Along with Talking About Trees, we’re catching up with movies we meant to watch at this year’s True/False. We had tickets to see this (plus two shorts) at 10:15pm on Saturday after four other screenings, but ran out of energy. It’s a mid-length movie combining three different kinds of things:

1. Modern news footage of police violence mixed with classic Black Panther film mixed with colorful HD shots of the director herself, posing and walking through the titular garden. This is sometimes set to music by Nelson Bandela (Random Acts of Flyness), and is overlaid with thin strips or entire areas of Mothlight flicker.

2. Concert film of Nina Simone in 1976, playing a rambling but wonderful song called “Feelings.” Incidentally, it seems like her entire persona was copped by Cat Power.

3. Street interviews, the director stopping women in Harlem to ask if they feel safe. The rest of the movie worked beautifully for me – I’d watch those sections all day long – but the interviews weren’t as enlightening. Of the True/False movies we’ve seen in the last 15 months that involve asking New Yorkers about their anxiety, I preferred Hottest August.

And since this was supposed to run at True/False with a couple of shorts, here’s something: a SXSW 2020 selection which moved onto vimeo instead. SXSW was the first fest to be canceled, and it happened while we were at True/False, the last fest to not be canceled. T/F got a last-minute premiere from SXSW on its final night, and I assumed everything else would move online and I’d hold a Quarantine Film Festival, but it turns out, after working hard for years to make your feature film and then getting accepted into fests, nobody wants to premiere on vimeo instead. Amazon’s doing a SXSW thing with only seven features, Mailchimp got all the shorts, and I watched this one then decided to focus on catching up with older films.

Blackheads (2020, Emily Ann Hoffman)

Stop-motion with 2D animation on top is pretty much my favorite thing… relationship-talk with zit closeups is about my least-favorite, so this short is gonna have to meet in the middle. Pretty fun example of displaying your influences – where Gaspar just stacked up his favorite books and movies for the opening scenes of Climax, Hoffman made miniature models of Persepolis and a Miranda July book for her character’s nightstand.

I’ve hoarding my unwatched Brakhage blu-ray shorts, saving them for when I need them most, and it’s hard to find Hollis Frampton and Michael Snow work that I haven’t already covered… discovering Jodie Mack was a big deal, but really I don’t know many current experimental filmmakers whose work I connect with, and should search for more. So, among the recent best-of-decade lists, Michael Sicinski’s roundup of experimental features and shorts caught my eye, and I’ve resolved to check out some of these, adding in his commercial list and lists by Blake Williams and Jordan Cronk, to explore films outside of the awards/consensus track.


Delphi Falls (2017)

Opens on disturbed cows, then there appear to be characters – a boy and girl in the woods and an abandoned house – but the stars of the film are still the focus pulls and exposure shifts. Insane image of fire on a mirrored lake, then the climax is a woman doing face stretches on a laptop screen in an empty room. Clark seems to be a master of the strangely defamiliarizing image or motion… also, if you showed me stills from this and told me it was a Blair Witch sequel, I’d believe you.

She wanted to “make a film that explores the separation of body and thought and dispersed sentience.” All that her own website will admit is that she lives in Queens, so I found a great long interview with Dan Browne, which is where any otherwise-credited quotes are from.


Orpheus (Outtakes) (2012)

Film clips, reprocessed, and subtitles, out of context. We go inside a black circle, and stare for a while at eyes staring at us through ghost-holes in a black sheet. Noise loops on the soundtrack, then voices from a celebrity guessing game over the eyes (it’s Buster Keaton’s episode of What’s My Line, with Keaton’s voice removed), ending on a twirling chain of light.

I’m not sure I buy that these were Orpheus outtakes. Clark says she wanted “to make a false artifact” and that the film is “about exploiting the smallest marks to create figuration and feeling.”

Sicinski says the “film originates with optically printed footage from Cocteau’s classic, taking it in a far more materialist direction … Clark continues to foreground other concrete details of the cinematic process, like subtitles (in odd, poetic blurts) and the diagonal lines of a ‘rain storm.’ … Clark locates Surrealism’s very unconscious: the film’s desperate desire to look back.” He writes about the other three films on Letterboxd, from coverage of three different festivals, very helpful.


