A selection of screenshots, with some notes I took, not necessarily going together…

Rough edits, film flares out at the end of each shot.

Mostly motor vehicle themed except for some especially long takes: a train ride, washing dishes, nude cuddling to an endless Dylan song.

The camera moved!

Not the best audio in the world, wind and transit sounds.

One editing trick at the hour mark to make sure you’re still paying attention.

Smokestack song is same as cuddling song, Black Diamond Bay by Dylan.

Staged-looking scenes and some natural street life.
(note photo in the above shot)

Good weekend afternoon movie.

The filmmuseum DVD comes with a great director interview:

What I am talking about is a general feeling that I believe people get when they watch a film. This feeling may be shared among members of the audience, and it may vary from one individual to another. What I am trying to do is to design films that are seductive, that leave gaps in the narrative that people will be able to fill with their own lives. I want the audience to help piece the shots together. I want them to have to work a little when they watch a film, to make watching a film more of an active experience. I think that when this happens, when people help tie a film together with their own personal experiences, the images in the film become what I am calling a metaphor. It is a pattern of meaning rather than a direct translation. You don’t say, well, this is what happened in the film, but rather this is how I relate the images, the events that occur on the screen. This kind of general pattern of meaning that you come away with is not really in the film, nor in the events that are photographed. There is no objective reality; there is only this metaphor.

The producers tried to raise the evil factor by opening with an Anton LaVey quote, but this movie seems much scarier in retrospect if you think of Cars as its sequel. Watched on 35mm after Christine in an Alamo double-feature, not enthused about the long drive home, and almost walked out after the first twenty minutes: a couple cheesy teens are run off a mountain road, then a comic relief french horn player is killed outside the home of horrible asshole Amos who parks his dynamite truck on the roadside. The movie shows every sign of being very bad, but I waited until our man James Brolin showed up to see where it’s heading, and something interesting happens. The goofy horror stuff recedes and the movie shows the cops and other members of this small town in Utah mourning the deaths, being very stressed out over this rogue car (they don’t yet know it’s demonic and driverless). The acting maybe isn’t up to Christine‘s level, but the overall portrayal of town life is more real and sensitive.

The next victim is Sheriff Everett (John “Jacob” Marley, lead in Faces), which really shakes up the surviving police. James Brolin (between Westworld and The Amityville Horror) takes charge, with his relapsed-alcoholic sideman Luke (Ronny Cox, the guy who gets “fired” in the climax of RoboCop, also chief of Cop Rock) and his best girl Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd of It Lives Again), amongst rising rumors that the car has no driver.

The Car, a long, low, dark, anonymous thing (customized by the guy who made the Batmobile) returns in broad daylight to bust up a parade, running down a couple of dudes who try to rodeo clown it. Orange-tinted car’s-eye-view shows it hunting down the surviving cops. In the most impressive scene, Lauren drives home alone, calls Brolin when she’s safe, then The Car drives straight through the house to run her down – having killed the love interest, Brolin has nobody to hug at the end but a few dusty cops. It appears in Brolin’s garage, and flies off a cliff to its presumed death after a day-for-night chase. No real explanation in either movie for their possessed cars – things were just allowed to be supernatural back then without a ton of backstory.

Part two of my Wes Craven tribute, because when a horror giant dies just before SHOCKtober, memorial screenings are in order. I used to have this movie’s sequel on VHS (bought at a garage sale), and saw the awesome remake in theaters, but have probably never watched the original until now.

Stupid family taking cross-country trailer trip breaks down in the desert at the foot of cannibal-infested mountains, send a few guys in different directions looking for help. But first we set up the Harbinger hillbilly gas-station attendant (and incidentally the grandfather of the cannibals) who tells them not to go poking around, and mountain thief Ruby, who’s looking for help escaping her murderous family.

Ruby:

Bobby (Robert Houston, later an oscar-winning documentary filmmaker) runs after his escaped dogs, discovers one of them murdered but doesn’t tell anybody. Mustache Doug (Martin Speer of Killer’s Delight) finds nothing and comes back. And Big Bob (Russ Grieve of dog-horror Dogs) returns to the old man in time to see him get slaughtered, then Bob is captured, crucified and set on fire, distracting the family into leaving their trailer unguarded, in what’s probably one of the most intense sequences of the 1970’s. Bald Pluto (Michael Berryman of too many horrors to list, also One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and curly Mars invade, shoot Mustache’s wife Dee Wallace (star of The Howling and The Frighteners) and her now-insane mom (Virginia Vincent of The Return of Dracula and Craven’s Invitation to Hell), eat the parakeet, steal the baby and flee.

Family portrait, pre-invasion:

The next morning it’s payback time. Young Carolyn Jones (Eaten Alive) and Bobby plot to use their dead mom as bait and blow up cannibals who return to the trailer. Not sure how head mutant Papa Jupiter escapes that explosion, but they kill him good, with gun and hatchet. Mustache Doug climbs the mountain and attacks head-on to rescue his baby, unexpectedly aided by a rattlesnake-wielding Ruby. I can’t recall if Bald Pluto dies (think Bobby’s other dog gets him), but he’s definitely on the VHS box cover of part two.

Papa Jupiter:

Craven did interesting things to the horror genre with New Nightmare and Scream, and made some great thrillers with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Red Eye. One of the movie sites pointed out he’d been interviewed by Audobon, and had lately been writing short stories for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine about local birds, which include a strong pro-bird environmental message as well as time travel, the ghosts of passenger pigeons, and an osprey using a shotgun.

“It’s hard convincing a bird of anything in words. They’re musicians.”

Rest in peace, Wes. The birds have lost a friend.

This is the second obscure 1977 film on Rosenbaum’s top-1000 list that I thought I might not get to ever see until it showed up at a theater in my town with the director in attendance. The Ross sprang a whole Jon Jost retrospective on us with less than a week’s notice, and this was opening night. But after watching Last Chants, a whole week’s worth of similar movies didn’t sound like a party. Maybe if they played one per month I could summon the energy, or maybe if someone promised the others would be less bleak. It was an experience, though, and Jost was full of stories and game to tell them to the too-few attendees.

First surprise: the movie is shot in a series of very long takes, all of which Jost says were first/only takes except the finale (and only because the battery ran out). Second surprise: it’s a musical! Nobody bills it as a musical, but it’s full of original country songs (which comment on the story/themes) co-performed by Jost himself, and the narrative stops or slows down to let each song play in full. That’s pretty much my definition of a musical.

Light Industry summarizes: “Bates journeys with a young hitchhiker, then tosses him out of his pickup, argues with his wife, visits a local diner, hits a bar, has a one-night stand, and then finally encounters a roadside stranger,” whom he robs and kills. Rosenbaum calls it a “chilling portrait of an embittered, misogynistic lumpen proletarian (Tom Blair) driving through western Montana.” There’s a weird tension, because you buy lead actor Blair as Bates, but you don’t like or trust Bates, and the movie patiently follows him without really getting into his head. Definite highlight was a scene in a bar, Bates picking up some girl, another county song playing as the camera spins drunkenly around the room.

Patriotism (1966, Yukio Mishima)

Wow. Silent film in the Noh style, no dialogue or effects, just long, scrolling intertitles and a scratchy Wagner record on the soundtrack.

Very simple story – Mishima adapting and minimizing his own story, directing, starring, hand-writing the title cards, etc. Lt. Takeyama’s buddies attempted to overthrow the government. Their rebellion will soon be put down, and he’ll be expected to help kill his friends, so he comes home to his lovely young wife, they have super sex then commit ritual suicide together. Some cool superimpositions in the beginning, and a nice final shot where their bodies appear in a raked sandbox – but the whole movie is excellent-looking.

T. Rayns:

Mishima’s idiosyncratic reading of “patriotism” is underscored by the kakemono scroll that hangs on the back wall of the stage. The two Chinese characters read “Shisei” (or “Zhicheng” in Chinese), which means “wholehearted sincerity” and carries implications of faith and devotion. Mishima deliberately chose a scratchy 78 r.p.m. recording of Tristan und Isolde for the soundtrack because it was made in 1936, the year in which Patriotism is notionally set.

