Earthearthearth (2021 Daichi Saito)

Opens with sunrise/sunsets, light tentatively emerging then retreating, broken up with ugly digital artifacting and with one of those a-g drone tracks that says “I didn’t have any sound in mind but I want to act like it’s a sound film so the viewer doesn’t put on an Abraxas album.” But the drone gets bigger and more complex as the visuals turn into fullscreen desert landscapes, superimposed over different ones, infected by huge color tinting – purple-blues, blue-and-gold. The radiation-green with Argento-red section is incredible, as the drone starts to sound like a processed bowed string instrument. I went back and forth on digital/analogue and finally decided it’s scanned film run through a panel of analog video processing effects – am I right? (nope, chemical-processed 16mm). Just a half hour of looking at lights flicker over mountains, but it’s the most times I’ve said “whoa” out loud while watching any movie this year. Eventually I started daydreaming about putting on The Grandmaster, but the Grainy Cloud Explosions finale was worth sticking around for.


The Head That Killed Everyone (2014 Beatriz Santiago Muñoz)

Voice reads methodically, as if from a lesson plan, some lines about the energies that go into casting a proper spell. Then a woman does a long dance in medium close-up without music, just the sounds of the night and an approaching thunderstorm. Not as exciting as its title, which I took to be the opposite energy of that Flaming Lips song.


13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (2020 Ana Vaz)

Another woman reading, this time onscreen but out of sync, a crackly vinyl loop overlaid on the soundtrack, until it suddenly is not. To be uncharitable to the experimental shorts, they revel in adding and removing elements on a random timeline. Title card. Instead of seeing a scenario, we see someone with eyes closed, her voiceover telling us the scenario she’s envisioning. After a couple of those, the camera at least shows a scene that kinda represents what the person dreamed. I think each title card is a line from the opening monologue, so each chapter expands on a section of that. And they mention blackbirds pretty often, though any birds the camera or mic pick up seem pretty incidental to their “what are images, what is the meaning of anything” conversations. Forgot I wanted to save this movie to double-feature with There Are Not Thirty-Six Ways of Showing a Man Getting on a Horse.


Glimpses from a Visit to Orkney in Summer 1995 (2020 Ute Aurand)

Silent defocused montage of extreme close-ups on colorful things – flowers, farm animals, gramma. A personal diary-travelogue short, a-g-style.


What Distinguishes The Past (2020 Ben Russell)

Long take of a fireworks display in reverse motion, neat. I’m glad I watched this, because it’s got a playful reversal on what I consider (based on Let Each One and A Spell to Ward) to be Russell’s signature: handheld cam following a person walking in real-time over terrain. This time the people are walking in reverse, shot from the front, composited into the terrain, and it’s all over in four minutes.


Kyiv Frescoes (1966 Sergei Parajanov)

After Pomegranates and Ancestors, it’s fun to see a Parajanov with modern costumes. This picks up the pace from Pomegranates, practically playing like a silent comedy, though one with impeccable compositions, prominently placed symbolic objects, and few (but some!) actual jokes. Besides being a playful compositional art object, it’s a choreographed dance film and I dunno, maybe a history lesson. I know I’m ridiculous for thinking this might have been about actual Kyiv frescoes, imagining a tour in the style of Varda’s Les Dites Cariatides.

This was to be his followup feature to Ancestors but was shut down during production, so these scenes are outtakes from that project – then he’d develop this new style into Pomegranates. Per The Calvert Journal:

Parajanov intended to set this loosely-structured metaphorical film on the day of the city’s liberation from Nazi troops — but wanted to centre it around a museum, praising beauty and art rather than heroism and patriotism. The production of the film was terminated by the state studio, who deemed Parajanov’s experiments inappropriate for the subject.


The Balloonatic (1923 Buster Keaton)

The most random of the shorts, moving from a haunted house to hot air balloon to canoe, with fishes and bulls and bears along the way. Buster is a ridiculous idiot here with moments of brilliance – and the girl he keeps bumping into is mostly capable with moments of incompetence, so they’re made for each other. Phyllis Haver is his lead actress – a Sennett and DeMille star in the silent era, before something went wrong 40 years on; she took a lot of pills and died.


