The Lion and the Song (1959, Bretislav Pojar)

Accordion player wandering the sand dunes finds an oasis and amuses the desert creatures with a pantomime dance, with his cape representing his lost love. Lion is more hungry than amused, eats our man, then dies of internal accordion-related pains. Czech stop-motion puppetry, obviously very good even in my old SD copy.


My Green Crocodile (1967, Vadim Kurchevsky)

A crocodile who adores flowers meets a beautiful cow, and they fall in love based on their shared interests, though the other crocs and hippos scoff at their relationship. When autumn arrives, the cow declares their love is gone with the flowers and leaves, so the croc in desperation climbs a tree and transforms himself into a green leaf. The narrator seems to approve of this action, though it feels like a downer ending. Loved the harpist moon.


Film Film Film (1968, Fyodor Khitruk)

Opens with a slideshow/montage music video, then goes into a comic parody of the process of feature filmmaking. After the tormented, sporadically inspired, often suicidal screenwriter creates a perfect script, the valium-popping director takes a hundred meetings, modifying the script each time. And so on – equipment problems, child actors, a tense premiere. 2D animation with a few cool bits and a sixties-rockin’ theme song. I wouldn’t have pegged this as the same guy who started making Winnie the Pooh shorts the next year.

how a cinematographer works:


How A Sausage Dog Works (1971, Julian Antonisz)

Some animation techniques using gels and layers and liquids that I don’t think I’ve seen before. Narrator with a high, irritating voice, untranslated. Based on the title, I might’ve assumed the vision of a dachshund full of gears with a heart in the middle, but I didn’t predict the dachshund being squished underfoot by the devil. Without translation, I don’t have a clear idea of what is happening here, but it looks like pure lunacy, and I love it.


Apel (The Roll-Call, 1971, Ryszard Czekala)

Shadowy semi-figures – smeary motion-blurs and tops of heads.
Not much of a roll call – the only words are Down/Up/Fire – a military commander or prison guard yells commands at a mass of bald figures. After one refuses to obey and is killed, all the rest refuse to obey and are killed. Not the most uplifting little movie but it has a cool look I guess?


Crane’s Feathers (1977, Ideya Garanina)

Convincingly Japanese-looking stop-motion tale of the Crane Wife. I do love cranes, and ten-minute tragedies. Does our lead guy hang his head low at the end? You bet he does.


King’s Sandwich (1985, Andrey Khrzhanovskiy)

Weird intro, steampunk imagery over the sound of a workout video. So far, all the stop-motion shorts – the Lion, the Crocodile and the Crane – have featured butterflies. This is 2D animation with a nude man and a sausage dog and a cigar-smoking cat dancing with a busty cow – but no butterflies… oops, I watched this thinking it was Khrzhanovskiy’s Butterfly from 1972. This one’s the story of a fussy king who just wants butter for his bread, despite the gigantic queen and the dairymaid trying to convince him to try marmalade instead, while shadowy security agents lurk absolutely everywhere. Bleepy electronic soundtrack.


Repeat (1995, Michaela Pavlatova)

Sketchbook 2D with crosshatch texture. Tight repeating behaviors: a man taking his dog for a walk, a wife feeding her husband, an interrupted tryst, a dramatic breakup, repeating and colliding until the dog brings the whole thing to a halt, wakes everyone up from their motion loops, leading to an orgy, before it all starts again.


Adagio (2000, Garri Bardin)

A stop-motion funeral procession through a terrible storm by origami monk crows. All seems hopeless until a white Jesus-crow leads the way. When the white crow displays his magical powers of cleanliness, the others beat the shit out of him, but after his dramatic resurrection, they all worship him with white-crow billboards. Kind of a dour little movie with halfway decent origami.


Deputy Droopy (1955, Tex Avery)

The one where two safecrackers have to be quiet, Droopy torments them into making noise, so they keep running out to a nearby mountain to unleash their yells. Droopy’s attacks range from silly (get ’em to sit on a snapping lobster) to quite violent (wailing on ’em with a spiked board while their feet are stuck in glue). Anticlimactic hearing-aid joke at the end.

