Ballet Mecanique (1924, Léger & Murphy)

Every camera and editing trick known to man (at the time), in a rhythmic collage of pleasingly odd images. Plucky string music by Paul Mercer on this version.

The women (woman?) of Ballet Mecanique:


Combat de boxe (1927, Charles Dekeukeleire)

Someone allowed a filmmaker to shoot a sold-out boxing match, not knowing Dekeukeleire was a lunatic obsessed with film reversal and superimposition who would shoot anything but a standard angle on the action. Who did the great soundtrack, all pulsing sound effects and breathing? Dekeukeleire was a Belgian film pioneer, made two other influential avant-garde films in the late 1920’s according to wikipedia.

The boxer uses ghost mode:


Rose Hobart (1936, Joseph Cornell)

Cornell’s re-edit of East of Borneo, which appears to be a somnambulist jungle picture, highlighting the scenes of star Rose Hobart. Oh wait, he has slowed the film to silent speed, that’s why it looks so dreamy. The not-exactly-fitting-the-mood soundtrack is from a record called Holiday In Brazil.

Cornell’s first film, and his most famous. Reportedly during the premiere screening Salvador Dali attacked the film projector in a rage, claiming the film had been stolen from his dreams. I watched a whole program of Cornell shorts at Eyedrum in the pre-blog era, but hadn’t seen this one before.

Rose chats with a monkey:

B. Frye in Senses of Cinema:

Rose Hobart was only one of several mythologized actresses who populated Cornell’s hermetic world. Many of his boxes were homages to the actresses that formed his pantheon: Lauren Bacall, Hedy Lamarr, Greta Garbo and Deanna Durbin, among others. In Rose Hobart, Cornell holds Hobart in a state of semi-suspension, turning the film itself into a sort of box. She moves her hands, shifts her gaze, gestures briefly, smiles enigmatically, perhaps steps slightly to the side, and little more. The world appears as a sort of strange theatre, staged for her alone.


Betty Boop for President (1932, Dave Fleischer)

Okay, what? That is a cynical view of government for the 1930’s. Betty does caricatures of I’m not sure who, and appears to be a communist. Her opponent is Mr. Nobody, who gets booed by his crowd. After she’s elected, her victory parade fades into a giant beer mug, implying the entire film has been a drunken fantasy.


Betty Boop’s Penthouse (1933, Dave Fleischer)

Bimbo and Koko are incompetent, cat-tormenting mad scientists obsessed with their next door neighbor Betty. They accidentally create a Chemical Frankenstein who pursues her before being turned into a flower by her perfume. Insane and wonderful. Nice variation on the ol’ blackface Al Jolson gag.

Koko on fire:


Carmen (1933, Lotte Reiniger)

I don’t watch much opera, so don’t know the plot of Carmen. It seems she lures some fancy man to her sexy lair, then steals his clothes and sells them, buying herself a new outfit. But she fails to impress an even fancier man, the famous bullfighter, so she heads into the ring, dodging the first man who is now trying to murder her, and dances with the bull. Is that the general idea? Oh yeah, Wikipedia says that’s pretty much it, except the first man ends up killing her. The first of Reiniger’s silhouette films I’ve seen and it’s just wonderful.


Papageno (1935, Lotte Reiniger)

More opera… guess I never wrote up the Julie Taymor theater version of The Magic Flute we saw last year. It wasn’t a proper Taymor film like Midsummer but a live-televised version of her play. Anyway we both enjoyed. I wouldn’t have figured the carefree singing bird catcher Papageno for a spinoff film, but that’s what we’ve got here, set to the Mozart music. Papageno’s a real hero in this one, fighting off a giant snake that attacks his girlfriend Papagena by harnessing his bird-friends’ powers, like an avian Aquaman. She escapes on an ostrich, is gone for a half minute, which is too long for ‘geno, who attempts suicide, saved by a flock of parrots. Definitely best part is the ending, while the reunited lovers are singing to each other and the birds start rolling in eggs hatching baby Papageni.