The Dragon Is The Frame (2014)

I stopped to read some of the interviews before continuing, so I thought her San Francisco film would be more Vertigoey, but there is plenty of nature, sequins, youtubes, in addition to the explicit Vertigo references.

Clark:

I try to produce slightly incongruous rhymes with sound and image that suggest a traditional sync sound relationship, but aren’t simply causal. In The Dragon is the Frame, there is a flagpole recorded by contact microphone, and that sound resonated with me in such a specific way that I knew I wanted it in the film. The flagpole sound is paired with foggy shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, then a hand-processed image of a rope harness. The sound creates an emotional landscape and echoes the pulsing texture of the hand-processed film … How do you film a place that’s photographically exhausted but still conjure the experience of being there? The sound of the traffic moving over the rumble strips became surprisingly central to me — I wanted the sound to pull more weight than the image, a way of recasting the cliché, the dead image.

Images against the flagpole sound:

Erika Balsom in Frieze, on The Glass Note, which I’d watched previously:
We encounter the same noise paired with multiple images, with its meaning shifting dramatically with the cut, to the point that the noise seems to resonate differently, even though only the image has changed. These disjunctions denaturalize the technique of synchronization – usually thought to be ‘obvious’ and ‘natural’, even though it is nothing of the sort – and reveal how much our apprehension of the picture conditions our reception of sound and vice-versa. Cinema turns out to be a synaesthetic art, even far beyond bounds of the visual music tradition.

Palms (2015)

“A largely abstract film in four parts”

1. Slowly wriggling hands against white, with the sound of a tennis match. At the end, the film speed changes, making the hands look like stop-motion.

2. Headlights in inky blackness come forward then retreat, looking like the Orpheus eyes, the sound of a solo vocal rehearsal

3. Haha now we get film of a tennis court, the camera zoomed in and panning rapidly back and forth as if to track an in-game ball, sound of a metronome or other click track.

4. The vocals are back, and a black circular flag rippling against a white void is my favorite Clark image since The Glass Note.

Rotterdam, where most of her shorts have played: “She aims to make trance-like, transparent films.”

There is so much going on in this movie. In the beginning, a sink is dripping with stop-motion paper drops, which turn into fullscreen water collaged from paper, which zooms out to a flickering series of motivational posters on an office wall, then back into the flickering water upon which sails a poster-paper boat as the rhythm of the water drops begins to build into an autobiographical theme song – this is the first minute of a 40-minute movie.

Mack uses posters and packaging, markers and sales sheets, posters and shelves and office supplies, posters and boxes of posters, the parking lot and fluorescent lights, and just when it couldn’t get any more wonderful, her mom enters the movie, sped-up and stop-motioned, as Jodie sings about the family’s failed poster business as a homemade parody of Pink Floyd’s Money.

It ends in psychedelic mania, as it must, and meanwhile, it’s one of the most inventive, poignant and personal “experimental” films I’ve ever seen. Katy liked this more than The Grand Bizarre – probably same, but I’d like to see TGB again. Interesting that Cinema Scope had more to say about each of her 3 to 10-minute shorts than this longer piece, will have to watch a few of those and revisit the article.


Persian Pickles (2012, Jodie Mack)

We also watched this 3-minute short from her vimeo page, all rapid-fire textiles with curved patterns, like swimming swirling fishies. Surprised by the audio, a typical a/g noise track sounding like bassy factory robots conversing over staticky phone lines, considering the sound in her features is so fresh and upbeat.

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927)

Opens with exciting abstractions, sunrise and shapes seen through blinds, then we catch a
train into Berlin and it chills out for a while, the depopulated city reminding me creepily of In My Room before people start to wake up and head to work (more trains), then the movie amps up again, the mass production lines looking very much like the ones I see on the Machine Pix twitter feed 100 years later. This movie probably works better as a city-story than Man with the Movie Camera does, though I love the fanciful effects and meta-scenes of the latter.