Don’t know if it counts as a short film, but we watched Spike Lee’s NYC pandemic montage, psyched that he has a new feature out in a couple weeks.

After amazing opening title artwork, we open with a festive animal-slaughter montage, why? So far so familiar – golden-haired beauty Julie (Zdena Studenková, also of a Sleeping Beauty movie) loves her merchant father, whose entire fortune is in a wagon train that gets violently lost when it strays too close to a cursed castle. Julie’s sisters are actually nice to her until the family’s fortune turns, then they become horrible. Dad is imprisoned in the castle when he searches for the lost shipment, and when released for a day to say goodbye to his family, he’s mid-conversation when Julie grabs a horse and rides off to take her father’s place.

It’s halfway through the movie before we see the beast’s face – he’s a BIRDBEAST! – and fifteen minutes to the end before Julie sees it. The castle and its furnishings are alive in a shady and sinister way, overall more of a horror movie than any other adaptation I’ve seen, always whispering to Beast that he should kill Julie. There’s also no Gaston equivalent, nobody from town looking for Julie, and after she visits home and everyone’s a pain in the ass to her, she runs back to her Beast, who transforms out of love, to a really nice piano theme by Petr Hapka (whose music was in Ferat Vampire and The Grandmaster!)

The sisters: Jana Brejchová was in Return of the Prodigal Son and Baron Prasil and I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen, and Zuzana Kocúriková was in, uh oh, an Alain Robbe-Grillet film. Dad was in Murder Czech Style. Vlastimil Harapes is under the bird-beast makeup, had a smallish role in Marketa Lazarová.

Part of Shadowplay‘s Project Fear. The Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004, and has no immediate plans to leave (or “czexit”). I’m seeing no Britain connection, though Škoda Motorsports’s website says one of their cars won a British rally the year this was filmed, so it’s probable that some British racers were present at the 8th International Škoda Rally, where this film’s climax was shot. Also, our hero Jirí Menzel would later shoot an award-winning adaptation of I Served the King of England.

The titles appear in a black void revealed behind a canvas being pulled away by hooks – then illustrations of a car getting progressively evil via crossfades, sparking brief hope that the design of this movie would live up to the high standards of Polish film posters. No such luck, it’s mostly guys in drab clothes having conversations… though a sinister low-angle camera and atonal doom music introduce the Vampire: a prototype Škoda Super Sport which runs on blood drawn from the driver’s pedal foot. “With today’s energy crisis, blood is the cheapest fuel I know.”

Mouseover to see the car become More Evil:
image

Two flirty ambulance drivers chase down the Vampire after it causes an apple-truck accident, and they chat briefly with Luisa, Ferat’s hired racer who complains of foot pains then drives off and dies immediately. Ambulance medic Merak follows up, an amiable morgue attendant telling him it looks like someone bit the racer’s foot off.

“She wants to be bitten again. It’s like a drug.” Professional conspiracy theorist Kaplan pins down Merak and explains the vampire car principle by showing scenes from Nosferatu (source of the Ferat name), but a fake version of that film starring our director Herz(e) in the title role. Meanwhile, Merak’s ambulance-driving sweetie Mima is applying for the vacant position of Ferat racecar driver. Kaplan: “It might be circling around Prague now, and during every push on the accelerator pedal your loved one’s blood is travelling through its internals.” The movie is still mostly drab-looking dialogue scenes, but Herz is trying to keep things visually engaging – his mobile camera runs up and down hallways, and he opens one scene with Mima blasting the camera with a hose.

conspiracy theorist:

“I haven’t been myself lately” says Luisa’s identical-twin sister Klara, right after blaming Team Ferat boss Cross for the auto death, and right before seducing Merak. They discover bottles of blood at the sister’s place, and Merak dreams of the car as a Cronenbergian flesh machine. I can’t tell whether the repeated images of Merak being chased by cars are part of the dreams, or if he keeps running into traffic like an idiot. After a major rally race, Mima is rushed to the hospital for blood loss

“We’ll start from where the truck opens. Play it again from there.” It’s increasingly clear that doctor Merak is being played, and Madame Ferat has been encouraging his investigation and filming events – the phantom director of the very film we’re watching – cutting them into promotional materials for the commercial release of the car, driving huge pre-sales. I thought the “vampire car possessing its drivers” concept might be a metaphor for how perfectly nice people like Mima become huge assholes when they get behind the wheel of a car, but the movie ends on a more cynically anti-capitalist message: “Hundreds of people can’t wait to feel the thrill of dying in a Ferat.”

