Rare, cool wasteland-set movie, a whole methodically-posed headfuck art-feature a half decade before Marienbad. Vague reverb-affected announcements echo on the soundtrack as a truck drives over gravel and desert. I’m happy to see there are still flocks of birds after the German apocalypse. Driver drags passenger’s luggage to an abandoned-looking town where he finds a kid among drum-and-bass soundtrack jazz. The man loses his shit, pulls a gun on the kid (covered in ants) for not speaking, the woman spills her drink on purpose. Everything from the editing to the focus and music and sound takes turns messing with your head.

A monologue about Sisyphus as the moody driver lies under the truck covered in oil. I can’t tell if the movie is a time loop or if we spent some time in a flashback. Eventually the man finds a cute girl and shoots her dead – biggest surprise is when the cops show up and bust him, in what I’d assumed was a lawless wasteland. After the Goalie, I programmed an accidental double-feature of German stories of motiveless murder.

The credits claim participation by Hans Richter (according to a Richter interview, not true) and commentary by Albert Camus. Played Locarno ’55 alongside a couple of Jiri Trnka features and a Karel Zeman, a lot of nazi movies, and the latest prestige dramas from the US, UK, Germany and France

Vogel’s descriptions are off to a shaky start. “In a desolate, destroyed landscape – bearing now irrelevant traces of technological society – a man and a boy try to find their way under a
fierce sun.” There’s cars, oil, money and cops, all still relevant, and the boy isn’t trying to find his way anyplace.

More of Vogel’s Subversives…

Blue Moses (1962, Stan Brakhage)

Melies motion/edit tricks in a flickering cave. Sync sound! Clean dialogue, no music/fx, of a rich-voiced Wellesian actor, or maybe Charlton Hestonian per the film title. He seems to be riffing in a field, unsure what to say, Brakhage holding still on the actor but going into jitter-mode whenever the camera looks away at the scenery. The actor goes through a range of looks, sometimes wearing so much makeup he looks like a cartoon. Repetition of the credits (drawn in chalk on the rocks). In the last section the actor’s words and a projector beam with Stan’s shadow draw our attention to the filmmaking process. I’m out of the habit of watching Brakhage films – this is from the Dog Star Man years and is very good. Actor Robert Benson, a fellow Colorado resident, had also appeared in Desistfilm.

Canyon (1970, Jon Jost)

Full-day time-lapse looking over the Grand Canyon… shooting a few seconds at a time, lap dissolving the segments. I’d only seen narrative(ish) work by Jost, wasn’t aware of the shorts. Silent, so I played El Ten Eleven’s “Growing Shorter,” which worked great.

Mouseover to move the sun:

“This is a book about the subversion of existing values, institutions, mores, and taboos… by the potentially most powerful art of the century.” I saw it was Amos Vogel’s 100th birthday and celebrated by beginning to read his Film as a Subversive Art. The plan is to watch some movies covered within, though sticking to grand long-term viewing projects isn’t my forte. Hey, Vogel went to UGA before moving to NYC, wonder what the Athens film scene was like back then.

A modern alienation movie, the still camera and attention to jukeboxes presumably an influence on Kaurismaki. The Goalie is on leave after arguing with a ref, wanders about with nowhere special to be, seeing movies and picking up women, the movie sexlessly fading to black whenever he’s alone with one. After spending some time with ticket taker Gloria he randomly strangles her, and it fades out on this too. The people get more eccentric as he goes to the country to visit an old friend and his focus on the local newspapers turns from soccer scores to the murder investigation closing in on him.

Wim’s debut feature. A film marquee advertises a then-nonexistent Patricia Highsmith adaptation – a few features later, Wenders would make his own. Our hero Arthur Brauss (who explains the title in the final scene) had smallish roles in a Peckinpah, a Frankenheimer, an Elaine May.

Per Vogel:

His world – a glossy, Americanized Vienna – is seen as existential mystery, lacking explanation. Fearful matters are touched upon in laconic, strange dialogue. An air of vague dread, intensified by the film’s magic realism, permeates the mysteries hinted at but never confronted.

Looong split screen dialogue, Béatrice Dalle doing most of the talking, with Charlotte Gainsbourg, playing “themselves.” They discuss experiences on movie shoots, death by fire, nudity, and creepy producers.