Spacy (1981, Takashi Ito)

Ten minutes of re-cut recursion. At the south end of a gymnasium the camera spies a photo taken from the north end. It travels towards the photo, photo fills the frame, we’re back at the north end, spying a photo on the south end. Etc., but to an immense degree, with photos all over from different angles, including one on the floor. The bloops and the bleeps all over the soundtrack provided by Yosuke Inagaki.

Box (1982, Takashi Ito)

A box encapsulates the sky, then a town plaza, spinning around in different ways that would seem extremely frustrating and laborious to animate in pre-computer days. Some more recursion, rushing into a wall that turns into a side of the box. The recursion here seems like the camera is anxiously trying to break out of the box, whereas in Spacy it seemed more like it was having a laugh, free to travel endlessly. I shouldn’t have watched so soon after Spacy because I got tired of watching the box spin around. Much better music this time, synthscapes by Inagaki.

Venus (1990, Takashi Ito)

I moved forward a few years to find something new. First, a mother and son with their faces erased, photography in motion, then more zooming the camera around in 3D space, more frames within frames. These are cool but I can’t watch them all in a row. Silent. Around the four-minute mark I turned on the deinterlacer – did that make the film freak out, or was it going to freak out anyway?

Ako (1965, Hiroshi Teshigahara)

Some friends take the car for a night out. The car is kind of a lemon – or the driver just hasn’t learned proper maintenance – but they make it to dinner and bowling, and drive around aimlessly for a while. Other than one boy’s unwanted advance on a girl while retrieving water for the radiator, it’s a dreamy night of freedom for all involved. The sometimes-synch sound gets processed to turn the ambient sounds into spacey effects. Flashes of dialogue from elsewhere in the night get edited in as narration of thoughts. And the main girl has flashbacks to her day job at a bakery/factory. Parts may look documentary-style, but it’s definitely a planned film with non-doc drama – a light short released as part of an anthology the same year as Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes.

Memory (1964, Osamu Tezuka)

Like those anthology shorts by Tex Avery that start with a topic and come up with as many easy jokes as possible in eight minutes, only this one was more bizarre and less predictable – at the end, at least, which has future/alien creatures remembering humans as toiler-worshippers.

Drop (1965, Osamu Tezuka)

Cute cartoon of a thirsty man on a life raft trying to get a drop of water from his sail rigging. I don’t read much French, but I think the end gag is that he has floated into a freshwater river.

Catalogue of Memory (1977, Shuji Terayama)

Color: a man writes a letter, mails it along with a pencil and self-addressed envelope to England.
Black and white stills: Woman receives, sends the pencil back in his envelope.
Color: He retrieves the pencil and continues his work, which we could read, if we could read Japanese.
Light piano noodlings and a ticking clock on the soundtrack

The Eraser (1977, Shuji Terayama)

Snapshots are torn, or overlaid with a radiating translucent pattern. A hand drags an eraser over the image, leaving only shimmering video noise. Great soundtrack: percussion, strings and whispering voices. No dialogue. A naked guy throws up in a vase? A blind woman turns into a blind soldier. I think this is the kind of thing people imagine when you say “experimental film.” I don’t mean that to be derogatory – it’s my favorite Terayama short so far.

The Reading Machine (1977, Shuji Terayama)

A tiny book, a massize book that requires a machine to operate, and many normal sized books. Somebody walks with a book attached to his face. This one has at least as much nudity as The Eraser, but unfortunately also has intertitles that I can’t read. Drawings, little staged scenes, cutting illustrations out of a book, welding, burning, crossing-out. Finally the reading machine: a stationary bike operating a page turner. Not as exciting as the last one, but the music is still good.

So that’s three Terayama shorts from the same year which focus on, respectively, a pencil, an eraser, and books – all using different techniques.

Not the Mickey/Fantasia/Nic Cage Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but based on a novel called Krabat: The Satanic Mill, recently filmed again as a post-Twilight live-action feature. Second-to-last film by Zeman, who died in ’89. I’ve only seen one of his earliest shorts, though I’ve been meaning to watch his Baron Prásil for a long time now.

A poor kid named Krabat ends up at an enchanted mill run by an evil one-eyed wizard, with a staff of boys. Every year the wizard challenges the oldest to a duel, beats him by cheating, and then buries him in the grave the boy dug earlier that day. But Krabat has found a reason to live, an enchanting young girl whom he secretly visits, so he teams up with another boy to learn the magical secrets to defeat the evil wizard.