Herz was a prolific director, working almost up until his death last year. Ferat Vampire came a decade after his Cremator and a few years after his acclaimed Beauty and the Beast. Story by Josef Nesvadba, writer of both my favorite 1970’s Czech time-travel comedies, Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea and I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen.

Lead medic Merak is played by Closely Watched Trains director Jirí Menzel. Ambulance-turned-racecar driver Mima is Dagmar Havlová of time-traveling sci-fi miniseries The Visitors, Věra Chytilová’s The Inheritance, and at least a couple movies with exceptional posters – also, she would later marry the President. Luisa/Klara is Jana Brezková of Chytilová’s Panelstory, and conspiracy theorist/participant Kaplan is Jan Schmid of Chytilová’s Fruit of Paradise.

As far as vampire/zombie/possession movies go, this falls chronologically between 1981’s semi-comic zombie-town Dead & Buried and 1983’s possessed-car movie Christine. Thematically, it’s got the auto-executive intrigue of Black Test Car mixed with the car-crash penetration-fetish of Ballard & Cronenberg’s Crash mixed with… I dunno, Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Something where our investigative lead finds out the horrible truth at the end, but nobody cares and capitalism triumphs. The fact that the car was German seems significant, since most of the Czech movies I came across while researching actors were WWII-related – and this movie had a cool German title (Der Autovampir). Maybe the time is right for Tarantino to film a remake – a fast car that sucks on women’s feet seems right up his alley.

What The Eyes See (1987, Pavel Koutský)

Starts out pretty ordinary then goes nuts. A happy-go-lucky wooden Amish man is saddened when a fat guy, a moonface, and a green Swede yell at him. He wanders, head low, being verbally attacked from all directions. Then the animation slows to a halt and we see the animator’s hands moving the little guy around… wide shot to the animator walking around the studio posing and filming the scene… then he slows down and we see giant hands manipulating the human animator. Reverse back into the original scene, where the wooden guy kicks the ass of the next fella who gets in his face.


Strazce majaku (1968, Ivan Renč)

A ship-traveling dandy sexually harasses the boat’s mermaid figurehead, who awakens and heads into the sea to distract the man in charge of the coin-op lighthouse protecting some jagged rocks. She finally drives the lighthouse keeper insane until he retreats inside, projecting his vainglorious dreams on a movie screen using a phonograph horn and pretending to rescue a toy boat in his bathtub, while outside, the real boat runs into the rocks and sinks. I love this. Got a bunch more Czech shorts to go through later.


The Old Lady’s Camping Trip (1983, Les Drew)

Opening credits reveal this was presented by the Fire Prevention Association, so we know it’s not just a casual character moment when Cousin Jim is introduced smoking in bed. Jim is a regular clumsy firebug, and the Old Woman Who Lives In A Shoe is unusually fire-conscious, bringing extinguishers and smoke detectors on a camping trip.


Every Dog’s Guide to Complete Home Safety (1987, Les Drew)

Opens with a cool low-angle view of a spider racing through a house, then turns into the same kind of pleasant-enough kids’ cartoon as the camping trip one – a “safety dog” just wants to practice roller skating but the family dad keeps putting him in dangerous situations as prep for an “iron dog” competition. In the end the dog skates/wagons the family to a hospital when the pregnant wife needs a ride, I’m not sure why.


Evolution (1971, Michael Mills)

History of planetary species in ten minutes. Brightly colored planetary landscapes beget giggling single-cell eyeballs beget water plants and fishies beget land creatures beget monkey-things beget intelligent space-traveling aliens. Innovative approach to reproduction and mutation and natural selection (and creature design) with typical gender division stuff: all creatures are assumed male except the big-titted ones who knit while bearing children. Oscar nominated the year of The Selfish Giant and the inferior Crunch Bird, Mills made a bunch more shorts that would be worth looking up.


