Shorts so far, 2010

A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (2009, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

Slow-panning shots outside looking in, but mostly inside looking out. Unique location (Nabua village in Thailand) but also unique photography style. I wonder if another filmmaker could’ve found images half as strong as these. As for the story, well, as usual with A.W. I don’t really get it. The village has a history of violence and repression, and this (fictional?) uncle is unseen, addressed by a narrator. Actually it’s more than one narrator, reading the same script, which is later critiqued for accuracy of dialect as we continue roaming the houses, looking slowly up at the trees. Makes me want to catch up with A.W.’s features that I’ve missed. Later: So I have, with Syndromes and a Century. Its dialogue repetition and shots of trees from inside buildings reminded me of this short.

Academic Hack:

In a stunning act of political avant-gardism, Joe has adapted Thai Buddhist tenets regarding reincarnation as a means for excavating the hidden history of a troubled landscape. As his camera slowly creeps and pans through darkened, abandoned homes, Apichatpong is displaying the remnants of a repressed past, in an assertion of ghostly, vertical time. … Joe’s dominant visual cue throughout Boonmee is the depiction of dark, illegible interiors whose porous walls and broken-out windows allow the bright green of the jungle to puncture the once-domestic space with light and texture. As beautiful as the effect may be, it is also chilling, since it represents the breakdown of human effort’s separation from natural encroachment, the dissolution of basic boundaries.


We Work Again (1937)

A newsreel short about how “we” (meaning black americans, though it sounds like the regular white studio voiceover guy saying “we”) are finding jobs after the depression – mostly jobs in the arts, thanks to the federal works agency. Contains rare footage of Orson Welles’ “Voodoo Macbeth,” which used all black actors and looks like it could’ve used a higher prop budget.

image


The Little White Cloud That Cried (2009, Guy Maddin)

Commissioned for a Jack Smith program. It reminded me of Kenneth Anger, with the classic pop songs strung together, the soft-focus closeups, but that’s probably because I barely know anything about Jack Smith. Lots (lots!) of nudity, largely (maybe entirely) transsexuals. Typical Maddin editing (which is to say: exhilarating). It’s either art or the best porno I’ve ever seen.

image

Someone got the filmmaker by accident. He looks so intense!
image

Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair (2009, Guy Maddin)

No credits. Need to get a copy someday without interlacing. Made for the Rotterdam festival for an outdoor exhibit. Isabella is in the ‘lectric chair. A man rushes to save her, too late, embraces her as the switch is pulled. Charming homemade effects: tin foil, sparklers and exercise equipment. Louis Negin (reused footage from Glorious?) dances shirtless in celebration!

Maddin: “Now, I was immediately told no nudity, I was immediately told no strobing, so strobing became the new taboo. It would throw the citizens of Rotterdam into epileptic fits flipping on the sidewalks.”

image

More, from a simply fantastic interview with Maddin: “My condition for doing it was that I got permission to re-use the footage in my next feature. Whenever I accept a short film commission, I get permission to use the footage from it and so I’m slowly assembling clips… and in this financially depressed time, you need to. It’s a Frankenstein feature film built together from a bunch of dead short commissions.”

image


Zoo (1962, Bert Haanstra)

One of the greatest short films ever. He must have shot for days and days to get so many great shots of animals and spectators, then associatively edited them together into a docu-comedy. I learned from the ravingly positive writeup on the official Bert site that it was all filmed with a hidden camera.

image


Contact (2009, Jeremiah Kipp)

Boy and girl visit dealer, get bottled drug and take it together naked. Bad trip ensues. Girl’s concerned parents wait at home, until she shows up late, hugs daddy. Very little spoken dialogue – for artistic sake, or with international film fest distribution in mind? Heavy-handed sound design with echoey shock-horror effects with a sidetrack into 8-bit glitch noise.

image


The Bookworm (1939, Hugh Harman)

The crappiest little time-filler of an MGM cartoon. Can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy these as a set, so may as well parcel ‘em out as bonus content on other discs. Poe’s raven wants to catch a bookworm (that’s a worm who eats books) to put in the Macbeth witches’ cauldron, but the worm is saved by characters from other books, with a complete lack of imagination, not even the har-har caricature value of those not-great Tashlin library shorts. Why would the books want to save a bookworm anyway? This seems an important part of the story, and it’s just ignored. Ted on IMDB overthinks the movie, says it’s “amazingly sophisticated in its abstraction,” no kidding. A Tashlin movie would just blow Ted’s head right off. Harman put more effort into the same year’s classic short Peace On Earth.


