It’s strange to see space alien Bruno S. playing someone besides Kaspar Hauser. Here he’s playing a version of himself, as are many of the actors, who autobiographically collaborated with Herzog on his hastily-written Germany-to-USA adventure. Reformed criminal/music lover Bruno helps Eva Mattes (Petra von Kant‘s daughter) while she’s on the run from her thug pimps (one of whom would later play Vigo in Ghostbusters II). The thugs barge in, assault Bruno and break his accordion. The neighbor who looks after Bruno (Kaspar Hauser fan-favorite Clemens) is leaving for Wisconsin, so Bruno and Eva join him.

Bad luck right off the bat as customs confiscates Bruno’s mynah bird (using its real voice, which is a big deal for birds in cinema). Werner discovers Weird Wisconsin immediately, filming two neighboring farmers on tractors with rifles. Bruno’s house is taken away for non-payment… not making enough cash as a waitress, Eva returns to prostitution and runs off with some truckers… and Clemens is arrested for robbery (the bank was closed so he robs the barber next door). Everything around him going to hell, poor Bruno wanders a live-bird amusement park then kills himself on a ski lift.

The credits thank Errol Morris, Les Blank and the documentarian who discovered Bruno in West Berlin. Supposedly Ian Curtis killed himself right after watching this movie, and yeah it’s a downer, but one night earlier I’d coincidentally watched New Order’s live set from Coachella 2013, and after seeing what a crank Bernard Sumner can be, I wouldn’t be so quick to blame the film.

Sound That (2014)

The Cleveland water department searches for underground pipes by putting their ears to a long rod stuck into holes drilled in the ground. Payoff at the end when they settle on a location and the caterpillar rips up the street so they can access it.


Brown Thrasher (2020)

I was hoping this would center on a brown thrasher, but of course it’s people, it’s always people with Everson. Red-shirted birdwatchers with binoculars, being watched themselves by a jittery, vibrating camera.


IFO (2017)

The soundtrack is the thing in this one – spoken reports of UFO sightings, first in a taxi, then a military helicopter, then the same taxi again. The visual montage of people outdoors looking to the sky and air-traffic graphics seem secondary, though the people get some breathing room to themselves after the long helicopter story, and I love the extreme film grain on the grey sky.


Traveling Shoes (2019)

A great one, interviewing members of The Brown Singers and playing the title song, their record, with some obvious visuals (the record spinning on a turntable) and some less obvious (a girl holding the record in a dramatic pose, way out of focus).

A Dream Walking (1934, Dave Fleischer)

The soundtrack makes good use of the title song as Olive goes sleepwalking across rooftops into a construction site, while P and B beat each other up for the chance to be her rescuer. P “wins” and takes credit, but O gets home safely on her own. Some good 3D movement through the girder grid. Wimpy’s voice is different than I remembered it.


Adventures of Popeye (1935, Dave Fleischer)

Something different, a live-action child holding a Popeye comic gets beat up by the local bully, Popeye jumps out of the book and runs a clip show of action scenes from previous shorts, the kid gets the message, eats his spinach and pummels the bully.


Minnie the Moocher (1932, Dave Fleischer)

Betty thinks her parents are cruel for making her eat sauerbraten, so she runs away with Bimbo. They hide in a cave where Cab Calloway and his band perform the title song (they appeared in person over the opening titles but an animated walrus is his stand-in here) and this scares them into returning home. Anyway we’ve learned that Betty’ parents are German immigrants, so the name Boop might’ve been an Ellis Island misspelling of Boos or Rupp or Hoppe.


The Merry Musicians (1936, Aleksandr Ptushko)

Puppet animation: four old mistreated animals run away from home and form a traveling band, playing the same song over and over. Needing a place to stay, they find a house of thieves in the woods and scare away its residents, and live happily ever after. Not as much fun as it sounds.


The Barber of Seville (1944, Shamus Culhane)

I haven’t seen one of these in a while – is Woody meant to be chaotic evil? He goes into a barber shop to get a Victory Haircut to support the troops, but the shop is vacant so he takes over, terrorizing anyone who walks in. He does sing Figaro in the last scene.


Who Killed Cock Robin? (1935, David Hand)

How many Disney murder mystery musicals are there? A lady wren seems like a Mae West caricature. The cops respond to the crime with a wave of random brutality (actual lyric “We don’t know who is guilty so we’re gonna hang ’em all”). Turns out Cupid shot the robin, who was only dazed, wakes up to kiss Mae Wren in court. Travis Wilkerson later made a film with the same title. Oscar nominated, beaten by the same director/studio’s Three Orphan Kittens.


The Band Concert (1935, Wilfred Jackson)

Another orchestra toon, people were really into orchestras back then. Mickey’s conducting the William Tell Overture, and an early-model Donald interferes, as does a bumblebee and finally a tornado. Much violence ensues, excellent animation. The first technicolor Mickey, won an award at the third Venice Film Festival.


Clock Cleaners (1937, Ben Sharpsteen)

Literally clock cleaners, like with feather dusters on a clock tower, none of them especially competent. A nesting stork interferes. Some better aerial antics than the Popeye sleepwalking thing.


The Brave Little Tailor (1938, Bill Roberts)

A misunderstanding has Mickey appointed the town giant slayer, offered millions of “pazuzas” and the hand of the princess if he succeeds. I must’ve seen this short a hundred times as a kid, one of the few readily-available Disneys. MM getting swallowed is still a cool scene, and the giant swatting at MM in the same way that MM was swatting flies in the opening scene is nice. Our guy prevails, and the town harnesses giant-snores for wind power. Another oscar-nominated Disney short that lost to a rival Disney short, the far inferior Ferdinand the Bull.


Night on Bald Mountain (1933, Alexander Alexeieff)

Animated engravings? Ah, it’s pinscreens, invented by the director and his wife. Blobby 3D rotations, back-and-forth repetition, transformations, what looks like a photographed miniature town. This goes in a bunch of different directions, all set to familiar music. Can’t say I got what it’s going for (ghosts rampant on the mountainside?) but it’s a change of pace from the Disney stuff.


Fétiche / The Mascot (1933, Ladislas Starewicz)

No subtitles, but a feverish kid is haunted by the roomful of dolls he’s resting in, seeing them come alive in glorious stop-motion. A wizard conjures an orange, fought over by a cat and monkey.
Dollmaker mom takes the dolls out to the city, presumably to sell, but if you’re sewing together evil dolls with souls, it’s a mistake to create a knife-wielding thug. He arranges an escape from the moving car, but rather than a fun Toy Story 2 romp through Fontenay-sous-Bois, they get trashed and broken and lost, only the cute dog surviving to the shop, though he escapes his buyer immediately and then it does become Toy Story 2. The blending of controlled puppetry and live-action chaos is beautifully done. Suddenly the devil is there, resurrecting the skeletons of eaten animals, summoning creatures made of paper and shoes and vegetables to his lair, where they party all night. Our doggy comes too, with his prize orange, which he never bites into, so it keeps getting stolen. Some of his old housemates are there helping cause havoc. The devil tries to sow discord and provide entertainment but gets his ass beaten to death – as does everyone else when puppet cops with clubs start brutalizing the innocent. The dog makes it home with his two uncredited-actor people (while Ladislas, who appears for ten seconds in the film, gives himself a prominent opening credit).


L’Idee (1932, Berthold Bartosch)

Guy has a good idea – his idea is for a miniature naked woman he can hold. He puts her in an envelope and mails her to the society of overdressed men, who don’t appreciate her at all, wishing her to be overdressed. The dreamer reimagines her fullsized then goes to town square to convince others that his naked-woman idea is good, but they are dicks and have him arrested and killed. A creepy guy who hangs out in crypts rediscovers the idea in the modern era and has her mass-produced on paper, and this idea givess an overdressed guy a new idea: that he should send people to war in order to get rich. Thousands die, while the original idea re-merges with the cosmos. Dour black and white animation, hard to tell what technique was used from my low-res copy, but the wikis say it’s multiple layers on glass with paper backgrounds.


The Little Match Girl (1937, Arthur Davis)

The barefoot girl’s matches are battered by a merry bustling new year’s crowd. She finds a quiet spot and starts lighting matches in a futile attempt to stave off the cold. From other versions I’ve seen, I don’t remember her lovely fantasies (having shoes and a doll and a parade of naked angels, etc) getting destroyed by a violent storm as she dies.


Galathea (1935, Lotte Reiniger)

An excellent followup to L’Idee, about a guy who sculpts a naked woman who comes to life, to the distress of his wife. He assumes he’s got a new sex slave, but Galathea trashes his studio and runs off. When the sculptor hears that she’s carousing at the pub he brings her home, where the wife tries to solve the problem by putting clothes on Gal, but that doesn’t go well. While everyone’s fighting, Gal transforms back into a statue and all the town’s women get their men back. Shadow-puppet animation of course, nice and crisp looking.


Daffy Duck in Hollywood (1938, Tex Avery)

Daffy causes chaos at a movie studio, then cuts a bunch of random pictures together onto a single reel, driving an Italian pig director insane.

Miguel’s covid-era meta-movie, the days edited in reverse order, the title a reversal of an earlier feature. The movie starts as a light threesome drama, then begins to be about the complications around its own making. For all its formal games, it has a time-killing feeling of “no other movies being made during lockdown, so we made one” – there’s time-lapse and slow-mo and Gomes all but admitting he doesn’t know what happens in the film.

Robert Koehler in Cinema Scope:

Within the context of a playfully narrative feature, The Tsugua Diaries comes close to capturing what moviemaking actually feels like—at least moviemaking as practiced in the free-and-easy manner of Fazendeiro and Gomes. When the actors convey to the filmmakers their worries that the scenes aren’t working, Gomes’ response highlights a fact of life that auteurist critics in particular ignore at their peril: he informs the cast that he, Fazendeiro, and Ricardo are “finding that, overall, it’s been a good performance.” Gomes here demonstrates that he knows that actors drive the action, not directors—a notion that he takes all the way on Day 7, when he must accompany Fazendeiro to a prenatal exam, and tells his actors to direct themselves. How, they ask? “Work it out,” says Gomes—which could be the slogan for every film set.

Most importantly, there are two parrots, and baby peacocks:

On the run after killing his dad, Bradley Cooper wanders mutely into a carnival needing work and food and gets shown around by Willem Dafoe. Ron Perlman is there of course, typecast as a strongman. Cooper’s talents are gradually put to use until he runs off (openly, not in secret) with Rooney Mara to run their own upscale act stolen from mentalist Toni Collette and her late partner David Strathairn.

A couple years later in the plotty, less compelling back half of the movie, the spook act impresses Mary Steenburgen and he’s set up with haunted and dangerous Richard Jenkins. Psychologist Cate Blanchett gives him inside dirt on Jenkins then swindles him, Rooney dislikes his turn to crime-laced trickery, and after it all goes wrong he leaves town in a chicken car, wounded, with nothing and nobody, and comes crawling to new circus master Tim Blake Nelson.

It’s convenient when you’re a circus psychic that everyone in the 1940’s had the same backstory. The movie is as obvious as I’d guessed from the trailer, but the actors and the look of the thing make it completely worthwhile.

Artificial, stagy-looking, stylish, with great transitions between scenes. Everyone has different speaking styles, not flattened into a single form. Kathryn Hunter obviously MVP, good to see Stephen Root and Harry Melling (Julie Taymor’s Puck). Most importantly, there are more birds in this version than in any other.

Superman (1941 Dave Fleischer)

Wait, everyone on Krypton had superpowers, and Superman was raised on Earth in an orphanage? Mr. White is the newspaper boss. Lois flies a plane, is the only person investigating the letter they got saying an electrothanasia ray would cause devastation at midnight, the villain a mohawked creep, vaguely popeye-voiced, with a pet vulture. “This looks like a job for Superman,” Kent says casually the next day, after Lois is kidnapped and many people are dead, goes out and punches the electric ray into submission (and unforgivably, saves the girl and the villain but not the vulture). A silly story, but check out these colors.


The Mechanical Monsters (1941 Dave Fleischer)

These have a catchy theme song. Another rich mad scientist, this one in a purple suit and twirlable mustache, has developed drone technology – radio-controlled bank-robbing robots. Haha, when Lois and Clark are present at the next robbery, Clark steps into a booth to “phone this in” and… he phones it in! He just calls the newspaper office… it doesn’t occur to him to use the booth to become Superman until later. Lois is of course kidnapped, dangled over a smelter. I suppose all of these stories end the same way, with rescued Lois’s cover story in the paper the next day while Clark winks at the camera.

Everyone on Krypton also sports a Magic Cape:


Let’s Sing with Popeye (1934 Dave Fleischer)

Oh no, this was a two-minute short where Popeye punches some of his own stuff aboard a boat, then sings his theme song in a low, disinterested voice with follow-the-bouncing-ball lyrics.


Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions (1933 Dave Fleischer)

Opens with fireworks with live cats inside, so it’s gonna be good. Betty and friends are at a giant trade show under a circus tent, showing off different impractical inventions. She and Bimbo escape after a haywire sewing machine goes on a rampage, presumably hundreds of people are dead.


In the Future (2019 Phil Mulloy)

Absurd shadow-characters discuss the future. Very short, and a quarter of the runtime is a guy peeing. Phil has been out there since the 1970’s, making a pile of shorts and some features.


Endgame (2015 Phil Mulloy)

Two guys leave the city for some weekend war games and get more war than they bargained for. Stick figure art, the roughly drawn backgrounds include random-seeming numbers and figures. I was with it until the gang-rape joke.


Peter & the Wolf (2006 Suzie Templeton)

Great birds in this: an emotional support duck and a crow tied to a balloon, and terrific camera perspectives and stop motion work. Peter just wants to play in the backyard with his friends, help the crow with bad wings pretend to fly, and skate on the frozen pond, but grandpa wants him to stay indoors because there’s a wolf out there. The boy traps the wolf after it eats his comfort-duck, but frees the wolf at the end rather than hand it over to the ruffian townies. No dialogue, so it premiered with live orchestra accompaniment, and won the oscar, obviously.


My Love (2006 Aleksandr Petrov)

Another half-hour movie based on a Russian story featuring ducks, a cat in a tree, and some good birds. 16-year-old gives a crystal duck to a girl he likes, is figuring out what love is. He dreams of marrying his family’s poor maid, also starts worshipping a hot neighbor, but he is finally weird to the neighbor and when he becomes sick with brain fever the maid leaves to become a nun. My DVD copy isn’t high-res enough to get the full effect, but this is lovely – painted frames, smearing the backgrounds as the characters move past, exploding into fantasy scenes in the kid’s imagination. Feels too wordy, watching so soon after Peter & the Wolf. Petrov’s followup to his great Old Man and the Sea.


The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1981 Mark Hall)

It took a minute to even realize this was stop-motion; my copy’s contrast is off. The opposite of the Petrov in that the wordless animation moments are alright but it comes to life when the narrator is going off – he is Robert Hardy of the 1970’s version of The Green Knight, reading the original poem. Obviously not a movie to explore unless you’re ready to see hundreds of stop-motion rats. Jiri Barta also made a version, which would be worth digging up. A good effort for England, who still had ten years to wait until Wallace & Gromit. Hall was a British TV veteran, working on Danger Mouse among others.


Who Would Comfort Toffle? (1980 Johan Hagelback)

Toffle is alone and scared with nobody to talk to when the night monsters come, so he ditches his house and wanders to find somewhere new. Limited storybook animation with a rock musical soundtrack. The Hemulens are giant things outside that are maybe moomins? Real kids stuff, cute – you don’t see a lot of Swedish mythology cartoons.