La Salla (1996, Richard Condie)

I’ve seen this before, ages ago: early, hideous computer animation with a big-nose opera-singing guy in a room full of living objects making inappropriate sounds, like a surreal indie Toy Story demo. Lesson learned: never open the door. The last of a series of Canadian shorts made by Condie, Oscar nominated the year Quest won.

The Sea of Trees (2015, Gus Van Sant)

Just for a change of pace, let’s start with something that played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, by a director I’ve often loved. McConaughey is searching for his missing friend Ken Watanabe, to no avail. He limps into the Japanese forest, leaving a trail of objects, while the music soars (and soars! and soars!), finally discovering not Ken but an orchid. The orchid gives him flashbacks, and he opens a package he’s been carrying for years I think, finding a children’s book, which he reads on the plane ride home to his old life in a gorgeous house, teaching undergrads about “forces of attraction” whilst remembering his dead wife. So I think Ken was a ghost in a haunted forest. Writer Chris Sparling also did Buried, which I’ve been low-key wanting to watch for six years.


Captain Fantastic (2016, Matt Ross)

This won a directing prize at Cannes and lead actor Viggo got an oscar nomination, but the Guardian says it’s terrible, so who to believe? Viggo has already lost his beard from the movie poster, has gathered his clan for the viking funeral of his wife. That’s two dead wife movies in a row! The kids play a hippie “Sweet Child o’ Mine” while their mom burns up, then her ashes are flushed down a toilet. Really glad I didn’t watch this one – thanks, The Guardian. The director is better known as an actor, in American Psycho and The Aviator.


Anthropoid (2016, Sean Ellis)

I thought Inglorious Basterds would’ve halted the nazi assassination attempt movies for a while, but nope, here’s another one based on another extraordinary true story. Looks like it’s all gone to hell and our heroes are being shot at. Well-directed scene of Jamie Dornan’s last stand. A captured ally tries to convince Cillian Murphy and his remaining buddies to surrender from their church basement hideout, but they finally get flooded and blasted, shooting themselves when all hope is lost, but not before Cillian sees the ghost of his dead wife (so that’s three in a row). At least the closing titles say they killed their target nazi, though 5000 civilians were murdered in response. Whatever the Czech Lion awards are, this movie got nominated for a hundred of them.


Equals (2015, Drake Doremus)

The movies are getting less respectable now, though this won an award in Venice for its many-layered scratch-roar music, as Nicholas Hoult pretends to wanna jump off a building. That’s four suicide-referencing movies in a row… this is what I get for watching serious festival shit instead of the usual dumb horror. Hoult has a tearful reunion with Kristen Stewart in their dark blue apartment, the whispered dialogue buried under the yelling of my suddenly-active birds. I think the idea is these are the only two people in a future universe who have emotions, and I guess at the end they get separated and she is sad – or he loses his emotions and she is sad. It depends whether this guy in the final scene is Hoult or not. I cannot ever recognize the guy. Doremus previously made Like Crazy with Anton Yenchin and Jennifer Lawrence, which Katy has probably seen.


Terminator 5: Genisys (2015, Alan Taylor)

I missed the future-set Salvation but it costs four bucks to rent, so let’s see if this alternate-timeline sequel makes any sense without it (or at all). Out of respect for a formerly-beloved series, I’m gonna give it twelve minutes. Ol’ one-eyed Arnold is back from part two, fighting another liquid metal thing. I guess Genisys is a virtual baddie with a dramatic countdown clock before he becomes Lawnmower Man all over the internet, and John Conner has turned evil. “You are nothing but a relic from a deleted timeline.” Arnold stolidly sacrifices himself yet again, and yet another big building blows up, as Jai Courtney and some fake Sarah Conner make their escape into a hopeful future, aided by new T-1000 liquid Arnold. The director did Thor 2 and lots of television, the writers did Alexander and Dracula 2000, and I can’t believe that Terminator was handed over to these bozos.


