A treasure trove of film prints, largely of silent movies thought long-lost, were discovered buried in Dawson City, but the films weren’t any good – dramas so generic that Morrison has fun editing together scenes from them, changing the source film with every shot and showing how it still coheres. So rather than spotlight the films on their own merit, we follow the fascinating story of Dawson City, its famous former residents and unfamous locals, illustrating this history lesson with clips from the discovered films and others, and showcasing some astounding glass-plate photography from the era under discussion. And of course we’re not limited to the most well-preserved films – different kinds of decay and destruction are discussed and displayed. Dawson City was a primary Canadian gold rush town, so it’s full of sordid and enterprising stories, and he sidetracks into any exciting bit for as long as it takes. Exciting is relative, though – Bill’s into drawing things out, slowing them down to the wavelength of the great Alex Somers (Sigur Rós) score, my favorite yet in a Morrison movie. What could’ve been a one-hour informational PBS special becomes a two-hour feature, and Katy wanted things to move more quickly.
Tag: Bill Morrison
Incoherence (1994, Bong Joon-ho)
Bong’s half-hour student short has been on my laptop for ages, and since I’d just watched Coherence, I couldn’t resist pairing these. I’m guessing it’s closer in tone to his unseen Barking Dogs Never Bite than his more sinister features of the 2000’s. Three comic chapters, each featuring a man in a position of power doing something immoral (professor reading porn in his office, business exec stealing milk from stranger’s front step, lawyer getting drunk and belligerent) with an epilogue of the three appearing on a panel show to discuss morality and self-control. The drunk prosecutor would go on to play a detective in Memories of Murder.
Light Is Calling (2004, Bill Morrison)
Like a Decasia outtakes short. Scenes from The Bells (1926, James Young), destroyed and decayed, set to serious violin music. The director of Begotten probably cries himself to sleep watching this.
Three Video Haikus (1994, Chris Marker)
Firstly, some manipulated digital video of a river under a bridge.
Catherine Belkhodja from Level Five smokes a cigarette, each exhale punctuated with superimposition of an owl in flight. I think the smoking is the same footage from Marker’s Silent Movie. These first two were set to piano music.
The third has opening and closing titles, static shot of railroad tracks, and electronic sfx, and I think was supposed to be humorous?
Tomatoes Another Day (1930, James Sibley Watson)
I didn’t know indie goof-off sound shorts existed in 1930. Where’d they get the equipment? Oddball talkie featuring a wife, her husband and her lover playing out a predestined scene while flatly speaking their every thought (“You are my husband”). The second half is full of punny wordplay like the title line, which the Portuguese subtitles on Youtube faithfully translate as “outro dia de tomates”.
This is Watson of Watson & Webber, following up their Fall of the House of Usher. A. Grossman, who brought the movie to my attention with a Bright Lights article, calls it a “satire of the redundancy of talkie cinema, in which image and sound are inflexibly congruent” … “a revelation that the silent trance, when granted sound, becomes embarrassingly demystified.”
On Departure (2012, Eoin Duffy)
The Missing Scarf finally showed up online, so after failing to impress Katy with that, I watched Duffy’s other popular success. Depressed alien goes on a business trip… then, as tends to happen at the end of his movies, the world ends. Actually I read an interview with Duffy, and this is about something else entirely, but I’m gonna gonna stick with my interpretation.
Sausage (2013, Robert Grieves)
Local craft food sellers work together to defeat mustache-twirling corporate foodlike-product manufacturer. Populace is easily distracted by whatever shiny new thing tries to catch their attentions. Movie shows the public swayed by price and spectacle (true) and turning up their noses at gross combinations of things like hotdog-in-a-donut (sadly not true).
Three Little Bops (1957, Friz Freleng)
I’d planned to follow up Shocktober with Animation November but cancelled… still watched a few Looney Tunes, though. Wolf vs. Three Pigs story retold in the jazz age. At the end, the wolf dies, goes to hell, returns as a ghost sitting in with the pigs on trumpet. Could they not get a vocalist who could sing on the beat… or is that jazz? Great line: “The Dew Drop Inn did drop down.”
Duck Soup to Nuts (1944, Friz Freleng)
Porky goes duck hunting. Daffy does his thing, gets away.
Ali Baba Bunny (1957, Chuck Jones)
Bugs and Daffy are buddies on vacation together until Bugs digs ’em into an Arabian treasure cavern and DD gets greedy. Showdown with the Sultan’s enforcer follows. DD gets shrunk by a genie. Stereotypes abound, but this is all better than it sounds.
Transylvania 6-5000 (1963, Chuck Jones)
The one with the two-headed bird-witch. Bugs stays at a vampire’s castle, learns some useful magic words. Remade in the 80’s with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis,
Vampire vs. umpire:
Porky in Wackyland (1938, Robert Clampett)
Katy’s first time in Wackyland – she seemed annoyed at just how wacky this was, decried the “darkest africa” bit, asked if that’s what dodos really looked like, and claims scientists are trying to clone new ones.
Boop-Oop-a-Doop (1932, Dave Fleischer)
Less nuts than my favorite Boops can be. A couple terrific visual gags, some good cartoon weirdness (sinister circus ringmaster has a mighty morphing mustache, empty seats applaud on their own) and one song (“don’t take my boop-oop-a-doop away”) but Betty’s act only amounts to whipping lions, and her standard damsel-in-distress scene (saved by Koko the Clown) is uninspiring.
Arcana (2011, Henry Hills)
A half hour of zen based on a “treatment” by John Zorn (a numbered list of things) and featuring his music. I always love Hills’s editing (less extreme here than I’ve seen before), so this is enjoyable and relaxing, with seemingly no rhyme or reason to the order of events. I fell asleep to this a couple times in Georgia but only now watched it all the way through. Katy also praised the movie when I used it once as a kitchen screensaver.
Slow-motion stock footage and photographs of miners and their mines, with slow-motion color helicopter shots of their present-day locations, accompanied by slow-motion music. The movie doesn’t tell a conventional story, allowing you to apply your own knowledge and bias to the visuals. In my case what came to mind was Harlan County USA, Ace in the Hole and every Freakwater song (plus some Mekons/Freakons, Johnny Miner). Anyway, nothing hopeful or positive. The helicopter shots seem to back this up, showing these sites erased by history, covered up with parking lots, shopping centers and housing developments, unmourned. But it ends on a happy note, a massive parade of Durham-area miners marching into a cathedral.
After “A Bill Morrison film” it says “A Michael Gordon symphony”, assigning auteur credit separately over the soundtrack, a rare thing. I didn’t love the symphony, though – an undertone even more monotonous than Philip Glass with bombs-falling string-sliding atop it. I enjoyed the bit where percussion chattering along with the background rhythm sounded like an old TV news theme song. But next time I’ll just listen to a Pinback album instead.
Visuals are exciting, though – Fragments of narrative films (and science films and home movies and other weirdness) gone Brakhage (or less generously, gone Begotten) through decay, slowed down so we can appreciate the distinct frame-by-frame damage.
I don’t understand what property of film decay causes the picture to go negative, bright whites turning black while the rest of the picture looks unaffected, but I’ve never much understood the chemical side of film anyway. Elsewhere, scenes are obscured by dark blots, sunken under oily water and giant amoebas, or just torn to shreds.
Forget the Great American Scream Machine – this is the most terrifying carnival ride. Each car emerges from a burbling time/space warp on left side of the frame, to circle around and go back inside. At the end of the ride, whoever’s left inside the reality-warp is doomed to spend the rest of their days in a hellish alternate dimension.
Second best part here, a boxer fighting an amorphous column of decay