“Idealism cannot work hand in hand with capitalism.” A fun, self-conscious, nearly Ruizian take on Nikola Tesla’s career, with JP Morgan’s niece (Eve Hewson of The Knick) as a sort-of narrator. Watched on my grandfather’s (b. 1910) birthday, mostly set before then. Covered topics: moving pictures, the electric chair, photographing thought, giant tesla coils in Colorado.

Shot by Sean Price Williams, who is everywhere these days. Didn’t stick nearly as well as Experimenter, but fully enjoyable while watching – who doesn’t want to see Ethan Hawke and Kyle McLachlan having an ice cream fight? Prior to this, most of my Tesla knowledge came from the Handsome Family song, so this movie loses points for not featuring any birds at all.

Portentous opening, then we get to hang out with two nerdy boys watching scrambled porn, then they meet some other boys and hang out, with nothing clever to say or do, and my notes just say “I hate teenage boys,” until Glasses Boy accidentally kills Daryl with a sword, then things pick up.

In Glasses’s defense, Daryl was being a total shithead, but understandably all the kids are freaked out and decide to hide the body and sword and never speak of this again. Only, Main Kid Zach can’t seem to shut up with his paranid obsessions, and Glasses Kid Josh goes in another direction, deciding to become a drug dealing sword serial killer. Kinda rare that a movie’s second half is this much better than the first – the mystery/thriller stuff worked better than the hangout Stand By Me stuff – and hilarious to see Mike D’Angelo has exactly the opposite take on letterboxd: “Starkest direction/script divide I’ve seen in a while … the film boasts maybe the lamest third act of 2017, and I saw freakin’ Geostorm.”

Since this came out, the director has made a mid-length movie with Nick Stahl that ties into a Lumineers album, the fourth boy who I haven’t mentioned was in a movie with Chris Walken and Steve Coogan, the Girl in one with Angela Bassett, Glasses in one with Edie Falco, and Kid is in the new Larry Fessenden Frankenstein thing, so maybe one day we’ll look back at Super Dark as a launching pad for stardom, the Tigerland of its time.

I didn’t notice until the end credits that only one of the Daniels participated, and there’s a new writer. I’d been thinking of this as the followup to Swiss Army Man and didn’t know what it’s about – if advertised as “the horse-fucking movie from one director of the corpse-farting movie,” I would’ve skipped. In the end it’s trying to be an Alabama misadventure incompetent-crimes comedy (Matt Lynch called it “Dipshit Fargo“) and also a sad story about friends + wife dealing with Dick’s untimely death, and none of it worked for me, except some of the jokes (trying not to swear in front of a kid: “the S has hit the fan… the S! the fuckin S!”).

Our heroes:

After a long night of drinking and fire, Dick is fatally hurt in back of a car for reasons unknown until later, gets dishonorably dumped at the emergency room and picked up by Roy Wood Jr., the dialogue so far down there with Super Dark Times. Dick’s friends, who have been fooling around with the horse for years, do a hilariously poor job at covering up, telling conflicting stories to an inquisitive minor and accidentally getting cops involved. Owner of the car Zeke is a Jeff Nichols regular, his dense vaping buddy played the asshole friend in Relaxer, the lead cop was in Mascots and the widow starred in Chained for Life.

Locarno 2015 included a Peckinpah retrospective, so I’m closing out LNKarno by catching up with one of his most acclaimed films. Warren Oates plays a southern-border scumbag offered $10k to find A.G. by the middlemen who’ve heard that the dad of the girl Garcia knocked up is paying a million. Oates takes his ex who knows the late A.G.’s whereabouts (Isela Vega of Sam Fuller’s Deadly Trackers and a hundred Mexican films) on a road trip, and it turns out everyone along the way is a bigger scumbag than he is.

good times:

bad times:

They start by fighting off would-be-rapist Kris Kristofferson, then when they locate A.G.’s grave, the guys tailing them kill the girl and take the head. Oates liked that girl quite a lot (so did I), goes on to kill those guys, the next couple of murderous guys, the guys who hired him, and finally the boss man himself. It’s a Western with fast cars and big sunglasses, and I am into it.

