The director investigates her Uncle Oscar, her fellow gay filmmaking family rebel, digging up all she can find on him, which isn’t much. Oscar had been repressed by Trujillo, which inevitably brought to mind Oscar Wao. Lots of design and performance in this movie, bringing in more family members for interviews and to adapt Oscar’s screenplays. Sometimes feels slight, but I’m interested in the idea of families erasing their memories, whether on purpose as a destructive act, or accidentally through forgetting. Also sometimes feels awkward, like when two people face each other on a large stage reading aloud emails that they’d sent each other. Some of the less stagy bits outshone these setpieces, like after her tortured attempt to gently bring up to an elder family member the idea that Oscar may not have been entirely straight, when she finally arrives at her point he says “oh yes I knew.”

World premiere by our second punk filmmaker of the day, wearing band t-shirts whenever she’s on camera. Angel Bat Dawid didn’t have time to play all of the 20 instruments she’d brought along, but she made the strongest first impression of any T/F musician, coming out singing from the back of the bar and leading a call/response on her way to the front.

Diem filmed young Di and her Hmong family for three years, but ends up focusing on one incident near the end of that period. Di goes off with a boy named Vang during the new year celebration, therefore he’s said to have “kidnapped” her and she is his bride – even though Di said before and after that it’s not what she intended. Diem gets involved with her subjects, speaks from behind the camera, has conversations, gets into rice paddy mudfights. I chuckled when she told Di that she’s done the wrong thing, since one of the highest compliments reviewers pay a film is that it’s not judgemental of its characters. The payoff of the director’s involvement in the story onscreen comes in the festival’s most harrowing moment. Vang’s family gets tired of negotiating and of Di’s refusals, and simply pick the girl up and carry her away kicking, as she looks back to the camera screaming for Diem to save her, instantly turning this from “portrait of a girl in a particular culture” or “child bride issues doc” into an emergency study in ethics. The misty mountains were very lovely, too. Living Hour opened again but picked up the tempo, and we calmed down after the movie at Cafe Poland with some pierogis and bigos (wow).

We arrived late and tired on Thursday, skipping our planned first film (Where Are We Headed), instead opting for beer and food at Broadway Brewing, then apples and sausage and coffee at Cafe Berlin the next morning.

Lilas and Shery lead a metal band in Beirut. Formerly a couple, they still rock out together but Lilas (not out to her family) is with a new girl visiting from Syria. Movie looks good, sensitively made. The director says she didn’t set out to make a “rock doc,” but after the band infighting and breakup and makeup and the one gig with sad attendance at a Glastonbury side stage, that’s what she made. Includes footage of the port explosion, which was the focus of another T/F movie (Octopus). Opening band Living Hour played us some mostly-light slowcore.

A key document of pandemic-era people being shitty to each other. Last week’s viewing of Happy Valley was well timed, since Jude also roams the streets here, filming construction and advertising billboards and plant life. Altogether too academic, despite all the sex. Chapter two is didactic social horrors. Mostly exasperating – give me Social Hygiene over this any day. At least this had better color than most movies – surprising, since it’s mostly a parent-teacher conference interrupted by documentary street scenes. My first by Radu Jude, whose previous six films have been on my radar.

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.