Edith+Eddie (2017, Laura Checkoway)

I guess it’s common practice to screw over elders using the legal guardianship system? Imagine being the lawyer responsible for the lonely death of a nice old man in an oscar-nominated documentary seen around the world. This was filmed 11 miles from my grandmother’s house.


Daredevil Droopy (1951, Tex Avery)

Droopy and Spike compete at a circus to be one of The Great Barko’s daredevil dogs. Rapid-fire series of short contests, mostly ending with the larger dog badly injured, but it’s fine because he was trying to cheat. Lots of dynamite in the second half. Best bits: figure skating, human bullet, that strength-tester bell-ringer seesaw hammer game.

Mouseover to send Spike through the hoop of fire:
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Mouseover to give Droopy a better gun:
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Droopy’s Good Deed (1951, Tex Avery)

Spike is a wild-eyed hobo pretending to be a boy scout, another series of short competitions with Spike cheating and losing to the cool and competent Droopy, who gets a ton more dialogue in this one. Slightly racist jokes in this and the previous one, always to the effect of turning Black after a bomb blast, and it’s not terrible – until one time it definitely is, then a weird, fakeout ending at the White House. I assume I downloaded the uncensored versions of these somewhere or other, they sat on my laptop for a year, and tonight I’m in the mood for some violent cartoons.


Watching Oana (2009, Sebastien Laudenbach)

Earlier short by The Girl Without Hands director. A couple: he is a pastry chef, she translates poetry and brochures. Told from his perspective, wanting a baby, not believing in her ambitions, thinking he knows her inside and out but apparently not. Some cringey moments, I hope it’s not based on a true story. Spoken opening credits, then alternates between written segments created with stop-motion pasta, and spoken conversations with close-up animation of something besides the couple’s faces (wine glasses, shadows, legs in the surf), then the pasta turns into words inked onto skin and the music ramps up for the disturbing final section. The voice of Oana is played by Elina Löwensohn, who keeps coming up lately. Played at Annecy with The Secret of Kells and Western Spaghetti.


The Boy Who Chose the Earth (2018, Lav Diaz)

Two minutes for the latest Vienna Film Festival, a boy at home alone receiving a letter, running outside, apparently surprised – then rain and flooded streets. The last Lav Diaz short I watched was also fierce storms and floods, either footage from the same week or else the Philippines get some regularly nasty weather.


The Glass Note (2018, Mary Helena Clark)

Miniature frames of music and water and wind. Extreme bodily close-ups. Mostly seems interested in sound being created and moving through channels, with a sidetrack about tourists touching the breasts of bronze statues.


Story of an Old Lady (1985, Agnes Varda)

Lost, deteriorated Varda mini-doc about the woman she cast to get naked in the feather room in 7 P., cuis., s.de b…. Bit of behind-the-scenes interview, her getting a kick out of playing the employer in Vagabond, bossing around Yolande and Sandrine, when she’d worked as a maid all her life.


Trees Down Here (2018, Ben Rivers)

I wasn’t sure that ending my night with Ben Rivers would work out, since he tends to put me to sleep, but it opens with an owl close-up and I’m hooked. Architectural sketches alternate with architectural photos, but with an owl or snake in the foreground. The final minutes have a tape of John Ashbery reading his poem “Some Trees”. Ben’s most engaging work yet, I suppose if you’re into architecture, poems, owls and snakes.

Elliott Gould plays a disheveled Philip Marlowe who mutters to himself like Popeye. Altman called him “Rip Van Marlowe,” imagining him as a man out of time, waking up in the 1970’s after twenty years with his old-fashioned detective business (billing 1950’s rates). Marlowe doesn’t mind the modern era – “It’s okay with me” is his catchphrase. He solves the case of a missing drunken husband, meanwhile being investigated for his old friend Terry’s disappearance with a suitcase full of money and turning up dead a few days later. Marlowe is lied to and pushed around by everyone in the movie, but persistently puts together the real story of what happened to his friend – a true detective after all, and one who finally discovers some truths he can’t abide.