Love On Tap (1939, George Sidney)

At least with The Bookworm you can tune out the story and watch the animation, but there’s no joy in this one. Well, it’s a musical short so I guess you’ve got dancing, but that’s not much of an attraction. Story goes this dude is trying to marry a gal who leads a dance troupe, but her dancers are whiny dependent brats and she caters to their every whim, putting off the guy until he threatens to leave instead of marrying her. He should’ve. Sidney later directed celebrated musicals like Annie Get Your Gun and Kiss Me Kate… guess you gotta start somewhere.


Michelangelo Eye to Eye (2004, Michelangelo Antonioni)

Antonioni silently contemplates the work of another Michelangelo. 15 minutes of static or slowly tracking shots, with just room noise until an ethereal choir sings us out into the credits. Nice to see that after all these years, M.A. is still filming people dwarfed by giant structures and pillars.

image


Wake Up, Freak Out, Then Get a Grip (2008, Leo Murray)

A cute cartoon illustrating how we’re all going to die from global warming. Only Leo doesn’t say we’ll all die, he says all the good species of animals will die, leaving rats and roaches, and since there won’t be enough resources left for all of us, those with the most guns and lowest morals will survive to slaughter the rest. Then he says we can’t stop things by being jolly good consumers and buying fluorescent bulbs, we must rather campaign our governments and friendly local corporations to smarten up. Not likely! Move inland.

Shoot ‘em Up (2007, Michael Davis)

Take Clive Owen and give him a gun and you’ve got The International, I guess. But give him and everyone else lots and lots of guns and you have this, which must be an improvement. I don’t know how Davis (director of two dorm comedies and a monster-truck thriller) landed Owen, Paul Giamatti as a sneering baddie, or the budget to make a big-ass action movie, but he’s made the most of it – ambitious, gleefully unrealistic action scenes – and good thing, too, since it might be his last chance (it died at the box office).

Did anyone even envision Paul Giamatti appearing in a scene like this?
image

Clive rescues a baby (hello, Children of Men) which is possibly a clone of a senator who backs gun control, so a gun company (led by Pontypool‘s Stephen McHattie) is trying to have the clone-baby killed? Something like that. Anyway, Clive kills two people with carrots (he has a thing for carrots) so I’m not thinking the plot details make a big difference. Besides the carrots, it’s full of terrible 80’s-throwback one-liners, and terrible 80’s-throwback gender politics – any women are either moms (Ramona Pringle, killed early) or prostitutes (Monica Bellucci of those Matrix sequels).

I love the low-tech tape deck they use for the ol’ fake-baby trick:
image

Buy cheap from Amazon:
Shoot ‘Em Up

As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000, Jonas Mekas)

After an opening monologue about not understanding life or people, and not really wanting to understand them, hours and hours of home movies! Mekas in voiceover assures us they are edited in “random” order, but chapter 8 starts with a shot of a campbells soup can, then we glimpse Warhol on a ferry a minute later, so it’s not as random as he’d like us to think. Not randomly selected, either… each is a scene from the previous 30-or-so years chosen for its “glimpses of beauty.” So even though it seems weird to release home movies, with details a hundred times more meaningful to Mekas and his family than to a distant viewer like myself, it’s edited for wide appeal so really very nice.

image

I don’t mean to represent the entire five-hour film with a screenshot of Andy Warhol, it’s just that I was watching on the TV then I moved into the kitchen for ten minutes and brought the movie with me (miracles of technology) and happened to grab this frame.

There’s also sped-up film, rapid editing and some superimpositions – not just untouched boring ol’ film footage. His voiceover isn’t concise, but he has plenty of time. “I’m not so sure what I’m doing, really.”