The Blacksmith (1922 Buster Keaton)

I suppose he’s more capable here, but mostly oblivious. A blacksmith’s assistant, he ruins two cars and two horses, and gets the blacksmith (Big Joe Roberts, of course) arrested, ends up on a chase, hopping a train to elope with customer Virginia Fox. The casual use of hot metal and blowtorches produce some wincey stunts. Better use of a balloon in this short than in The Balloonatic.

Labor of Love (2020 Sylvia Schedelbauer)

Visuals of pure pulsing hypnosis, a voiceover speaking of a cosmic pagoda, “portals within portals.” Highly colorful, ever-pulsing visions of an eye and then a brain, through water waves, into pure geometry, the voice falling away leaving only loud ambient music.

Inspired by a Paul Clipson film, in fact the only one of his I’ve seen. This must count as some kind of animation – not sure how it was done, but the official site says “16mm archival footage and HD Video” and recounts inspirations and sources and intent.


By Pain and Rhyme and Arabesques of Foraging (2013 David Gatten)

I’ve watched a few of his, and he does love filming old texts. I made the mistake of playing a song from Craig Taborn’s Avenging Angel that matched the movie’s length – it might’ve played better silent, since the cutting is so rhythmic, steadily editing between handwritten letters, a typed description (“an experimental history of colours”), and R/G/B colored objects, the camera often gliding slowly, as when it creeps all the way up a telescope. Abrupt switch to monochrome, and a new page on dreams (“folly and madnesse”), a tinted study of water on glass, still cutting back and forth but with more frequent cuts to black.


Matchstick (2011 Jeff Scher)

Wow, speaking of colours, Jeff’s painted animation of lines and dots, rapidly growing and shifting, soundtracked by a good song by an electro-psych-rock band.


Social Skills (2021 Henry Hills)

Hills is still making these. Filmed for a month, barely pre-pandemic at a Belgian dance workshop, then presumably edited for a year. The music is chopped clips and loops from old songs, plus cartoon sound effects and a Zeena Parkins piece. Large number of dancers in a room doing every sort of exercise and movement. Besides cutting rapidly (but not so rapidly that we don’t get a sense of each motion) he’s also using masks to highlight parts of the image. Wonder how long Henry had been in edit-room pandemic lockdown when he added the audio clip about “practicing the fantastic intelligence of touching people.”


Whistle Stop (2014 Martin Arnold)

No longer torturing poor Judy Garland and Gregory Peck, Arnold has moved to cartoons. Also demonstrating his erasure techniques from Deanimated, here he’s taken a manic Daffy Duck scene, isolated each of Daffy’s body parts in different layers, and as he scrubs the audio three steps forward, two steps back, the body parts play the scene out of sync with each other.


Happy Valley (2020 Simon Liu)

Like a John Wilson episode, a montage of unusual signs filmed off the street, but instead of voiceover commentary there’s layered decaying noise loops, recalling my Brave Trailer Project (which I’m guessing Liu hasn’t seen). Nice complex sound mix, but apparently the Negativ(e)land film lab in Brooklyn has no relation to the music group, too bad.

Looked up Liu after reading the Phil Coldiron story in Cinema Scope… he calls this and Signal 8 “Liu’s most lucid works to date, emotional reports from an imperiled homeland [Hong Kong] that continue his effort to give memorable and engaging form to personal experience while broadening the scope of what this experience entails.”

Red Film (2019 Sara Cwynar)

“Technology disciplines its audience.” Dense and completely wonderful, fast overlapping voiceover with new age music accompanies saturated visuals of consumer conveyor belts, makeup tests and dance poses with a lot of face touching.

From the wikis: “Cwynar’s work presents a marriage of old and new forms that are intended to challenge the way that people encounter visual and material culture in everyday life.”

Kenji Fujishima:

Compared to its deliberately messy predecessors, Red Film feels like the work of an artist who has clarified her obsessions. For all its frenetic surface activity, Red Film is a coherent commentary on the vicious cycle of capitalism, which, with the aid of modern media, perpetrates our physical insecurities, creating impossibly high standards of beauty that only feed into people’s desire to consume more in the inevitably disappointing quest to reach such standards.


Rose Gold (2017 Sara Cwynar)

Focused on the iPhone instead of makeup – tech/marketing/desire – and just as great, though it’s maybe redundant to watch these two so close together. The only thing they have in common with Barneys New York is that she always seems to have ink on her hand, and we get to see her camera mechanism (I did get to try out one of those Barneys phone gimbals and decided I don’t need one). Closing credits list all the references – not direct quotes, unless Heidegger and Wittgenstein wrote about the iPhone.