I was not bowled over by the animation at first, which looked like cut-outs with hinged joints, but as the story sucked me in and I started noticing subtle details, like the odd timing of the transformation scenes and the apparently live-action smoke, fire and water effects, I gained a greater appreciation for the movie by the end.

Monsieur Fantomas (1937, Ernst Moerman)
This was the prize short of the month… good show, Moerman. Takes the dream-logic, intense crimes and crazy escapes of Feuillade and goes all-out surrealist with them. The master criminal lives in a room with no walls on the beach (much of the movie takes place on the beach), seeks out his true love Elvire. Chief Juve is roused from the bathtub, consults with some seashells and heads buried in the sand. A hundred delightful things happen then it closes with the title card “end of the 280,000th chapter.” Made in Belgium, and I’m very sorry that Moerman didn’t shoot any more films. There really needed to be more surrealist cinema.

The cops close in on Fantomas… but is it really him, or just a cello?

Dinner For One (1963)
Shot in Germany, and shown traditionally every year on television since, a beloved little sketch in which a butler sets the table for an old woman’s absent guests, drinking toasts in each of their places and getting roaring drunk as he continues to perform his duties.

May Warden and Freddie Frinton:

The Spine (2009, Chris Landreth)
Group marital counseling + codependency, slowly coheres into a story. I didn’t like it nearly as much as his short Ryan.


Three by Sally Potter
These shorts predate Thriller by almost a decade, early film experiments not having much in common with her features – well, perhaps slightly with The Gold Diggers, which I started watching but haven’t finished.

Hors d’oeuvres (1972)
Silent avant-garde film, a flickering light shines on still photographs, then slow, unstable film footage of one person at a time in a bare room. Dance movements, slowed down then paused, superimpositions, the light pulsating. Lasted about twice as long as my willingness to appreciate it.

Play (1970)
Also silent, two cameras high up at different angles capture the same scenes of children playing on the sidewalk, at first presented side-by-side simulatenously, then re-edited, slowed down and chopped up.

Jerk (1969)
Faces, sped up and extremely rapidly edited. This was my favorite. I wonder if Potter considered the film’s motion to be “jerky” or if she thought this guy was a jerk.

Father (1977, Shuji Terayama)
a one-take silent sex scene that turns into a pleasant slideshow, featuring video superimpositions of a hand and the back of a head. No audio on my copy.

La Chambre (1972, Chantal Akerman)
Four slow pans around a cramped apartment, fully silent. First the director flutters her eyes at us from bed, then she is wriggling around, then playing absently with an apple, then – change of camera direction! – eating the apple, as the camera finally realizes she’s the only thing of interest in the room and starts rocking back and forth, homing in on her bed.

Birds Anonymous (1957, Friz Freleng)
“Birds is strictly for the birds.”
Just an average tweety and sylvester short, some kind of parody of werewolf movies and alcoholics anonymous, as far as I can tell. Wonder why this was on my laptop. And what is alum?

Playback (1970, Pere Portabella)
Two cameras, and you can see each in the other’s shot as they circle a composer who is arranging his unconventional choir piece, chattering constantly in unsubtitled Catalan. It’s all kind of exciting. I don’t know anything about Portabella, but I like his shooting style so far.

From the filmmaker’s official site:

Playback is presented as a short rehearsal in a double sense. It is a satellite of the constellation of works that Portabella dedicates to the analysis of the “materiality” of aesthetic and cultural languages (Vampir-Cuadecuc and Miró l’Altre among others can also be understood in this manner). At the same time, he analyzes the rehearsals that Carles Santos carries out for the playback recording of a film on the work of Antoni Gaudi. The choir of the Gran Teatro del Liceu of Barcelona reads fragments from Wagner’s Tannhauser, Lohengrin and the Valkyries. The film was shot in the theater “Lluïsos de Gràcia”.

Two Portraits (1981, Peter Thompson)
The director narrates a series of one-sentence statements about his father, as we see consecutive film frames cross dissolving. “His oldest son died at age 31. The decision to have children was left to his wife, as were all decisions except those concerning money.”

