Japanuary shorts

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.

Buy from Amazon:
Patriotism (Criterion DVD)
Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara (Criterion DVD)
The Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu DVD

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1977, Karel Zeman)

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.

Shorts watched January 2011

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:

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Steven Spielberg)

“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.

Buy from Amazon:
Close Encounters of the Third Kind [Blu-ray]

Month of 121 Shorts: Oscar-winning cartoons 2

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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Month of 121 Shorts: Avant-Garde 2

The Bridegroom, The Comedienne, and the Pimp (1968, Straub/Huillet)
Four minutes in, it’s just been a long car ride in the rain with opera music playing (there was no sound at all for the first two minutes) and I am very suspicious.

Five minutes in, cut to a stage set, with German words on the wall and a clattering wood floor. Rivette (or Michael Snow) would be pleased. A fast-paced stagey farce follows. Blackout, next scene but the camera hasn’t moved, hasn’t even cut for all I know. Actors include Fassbinder regular Irm Hermann, composer Peer Raben, and future superstar Hanna Schygulla (who I’ve recently seen in The Edge of Heaven, Werckmeister Harmonies and 101 Nights of Simon Cinema).

Bang, cut, new location, and back out on the street. An action scene. Jimmy Powell is marrying Lilith Ungerer (star of a couple Fassbinder films). They go home, the pimp (Fassbinder himself, early in his career) is there, she shoots him and gives a speech as the music returns. All affectless acting.
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So, what was that all about? Well the title refers to the cinematic drama in the third section, that much is clear. And the actress and the pimp were in the stage play in the middle. IMDB fellow says “The film has its roots in a theatre production of a play by the Austrian playwright Ferdinand Bruckner which Straub had been asked to direct by a German theatre company. He considered the play too verbose and cut its length from several hours down to just ten minutes, and it is the production of this play which forms the centrepiece of the film.” As for the beginning, the same guy says it’s a “Munich street frequented by prostitutes.” F. Croce calls it a “mysterious, structuralist gag” and notes that “filmic subversion can prompt political revolution, and transcendence.” No revolution or transcendence here – I just thought it was a weird little movie made by an overacademic sweater-wearing type. Was only Straub’s fourth work – let’s check out his tenth, which is half as long.
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Every Revolution is a Throw of the Dice (1977, Straub/Huillet)
It’s in French this time. Actors sit in a half-circle near the memorial site for the Commune members and recite a poem. I’m mistrustful of the English subtitle translation of the poem, and there’s not much in the movie besides the poem (the recitants are as expressionless as in the previous film, maybe even more so), so there’s not much of value for me here. Actors include Huillet herself, Michel Delahaye (the ethnologist in Out 1) and Marilù Parolini (writer of Duelle, Noroit, Love on the Ground), shot by William Lubtchansky and dedicated (in part) to Jacques Rivette.
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Mongoloid (1977, Bruce Conner)
Music video for a Devo song using (I’m assuming) all found footage (science films, TV ads and the like).
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Mea Culpa (1981, Bruce Conner)
Dots, cubes, light fields and… whatever this is. Conner goes abstract! The music sounds like 1981’s version of the future. Aha, it’s Byrne and Eno, so it WAS the future. I didn’t know that Conner died last year, did I?
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(nostalgia) (1971, Hollis Frampton)
of a photo of a man blowing smoke rings:
“Looking at the photography recently it reminded me, unaccountably, of a photograph of another artist squirting water out of his mouth, which is undoubtedly art. Blowing smoke rings seems more of a craft. Ordinarily, only opera singers make art with their mouths.”
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So far I really like Hollis Frampton. His Lemon and Zorns Lemma were brilliant, and now (nostalgia) is too. Anyway this is the one where Frampton films a photograph being slowly destroyed on an electric burner while Michael Snow reads narration describing the next photograph that we’ll see. It’s important to know that Snow is the uncredited narrator for a humorous bit in the middle. The movie also has a funny twist ending that I wasn’t expecting. This would be part one of Frampton’s seven-part Hapax Legomena series. I have the strange urge to remake it using photographs of my own, but I lack an electric burner and a film/video camera.