Next, a producer is telling bald DP Max to take over the movie from director Dalle before the production falls apart, and a cameraman is tasked with spying on her. Meanwhile, Karl from Love is wasting people’s time, trying to get them to sign onto his own film.

The shoot ends with Gainsbourg (and Fury Road’s Abbey Lee) tied to (digitally) burning stakes when the lighting goes haywire. She and Dalle, tormented from all sides, have breakdowns as the picture devolves into flashing blue and red fields.

Laida Lertxundi:

We Had the Experience but Missed the Meaning (2014)

Two sections, each introduced with half of the film title. First, a woman waters the plants indoors, then waters herself, stepping clothed into the shower. Somebody speaks of wishing her friend Veronica was a real sister over a mild garden scene superimposed over ocean waves. Second, driving slowly through an alley, and projecting images onto the pages of a book.

Live to Live (2015)

A desert mountain pan. EKG reading of her own self, heartbeat synched to a Rushmore soundtrack song. High altitude mountain clouds over drone music. Self consciously showing the filmmaking elements, with light flares as film runs out, sync sound clapper, changing exposure. Ends with a minute of flashing red and blue color fields over atonal sounds (“a recording of an orgasm, which was then put through a synthesizer wave”), so basically the same ending as Lux Aeterna.

025 Sunset Red (2016)

The mountains are red, then they are not. Someone hums through a harmonica for ages. I dig the film-damaged wild-west segment over electric guitar, but of course I would. I take it from the red paint and faded photographs over a Neilyoungian tune that a politician in the 70’s was murdered? Fortunately no, the politician is her father, former head of the Communist party and still alive.

Words, Planets (2018)

Squeezing a lemon to death… hand-mutilating filmstrips in a cactus patch, then screening the mutilations. Gentle film scratches play over an old pop song. A love-entanglement logic problem is read aloud. The sound recordist begins to appear in the shots – she is into messing with sound and sync in her films. Constructed in response to a Raul Ruiz essay.

A Film Comment interview reveals she is from the Basque country in Spain, her professors were Peter Hutton and James Benning and Thom Andersen and Peggy Ahwesh, and she had a formative encounter with Hollis Frampton’s Lemon. Andrew Busti is in the credits of these movies – I’ve seen his name around – and We Had the Experience was made with Fern Silva, with thanks to Raya Martin. Starting to think that every filmmaker knows each other.

Akosua Adoma Owusu:

Intermittent Delight (2007)

Katy recommended this, said it recalled Jodie Mack. This adds split screens and jittering camera, and it splices in scenes of the production of the textiles instead of the production of the film, the whole thing intercut with classic American TV ads.

Tea 4 Two (2006)

Black girls with a white doll advertised as Beautiful Chrissy wear horrible white plaster Halloween masks and straighten their hair so they can be beautiful too. A letterboxd commenter points out the Fanon connection.

Boyant (2008)

Oh wow, someone wearing a Trash Humpers Michael Jordan mask spends a long time prepping to jump into a swimming pool, while the audio plays insane lock grooves leading up to God’s Gonna Trouble the Water.

Pelourinho: They Don’t Really Care About Us (2019)

Travel footage, with quotes from W.E.B. Dubois in the 1920’s about Brazil not allowing Black visitors into the country. Confirmed that the title is a Michael Jackson reference. Owusu keeps cutting to a film artifact, a color field with a single sprocket hole, which weirdly ties the whole thing together. Learned from Sicinski that Pelourinho was “ground zero for the African slave trade in Brazil,” and that it’s referencing current right-wing racism in Brazilian politics as well as the past.

This is the second movie I’ve watched this year after Cold Weather that partly takes place at an ice factory. In this one, incompetent drug dealers are hiding packets of heroin inside blocks of ice… which are transparent. When a couple of employees find the nondescript packets, the baddies tell them there’s heroin inside, then murder the entire workforce. Strange logic abounds, but this is also a movie that was partly written during filming – per Matthew Polly in the extras, the first half was Bruce Lee’s screen test, and it was decided during filming that James Tien would get killed off and Lee take over the movie.