Sicinski:

Rose Gold is as much a jumble of ideas and impulses as the very society it aims to critique. This is no doubt a conscious strategy, undertaken on the assumption that linear argument is inadequate to the task of understanding our neoliberal global structure. Nevertheless, this is a film that announces its intellectual intentions but adds to the cacophony instead of parsing meaning.


At Hand (2005 Andrew Busti)

The first time I watched a Cwynar short the program opened with a Busti short, so it seems fair to keep exploring their work together. This seems like photographed scenes, slowed down, and either Decasiaed or rotoed, all texture replaced with that of liquid metal, stained glass, beer bubbles, a pebble beach. I thought for a moment that it may be the abuse of an edge-detection filter, but it looks more organic than that, a low boiling rumble on the soundtrack.


26 Pulse Wrought (Film for Rewinds) Vol I (2014 Andrew Busti)

Somebody’s been watching Hollis Frampton? Flickering shots of different objects and colors and landscapes (including the camera lens in a mirror) stuttering to a morse code rhythm. Like a video essay where the voiceover and visuals are saying different things, only we don’t know what the spoken message is saying unless we load the movie into Adobe Premiere and decode its frames using the key from the opening titles – not tonight. Annoying to listen to but once I got used to the flicker the visual choices were interesting.


26 Pulse Wrought (Films For Rewinds) Vol III (2016 Andrew Busti)

Black and white flicker film – I can’t tell if it’s in morse code or not. “These words here are meaningless,” etc, large text on screen with matching voiceover, very annoying to watch, though very short, and I was thinking if you take the word “here” from this film and the camera reflection from Vol. I you could create the other Busti short I’ve seen. According to his vimeo (which doesn’t have Vol. II) this was produced on 16mm.


Night Swells (2015 Zachary Epcar)

Photographic study of potted plants on the sidewalk outside the mall, abrupt sound editing of street noise and a record about talking to plants.


Return To Forms (2016 Zachary Epcar)

Photographic study of waterfalls, and feet, and hand models – I prefer the waterfalls. Gliding camera tour of an apartment, and surveillance scan of the building from outside. The sound editing just as abrupt, but to cleverly humorous effect. An excellent final image brings together all the previous pieces: a gloved hand fondling a plant growing through a hole blasted through an iPad. Guess I was right to play these the same night as the Cwynar films.


Life After Love (2018 Zachary Epcar)

The title only comes in at the end, as an in-car hypnotherapy session. The rest seems like a languorous car ad set in a parking lot, made by people who don’t realize cars are supposed to move.

Sicinski:

Epcar’s camera moves around this space as though it were on rollers, controlled like an automatic car window. The filmmaker sees with windshield eyes. His name is an anagram for A CA CAR ZEPHYR.


New Fancy Foils (2013 Jodie Mack)

Stills of paper samples, different orientation, with advertising text, then faster and faster. At 12 minutes there’s time for a slow build, and the rapid fancy foil flicker was worth the wait – though for ten seconds there it got so fast that my mpeg copy broke down. Silent, I played the Attacca Quartet album with the pretty bird cover art.


Let Your Light Shine (2013 Jodie Mack)

A different sort of thing – animated white line segments surrounded by rainbow prisms, in increasingly rapid succession. The crap-atari sound effects give the impression that the white figures are computer graphics, but the line texture says not. From the Cinema Scope cover story, it sounds like the original film was just the white hand-drawn figures and theatrical audiences wore prismatic glasses to create the rainbows.


Something Between Us (2015 Jodie Mack)

A real audio journey in these three Mack shorts from no sound to bad sound to great sound that carries the picture. Taking gramma’s jewelry out to the yard to play, repetitive bird and frog noises get looped and warped into music. Closer look at the jewelry, and the pond, the RGB prism artifacts from the previous film returning with a vengeance here, and taking over as the second half’s soundtrack keeps adding new layers of bells.

Sicinski:

Something Between Us plays with the cheap shine of costume jewelry … Mack intercuts these close-ups with shots of a hazy lakeside forest, its early dawn refracted by the misty fog to produce rainbow prisms and flares. In time, Mack is alternating between this “natural” light and its highly artificial facsimile, the trinkets swinging to their own chiming electronic theme song. A game show bell dings mid-film, as though we’ve found the right answer when the organic is largely vanquished in favor of Mack’s pendular, sun-dappled Claire’s Boutique of the mind.

Sand (2018)

A Walker feature – 80 minutes of walking extremely slowly. I was in heaven – Katy tried to ignore me. Emerging from a pipe onto a beach, past tents and hovels, the surroundings become more industrialized as his journey goes on. Other people sometimes heard in the distance, never seen. Where does he end up? Somewhere indoors, but not heading towards what looks like the exit. That long final shot transitions from machine noises on the soundtrack to the sound of ocean waves. Maybe the walker’s going in circles indoors but dreaming himself back to the sea. 16 shots in 80 minutes, filmed in Taiwan’s Zhuangwei Sand-Dune Visitor Service Park.


The Night (2021)

Bustling Hong Kong nightlife – not in a party sense, doesn’t seem like a party section of town, just everyone is out and moving around. Closes with a song about being sad the night has to end. Watched in headphones and thought I could hear the cameraman softly humming in my left ear. 13 shots in 20 minutes, no walker to be found.

Unconscious London Strata (1982)

Defocused colory blorbs. Some nice reds in there. Tiny flickers of what might be a street scene (London?), or water, or a person, but mostly it’s very defocused, the image scrambling back and forth, cutting to a new blorb every couple seconds. SB says he’s exploring the depths of the unconscious here. I played the first four tracks of Mary Lattimore’s Collected Pieces II and it was extremely peaceful.


Boulder Blues and Pearls and… (1992)

This is my kind of stuff. Boulders and streams and such, overlaid with frantic single-frame paintings that turn on and off, get more and less intense, all picture frequently fading to black. Good music, a light spazzy buzzing. SB says he’s showing the inside of the mind, and viewers say this one’s frightening, but I dunno.


The Mammals of Victoria (1994)

Brakhage goes on a beach vacation, sometimes patiently watching the tide come in, sometimes darting like a fish through the shallows. Shooting from every possible angle, of course, and mixing in hand painted sections, and what looks like shots from a microscope – even scrambled pay-per-view shot off the hotel TV. All kinds of lighting and composition and movement, the green film grain sometimes clashing with the waves, brief shots of fire and sky for contrast. A really beautiful movie, I watched with Mary Lattimore’s “A Unicorn Catches A Falling Star In Heaven” and “What the Living Do” (I’d reverse their order next time).


From: First Hymn to the Night – Novalis (1994)

Wow, a hyperactive flicker of colors and patterns with poetry in between, the handwritten text not limited to opening and closing titles anymore. Words by Novalis, a “late 18th century mystic poet.” Watched with Mary’s “Princess Nicotine,” which was written to score a different silent film, but it’s a minute too long.

The Flea of this movie is Jonathan Richman, who attended many VU shows and analyzed their vibrations. A terrifically assembled doc – instead of making me want to listen to the Velvet Underground at all, it made me feel like watching experimental film.

Visions in Meditation #1

Uniquely wonderful experience watching this with Marvin Pontiac’s Asylum Tapes in the headphones, though it’s more of a vocal album than I was expecting and probably distracted from the visuals at times. Regular handheld and sometimes extreme-jitter, mostly nature, snow and slushy river, mountain valley at different times of year. SB seems to be able to walk around outside and capture images in ways nobody else does. Aperture keeps opening all the way, washing everything in white. I suppose it’s meditative – earth and mist and water, finally fire in the last few seconds.


Visions in Meditation #2 (Mesa Verde)

Tourist film of mountainside stone ruins with accompanying travel footage shot through windows, but it gets bleary and bendy, and brings in cameos by deer, geese and a nude man in a field. I played along with Chesley/Albini/Midyett’s “Irish” which lent a dirge-metal atmosphere well-suited to the ruins.


Visions in Meditation #3 (Plate’s Cave)

Sometimes there is plinky space-music in the caverns. Other things combined and juxtaposed with caverns: a carnival, a snowy road. More tourist-film car-window stuff, but the last section is focused on a whirlwind in a field, and if there’s anyone I want to see filming a whirlwind it’s our Stan. Ends on black with electro-chirp music by Rick Corrigan (who is still recording, and has stuff on bandcamp).