Sterling Hayden:

Marlowe’s customer is Eileen Wade (folk singer Nina van Pallandt) whose drunken, abusive husband Roger (a beardy, rambling Sterling Hayden) is found at a scammy treatment center run by Dr. Verringer (Henry Gibson of The ‘Burbs and Innerspace). It’s not clear what exactly Verringer is up to, but he gets his bill paid by showing up in the middle of a party and appearing to hypnotise Roger into cutting him a check, then Roger drowns himself walking into the ocean that night.

Great scene of Marlowe talking to Eileen while Roger is walking into the surf below:

Marlowe’s investigation of his dead friend hinges on his belief that Terry (MLB pitcher Jim Bouton) couldn’t have murdered his wife as has been claimed by the police. But it turns out he did, and has taken the money stolen from Mr. Augustine (The Rose director Mark Rydell) to Mexico. His newly widowed neighbor Eileen is coming to meet him but Marlowe gets there first and shoots Terry.

Sometimes I had to activate subtitles for the muttering… this was a favorite:

Screenplay by Leigh Brackett, who wrote a bunch of Howard Hawks movies including Philip Marlowe mystery The Big Sleep. Altman got Mad Magazine artists to do the movie poster to convey that this ain’t a dark and humorless Humphrey Bogart movie. One of many great things about the movie is its John Williams theme song, which shows up everywhere in different versions. More movies need theme songs. How hard can it be to call up a talented indie musician and say “I’m making a movie, here’s a title and plot summary and general mood, write me a theme song”? This might make the original-song oscar category worthwhile again.

Gould improv-Jolsoning with fingerprint ink:

Altman on working with actors: “I can’t tell them what I want to see, when what I want to see is something I’ve never seen before.” Something audiences at the time had never seen before: when Marlowe is being intimidated by Mr. Augustine, I couldn’t focus on the dialogue at all because one of Mr. A’s henchmen is a pre-fame Arnold Schwarzenegger, four years before Pumping Iron, even.

A not-too-exciting Marlene Dietrich/John Wayne western. Boring ol’ Randolph Scott (Roberta, Ride Lonesome) rides into town claiming to represent the law of the country but really planning to steal land from local miners. John Wayne is seduced by Scott’s uneasy companion Margaret Lindsay (Jezebel, Fog Over Frisco) until he catches onto their scheme. Dietrich is wise from the beginning. She and third-wheel Richard Barthelmess (that guy from Only Angels Have Wings who looks like a cross between Buster Keaton and Peter Lorre) help Wayne foil the plan, and the mines are saved, yay.

But most notably: John Wayne in blackface!

Down-on-his-luck writer Derrick De Marney (Things to Come, Uncle Silas) gets even worse-on-his-luck when he discovers a dead associate on the beach and witnesses assume he murdered her. The cops have got a suspect with motive (she left him inheritance), so no reason to do any further investigating. So Derrick escapes, hides out with police chief’s daughter Nova Pilbeam (who I also liked in The Man Who Knew Too Much), convinces her of his innocence.

Second Hitchcock movie I’ve seen with an old mill – the scene in Foreign Correspondent was better. Close calls as they journey to locate Derrick’s stolen raincoat to prove that it’s not the same raincoat that murdered the woman, or something I dunno, doesn’t matter because in 1937 all men’s raincoats looked the same so it’d hardly be evidence of anything. They flee from Nova’s constable dad (Percy Marmont of Hitch’s Secret Agent) and her horrible aunt (Mary Clare of The Lady Vanishes and the silent non-Hitch The Skin Game), get help from the bum with the raincoat (Edward Rigby of A Canterbury Tale), and finally track down the twitchy, blackfaced (argh) murderer (George Curzon of Q Planes, Jamaica Inn). It’s all a good bit of fun, if not as outstanding as The Lady Vanishes and The 39 Steps.

A kid called Akira (Tamio Kawaji of Tokyo Drifter, Youth of the Beast) buys a Max Roach record called Black Sun, bumps into a woman outside who smashes the record by accident, so he steals their car and sells it. Gets “home” to the crumbling church tower he illegally occupies with his dog Thelonious Monk and finds the cops are searching it for a murderous American GI.

It’s a reasonable setup – we learn a little about Akira (a carefree criminal who loves jazz) and are prepped for a meeting between Akira and the GI. Good jazzy score, and high-energy filmmaking (plus a weird fisheye effect when the camera moves). But it soon gets much crazier than expected.

