Never Like the First Time (2006, Jonas Odell)

First-time sex stories. The participants seem youngish until the last guy tells a story set in the 1920’s. He and the first guy tell joyous stories of satisfaction, while for the women in the middle it was either disappointing or traumatic. The animation is a confusing mix of 2D photos and images composited into a 3D environment. Shared Golden Bears in Berlin that year with Sandra Hüller, Michael Winterbottom, and Andrzej Wajda. Ten years later Odell made a short called I Was a Winner, presumably not a reference to his Berlin prize, a short doc about video gamers as told by their game avatars, which sounds better than the new Rodney Ascher.


The Tale of How (2006, The Blackheart Gang)

Extremely trippy story involving tentacle creatures and seagulls with teeth – a musical, set to an elaborate song, one suicide pact short of a Decemberists number. A South African movie, it doesn’t appear the Gang has remained in the movie business, except the composer with the great name of Markus Wormstorm. From the same omnibus as the previous film, but somehow I only found these two of the nine.


Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936, Dave Fleischer)

Sindbad is just Bluto, lording over an isle of monsters and calling himself a most extraordinary fellow (is that from a Harold Lloyd film?). Highlights: each sailor introduces himself with his own theme song, and Wimpy tries to catch a duck with a meat grinder. There were a million Popeye shorts, so why is this one famous? Lost the oscar to The Country Cousin, not a great year.


Quimby The Mouse (2009, Chris Ware)

Quimby is a domestic abuser who marries a severed head, makes it cry until sea levels rise, then uses it as bait to catch sea fishes, all set to a jaunty Andrew Bird song. Fun!


Invention of Love (2010, Andrey Shushkov)

Beautiful shadow animation. Boy takes Girl to the steampunk towers where all plants and animals are machine replicants, and when she gets sick, he replicates her.


Rowing Across the Atlantic (1978, Jean-Francois Laguionie)

Young adventurers attempt to cross the ocean in a rowboat, witness the Titanic sinking, fight and hallucinate and live their whole lives together on the boat. Some unexpected imagery, really nice. Laguionie made a couple of features last decade – I hear good things. This won best-short awards at the Césars (which also honored Dégustation maison) and at Cannes (which gave prizes to The Tree of Wooden Clogs, The Shout, and A Doonesbury Special).


At the Ends of the World (1999, Konstantin Bronzit)

Delicate balance of comings and goings in a house perched on a mountaintop. Single-take until post-credits when disaster has relocated the house to a valley. Zagreb is a big fest for animated shorts, eh? This won its category, and The Old Man and the Sea took another.


Fist Fight (1964, Robert Breer)

His most full-of-things film that i can recall, flickering edits of clippings and photos and drawings, musique concrète soundtrack involving bird sounds. Mice, cigar tricks, and eye-bending patterns. Proper figure animation, some Klahr-ish stuff, some Rejected paper manipulation – every technique Breer had at his disposal, like an itunes library of animation with their frames set on shuffle. Internet says it’s autobiographical, and Stockhausen-related.


What Goes Up… (2003, Robert Breer)

Rotoscope-looking Jeff Scher-ish animation with flickering photograph injections. I attended a Breer program at Anthology Film Archives in the early 2000s, later discovered Scher, then Jodie Mack, and now I’ve forgotten all the original Breers. They are short and delightful and I should be watching them on the regular.

Paper-cutout people make out in a lovely owl forest. The man dreams of breaking past a line of police and storming the D.C. Capitol – this is set in Vietnam-era, but January 2021 is funny timing for such a sentiment. A burst of nudity, profanity and violence after they scale a fence and the man is impaled by a unicorn, and I was ready to write this off as low-rent edgelord animation, but the movie changes course dramatically – I got caught up in it, and gotta admit with its scale, ambition and budget, the animation gets the job done.