German Harold Lloyd:

In act II, telephone users and operators are compared to chattering monkeys and fighting dogs. I’d noticed a brief animal comparison in act I and shrugged it off, since a “symphony of a great city” wouldn’t do that to its people? Lunch, siesta, play – then hurry back to work, with a focus on newspapers. Motion of the day is exaggerated by strapping a camera to a rollercoaster.

Ruttmann died in WWII. He worked with Lotte Reiniger and Leni Riefenstahl, apparently knew Oskar Fischinger, and made a dream sequence in Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen. Music by Eisenstein collaborator Edmund Meisel, cinematography by Murnau’s DP Karl Freund, conceived by Caligari writer Carl Mayer – everyone in silent cinema knew each other.

I also watched Ruttmann’s earlier Opus series…


Opus I (1921)

Ghostly motion blobs against a dirty dark background
About four different motions, mirrored, colored and repeated
A third of the way through, new shapes and variations, and more at a time
Next part adds dyed searchlights and sun pendulums and tumblecubes
The shapes never quite interacting, just almost


Opus II (1921)

The same shapes on more charcoaly textures, and with more interaction between shapes
Black and white with some soft blue and a shock of red towards the end


Opus III (1924)

Some new cube overlays and color pulsations look almost 3D
Factory-machinery rectangles then a blue field with 3D blob rotation in the center
The same Red ending as II


Opus IV (1925)

Pulsing horizontal blinds with walking verticals mixed in later – faster and faster till pale purple blobs take over, then the traditional red ending. More advanced music on this one, by Helga Pogatschar – I hadn’t noticed that each film has a different musician. Rewatching the opening of Berlin, there are the blinds and the blobs, like a mini Opus V.

Peter Tscherkassky’s Cinemascope Trilogy

I’ve watched these before, first in 2008 and at least once since then, but this time I thought to play them on the big TV while listening in headphones to better hear the audio textures over the noise of our air conditioner – a good idea!

L’arrivée (1999)

One short scene: a train arrives, woman gets off and hugs the guy waiting for her, but given every available footage treatment within its two minutes, soft fluttering on the soundtrack.


Outer Space (1999)

The crazy one – this holds up better than ever in HD. As much care given to the soundtrack as the visuals, full of fluttering, looping and reversing.


Dream Work (2001)

Dedicated to Man Ray. This is my jam… appreciation of classic cinema while also interrogating/destroying it. This same day I read a couple of articles mentioning nostalgia in cinema, Letterboxd’s interview with Rick Alverson, and a Ringer review of the new Refn series, which gets compared to Twin Peaks: “Showtime gave the auteur free rein under the pretext of Twin Peaks nostalgia, even if Lynch ultimately sought to weaponize those feelings against his audience.” I think Weaponized Nostalgia needs to be a new genre.


Shot-Countershot (1987, Peter Tscherkassky)

Ooooh, never seen this before. Scene from a classic film, slightly processed, of a guy playing harmonica, drawing his gun, and getting drilled. It’s a single camera take, so I assume the title is a gunshot joke. This 20-second bit of silliness does not detract from my love of his major works.


Crossroad (2005, Phil Solomon)

Argh, machinima. A dude in Second Life acts bored in a rainstorm, and runs in circles through a forest, a bouquet of flowers spinning nearby as if suspended from a string. I did appreciate the way the 3D objects clipped as they spun too close to the camera, revealing themselves as origami structures of 2D surfaces. Dedicated to David Gatten. I’ve only seen one other film by Solomon, in Nashville a decade ago. This was codirected with Mark LaPore, who died the same year.


Liberian Boy (2015, Mati Diop & Manon Lutanie)

I felt guilty finally watching my first Mati Diop film without African Studies Katy, while she sat unaware in the other room, but I’m not sure she’d have gotten much out of this white kid doing (very good!) Michael Jackson moves against a greenscreen whilst holding a knife. Lacking any African studies scholars in the room, I don’t know what it meant, but it’s a cool piece. The kid also appears in the latest Nobuhiro Suwa film.


Shoot (2014, Gaspar Noe)

The camera is a soccer ball (representing France?), kicked around in a courtyard – pretty nice La Region Centrale rig with an unpleasant soundtrack of percussive kicks mixed with tinnitus whine.