Turns out Gill, the shell-shocked American (Chico Roland, who I just saw as a disgraced pastor in Gate of Flesh), doesn’t care for jazz – or dogs. Akira is honored beyond belief to have an actual black man at his place, but Gill trashes it and kills the dog. They go back and forth with the machine gun threatening each other, then Akira steals an idea from a jazz record sleeve so they can go out in public – puts himself in blackface and Gill in clownface.

Gill is badly hurt from a bullet he caught before we met him, starts raving that he wants to visit the sea. Akira’s tower gets torn down, all his remaining jazz records and paraphenalia destroyed, so with nothing to lose, he helps Gill (who has never been nice to him, really) get to the shore. And if you’d have told me a few minutes into this movie that it would end with Gill floating away over the ocean tied to a giant balloon while Akira holds off the cops with a machine gun, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Bing Crosby quits his NYC singing/dancing team with Fred Astaire (eight years after The Gay Divorcee, his head and hands still cartoonishly large) and moves to Connecticut (another CT christmas movie) to open the Holiday Inn, where he can goof off 350 days a year, and put on spectacular shows for each holiday with a custom-written song (incl. White Christmas, Easter Parade). When the girl (Charlotte NC native Virginia Dale) whom Fred stole from Bing leaves town to marry a millionaire instead, Fred invites himself to the Inn and tries to steal Bing’s new girl Marjorie Reynolds (later in Lang’s Ministry of Fear). Lots of singing and dancing ensues, Fred gets the girl and takes her off to Hollywood to make a film about the Holiday Inn (featuring the inn sets we’ve already seen, but with all the lighting now visible – it’s the most meta movie of 1942!). A few holidays later, Bing builds up the guts to ride down there and steal her back – plus V. Dale shows up again, so now everybody’s got a pretty girl, and happy holidays and remember to buy war bonds.

The movie obviously won best song for the bestselling single of all time White Christmas, but lost a writing award to 49th Parallel. Irving Berlin would return with Easter Parade in ’48, and White Christmas (which I didn’t like as much as Holiday Inn) in ’54. Sandrich would die four years later in the middle of filming another Berlin/Astaire/Crosby musical, Blue Skies.

Bing Crosby, in between Road movies, celebrating Lincoln’s birthday:
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Object of affection Marjorie Reynolds:
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Actual black person Louise Beavers appeared in Freaks a decade earlier, and would become one of the first black sitcom stars a decade later.
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People in line behind me:
– “You know I’ve seen this movie already, saw it last year.”
– “So… ‘What Is It’?”
– “I’m still not sure.”

Actor Crispin Glover (not to be confused with director Crispin Hellion Glover):
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CH Glover brought his travelling show to our fair city, and hopefully attendance was high enough that he’ll return in a couple years with the follow-up. Started around 8:15 with The Big Slideshow, an actual slideshow during which Glover narrates from eight of his books. This was the highlight of the night – the books were fun, and the performance was mostly great (sometimes it seemed like he was speeding through a page as fast as he could make the words come out). Crowd seemed to like it – big applause after each book. I’d definitely watch that again. Then the notorious cult film What Is It? followed by a 90-minute Q&A.

I did not bootleg the film – all images are from the trailer
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The experience of watching the film was unique. As far as I could tell, CH Glover was not in front of the theater scanning the audience for cameras during the whole screening, as I’d heard rumors that he’d do. There wasn’t enough story or atmosphere to make the film totally engrossing, so it felt less like something I am watching, more like something I am looking at. Certain parts seem intended for laughter or revulsion, for some audience reaction, but our audience was all cool cats, cultists, tattooed giant-earlobed punk hipsters (and there would’ve been even more of them if not for Drive-Invasion), so we got some of the laughter but little of the shock. Truly, I’ve sought out shocking movies before, some very good (Simon of the Desert), some very bad (Salo, Cannibal Ferox) but most bizarrely entertaining (Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Sex & Zen, El Topo, etc). This has got actors with Downs syndrome making out in the park, snails being killed on-camera, a blackface minstrel, the Johnny Rebel song “some n**gers never die (they just smell that way)”, Charlie Manson and Anton LaVey contributions, weirdo Glover himself playing some kind of underground king, S&M fantasies of Shirley Temple, and a man with cerebral palsy being masturbated by a topless woman in an animal mask. So nothing uniquely shocking except for that last one.

The inner sanctum:
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Only “name” actor besides Glover is Fairuza Balk (the intense girlfriend in American History X), who plays the voice of a snail, distraught when her snail friend is smashed to bits by our hero. Ah, our hero, an actor with Downs syndrome playing a character who does not necessarily have Downs syndrome, he goes on a minor snail rampage then heads for the park, where he kisses a girl and gets in a fight. Tries to get back home but there are problems with the key. Finally he gets back home. Looking over the press notes, there’s also the outer sanctum (I guess that’d be the cemetery and other outdoor locations) the inner sanctum (where Glover sits above the masturbating of Steven C. Stewart, who plays “the young man’s uber ego”) and hangs out on a couch with two concubines where he presides over the killing of unfortunate Eric Yates (the far-out-looking guy wearing a garland in the press photos). Stewart topples Glover from the throne towards the end, which both represents the young leading man’s triumph over his difficulties with the key and the insects, and sets us up for the next film, which Stewart wrote and stars in.

The minstrel, injecting his face with snail juice:
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The Q&A was very good and in-depth. CHG has some vocabulary tics though – if you removed all the times he said either “actors with downs syndrome playing characters who do not necessarily have downs syndrome” and “corporate-funded and distributed films”, you could shave twenty minutes off the talk. Discussed, in no order: the complete history of the making of What Is It?, the trilogy and the next film, It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. (we watched the trailer for it), Glover’s future as a director (he’s going to make some small films in his new Czech studio before tackling the third trilogy feature It Is Mine), the disparity between his commercial acting and non-commercial directing careers (says he came to embrace the big-studio acting jobs after his Charlie’s Angels paycheck enabled him to shoot Everything Is Fine), Glover’s day narrating Brand Upon The Brain, and so on.

I think this is the basement of the inner sanctum:
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So, back to the film itself, the camera and sound work were not stunning, the acting and story were not stunning, the symbolism and meaning were obscure, and ultimately it was just a weird movie. But it’s not necessarily a bad movie, like I’d feared it would be. I’m very glad I saw it, and seeing it around the same time as fellow outsider film Brand Upon The Brain and fellow critique of corporate media product La Commune makes it seem more interesting and important. Still, I’m hoping its just an introduction (like CHG said, he’s getting all the taboos out of the way now so people won’t focus on them in his next films) to two even better films.

From the director’s notes:
“Most of the film was shot on locations around my house, in my house, or on the set in SLC. One Graveyard was a location in Downey and one Graveyard was a set made with a backdrop in front of my house.” David Lynch may be an uncredited executive producer, or maybe that’s for part three, I’m not sure. The final edit of the film got caught up at an uncooperative post-house for five years! This is a good answer: “I will often be asked why I chose to work with people with Down’s Syndrome. I would say there are quite a few reasons but the one of the most important is that when I look in to the face of someone that has Down’s Syndrome I see the history of someone who has genuinely lived outside of the culture. When peopling an entire film with actors that innately have that quality it affects the world of the film.”

An amusing 80-min comedy, no masterpiece to be sure, but very likeable and occasionally funny. Harold Lloyd is the weak kid in a family of two burly brothers and sheriff dad. Medicine Show comes to town while dad is out and Harold was pretending to be sheriff, so he signs their permit, then can’t tell ’em to get out of town because he has fallen for the cute girl in the act. But note: she’s doing the show against her will along with two slimy characters who run off with the town’s treasury – and the sheriff is blamed! Can Harold Lloyd redeem himself by finding the abandoned ship where the criminals are hiding out and return to town triumphantly with the loot and the surviving thief before his dad is lynched? Yes.

Some real nice staging, more elaborately planned shots than the Keaton (see below; the Keaton was also seven years later, which might make a difference, but I think Keaton camera setups were pretty plain, just make sure the action is in the viewfinder), incl. a cool bit where he climbs a tree, higher and higher and the camera follows on a high crane. Movie also had a trained monkey, slingshots, a burning trailer, and laundry drying on a kite string, so you really can’t complain.