Gloria (1979, Hollis Frampton)
Remembrance of a grandmother, Frampton-style, meaning annoyingly hard to watch and strictly organized. Clip from an ancient silent film, then sixteen facts about gramma (“3. That she kept pigs in the house, but never more than one at a time. Each such pig wore a green baize tinker’s cap.”) then a too-long bagpipe song over an ugly pea-green screen, and the rest of the silent film. Or as a smartypants would put it, he “juxtaposes nineteenth-century concerns with contemporary forms through the interfacing of a work of early cinema with a videographic display of textual material.” I prefer my version.
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Prelude #1 (1996, Stan Brakhage)
I don’t think that I enjoy watching low-res faded videos of Brakhage movies. I’ll wait for the next DVD set to come out (or the next Film Love screening). As a side note, I cannot believe that Raitre plays stuff like this. Just imagine: art on television. Picture a single TV station anywhere devoted to showing art. Can you? Can you?!? I feel like screaming!!
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NYC (1976, Jeff Scher)
Shots of the city sped-up, rapidly edited, reverse printed and hand colored, two minutes long with a jazzy tune underneath. Super, and short enough to watch twice (so I watched it twice).
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Milk of Amnesia (1992, Jeff Scher)
I’m thinking it’s short scenes from film and television, rotoscoped, with every frame drawn in different colors, with some frames drawn on non-white paper (a postcard, some newspaper). Warren Sonbert is thanked in the credits. I would also like to thank Warren Sonbert.
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Yours (1997, Jeff Scher)
An obscure musical short from the 30’s or 40’s overlaid with rapidly-changing patterns and images from advertisements. Descriptions and screenshots can do these no justice.
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Frame (2002, n:ja)
Black and white linear geometry illustrating a Radian song. I can’t tell if it’s torn up by interlacing effects or it’s supposed to look that way. Give me Autechre’s Gantz Graf over this any day. Between this and Mongoloid and the Jeff Scher shorts, I’m not sure where to draw the line between short-film and music-video. Not that it’s a dreadfully important question, but I’m in enough trouble tracking all the films I have/haven’t seen without adding every music video by every band I like onto the list. Although maybe videos should be given more credit… I’m sure Chris Cunningham’s video for Squarepusher’s Come On My Selector would beat 90% of the movies I watched that year.
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Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento)

An awful lot like Inferno, with the ludicrous plot, hysterical acting and silly deaths. But also like Inferno, the visuals are excellent enough that I can forgive all that. I think I actually prefer Inferno, even though this one has better music and funnier death scenes.

Eva Axén went from working with Visconti in classy period pieces to getting stabbed, thrown through windows and hung by Argento:
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Eva up there escapes from a prestigious dancing school, goes to stay with a friend, and is dramatically killed (along with the friend) by an unseen evil which cares little for logic or reasonable dialogue, only for the picturesque posed deaths of young women.

Our heroine in the middle is Jessica Harper (Phantom of the Paradise, Pennies From Heaven). At left is Stefania Casini, an older sister in Blood For Dracula.
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New student Suzy picks up the narrative from there, discovering right off the bat that her school is creepy but not figuring until the end that it’s a front for a coven of witches run by a hundreds-year-old evil mother.

The Mother Of… something:
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One thing the movie’s got going for it: casting Udo Kier. But it loses points for casting Udo Kier in a tiny, talky role, essentially letting everyone BUT Udo Kier overact. Bad call. Maybe Kier was busy in Fassbinder’s The Stationmaster’s Wife at the time.
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While Suzy has fainting spells, deals with a plague of maggots falling from the ceiling, and talks with Udo Kier and some professor (Rudolf Schündler, actor since the 30’s and director in the 50’s and 60’s, also in The Exorcist and Wenders’ Kings of the Road and The American Friend) about historical nonsense, more deaths occur. Her friend Stefania Casini is murdered by the unseen hand in a similar over-the-top manner to the first death (barbed wire, razor stabbing, nails through the eyes). And the blind pianist is kicked out of school and walks through the abandoned square at night. The music warms up, the lighting declares the buildings to be a threat, and suddenly a stone gargoyle comes alive and flies overhead… but in the end, he’s simply killed by his guide dog.

Blind Daniel (Flavio Bucci of Il Divo) getting kicked out of school by mistress Alida Valli (star of Eyes Without a Face, Senso, Il Grido, The Third Man, played a caretaker in Inferno)
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Joan Bennett (30+ years after Scarlet Street), in her final film role, has got some wicked wallpaper.
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Amazing cinematography by Luciano Tovoli (from Antonioni to Argento to Barbet Schroeder to Titus), who shines red and blue colored lights on simply everything. The dubbing is mostly good, and I liked the pumping Goblin music surprisingly well. I dig when Goblin sings along quietly with a sinister “la la la.”

Argento’s debut seven years prior was titled The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
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L’Une chante, l’autre pas (1977, Agnès Varda)

“The parent system’s no good. Pa grumbles while Ma’s sweet and silent…”

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Fair haired girl, Pauline, 17, she sings – her ex-neighbor Suzanne, 22, doesn’t. In the early 60’s, strong-willed P is having trouble with her parents, so she visits S, who is having trouble with her boyfriend Jerome, married to another woman. S also has two kids and is unintentionally pregnant. There’s illegal abortion drama, Jerome kills himself, and a title card says “ten years later”…

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For those who didn’t get Le Bonheur and thought it was asserting male dominance and endorsing cheating on your wife, here’s Varda’s explicitly feminist movie – exploring the joys and pitfalls and terrible music of 1970’s feminism. Unfortunately, explicit feminism (or explicit anything) doesn’t work as well for me as Varda’s more ambiguous movies have… movie is kinda obvious and messagey at times, but she still takes a multifaceted story approach to her message.

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Anyway, ten years after the suicide, the women meet at a women’s rights demonstration. P is calling herself Apple now, sings a cheesy “my body is mine” song, playing the worst kind of acoustic guitar and tambourine folk. Actually I kinda liked the piano song she sings on an Amsterdam canal boat with her fellow abortion patients later on. S runs a women’s clinic, while P tours her music and theater group, and the two keep in touch sporadically over the years through the mail. Suzanne eventually marries pediatrician Pierre and Pauline goes to Iran with her man Darius (an economist?), and now the two have to cope with being wives and mothers while trying to keep their values uncorrupted. P finds it’s tough to be feminist in Iran so she ditches her guy and returns home. Ends with a lingering shot on Suzanne’s grown daughter, looking troubled at the thought of taking over the plot.

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P. Kael said “Varda brings a Disney touch to women’s liberation.” Otherwise there isn’t crap about it on the internet, besides saying it’s from France, Belgium and Venezuela, which doesn’t even seem to be true.

an Apple performance:
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Every movie released in 1977 looks dirty and cheap. Did the entire international film world’s budget go into the first Star Wars? Dialogue is in French, but credits and voiceovers are in English, hmmm. Maybe all this is because of my shady videotape copy.

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Pauline (Valérie Mairesse) was in Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice and Lucas Belvaux’s Trilogy and Suzanne (Thérèse Liotard, above) was in a Bertrand Tavernier sci-fi flick with Harvey Keitel and Harry Dean Stanton – must see that. The composer shows up as an actor, with four-year-old Mathieu Demy in tow. Assistant camera (in the Iranian scenes?) is appropriately by Nurit Aviv, France’s first licensed female cinematographer.

Ceddo (1977, Ousmane Sembene)

Firstly, the “Ceddo” are the outsider townspeople. Took me half the movie to figure that one out. The town is converting to muslim, and the local imam is becoming more powerful than the king. A small group of traditionalist men kidnap the princess to protest the forced religious conversion. Meanwhile, a white christian missionary is looking for followers but is not doing so well.

While the king and imam disagree over how to proceed and the imam’s men plot to overthrow the throne, three younger men – the king’s potential successors and the princess’s potential husbands, depending which rules you follow – aim to rescue the princess, bringing guns to a bow-and-arrow party. Biram is kind of a compromise choice between mirror-wearing king-loyalist Saxewar and committed muslim Fall, but Biram is easily killed by an arrow. Saxewar goes next, dies stabbed through the throat by the kidnapper. Fall becomes suspicious of the imam and renounces his position, and finally the imam carries through his threat of deposing the king (who dies offscreen) and has the lead kidnapper killed, freeing the princess. She marches right back into town, grabs a rifle and blows away the imam herself. Damn, Sembene was good with endings.

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Much of the story revolves around slavery. A white trader is in town accepting slaves in exchange for wine and guns, so Ceddo are trading members of their own families for guns to fight the muslims. One reason people are converting to islam in the first place is because law prohibits children who are born muslim to become slaves, so if young adults convert, they might still become slaves but their children will be born free. The christian missionary has no such promise, and at most manages to collect one follower, or at least a curious onlooker to the white man’s sermon. This leads to a wonderful dream sequence, a large modern (as opposed to the no-specific-year historical period of the rest of the film) crowd is gathered as this new guy reads a memorial service for the white priest, seen in a coffin… dreams of a successor, unfulfilled, as the christian is killed unceremoniously later in the movie.

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Watched this from a very good print with strong color rented from recently-folded New Yorker Films – we were warned that this may be the last screening of this particular film for a long time. This was made two years after Xala – seems that this is the turning-point film for me in Sembene’s career, since I’ve enjoyed this one and everything after it (Guelwaar, Faat Kiné, Moolaadé) more than everything before it (Xala, Emitai, Black Girl). Can’t put my finger on why I like the later ones more… better color, stronger characters, easier-to-follow narratives? I don’t know why I like movies, but this one was damn amazing. We’ll see how unseen early film Mandabi and late Camp de Thiaroye hold up.

The princess appeared 20+ years later in Faat Kiné, and Prince Biram played an interpreter in Coup de torchon

We were always looking for the camera’s reflection in Saxewar’s mirror:
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From the valuable article by J. Leahy at Senses of Cinema:

Sembène goes so far as to articulate something completely ignored in the discourse of the male protagonists of the village’s internal war: the desire of this strong, silent, beautiful young woman. This is revealed in what I read as a subjective flashforward to a possible future, similar to that of the priest. It is characteristic of the complexity of Sembène’s analysis of the interaction between the individual, history and traditional practice that this shows her married to her kidnapper and finding happiness in the role of a traditional wife serving her husband. Others have read this as flashback to their first encounter. Even if this is so, the moment remains equally evocative in terms of the possibilities it suggests.