Nectar (2014, Lucile Hadzihalilovic)

Nectar is collected from the body of a flower-eating woman. Hive-honey harvesters seduce men into a Matrix global pollination scenario. Olga from Film Socialisme plays the Queen of Bees.


Two-Gun Mickey (1934, Ben Sharpsteen)

Minnie is cruel to animals. Mickey rescues her after a shootout with Pegleg Pete and his men. The movie promotes automatic weapon use, and makes an overweight, handicapped foreigner the villain.


The Fly (1980, Ferenc Rofusz)

Pleasantly short fisheye (flyeye?) lens animation from a fly’s POV, entering a house and being vanquished by a resident. Won the oscar, the only other nominees being one by the Evolution guy and one by The Man Who Planted Trees guy. The Hungarian director was still making shorts as of 2017.


Toy Sequence (1990, Péter Szoboszlay)

Fun, short Toy Story prequel, a nursery coming to stop-motion life in the night, the pieces transforming and rearranging themselves, and the dolls being generally creepy.


Filmstudie (1926, Hans Richter)

Richter the dark Master of light, pattern and pacing, a hundred years ahead of his time. I’ve previously raved about three of his other shorts – was not impressed with my terrible copy of his late collaboration with Cocteau, but overall it looks like I’ve loved his work and need to check out his feature Dreams That Money Can Buy. Anyway this one is mostly eyeballs and wands of light, but it’s impressive.


Night Music (1986, Stan Brakhage)

I forget just how short this is, not counting titles and credits. The film I’ve watched the most times.

Love’s Refrain (2016, Paul Clipson)

Measured zooms and pans through textures of nature, always overlapping and dissolving, set to an ambient groove with a steady beat. As the music gets blurrier and the beat recedes, the picture focuses more on streaks of light swishing past the natural photography, and finally the music turns into an insistent blare and the picture becomes abstract light squiggles. Clipson died last month, which is how I first heard about his work. My first thought is I’d like to see this in a theater, projected large, maybe in some kind of weekly screening program before a feature, and imagine how lovely that would be, and how nobody who sat through it would ever return.


Describe What You Heard (2017, Joe Callander & Jason Tippet)

“Tips on how to better describe your next mass shooting experience,” reacting to how people in news interviews are always saying “pop pop pop.” Jumps back and forth between shooting story footage and a guy providing a better sound effect vocabulary. This played True/False last year, now on vimeo.


Pure Flix and Chill: The David A.R. White Story (2018, Anthony Simon)

The week God’s Not Dead 3 came out I watched this half-hour doc on its star and studio founder, thanks to a Filmmaker article. Simon uses visuals from Pure Flix features and interview audio from White to craft a hilarious montage about the Christian entertainment industry and one of its biggest stars.


Idiot With a Tripod (2010, Jamie Stuart)

Jamie went out into a New York snowstorm, caught images of the city and edited them rhythmically to a Reznor/Ross song from the Social Network soundtrack. I watched this to see if I need to watch his feature A Motion Selfie, but I still don’t know!


Koko Trains ‘Em (1925, Dave Fleischer)

The earliest Fleischer I’ve seen, and it’s ambitious. An animator (Max) dressed in a suit is trying to impress a fashionable woman at his studio by drawing her dog, but the drawing keeps mutating into Koko the Clown. He puts Koko aside, they wrestle over the fountain pen, and the animator draws the dog next to Koko setting up a circus scenario. Not sure why the fashionable woman would want to see her dog break into pieces while doing flips and impersonate Teddy Roosevelt at the behest of a whip-wielding clown, but I never claimed to understand the 1920’s. Ends with Koko jumping out of the paper and riding the actual dog. Wikipedia says nearly 120 of these “inkwell” cartoons were made, that Dave’s job as a Coney Island clown inspired Koko, and that the dog named Fitz evolved into Betty Boop’s boyfriend Bimbo.


