I blocked off late January for Rotterdance, and premiere screening Asako was fantastic, then Belmonte and Rojo were pretty whatever… so I’m looking at the remaining options for the following week… Monos, Happy as Lazzaro… movies I keep hearing are great but don’t look attractive like Private Life and The Souvenir… mass-murder fashion-thing Vox Lux… serious stuff by Loznitsa and Petra Costa… and La Flor is there on the list, the ridiculous outlier which obviously I’m not gonna watch because there isn’t time. So that’s what I watched.

Movie from Argentina, in multiple episodes, with multiple chapters, the whole thing cut into multiple parts which don’t align with the episodes (but do align with the chapters) – it’s complicated. The director helps lighten things up by introducing the project in a prologue, looking into camera without moving his mouth, narrating in voiceover, and drawing his diagram of the film’s structure which landed on the cover of Cinema Scope.


Episode 1

Proper b-movie length at 80 minutes, and shot on low-grade video. The audio sounds dry and dubbed, but looks to be in sync. Scientists receive shipment of an ancient mummy, have to babysit it after hours, but one girl (and a black cat) get mummy-cursed, so a psycho-transference specialist comes to help. “I’ll tell you more about it,” she says, as the movie suddenly cuts to episode 2. A Mac OS 9 skype window proves this movie has been in the works for a long time.

Elisa Carricajo = Marcela, lead scientist who is introduced on an awkward date before hectic work day
Laura Paredes = cool, efficient doctor Lucia
Valeria Correa = dazed, cursed, water-guzzling Yani
Pilar Gamboa = mummy-curse specialist Daniela

Dr. Elisa, Dr. Laura:

Mummy-whisperer Pilar:


Episode 2

Famous singer Victoria reminisces to her hair-streaked assistant Flavia about Vic’s rocky/successful recording career and personal life with lousy singer Ricky. Out of the blue, Flavia is in a scorpion cult with the secret of eternal youth, but cult leader Elisa Carricajo doesn’t seem to trust her. Andrea “Superbangs” Nigro, a rival singer, has a whole speech about storytelling and protagonists (it’s a monologue-heavy episode) and is present in the recording booth during the very good climactic Victoria song (but why? I spaced out for a while).

Singer Victoria = Pilar = mummy-curse specialist Daniela
Assistant/Confidante/Cultist Flavia = Laura = cool doctor Lucia
Superbangs singer Andrea Nigro = Valeria = cursed Yani
Scorpion cult leader = Elisa = lead scientist Marcela

Nigro:


Episode 3

Epic spy drama that starts out fun, tries to pivot to being mournful as everyone appears to be doomed, and takes long sidetracks into backstory. The four lead women are teammates in this one – briefly they were five, until their leader Agent 50 takes out the mole sent by a rival assassin collective led by “Mother.” Both team leaders report to Casterman, a spymaster ordered to kill off his own people. It’s like pulp Oliveira at times – it’s never comedy, but has a delightful heightened quality to it. Multiple narrators of different sexes with different viewpoints, and at one point (not even at an intermission), Llinás stops the episode to show off his storyboards.

Casterman:

Commie-trained mute spy Theresa = Pilar
La Niña, daughter of a legendary soldier = Valeria
La 301, globetrotting assassin = Laura
Agent 50, Ukranian super-spy = Elisa

The promo shot… from L-R: 50, 301, Niña, Dreyfuss, Theresa:

My favorite scene, kidnapped Dreyfuss in the cosmos:


Episode 4

After all that narrative drama, this episode is aggressively messing with us. The actresses play “the actresses,” undistinguished and ignored. Llinás introduces them to new producer Violeta in a studio scene of choreographed arguments, then he ditches his production, taking a mobile crew to film trees in bloom with relaxing string music, stopping frequently to write in his notebook. I think it’s a parody of the pretentious filmmaker who has lost his focus/inspiration.