Could you bring yourself to hit this man? Could you?!?
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Two of Harold’s family members had small parts in Citizen Kane, a medicine show guy was in Sunrise later the same year, and actor Ralph Yearsley who played Harold’s rival died aged 32 a year later. Lloyd was working at a pace of one movie per year, and this came after For Heaven’s Sake and before one of my favorites, Speedy, which would be his last silent film. Speedy also had Ted Wilde as credited director (though IMDB says Lloyd pretty much directed his own films), and Ted died the following year at age 36. IMDB also claims some uncredited direction on this movie by Lewis Milestone, who would soon make All Quiet on the Western Front. The General, Metropolis and October all came out in ’27, pushing the cinematic art ever forward, but so did The Jazz Singer, spelling doom for Keaton and Lloyd (but not for Lang or Eisenstein).

Also watched Neighbors, a 1920 Buster Keaton short which outshone the feature. Buster likes the girl next door, but her family won’t have him. Hilarity ensues. All you really needed for a great Keaton film was a basic premise and thirty brilliant gags – fully-developed plot/characters not required. Terrifically funny movie.

Buster gets into the neighbor’s third-floor window with help from the Flying Escalantes:
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Blackface is funny; half-blackface is funnier:
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IMDB user writes “ham-handed satire”, but I didn’t find it ham-handed at all. It’s somewhat a Western parody, but it’s not that the characters are unbearably macho (they’re actually kinda sharpshooting sissies, but that’s because it’s a 50’s musical) just that they follow “the code of the west”. There’s certainly not much Western about the look of the movie, which way out-fakes Track of the Cat in its deliberately artifical sets and backdrops. The movie was originally shown in 3D, so reportedly with the fakey sets it was supposed to feel like a stage production.

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Reb Randall comes to town on the day they’re burying his brother, the much-hated Robin Randall. Reb doesn’t tell anyone who he is, just hangs out waiting to find out who killed his brother. Becomes friends with a fake Mexican who confesses to the killing, but wait, it turns out he was drunk and missed Robin, who was actually killed by the town’s self-professed coward (Robin killed the coward’s brother I think).

There’s no other killing, just some loving and lots of singing. Local song and dance sensation Calaveras Kate is sweet on town giant Jason Carberry, our hero is sweet on Carberry’s ward, and the Mexican fella falls for the daughter of a stuffy east coaster who has come to town to check up on things, having heard about the lawlessness of the wild west. The west is tamed at the end (with no help from the east-coaster), the code is thrown out, and it looks like a triple wedding on the horizon.

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You wouldn’t think it from a plot description, but Kate is the star here and gets to sing most of the songs. Nobody here is an especially convincing actor, but the songs are nice and the movie’s just cool/weird enough to forgive all that. It’s also kind of awkwardly funny and half-heartedly romantic. Just good fun to watch a low-key (but quality) nearly-forgotten musical from back when it was okay for white people to play any race and school shootings were treated as light comedy. This was made three years before my other favorite white-people-with-painted-faces Western, Run of the Arrow.

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Above, L-R:
Calaveras Kate: a very white Rosemary Clooney, also a singer who hardly did any other acting, appeared in White Christmas and Radioland Murders… George’s aunt.

Stuffy east-coaster: Reginald Owen of the ’38 Christmas Carol, who played the awesome butler in Double Harness.

Jason Carberry, who somewhat runs this town: Jack Carson from a bunch of films, always third or fourth-billed. This same year he was #3 man in A Star Is Born and Axelrod & Robson’s Phffft.

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Above:
Our hero’s Mexican friend: Gene Barry, who played Dr. Clayton Forrester (!) in the original War of the Worlds, cameoed in the Spielberg remake, and starred in his own TV series through the 60’s. He does a good job singing in a low voice with a fake hispanic accent with his face painted brown.

Stuffy east-coaster’s pretty, black-haired young daughter: Joanne Gilbert, who was only in a couple other movies, including Gena Rowlands’ debut film The High Cost of Loving in ’58, directed by Rosemary Clooney’s husband José Ferrer.

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Above:
Our nameless hero: Guy Mitchell, a singer who hardly did any other acting.

Jason’s ward, Latina Susana: TV actress Pat Crowley

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Above:
Nonviolent coward who turns out to have killed our hero’s brother in the end: Buddy Ebsen, Holly’s ex-husband in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Jason Carberry again

Goofy desexualized Indian woman: Cass Daley, an unmistakably white singer/comedian.

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