By Brakhage, Volume 2, Program 1

Watched bits and pieces of this anthology, but never all the way through before – which I guess is sad given how much I’d been looking forward to its release. I put on a shuffled playlist of instrumental albums, soundtracks, ambient and other strange sounds since Brakhage films tend to be silent. I know you’re supposed to watch them silent, As The Artist Intended, but you’re also supposed to watch them projected off 16mm film in an art gallery with fifty other people all shifting uncomfortably in their folding chairs, instead of at home on a comfy couch accompanied only by birds. I prefer my way.


The Wonder Ring (1955)

Brakhage nerding out on photography in a train station, then on the train itself, shooting through its warped windows. Not knowing in advance where the movie was set, I kicked off the music with Sqürl’s I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, a song that prominently mentions trains. After the Sqürl, iTunes offered 75 Dollar Bill and a peaceful John Zorn number from The Mysteries. I first saw this movie at a Film Love screening of Joseph Cornell works – supposedly he codirected, but the onscreen credits say “by Brakhage.” Fred Camper only says Cornell commissioned this film, a record of a New York elevated train before it got decommissioned. Camper credits Brakhage with the finished work, says he’s “finding a real-world version of the superimpositions Brakhage would later create in the lab.” Elsewhere are mentions of GniR RednoW, a film Cornell made from Wonder Ring outtakes.


The Dead (1960)

Paris cemetery, in positive and negative, overlapped upon itself – the superimpositions mentioned above, making this a great follow-up to Wonder Ring. Heard a long, ambient Per Mission song, worked beautifully. The few living humans on screen are not shot in any great detail, but internet rumors claim Kenneth Anger was one. Doesn’t have much in common with the John Huston/James Joyce version.


Two: Creeley/McClure (1965)

This and the next film were part of the thirty-one Songs series. This one’s technically separate from the Songs, but was edited into the 15th in the series, the 38-minute 15 Song Traits. Portraits of poets Robert Creeley and Michael McClure. Again with some reversed footage. Final section is jittery mania. I watched twice, and the second time Guano Padano’s story-song Dago Red came up, inappropriate since it makes the audio the main focus, turning Brakhage’s film into a music video, but interesting.


23rd Psalm Branch (1967)

Watched on the plane home from a trip. Images of war, wreckage and parades, remixed, with black and brief colored frames. Something Brakhage wouldn’t have expected: myself in place of the blackness, reflecting in laptop monitor in the overlit cabin. Something else: he shoots clouds out a plane window, I look to my left and see clouds out a plane window. A couple of long songs that worked very well: The Nymphs by Zorn and Recks On by Autechre. Prefuse’s Infrared was lyrically appropriate. The film’s second half contained more black than my Dramamine-drowsy state could handle, had to restart some sections. As Film Quarterly puts it, “he has used black leader so brutally this silent film gives the impression of roaring, booming sound,” and part two specifically is “abstract and full of private symbols, difficult to absorb and to watch.” Music by Sqürl, Per Mission and Morricone. Written letters and section headers. Kubelka’s Vienna, then Brakhage’s Vienna, all dim red figures disappearing into the blackness, a few shots of fire recalling Frampton. Marilyn Brakhage called it an attempt “to reclaim person and personal vision from the onslaught of television news.”

Maps to the Stars (2014, David Cronenberg)

“I have the flu. I need cigarettes.”

Julianne Moore is an actress who sees ghosts, trying to get a film part where she’ll play her own mother in a bio-pic (like a terrible Clouds of Sils Maria remake). Evan Bird (of TV’s The Killing Remake) is a horrid child star, son of Rosemary Cross and new-age massage therapist John Cusack. Evan’s older sister Mia Wasikowska is out of an asylum and back in town, gets a job as Moore’s assistant and hangs out with limo driver Rob Pattinson.

Eventually connections fall into place, and people start dying. Moore gets the role because her rival’s son drowns. Evan murders a young costar who’s been upstaging him. Mia bludgeons her employer Moore with a film award. Rosemary Cross somehow catches on fakey digital fire. Then Mia and Evan creep away and take handfuls of pills. Throughout, the music and editing and shots are pretty unexceptional and I’d be worried about Cronenberg except that I read his terrific novel which released around the same time at this movie.