Second portrait is of his mother, filmed sleeping outdoors, while on the audio she reads pages from her diary. The first half was far more illuminating and sympathetic. I’m not sure what to do with the second part, but as with all of Thompson’s films that I’ve seen, I’d be glad to watch it again.

First portrait:

From Chicago Magazine: “When Peter Thompson was 35, his father committed suicide. That tragedy 29 years ago sent the Columbia College professor searching for Super 8 film of his father. He found only 12 seconds’ worth, but stretched them out to 17 minutes and added narration. When he expanded it to include his mother, the resulting film, Two Portraits, moved audiences to tears.”

Second portrait:

“This means something. This is important.”

Ever since I first saw Close Encounters (must’ve been on TV before I was ten) that line has come to mind whenever I see a big pile of mashed potatoes. But I got two things wrong. Firstly, Richard Dreyfuss doesn’t say that line during the mashed potato scene, but earlier. And second, I remembered the movie being a long, slow, boring build-up to a brief, awesome alien sequence, but it’s more of a medium, slightly boring buildup to a long, quite boring alien sequence. Either way, it’s safe to say it’s not my favorite Spielberg movie.

I’ve been meaning to watch more movies from 1977, the year I was born, to figure out what people were up to back then, but it only raises more questions. How was Richard Dreyfuss allowed to be a movie star? I wonder if Spielberg and Lucas (for Star Wars) being up for the same best-director oscar was the ’70’s equivalent of when Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line were nominated for best picture, only back then Spielberg was the arthouse favorite and in ’98 his was the slam-bang commercial juggernaut to Malick’s more contemplative war movie. How did Francois Truffaut end up co-starring in a Hollywood movie, and did it help his later films get into American theaters?

F. Truffaut, and is that Bob Balaban?

Some thoughts:

Is the movie endorsing men having extra-marital affairs and abandoning their families? Dreyfuss has three kids, but when his wife doesn’t understand him he bonds with Melinda Dillon instead, then at the end he leaves not just his home but the planet.

The government is preparing some guys in Devo jumpsuits to go into space as earth ambassadors, but the only time we see them in training it’s at a last-call religious meeting. Gives the weird feeling that they’ve been selected for some kind of Christian mission to the aliens.

Jeez, but Teri Garr as Dreyfuss’s wife is shouty and has no patience at all. I mean admittedly he builds a full-on rock reconstruction of Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower in their living room, but she has already moved out by then, always having seemed more hysterical than sympathetic. Good contrast was Barbara Rush in Bigger Than Life, whose husband is losing his mind, but she never stops trying to help him. Compared to that, Garr is a one-dimensional bitch whom Dreyfuss was right to leave (though it means leaving the kids in her care, so there’s no winning this one).

Teri Garr is unhappy:

Some guy named Larry (Josef Sommer of Stepford Wives) shows up at the Devil’s Tower then falls behind and gets gassed (the visual effect of the gas shown with dazed little birds falling in front of the camera – classy). Who was he? Besides the gassing/evacuation/secrecy, the government seems surprisingly non-hostile.

Wow, Lance Henriksen looks young.

All the backgrounds look fake – even in Wyoming. They’re not fake in a latter-day CGI manner, but in an old-timey studio painted-backdrop kind of way – and the forest Dillon runs through after her son looks so carefully arranged. Strange that a movie which was probably state-of-the-art in ’77 (with the the effects guy from 2001: A Space Odyssey) seems quaint now, years more old-fashioned than its contemporary 1977 Star Wars.

Dillon under a false sky:

The first encounter with the aliens by Melinda Dillon’s young son (Cary Guffey, cast next in a couple of Italian-opportunist alien comedies) foreshadows two later Spielberg productions: Poltergeist (toys coming to life, scary tree shadows waking the kid) then E.T. (the aliens raid the fridge).

All this gentle-alien cuteness, communicating through music and sign language, abductees returned unharmed, the slow buildup to the slow conclusion – it all seems anticlimactic after you’ve watched Mars Attacks a few times.

Surogat (1961, Dusan Vukotic)
Slightly naughty beach picture about a fat guy who brings inflatable ball, boat, car, food and girl. Real great anything-goes animation. Disney, Friz Freling and Chuck Jones must’ve cancelled each other out, giving the award to the underdog foreigner.
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The Crunch Bird (1971, Ted Petok)
“Crunch bird, my ass!” Ugh, punchline shorts. Was there no competition this year? I would’ve awarded Thank You Mask Man over this. From a co-writer of What’s Up Tiger Lily, this beat a comic Canadian short about evolution and an adaptation of an Oscar Wilde fairy tale (OW wrote fairy tales?).
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The Sand Castle (1977, Co Hoedeman)
A desert man with arms and legs but no body creates clay creatures to help him build a giant sand castle. All stop-motion, the short that (probably deservedly) beat Doonesbury at the oscars.
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Every Child (1979, Eugene Fedorenko)
More of a foley demonstration than a proper cartoon. The animation is there I guess, though slightly Squiggle-visioney. Wow, someone sings the Umbrellas of Cherbourg theme. So the foley guys are telling the story of an unwanted baby… to a baby. One foley guy went on to voice the French version of Chief Quimby on Inspector Gadget. This beat a short called Dream Doll which I’d like to see, apparently an X-rated spoof of The Red Balloon.
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Tango (1981, Zbigniew Rybczynski)
An empty room, simple tango music. A kid (looks like stop-motion cut-out photographs) throws a ball into the room, comes in, throws the ball outside, leaves, repeat. Then another person is added, then another and another, none of them interacting with each other until the very end. How’d they do it? Beat out some stop-motion from the great Will Vinton and a half-hour piece about a snowman.
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The Man Who Planted Trees (1987, Frédéric Back)
Just about the happiest thing ever, so lovely it made my head hurt. Story of a lonely shepherd who singlehandedly reforests an entire region of France. I looked it up, hoping that it’s a true story, and unbelievably it is. Narrated by the familiar voice of Christopher Plummer and animated with lush, colorful sketches. The romantic short from the creators of Bob & Margaret and a big of head-morphing Bill Plympton hilarity never stood a chance against this beauty.
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A Greek Tragedy (1985, Nicole Van Goethem)
The characters are man/pillars holding up a stone wall that has fallen into ruins. When it finally collapses, the pillars are free to frolic. The kind of simple cuteness you’d see at a festival with three of four similar pieces, not the kind I’d think would win a major award. Hard times in 1986. Actually this beat Luxo Jr. somehow. I guess computer animation wasn’t in style until ’88. At the same time, it’s nice
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Tin Toy (1988, John Lasseter)
A one-man-band toy escapes the wrath of a slimy toddler, then grudgingly returns to cheer it up when it’s crying only to be ignored in favor of an empty box and a paper bag. Clear precedent to Toy Story. 1988 computer technology was not up to the task of accurate baby rendering, but it’s still pretty cool looking. It beat a Tex Avery-style short from the future director of FernGully and Cordell Baker’s great The Cat Came Back.
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Manipulation (1991, Daniel Greaves)
A good ol’ artist’s-hands-interacting-with-drawing-table short, somewhere between Duck Amuck and Rejected. Funny how one of the most recent shorts is the one available in the lowest quality. The line-drawing guy turns 3D at the end, which I think was done in claymation. Very inventive and fun. Apparently Greaves’ Flatworld is also a must-see. No U.S. shorts in this year’s competition – this UK film beat out two Canadian pieces (including long-time fave Blackfly).
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Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase (1992, Joan C. Gratz)
Really wonderful little animated film which would probably be the greatest thing ever if I was an art history major. Since I only knew about five of the paintings which were mighty-morphing into each other, I probably attribute more of the film’s beauty to its director than I probably should. Oh wait, it won the oscar so I guess I’m not the only one who was impressed.
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Then again, some of it is just silliness.
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Quest (1996, Tyron Montgomery)
A man made of sand navigates increasingly more difficult and dangerous worlds of paper, rock, metal and water. The end is the beginning – would work as a looping DVD or art installation. Nice stop-motion, like The Sand Castle but I liked this one better, Thought it was anti-technology for a while, but now I think its just trying to say the world is a dangerous place. Competition included an Aardman, a Canadian piece I’ve seen but don’t remember, and a stop-motion short from a future Pixar animator.
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