James, far right, wondering if he’s doomed:

A good, violent movie, though it was touch-and-go during that first half. Mostly low-rent and effective, badly dubbed with a bit of style (aka whip-pans). Even in the modern Criterion HD remaster the music sounds like it’s being played on a faulty tape machine. All the movie’s precision comes in the form of Bruce. Said to have been a dancer who fights with a cha-cha tempo, his first action scene makes the flailing clumsiness of the movie’s first half disappear.

Bodies in the ice:

The drug dealers are led by Big Boss Ying-Chieh Han – before Bruce kicks his ass, he frees the Boss’s pet parakeet as a power move. To get to this confrontation, every single person Bruce knows has to be murdered, so the movie’s death toll is high. Some weird humor in here too – Bruce apparently doesn’t know how liquor works and downs a half-bottle of cognac while out with his boss. Later he’s making growling monkeywolf noises as he Wile-E-Coyotes a guy through a wooden wall.

Cold Meridian (2020, Peter Strickland)

Rehearsal footage from a recent dance piece never publicly performed, edited with a shampoo-hair ASMR lady whispering to her online viewers about their previous site activity. Nice thing to watch while drowsy on a plane – as far as the ASMR stuff goes, the shampoo thing is interesting at least, the whispering is nice, and I don’t get the crinkling paper/cellophane thing at all.

De Natura (2018, Lucile Hadzihalilovic)

Beautiful little film. Two girls are out in nature, and we get shots of sky and trees and mushrooms, all more rapidly edited than the Strickland until it gets dark and chills out at a campfire in the end. Streams and waterfalls much nicer than crinkling paper.

Olla (2019, Ariane Labed)

Very red-haired Olla is visiting a guy she met online for the first time. He speaks French, she doesn’t know it, but practices while cleaning the house in high heels while he’s at work… so she’s a servant/gf? Nice looking movie, shot on 16mm. She carefully removes his mother from the apartment before blowing it up in the end.

Which is Witch (2020, Marie Losier)

A man in fancy military dress is frozen stiff, gets dragged into a cave by a deer woman. Then three women wearing statue of liberty crowns dance around him, and he’s released… but still frozen, so I’m not sure what this accomplished. My first Losier, not the Guy Maddin collab, but still the kind of hazy costumed maximalism I enjoy. Thanks to Mandico in the credits, that makes sense.

Elektra (2020, Asia Argento)

Like a music video montage of scenes from a longer film, which I appreciate in a way since the longer film doesn’t look very good. A daughter is resentful of her mother, both of them in glamorous feather dresses from the company that commissioned this short, until matricide ensues, then a straight-up fashion show in an abandoned palace (Guadagnino hid his movie’s advertising origins better). It’s at least better than the last movie I saw that Argento directed.

The Little Story of Gwen from French Brittany (2008, Agnes Varda)

Promo-looking movie about an LA film programmer from Varda’s own neighborhood who moved out to the states and made it work. Shout out to Marker’s Immemory!

After Before (2016, Athina Rachel Tsangari)

Hangout behind-the-scenes and rehearsal and shoot footage isn’t usually terribly interesting, but we are suckers for the Linklater/Delpy/Hawke trio.

Broke mopey people have sullen conversations against plain backgrounds, all referring to some plan but not cluing us in, their relationship swapping getting out of hand. Nihilist movie full of banalities, even in love, some pleasant repeated shots like a couple walking toward camera with different characters every time.

The director plays a Greek who everyone turns on, painting him as a large-cocked rapist, while he just wanted to be friends. Hanna Schygulla and Hans Hirschmüller return from Fass’s debut, which I watched in 2015 – maintaining six years between features, I’ll get to Querelle in the year 2183. But maybe I’ll increase the pace since watching this drab movie improved my drab week – funny how art can work.

Louis Koo is a washed up drunken former fighting champ who is going blind, other fighters and weirdos (incl. Tony 2 and Aaron Kwok) want to challenge him to fights, while singer Cherrie Ying hides out in his karaoke bar. Sold as a tough-guy redemption story, that is not the movie Johnnie To felt like making. He felt like using the skeleton of an archetypal Judo-hero story and hanging every eccentricity off it. The emotional climax isn’t a big fight, it’s when our three main characters team up to free a balloon from a tree.