Parrots!

There’s a lot of kissing and disrobing in these movies – guess you could get away with sexier stuff in silhouette animation than using actors in the 1930’s.

Making out in the trees:

About to catch an escape-ostrich outta here:

Chess Nuts (1932)

Where I last left off with Betty Boop cartoons: a less-than-thrilling circus romp with Koko the Clown from 1932, but previous to that was the insane and wonderful Bimbo’s Initiation. All three characters are back in this one. I think Bimbo is a dog, but he’s pretty uninteresting, like Mickey Mouse minus the voice and ears. Anyway this opens with a live-action chess game then turns into the animated world of the chess pieces. Queen Boop is kidnapped by a wicked king and Bimbo comes to the rescue. No lipsync on dialogue, Popeye-style, except during songs. These are the ideal cartoon shorts – fun and extremely inventive, never content to have a character walk from here to there without trying something new (“what if he’s high-stepping but his shoes glide forth independently of his feet?”)

The Betty Boop Limited (1932)

The crew travels by train to their next short-film adventure. Betty sings a song. Train hits a cow, which transforms into bottles of milk, in a scene I played over and over.

Betty Boop, M.D. (1932)

Betty and gang sell snake oil to townspeople, who experience psychosomatic symptoms.

Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle (1932)

Okay I was surprised that Boop is blacked up until I realized it’s a damn cartoon and that she’s no more “white” than anything else, so I relaxed for a second then “white” Bimbo blacks up to escape capture by the earringed and bone-haired island natives, so I suppose that’s license to be offended but there’s too much else going on… like Betty doing a topless hula dance (apparently rotoscoped from the live-action dance that opens the short). Sure she’s got a lei covering her boops, but still. Took a wikipedia sidetrack and discovered that animator Shamus Culhane married Chico Marx’s daughter, so there’s your Boop/Marx connection.

Betty Boop’s Birthday Party (1933)

Watched one with Katy, who enjoyed it more than she expected to. Betty hangs out at home with all her sentient objects, like the Beauty and the Beast castle gone haywire, when her friends (Bimbo, Koko, a hundred others) show up to throw her a surprise birthday party ending in a huge food fight. Of course it ends with Betty hugging George Washington.

All these Boops were by Dave Fleischer, and I also managed to watch one other short…

Good Mothers (1942, Carl Theodor Dreyer)

Work-for-hire shorts made for government organizations by great filmmakers don’t tend to be essential. This one was pretty surprising, though – an ad for the Mother’s Aid group, which convinces young mothers not to have abortions (“Erna has listened to reason and has decided to give birth to her child”). They also convince Erna not to give up her kid for adoption by forcing a waiting period before she decides, during which she bonds with the kid. But Erna can’t afford a child… no worries, Mother’s Aid teaches her how to make her own clothes, and make baby toys out of paper. There’s no further mention of the job Erna was afraid of losing by having the baby, or where she finds time to work, raise the kid and make all these paper toys. Finally they teach Erna songs to sing her kid. I didn’t realize this was a primary problem for mothers, not knowing what songs to sing, but Mother’s Aid wants particular songs: “Poor little negro boy / he is black from tip to toe.”

Dreyer made this just before Day of Wrath, and given his own upbringing (unmarried mother, orphanages, adoption) and conservative leanings, I’m sure it’s of interest to biographers at least. More importantly, it was Dreyer’s re-entry into Danish cinema, proof that he could produce an appealing film inexpensively, after his reputation of excess in the silent era, and after the success of this short he worked on ten more government shorts over the next decade.

Baby power!

It’s stupid to chuckle at foreign words, but I can’t help it when the end title card for a short about pregnant unmarried women reads:

Premiered accompanying a feature by Christen Jul, the cowriter of Dreyer’s previous film Vampyr.