I like that he keeps calling us his friends.
Or maybe he thought only his friends would ever watch this.

Alternate title: Children and Cats (Sped Up)

The sound quality could use a boost. I recognized Allen Ginsberg, and titles introduce Hollis Frampton, P. Adams Sitney, Nam June Paik, Ken Jacobs and Richard Serra.

I’m guessing it was New Yorkers (more specifically, regulars at the Anthology Film Archives) who voted this a decade-best film. Seems like it’d have added significance for a New Yorker.

Recommended listening: “Springtime in New York” by Jonathan Richman

“That moment everything came back to me, in fragments.”
Some repeated title cards (like “This is a political film”) and the chapter headers give it a sense of structure.

Random dude on IMDB:
“This is the work of a man at peace with his own happiness. We should all be so lucky.”

Mekas explains himself:

My film diaries 1970-1979: my marriage, children are born, you see them growing up. Footage of daily life, fragments of happiness and beauty, trips to France, Italy, Spain, Austria. Seasons of the year as they pass through New York. Friends, home life, nature, unending search for moments of beauty and celebration of life friendships, feelings, brief moments of happiness. Nothing extraordinary, nothing special, things that we all experience as we go through our lives.

NY Times:

At almost five hours, the movie is brief only when compared with Mr. Mekas’s 78 years of life. The film is a first — the home movie as epic. With its intentionally rough-hewn cuts, it is a journal, with hand-typed titles interspersed throughout that skitter past like lightning flashes and are meant to evoke moments. It’s a fleeting storm of a film, with pockets of rhythms that suggest the ebb and flow of a naturally unfolding event — though for some, its length may call for coffee and blankets.

It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955, Robert Gordon)

Faith Domergue is a gorgeous scientist of the type you’re not likely to find in a real science lab, smirks Robert Osborne in his TCM intro. How would he know? His intro sounded like a description of Godzilla, and sure enough, a serious newsman-sounding voiceover at the very beginning invokes the atom and prepares us for the worst.

First off, there’s a stiff young fellow named Griff (which makes up for the lack of Griffs in Sam Fuller’s submarine movie one year prior) and hunky Kenneth Tobey (Thing From Another World, later a Joe Dante cameo regular), who doesn’t generally act much like a military commander. Disturbances are detected, people are disappearing – what could it mean? Enter marine biologists Dr. Carter (Donald Curtis of Spellbound) and Joyce (Faith Domergue, of This Island Earth the same year, with heavy-looking eyelashes – she can barely keep her eyes open) who excitedly study evidence and declare it might be a giant octopus. Finally, 20 minutes in, we get to see a real octopus, and after another ten we see the real prize, Ray Harryhausen’s giant animated tentacles.

The narrator returns frequently, and he is welcome since not much else is happening, to make statements like: “In the weeks that followed, the North Pacific was closed.” After explaining to the audience what octopuses are, in typically patient cheapie science-film fashion, the marine biologists, who should’ve really been sent home by now, start ordering the military around. Between lessons about cephalopods we get an instructive speech about how women can be as capable as men, proven when biologist Joyce invents a new kind of torpedo. In California they meet local plaid-jacketed sheriff Harry Lauter (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) who is killed by the monster minutes later.

“The coastal waters of the Pacific were mined,” declares the narrator. I hope the Navy plans on cleaning those up later. Needing a device to keep piling on the exposition, the Navy is surrounded by inquisitive reporters, culminating in a LOL moment when a short newsman asks Joyce a question she doesn’t know, so he follows dramatically with: “If you don’t know, who does?”

When the radio announces the ferries are closed then a mob of peeved suit-and-hat wearing men rush down, elbowing past police to assert their rights to ride the ferries, I am just rooting for them all to be eaten by giant fish. Tentacles crawl aground, looking like giant tongues, but only grab a few people, falling upon them Blob-style. Disaster flicks had disappointingly low body counts in the 50’s. Old Dr. Carter gets in trouble as the monster attacks the Golden Gate bridge, in the first scene really worth watching, and I thought he was a goner for sure. After all, the commander and Joyce have shared a hot beach-love scene, so it’s time to kill off the elder third-wheel… but surprisingly, he makes it back.