Halfway through, the focus changes, as paranormal investigator Gatto arrives at the site of a mysterious incident, finding the filmmakers’ car high in a tree, the camera and sound crew raving mad, and Llinás missing, having left behind his journals. Gatto calls the La Flor script notes “a load of crap,” gets mixed up with some residents of a psychiatric colony, and follows the director’s tracks through a series of used book stores, as Llinás searches for an old copy of Casanova with a deleted chapter. This all sounds like nonsense, but it comes together beautifully by the end, after seeming like a waste of time for a good while.

“He never refers to any of them in particular, as if the four were a single thing:”


Episode 5

“In episode five, the girls don’t appear… at the time we thought it was interesting.” I think it’s the same Guy de Maupassant story that Jean Renoir filmed in the 1930’s. A couple of cool dudes with fake mustaches give horse rides to a whitesuit man and his son, when they’re derailed by a couple of picnicking women, who pair off with the mustache men after whitesuit rides away. This is all capped with an air show, and is a lovely diversion after the long previous section.


Episode 6

Heavy organ music and intertitles – the four stars are reunited, but blurred as if shot from behind a dirty screen. Aha, it’s filmed using a camera obscura, a pre-camera device which throws a reverse image through a pinhole. Supposedly the women have escaped from unseen savages and are dodging a giant steampunk insect before returning to their homes. Partially nude and without closeups, they’re finally indistinguishable.

Essential reading: Nick Pinkerton for Reverse Shot and Jordan Cronk’s Cinema Scope feature.

Lavinia is introduced by the lake, doing a wiccan ritual to cure her mom of cancer and get herself out of this town, when a wandering hydrologist interrupts – it’s convenient that a hydrologist is on-site exactly when an alien color-force lands via meteor and gets into the locals via the well water. Lavinia’s cancerous mom is Joely Richardson (of a movie-royalty family, previously of Drowning by Numbers and the Ken Russell Lady Chatterley), her dad is Nic Cage (toned down from Mandy, and better), doing his damnedest to inform America that alpacas are the animal of the future (they are!).

Lavinia and little brother Jack-Jack:

Cage vs. The Color (Purple):

Soon the mutations begin. Mom reabsorbs Jack, stoner brother Benny and his buddy Tommy Chong see otherworldy visions, the alpacas fuse into a many-headed blob, and Cage takes care of business with a shotgun. I think Lavinia helps bring about the apocalypse! Stanley is beloved for some 1990’s cult films… good music by the composer from Hereditary… shot by a music video vet (Grinderman’s “Heathen Child”). The first major Lovecraft feature since Beyond Re-Animator and Dagon in the early 2000’s (RIP Stuart Gordon).

Hydrologist, Benny, Tommy:

Hi, mom:

I’ve hoarding my unwatched Brakhage blu-ray shorts, saving them for when I need them most, and it’s hard to find Hollis Frampton and Michael Snow work that I haven’t already covered… discovering Jodie Mack was a big deal, but really I don’t know many current experimental filmmakers whose work I connect with, and should search for more. So, among the recent best-of-decade lists, Michael Sicinski’s roundup of experimental features and shorts caught my eye, and I’ve resolved to check out some of these, adding in his commercial list and lists by Blake Williams and Jordan Cronk, to explore films outside of the awards/consensus track.


Delphi Falls (2017)

Opens on disturbed cows, then there appear to be characters – a boy and girl in the woods and an abandoned house – but the stars of the film are still the focus pulls and exposure shifts. Insane image of fire on a mirrored lake, then the climax is a woman doing face stretches on a laptop screen in an empty room. Clark seems to be a master of the strangely defamiliarizing image or motion… also, if you showed me stills from this and told me it was a Blair Witch sequel, I’d believe you.

She wanted to “make a film that explores the separation of body and thought and dispersed sentience.” All that her own website will admit is that she lives in Queens, so I found a great long interview with Dan Browne, which is where any otherwise-credited quotes are from.


Orpheus (Outtakes) (2012)

Film clips, reprocessed, and subtitles, out of context. We go inside a black circle, and stare for a while at eyes staring at us through ghost-holes in a black sheet. Noise loops on the soundtrack, then voices from a celebrity guessing game over the eyes (it’s Buster Keaton’s episode of What’s My Line, with Keaton’s voice removed), ending on a twirling chain of light.

I’m not sure I buy that these were Orpheus outtakes. Clark says she wanted “to make a false artifact” and that the film is “about exploiting the smallest marks to create figuration and feeling.”

Sicinski says the “film originates with optically printed footage from Cocteau’s classic, taking it in a far more materialist direction … Clark continues to foreground other concrete details of the cinematic process, like subtitles (in odd, poetic blurts) and the diagonal lines of a ‘rain storm.’ … Clark locates Surrealism’s very unconscious: the film’s desperate desire to look back.” He writes about the other three films on Letterboxd, from coverage of three different festivals, very helpful.


The Dragon Is The Frame (2014)

I stopped to read some of the interviews before continuing, so I thought her San Francisco film would be more Vertigoey, but there is plenty of nature, sequins, youtubes, in addition to the explicit Vertigo references.

Clark:

I try to produce slightly incongruous rhymes with sound and image that suggest a traditional sync sound relationship, but aren’t simply causal. In The Dragon is the Frame, there is a flagpole recorded by contact microphone, and that sound resonated with me in such a specific way that I knew I wanted it in the film. The flagpole sound is paired with foggy shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, then a hand-processed image of a rope harness. The sound creates an emotional landscape and echoes the pulsing texture of the hand-processed film … How do you film a place that’s photographically exhausted but still conjure the experience of being there? The sound of the traffic moving over the rumble strips became surprisingly central to me — I wanted the sound to pull more weight than the image, a way of recasting the cliché, the dead image.

Images against the flagpole sound:

Erika Balsom in Frieze, on The Glass Note, which I’d watched previously:
We encounter the same noise paired with multiple images, with its meaning shifting dramatically with the cut, to the point that the noise seems to resonate differently, even though only the image has changed. These disjunctions denaturalize the technique of synchronization – usually thought to be ‘obvious’ and ‘natural’, even though it is nothing of the sort – and reveal how much our apprehension of the picture conditions our reception of sound and vice-versa. Cinema turns out to be a synaesthetic art, even far beyond bounds of the visual music tradition.

Palms (2015)

“A largely abstract film in four parts”

1. Slowly wriggling hands against white, with the sound of a tennis match. At the end, the film speed changes, making the hands look like stop-motion.

2. Headlights in inky blackness come forward then retreat, looking like the Orpheus eyes, the sound of a solo vocal rehearsal

3. Haha now we get film of a tennis court, the camera zoomed in and panning rapidly back and forth as if to track an in-game ball, sound of a metronome or other click track.

4. The vocals are back, and a black circular flag rippling against a white void is my favorite Clark image since The Glass Note.

Rotterdam, where most of her shorts have played: “She aims to make trance-like, transparent films.”

I finally finished the 2018 Black Mirrors… but wikipedia says while I was postponing watching this season, they went and made another season, oh no. So, only three episodes to go, not counting Bandersnatch, then I guess Charlie Brooker is gone, and we’ll see if the show continues without him.


USS Callister

Opens in a space exploration simulation run by the very Kirk-like captain Daly. Jesse Plemons is kind of a Phil Seymour Hoffman type with a Matt Damon face (haha, he played Hoffman’s son in The Master). Outside the sim, he’s the genius programmer at a gaming company run by Jimmi Simpson (lately from Under the Silver Lake), but inside, Daly’s the omnipotent tyrant boss, Jimmi his lackey, and the new girl at work (Cristin Milioti from Fargo the series) is his latest sexy captive, via some DNA-scanning tech (saliva from a drinking glass also includes the person’s consciousness, hmmm). While he’s messing up his job focusing on the simulated game-world, sim-Cristin contacts her outside self to turn the tables. Mostly this episode is notable for its fun retro Star Trek vibe. Directed by a Dr. Who vet and cowritten by a Stranger Things producer.


