Whoa, big movie… I was hoping for something Tarkovsy-esque, but if anything it was closest to Andrei Rublev. Too plotty, full of unhappy Christians doing desperate things. Choir music, the voices dubbed with a mesmerizing echo effect. Some proto-Hard To Be a God ancient miserablism. The movie is full of birds – generally a good thing, but with a notable bird death.

Catching up on the storyline via wikipedia, and most of this is news to me. I did not realize that Kozlik (the bald guy with a crack in his head) and Lazar (Marketa’s dad) were rival clan leaders, both under assault by the King’s captain. I got the relationship and revenge-killing stuff, with thanks to the descriptive title cards before each chapter, but not that one-armed Adam’s other arm was removed as punishment for sleeping with his sister. The arrows being shot into everyone in the last hour look unnervingly real.

Sketch of a movie following a narcoleptic young man as he takes over for the retiring rat breeder at a bird sanctuary. Flute music over the rat intro gives unavoidable Rat Film flashbacks. Ordinarily I’d be all over a bird movie, but I’m torn on this one. Cutting a rat to bits with scissors isn’t great, but feeding it to an injured owl moments later compensates. Pulling shards from a swan’s wound isn’t great, even though the bird is being helped (Katy ditched at this point). Finally some escaped rats have their revenge on the injured birds (offscreen) and a little birdy has to be euthanized (onscreen). Next time let’s have more birds, less death, no humans.

“At least it’s more lively than Possum,” I wrote in my notes, trying hard to look on the bright side after a long movie day. Molly is released from the psych ward and set up in an overheating apartment with a stain on the ceiling, crying in the vents, and a constant S.O.S. knocking sound in the walls. She keeps bugging the neighbors and the cops (complete with a rare use of body-strapped Pi-cam) trying to get to the bottom of the sound, afraid that somebody is in trouble. Bad use of birds – a precious birdie dies, a finch keeps slipping off a metal railing – some cool cranes appear in a video, at least. At the end, she’s crazy AND she’s right, but I’m tired of playing “is this real? OMG is anything real” in these movies.

Okay, Soul had its moments, but it’s almost a shame that just a few days later we watched this movie which so thoroughly blew it away. Such intricate illustration and character design, fun perspective tricks, it all looks so handcrafted and amazing.

No shocker after Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea that the plot concerns Irish mythology, and as in Kells there’s a supernatural girl on the outskirts of a besieged town. This time the girl is leading the wolf army they’re all afraid of, and new girl Robyn’s dad is hired to trap and kill them, but Robyn (with her cool pet falcon, oh my heart) ventures into the woods, meets the red-haired wolf girl, and accidentally becomes a wolfwalker herself. Later her dad will become one, and they’ll turn on the wolf-hating tyrant who rules the town. Not a grim, doomsy movie at all – the baddie is the only death, and there’s nearly as much friendly romping as there is story.

ExtaZus (2019, Bertrand Mandico)

1. The sword-wielding, red-haired Nirvana Queen, tastes a crystalline rock in front of the orally-attached twins, awakens in a green world surrounded by crystal-headed hook-handed persons, talks to a woman in a bubble with a strong French accent, gets aggressively tongued by a giant cave-mouth, then she disfigures the titular sunglasses-man who’d been typing her story with his Freddy Krueger fingers.

2. She convinces him to create a new heroine named Peach Machine, and he has her dance with death in the desert. Peach is unhappy with her role, and slaps his face off.

3. With the author dead, PM visits NQ. As NQ plays a dual-dicked statue like it’s a Robotron machine, PM approaches and makes out with the face on the back of NQ’s head.


Veslemøy’s Song (2018, Sofia Bohdanowicz)

The Deragh Campbell-as-Audrey short coming between Never Eat Alone and MS Slavic 7. It’s more lively than the previous feature, which is a good sign for the next one. She finds a book about her grandfather’s violin teacher Kathleen Parlow, who played lead on a music piece titled V’s Song that was written for her when she was 18. Audrey flies to NYC to hear the only known recording of this piece, but can only hear part of the record, since the archive will only play excerpts and will not make copies. Not a documentary, of course, despite the real people and events, since we hear the song in the film. Hand-processed film, full of texture and scratches.