The Heat of a Thousand Suns (1965, Pierre Kast)

One of the few Chris Marker-related movies I hadn’t seen – he’s credited with editing. Sci-fi animation about a rich, bored space explorer with a robot crew who travels to a planet in another galaxy and fails to have a major romance with the beautiful girl he meets there since he does not understand how their relationships work. The animated movement is limited, but the drawings are lovely and unique. There’s a Jules & Jim reference, a cat, and a utopian society that is possibly into orgies.

It closes with a montage of real-life Earth women, including future Sans Soleil narrator Alexandra Stewart, who appeared in most of Kast’s films. This was his final short – he also directed features including an Easter Island sci-fi mystery, a Stéphane Audran cancer drama, and one in which scientist Jean Marais shrinks his female lab assistant to pocket-size. For Marker this was three years after La Jetée. Shot by Willy Kurant the year before he’d jump very impressively into feature films with Masculin Féminin, Trans-Europ-Express and Les Créatures. Played Locarno 1965 alongside The Koumiko Mystery.


La Legende dorée (2015, Olivier Smolders)

“God is a mediocre idea.” Librarian who hasn’t slept in 57 years claims his mother was conjoined twins, his dad a farting musician cannibal. He is fond of talking straight into the camera and showing off his scrapbook of tragic historical figures including a castrato, some torturous murderers, and Simon of the Desert – repeating and changing his story. Watched this to see if I want to see more Smolders, and… maybe?


Disintegration 93-96 (2017, Miko Revereza)

Either I am tired or the narrator has the kind of voice that it’s impossible to concentrate on – it’s something about this kid’s memories of hating his dad in 1993, his words illustrated with period VHS footage cropped to widescreen. Something about being illegal aliens in America, something about work and philosophy and class. If it was written, I’d have to reread some sentences, skim others, process it in my own time – but it’s spoken at a rapid, droning clip while I’m mostly trying to follow the visuals. Sponsored by Laika!


Muta (2011, Lucrecia Martel)

Someone’s been watching The Ring! Horror movie fashion models, faces unseen, creep around a yacht like an Under The Skin insect alien convention. I guess it’s an ad for a clothing company, like that Leos Carax short, but I appreciate these luxury brands giving great filmmakers a budget and letting them get deeply weird.


Things that aren’t shorts, but aren’t TV or movies exactly:

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette is quite the journey… a middling comedy special for the first half, which turns into something more serious and interesting. Some early bits I’d noted as clunky and overserious turned out to be gradual setup for the later parts. I mean I hope it’s not the future of comedy, but as a singular show, it’s really well-constructed and I felt all the things.

I watched the whole Fred Armisen comedy thing about drummers, and I love both comedy and drumming, so I rather enjoyed it a lot.

And it seems like ages ago, but we saw Distant Sky, the second Nick Cave/Bad Seeds movie I’ve seen in theaters since moving here, and it was just as transcendent as the last one. Well-made concert movies can be better than actual concerts, and they’re easier to tour around the country, so why aren’t there more of them?

A Brief History of Princess X (2016, Gabriel Abrantes)

“Hey guys, my name is Gabriel Abrantes and I’m the director of this little six-minute film” – probably the first movie I’ve seen with director’s commentary as the main audio. It’s the story of Princess X, the sculpture and the subject, with playful voiceover: the characters’ mute dialogue in semi-sync with Abrantes, the director laughing at the actions and commenting on the filmmaking. “Here we changed his costume so it would seem like time was passing. He just ended up looking like Fidel Castro.”

M. Sicinski:

Princess X is undoubtedly a smart little film, and Abrantes wears his erudition lightly, possibly a little too much so. But in such a small space, he accomplishes several feats — things too modest to call “impressive,” per se, so let’s label them nifty. The film brings out the neurosis and below-the-belt impulses of modernism without turning it into a punchline, making “modern art” some sort of con. Abrantes follows tangents like a champ, following through when, for instance, our Spin the Phallus game lands us on Freud. But above all, he generates an uncanny sense of Victorian human puppetry from his performers, especially Joana Barrios as Marie Bonaparte. We find ourselves inside a weird, high-speed hybrid film, equal parts Guy Maddin and Raoul Ruiz. It’s something special.

Princess X (the marble version?) premiered in 1917 in the same show as Duchamp’s urinal, which grabbed all the headlines, postponing Brancusi’s own controversy until 1920, when the bronze version was censored in Paris. The marble is on display 200 yards from my office, and I visit it some afternoons.


Checked out Festivalscope for the first time with these next couple of shorts… great site, going to have to keep an eye on its new releases.


As Without So Within (2016, Manuela de Laborde)

I think it’s closeups on planetary stone objects. Sometimes we go too close, and the film is overrun with low-framerate grain, and sometimes we pull back with minor Lemony light changes. Soft static on the soundtrack, annoying. Some double exposures toward the middle. I liked the lighting, at least.

Played ND/NF 2017 and Toronto before that. Knew I’d heard about this somewhere – turns out it got six whole pages in Cinema Scope.

De Laborde:

Although I didn’t want to make a film that’s about outer space per se, I do like the metaphor, and also the relation that it suggests between cinema and the theatre. We go into this neutral non-space and we have to make sense of these self-contained universes, with their own balance and rules and life of their own, which works according to a language or order that was born from these materials, and yet they are also just these floating bodies in the middle of a dark, empty room.


Spiral Jetty (2017, Ricky D’Ambrose)

Male narrator gets job working for the daughter of recently deceased, celebrated psychologist Kurt Blumenthal, documenting his papers and tapes. Narrator is the last person to get to see the full collection before the daughter and her conductor husband (played by n+1’s film critic) suppress and destroy certain things (such as “the papers from the maoists”) before it’s all sold to a university. The short premiered just a week before I watched it online, does some things I like with editing and sound, and has an interesting focus on objects (news articles, handwritten notes, photographs). Dan Sallitt gets thanked in this film and Ben Rivers in the previous one, and both of these connections make sense to me.

In a Brooklyn Magazine interview, D’Ambrose reveals that his family’s own home movies substituted for Blumenthal’s. He’s working on a feature called Notes on an Appearance. “The shorts exist because the feature existed before them: each short was an attempt to solve certain aesthetic and conceptual problems that I’ve been thinking about ever since I started writing An Appearance.”


Arm, Flexion, Extension (2011, Bea Haut)

A white wall is painted black from a few tripod setups, while light shapes flicker across the “haphazardly hand processed 16mm film” over the sound of projector noise. On International Women’s Day, Michael Sicinski posted links to seventy female filmmakers’ Vimeo pages and I picked this one at random… the idea was to watch a bunch more, but I haven’t gotten to that yet, just cataloguing them for later.


Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises (1999, David Gatten)

Bible pages and words and letters flash and scroll past, with various levels of enlargement and exposure and opacity and speed, flickering by in different ways, maybe according to the Moxon quote before each section. I was annoyed when I realized it would be all silent text on screen, then I improved things by playing the Monotonprodukt album, against the Wishes and Intentions of the filmmaker. He probably also didn’t intend for me to watch a VHS transfer on an HDTV, or to pause the movie halfway through because my mom called, but that’s life in this 21st Century.

Sicinski in Cinema Scope:

Portions of the Biblical texts are affixed to the film, lifted from their source with cellophane tape after Gatten has boiled the books. We see the ink, hanging together in atomic word-forms like nervous constellations, mottled and wavering in thickness. The Word, indeed, is made flesh.


Secret History of the Dividing Line (2002, David Gatten)

The first five minutes were fun, flipping through a timeline of events, pausing on the biographical details of William Byrd and his expedition to determine the border between Virginia and North Carolina (very Lost City of Z), and this time I knew to start the Monotonprodukt album right away. But then a scroll of the two versions of the Dividing Line publication take over the screen, with a vertical-mask Dividing Line switching between them… this part was mostly unreadable in my SD copy. The text ends and the screen flickers and lights up with horizontal noise patterns, often weirdly in sync with my music.

If I’m reading a Wexner Center program correctly, this is part one and Moxon’s is part three of the same project (“the Byrd films”). Michael Sicinski’s article on Gatten in Cinema Scope 49 is the best, and makes me want to seek out more by Gatten, even though I’ve only found these subpar video copies so far.


