Earthearthearth (2021 Daichi Saito)

Opens with sunrise/sunsets, light tentatively emerging then retreating, broken up with ugly digital artifacting and with one of those a-g drone tracks that says “I didn’t have any sound in mind but I want to act like it’s a sound film so the viewer doesn’t put on an Abraxas album.” But the drone gets bigger and more complex as the visuals turn into fullscreen desert landscapes, superimposed over different ones, infected by huge color tinting – purple-blues, blue-and-gold. The radiation-green with Argento-red section is incredible, as the drone starts to sound like a processed bowed string instrument. I went back and forth on digital/analogue and finally decided it’s scanned film run through a panel of analog video processing effects – am I right? (nope, chemical-processed 16mm). Just a half hour of looking at lights flicker over mountains, but it’s the most times I’ve said “whoa” out loud while watching any movie this year. Eventually I started daydreaming about putting on The Grandmaster, but the Grainy Cloud Explosions finale was worth sticking around for.


The Head That Killed Everyone (2014 Beatriz Santiago Muñoz)

Voice reads methodically, as if from a lesson plan, some lines about the energies that go into casting a proper spell. Then a woman does a long dance in medium close-up without music, just the sounds of the night and an approaching thunderstorm. Not as exciting as its title, which I took to be the opposite energy of that Flaming Lips song.


13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (2020 Ana Vaz)

Another woman reading, this time onscreen but out of sync, a crackly vinyl loop overlaid on the soundtrack, until it suddenly is not. To be uncharitable to the experimental shorts, they revel in adding and removing elements on a random timeline. Title card. Instead of seeing a scenario, we see someone with eyes closed, her voiceover telling us the scenario she’s envisioning. After a couple of those, the camera at least shows a scene that kinda represents what the person dreamed. I think each title card is a line from the opening monologue, so each chapter expands on a section of that. And they mention blackbirds pretty often, though any birds the camera or mic pick up seem pretty incidental to their “what are images, what is the meaning of anything” conversations. Forgot I wanted to save this movie to double-feature with There Are Not Thirty-Six Ways of Showing a Man Getting on a Horse.


Glimpses from a Visit to Orkney in Summer 1995 (2020 Ute Aurand)

Silent defocused montage of extreme close-ups on colorful things – flowers, farm animals, gramma. A personal diary-travelogue short, a-g-style.


What Distinguishes The Past (2020 Ben Russell)

Long take of a fireworks display in reverse motion, neat. I’m glad I watched this, because it’s got a playful reversal on what I consider (based on Let Each One and A Spell to Ward) to be Russell’s signature: handheld cam following a person walking in real-time over terrain. This time the people are walking in reverse, shot from the front, composited into the terrain, and it’s all over in four minutes.


Kyiv Frescoes (1966 Sergei Parajanov)

After Pomegranates and Ancestors, it’s fun to see a Parajanov with modern costumes. This picks up the pace from Pomegranates, practically playing like a silent comedy, though one with impeccable compositions, prominently placed symbolic objects, and few (but some!) actual jokes. Besides being a playful compositional art object, it’s a choreographed dance film and I dunno, maybe a history lesson. I know I’m ridiculous for thinking this might have been about actual Kyiv frescoes, imagining a tour in the style of Varda’s Les Dites Cariatides.

This was to be his followup feature to Ancestors but was shut down during production, so these scenes are outtakes from that project – then he’d develop this new style into Pomegranates. Per The Calvert Journal:

Parajanov intended to set this loosely-structured metaphorical film on the day of the city’s liberation from Nazi troops — but wanted to centre it around a museum, praising beauty and art rather than heroism and patriotism. The production of the film was terminated by the state studio, who deemed Parajanov’s experiments inappropriate for the subject.


The Balloonatic (1923 Buster Keaton)

The most random of the shorts, moving from a haunted house to hot air balloon to canoe, with fishes and bulls and bears along the way. Buster is a ridiculous idiot here with moments of brilliance – and the girl he keeps bumping into is mostly capable with moments of incompetence, so they’re made for each other. Phyllis Haver is his lead actress – a Sennett and DeMille star in the silent era, before something went wrong 40 years on; she took a lot of pills and died.


The Blacksmith (1922 Buster Keaton)

I suppose he’s more capable here, but mostly oblivious. A blacksmith’s assistant, he ruins two cars and two horses, and gets the blacksmith (Big Joe Roberts, of course) arrested, ends up on a chase, hopping a train to elope with customer Virginia Fox. The casual use of hot metal and blowtorches produce some wincey stunts. Better use of a balloon in this short than in The Balloonatic.

Talked with Joe about this briefly, and so I’m not crazy for thinking the story “ends” differently in the initial flash-forward. I guess we get to choose whether we want to stick with that fantasy hero ending, or embrace the New Hollywood bummer death ending. Along the way every flashback to the driver’s earlier life and racing career ends portentously in a crash. The driver’s goal is San Francisco, takes a bunch of speed and intends to break every estimate, at the expense of the condition of the car he’s supposed to drop off. We spend some time with a blind DJ, who takes up the driver’s cause before getting beat down by the anti-freedom local boys. As for the driver, immediately after jumping onto a divided highway going the wrong way then back again to shake two cop cars, he uses the turn signal to change lanes – good movie.