The Chimney Thief (1944 Paul Grimault)

A thief who steals lightning rods and uses them to pole-vault across the rooftops is a pretty great idea. What ever happened to lightning rods anyway? You don’t see them around much. The scene where he distracts a guard dog with a wind-up mechanical bone is simply odd, all the character animation timing wonky. Their stretchy rubber-band bodies seem Boop-inspired. Nothing more to it than a rod thief outsmarting two identical cops chasing after him, some typical chase scene bits, but remarkably good use of 3D space. Grimault worked with Jacques Demy and made some other widely-acclaimed works that I’ve meant to find.


Birds/Ptakhy (2012 Mykyta Liksov)

Unlike the Blackbird short, this movie called Birds is about birds – this is all I ask for. The birds dance through the air, form couples and nests on the last above-water structures of a flooded Earth, except for one who swims underwater in search of a fallen spouse and finds a glowing egg in the irradiated wreckage of human civilization. I was already enjoying this before its all-timer end-credits sequence.


The Baby Birds of Norman McLaren (2014 Mirai Mizue)

Aha, someone is into maximalist mutations, colorful patterns, and bright pop music. Someone watched the entire McLaren DVD set and took away all the correct lessons, turning in a fun, short, snappy piece with tributes to Norman’s different animation and sound sync styles.


The Big Snit (1985 Richard Condie)

Squiggle-vision cartoon about a domestic squabble over a scrabble game while nuclear war is beginning outside. Between the two Ukraine-related shorts and this one, I hadn’t meant to get so topical tonight. The couple reconciles just in time to be vaporized, a happy ending. This and Condie’s La Salla are maybe over-acclaimed, but I like his very random sense of humor, and he also produced The Cat Came Back.

Finally getting to Dumont’s debut. Parts of this movie about a dimwit boy in a nowhere town look familiar from Lil Quinquin – a yard where they fix up their car even looks like a location from that movie, and there’s a character named Quinquin. But this was before Dumont had learned to be funny or unpredictable, from his punishing slow art cinema days. Maybe the crappy marching band was supposed to provide levity, but in the end it’s simply no fun to watch a crappy marching band. This doesn’t give me much hope for L’Humanité – I’m guessing that’s as misleading a title as this one, which follows a kid who Dumont wants to portray as a sensitive soul, with his epilepsy and pet finch and cute girlfriend. But the kid’s also a horrible racist, and finally catches the Arab guy he’d seen hanging around with his girl, and uses his head as a soccer ball. The non-pro actors in this stayed non-pro. I was surprised to recognize the finch-song contest from Arabian Nights.

Nicholas Elliott for Criterion:

Rather than a description of the film’s contents, the title is an unusually active element of the viewing experience, a riddle that prompts the viewer to see beyond the low horizons of Freddy’s existence and imagine how the spiritual might be reintroduced into this context. In the trickiest of ways, Dumont titles the film to prime us to look for good where there is evil. Yet he does not ask us to like Freddy, only to accept that he exists…

I’m sad that there’s bird killing in this movie, but at least it’s traumatic to young Bart, who remains gun-crazy but never shoots a living creature again. Going through a teenage Russ Tamblyn phase, he’s sent to reform school for breaking into a gun shop, and years later returns from the army as John Dall (just off playing Brandon-who-thought-he-was-god in Rope). Still gun crazy, he reconnects with his childhood buddies and sees the gun crazy Peggy Cummins (also love interest of Night of the Demon) in a circus. An impulsive Bart steals her away from drunken proprietor Barry Kroeger (Cry of the City) – they get fired, married, and live the high life with absolutely no plan until they end up broke in Vegas, and she talks him into doing holdups. On the run, they’re gonna give up the criminal life after One Last Job, a big one where they get hired by the targeted company and work from the inside. With no traumatic backstory to stop her, Peggy freely shoots civilians during their escape, and trouble quickly closes in when desperate Bart takes them to his hometown to hide out. Such great camerawork, especially in the car scenes.

Russ/Bart: