaris
Harvey Keitel, Maia Morgenstern, Erland Josephson, Thanassis Vengos, Yorgos Michalakopoulos, Dora Volanaki