From the Bressane straight into another movie opening with a long take, wind overloading the mic. Sometimes long static shots of empty rooms – but this one goes even further than the Bressane, if that was our goal. Consumer-grade looking and sounding, despite the evident care that went into editing.

Chantal hangs out with her mom… later, her mom is not doing so well. In the kitchen they talk about escaping Belgium during WWII, and on skype they talk in circles. One great bit when Chantal zooms all the way into the screen during a skype call to see her own reflection overlaid on her mother. Otherwise, I have to say I preferred the documentary.

Andréa Picard in Cinema Scope gets it, and links it to Akerman’s memoir and her gallery work that came out shortly before the feature:

In No Home Movie, it is as if Chantal Akerman, perhaps for the first time in her career, has revealed the core of her work and her wounds in the most naked of ways: her frequent focus on confinement, repetition, and confrontation; her longing to be elsewhere; her dizzying instability.

Marcello’s Martin Eden is getting Cinema Scope cover-story attention, so I’m catching up with his previous feature. “Dreams and fables, although imaginary, should tell the truth.” There’s something here, history and metaphor, with documentary footage of protests edited in – it was sometimes beautiful, but the meaning was lost on me.

Tommaso is a volunteer caretaker at an abandoned palace. He dies unexpectedly, so party-masked afterlife character Pulcinella takes on Tommaso’s rescued baby buffalo and searches for its home, the movie narrated at times by the buffalo and using a cow’s-eye lens.

Tommaso did die, at Christmas a year and a half before this movie came out. Marcello had filmed him for an episode of a doc journeying through parts of Italy, and after Tommaso passed, he transformed the film by summoning Pulcinella to continue the journey.

Blake Williams in Cinema Scope:

Both of them, the immortal and the livestock, traverse the bucolic Roman region on a odyssey comprising assorted side narratives, dispirited souls, and scraps of historical detritus they encounter along the way, absorbing them into the film’s whimsical and sombre exquisite corpus … [the buffalo] meanwhile, rambles about his quest to live on a distant star, recounts dreams of humans sprouting wings and flying out to celestial lands of immortality, and preaches about how “being a buffalo is an art,” living as he must in a world that denies animals have souls. To Marcello’s credit, he’s able to keep the barminess of these proceedings in check, balancing the film’s didactic “points” and fantastic flourishes into its network of ideas without lessening the sincerity of its depressive tone.

Strata of the Image (2015, Lois Patino)

The backlit figure from the Phil Solomon shorts stands motionless before a monochrome waterfall, which gradually colorizes into a full rainbow. Peaceful, silent and short, but it feels more like an art-gallery screen-saver than a festival short – and indeed it was, originally.


Fajr (2017, Lois Patino)

Desert figure tableaus, this time with rumbling wind sound then a vocal song, but back to monochrome, each shot looking like the motionless standoff before a samurai battle begins. I dig how each shot is too dark when it begins, and gradually, imperceptibly brightens, but still getting a gallery vibe. When the figures in the final shot dissolve into spectral light then the ocean washes away the desert, this short jumps way ahead of Strata.


Night Without Distance (2015, Lois Patiño)

Technically, this film and Strata are LNKarno selections, having played the Fuori Concorso in Locarno 2015, and this one also appeared on the lists of experimental films I’m following, so I get to count it twice.

Dialogue! Color-inverted tableaus of motionless figures, but this time with dialogue. They’re gonna sneak over the mountains from Galicia with some sort of contraband. The scenario is tense and dangerous, but you wouldn’t know that without sound – the film visuals with their slow-moving figures betray no sense of urgency, even though some are holding rifles.