Ruka/The Hand (1965, Jiri Trnka)

Potter just wants to make pots and keep his little plant alive, but a fascist hand keeps intruding wanting him to sculpt fascist hands instead. Potter is kidnapped by the hand and forced to create hand progaganda but escapes only to die back at home. Banned in his home country of Czechoslovakia, naturally. Trnka’s final film – I will have to find more.

Johann Mouse (1952, Hanna & Barbera)

Jerry is a mouse in Strauss’s house who waltzes uncontrollably when the master is playing. The cat learns to play in order to set a trap, but the two are discovered and are invited to perform for the king. Cute enough, but I don’t know about oscar-winning. It beat a not-too-great Tex Avery, two from UPA and one from Canada, the same year McLaren’s Neighbours won best documentary (!?) short. Hans Conreid narrated.

Magoo’s Puddle Jumper (1956, Pete Burness)

Blind Magoo buys an electric car (!) and drives it into the ocean. Somehow his idiot son Waldo survived the bear short and tags along. People must’ve thought Jim Backus was hilarious. All three oscar nominees were UPA productions, so producer Stephen Bosustow could not have lost.

The Nightmare of Melies (1988, Pierre Etaix)

A fun Melies tribute incorporating the earliest cinema techniques, scenes from King Kong, an alka-seltzer commercial and late-80’s computer animation.

D. Cairns for The Forgotten:

Etaix additions to the source script make Méliès a prophet of the whole history of film, from the greatest special effects film of golden age Hollywood, up to the computerized visions of the present day (1988), and taking in the true nightmare of the television commercial. I love how the ad breaks in, hideously colorful and cheery, disrupting what is already a rather stylistically disparate piece .. almost to the point of disintegration.

Bimbo’s Initiation (1931, Dave Fleischer)

Bimbo is kidnapped by a cult that keeps attacking him with sharp things and spanking instruments then asking if he wants to be a member. He always answers no until confronted with dog-eared Betty Boop who dribbles her ass like a basketball. Maltin called it Fleischer’s darkest work, and Jim Woodring reveres it, naturally.

Tord and Tord (2010, Niki Lindroth Von Bahr)

“I felt my need for coffee becoming more and more apparent.”

Clearly somebody watched Fantastic Mr. Fox and David Lynch’s Rabbits then imagined a meeting of these two worlds. Sort of a less-violent stop-motion Fight Club, as a fox named Tord finds out his next-door neighbor is also named Tord, so they start hanging out and exchanging coded messages, until rabbit-Tord disappears and may not have ever existed.

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (2005, Anthony Lucas)

Cool silhouette animation, watched with Katy. Narrator/Jasper (Joel Edgerton, villain of Gatsby) is a disgraced navigator in an airship-steampunk future, whose ship stumbles across deadly creatures whose blood can cure the plague affecting Jasper’s home planet (and more specifically, his wife). Sort of an Alien meets Little Shop of Horrors, with an unresolved ending.

Director Lucas followed this up with a 3-minute rabbit short and worked on new anthology film The Turning. Writer Mark Shirrefs does lots of Australian sci-fi television. The Australians gave this a best-short award, but Oscars picked The Moon and the Son and Baftas the great Fallen Art.

Bobby Yeah (2011, Robert Morgan)

The story of a murderous kidnapper with a predilection for pushing red buttons. Possibly the most grotesque stop-motion movie ever – kudos to Morgan! Reminds of Symbol at times, with a confused-looking guy in a room pushing mysterious buttons with varying consequences, but this one also has elements of murder-spree crime drama, with much sexual imagery.

The Street (1976, Caroline Leaf)

Story of the summer grandma lay dying in the back bedroom, as told by the grandson who wanted that room for himself. Brilliant animation, looks like charcoal, with erasures visible under the movement. Internet says it was paintings on glass, lovely. Leaf made a pile of animated shorts – I’ve watched her Kafka Metamorphosis one. Did not win the oscar – the movie that beat it is described by an IMDB reviewer as “eye-gougingly dull”.

Is It Always Right To Be Right? (1970, Lee Mishkin)

A 1960’s political generational-gap movie, also featuring sexual and race differences. “Everyone was right – of course – and they knew it.” Pretty below-average animation with a heavy-handed message, but still won the oscar. the director also worked on Mister Magoo shorts and a 1980’s bionic superhero show, ending up on The Simpsons.

Le Chapeau/The Hat (2000, Michele Cournoyer)

An insane morph-drawing of women, sex and hats. Internet says: “An exotic dancer recalls an incident from her childhood where she was physically abused by a male visitor,” but I was busy being impressed by the animation and missed the point.

Munro (1961, Gene Deitch)

Reminiscent of The Bear That Wasn’t. A four-year-old boy is drafted into the army. He tries to tell everyone that he’s four, but every draftee has an excuse to try avoiding the draft, and that one doesn’t fly. Won the oscar over a Czech film, a Disney short about a tiny elephant, a Sylvester cat cartoon and a Chuck Jones sheet-music sketch. Writer Jules Feiffer had a weird career, including Carnal Knowledge and Altman’s Popeye. The director worked at UPA, did some Popeye shorts and a version of Where The Wild Things Are.

Girls Night Out (1987, Joanna Quinn)

A housewife and her buddies blow off steam by partying at a male strip joint while her miserable-looking husband watches television at home, unaware. Nice Bill Plympton-looking animation, with great flickering shadows coming from the TV set.

Just a Gigolo (1932, Dave Fleischer)

Live-action singer Irene Bordoni intrudes into an unusually short Betty Boop cabaret cartoon to sing her gigolo song with follow-the-bouncing-ball onscreen lyrics.

It snowed in Atlanta so everything shut down for an entire week. As is now traditional, I celebrated by watching a pile of shorts I’d long been planning to see (some as part of the Auteur Completist Initiative).

The Dreamers (1982, Orson Welles)
Welles as an old man narrates the story of opera singer Pellegrina Leone (Oja Kodar), who lost her singing voice in a fire. It’s all Welles and Kodar doing monologues. Maybe all of Welles’ films come down to monologues. Constructed from fragments, with black screens where footage was missing, narration recorded with the sound of rustling script pages. Ooh look, a Don Quixote reference. Not the most exciting of the many late-career Welles fragment films… personally I’d like to see more of The Deep.

Orson in his magician hat:

Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969, Kenneth Anger)
Good camerawork, but ridiculous movie. I think with his images Anger is trying to say that the military is a death-obsessed homosexual cult. I think with his audio Mick Jagger is trying to declare the death of interesting music. I think with his performance, Anton LaVey is trying to expose himself as a silly clown.

That is a nazi flag, but what is he burning?

Le Lion Volatil (2003, Agnes Varda)
Julie Depardieu (Guillaume’s younger sister) works for a psychic, while an aspiring magician named Lazarus Combes (Anton LaVey would be pleased) works at a tourist-trap dungeon around the corner. Every day on their lunch breaks they meet in front of the Lion of Belfort memorial – the same one featured in Rivette’s Pont du Nord and Paris s’en va. Their brief almost-romance doesn’t pan out, but more interestingly, Julie starts hallucinating variations on the lion – first it has a giant bone in its mouth (as supposedly suggested by Andre Breton), then it vanishes and is replaced by a giant housecat. Special effects + Vardaian whimsy = happiness.

Les Dites Cariatides (1984, Agnes Varda)
A tour of caryatids – human statues used as building columns or ornamental facades – throughout Paris, with poems by Baudelaire. “The Peloponesian city of Karyate aided Persia in a war against other Greeks, but Persia lost. The Greeks took revenge on Karyatian collaborators, slaying all the men and enslaving the women. They were paraded as spoils of war. The noble women were triumphantly shown in their lovely gowns and finery. To illustrate their punishment, architects used these statues on public buildings instead of columns.”

The Calligrapher (1991, Bros. Quay)
Three short (15-sec?) segments rejected as BBC2 ident bumps. My favorite kind of Quay film – awesome stop-motion with no human actors, repetition or long-winded confusing mythological story.

Storytime (1968, Terry Gilliam)
This came out while the show Do Not Adjust Your Set (a precursor to Flying Circus) was in production. Opens as a poorly-animated (in Gilliam’s magazine-cutout style) story of a cockroach named Don, who is then stomped on by a man called Jeremy Trousercrease… and so on, each minute-long concept leading into another. Even features a “we apologize for the previous cartoon – the animator responsible has been sacked” disclaimer, which would be reused in Monty Python. Not exactly a lost masterpiece, but a fun little series of cartoon gags.

Pandoora (2002, Takashi Miike)
Just a cheesy samurai music video – does not count as a Miike movie. It ends with our hero about to face off against a giant mantis. What, were they expecting a sequel?

Male (1962, Osamu Tezuka)
Lots of play with frame sizes and positions as a male cat narrates, talking to the man of the house, about how sex should be simple and private and should not end in stabbing your partner to death.

The London Story (1986, Sally Potter)
A woman conspires with a door opener and a retired photocopy machine operator, takes a government minister out to the theater and while he sleeps, replaces his speech about the future of Britain with a new one, causing panic in the media the next day as the conspirators enjoy a choreographed dance on a bridge. Delightful.

Reasons To Be Glad (1980, Jeff Scher)
More of Scher’s fanciful drawing and incredible editing based on rotoscoped (?) images and set to a Dinah Shore song.

The Bum Bandit (1931, Dave Fleischer)
Oh my. A Popeye-muttering train robber gets out-toughed by a passenger in the form of Proto-Betty Boop (still with the dog ears), the robber’s abandoned wife, who steals the locomotive and the bandit, closes the shades and makes with the sweet pre-code lovin’.

Betty and the Bum:

Negro passenger with stolen chickens:

Russian Rhapsody (1944, Robert Clampett)
Watched this recently on the big screen but it never gets old. Hitler’s plane is taken out by gremlins from the kremlin. Why don’t we have wartime cartoons anymore? I want to see the Penguins of Madagascar take on Osama Bin Laden.

Vinyl (1965, Andy Warhol)
In the 60’s it was revolutionary to make slow, cheap movies with bad gay actors, but not anymore. There are probably three filming as I type this. This isn’t technically a short film, but I gave up after thirty minutes, having dozed for the previous ten. A dude recites Burgess and dances to pop music – and it’s all one shot. Wikipedia says it was filmed unrehearsed, which I don’t doubt, and says it’s one of the “1000 films to see before you die,” which I do.

The Wrong Trousers (1993, Nick Park)
Endlessly amusing, and full of curious references to unknown kinds of cheese. The baddie is a jailbroken diamond-snatching chicken with a rubber-glove rooster hat and some electrical skills. Some serious dejected Gromit sadness when the tenant chicken takes his place and he leaves home… why must funny cartoons also make me sad?


Dizzy Dishes (1930, Dave Fleischer)
A Bluto-type orders roast duck, but our blandly Bosko-like hero dances around the kitchen instead of preparing the meal professionally. He makes a half-hearted attempt to serve the duck (shaved – not roasted) when he’s distracted yet again by a dog-eared proto-Betty Boop, leaving Bluto so hungry that he eats the dishes and table (see also: Jan Svankmajer’s Food). Finally Bosko, a true villain, assaults the poor customer and leaves with the dancing girl.


Direction of an Actor by Jean Renoir (1968, Gisele Braunberger)
What to do when your father is a famed film producer? Hire Jean Renoir to give you acting lessons. Gisele is told to read lines to Renoir completely flat with no hint of affectation, and he stops her many times if he detects even a hint of predetermined acting style, saying that first she must read the lines bringing nothing to the table, and then the character’s voice will come from the lines. Sounds like good advice. I watched this short doc thinking it was connected to the ones Rivette made with similar titles, but I guess not. Shot by Edmond Richard (Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise, Welles’ The Trial) – can’t see how exactly it counts as a film by Giselle, but I guess it was her idea.


