Edith+Eddie (2017, Laura Checkoway)

I guess it’s common practice to screw over elders using the legal guardianship system? Imagine being the lawyer responsible for the lonely death of a nice old man in an oscar-nominated documentary seen around the world. This was filmed 11 miles from my grandmother’s house.

Daredevil Droopy (1951, Tex Avery)

Droopy and Spike compete at a circus to be one of The Great Barko’s daredevil dogs. Rapid-fire series of short contests, mostly ending with the larger dog badly injured, but it’s fine because he was trying to cheat. Lots of dynamite in the second half. Best bits: figure skating, human bullet, that strength-tester bell-ringer seesaw hammer game.

Mouseover to send Spike through the hoop of fire:

Mouseover to give Droopy a better gun:

Droopy’s Good Deed (1951, Tex Avery)

Spike is a wild-eyed hobo pretending to be a boy scout, another series of short competitions with Spike cheating and losing to the cool and competent Droopy, who gets a ton more dialogue in this one. Slightly racist jokes in this and the previous one, always to the effect of turning Black after a bomb blast, and it’s not terrible – until one time it definitely is, then a weird, fakeout ending at the White House. I assume I downloaded the uncensored versions of these somewhere or other, they sat on my laptop for a year, and tonight I’m in the mood for some violent cartoons.

Watching Oana (2009, Sebastien Laudenbach)

Earlier short by The Girl Without Hands director. A couple: he is a pastry chef, she translates poetry and brochures. Told from his perspective, wanting a baby, not believing in her ambitions, thinking he knows her inside and out but apparently not. Some cringey moments, I hope it’s not based on a true story. Spoken opening credits, then alternates between written segments created with stop-motion pasta, and spoken conversations with close-up animation of something besides the couple’s faces (wine glasses, shadows, legs in the surf), then the pasta turns into words inked onto skin and the music ramps up for the disturbing final section. The voice of Oana is played by Elina Löwensohn, who keeps coming up lately. Played at Annecy with The Secret of Kells and Western Spaghetti.

The Boy Who Chose the Earth (2018, Lav Diaz)

Two minutes for the latest Vienna Film Festival, a boy at home alone receiving a letter, running outside, apparently surprised – then rain and flooded streets. The last Lav Diaz short I watched was also fierce storms and floods, either footage from the same week or else the Philippines get some regularly nasty weather.

The Glass Note (2018, Mary Helena Clark)

Miniature frames of music and water and wind. Extreme bodily close-ups. Mostly seems interested in sound being created and moving through channels, with a sidetrack about tourists touching the breasts of bronze statues.

Story of an Old Lady (1985, Agnes Varda)

Lost, deteriorated Varda mini-doc about the woman she cast to get naked in the feather room in 7 P., cuis., s.de b…. Bit of behind-the-scenes interview, her getting a kick out of playing the employer in Vagabond, bossing around Yolande and Sandrine, when she’d worked as a maid all her life.

Trees Down Here (2018, Ben Rivers)

I wasn’t sure that ending my night with Ben Rivers would work out, since he tends to put me to sleep, but it opens with an owl close-up and I’m hooked. Architectural sketches alternate with architectural photos, but with an owl or snake in the foreground. The final minutes have a tape of John Ashbery reading his poem “Some Trees”. Ben’s most engaging work yet, I suppose if you’re into architecture, poems, owls and snakes.

Both Bens Rivers & Bussell are in Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50, and I’ve checked them both out before – Russell with Let Each One Go Where He May and Rivers with Two Years at Sea and some shorts.

Spell opens and closes with Russell’s shaky follow-cam, the camera behind the head of a walking person. I can see a theoretical point to his relentless follow-cams: regular movies are always showing people leaving and arriving in scenes, while his movies show them traveling to the scene realistically. Theory or no, they still annoy me, and maybe he needs to find a new thing.

In between we’ve got Rivers’s “man living alone in the woods” motif and his long still shots of nothing much happening (man in a slowly drifting fishing boat – think I’ve seen that one before).

Three parts:

Estonia: bunch of foreigners in a commune, including one Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, who is not the star of this section in any way but on whom I focus whenever he’s around, since I’ve seen his face in the promo photos.

Finland: just Rob Lowe alone, mountain climbing, fishing, cooking, hunting, slow-paced, no dialogue. Cutaways to the lake, a photograph of a lake, a magazine, etc. Then Rob is applying makeup, then his house burns down.

Norway: Long guitar intro over blackness, then we’re at a metal concert, interestingly shot up close by slow roving camera (this whole section is just a few long takes), with Rob as a guitarist and vocalist. They play a few songs, then he wastes no time getting backstage before the last one has ended, removing the makeup and walking into the night. I love the sound during this part, the club noise following him into the street and gradually getting louder.

M. Sicinski in Cinema Scope:

Russell and Rivers share an engagement with the history of ethnographic film, but only inasmuch as the critiques of its shortcomings and power relations have been fully internalized … Russell’s films have often favoured group dynamics, or at least individuals losing their identities in tandem; Rivers has more often than not worked within a mode of solo portraiture. The resulting collaboration is a dialectical meld of these tendencies. … The resulting film is a triptych fully reflective of Rivers’ and Russell’s longtime concerns: how does one remain a part of society while carving out a space that is, in Heidegger’s terms, true to one’s ownmost possibility?


One of the most important realizations that I had through the making of this film was that cinema was, in fact, one of our best vehicles for realizing utopia. During a conversation about his experience in the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, Tuomo (he’s the Finn who tells the asshole story in the film, also the subject of our next collaboration) proposed that utopia only exists in the present, that it can only be realized in the now. Cinema is a medium that is likewise always arriving (as the future) and receding (as the past) simultaneously. It is only alive when we are alive with it, when we share our time and allow our space to be occupied. It can only happen as experience in the present, and its capacity to produce worlds unto itself positions cinema as a very real site for utopia. For Thomas More, Utopia was a no-place, a construct; taken positively, this is cinema defined.

Sicinski again, but for Fandor:

Although the makers of A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness have been most closely aligned with the avant-garde film world, they stake out a position somewhere between trance film, portraiture, and ethnography. Their films, then, identify and problematize certain dual aspects of realism that could be said to “haunt” both experimental film and anthropological documentary.

Ben Rivers is one of Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50. I watched his Two Years at Sea, hated it, but then couldn’t stop thinking about it so decided that maybe Cinema Scope had a point.

I Know Where I’m Going (2009)

Single-person episodes separated by driving scenes and barren landscapes with wrecked cars:
– Lumberjack at work, creatively (mysteriously) filmed
– Beekeeper/Geologist discusses man’s overall impact on the planet 100 million years from now (answer: none, but for a very few well-buried relics)
– Red-bearded Jake in his quirky house full of repurposed junk
– Grey-bearded Jake (Williams from Two Years at Sea) in snowy house

Rivers: “A fragmented road trip through Britain on the peripheries. Down empty roads, off in the wilderness, a few lone stragglers.”

From an interview: “If I hadn’t seen [George] Kuchar I may have made the mistake of going to film school.”

This Is My Land (2006)

Primitive looking and sounding, with some Begotten film processing.
Scraps of dialogue, jarring scraps of music.
Halfway through the 15-minute movie, an intermission, then it’s winter.
Ben’s first visit to Jake Williams is also the one where you hear Jake’s voice the most.

Origin of the Species (2008)

“I can’t see the world surviving.”
Darwinist whose face is never seen lives out in the woods (of course he does) discussing (again, in brief snatches) evolution and philosophy.

We The People (2004)

The soundtrack has a lively crowd scene, but we are only shown empty streets, corners and buildings from where these sounds might have sprung.

House (2007)

A cinematography experiment inside a decaying house, with evidence of phantoms – a candle travels by itself, a cellar door opens, a piece of cloth is suspended. Something about the way he shot this and We The People make them look like model miniatures. No sound.

Watched this because Rivers is one of Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50, and because I get him confused with Ben Russell. Rivers thanks Russell in the credits, and when this opened with the long follow-cam on a man trudging through snow I had to remind myself again that this was a different Ben. Now I hear they’ve got a collaborative film in the works. Think I’m gonna keep getting them confused.

Sometimes I don’t know how much advance reading I should do before watching a movie. In this case I did none at all, and was annoyed and bored through most of the movie, thinking it a pretentious, wordless pseudo-doc about a beardy hippie-turned-survivalist, but I retroactively appreciated it upon reading that it’s a real doc about a real hippie-turned-survivalist. So, after Mekong Hotel, this is the second movie I’ve watched this week that I didn’t realize was supposed to be (at least partly) a documentary.

I also appreciate the movie’s utility in putting me to sleep about three times while I had the flu.

Especially during this scene:

The physical film (on my digital copy) lets itself be known through flicker, grain and the occasional messy edit. Whole thing is blurry and indistinct, with a Begotten-processed feel. Natural sound with occasional Indian-sounding music plus one folky song.

Seattle Weekly:

The hand-cranking accounts for the wavering of light and shifting tempo of motion within shots; the homemade processing accounts for the amoeba-like chemical puckers that dapple the image. The lone, almost expeditionary nature of Rivers’ operation matches his involuted subjects, for his is a cinema of privileged moments and stubbornly private people.

Sometimes seems like the documentary equivalent of The Turin Horse, with even the same ending, as a campfire burns out and the scene is gradually enveloped by darkness. But let’s not overuse the word “documentary” here. A half hour in, while the man sleeps, his trailer ascends into the treetops – then stays there, with no explanation. Reminds me of the random rocketship/tightrope scenes in Still Life, but more well-integrated.

Rivers explains the title: “Jake is seen in all seasons, surviving frugally, passing the time with strange projects, living the radical dream he had as a younger man, a dream he spent two years working at sea to realise.”

H. Guest:

Rivers’ major works include a series of hypnotic films – This Is My Land (2006), The Origin of the Species (2008), I Know Where I’m Going (2009) and Two Years at Sea (2011) – that offer sumptuously cinematographic portraits of extraordinary lives lived out of time, lands stubbornly resistant to the turn of the century. Featuring ragged self-made men living in worlds entirely of their own creation, Rivers’ quartet, like Costa’s Fontainhas trilogy, gives cinematic form to the private visions and incantatory fantasies of untethered characters who have floated far from the known mainland. … They reveal Rivers’ neo-Romantic search for a kind of sublime, for lives defined by the danger of rapturous annihilation by a vast indifferent Nature.