`Modulations' transmits electronic music's joy

June 11, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Electronic music may come across as cold and unemotional to some, but as filmmaker Iara Lee's documentary "Modulations" bears out, it's anything but.

A marvelous film that captures the joy, creativity and innovation behind electronic music, or electronica, "Modulations" serves as the perfect introduction to a world of sounds limited only by the musicians' imagination -- and some of these musicians have tremendous imaginations.

Tracing its origins back to John Cale's compositions of the 1930s, electronica comes across as far more than just blips, squeals and squeaks; anyone who's ever seen "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and marveled at the eerie soundtrack, or sat in wonder listening to the range of sounds produced by a Moog synthesizer, already knows how hypnotic electronic music can be.

But "Modulations," playing through tomorrow at the Charles, takes us behind the music and introduces us to the faces responsible for it, from Cale and Miles Davis to Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder and Afrika Bambaataa. It also travels the world, taking us to parties and dance floors in Moscow, Tokyo, New York, Berlin and elsewhere. And it finds music everywhere, in the recorded sizzle of bacon, in records being played backward, in synthesizers that fit comfortably in your lap.

The works of more than 50 different musicians are featured and, somehow, Lee makes it all seem both accessible and avant garde. If nothing else, "Modulations" will have you adding one more soundtrack CD to your collection.

"Modulations." Directed by Iara Lee. This film is not rated. Running time 75 minutes. Released by Caipirinha Productions. Sun score ***1/2

Sweet tale of lost love

An old woman, on the verge of dying, remembers her young lover. The short-lived, doomed affair took place decades ago. A memento from that period suddenly turns up and brings it all back.

This description could apply to James Cameron's "Titanic," or to "This Is My Father," an affecting low-budget drama shot in Ireland by the Quinn brothers.

Aidan Quinn gives one of his most deeply felt performances in the key role: Kieran O'Day, an adopted child who grows up poor in Ireland in the 1930s and falls for a young neighbor, Fiona Flynn (Moya Farrelly), who invites him to a dance. Shy and stubborn, Kieran defends Fiona in a fight, which both endears him to her and leads to gossip and trouble.

Fiona's bitter mother (Gina Moxley) and a fire-and-brimstone priest (Stephen Rea) make it increasingly difficult for the lovers. This story, which takes place in 1939, is presented in flashback, as told to Kieran Johnson (James Caan), a Chicago schoolteacher who is visiting Ireland to learn who his father was after finding a photo of his mother with her lover.

Aidan's younger brother, Paul, wrote and directed the picture, and his older brother, Declan, photographed it. It marks Paul's feature-film debut, and it demonstrates his background in theater as a director of actors. The excellent, well-deployed supporting cast includes Colm Meaney, Donal Donnelly, Brendan Gleeson and John Cusack.

"This Is My Father" has its poky moments and misjudged scenes (most of them involving a parallel story about a teen-age grandson played by Jacob Tierney), but it feels like a story that had to be told. It's no surprise to learn that the Quinns grew up with it, and that this movie is their way of expressing their affection for it.

"This Is My Father." Directed by Paul Quinn. This film is rated R. Running time 119 minutes. Released by Sony Classics. Sun score: ***

-- John Hartl, Seattle Times

Pub Date: 6/11/99

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