Lost Buildings (2004, Chris Ware & Ira Glass)

The story of architectural historian Tim Samuelson and his grade-school fascination with old buildings. Glass of This American Life did the sound and Ware did illustrations in a cool vertical aspect ratio – makes sense, since it’s all about buildings. Tim meets photographer Richard Nickel, and they tour the buildings of their favorite architect together, preserving their memories as they’re torn down. Tragic ending, beautiful story.

Les Horizons Morts (1951, Jacques Demy)

Simple, romantic story. A man alone in his crumbling apartment recalls being dumped by his girl for another man, considers drinking poison but seeing the cross on his wall, decides against it. A student short, I think, with nice camera work.

Glas (1958, Bert Haanstra)

Glassmaking, first by hand then in a bottle factory, edited rhythmically with excellent music added afterwards. At least as wonderful as the other Haanstra shorts I’ve seen. Won the oscar (beating a donald duck short). I should look up his features sometime, since I’m always so impressed by the shorts.

Won in a Closet (1914, Mabel Normand)

Mabel dreams of a neighbor boy, but is pestered by two bumpkins. Somehow her dad and the boy’s mom get trapped in a closet together, Mabel thinks it’s an intruder, and since this is a Keystone production, it ends with twenty people running around and falling over. One nice split-screen shot, but I’d argue with the film preservationists who called Normand a “singular cinematic talent in the making.”

More from the film preservationists:

By the time Won in a Closet was released by Keystone, Normand had already appeared in nearly 150 movies and was a beloved screen presence around the world. As one of the founders of Keystone, the comedienne was well placed to take on new responsibilities and become one of cinema’s earliest female directors. … The story follows the Romeo-and-Juliet romance of Mabel and her beau, played by Charles Avery. As the plot careens into antics and pratfalls, Mabel’s father and Charles’s mother find themselves trapped in a large wooden closet, surrounded by spurned suitors and bumbling neighbors.

A Bashful Bigamist (1921, Allen Watt)

A slight improvement. A woman invents an ideal ex-husband so her new husband will aspire to be better, but she uses a photo of uncle Oswald, who returns from Africa the next day. Much misunderstanding ensues, accompanied by vase-smashing and pistols.

The husband was Billy Bletcher, who would later voice characters in Mickey Mouse cartoons. Cartoons in the intertitles drawn by Norman Z. McLeod, future director of Marx Bros and WC Fields comedies. No music on either of these silent shorts, so I listened to some Ennio Morricone

Area Striata (1985, Jeff Scher)

Dots, lines and patterns. Hyperkinetic geometry. Beautiful indeed but it kinda made me feel ill. Delicate music by a Bach quartet.

Trigger Happy (1997, Jeff Scher)

Negative silhouettes of objects and toys in (of course) rapid motion, set to an extremely happy song by Shay Lynch.

Scher says: “It began as an attempt to make an animated ballet, but as I was shooting the dance turned rowdy, into more of a nocturnal revel. . . . The trigger I was happy about was on the camera, but the title also fits the velocity of the imagery. Much of the animation happens by the rapid replacement of one object with another. It’s the afterimage in your eyes that animates the difference between the shapes, as one is replaced by another, and another”

Caged Birds Cannot Fly (2000, Luis Briceno)

Some very short segments showing different caged birds in would-be humorous situations… either stop-motion, 3D or some combination thereof. I liked the Stereolab song better than the film.

A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (2009, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

Slow-panning shots outside looking in, but mostly inside looking out. Unique location (Nabua village in Thailand) but also unique photography style. I wonder if another filmmaker could’ve found images half as strong as these. As for the story, well, as usual with A.W. I don’t really get it. The village has a history of violence and repression, and this (fictional?) uncle is unseen, addressed by a narrator. Actually it’s more than one narrator, reading the same script, which is later critiqued for accuracy of dialect as we continue roaming the houses, looking slowly up at the trees. Makes me want to catch up with A.W.’s features that I’ve missed. Later: So I have, with Syndromes and a Century. Its dialogue repetition and shots of trees from inside buildings reminded me of this short.

Academic Hack:

In a stunning act of political avant-gardism, Joe has adapted Thai Buddhist tenets regarding reincarnation as a means for excavating the hidden history of a troubled landscape. As his camera slowly creeps and pans through darkened, abandoned homes, Apichatpong is displaying the remnants of a repressed past, in an assertion of ghostly, vertical time. … Joe’s dominant visual cue throughout Boonmee is the depiction of dark, illegible interiors whose porous walls and broken-out windows allow the bright green of the jungle to puncture the once-domestic space with light and texture. As beautiful as the effect may be, it is also chilling, since it represents the breakdown of human effort’s separation from natural encroachment, the dissolution of basic boundaries.


We Work Again (1937)

A newsreel short about how “we” (meaning black americans, though it sounds like the regular white studio voiceover guy saying “we”) are finding jobs after the depression – mostly jobs in the arts, thanks to the federal works agency. Contains rare footage of Orson Welles’ “Voodoo Macbeth,” which used all black actors and looks like it could’ve used a higher prop budget.

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The Little White Cloud That Cried (2009, Guy Maddin)

Commissioned for a Jack Smith program. It reminded me of Kenneth Anger, with the classic pop songs strung together, the soft-focus closeups, but that’s probably because I barely know anything about Jack Smith. Lots (lots!) of nudity, largely (maybe entirely) transsexuals. Typical Maddin editing (which is to say: exhilarating). It’s either art or the best porno I’ve ever seen.

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Someone got the filmmaker by accident. He looks so intense!
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Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair (2009, Guy Maddin)

No credits. Need to get a copy someday without interlacing. Made for the Rotterdam festival for an outdoor exhibit. Isabella is in the ‘lectric chair. A man rushes to save her, too late, embraces her as the switch is pulled. Charming homemade effects: tin foil, sparklers and exercise equipment. Louis Negin (reused footage from Glorious?) dances shirtless in celebration!

Maddin: “Now, I was immediately told no nudity, I was immediately told no strobing, so strobing became the new taboo. It would throw the citizens of Rotterdam into epileptic fits flipping on the sidewalks.”

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More, from a simply fantastic interview with Maddin: “My condition for doing it was that I got permission to re-use the footage in my next feature. Whenever I accept a short film commission, I get permission to use the footage from it and so I’m slowly assembling clips… and in this financially depressed time, you need to. It’s a Frankenstein feature film built together from a bunch of dead short commissions.”

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Zoo (1962, Bert Haanstra)

One of the greatest short films ever. He must have shot for days and days to get so many great shots of animals and spectators, then associatively edited them together into a docu-comedy. I learned from the ravingly positive writeup on the official Bert site that it was all filmed with a hidden camera.

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Contact (2009, Jeremiah Kipp)

Boy and girl visit dealer, get bottled drug and take it together naked. Bad trip ensues. Girl’s concerned parents wait at home, until she shows up late, hugs daddy. Very little spoken dialogue – for artistic sake, or with international film fest distribution in mind? Heavy-handed sound design with echoey shock-horror effects with a sidetrack into 8-bit glitch noise.

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The Bookworm (1939, Hugh Harman)

The crappiest little time-filler of an MGM cartoon. Can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy these as a set, so may as well parcel ’em out as bonus content on other discs. Poe’s raven wants to catch a bookworm (that’s a worm who eats books) to put in the Macbeth witches’ cauldron, but the worm is saved by characters from other books, with a complete lack of imagination, not even the har-har caricature value of those not-great Tashlin library shorts. Why would the books want to save a bookworm anyway? This seems an important part of the story, and it’s just ignored. Ted on IMDB overthinks the movie, says it’s “amazingly sophisticated in its abstraction,” no kidding. A Tashlin movie would just blow Ted’s head right off. Harman put more effort into the same year’s classic short Peace On Earth.


Love On Tap (1939, George Sidney)

At least with The Bookworm you can tune out the story and watch the animation, but there’s no joy in this one. Well, it’s a musical short so I guess you’ve got dancing, but that’s not much of an attraction. Story goes this dude is trying to marry a gal who leads a dance troupe, but her dancers are whiny dependent brats and she caters to their every whim, putting off the guy until he threatens to leave instead of marrying her. He should’ve. Sidney later directed celebrated musicals like Annie Get Your Gun and Kiss Me Kate… guess you gotta start somewhere.


Michelangelo Eye to Eye (2004, Michelangelo Antonioni)

Antonioni silently contemplates the work of another Michelangelo. 15 minutes of static or slowly tracking shots, with just room noise until an ethereal choir sings us out into the credits. Nice to see that after all these years, M.A. is still filming people dwarfed by giant structures and pillars.

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Wake Up, Freak Out, Then Get a Grip (2008, Leo Murray)

A cute cartoon illustrating how we’re all going to die from global warming. Only Leo doesn’t say we’ll all die, he says all the good species of animals will die, leaving rats and roaches, and since there won’t be enough resources left for all of us, those with the most guns and lowest morals will survive to slaughter the rest. Then he says we can’t stop things by being jolly good consumers and buying fluorescent bulbs, we must rather campaign our governments and friendly local corporations to smarten up. Not likely! Move inland.

Three Little Pigs (1933, Burt Gillett)
Musical short feat. “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf” song. Great sound work by Carl Stalling. Uncle Walt did the voice of the brickhouse pig, one of only a couple credited non-Mickey voice roles. OMG, inside the brick house there’s a framed picture of sausage links on the wall with the caption “father”.
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Mirror of Holland (1951, Bert Haanstra)
Greeeeat movie. He shoots reflections of Holland on the river, then flips the camera so they’re rightside-up. Looks for cool subjects and cool effects off the water. All woodwind and harp music, no narration, gorgeous. Didn’t know there was a golden palm for shorts at Cannes, but this won it.
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Quiet As Kept (2007, Charles Burnett)
“That little-ass FEMA check sure don’t go very far”
Actors are real actorly, especially the kid (he’s in Ned’s Declassified). Video is real videoey. Script is real good, a sketch about a family of black New Orleans ex-residents post-Katrina, but the movie is ehhh. Oops, All Movie Guide calls it a documentary – bozos. Can’t find anyone talking about this online, probably because when Killer of Sheep came out on DVD, everyone got in line to praise it and didn’t want to look out-of-touch by talking about the not-great shorts it was packaged with.
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Mr. Frenhofer and the Minotaur (1949, Sidney Peterson)
Distorted film of actors, string music, and voiceover, none of which has anything to do with the other. “To pose, or not to? I love him, I love him not? Or rather, since I love him less already, why not? An old man mad about paint, Frenhofer…” Yep, definitely from the same source as La Belle Noiseuse. “Once upon a time there was an old man who had been painting one painting for ten years. His name was Frenho… for what? … He started looking for a model to compare. All he wanted was the most beautiful woman in the world to prove to himself that his painting was more beautiful than any possible woman.” It’s all in here: Marianne’s man (also a painter) offering up her modeling services, Porbus the art dealer.

The script/narration is pretty swell but I wouldn’t be following if not for having seen the Rivette, and the visual is just nothing to me… a clock, a fencing match, cats, blurry nonsense, movie would be just as good with a black screen. Sorry, Sidney Peterson. Hmmm, at the end a fencer stabs the painter.
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Eurydice – She, So Beloved (2007, Bros. Quay)
Very underlit ballet. Kinda dull. I preferred The Phantom Museum (and Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary).
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Victory Over The Sun (2007, Michael Robinson)
Weirdly shaped monuments and the whispering wind. Would probably help if I could understand what the chanting people are saying. There’s some abstract 3D Animation thrown in. Towards the end goes into sound from some cartoon… Transformers? Some very familiar symphonic music. Pretty nice… I didn’t love it by any means, but I like it better than the disappointing Light Is Waiting.

Waaait, I looked this up online and found all sorts of stuff about it, something about being shot on the former sites of Worlds Fairs, but now I can’t find where I wrote that down.
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The Wizard of Speed and Time (1979, Mike Jittlov)
Oh My God. This is three minutes of pure joy. Now that I have found this movie, I will watch it always. It’s my new The Heart of the World, using jaw-dropping stop-motion to express pure cinema love. The look is dated, but the music is swell, and Mike is a grinning god.
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