The Sky Is Clear And Blue Today (2019, Ricky D’Ambrose)

German lesson repeating the film title… kids recite My Pet Goat to camera… scraps and stories from post-9/11 America. The story proper is about an American director named Helmar contracted by German TV to make a cheap 60-minute film about a photograph showing a happy get-together while the twin towers burned in the background. They cast lookalikes from the photo and resort to digital trickery to fake the location, after the real location owner (Glenn Kenny, introduced as “an especially unpleasant and gluttonous man”) refuses to let them shoot. But the director and eight others die in a fire during production – “it was just like a movie” said the survivors. Fits in nicely with my previous short, stylistically and in its blend of real events with fictional ones, matter-of-factly narrated.


Visit (2020, Jia Zhangke)

Oh noooo, a beautiful short about covid quarantine. I was still getting angry over The Plagiarists and wasn’t ready for anything this delicate and lovely. Add it to the list of movies that show off their directors’ DVD collections: shout out to Suzhou River.


Fire (Pozar) (2020, David Lynch)

Abstract animation solidifies into shapes: a house, a tree, fire. Still images, but the drawn page shakes under the camera. Nice string music with surface noise (added?). Through a burned hole floats a flying creature with hands reaching from its eye sockets. A welcome callback to the very early Lynch shorts blended with the Inland Empire-era web works.


France Against the Robots (2020, Jean-Marie Straub)

Single shot, a man walks along the lake and talks about the sad necessity of revolution, since the capitalist systems aren’t gonna reform themselves. Then the credits repeat, and the film repeats – but at a different time of day, and with more swans about.


Pigeons and Architecture (2020, Anne Linke)

A chill movie looking at how pigeons live in buildings, and how people who love pigeons illicitly feed them by shawshanking healthy grains down their pantlegs, something I will be doing wherever I go from now on.

Thought it’d be fun to watch an apocalypse movie during an actual apocalypse, but it was not. Early scenes set up a couple families with typical problems (Jimmy’s girl Ruth tells him she’s knocked up) while global news stories play out casually on background televisions and title cards ominously tell us the population of Sheffield. Then – nuclear war!

Jimmy likes birds, and his brother dies in the blast along with the finches. The families are separated and never reunite in the chaos. The movie flashes forward in regular intervals, family members dying of illness and starvation, finally ten years later, Ruth blind and ravaged by fallout. In other news, the producers bought the rights to Johnny B. Goode, and they’re damn sure gonna play it.

World of Tomorrow Episode Three: The Absent Destinations of David Prime (2020, Don Hertzfeldt)

Hertzfeldt comes up with his biggest horror yet: embedded-HUD popup ads. A future Emily backup clone contacts a past David and sends him on a disfiguring journey to retrieve secret messages about the clandestine between-time assassinations of various Davids by other Davids. It’s twisty! And excellent, and full of more wonderful quotes, and I’ll be watching these forever.


Stump the Guesser (2020, Maddin/Johnson/Johnson)

The Odenkirk-looking Guesser (The Editor from The Editor) is renowned for his abilities, but when he runs out of guessing milk, things go bad and his guessing license is revoked. But during this time he falls in love with his long-lost sister, spends some time scientifically disproving theories of heredity in order to marry her, but things go badly at the end when he has to guess which door she’s behind. Some fun leaps of logic and distorted visuals here, but I wasn’t feeling it as much as other Maddin films.


Accounting for some other things watched recently… The Mads from MST3K have been doing monthly live shows. I checked out Glen or Glenda, a movie that’s so busy explaining itself that it never gets to the movie, and told Neil:

That was… really fun. That’s the most I’ve enjoyed a MST3K-related thing since the end of the sci-fi channel years. I don’t know if it’s because of their obvious affection for the material, or if I’m just in the right mood. I’d never seen the feature either – shame on me, after digging the Tim Burton version for 25 years now (oh you just tried to watch it, is it cringey now? Is it Johnny Depp’s fault?) and the Mads nailed it in their intro when they said this movie has everything, but it also has nothing.