Lauren Grey is a globetrotting zoo agent, capturing mythical creatures (cryptids) and giving them nice captive zoo-bound lives, fighting off enemy agents who want the cryptids for private sale… the zoo’s real motives are questioned as its moneyed owner fucks a bigfoot in her castle tower, tables are turned, the traumatized woman from the beginning releases the most dangerous caged beasts, and all hell breaks loose.

Okay, Soul had its moments, but it’s almost a shame that just a few days later we watched this movie which so thoroughly blew it away. Such intricate illustration and character design, fun perspective tricks, it all looks so handcrafted and amazing.

No shocker after Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea that the plot concerns Irish mythology, and as in Kells there’s a supernatural girl on the outskirts of a besieged town. This time the girl is leading the wolf army they’re all afraid of, and new girl Robyn’s dad is hired to trap and kill them, but Robyn (with her cool pet falcon, oh my heart) ventures into the woods, meets the red-haired wolf girl, and accidentally becomes a wolfwalker herself. Later her dad will become one, and they’ll turn on the wolf-hating tyrant who rules the town. Not a grim, doomsy movie at all – the baddie is the only death, and there’s nearly as much friendly romping as there is story.

Another Pete Docter Pixar feature set in an imagined space that is about determining a girl’s destiny. This time she’s purgatorial soul Tina Fey (I spent all movie wishing she was Sarah Silverman) with teacher Jamie Foxx, a just-deceased jazz-pianist schoolteacher, who accidentally teaches Tina to treasure the material world while anxiously trying to return there himself. Longer and less inspiring than the God Baby scene in World of Tomorrow 3, but the abstract-shaped beings that oversee the soul realm are great, especially the Rachel House-voiced accountant who follows our heroes to earth and hides in 2D images within the 3D world.

ExtaZus (2019, Bertrand Mandico)

1. The sword-wielding, red-haired Nirvana Queen, tastes a crystalline rock in front of the orally-attached twins, awakens in a green world surrounded by crystal-headed hook-handed persons, talks to a woman in a bubble with a strong French accent, gets aggressively tongued by a giant cave-mouth, then she disfigures the titular sunglasses-man who’d been typing her story with his Freddy Krueger fingers.

2. She convinces him to create a new heroine named Peach Machine, and he has her dance with death in the desert. Peach is unhappy with her role, and slaps his face off.

3. With the author dead, PM visits NQ. As NQ plays a dual-dicked statue like it’s a Robotron machine, PM approaches and makes out with the face on the back of NQ’s head.


Veslemøy’s Song (2018, Sofia Bohdanowicz)

The Deragh Campbell-as-Audrey short coming between Never Eat Alone and MS Slavic 7. It’s more lively than the previous feature, which is a good sign for the next one. She finds a book about her grandfather’s violin teacher Kathleen Parlow, who played lead on a music piece titled V’s Song that was written for her when she was 18. Audrey flies to NYC to hear the only known recording of this piece, but can only hear part of the record, since the archive will only play excerpts and will not make copies. Not a documentary, of course, despite the real people and events, since we hear the song in the film. Hand-processed film, full of texture and scratches.


The Sky Is Clear And Blue Today (2019, Ricky D’Ambrose)

German lesson repeating the film title… kids recite My Pet Goat to camera… scraps and stories from post-9/11 America. The story proper is about an American director named Helmar contracted by German TV to make a cheap 60-minute film about a photograph showing a happy get-together while the twin towers burned in the background. They cast lookalikes from the photo and resort to digital trickery to fake the location, after the real location owner (Glenn Kenny, introduced as “an especially unpleasant and gluttonous man”) refuses to let them shoot. But the director and eight others die in a fire during production – “it was just like a movie” said the survivors. Fits in nicely with my previous short, stylistically and in its blend of real events with fictional ones, matter-of-factly narrated.


Visit (2020, Jia Zhangke)

Oh noooo, a beautiful short about covid quarantine. I was still getting angry over The Plagiarists and wasn’t ready for anything this delicate and lovely. Add it to the list of movies that show off their directors’ DVD collections: shout out to Suzhou River.


