Not part of my slow delve into Film as a Subversive Art – my copy has no index, so I don’t yet know if Smith is covered within – rather a holdover from when I read Visionary Film. Quotes below are by Smith, as printed in the latter book.


Film No. 1 (1939)

Fast, blobby, hand-drawn animation morphs along a speckled screen. I likened the characters to amoebas, then blew my own mind thinking about the similarities between actions on a microscope slide and on a film frame. “The history of the geologic period reduced to orgasm length.”


Film No. 2 (1941)

Full moon circles pendulum and pac-man across the screen, a 2×2 grid of squares joining them center screen.


Film No. 3 (1946)

Hashtag: The Movie… rectangles form the number sign, then more complicated grids and block patterns, some diamonds thrown into the mix, a lot more complex than the last couple films. The rapid-fire circles of the second movie broke up in compression artifacts on my video copy, but the brilliant colors of this one made up for that. “The most complex hand-drawn film imaginable.”


Film No. 4 (1947)

Short, using an actual camera I think. Familiar circle and grid shapes, as lights, smearing across the screen in multiple exposure blends. “Made in a single night.”


Film No. 5: Circular Tensions (1949)

The technique of the previous piece, refined and improved, with more colors coming in.


Film No. 7 (1951)

Long and great, a huge leap forward. Looks like someone got a proper animation rig (courtesy of the Guggenheim Foundation) and applied all his favorite colors, shapes and patterns to it – brings to mind Oskar Fischinger (I wrote this before discovering that Film No. 5 was aka Homage to Oskar Fischinger).


Film No. 10 (1956)

Another big change – instead of just shapes, we’ve got character-objects. They seem to be based on foreign historical/religious icons, dancing around and forming miniature pantomimes. “An exposition of Buddhism and the Kaballa in the form of a collage.”

Snake made of eyeballs:


Film No. 11 (1956)

Some of the same religious icons/patterns as the previous movie, nicely synched to a Thelonious Monk piece. Possibly the previous films had also been synched, since per the literature, “Smith spoke of his films in terms of synesthesia, the search for correspondences between color and sound,” but the earliest films had no synched soundtracks, and Smith kept changing the music – including at one point awkwardly overlaying Meet The Beatles over the whole collection, as in my copy.


Film No. 12: Heaven and Earth Magic (1962)

Small man with a hammer reconfigures objects, animals and women from/into pieces. Narrativish with sound effects, no music. Fully Gilliamesque, cut-out characters, always with something else hiding behind/beneath them. A house grows feet and walks off, machines with multi-hinged arms, umbrellas, syringes, eggs and watermelons, dripping liquid. One scene reminds me I haven’t seen Guy Maddin’s Odilon Redon in a while.

“8 shots for a quarter, win a kewpie doll,” funny to hear the carnival barker on the soundtrack the day after watching Gun Crazy. I don’t know if I can recommend watching 70 straight minutes of Harry Smith cutout animation. About the 20th time the magician brings out the hammer to reconfigure all nearby objects into new forms, I wondered if this wouldn’t be better served as an installation. And it might be appropriate to the depicted characters, but the sounds of crying babies and yowling cats never improve a movie.

“The first part depicts the heroine’s toothache consequent to the loss of a very valuable watermelon, her dentistry and transportation to heaven. Next follows an elaborate exposition of the heavenly land, in terms of Israel, Montreal and the second part depicts the return to Earth from being eaten by Max Muller on the day Edward the Seventh dedicated the Great Sewer of London.”

Search Party season 4 (2021)

Dory has been kidnapped by Chip (Cole Escola of Difficult People), spends the whole season trying to escape with no help from meddling neighbor Ann Dowd (Tater Channing’s mom in Side Effects) who also gets kidnapped then quickly murdered, and no help from Chip’s aunt Susan Sarandon, sent by the family to burn down the house as damage control. Before that Chip tries to Overboard Dory into thinking she’s had a trauma and they’re a happy couple. Meanwhile in the world, Portia is portraying Dory in a movie, Elliott’s right-wing TV co-host is killed by Chantal, Drew tries to escape it all and dates theme park princess Rebecca Robles. A proper search party ensues, things kinda work out – it’s probably a step up from season 3.


Archer season 8 (2017)

Dreamland season: comatose Archer dreams himself and his friends into a noirish period piece in which he’s avenging his dead partner (the actually dead Woodhouse). Feat. Jeffrey Tambor as the gangster-type who hires Detective Figgis, Eugene Mirman as a clueless rich guy, and Maggie Wheeler as New Yawk Trinette. Highlights: Pam’s houseful of secretly rescued women, Krieger’s pack of nazi robot dogs, robot Barry with a halberd. Proud of my former coworkers for working on a good show with a JG Thirlwell score.


The Thick of It season 3 (2009)

Picking up an entire decade after I watched season two, afraid I’d have no idea what’s happening due to both my ignorance about British politics and having forgotten the first two seasons. But of course the show is just a constant stream of inventive insults, which turned out to be precisely what I needed to destress after a work day. This season was elevated by Rebecca Front as the new Minister of Whatever, and a doubling-down on Malcolm’s character, who now takes over every episode until he’s sacked at the end of the season.

Capaldi getting sacked:


Solar Opposites season 1 (2020)

Another wicked Justin Roiland animated show full of refracted cultural references (Green Room callout in second episode). Grown-up aliens played by Roiland (brainy scientist typecast) and Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) with two kids (one of whom keeps desperate shunken humans in the wall like an ant farm) and “the pupa” form a parody of a sitcom family, trying to fit in and eventually conquer (they kill a ton of humans every episode). Made me laugh, passed the time – late to the party, a third season is in the works. Andy Daly plays Tim, underdog hero of the people trapped in the wall, Alfred Molina his overlord rival, regular appearances by the usual gang of comedians and voice actors.

Terry, Corvo, Nanobots:


Moonbase 8 season 1 (2020)

How did I not hear from all corners that there was a comedy starring Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker and John C. Reilly as would-be astronauts? Maybe because it’s just pretty good and aired on Showtime.

Reilly with Atlanta’s own Ted Parker:

Armisen in mission mode:


Tales from the Tour Bus season 2 (2018)

Just as great as season one, with more interconnections between episodes since the funk scene was close-knit, until the standalone Betty Davis finale. George Clinton, Bootsy, James Brown and Morris Day (and indirectly Prince) are covered, and if the stories aren’t all better than the country season, the music and performance footage are. Katy will attest that I had to put the show on hold for a few months to recover after getting hit hard by the Rick James story.

Still the best story:

Street Art (1957, Konstanty Gordon)

To begin with, a short doc on street posters, the profession Lenica and Borowczyk started out in – its history and function and form and prevalence. Narrator, upbeat orchestral music, the main attraction here is seeing a montage of good poster art.


Once Upon a Time (1957)

Magic: the poster art comes alive. Wordless adventures of some ever shifting graphic design elements, fond of fashioning themselves into creatures and hats, interacting with clip art. Playful organ music, some strobing scraps of concert footage, a cute and inventive little movie.


Requited Feelings (1958)

This one’s more limited because it’s based on someone else’s paintings (Jan Plaskocinski), which B&L bring to life the best they can through fast cuts and pans. It tells a story using intertitles of a man looking for love. The film editor would later make No End with Kieslowski.


Banner of Youth (1957)

McLaren-esque abstract animated pieces, with separate quick blasts of every kind of news and sports and entertainment footage, a cultural survey in two minutes set to lively jazz.


Strip-Tease (1957)

This and the previous short were commissioned advertisements for a newspaper, I think. Male and female abstract characters, she “strips” her outer layers revealing newsprint, the messages on which knock him out. Cuter than it sounds.


School (1958)

A rifleman performs training exercises, is pestered by a fly, can’t get his rifle to fire, then dreams of dancing legs, all in live-stop-motion (or very low framerate photography). Some light horn music, heavy percussion and frequent whistle blasts. Composer Andrzej Markowski had already scored A Generation, and would soon do the MST3K-approved First Spaceship on Venus.


Dom (1958)

This one is like an entire Flying Circus episode, bringing together all the techniques from the previous shorts into an anthology of episodes witnessed by a woman before she stops to make out with a decaying mannequin head. Before that, we’ve got sci-fi poster art, early cinema motion studies, archive photography and storybook pages, a man stuck in a time-loop room, and a stop-motion wig consuming or destroying everything on a table. I’d watched this before, ages ago, in a poor copy.


Boro would go on to become a major director of nudie flicks, and I just found out that an early Bertrand Mandico film was a tribute to him.

The woman in Dom was Ligia Branice, aka Mrs. Walerian Borowczyk, who also appeared in La Jetee. Chris Marker also contributed to Boro’s Les Astronautes the following year, and must have been influenced by the photography in these films.

Lenica would later make the feature Adam 2, about a guy who escapes his drab life into an animated fantasy world, and a feature adaptation of one of Alfred Jarry’s pre-dada Pere Ubu plays, then a final half-hour short with Piotr Dumala.

Picture this: you’re an acclaimed animation director following up your sci-fantasy epic with a smaller story, about an urban schoolboy who wishes to be a shoemaker, skipping class whenever it rains to draw sketches alongside a daydrinking woman under a city park gazebo. You have uniquely lovely visual artistry, especially outdoors in the rain, with your photoreal animation of water and light. The gazebo people don’t even know each other’s names, but gradually begin to encourage each other.

Now, do you leave good enough alone, or pivot to a tantrummy third act where she’s revealed as a disgraced teacher from his school and he comes to her apartment and declares he’s in love with her? Shinkai chose the latter. The boy also voiced Haku in Spirited Away, and she voiced the lead in Night Is Short, Walk on Girl.

It wasn’t until I finished the series that I found out there was a movie, oh boy. The gang is back together, so who knows where this takes place chronologically. Terrorists have a sort of Dreamcatcher/Prometheus plot to grow the nanobots up in the water supply, killing the world, and only our heroes can put the pieces together in time. The movie’s focus on sub-Garbage 90’s technopop music or visual fx is never impressive, but the compositions and characters always are.

Brothers Bearhearts (2005, Riho Unt)

I think it was stop-motion with 3D added… if the whole thing was 3D I’ll be impressed. The adventures of three bears modeled after historical artists taking cross-continent revenge on the hunter who shot their mom. Looks like Unt is a prolific shorts director and I can find some of his early 80’s work.


Down to the Bone (2001, Rene Castillo)

Guy is buried, falls into a Mexican afterlife nightclub full of skeletons, while trying to ward off the carnivorous worm that will turn him into a skeleton. Won prizes at every fest that year, including Annecy which had a good year between this and The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg and Father and Daughter and Mutant Aliens. The director was working on a feature called Thingdom but I can’t find evidence that it ever came out.


Restart (2010, Miao Xiaochun)

Throwing everything at the wall, adding opera music, and listing classic influences in the credits – trying to turn machinima into art. This sort of thing should not be encouraged.


The Selfish Giant (1971, Peter Sander)

An overly long and precious story of a giant who selfishly kicks out the children who love to play in his garden, then permanent winter comes to his walled-off castle until he breaks down the walls and lets in the kids and the springtime. I was already pretty mad, then one of the kids turns out to be Jesus Christ. Presented by Reader’s Digest, with a very based-on-a-storybook vibe and a couple hippie harpsichord-and-choir song breaks. The snow and frost characters are cool, at least. Peter Sander worked on the animated Beatles TV series. Based on an Oscar Wilde story which was also adapted as a Jackanory story, a Pete Postlethwaite short, and most confusingly, Clio Barnard’s feature follow-up to The Arbor.

That’s twice in a row this list of the best animated short films ever made has steered me wrong… but my other list of the best animated short films ever made is full of Mickey Mouse and Woody Woodpecker cartoons… please, I need more lists of the best animated short films ever made.


The Road to Zennor (2017, Mark Jenkin)

Shaky handheld film photography of rural settings, an unseen narrator speaking I think in quotes and listing quizzical British placenames. Little sketch of a movie. Interested in Jenkin because of the recent feature Bait.


To Kill a Dead Man (1994, Alexander Hemming & Portishead)

Wow, it’s rare that a movie opens with an apology saying they didn’t realize how hard it would be to make a movie. Black-gloved sniper walks suspiciously through public spaces, assembles his rifle and takes down a politician-looking guy, at which point the Portishead soundtrack shifts from classic chill Morricone to action Morricone. The dead man’s wife’s trauma is visualized as her in a screening room with a feeding tube, watching films of the death on an endless loop, before we return to sunglasses-sporting suit dudes playing chess games under noir lighting. I guess in the end the husband wasn’t dead and she hires the same hit man to kill him again, but I needed the internet to explain that to me. As a band demo it’s perfect – nice bit where the music plays a reversed guitar as confetti “falls” upward – though it’s not until recently that Barrow started getting regular soundtrack work. Maybe he wasn’t looking. Nobody else involved in this went onto any sort of film career, but the makeup person worked on The Cat With Hands.


Deborah Harry Does Not Like Interviews (2019, Meghan Fredrich)

Oh no, I’m sorry I made Katy watch this. Adding credits and titles doesn’t make your vhs/youtube clips collection a short film. Not as snarky or awkward as reported, the average KCRW band interview is worse. One good mid-period song I’d never heard, so we got our money’s worth.


If Only There Were Peace (2017, Carmine Grimaldi & Deniz Tortum)

An entry in the select genre along with Jodorowsky’s Dune and Clouzot’s Inferno and (kinda) Lost in La Mancha of making-of docs for features that never existed – this one a Turkish anti-war drama. I get the feeling the script isn’t in the lead actress’s native language. There’s a lotta direct address to camera, and the sound mix is off. We saw Grimaldi’s very different One of the Roughs, a Kosmos at True/False, and Tortum has a new feature-length doc set in a hospital.

A bunch of silliness in the first half which escalated wonderfully in the second. At the beginning Cowboy and Indian try to construct a last-minute birthday gift while Horse takes piano lessons with a cute female horse. But pretty soon they are all enslaved by snowball-prankster kung-fu scientists within a giant arctic penguin robot. Plastic toy stop-motion!

How To with John Wilson (2020)
Painting with John (2021)

Two low-fi HBO shows made by very different auteur-Johns. Both shows seem like each episode is a new random doc segment of a John’s life, then in the final episode you realize they’ve taken you on a journey with purpose. This is my new favorite kind of show.

“I crashed seven drones.” Lurie’s playfulness extends to the filmmaking, where he shows a domestic scene then replays it with added laugh track. Unlike the fishing show in a couple major ways: no celebrity guests, and John can actually paint.

Wilson’s show loves visual puns and sidetracks following unusual characters. In an episode on improving memory, while looking for a Zagnut bar he meets a supermarket inventory system developer who is obsessed with the Mandela Effect (“I found the one place where the worse your memory was, the more people liked you”), then he stumbles into the West Side Story remake set (“for the rest of the week it was hard to tell who was a human and who was an actor”).

from How To Split The Check, which leads John to a sad referee convention:

wildlife from How To Make Small Talk:

The other John:


Central Park season 1 (2020)

Oh wow, a comedy musical with cast from Hamilton and Book of Mormon and Kimmy Schmidt and Veronica Mars… good characters and songs… would be the perfect show to watch with Katy except for its singleminded love of poop jokes. Doesn’t bother me, I’m waiting for season two.

Harassing owls:


The Venture Bros. season 1 (2004)

Show is more bizarre than I realized. The title characters are useless, all the drama happening around them, and it steals characters (the Six Million Dollar Man, the Fantastic Four) from other shows at will. Foetus music, a Lydia Lunch reference. Twist: the Venture Bros are killed in an Easy Rider season finale.

Creator Christopher McCulloch voices the Monarch and a Venture, and worked on the The Tick #1, while Tick #2 voices bodyguard Brock Samson. The other Venture is prolific anime voice actor Michael Sinterniklaas, and their dad is James Urbaniak, who shares my birthday and is from New Jersey, so we’re practically family.


Samurai Jack season 1 (2001)

Only after Primal came out did I belatedly realize I was stupid for never watching this. Demon sends samurai into an intergalactic future, what’s not to like. Wasn’t expecting the season to end with Aku telling fairy tales to kids, complete with a reference to The Shining.

Among many online concerts, i attended the quarantine edition of SF Sketchfest, which opened with a montage of famous comedians saying no to Sketchfest. Fred Armisen welcome, Reggie Watts theme song, Eugene Mirman using a flowby during intermission, Triumph vs. Weird Al. Highlights were Jon Hamm’s movie trivia, Kumail vs. Emily, and the Kids in the Hall.

Attempted to watch The Shivering Truth – really sweet puppet animation, shame it’s wasted on so many unfunny jokes. Adam Fuchs did the titles! Also walked out on stand-up specials by Yvonne Orji, Jenny Slate, Eric Andre and Tiffany Haddish. I stayed through A Steven Wright Special (1985)

Alan Partridge: Welcome to the Places of My Life (2012) has some sweet puns and lots of editing humor.


Nathan Barley (2005)

“It’s bad to have a bad uncle.” Julian Barratt is a pathetic angry guy who works for terrible website Trashbat run by Barley. Dan and his sister Claire room with DJ Nathan Fielder, and all of them discover they’re no better than the dummies they’re mocking. Barley torments a young Ben Whishaw, and Richard Ayoade and Benedict Cumberbatch are hanging around. When all your characters are annoying it’s hard for the show not to end up annoying, but as an intersection of post-Brass Eye Chris Morris, pre-Newswipe Charlie Brooker, and mid-Mighty Boosh everyone else, I was gonna have to watch it.


Charlie Brooker had an early-quarantine special Antiviral Wipe, then the end-of-year Death to 2020. The highlight of both was the Barry Shitpeas quote on OUATIH: “Quentin Cappucino made a new version of that film he does.” The latter special featured some good fake celebrity commentators and websites.

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.