As we began in a submarine, so shall we end, as the navy takes the battle down below (not too far – the octo stays about 50 feet down). Unexpected meta-humor when the octo grabs their sub and Tobey says “this is where we came in.” Of course, now it’s personal, so he and Dr. John grab scuba gear and harpoons to finish the thing off. I don’t think Tobey ends up with Joyce, dedicated as they are to their careers, but I was sleepy and can’t be sure.

The only sci-fi flick made by Robert Gordon, a former actor (played Al Jolson as a boy in The Jazz Singer). I’m hoping he’s the younger brother of MST3K “fave” Bert I. Gordon. I can find no proof of that, but this film’s writer George Yates wrote five of Bert’s films (the other writer, Hal Smith, was a major voice actor in 1980’s cartoons).

Buy the box set from Amazon:
The Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen

Eureka (2000, Shinji Aoyama)

A long, strange trip. Well, not that strange compared to other Japanese movies I’ve seen, but didn’t go in any direction I expected. The beginning (which I’ve watched before) shows a hijacker killing off hostages before getting taken out by the police, leaving only the bus driver (the great Kôji Yakusho, who himself played a kidnapper in Tokyo Sonata) and two kids alive. Now we’ve got over three hours left to follow these three depressed individuals as they do nothing much. Oh, and it’s all b/w sepia-toned, which I thought was supposed to correlate to the survivors’ sense of distance from the world around them, the current moment already seeming like a faded postcard, confirmed when it turns to color as the girl lightens up in the final scene.

image

Anyway, after the incident bus driver Makoto is disappearing for months at a time and working low-ambition jobs, while the children (Kozue and her older brother Naoki) are on their own after one parent leaves and the other dies… so Makoto moves in with them, soon joined by the kids’ older cousin Akihiko (Yôichirô Saitô of The Mourning Forest) on summer break from classes. Nothing happens, so Makoto buys a bus and the four tour the countryside where nothing continues to happen. Except young women are getting murdered wherever they go. Makoto is suspected, but he catches Naoki red-handed and turns him in. Akihiko, pretty much the only one of them who ever says anything, says that past traumas always cause people to contemplate murder (a dubious theory), but he makes M. angry and gets kicked out of the bus. Cathartic ending, Kozue speaking for the first time in ages, turn to color, etc.

image

Weird, the young girl Aoi Miyazaki seems to play the same character in Aoyama’s Sad Vacation, as do a couple other actors. After watching this and the director’s made-for-TV Mike Yokohama flick, I don’t think I’ll be renting Sad Vacation in a big hurry. Got nothing against long, slow, monochrome movies about sad people (hello, Bela Tarr), but Aoyama’s particular sad people aren’t doing it for me.

image

Order from Amazon:
Eureka DVD
The cover art of this one makes it look shady, but the picture quality couldn’t be worse than the R2 DVD I watched from Artificial Eye, which lacked detail.

Songs from the Second Floor (2000, Roy Andersson)

“Beloved be the one who sits down.”

image

I heard this was a Scandinavian deadpan comedy, so half expected something in the Kaurismaki/Jarmusch vein, tempered by my recent memory of the unexpected Holocaust content in Andersson’s short World of Glory. At first I found this understated to a fault, and not funny at all, but I was fascinated by the composition and content of each scene. Seemed like a depressive view of various social ills (including religion, ha). But I spun the disc again with commentary and caught on to the humor and overall themes. Really, if I had the time and inclination, I should watch EVERY movie twice before talking about it. Ultimately, Songs gets closer to the first half of Playtime than anything else I’ve seen, in terms of directorial obsession with sets and compositions in what’s supposed to be a comedy. But unlike Playtime, this one seems more admirable than enjoyable. Has its moments of pleasure, but when dude is fat, broke, unloved and literally haunted by ghosts at the end it doesn’t send ‘em out laughing.