Sweeping mountain views and time-lapse skies under opera music… but lo-fi overcompressed found-footage sources aren’t what you look for in a nature doc, so what are we doing? Long focus on hurricane and tornado destruction then random cuts to tidal waves and volcanoes. My second modern b/w movie in a row – this one looked significantly worse than Macbeth. Per Phil Coldiron in Cinema Scope, Pelechian has written academically about montage, and this is his first film in almost 30 years. I wasn’t crazy about it, but still want to check out The Seasons sometime.

A description of the opening scenes would sound like a scare headline about the callous drug-afflicted youth: Morvern’s boyfriend is dead in a doorway, she grabs cash from his pocket and goes out to meet a friend Lanna for a bar date. Morvern books a resort trip to Spain with the funeral money her man left on a bank card, puts her own name on the man’s finished novel and gets a publishing deal, ditches Lanna who admits having an affair with the man. Good character and movie, full of unexpected developments and images.

Samantha Morton is my age – I’ve seen her in Synecdoche and Cosmopolis, Mister Lonely and Minority Report, and it’s been a long while since Sweet and Lowdown and Jesus’ Son. So all of Ramsay’s movies are about death trauma? I first heard of her when Criterion released Ratcatcher twenty years ago, deciding I must watch it, but now I’ve seen all of her features except Ratcatcher – typical of my roundabout way of doing things.

Artificial, stagy-looking, stylish, with great transitions between scenes. Everyone has different speaking styles, not flattened into a single form. Kathryn Hunter obviously MVP, good to see Stephen Root and Harry Melling (Julie Taymor’s Puck). Most importantly, there are more birds in this version than in any other.

Superman (1941 Dave Fleischer)

Wait, everyone on Krypton had superpowers, and Superman was raised on Earth in an orphanage? Mr. White is the newspaper boss. Lois flies a plane, is the only person investigating the letter they got saying an electrothanasia ray would cause devastation at midnight, the villain a mohawked creep, vaguely popeye-voiced, with a pet vulture. “This looks like a job for Superman,” Kent says casually the next day, after Lois is kidnapped and many people are dead, goes out and punches the electric ray into submission (and unforgivably, saves the girl and the villain but not the vulture). A silly story, but check out these colors.


The Mechanical Monsters (1941 Dave Fleischer)

These have a catchy theme song. Another rich mad scientist, this one in a purple suit and twirlable mustache, has developed drone technology – radio-controlled bank-robbing robots. Haha, when Lois and Clark are present at the next robbery, Clark steps into a booth to “phone this in” and… he phones it in! He just calls the newspaper office… it doesn’t occur to him to use the booth to become Superman until later. Lois is of course kidnapped, dangled over a smelter. I suppose all of these stories end the same way, with rescued Lois’s cover story in the paper the next day while Clark winks at the camera.

Everyone on Krypton also sports a Magic Cape:


Let’s Sing with Popeye (1934 Dave Fleischer)

Oh no, this was a two-minute short where Popeye punches some of his own stuff aboard a boat, then sings his theme song in a low, disinterested voice with follow-the-bouncing-ball lyrics.


Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions (1933 Dave Fleischer)

Opens with fireworks with live cats inside, so it’s gonna be good. Betty and friends are at a giant trade show under a circus tent, showing off different impractical inventions. She and Bimbo escape after a haywire sewing machine goes on a rampage, presumably hundreds of people are dead.


In the Future (2019 Phil Mulloy)

Absurd shadow-characters discuss the future. Very short, and a quarter of the runtime is a guy peeing. Phil has been out there since the 1970’s, making a pile of shorts and some features.


Endgame (2015 Phil Mulloy)

Two guys leave the city for some weekend war games and get more war than they bargained for. Stick figure art, the roughly drawn backgrounds include random-seeming numbers and figures. I was with it until the gang-rape joke.


Peter & the Wolf (2006 Suzie Templeton)

Great birds in this: an emotional support duck and a crow tied to a balloon, and terrific camera perspectives and stop motion work. Peter just wants to play in the backyard with his friends, help the crow with bad wings pretend to fly, and skate on the frozen pond, but grandpa wants him to stay indoors because there’s a wolf out there. The boy traps the wolf after it eats his comfort-duck, but frees the wolf at the end rather than hand it over to the ruffian townies. No dialogue, so it premiered with live orchestra accompaniment, and won the oscar, obviously.


My Love (2006 Aleksandr Petrov)

Another half-hour movie based on a Russian story featuring ducks, a cat in a tree, and some good birds. 16-year-old gives a crystal duck to a girl he likes, is figuring out what love is. He dreams of marrying his family’s poor maid, also starts worshipping a hot neighbor, but he is finally weird to the neighbor and when he becomes sick with brain fever the maid leaves to become a nun. My DVD copy isn’t high-res enough to get the full effect, but this is lovely – painted frames, smearing the backgrounds as the characters move past, exploding into fantasy scenes in the kid’s imagination. Feels too wordy, watching so soon after Peter & the Wolf. Petrov’s followup to his great Old Man and the Sea.


The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1981 Mark Hall)

It took a minute to even realize this was stop-motion; my copy’s contrast is off. The opposite of the Petrov in that the wordless animation moments are alright but it comes to life when the narrator is going off – he is Robert Hardy of the 1970’s version of The Green Knight, reading the original poem. Obviously not a movie to explore unless you’re ready to see hundreds of stop-motion rats. Jiri Barta also made a version, which would be worth digging up. A good effort for England, who still had ten years to wait until Wallace & Gromit. Hall was a British TV veteran, working on Danger Mouse among others.


Who Would Comfort Toffle? (1980 Johan Hagelback)

Toffle is alone and scared with nobody to talk to when the night monsters come, so he ditches his house and wanders to find somewhere new. Limited storybook animation with a rock musical soundtrack. The Hemulens are giant things outside that are maybe moomins? Real kids stuff, cute – you don’t see a lot of Swedish mythology cartoons.


The Chimney Thief (1944 Paul Grimault)

A thief who steals lightning rods and uses them to pole-vault across the rooftops is a pretty great idea. What ever happened to lightning rods anyway? You don’t see them around much. The scene where he distracts a guard dog with a wind-up mechanical bone is simply odd, all the character animation timing wonky. Their stretchy rubber-band bodies seem Boop-inspired. Nothing more to it than a rod thief outsmarting two identical cops chasing after him, some typical chase scene bits, but remarkably good use of 3D space. Grimault worked with Jacques Demy and made some other widely-acclaimed works that I’ve meant to find.


Birds/Ptakhy (2012 Mykyta Liksov)

Unlike the Blackbird short, this movie called Birds is about birds – this is all I ask for. The birds dance through the air, form couples and nests on the last above-water structures of a flooded Earth, except for one who swims underwater in search of a fallen spouse and finds a glowing egg in the irradiated wreckage of human civilization. I was already enjoying this before its all-timer end-credits sequence.


The Baby Birds of Norman McLaren (2014 Mirai Mizue)

Aha, someone is into maximalist mutations, colorful patterns, and bright pop music. Someone watched the entire McLaren DVD set and took away all the correct lessons, turning in a fun, short, snappy piece with tributes to Norman’s different animation and sound sync styles.


The Big Snit (1985 Richard Condie)

Squiggle-vision cartoon about a domestic squabble over a scrabble game while nuclear war is beginning outside. Between the two Ukraine-related shorts and this one, I hadn’t meant to get so topical tonight. The couple reconciles just in time to be vaporized, a happy ending. This and Condie’s La Salla are maybe over-acclaimed, but I like his very random sense of humor, and he also produced The Cat Came Back.

Trauma drama in which a high schooler dies in a diving accident. I’d always been curious about this one for winning the Palme d’Or over Mulholland Drive, The Piano Teacher, Va Savoir, et al. Quality movie, mostly about the performances and the coping. Dad is a psychiatrist, catches abuse from his patients then abruptly quits the business. Eventually the family latches onto a girl who knew their son briefly, tries to befriend her and help her out, go on a spontaneous road trip together. It’s unusual to hear an Eno/Roedelius/Moebius song in a movie. Mia Madre feels like a superior remake, but this was good.

A movie about slackers and fuckups, shot with usually-in-focus handheld with little dodges and zooms. The soundtrack is the most professional part – an Of Montreal song follows a Spoon song. The legacy is that this was a key mumblecore movie along with Mutual Appreciation – movies about difficult nobodies which are discussed more for their very low budgets than for any craft.

I didn’t hate the story, but started to hate codirector Mark as he finally loses his shit over the difficulties involved in buying and retrieving a puffy chair for his dad over the internet. Tagging along is his brother Rhett Wilkins, whose open and impulsive character nicely balances Mark’s. And Katie Aselton (recently of She Dies Tomorrow and Synchronic) as “the girl.” I dunno about mumblecore, but if She Dies Tomorrow was the end result then I’m happy to pay respects to its roots.

The movie ends up where all movies must: driving into Atlanta

Famous lecturer Jean Desailly (of a couple Melville films) picks up stewardess Francoise Dorléac (a couple years before Cul-de-sac) and talks endlessly about Balzac at the bar. He falls for her, but is married, and the whole movie is about how hard it is to have a secret affair. It’s even harder because he’s well known, but he acts like Francoise has no other options, and is a pain in the ass to her for almost their own relationship, so when he finally proposes, she breaks up with him. And then his wife finds out.

The music took the whole thing seriously from the start. It’s a suave, smooth looking movie, each scene patiently revealing. A jump cut or two just to remind us this is the FNW, overall more admirable than any fun to watch.