Arkangel

“This is your parental hub – I’m just pairing it with Sarah’s implant.” When Sarah is 3, she goes missing for a short time at the park, so her panicked mom agrees to a free trial, “completely safe,” of a permanent tracking implant that includes a sensory v-chip, keeping Sarah from seeing or hearing anything “troubling” (like her grandpa having a heart attack) for years. Not the first Black Mirror where people can be blocked like twitter trolls. When her mom finally turns off the filter, a kid at school shows her all the worst things on the internet all at once, haha. Mom (Rosemarie DeWitt, the bride in Rachel Getting Married) intervenes again when Sarah is 15, watching her experiment with drugs and sex as if her daughter is a streaming series, until Sarah finds out and smashes the surveillance tablet against her mom’s face. Directed by Jodie Foster!


Crocodile

Rob and Mia are returning from a rave when he runs over a biker on a lonely snowy road, and they throw the guy off a cliff (there are always nearby cliffs in movies) and move on with their lives. Years later, Mia (Andrea Riseborough, Mandy in Mandy) is an architect mom going to a corporate thing in The Future, when she catches up with Rob (Outlander‘s Andrew Gower), who is having major guilty thoughts about the past. She cannot deal with the past coming back to haunt her at this point in her career, so she chokes him and throws him in a room service cart, getting pretty confident about disposing of bodies. Meanwhile, an insurance investigator (Kiran Sonia Sawar of the new Riz Ahmed movie) hooks people up to a memory reading machine to find out how an orchestra musician got hit by a driverless pizza truck. Mia was a witness, and certain unwanted memories come to light during the scan, so she kills Kiran and her husband and their baby. I mean it’s kinda dystopian, but usually we get innocent victims and this time it’s “in the future if you do a murder, you’ll get caught.” Director John Hillcoat – after The Road, he made two crime movies that didn’t sound essential, and is supposedly working on a Witchfinder General remake.

Schoolkids of the Future performing a play of Hillcoat’s bootlegger drama Lawless:


Hang the DJ

The Netflix mind-reading device hidden inside our Roku knows that the Black Mirror episodes I think about most often are Video Game Horror Tester and Two Girls in Retro Land, so it gave me this right after USS Callister. Georgina Campbell (from the Geraldine Chaplin episode of Electric Dreams) and Joe Cole (of Green Room and Woodshock) go through the latest dating app, which puts expiration dates of extremely different lengths (from hours to years) on each relationship. Near the beginning, the two joke about being stuck in a simulation, and that turns out to be the case. A program exposing people to a series of experiences of different lengths to determine their precise individual tastes feels like a swipe at new Black Mirror overlords Netflix. It does finally play the Smiths song at the end, yay. Directed by Timothy “Master Ninja” Van Patten.


Metalhead

3 Scots drive a filthy car through a postapocalyptic landscape. Two are taken out quickly by the robot dogs armed with guns and tracking-device frag grenades that have decimated humanity, but Bella (Maxine Peake of this year’s Peterloo) fights back. Terminator-eye view as it chases her, but she knocks it off a cliff to buy time – there are always nearby cliffs in movies – and sets her tracking bug adrift in a bottle. Not sure I buy the resourcefulness of the murderdog, which replaces its lost limb with a kitchen knife, but I definitely buy that the security systems of cars and houses in The Future are programmed to let the dogs – presumably state security devices or Amazon delivery agents – have full access. Bella doesn’t make it. Slade made Hard Candy, hey, I was just thinking about that movie.


Black Museum

Nish (Letitia Wright, the techno-sister of Black Panther, who was nominated for an Emmy for this) is driving alone through the usual wasteland, stops at a gas station/museum, and lets proprietor Douglas Hodge (Pennyworth in the new Joker, film debut was Salome’s Last Dance) lead her around and tell overlong stories about the horror artifacts within, Nish claiming ignorance even though she’s here for revenge. Three long sections follow… first, doctor Daniel Laplaine (who played Handsome Internet Expert in Double Jeopardy) gets a transmitter so he can feel the pain of his patients, but becomes addicted to feeling sensation without any bodily repercussions and goes on a torture/murder spree. Then, Alexandra Roach (young Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady) falls into a coma and her husband Aldis Hodge (who just made waves in Clemency) agrees to let her consciousness cohabitate in his brain – but she gets annoying and he has a pause button (shades of the White Christmas episode). Both of these stories implicate the museum owner, who came up with the dodgy technologies that made them possible, but fired from the hospital after the mad doctor incident, he opened this museum with its main attraction: the VR consciousness of a condemned killer (Babs Olusanmokun of Where Is Kyra?) whom visitors can pay to electrocute on an endless loop – until Nish turns the tables, ends her dad’s torment-loop and throws in Hodge instead. Colm McCarthy also made The Girl with All the Gifts – really an all-star director slate this season.

Dr. Driller Killer:


Bojack Horseman season 3 (2016)

The one where Bojack thinks he was oscar-nominated for Secretariat, but was not… Princess Carolyn is fired as his agent… and they kill Kristen Schaal, oh no. Loved the wordless underwater episode, dug the Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard reference.


The Good Place season 4 (2019)

They try the neighborhood thing one more time, Shawn and Michael square off, the Judge lets them redo the points system instead of rebooting Earth, and in exchange for their help, our heroes go to the actual Good Place… for a while.


In other TV news, I’m savoring my Cowboy Bebops and waiting for Rick & Morty season 4 to return from hiatus. Avenue 5 and Final Space didn’t seem like my thing, need to check out a few more new shows before Search Party s3 comes out and dominates my time.

Not as Wes Andersonny as I’d been led to believe, just thoughtfully designed with attention to light and color, and ends with one of the characters putting on a play for all the others. Both Jimmie’s insistence on reclaiming his (false) heritage to find a place he belongs, and Monty’s long-suffering loyal hanger-on who can only speak his mind through the voices of others, are terrific characters. Jimmie Fails was in Talbot’s previous short film, and Jonathan Majors will be in the new Spike Lee.

Jimmie with a nudist who is not Neil Young:


Hair Love (2019, Cherry & Downing & Smith)

Before the feature, we watched this short, just a few minutes after it won the Oscar. It’s cute, the character poses very Disneyfied. Seemed minor to me, and I preferred the unruly hair drama of Random Acts of Flyness, but it’s also the only nominee I’ve seen, seems to be connecting with a lotta people, and it’s an indie kickstarter project, which is a welcome change since Pixar has won half the awards lately.

This remake of Howard Hawks’s Ball of Fire is very scripty – so much screenwriting that there’s no room for anything else. Maybe a powerful performance could break through the scriptiness, but Virginia Mayo (ah, who?) is no Stanwyck, and Danny Kaye (I can never remember who he is exactly, and think of him as “Fake Donald O’Connor”) is no Gary Cooper (and I don’t even like Gary Cooper), so we’re boned. Mayo and her gangster boyfriend “Tony Crow” get in some real good slang, at least, while Kaye avoids Mayo because of her distracting body and the demoralizing effect of her presence, and hides out with his music scholar buddies, none of whom are Cuddles Sakall (but one of whom is Benny Goodman). Popular musicians Tommy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong look on as Kaye finally gets the girl, and picking up the second half of this movie a day later, we forgot why we’d ever started it, until we saw the Hawks name again – he remade his own pretty-good movie as a pretty-bad movie in the same decade.