image

A magician performs the ol’ saw trick poorly, sending a man to the hospital and leaving him unable to do anything without pain. Government finance ministers lose their paperwork and instead peer into a crystal ball. A young girl is ritually sacrificed at a quarry in front of a thousand spectators. At the airport there’s a slow-motion oversized-luggage exodus. Best of all, military leaders visit the country’s former commander-in-chief in a rest home on his 100th birthday, and the senile man responds to the official-looking activity with a smiling nazi salute, embarrassing everyone in the room.

image

Eventually a central character emerges: Kalle, with two sons, one of whom “wrote poetry until he went nuts.” Kalle has burned his business down for the insurance money. He doesn’t seem to have a goal until, pursued by the ghost of a man he owed money, he joins a friend’s doomed business selling Jesus crosses for the millennium. At the end Kalle stands facing us before a Jesus-cross dumping-ground as the ghost plus a hundred others rise from the ground and slowly approach from behind. Andersson definitely has a knack for striking images.

image

Andersson, from the commentary:

“This movie is about power, the abuse of power and highhandedness.” I love filmmaker quotes that begin with “this movie is about…”

“I want a scene or a film to surprise the viewer,” he says, exactly as a nude housewife walks into the room.

image

“People have wondered how to classify my film. Absurdism or surrealism… what the hell is it? This film introduces a style that I’d like to call ‘trivialism’. Life is portrayed as a series of trivial components. My intention is to touch on bigger, more philosophical issues at the same time. Life is full of trivia, after all.”

image

New Yorker having gone belly-up, the feature-rich DVD is out of print but will hopefully return soon. Until then, click to pay too much for it from Amazon:
Songs From the Second Floor DVD

Home (2009, Yann Arthus-Bertrand)

On one hand, I thought this was a bad movie.

image

The script seems to have been written for fourth graders, and every camera shot is from a helicopter so you start to get the feeling that all the slow gliding movements are on purpose and you’re watching a giant slow-motion Bollywood video. Narrator Glenn Close throws huge numbers and statistics at us until they become meaningless.
“faster and faster…”
“billions and billions…”
“There’s no time to be a pessimist.”
The slow pace, lingering on each beautiful helicopter shot, and precious repetition-heavy voiceover stinks of pretentiousness, as does the stereotypical music (the kinds of howling African female singers that Martha Wainwright listens to). Sometimes the music turns new-agey, and the voiceover says stuff like “The earth is a miracle. Life remains a mystery,” I’m thinking as a concession to hippie-minded creationists. I wasn’t sure if the doc advocates vegetarianism as part of its packaged hippie agenda or because meat is actually worse for the earth than veggies. And in the length between cuts, I had time to reflect on the irony of a conservationist riding over the whole globe in a helicopter. Maybe their copter ran on biofuel, but more likely they paid a farmer in bolivia a dollar fifty to plant some trees then declared their film “carbon-neutral” in the credits.

image

But speaking of the credits, jeez, this was shot in twice as many countries as The Fall, and there’s no doubt that the visuals are amazing, especially in the high-def version that I watched. And the point of the movie is to keep the viewer hooked with these visuals while impressing upon us how severely we have destroyed the earth (for people like me who missed that Al Gore doc), and what consequences we will soon face. Glenn Close tells me that “humanity has no more than ten years to reverse the process,” then I turn off the movie and, no shit, read the headline “global warming skeptics growing in numbers,” along with the usual business about war, politics and health care. A few windmills in Florida are not gonna be enough to forestall the wrath of Glenn Close’s global-warming pandemic.

image

We are severely screwed. Movie ends up being scarier than Collapse, Wolf Creek and Martyrs combined. I bought ice cream.

image

Available here from Amazon on DVD:
Home DVD
But really, don’t bother with the movie unless you can watch the bluray:
Home [Blu-ray]

The Band Wagon (1953, Vincente Minnelli)

First Minnelli movie I’ve watched since Meet Me In St. Louis (and his 13th since then – I must catch up). Writers of Singin’ in the Rain (and it shows, with all the behind-the-scenes crossover) but different songwriters. I didn’t know much about it, besides its position on some lists of great films, but was still impressed at how great it was, in direction and dancing and music (in that order) more than anything else. Katy enjoyed, too.

Fred Astaire, a decade after Holiday Inn, is looking more alive and alert than ever, despite being in character as a has-been showman. He’s paired with (eventual love-interest, natch) young Cyd Charisse of Singin’ in the Rain by two enthusiastic show writers. They bring the project to an overbearing actor/director, but he turns their comedy into a dreary version of Faust, so after the investors have given up the writers reclaim the play and undo the director’s pretentious changes, touring to eventual acclaim. It’s all in fun.

Nanette Fabray (of not much else, but still alive, so there’s time) as a writer of the play holds her own in the singing and dancing scenes, but her comic foil partner Oscar Levant (a composer and pianist, also of An American In Paris and Humoresque) I found more hammy and grating. Maybe it was more his big clown face than his acting, but there’s something unpleasant about him. Jack Buchanan, as the director (who is good-natured enough to stay with the play after the rewrite), is far better here as a noisy, self-obsessed Orson Welles caricature than as the fey hero of Lubitsch’s Monte Carlo. The one scene with a major dancer who’s not one of our stars is when Astaire dances through an arcade with Leroy Daniels. It’s a wonderful dance, and even more wonderful that Daniels is apparently playing himself, known around Hollywood as a rhythmic shoe-shiner who had a hit country song written about him.

No Oscar nomination for the song “That’s Entertainment” – I guess it wasn’t considered an original song. I liked all the songs pretty well, though Katy notes they didn’t try to make any sort of unified sense out of them. We get Astaire and pals in baby clothes dancing on their knees to “Triplets,” country Nanette in “Louisiana Hayride,” and Cyd’s big-drama “New Sun in the Sky”. As the cast regains control of their play and starts to turn it back into an entertaining piece, these songs get added seemingly at random. It adds to the comedy that we never remotely see how these bits connect in the finished play.

We watched on VHS, but you can buy the glorious DVD from Amazon:
The Band Wagon (Two-Disc Special Edition)
or get a better deal on four flicks without the extra features:
TCM American Musicals (The Band Wagon / Meet Me in St. Louis / Singin’ in the Rain / Easter Parade)

Decade List Redux

Months after the entire Internet had already posted its lists of best films of the decade, my favorite print magazines, Cinema Scope and Film Comment, added a hundred more lists to the mix. Here are about seventy more titles that should probably be on my “movies to watch in 2010” page. But they missed their chance, so they’ll have to stand alone over here instead.

13 Lakes
À Travers la forêt
Alumbramiento
Assassination of Jesse James
Batang West Side
Birdsong
La Blessure
Bluebeard
The Bridesmaid
Cafe Lumiere
La Captive
Chunhyang
Come and Go (monteiro)
Cosmetic Emergency
Crank / Crank 2
Crying Fist
Demons (mario o’hara)
Deux (werner schroeter)
Dog Days
Dor (kukunoor)
Dying at Grace
Election/Triad Election
Evolution of a Filipino Family
Faceless Things
Flame and Citron
Flying with One Wing
Footnotes to a House of Love
The Garden (wiseman)
Greendale
Gulabi Talkies
Harmful Insect
In Vanda’s Room
An Injury to One
Jimmywork
Last Days in a Lonely Place
La Libertad
The Long Holiday
Lot 63, Grave C
Manderlay
Margot at the Wedding
Medicine for Melancholy
Memories of Murder
Mid-Afternoon Barks
Phantom Limb
Phoenix Tapes
Pine Flat
The Pool (chris smith)
The Rebirth (masahiro)
Secret Sunshine
Shara
A Short Film about the Indio Nacional
Sleep Dealer
The Sky Crawlers
Space Disco One
Sweetgrass
The Taste of Tea
Textism
To Die Like a Man
Todo Todo Teros
Triple Agent
Turning Gate
Twentynine Palms
We Want Roses Too
When It Was Blue
Who Is Bozo Texino?
Wild Blue, Notes for Several Voices
Workingman’s Death