Visions in Meditation #4 (D.H. Lawrence)

The most distorted of the four, swirling earth and skies. A few glimpses of humanity: a reflection, a backlit figure, a closeup on toes. Silent, so I accompanied it with three songs from the new Low album… I couldn’t help myself, the bandcamp page said Rick Corrigan is RIYL John Zorn, and Zorn’s playing Big Ears with Low, and I’m obsessed with Low’s new record. Anyway Camper just texted to say it’s okay, that the Low/Brakhage combo is frisson-inducing.

Watching the Detectives (2017, Chris Kennedy)

Silent and over a half hour long, so I played Zero Kama’s The Secret Eye of L.A.Y.L.A.H., as the director undoubtedly would’ve intended if he could’ve afforded the rights. The day or so after the Boston Marathon bombing, represented mostly through screenshots from reddit: marked-up surveillance photos and a long-distance attempt at forensic investigation by the chatmob. At least I liked that the text was against a gentle wash of dark static instead of plain digital black. Last ten minutes is just reporting news with no new redditting.


Once Upon a Screen: Explosive Paradox (2020, Kevin Lee)

Lee’s always in my feed championing essay film, so checking out one of his… it’s short and lo-fi. He parks outside the liquor store that used to be the movie theater where he saw Platoon as a kid, recalling that experience while shooting parking lots and brick walls. The credits shout out the director of The Viewing Booth, which I watched last night.


Green Ash (2019, Pablo Mazzolo)

A landscape turned into blobby light, like peering through fluttering almost-closed eyelids. Ordinary shot of a bush, but the foreground and background bushes jitter and blur independently. Light starts going crazy across grassy fields, a tricky version of Nishikawa’s Tokyo-Ebisu effect, making it feel like this is lo-fi natural footage, but simultaneously taking place in a glitching holodeck. The lush green Argentinian fields with the hand-drawn map at the end gave me La Flor flashbacks. I played Yazz Ahmed’s “Barbara” since the timing matched, very nice.


I Am Micro (2010, Shumona Goel & Shai Heredia)

Narration by a film artist who dreamed of being Godard or Pasolini before everything went commercial and became “scattered,” the camera roving the grounds of an abandoned studio.


Five by Tomonari Nishikawa – all quotes are by the director, from his website.


Tokyo-Ebisu (2010)

Scenes of a noisy train station, frames within the frames showing different actions, sometimes like a shot has been divided into a semi-grid and each segment is playing a different moment in time. Shot on film, which seems excessively difficult, since he says they’re “in-camera visual effects,” so what, mirrors? Exposing partial sections of the film then running it back?


45 7 Broadway (2013)

Times Square, and this time it’s the full frame overlapping with a time-shifted version of itself, but each source has been processed as red, green or blue, appearing to be a 3D effect gone horribly wrong, or a broken RGB projector during an earthquake, quite wonderful.


Manhattan One Two Three Four (2014)

Quick swish pans up, down, and across city buildings, rapidly cut together (“all edited in-camera”), no sound.


Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars (2015)

Crackling hum, and a very scratched mothlighting blue-dyed image, the sprocket holes often visible. This one is political, the film image resulting from being buried in radioactive soil the government said was safe.


Amusement Ride (2019)

Tracking across the metal skeleton of a Japanese ferris wheel, never looking out at the typical views, the camera panning up a bit at a time, “which resembles the movement of a film at the gate of a film projector or camera.”

A swordsman attacks a doll hanging from a string… the motion freezes, stutters and repeats, and the music begins doing the same. A hand-less balding man seated at a table surrounded by inky blackness – his pitcher falls to the floor in a time-locked Brain Candy loop, then appears in a Muybridge time-lapse still, with dark, severe string music. I think we’re inside one of the houses from The Endless.

Librarian and his eagle:

There’s a silly bathtime romp, a scene shot in reverse, a busy library in which all the all the old men are wearing the same old-man mask, the masks and their clockwork motion giving the thing a sense of animation. Naked woman in a wasteland gets trapped in a box. After these unrelated(?) vignettes (DVD description says they’re “all connected by a central staircase”), the last 15 minutes bring something new – all angles and bright lights, TV-static-beings tearing through the screen, revealing perhaps l’titular ange.

Light:

Rotterdam says it “lies on the edge between optical and plastic art, in a gap of constant reinvention.” Bokanowski had another hourlong light-vs-darkness film a few years ago which almost nobody has seen, though those few said it’s great, and he’s been producing shorts regularly since the 70’s.

Bathed Man:

More Light: