Voilà l’enchaînement (2014)

Alex Descas and Norah Krief (a Shakespeare actress) are a mixed-race couple, and not incidentally. She calls him a stud, asks him to tattoo her name on his body, he says both remind him of slavery/ownership. Time passes, she’s paranoid, reports him to the cops for domestic violence and he’s arrested. His prison monologue about “the trap” and his ponderings on racism afterwards feels too much like reciting the moral at the end of an educational film, though I like the rhythm of his speech.


Duo (1995)

Very short, the camera cruising around a painting (of another mixed-race couple) while Descas smokes outside the frame.


Towards Mathilde (2005)

This played at Big Ears, but we were too busy seeing live music. A rehearsal/process movie, prepping for a show that uses squirky noises and elastic materials, working out to PJ Harvey songs. One of my arms has been stiff lately and I’ve kept a small weight by the bed and the desk so I can grab it anytime and stretch out. I’m not usually inspired to do this during movies, but with this doc focusing so much on arm movements, I got a real workout. The day I watched this the new Denis hadn’t screened at Cannes yet, but the Cronenberg had, and I happened to read a Kristen Stewart interview right after watching this:

The most simple answer comes from a place of wisdom. You don’t have to complicate certain ideas. Like, “The body is reality.” At first, I was really trying to shove that concept in my head: What does it mean to me and the world and on every level? But he was like, “I shoot people.” That’s it! It’s a body. All of that is surprising. These are really lofty concepts, but also they’re not at all.

None of my notes are useful (see Goodbye Dragon Inn instead) because I assumed I was going to rewatch it with Katy, and maybe someday I will. The lyrics to “America” and “Gee Officer Krupke” are so great, the actors and camera work are swell, and it’s all a Lincoln Center origin story.

Labor of Love (2020 Sylvia Schedelbauer)

Visuals of pure pulsing hypnosis, a voiceover speaking of a cosmic pagoda, “portals within portals.” Highly colorful, ever-pulsing visions of an eye and then a brain, through water waves, into pure geometry, the voice falling away leaving only loud ambient music.

Inspired by a Paul Clipson film, in fact the only one of his I’ve seen. This must count as some kind of animation – not sure how it was done, but the official site says “16mm archival footage and HD Video” and recounts inspirations and sources and intent.


By Pain and Rhyme and Arabesques of Foraging (2013 David Gatten)

I’ve watched a few of his, and he does love filming old texts. I made the mistake of playing a song from Craig Taborn’s Avenging Angel that matched the movie’s length – it might’ve played better silent, since the cutting is so rhythmic, steadily editing between handwritten letters, a typed description (“an experimental history of colours”), and R/G/B colored objects, the camera often gliding slowly, as when it creeps all the way up a telescope. Abrupt switch to monochrome, and a new page on dreams (“folly and madnesse”), a tinted study of water on glass, still cutting back and forth but with more frequent cuts to black.


Matchstick (2011 Jeff Scher)

Wow, speaking of colours, Jeff’s painted animation of lines and dots, rapidly growing and shifting, soundtracked by a good song by an electro-psych-rock band.


Social Skills (2021 Henry Hills)

Hills is still making these. Filmed for a month, barely pre-pandemic at a Belgian dance workshop, then presumably edited for a year. The music is chopped clips and loops from old songs, plus cartoon sound effects and a Zeena Parkins piece. Large number of dancers in a room doing every sort of exercise and movement. Besides cutting rapidly (but not so rapidly that we don’t get a sense of each motion) he’s also using masks to highlight parts of the image. Wonder how long Henry had been in edit-room pandemic lockdown when he added the audio clip about “practicing the fantastic intelligence of touching people.”


Whistle Stop (2014 Martin Arnold)

No longer torturing poor Judy Garland and Gregory Peck, Arnold has moved to cartoons. Also demonstrating his erasure techniques from Deanimated, here he’s taken a manic Daffy Duck scene, isolated each of Daffy’s body parts in different layers, and as he scrubs the audio three steps forward, two steps back, the body parts play the scene out of sync with each other.


Happy Valley (2020 Simon Liu)

Like a John Wilson episode, a montage of unusual signs filmed off the street, but instead of voiceover commentary there’s layered decaying noise loops, recalling my Brave Trailer Project (which I’m guessing Liu hasn’t seen). Nice complex sound mix, but apparently the Negativ(e)land film lab in Brooklyn has no relation to the music group, too bad.

Looked up Liu after reading the Phil Coldiron story in Cinema Scope… he calls this and Signal 8 “Liu’s most lucid works to date, emotional reports from an imperiled homeland [Hong Kong] that continue his effort to give memorable and engaging form to personal experience while broadening the scope of what this experience entails.”

There were some beats I actually know in this, including some by Liquid Liquid, whose music was ancient when this takes place, the reissues still a couple years off. Two loser kids, a dark mophair with downturned mouth called Johnno, and fuckup Spanner with a drug-dealing bully brother, just wanna go to raves, at the time when Britain is trying to make dance music illegal. The notorious law-loophole soundtrack with no repetitive parts comes into play. Black and white except for the little red lights on stereos, and psych-freakout imagery when the kids take their pills.

There’s violence and breakups and hurt feelings and reconciliations – the whole coming-of-age teen period drama isn’t my thing, but I kept watching for the cool accents. The kids finally have their party, a moment of bliss, but the cops and the drug dealers are both descending, the plot needing to pummel the vibes, making it no better than the government order to punish ravers. It’s got nothing on the Michael Smiley episode of Spaced. Spanner ended up on Bridgerton and Johnno’s on some kinda submarine mystery.

Speaking of Dance: Meredith Monk (1996 Douglas Rosenberg)

An absolute monologue, MM’s head against black, talking about her personal history and what she’s aiming for in her work. For those of us who don’t know her work and watched this program to find out, it’s boring – but the clips of her actual dance and vocal performance work are neat, aand much more exciting than the couple of CDs I’ve heard.

Meredith invents dabbing:


Max Richter’s Sleep (2019 Natalie Johns)

Los Angeles performance of an all-night composition during which the audience is allowed/encouraged to sleep. Neither composer nor audience speaks very well about what this is or what it means, the filmmaker going for artsy widescreen shots for whatever purpose, making the Meredith Monk doc less pretty but more informative. I slept through the middle section myself, which only seems appropriate. The audience applause after a ten hour performance feels well-earned, and the last 15 minutes is music as underscore while everyone raves about how much they love Max. Apparently the shots with heavy film grain were from previous Sleeps and provided by Richter’s collaborator Yulia Mahr.

The director, in Mubi:

What happens when we begin to dream all together? When we are vulnerable, together? Even as a documentarian of real life, I’d never actually filmed anyone falling asleep in front of the lens before. So one of the biggest challenges of the film would be to make it without disrupting its sleeping audience, who are, in Mahr and Richter’s words, “an extension of the work.”

Searching for Josephine Decker I found an unusual anthology – five filmmakers adapting each other’s dreams. The introduction guy recommends watching in a trance state.

Black Soil, Green Grass (Daniel Patrick Carbone, dreamed by Wolkstein)

B/W forest fire tower, a couple wearing big headphones while she sings in (Italian?). They even bathe with ear protection, to not hear destructive sheep-counting announcements coming from the tower – shades of A Quiet Place or Pontypool. Our dude keeps getting distracted by insects, but finally destroys and replaces the man in the tower. Nice tape-dubbing montage in this.

First Day Out (Josephine Decker, dreamed by Baldwin)

A big jump to color, long-take camera roving through a house of dancers, with fun choreographed camera movements and match cuts. Conversation about court trial and jail. Long takes with each dancer in their own style reminds of the heights of Climax.

Beemus, It’ll End in Tears (Lauren Wolkstein, dreamed by Bodomo)

Coach Beemus seems sensitive in one-on-one but yells “enjoy the pain!” in groups. “This is not a drill” – he prevents them from leaving when the fire alarm goes off – “your bodies will protect you.” Maybe accurate to the feeling of the dream, but it’s no fun spending time with a shouting high school gym teacher.

Everybody Dies! (Nuotama Bodomo, dreamed by Decker)

A 4:3 VHS game show hosted by Ripa the Reaper, who seems to be fighting the producers/network. Her line “especially if you are Black” cuts to “Please Stand By” color bars. After killing a bunch of children, Ripa repeatedly fails to do herself in, doomed to star in the next episode.

Swallowed (Lily Baldwin, dreamed by Carbone)

A family goes shopping then back home. When baby feeds, mom has a disassociative mirror/light reverie, with horror-film skin effects. A kebab and corndog party devolves into mute psychosis, then the next day mom has an extreme milk-fueled kitchen freakout.

I already know Decker… Baldwin has danced with David Byrne… Bodomo is from Ghana, made Afronauts and wrote for Random Acts of Flyness… Carbone produced We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (that movie’s director produced this) and Chained for Life… Wolkstein made The Strange Ones (I’ve seen the short version), is working on a Dead Ringers remake (oh no).

I heard about a Jonathan Rosenbaum lecture series on 1950’s cinema, and thought it’d be fun to catch a couple nights, using it as an excuse to watch the titles on the schedule I hadn’t seen before (this and Bitter Victory). We watched the movies on our own, then met for the discussion. I sat in bed with a beer, imagining joining hundreds of others watching a J.Ro performance from a stage or lecture hall somewhere, but whoops, there were only ten of us for a cameras-on small-classroom situation.

It’s an anthology feature, the first and third segments (and I think the framing pieces on a cruise ship) by Reinhardt (a former Lubitsch protege). Part one is about Moira Shearer doing what Moira Shearer does best – but the wrinkle is she has a heart condition and can’t dance or she’ll die. But she says she can’t live without dancing – so, very Red Shoes, but also brings to mind Le Plaisir, an anthology film from two years earlier which also opened with a dancer collapsing. Shearer sneaks away from her keeper Agnes Moorehead and meets theater director James Mason, who is writing a whole new dance around her style, and this all ends in tragedy but it’s fun while it lasts.

Upsetting my auteurist preconceptions, the Minnelli segment in the middle was my least favorite – in part because it’s starring and narrated by an obnoxious little boy (oh no, this is 12-year-old Ricky Nelson, only 6 years before Rio Bravo). He detests his governess Leslie Caron (soon after debuting in An American in Paris) who reads mushy French poetry all day, so a witch (late-career Ethel Barrymore) agrees to make him grown-up for one night so he can experience independence. But when he’s grown-ass Farley Granger, he suddenly develops a taste for French poetry and for Leslie Caron.

Ricky and the witch:

Granger in the best scene, not with Caron but with… Zsa Zsa Gabor!

In the final story, disgraced acrobat Kirk Douglas rescues suicidal bridge jumper Pier Angeli, then since he needs a new trapeze accomplice and since she has nothing to lose, he trains her for his next big act. Most of the rest of the movie is these two being impossibly fit, doing legit aerial stunts. I don’t buy a single thing in this segment, but it has a good ending and it’s great fun. The Reinhardt segments really shine by showcasing talented people exercising their skills.

Aside from the movie – after all the books and articles I’ve read by Rosenbaum, finally I’m seeing him live, in an underlit room on a Zoom meeting, talking about orgasms. As to whether the film seemed hokey, “it’s the kind of hokiness I’d like to take a bath in.” Reinhardt and the actors were discussed, and the stories and why/whether they succeeded, and realism. The part that got me was his talk about existentialism, which apparently does not mean what I’d assumed it meant, the stories being all about the present tense. “The fact that you exist is more important than why you exist.”

A house party movie without a talky main plot about some kid trying to score. Finally someone made a film where the slow-motion camera weaving through a hot dance floor isn’t a stylistic highlight in the middle of a narrative, but the whole point of the thing. Wasted dudes take over the dance floor later in the night – nothing great lasts. They still make time for a villain, and two near-wordless rescues from danger, and finally someone does score but it doesn’t feel contrived.

People whose names I figured out include lead girl Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, her friend who ditches early Shaniqua Okwok (of new 80’s-set miniseries It’s a Sin), love interest Micheal Ward (The Old Guard) and roundfro villain Francis Lovehall.

The Amateurist (1998, Miranda July)

Miranda 1 “the professsional” is presenting her work on Miranda 2 “the amateur” to the viewer. I think 1 transmits numbers and patterns to 2, who paces a cell, reacting with hostility to these communications, while 1 watches lovingly. “A portrait of a woman on the brink of technology-induced madness”


Pioneer (2011, David Lowery)

Another single-room two-person short. Will Oldham is an ageless man telling his stepson a bedtime story about how the boy was kidnapped and sought for over a hundred years, only to mysteriously reappear.


Saute ma ville (1968, Chantal Akerman)

Whoa… teenage Chantal comes home, eats dinner, tosses the cat out the window, cleans the apartment, then kills herself on the stove. Jeanne Dielman in miniature – with less technical mastery, replaced with a playful sense of anarchy, extended to the dubbing (she sings in voiceover when not singing onscreen, and when lighting a match, the sound effect is a voice saying “scrrratch”). Watching the doc later, she calls it “the mirror image of Jeanne Dielman.”


Asparagus (1979, Suzan Pitt)

Up there with Lynch in terms of having the most warped ideas and having the technical chops to get them onscreen. This is the height of color and form/space/scale weirdness while still maintaining some vague narrative trajectory, accompanied by bent spooky music, then it hits new heights when our heroine leaves the house (putting on a mask first, much appreciated), sneaks into a theater and unleashes her phantasmagoric cel-animated phallic-symbol madness on an unsuspecting stop-motion audience. A masterpiece, filmed from 1974 to 1978.


Atlantiques (2009, Mati Diop)

Serigne boarded a pigogue heading to Spain and died on the way. However, Serigne sits around the fire with a couple of friends detailing the trip and his reasons for leaving. Obviously a ghostly precursor to the feature.

– bonus short –

Strasbourg 1518 (2020, Jonathan Glazer)

Exhausted repetitive dances in vacant domestic spaces.

Faster cutting between a larger set of dancers towards the end.

New music by Mica Levi is an irritating fast club beat with hints of bird calls