Fire (Pozar) (2020, David Lynch)

Abstract animation solidifies into shapes: a house, a tree, fire. Still images, but the drawn page shakes under the camera. Nice string music with surface noise (added?). Through a burned hole floats a flying creature with hands reaching from its eye sockets. A welcome callback to the very early Lynch shorts blended with the Inland Empire-era web works.


France Against the Robots (2020, Jean-Marie Straub)

Single shot, a man walks along the lake and talks about the sad necessity of revolution, since the capitalist systems aren’t gonna reform themselves. Then the credits repeat, and the film repeats – but at a different time of day, and with more swans about.


Pigeons and Architecture (2020, Anne Linke)

A chill movie looking at how pigeons live in buildings, and how people who love pigeons illicitly feed them by shawshanking healthy grains down their pantlegs, something I will be doing wherever I go from now on.

Going through some animation and avant-garde DVDs on a Saturday afternoon, looking for shorts I’ve never seen before… time well spent.


Cinq minutes de cinema pure (1926, Henri Chomette)

Silent light shines on glassy objects… spinning and cross-fading, never lingering more than a few seconds on each pattern. We go unexpectedly outside to a forest and pond with blown-out white skies in the final minute. It’s pure cinema, I suppose. Chomette was René Clair’s brother.


Dots (1940, Norman McLaren)

Hand-drawn on 35mm (including the soundtrack!), a rhythmic dance of blue dots on a red field, short and very fun.


Mail Early (1941, Norman McLaren)

Public service announcement to not wait till the last minute to send your Christmas mail, via lively hand-drawn envelopes flying across screen to a jazzy Jingle Bells.


Mail Early for Christmas (1959, Norman McLaren)

The remake is shorter and crazier, all flashing light and pattern (etched on film with “vibra-drill”), the title message coming through in single-frame flickers.


Lines Vertical (1960, Norman McLaren)

The line pongs left and right, multiplying again and again until the background color field starts to shift as the line-dance gets more complex. Various optical illusions: imagining the filmstrip flying upwards is easy with this short, and at a few points the lines’ relative thickness with their back-and-forth motion gives the impression of cylindrical columns. Music sounds like electric harp emulating wind chimes and is very soothing.

The lines definitely get un-vertical at the end:


Mosaic (1965, Norman McLaren)

Lines Horizontal is literally Lines Vertical turned on its side, so I skipped to Mosaic, whiich is the two of them superimposed and processed somehow. I was expecting a shifting line grid, but I got dots, maybe the vertices of the intersecting lines. More sputtering hand-drawn sounds (now with added reverb), the white dots flickering to color in brief spots.


Two Greedy Bear Cubs (1954, Vladimir Degtyaryov)

Early post-Stalin film from the first History of Soviet Puppet Animation DVD. Bright fairy-tale stop-motion puppetry about two sibling bears who promise to share equally, but fight over the bedding and over their breakfast, then when they find a gigantic block of cheese they can’t figure how to split it equally until a helpful fox comes to help, creating unequal sides, then biting chunks off the larger piece each time the whiny bears complain about their smaller share, until the bears are left with crumbs.


Kolobok (1956, Roman Davydov)

Love the look of this one, like the wooden incense-smoking figurines my family used to collect. Six decades before Pixar’s Bao, a childless couple bakes a gingerbread bun and it comes to life. The bun romps through the fields and woods, taunting the bear and wolf while singing a happy song about how delicious it must be, until a fox (again with the foxes) chases it to safety at home where it lives happily with its family.


How to Kiss (1988, Bill Plympton)

A classic example of Plympton finding a multitude of ways to turn something lovely into ghastly images. Our lovers end up dead or mutilated many times over – practically a horror movie.


Nosehair (1995, Bill Plympton)

Man struggles to remove a nosehair, and I thought this would end up like Wisdom Teeth, but it goes in remarkable new directions, too many to describe. The hair turns into a line, and for a while the movie becomes a riff on all things animators can create from simple lines. Can’t believe I’d never seen this, it’s one of his greats.


Aria (2001, Pjotr Sapegin)

You know it’s classy from the opera music, but it also opens with some explicit puppet sex. After a fling with a sailor, the Island Woman gives birth… and never cuts the cord, so she and her daughter fly each other like kites. That is not even nearly the craziest thing that happens, for when the sailor and his Barbie wife come to take the child away, the woman undoes herself, down to her puppet armature and beyond, some 14 years before Anomalisa.


The Dingles (1988, Les Drew)

Gentle, over-narrated kids’ cartoon about a woman and her three cats who experience a minor drama when a thunderstorm arrives.


The Magic Pear Tree (1968, Charles Swenson)

A Decameron story. Jean visits the Marquis, he makes her prove her love with difficult tasks before he’ll have sex with her. A cheap-looking silly-ass movie, so of course it’s oscar-nominated. Swenson later wrote Fievel Goes West and produced Rugrats, Jimmy Murakami produced, and the overqualified voice cast includes Agnes Moorhead (Citizen Kane) and Keenan Wynn (Dr. Strangelove).


Hell’s Bells (1929, Ub Iwerks)

You don’t expect a Disney cartoon to take place in hell. Betty Boop-lite antics as demons and bats dance and transform to the music. The Silly Symphonies tend to seem more like a bit of fun than anything of great interest… time-filler content before the feature. Carl Stalling, however – I hope he died a billionaire.


Projekt (1981, Jirí Barta)

Apartment building is drafted in stop-motion, then furnishings and residents are added, each with their own art style and soundtrack, until all the soundtracks are playing at once, then the architect runs a roller over the building until everything is colorlessly conformist again. Pretty great.


Ballad of the Green Wood (1983, Jirí Barta)

Now beyond paper and ink, he’s animating light, wood and water, mud, worms and plants. An anthropomorphic piece of split wood is eaten by a crow, who becomes part wood, transforming into a wood-demon crow-bat harbinger of winter, until a wooden soldier arrives and slays him to bring back the spring. I think from the art style that it might represent Christians burning pagans? It brought to mind Hannah Gadsby‘s “am I made of box?” and also was amazing in every way – I’ve seen Jirí Barta’s name around before, and now I must see everything.


When the Leaves Have Fallen from the Oak (1991, Vlasta Pospisilova)

A long one, almost a half hour. Superb puppet animation, very talky and unsubtitled, but I usually knew what’s going on. Devil arrives in a whirlwind to a drunken failure of a farmer, will give him magic contraptions to make the farm thrive if he only signs a contract surrendering his firstborn. The farmer attempts suicide when collection time is near and… an old man hears his story then rolls around in honey and feathers? Anyway the farmer ends up in hell himself, running a daily routine of freezing / boiling / hard labor / drinking, until he breaks the cycle by refusing to drink anymore. Another devil contract to bring the farm back to life, this time he fools the devil by promising something when the leaves of an evergreen begin to fall… surprised it’s so easy to fool the devil, but it’s nice to see things work out for once. Vlasta also did animation for directors such as Kihachiro Kawamoto and Jan Svankmajer.


Is The Earth Round? (1977, Priit Pärn)

A boy reads that you can prove the earth is round by walking in one direction until you end up where you started – so he does, but arrives home as an old man. Appreciate the seventies freakout rock & roll, and when his empty pockets become wings and fly him out of the city.


Hotell E (1992, Priit Pärn)

I did not even nearly follow the metaphors here. After a couple of prologues, the movie splits between two worlds: a clock-driven monochrome fly-infested hellscape, and a music-video new-age dreamscape, each mirroring one of the prologues. There’s a door, and they begin to intersect. Movie goes on for ages, always repeating actions but always in new variations. It seems angry.

World of Tomorrow Episode Three: The Absent Destinations of David Prime (2020, Don Hertzfeldt)

Hertzfeldt comes up with his biggest horror yet: embedded-HUD popup ads. A future Emily backup clone contacts a past David and sends him on a disfiguring journey to retrieve secret messages about the clandestine between-time assassinations of various Davids by other Davids. It’s twisty! And excellent, and full of more wonderful quotes, and I’ll be watching these forever.


Stump the Guesser (2020, Maddin/Johnson/Johnson)

The Odenkirk-looking Guesser (The Editor from The Editor) is renowned for his abilities, but when he runs out of guessing milk, things go bad and his guessing license is revoked. But during this time he falls in love with his long-lost sister, spends some time scientifically disproving theories of heredity in order to marry her, but things go badly at the end when he has to guess which door she’s behind. Some fun leaps of logic and distorted visuals here, but I wasn’t feeling it as much as other Maddin films.


Accounting for some other things watched recently… The Mads from MST3K have been doing monthly live shows. I checked out Glen or Glenda, a movie that’s so busy explaining itself that it never gets to the movie, and told Neil:

That was… really fun. That’s the most I’ve enjoyed a MST3K-related thing since the end of the sci-fi channel years. I don’t know if it’s because of their obvious affection for the material, or if I’m just in the right mood. I’d never seen the feature either – shame on me, after digging the Tim Burton version for 25 years now (oh you just tried to watch it, is it cringey now? Is it Johnny Depp’s fault?) and the Mads nailed it in their intro when they said this movie has everything, but it also has nothing.

Next was The Tingler, which I already just barely remember (also explainy, features Vincent Price)… then the truly baffling, tensionless version of The Most Dangerous Game called Walk The Dark Street. I think the guy from The Rifleman played the baddie. Then some shorts I should track and name, but am not gonna.


Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas is her stand-up comedy special to follow Nanette, which was the special to end stand-up comedy, and yet she pulls off the follow-up by creating another perfectly-constructed show and this time being breathtakingly funny. That sounds like a cliche, but I had to pause the show to catch my breath.

And Katy and I watched something called Australia: Land of Parrots, which is everything you’d dream it would be, and I should just play it on a loop.

Jiri Menzel had just died, but instead of one of his movies on a Monday night I chose his countryman. I’ve seen some career-bookend works by Zeman, his early Prokouk shorts and late feature The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but not the heyday works, and this was spectacular. Real people against illustrated backgrounds, the Sin City of its time. Every kind of animation and visual trick seamlessly integrated, the thin striped pattern from the book illustrations appearing everywhere, overall amazing visual design… and to think his Baron Munchausen is supposed to be even better and I’ve been meaning to rent it for twenty years.

Our Narrator is assisting a scientist when the two are kidnapped (along with a pretty lady, of course) by pirates and taken to an evil mastermind inside a volcano who gets the scientist to help him unlock the secrets of the atom and conquer the world. The narrator is alarmed by all this but the scientist is happily distracted with a new lab and new problems to solve, until the very end, when he realizes what he’s doing and nukes the volcano. In the meantime we get submarines, a fighting octopus, parrots and fishes, of course a balloon or two, and a fantasy tour through all the inventions of the era, real and imagined (camels on rollerskates!), an alternate vision of what Tesla could’ve been.

I didn’t know it was possible to make a biopic this sentimental about Bunuel, of all people. At least it’s animated, so we get the occasional vision of elephants on horse-leg stilts. Opens with artists at a cafe arguing about the purpose of art, and closes with Luis discovering that art is for helping the poor people, I guess. The movie could at least use animation to abstract away all the gruesome animal killings from the Las Hurdes shoot, and it does, but then it makes sure to show us the original footage right after.

After a screening of L’age d’or ends in fire and threats, LB is annoyed that everyone thinks all his good ideas come from Dali, then he can’t get funding for a follow-up until his cousin wins the lottery. LB and producer cousin and cameraman and writer meet in the mountains, get into hijinks, and shoot a movie. LB has many flashbacks and dreams about trying to please his father, and everyone learns a little something about truth and fiction and the true purpose of art.