Yoga Hosers (2016, Kevin Smith)

This feels like an SNL movie or an Austin Powers sequel, since it’s all painful jokes extended past their breaking points. Hey, miniaturized nazis inside a Friday The 13thAlien costume, so maybe this is an Austin Powers sequel after all. The bad guy wants to kill art critics – that’s the only Kevin Smith-sounding thing I’m hearing. Johnny Depp’s makeup is excellent since I only realized that’s him after looking up the character name – but then, why cast Johnny Depp at all? I don’t get how terrible this looks, since I thought Red State was good. An important precedent has been set – I couldn’t bear this any longer and didn’t watch the full ten minutes. I guess the extra couple minutes for Genisys evens things out.


Antibirth (2016, Danny Perez)

AV Club gave this a C- but I almost watched it anyway because of the sweet blacklight poster. Chloe Sevigny tells Natasha Lyonne that she knew about the horror experiment from the start, so Natasha escapes with Meg “sister of Jennifer” Tilly. None of the dialogue or camerawork is good, and now villain Stephen Stills from Scott Pilgrim is driving Chloe somewhere while Natasha gives birth to a rubber demon head (which I guess is better than a CG demon head), then in some of the most incompetent strobe-light flailing I’ve seen in a movie, she gives birth to a full-size demon body that pummels Stephen Stills to death. Danny Perez also made Oddsac, which I rather loved.


Sinister (2012, Scott Derrickson)

Ethan Hawke finds the director’s cut of some ghost home movies in the attic of his haunted house, and a thrilling, poison-coffee-fueled film-splicing scene follows. Deputy James Ransone calls to say a serial killer will probably kill Ethan tonight, then Ethan calmly returns to his film screening, learning that the missing children of the murdered families did all the murders. Then I guess his own missing daughter chops him up with an axe. I think they hoped to do for small-gauge film what The Ring and V/H/S did for videotape. Derrickson made previous LTM entry Hellraiser: Inferno, and I don’t have high hopes for his Doctor Strange.


Hush (2016, Mike Flanagan)

The one about a deaf woman being stalked at home, not the one that premiered the exact same day about a blind man being stalked at home. Scared Kate Siegel emails her family a physical description of her attacker, says “died fighting,” and waits for the inevitable. But the attacker is super dumb, and tries sneaking up behind her as if she has no other senses, gets stabbed. Fight ensues and he chokes her to death. But wait no, she is alive and corkscrews him in the throat. Seems like your standard-issue murder thriller. Director and star also made Oculus and a Ouija sequel together, are working on Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game.

Same director, star, writer, editor, cameraman as Z. New still photographer Chris Marker and assistant director Alain Corneau. Instead of communists being attacked by the fascists in charge, this time a group of communists is destroyed by their own party. It’s a depressing slog of a movie, a feature-length torture session ending with the men delivering their well-rehearsed but completely false “confessions” and being sentenced to death.

This time we’re in Czechoslovakia in 1951-1952. Yves Montand plays one of the three who only got long prison sentences, Simone Signoret (a year after the even more depressing Army of Shadows) his wife, and Gabriele Ferzetti as his interrogator Kohoutek (not the subject of the R.E.M. song).

Haunting flash-forwards – the worst of which comes during the trial, when the fourteen men on trial enjoy a hearty laugh and the image bleeds into their ashes being scattered on a frozen road weeks later.

Warok, as always:

D. Iordanova:

The film was an important step in the public expression of Western leftist intellectuals’ disillusionment with Soviet Communism … The Confession was the first film that zeroed in on torture as a seemingly endless ordeal, a systematic and relentless process aimed at delivering a specific outcome.

The Second Trial of Artur London (1970, Chris Marker)

Marker was on-set during the making of The Confession, as was London, portrayed by Yves in the film. Marker focuses on the idea that the book and film can weaken the communist movement by showing horrid things done in its name. Obviously the participants in the film’s production would disagree, and Marker lets them explain why. Unbelievably, after the film’s completion, London is again accused of being a spy and stripped of his Czech nationality. But he is defended: “The witnesses who remained silent in 1952 speak up today.”

My favorite line about the film sets: “A retirement home, unmodified, becomes a prison.”