M. D’Angelo:

Mostly, though, it’s just an excuse for [writer] Wagner to depict “scathingly” bad behavior, as when Moore’s fading starlet leaps around her house with joy upon learning that a rival’s adorable little son has just drowned, freeing up the plum role that Moore had just lost to said rival. Cronenberg, for his part, shoots this cavalcade of random potshots as functionally as possible — this is easily his least visually distinguished film (and also, perhaps not coincidentally, the first film he’s ever shot in the U.S.). Hollywood may be a nest of vacuous vipers, but it deserves a less feeble takedown than this.

The Last Ten Minutes vol. 13: First-Person Camera Edition

Men In Black 2 (2002, Barry Sonnenfeld)

Hey, I never saw this, always wanted to, but heard it was bad. Just the thing The Last Ten Minutes was invented for. The two mismatched partners are joined by Rosario Dawson with nuclear jewelry and pursued by Evil Lara Flynn Boyle till she’s eaten by a subway monster. Jones tells Dawson she’s the fifth element, Smith is attacked by shockingly subpar effects. Did you know there was a part 3? Neither did I.

[Rec] 3: Genesis (2012, Paco Plaza)

Previously watched [Rec] 1 and remake-sequel (remaquel?) Quarantine 2. Can’t find [Rec] 2 on netflix because their search is ridiculous, so let’s pick up here. Loving couple is trapped in kitchen by encroaching zombies until loudspeaker bible recitation stops them. Dude has a sword, which actually seems like a smart zombie weapon. Girl is bitten by an elderly fellow (bad hearing, immune to loudspeaker), guy cuts off her arm but he’s stupid and slow, and they both die. From one of the directors of the first one, but not shot first-person, so the title doesn’t make sense anymore. The girl was in Ramin Bahrani’s Man Push Cart.

[Rec] 4: Apocalypse (2014, Jaume Balagueró)

Oh, this is from the other director of the first one, and looks a lot worse. Stars Angela from parts 1 & 2. A guy with bad hair helps Angela kill zombie monkeys with a boat motor. Why does the bad guy have a snake-tongue? A boat explodes!

The Interview (2014, Goldberg & Rogen)

Those two guys are trying to escape N. Korea. Cue the loud action scenes. Katy Perry soundtracks the fiery death of President Randall Park (Danny Chung in Veep), then we get an anticlimactic escape from the country. One of the directors wrote for Da Ali G Show.

Horns (2013, Alexandre Aja)

The one where Harry Potter is a demon, from the director of the great Hills Have Eyes Remake. Dang, no horns, Harry must’ve had them cut off already (a la Hellboy?). His brother (Joe Anderson of Across the Universe) is sad, so Harry goes walkies with Max Minghella, and there are guns, and wow, Harry sprouts wings then turns into a full flaming demon and has homicidal maniac Max brutalized by snakes. I think Harry’s dead girlfriend is alive again but I stopped watching because my roomie locked his keys in his car. Is this Wolf Parade over the ending?

The Sacrament (2013, Ti West)

Sorry Ti, but after two-and-a-quarter disappointments you join Aja in Last Ten Minutes purgatory. Joe Swanberg in death cult compound is running from gunmen, everyone is dying, and it’s shot first-person a la [Rec] 1. Isn’t this the same plot as one of the V/H/S/2 segments from the same year, which West and Swanberg were also heavily involved with? Joe semi-rescues AJ Bowen (of every Adam Wingard movie) with the shakiest shaky-cam I’ve ever witnessed. Ends with unnecessary solemn title cards. Boo.

Maniac (2012, Franck Khalfoun)

Fuuuck, this is also shot first-person – and out-of-focus, no less. Co-written by Alexandre Aja. Khalfoun made P2 and acted in Aja’s Haute Tension – they’re as close as the West-Swanberg-Wingard crew. I think Elijah Wood kidnaps Nora Arnezeder then she stabs him with a mannequin arm and runs him over. Then she dies, so he marries a mannequin. Most of these movies are very bad, but this one looks unusually, especially, very very bad.

The Conspiracy (2012, Christopher MacBride)

Grainy first-person pinhole camera with blurred-out faces. Why do all these movies hate cinema? Dude wakes up in the ritual sacrifice room, then is chased through the dark woods while wearing an animal head. Finally a series of talking heads dismiss whatever conspiracy theory the hunted/murdered cameraman presumably uncovered. MacBride has made no other movies and hopefully it’ll stay that way.

Automata (2014, Gabe Ibáñez)

It’s balding trenchcoat dudes with shotguns vs. slow, clunky robots. The robots are talking wise, getting themselves shot, when a fully bald Antonio Banderas arrives. His plan of action is poor but he still kills two guys and the third is dispatched by a Short Circuit lizard. Weird/nice to see a robot-future movie where some of the robots (not the lizard) are actual props, not people or digital effects.

I, Frankenstein (2014, Stuart Beattie)

From the trailer this looked like epic nonsense, but it’s actually more coherent than most of the others I just watched. Bill Nighy! The final battle: Frankenstein Eckhart vs. angels, gargoyles, a merman, lots of fire, men in suits, poor digital effects and Bill Nighy! Meanwhile there’s a bunch of computer progress bars and “access denied” messages. Progress bars are always a great source of tension in movies, eh? A massive Matrix-like chamber full of bodies begins to self-destruct. Eckhart (is he the monster or the doctor?) defeats demon-Nighy, saves some lady from a fiery apocalypse and collapsing castle. Beattie wrote the Pirates of the Carribean movies (and Collateral), his cowriter was an actor in Men In Black 2.

White God (2014, Kornél Mundruczó)

Deserved winner of the Palm Dog at Cannes. Truly, the dogs were great. However I was frustrated and confused by the rest of the movie, which was relentless misery until the climactic explosion of dog vengeance. The movie has been compared to Au Hasard Balthasar, but it’s maybe closer to I Spit On Your Grave.

Girl is abandoned by her mom to live with her shitty dad for the summer. She is devoted to her dog Hagen, gets kicked out of her orchestra by the asshole band leader because of Hagen, but after pressure from horrid neighbors, Dad kicks the dog out on the street. Horrible people + handheld camera = no fun. Dog catchers, dog fighters, etc. The fighter trains Hagen to be hateful and violent, a la this movie’s great namesake. The girl’s bike is stolen, woman at dog shelter is a liar and dog murderer, and so on. Then: a well orchestrated bloodbath of revenge, with a picturesque but mysterious ending.

M. D’Angelo:

This movie’s stupid. I suppose it’s slightly less stupid if one views it allegorically — that is, if the dogs are supposed to represent minorities — but that barely seems tenable, especially w/r/t the laughable ending. Otherwise, its sole point of interest is its use of real dogs at the climax, which isn’t remotely scary (Mundruzcó has no feel whatsoever for horror) but does at least represent an impressive feat of screw-you-CGI logistics. And then he goes and ruins that by using said climax, which should arise out of nowhere, as a surreal flash-forward “grabber” at the outset, a ploy that smacks of bad television. At best, this might have worked as a segment of Amores perros (which it explicitly apes for a while); two hours is beyond laborious, and every cut away from Hagen to the little girl and her dad feels like Mundruzcó deliberately wasting your time.

Proxy (2013, Zack Parker)

“I would never hurt you. I just came to do the things you couldn’t do.”

Nice, unusual twisty horror/thriller, with a different (slower) editing rhythm. Opens with a victim (pregnant woman whose belly is smashed by a street robber) who turns out to be less of a victim than once thought – and crazier. In fact, everyone here is somewhat of a victim, somewhat of an unsympathetically insane, traumatized monster.

The formerly pregnant Ester meets Melanie (Alexa Havins of Torchwood) at a dead-children support group. But wait, Ester’s jealous girlfriend Anika is actually the one who robbed/beat Ester, at Ester’s request. But wait, Melanie’s son isn’t dead or missing, she just enjoys playing the victim. Ester discovers this and solves it by sneaking into Melanie’s home and drowning her son, then gets shot by Mel’s husband Joe Swanberg (first time I’ve seen him in a good movie), prompting a revenge spree from Anika.

M. D’Angelo for Dissolve:

Still, the film’s excellence lies not in its “twists” (which are actually just straightforward actions made uncanny by the withholding of ordinary emotional cues), but in its unemphatic portrait of aberrant behavior. In more ways than one, Proxy doesn’t have a protagonist—just various individuals struggling to maintain a façade of normalcy.

Phoenix (2014, Christian Petzold)

Had to see this since I also just watched Obsession, another semi-remake of Vertigo. Nina Hoss (star of Petzold’s Barbara and Jerichow), of a rich family, escaped the holocaust but is presumed dead. She has actually had reconstructive facial surgery and looks like a different person, but still obsesses over her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld of Beloved Sisters and The Pasta Detectives) even though he may have saved himself by giving her up to the nazis.

Most of the movie is the tension of wondering how she could be so stupid to return to Johnny, leading to the very satisfying ending when she reveals her true self, thus claiming her family’s fortune while rejecting Johnny, who has been a slimeball the entire movie.

Petzold also made my second-favorite of the Dreileben trilogy (what’s Dominik Graf up to these days?). The final film by late cowriter Harun Farocki – my only previous experience with him was an essay film better talked about than watched.

A. Nayman:

What’s remarkable about Phoenix is how its Farockian didacticism – the fact that Nelly would rather try to reclaim her place and her identity in a German society that tried to exterminate her rather than go with Lene to settle in Palestine – is blended into its drama so that it becomes a film of ideas that is also a film of emotions.

The Loneliest Planet (2011, Julia Loktev)

Enjoyable to watch but with less of a game-changing twist than I expected from the reviews, which I didn’t actually read, because I was warned that they might give away the movie’s game-changing twist. Anyway it sounds like the same twist as Force Majeure, which I’m hoping will be even better.

Engaged American couple is on a mountain trip through eastern Europe. She is Hani Fursternberg (Yossi & Jagger), and has a terrific naked introduction scene, and he is Gael Garcia Bernal (between The Limits of Control and No), without a whole lot to do except for one scene. At least I think this is the big twist: when some motherfucker pulls a gun and Gael’s instinct is to hide, thrusting his girlfriend into the line of fire – then almost immediately realizes what he’s doing and switches their positions. They go from being carefree, lovey hikers before that scene, to trudging unhappily in opposite corners of the frame afterwards.

Also on the trip, their Georgian guide Dato (played by an actual guide), who starts to become more important after the incident, opening up to Hani about his past since she’s barely speaking to Gael anymore.

Language lessons: “I take my biiitch to the beeeach”

J. Kuehner: “Loktev persistently evokes a mysterious feeling that courses through us, at home and abroad, of beauty and dread pulsing in equal measure.”

Won an award at AFI Fest, played Locarno alongside Terri, Another Earth, Goodbye First Love and Policeman. Loktev made the acclaimed Day Night Day Night, which came out among a flurry of other terrorist dramas that I skipped. Cinematographer Inti Briones worked with Ruiz, shot Days in the Country and Night Across The Street. The best parts are between story scenes, massive wide shots of the scenery as our tiny heroes walk along and Richard Skelton’s crazy string music takes over the soundtrack.

White (1994, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

Still my least favorite of the trilogy, though it’s less mean-spirited than I remember it (final image of Julie Delpy seeking reconciliation after her ex has her falsely imprisoned is mostly what I’ve remembered). Delpy’s in the movie for about five minutes – it’s mostly about her ex-husband Karol trying to get back on his feet after their divorce. She (maliciously) leaves him homeless and unemployed, but he befriends a fellow Pole while begging in the Paris metro, gets back to Poland, earns a fortune in a realty scheme, starts a shady import business, then frames Delpy for his own faked murder. The plot description sounds worse than the film itself, and the character described in paragraph form sounds like a total dick, while Karol seems more cuddly in person.

Karol is Zbigniew Zamachowski, who starred with his hairdresser brother Jerzy Stuhr in the final Decalogue segment, in which they also played brothers. Karol’s Gabriel Byrne-looking Polish friend is Janusz Gajos, a lead in the fourth Decalogue. This won best director in Berlin (vs. Philadelphia and Smoking/No Smoking)

K.K.: “The subject of the film is humiliation – men are not, and do not want to be, equal. The film is also about equality.” His cowriter Piesiewicz: “I knew very well that people in fact didn’t want to be free. All consumerism and advertising is based on us not being equal. Equality of opportunity, yes. But what does that mean? What’s needed most is empathy…”

Also watched the great Talking Heads short again, and…

Seven Women of Different Ages (1979, Kieslowski)

Dancers at different stages. First: young girls being pulled into position by a patient teacher, then older girls being screamed at by an abusive teacher. Rehearsal, then on stage, then a terrified-looking woman doing a routine. An understudy, watching closely but not actually practicing the moves. Finally an instructor of young girls the age of the first segment – I wondered if it’s the actual teacher from that segment, but it’s not. Fits in well with Talking Heads, obviously.

Misc Shorts, Q2 2015

World of Tomorrow (2015, Don Hertzfeldt)

Emily Prime is contacted by her third-generation clone, discussing memory, robots, love and life in the outernet of the future.

Only 16 minutes long but I watched it seven times.

Choose You (2013, Spike Jonze & Chris Milk)

Written by Lena Dunham and directed by Spike Jonze – and yet it’s terrible? I think that’s because it’s a corporate-sponsored short made for a music video awards show. Anyway, subtitled and censored, club dude’s ex-gf is now dating DJ Michael Shannon, some girl he doesn’t even know freaks out about this, then Jason Schwartzmann hosts a choose-your-own-adventure ending and double suicide is chosen.

The Discontented Canary (1934, Rudolf Ising)

A sad caged canary gets his chance to escape, but nature beats the hell out of him, so he returns home, learning to appreciate his captivity. At least he wasn’t hit by lightning like the feral cat. Moral: life is just horrible.

The Alphabet (1968, David Lynch)

Now in high-def!

Les jeux des anges (1965, Walerian Borowczyk)

Heads roll.
Pipe organ becomes firing squad.
Angel wings.
Infinite scrolling.

Mouseover for decay:
image

The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918, Winsor McCay)

Didn’t realize this was a WWI propaganda film. “Germany, once a great and powerful nation, had done a dastardly deed in a dastardly way.”

Intro explaining how difficult the movie was to create, and plenty of title cards, so the nine minute short has maybe four minutes of animation. But the animation is real good stuff, all water and smoke.

We Give Pink Stamps (1965, Friz Freleng)

Absurd fun in a department store as the Pink Panther torments the night janitor.

Closed Mondays (1974, Will Vinton & Bob Gardiner)

Great claymation. Wino wanders into an art gallery, hallucinates (?) all the paintings and sculptures coming to life.

Night Mail (1936 Wright & Watt)

I’ve heard this is one of the greatest short documentaries. True, it’s admirably put together, showing all the moving parts in a great, manned machine that moves the mail across England and Scotland really damn fast. And it makes you marvel at the heights of human endeavor. And it ends with a post office rap song. So yeah I was gonna say it’s just a doc about a mail train, but I guess I see their point.

Monster (2005 Jennifer Kent)

Beginnings of The Babadook (there’s a pop-up book and everything). Monster-doll grows into full monster and attacks son, mom screams at it, tells it to go to its room.

Fears (2015, Nata Metlukh)

Terrific 2-minute animated short linked by Primal.
A man literally embraces his fears.

Restaurant Dogs (1994, Eli Roth)

Student film in which an evil brigade of fast-food restaurant mascots is bloodily defeated by a young dude who’s given a mission from the Burger King himself to save his daughter the Dairy Queen. Something like that, anyway. I thought the guy only wanted to buy a milkshake, and suspected he was drunk, so I’m surprised he signed up for the murderous mission so quickly.

Given all the trademarked properties being mixed with nazi images via Terry Gilliam-style cut-out animation, I thought I’d better watch this as soon as I heard about it, rather than wait until our corporate overlords remove it from the internet like they did the Soderbergh cut of 2001: A Space Odyssey which I’d been meaning to watch. Besides Reservoir Dogs, there’s some Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now in the grimace/hamburglar flashback scene.

Ritual (1979, Joseph Bernard)

Under three minutes, viewed online as a trailer for the new Bernard blu-ray, which I obviously need. Drawings, figures, people and scenes and stuttering colors cut together into changing rhythms and overlays. My favorite bit has an overlay of two scenes, one of which is cutting, an effect I don’t see often.