The next four are from Revolución (2010), a Mexican omnibus film that I didn’t finish watching when it was briefly available online.

La Bienvenida (Fernando Eimbcke)
Armancio the tuba player sacrifices all his family time practicing for the big welcome song, then the guest of honor never shows. All the other orchestra members go home but the tuba stays and plays his rehearsed part solo for nobody. Non-moving camera, low lighting, black and white. It must be a comedy, since tubas indicate comedy, but why am I not laughing? True, the final shot was nice.


Beautiful and Beloved (Patricia Riggen)
A dying man’s wish to his U.S.-born daughter is that he be buried in Mexico, where she’s never been. There’s talk of selling her grandfather’s pistol from the Mexican Revolution for funeral expenses, but instead she gets a deal by sleeping with some sleazy guy, which I believe is seen as a victory for the revolution.


Lucio (Gael Garcia Bernal)
Lucio’s weird cousin comes to visit, refuses to participate in religious rituals and removes the christ-on-a-cross from the bedroom wall saying he doesn’t believe in images. Lucio has some sort of epiphany from all this, as seen by his running to the top of a mountain and gazing at the horizon.


The Hanging Priest (Amat Escakanate)
A couple of kids (who say they’re engaged to be married even though they’re ten – is that a Mexican thing?) come across a priest in the desert. They share their water, walk for a while, and end up at a McDonald’s.

More 16mm screenings from Clay, Halloween-themed this time. Clay showing seasonal shorts reminds me of Robyn Hitchcock’s halloween show where he joked that since he’s only playing songs about ghosts and death, nearly half his catalog is disqualified.

The Skeleton Dance (1929, Walt Disney) was the first in the Silly Symphonies series, with good music-visual sync, but too much repeated animation. No spoken/sung dialogue, wordless skeletons playing in a cemetery until the sun comes up.

Runaway Brain (1995, Chris Bailey) is an excellent, fast-paced Mickey Mouse short with a mad scientist voiced by Kelsey Grammer, beaten for an academy award by Wallace and Gromit. Seems like nobody around me had heard of this before.

The Tell-Tale Heart (1953, Ted Parmelee), animated with some abstract imagery, overlapping shots and sharply-drawn characters. Has a deservedly high reputation, but beaten for an oscar by Disney’s Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom.

Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party (1933, Dave Fleischer) – always great to see a Betty short. Her party is pretty tame – kids bobbing for apples and singing like the birdies sing (tweet, tweet tweet) – until a bully shows up and she attacks him with her secret cache of ghostly evils. Full of amazing animation and visual ideas, beautifully synched to the music. I gotta get me a whole pile of these cartoons someday. I asked Wikipedia when the apostrophe disappeared from “hallowe’en” but it didn’t know.

Naturally the show was also full of TV episodes and classic commercials – Count Chocula vs. Franken Berry, of course, also a kids vehicle that looks suspiciously like the Wacky Wheel Action Bike (“you can’t ride it! you can’t ride it!”) and an awesome PSA warning kids to stay away from blasting caps.

Of the TV shows, we’ve got a Popeye the Sailor episode where an evil robot-popeye robs banks, the adventures of Goodie the Gremlin, who helps people invent the steam engine, airplanes etc. instead of tormenting people like the other gremlins want, a Spider-man episode where Green Goblin gets his hands on a book of voodoo spells, and a hilarious, surreal episode of Ultraman (featuring benign fluffy chattering Pigmon monster in a recording studio, giant plumed lizard monster with heat-seeking feather missiles, and the usual bonkers dialogue). Then the lower-tier corny garbage shows: a cartoon Sinbad the sailor, some dimwit monster who shoots smoke out of his head, Beany and Cecil meet the invisible man (1962, produced by a post-Warners Bob Clampett) and a Hal Seeger-created short called Batfink, in which BF and his dim pal Karate fight a magician.