A Train Arrives at the Station (2016, Thom Andersen)

Clips from train scenes in movies, using their own sound, including some of my favorite movies (Shanghai Express, Dead Man) and memorable scenes (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). Feels like this was meant to go with a speech or discussion of some sort, because otherwise I don’t see the point of it… I mean, I like trains in film as much as the next guy, so it’s enjoyable at least.

News From Home, perhaps? No source credits, so I can’t be sure.


From The Drain (1967, David Cronenberg)

A comedy sketch in a bathtub, scored with Renaissance acoustic guitar, Hat Guy doing his exasperated theater-guy voice while Glasses Guy mutely grins at him. References to “the war” and a veteran’s center, where the two either work or are patients, then Glasses guy warns of murderous tendrils coming from the drain, and is eventually strangled by them (or a stop-motion phone cord). It’s silly, and surprisingly not the only Cronenberg movie to be shot entirely in a bathroom, but he does an effectively strange thing, swapping positions of the two guys in the tub but acting like it’s normal continuity cutting.

Back in the day I’d flip through the Norman McLaren DVD box set regularly, but times change and you get old and overwhelmed with things and one day you realize you haven’t watched any McLaren in six years.


Blinkity Blank (1955)

Advanced hand-etched animation – musical battle of red dot vs. blue dot, flickering and transforming into different images for an instant at a time.

R. Koehler called it “possibly his greatest film, in which McLaren discovered the effect of not drawing on every single frame.”

J-P Coursodon:

One may briefly notice (provided one doesn’t blink) a flurry of feathers, a parachute, a bird cage, a pineapple, an umbrella that turns into a hen-like figure, as well as many undescribable doodles that keep bouncing all over the screen. “This is not a film you see,” wrote French critic André Martin in 1955, “it’s a film you think you see.” You do hear, however, and not just think you hear, Maurice Blackburn’s dodecaphonistic score … with strikingly percussive synthetic-sound punctuations added throughout like so many punches by McLaren’s scratchings on the soundtrack.


C’est L’aviron (1944)

Gentle boat ride in sync with a vocal French tune, constant 3D zoom forwards (and sometimes backwards) over sea, through clouds and towns. There’s a behind-the-scenes film explaining how it was made,


Spheres (1969)

Mathematical dance of stop-motion spheres against a morphing cosmic backdrop. Codirected with René Jodoin in 1946, with music added two decades later.


Love on the Wing (1939)

A post office advert – see also the Len Lye shorts – in which two postal letters are in love. Fast-paced, surrealist-inspired etched animation, characters constantly morphing into different figures.


La Poulette Grise (1947)

Variations of chicken/egg paintings, contorting slowly to a vocal song by Anna Malenfant (doesn’t that mean Anna Badchild?). At the end, the chicken sails away upon a crescent moon.


A Little Phantasy on a Nineteenth Century Painting (1946)

Chalky animation upon a reproduction of an Arnold Böcklin painting.


Là-Haut Sur Ces Montagnes (1946)

Another generative painting, a nice pastoral scene


Book Bargain (1937)

Short doc with voiceover showing the process of printing the London phone book. Cool machinery but kind an unexciting industrial film.

A selection of shorts from DVD, since I just enjoyed his An Optical Poem on the Masterworks of Avant-Garde Film blu-ray.


Spirals (1926)

Increasingly complicated pulsating spiral patterns – just the sort of thing that SD interlacing can ruin, though VLC’s deinterlacer helped. Silent.


Walking from Munich to Berlin (1927)

Time-lapse vacation slideshow, filming things he saw along the way, sometimes for just a couple frames, sometimes more. Inspired a Guy Maddin short eighty years later.


Studie Nr. 6 (1930)

Now that’s more like it – light scratches zip around a dark field in time (kinda) to upbeat music.


Studie Nr. 7 (1931)

Like number 6 but one greater, with closer music sync.


Circles (1933)

Colored (yay) circles flow and move about. A warm-up for Allegretto, and one of the first color films made in Europe.


Radio Dynamics (1942)

More complex, definitely more hypnotic visuals than the others. Silent, but called “a color-music composition” with an opening title reading “Please! No Music,” so I guess it’s some theoretical business about creating music with image.