The Glory of Filmmaking in Portugal (2015 Manuel Mozos) 720p 17min

While we’re in Portugal, here’s a cool little movie, mostly edited from archival materials, investigating four minutes of mysterious footage which seem to prove that a group of poets in 1930 teamed with a French cinematographer to attempt to launch a Portuguese cinema. It seems their attempt was aborted, and Manoel de Oliveira came along the following year anyway, so the country just pinned all its hopes on him.


The Girl Chewing Gum (1976, John Smith)

Something completely different: a street scene with traffic noise and a ringing alarm in the distance, the director shouting out orders to the extras and the cameraman telling them when to make each move… but it’s really ordinary documentary footage with the voiceover added afterwards. Towards the end he speculates that a man in a raincoat just robbed a bank, which explains the alarm. This movie presenting doc footage as planned orchestration has funny timing, since when the collector brought out his reels of mysterious film in the previous short I wondered if this was true or a Forgotten Silver situation. “Art Basel” seems to be a Locarno program of shorts brought over from the same year’s Gässli fest.

The Village Voice, as excerpted on Smith’s website: “Smith takes the piss out of mainstream auteurist ego, but provides proof of the underground ethos: Even with meagre mechanical means, the artist can command the universe.”

At Locarno 2015, Julio Bressane served on a jury, programmed a section of Brazilian films, and presented his new work Garoto (Kid). I was psyched for this, since I’ve seen Bressane’s name around forever. He has an early feature called Killed the Family and Went to the Movies and a brand new one starring a parrot, a woman and “a large portion of raw meat.”

A young woman (Marjorie Estiano, star of Good Manners) calmly philosophizes in static scenes shot with a video-looking handheld camera. She tells her mute boyfriend a story about a boy who loved killing, then she, um, kisses and performs oral sex on the camera. Later, they go to her friend’s house (Josi Antello of Sentimental Education), where the boy apparently freaks out, killing Josi then running away to wander through the desert accompanied by quiet wild-west sounds and the effect of wind overloading a microphone.

Inspired by a Borges story about Billy the Kid. Struck me as a sort of half-assed Révélateur, every shot held too long in that familiar arthouse fest-film way, but without the technique to keep it interesting. I admit a scene that kept panning to a man softly drumming on a painted board was intriguing – the first time it happened. The lo-fi video look might’ve just been me getting a poor-quality copy online, but the mic problems say maybe that’s not the case… either way, it made me think of LNKarno discovery Jean-Claude Brisseau, especially when he positions the two actresses in front of his bookshelves. On one hand, Brisseau seems 100x more interesting and I should look up more of his films… on the other hand… the new Bressane stars a parrot!

Bressane’s messaging was ahead of its time:

Knowing a bit about Neil Hamburger, and seeing this called “anti-comedy,” I skipped it at the time. Now, after Alverson’s great The Mountain (and seeing Neil in concert telling one of my favorite jokes of the decade), I’m catching up, and… maybe I was right to skip this. I dunno, you’ve got Neil’s whole thing with the dirty jokes, Alverson’s patient formal construction (this time super-widescreen instead of 4:3), Tye Sheridan as a clown – it’s more academically interesting than it is a joy to watch.

Gregg Turkington is on an increasingly sad comedy tour through the desert, stopping in each town between gigs to take whatever local tour they’ve got, then to call his kid, promising he’ll get home. He visits cousin John C Reilly who offers advice on Gregg/Neil’s choice of onstage subject matter: “If you wanna appeal to like, all four quadrants, you know like all the different age groups… semen and all that… it’s a little bit much.” After a heckler attacks him post-show and breaks his glasses, he descends into a deeper nightmare than the one in the movie I just watched called The Nightmare.

Jagjaguwar logo in the credits – composer Robert Donne, whose drone soundtrack was a bit much (so it fit in perfectly here, where everything is a bit much) was in their band Spokane with vocalist Rick Alverson! To get onto Turkington’s wavelength, I watched an episode of his show On Cinema with Tim Heidecker, which I will definitely watch more of.