“It’s after the end of the world / Don’t you know that yet?”

Sun Ra finds a new planet, decides to bring over some Black people. He appears in the 1940’s as stage pianist “Sunny Ray,” playing futuristic jazz piano to the annoyance of the patrons (the Back to the Future of its time). Some sort of interdimensional devil finds him, and challenges him to card games in the middle of the desert.

Somehow I thought this movie was a concert/rock doc, but it’s not a doc of any sort. Ra ends up in present-day California and observes all kinds of dickish behavior. He is kidnapped by NASA agents, who tie him up and torture him by playing him “Dixie” in headphones, until he’s rescued by young men who were earlier arguing about whether Sun Ra was selling out by releasing his music on LPs. There’s a sidetrack where the (white/racist) NASA guys beat up some prostitutes, a running joke where the devil-man has two naked women and his crony gets excited only to be kicked out so the devil can have both women for himself, and at the end, one of the young men sacrifices himself to save Sun Ra from an assassin, then all the decent(ish) Black people are raptured away to Ra’s planet before Earth explodes.

The youth of today:

The wikis say Ra made his own edit, 20 minutes shorter, cutting out the blaxploition stuff, which would probably be for the best. No info on the director… cowriter Josh Smith’s other credit is a G-rated family movie about a kid’s baby seal. Devil-man (Ashley Clark called him a “megapimp”) is Ray Johnson, who showed up 15 years later in a previously unheard-of TV version of The Bourne Identity, and his hanger-on is Chris Brooks, who played both Hieronymus Bosch and Jesus Christ in his short career. But that’s all if you believe IMDB credits, which are often bunk. I see a John and a Chris, a Johnson and a Smith – these are all generic pseudonyms, since this movie was clearly made by aliens from the future.

Oh no, it opens with ironic home-video texture. Heavy midnight-movie style-vibes, after the guy from Girls is tempted to murder his baby, and the baby says “you know what you have to do, right?” He needs to tie up a prostitute then kill her with an ice pick. Midnight vibes confirmed when he rehearses chopping up a body, the movie giving us the sound effects in his head over smooth jazz music while he mimes the actions.

Part of the point of Rotterdance is to check out the hot new filmmakers, so this year instead of catching up with The Image Book or Happy as Lazzaro or Anthropocene, I decided to watch only new-to-me directors. In the time since Piercing‘s release, Nicolas “Nicky Fish” Pesce has already made an unloved reboot of The Grudge. Coincidentally, the last time I saw Chris Abbot was also a genre movie by a promising young director whose third feature just came out to not-great reviews.

Mia W appears as the chosen prostitute, and it turns out Chris isn’t as cool and capable in person, but acts transparently like a serial killer (flashbacks to the Second Incident). Also, Mia turns out to be damaged and complicated – we don’t know much about her, but the movie gives us some damaged/complicated shorthand and asks us to trust it. This proves difficult when the movie’s logic falls apart… Mia stabs herself in the bathroom then takes him to her place in Diorama City… he calls home from the hospital and his wife (Laia Costa, Alia Shawkat’s costar in Duck Butter) now appears to be in on the murder plot, even though last time we saw her Chris was lying about going on a business trip?

This is all played for absurd comedy – it’s really a laugh-a-minute sex-murder movie. They do finally tie each other up, but she finds his journal, drugs him, beats the shit out of him with a can opener, turns the tables, etc. Wendell Pierce appears for four seconds in a split-screen – why?

Mike D’Angelo in AV Club:

The playfulness works beautifully, even though it bears little resemblance to [Audition author Ryu] Murakami’s deep dive into two badly broken psyches … Re-conceiving the tone was a smart move on Pesce’s part — a faithful, ultra-grim adaptation would likely have been unbearable. Trouble is, he loses his nerve … The movie turns ugly, but the ugliness hasn’t been earned.