Next was The Tingler, which I already just barely remember (also explainy, features Vincent Price)… then the truly baffling, tensionless version of The Most Dangerous Game called Walk The Dark Street. I think the guy from The Rifleman played the baddie. Then some shorts I should track and name, but am not gonna.


Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas is her stand-up comedy special to follow Nanette, which was the special to end stand-up comedy, and yet she pulls off the follow-up by creating another perfectly-constructed show and this time being breathtakingly funny. That sounds like a cliche, but I had to pause the show to catch my breath.

And Katy and I watched something called Australia: Land of Parrots, which is everything you’d dream it would be, and I should just play it on a loop.

Closeups of a pretty bird, cawing over the credits! Just as I’m thinking the movie’s not gonna get any better than this, Dario proves me right by mistreating the bird the moment his own credit expires, then a horrible bird-hating woman jabbers for ages until she’s hit by a car, yay.

Betty takes over from the accident victim as untested star of a new opera, her young stage manager boyfriend is Stefano (from Texas, has been in 100 movies I’ve never heard of, and also Copycat), and they both have GRAND apartments, real estate in Rome must be super cheap. Some vaguely culty murder stuff starts happening, and soon Betty is tied up, needles taped under her eyes so she can’t blink, and she’s made to watch her boyfriend get stabbed to death. This happens a couple more times, some meathead hard-rock song accompanying all the murders – next victim is Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, an Argento regular also of Demons 2. Unfortunately, the killer also murders some ravens – but the ravens get their revenge, so I’ll allow it.

Betty’s got Purple Rain on VHS:

Appreciate that Betty gets a flower from a fan early on, then chucks it against the wall when she finds out he’s a cop – he will turn out to be the killer. One of his last victims is a fellow cop played by Michele Soavi – this came out the year of his directorial debut Stage Fright.

Argento characters never behaving like actual humans makes the movies more phantasmagorical. The dubbing is atrocious except in the opera singing. This is relatively late Argento, the tail end of his respectable period, made after Phenomena.

Our first LNKarno competition title. I’ve seen Iosseliani’s name around now and then, ever since first learning about him with a film still of a stork from Adieu, plancher des vaches! in a magazine over a decade ago. He’s a fest regular who I’ve never noticed out in the indie-commercial film world – The Ross, Plaza, Tara, Landmark, Alamo, Videodrome, Criterion sort of places – an old dude, taught by Dovzhenko, working for sixty-some years.

From a period execution scene to the title, then a battle, rapey soldiers, a mass baptism, a pickpocket gang then a drunk flattened by a steamroller like a cartoon, it seems the movie’s gonna be all over the place. But it soon settles down in a central location, with apartment concierge (and arms dealer) Rufus, his skull-collecting friend, a down-and-out baron, a bickering couple – it’s kind of a light magical comedy darkened by memory of the execution from the intro (it reminds us, with images of guillotines and severed heads). And of course I’m regretting that my first Iosseliani movie isn’t the one with storks, and then Rufus wanders into a secret garden full of every kind of bird.

A timid man resorts to dirty tricks to get a cute girl to talk with him. Pierre Etaix is in there somewhere, and as per French law, Mathieu Amalric has a role, hand-building a stone house out in a field. The production has rented a wind machine and is determined to get its money’s worth. Jump cuts and trick editing – it all sounds more scattered than it is, the bulk of it maintaining a consistent tone, dignified and upbeat despite the breakups and evictions.

Jonathan Romney in Film Comment:

Winter Song is the sort of rambling, multi-stranded crazily populous ensemble frieze that he has specialized in since moving from Georgia to France for 1984’s Favorites of the Moon… at times it resembles less any familiar form of cinema than it does a sort of sprawling, melancholic circus performance … It’s a world of horror and absurdity, where war is always being waged underneath the surface of civilization. But it also reveals a constant background hum, a sort of laconic joyousness in which the human folly and the melancholy of mortality are at least mitigated by friendship, drink, and the pleasures of close harmony singing, and the redemptive, civilizing poetry of a neatly executed sight gag.