London:

Not gonna write much because this needs to be seen again. Sort of a surrealist fairy tale, reminding of The Color of Pomegranates and Raul Ruiz. Valerie is stalked by a vampire called Weasel, who may be hitting on Valerie or her girlfriend, and may also be Valerie’s father. She is protected by a boy called Eagle, who may be her brother. The grandmother is in love with priest Gracian, who is also hitting on Valerie. There’s more, involving a just-married neighbor, magic jewelry, self-flagellation and lots of birds.

Learned from the extras: It’s based on the novel by a 1930’s Czech surrealist poet. Director’s name is pronounced YEER-a-mel YEER-esh. Heavily influenced the movie The Company of Wolves, and I am guessing Moonrise Kingdom and maybe Eagleheart.

E. Howard:

Despite this unsettling feeling [that the movie tends to leer at Valerie], the film is a sensual phantasmagoria, exploring the strange netherworld opened up at the junction point between childhood and adulthood. Jireš marries his dazzling imagery to a continually shifting score (written by Lubos Fiser and Jan Klusák) that encompasses tinkling music box circularity, jaunty folk melodies, and haunting religious choral hymns. This mix of disparate musical moods and sources mirrors the film’s uneasy blend of fantasy with a child’s eye view on reality.

D. Cairns:

Some book or other on the Czech New Wave compared the storytelling to Rivette’s fantastical films: you can tell there are RULES to the magic in these films, but you DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE.

The kind of filmmaking anarchy that everyone was doing in the 60’s, only here it’s done exceptionally well – as much anarchy as possible without the whole thing devolving into a mess.

Two girls who may or may not be sisters and possibly have the same first name seem to be scamming older men, playing with their food, and destroying everything they see (but artistically).

The filmmaking is as nuts as the girls – color filters, editing tricks, svankmajerian stop-mo fields of springs, a scene where the girls lop each other’s heads off with scissors, all from b/w to color and back again. It’s all very playful and contagiously fun.

After trashing an entire banquet table, the girls atone by trying to reassemble things while spouting propaganda (“If we’re good and hard-working, we’ll be happy”), closing with: “This film is dedicated to all those whole sole source of indignation is a trampled-on trifle.” Governments have no senses of humor, so the film was banned for wasting food.

The Guardian: Chytilová does not see herself as a feminist filmmaker, but rather believes in individualism, stating that if a person does not believe in a particular set of conventions or rules then it is up to that individual to break them.

M. Koresky for Criterion:

Chytilová ensures that something unexpected occurs in virtually every shot and edit, juxtaposing images with dissonant sounds, abruptly changing color filters within scenes, and fragmenting many sequences through unmotivated montage.

Though Daisies remains playful to its climactic orgy (a mega food fight), it is ultimately a dark, subversive work, aggressively critiquing those who might find it offensive before they even have a chance to complain.

Film Quarterly:

Roughly, the film is a series of fluctuations between gorging and de-gorging, a come-and-go between deluxe restaurants and ladies’ rooms. Our entire civilization could not be mocked more brutally. … But the most truly original element of the film is the soundtrack, an incredible blend of canned music from Wagner’s “Gotterdimmerung” to “Plaisir d’Amour,” animation noises, jazz songs and murmurs which … work not against the film but for it. The score bursts forth from the atonality of the images.

Not the Mickey/Fantasia/Nic Cage Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but based on a novel called Krabat: The Satanic Mill, recently filmed again as a post-Twilight live-action feature. Second-to-last film by Zeman, who died in ’89. I’ve only seen one of his earliest shorts, though I’ve been meaning to watch his Baron Prásil for a long time now.

A poor kid named Krabat ends up at an enchanted mill run by an evil one-eyed wizard, with a staff of boys. Every year the wizard challenges the oldest to a duel, beats him by cheating, and then buries him in the grave the boy dug earlier that day. But Krabat has found a reason to live, an enchanting young girl whom he secretly visits, so he teams up with another boy to learn the magical secrets to defeat the evil wizard.

I was not bowled over by the animation at first, which looked like cut-outs with hinged joints, but as the story sucked me in and I started noticing subtle details, like the odd timing of the transformation scenes and the apparently live-action smoke, fire and water effects, I gained a greater appreciation for the movie by the end.