A Brief History of Princess X (2016, Gabriel Abrantes)

“Hey guys, my name is Gabriel Abrantes and I’m the director of this little six-minute film” – probably the first movie I’ve seen with director’s commentary as the main audio. It’s the story of Princess X, the sculpture and the subject, with playful voiceover: the characters’ mute dialogue in semi-sync with Abrantes, the director laughing at the actions and commenting on the filmmaking. “Here we changed his costume so it would seem like time was passing. He just ended up looking like Fidel Castro.”

M. Sicinski:

Princess X is undoubtedly a smart little film, and Abrantes wears his erudition lightly, possibly a little too much so. But in such a small space, he accomplishes several feats — things too modest to call “impressive,” per se, so let’s label them nifty. The film brings out the neurosis and below-the-belt impulses of modernism without turning it into a punchline, making “modern art” some sort of con. Abrantes follows tangents like a champ, following through when, for instance, our Spin the Phallus game lands us on Freud. But above all, he generates an uncanny sense of Victorian human puppetry from his performers, especially Joana Barrios as Marie Bonaparte. We find ourselves inside a weird, high-speed hybrid film, equal parts Guy Maddin and Raoul Ruiz. It’s something special.

Princess X (the marble version?) premiered in 1917 in the same show as Duchamp’s urinal, which grabbed all the headlines, postponing Brancusi’s own controversy until 1920, when the bronze version was censored in Paris. The marble is on display 200 yards from my office, and I visit it some afternoons.


Checked out Festivalscope for the first time with these next couple of shorts… great site, going to have to keep an eye on its new releases.


As Without So Within (2016, Manuela de Laborde)

I think it’s closeups on planetary stone objects. Sometimes we go too close, and the film is overrun with low-framerate grain, and sometimes we pull back with minor Lemony light changes. Soft static on the soundtrack, annoying. Some double exposures toward the middle. I liked the lighting, at least.

Played ND/NF 2017 and Toronto before that. Knew I’d heard about this somewhere – turns out it got six whole pages in Cinema Scope.

De Laborde:

Although I didn’t want to make a film that’s about outer space per se, I do like the metaphor, and also the relation that it suggests between cinema and the theatre. We go into this neutral non-space and we have to make sense of these self-contained universes, with their own balance and rules and life of their own, which works according to a language or order that was born from these materials, and yet they are also just these floating bodies in the middle of a dark, empty room.


Spiral Jetty (2017, Ricky D’Ambrose)

Male narrator gets job working for the daughter of recently deceased, celebrated psychologist Kurt Blumenthal, documenting his papers and tapes. Narrator is the last person to get to see the full collection before the daughter and her conductor husband (played by n+1’s film critic) suppress and destroy certain things (such as “the papers from the maoists”) before it’s all sold to a university. The short premiered just a week before I watched it online, does some things I like with editing and sound, and has an interesting focus on objects (news articles, handwritten notes, photographs). Dan Sallitt gets thanked in this film and Ben Rivers in the previous one, and both of these connections make sense to me.

In a Brooklyn Magazine interview, D’Ambrose reveals that his family’s own home movies substituted for Blumenthal’s. He’s working on a feature called Notes on an Appearance. “The shorts exist because the feature existed before them: each short was an attempt to solve certain aesthetic and conceptual problems that I’ve been thinking about ever since I started writing An Appearance.”


Arm, Flexion, Extension (2011, Bea Haut)

A white wall is painted black from a few tripod setups, while light shapes flicker across the “haphazardly hand processed 16mm film” over the sound of projector noise. On International Women’s Day, Michael Sicinski posted links to seventy female filmmakers’ Vimeo pages and I picked this one at random… the idea was to watch a bunch more, but I haven’t gotten to that yet, just cataloguing them for later.


Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises (1999, David Gatten)

Bible pages and words and letters flash and scroll past, with various levels of enlargement and exposure and opacity and speed, flickering by in different ways, maybe according to the Moxon quote before each section. I was annoyed when I realized it would be all silent text on screen, then I improved things by playing the Monotonprodukt album, against the Wishes and Intentions of the filmmaker. He probably also didn’t intend for me to watch a VHS transfer on an HDTV, or to pause the movie halfway through because my mom called, but that’s life in this 21st Century.

Sicinski in Cinema Scope:

Portions of the Biblical texts are affixed to the film, lifted from their source with cellophane tape after Gatten has boiled the books. We see the ink, hanging together in atomic word-forms like nervous constellations, mottled and wavering in thickness. The Word, indeed, is made flesh.


Secret History of the Dividing Line (2002, David Gatten)

The first five minutes were fun, flipping through a timeline of events, pausing on the biographical details of William Byrd and his expedition to determine the border between Virginia and North Carolina (very Lost City of Z), and this time I knew to start the Monotonprodukt album right away. But then a scroll of the two versions of the Dividing Line publication take over the screen, with a vertical-mask Dividing Line switching between them… this part was mostly unreadable in my SD copy. The text ends and the screen flickers and lights up with horizontal noise patterns, often weirdly in sync with my music.

If I’m reading a Wexner Center program correctly, this is part one and Moxon’s is part three of the same project (“the Byrd films”). Michael Sicinski’s article on Gatten in Cinema Scope 49 is the best, and makes me want to seek out more by Gatten, even though I’ve only found these subpar video copies so far.


A Train Arrives at the Station (2016, Thom Andersen)

Clips from train scenes in movies, using their own sound, including some of my favorite movies (Shanghai Express, Dead Man) and memorable scenes (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). Feels like this was meant to go with a speech or discussion of some sort, because otherwise I don’t see the point of it… I mean, I like trains in film as much as the next guy, so it’s enjoyable at least.

News From Home, perhaps? No source credits, so I can’t be sure.


From The Drain (1967, David Cronenberg)

A comedy sketch in a bathtub, scored with Renaissance acoustic guitar, Hat Guy doing his exasperated theater-guy voice while Glasses Guy mutely grins at him. References to “the war” and a veteran’s center, where the two either work or are patients, then Glasses guy warns of murderous tendrils coming from the drain, and is eventually strangled by them (or a stop-motion phone cord). It’s silly, and surprisingly not the only Cronenberg movie to be shot entirely in a bathroom, but he does an effectively strange thing, swapping positions of the two guys in the tub but acting like it’s normal continuity cutting.

I’ve been watching more shorts lately and posting then in thematic batches by director (Len Lye, Emile Cohl) and collection (Disney, Oscar-nominated) and time period (The Movies Begin, 1920’s & 1930’s). Here are some miscellaneous shorts that didn’t get their own thematic post.


False Aging (2008 Lewis Klahr)

Cut-out animation with a recurring yellow bird and a comic-book Adam & Eve. Looks charmingly handmade. Generally slow and dreamy but sometimes the objects flicker maniacally.

I think it’s about drugs. Soundtrack: clips from Valley of the Dolls, a Jefferson Airplane song, and John Cale reading Andy Warhol’s journals.

Klahr was ranked a top-five experimental filmmaker of the 2000’s by Film Comment, and is on the cover of this month’s Cinema Scope. “Klahr’s films construct archetypal narratives and mood trances out of the middle-class utopia we promised ourselves and never got” – M. Atkinson.


Lend/Flight (1973, Rein Raamat)

An ode to flight. Tiny red person rides some dandelion floof through the clouds, performs acrobatics up there, then comes plummetting down upon reaching the atmosphere’s edge. A series of new ideas for flying machines based on existing objects are proposed, scored by a groovy rock song, until finally a plane (and a rocket) is built, based instead on natural flying creatures. I love the color scheme and the multi-layered sky.

Raamat is known as the father of Estonian animation, founded his own animation studio in 1971. Writer Paul-Eerik Rummo was a poet who later became Minister of Culture. Music composer Rein Rannap is best known for judging Estonian Idol.


The Apple (1969, Kurt Weiler)

Whoa, this is amazing. Lively puppet stop-motion telling an anti-greed/ignorance parable – art vs. science vs. the state vs. religion – with rhyming (in German) narration. Kinda hard to explain, but involves rival scientists competing for attentions of the ruler, and trying not to get thrown in jail or burned at the stake for their ideas.

Oops:

One guy invents the drug “hormosexulin” which increases egg production from friendly bulbil creatures, and the ruler goes nuts with it, injects his henchmen, who also start laying eggs. Sometimes reminds me of Jirí Trnka’s The Hand, like when a traumatic scaffold collapse provokes genuinely disturbing cries of pain.

Placid Bulbil interrupts scientist face-off:


Riley’s First Date (2015, Josh Cooley)

Inside Out spinoff short, in which snotnosed boy (with Flea inside his head) comes to pick up Riley, sitting with her increasingly angry father while she gets ready. Mainly focused on the parents’ emotions, which according to one of the Inside Out reviews I read was the feature’s weak point, throwing out all the movie’s Riley-emotion lessons for easy retro-sitcom gender jokes. And there’s more of that here, but it’s still fun. Cooley has been in Pixar credits since The Incredibles, and taking over a spinoff short means he’s probably being groomed to codirect an upcoming feature sequel… yep, there’s his name on Toy Story 4.


Porter Springs 3 (1977, Henry Hills)

Distant trees swaying in the breeze for a minute… then what looks like a circular pan from the center of a lake sped up a hundred times. Then the trees, calmer, then the lake, crazier. If I’d known it was gonna be silent I’d have picked my own John Zorn track.


Gotham (1990, Henry Hills)

Shots of modern NYC mixed with clips from cop shows and set to a cartoony jazz track, awesome.


Goa Lawah (1992, Henry Hills)

Bats! A cave full of squeaking bats! They squabble when they get too close together while sleeping – just like our birds, who somehow didn’t respond to me playing four minutes of bat noises.


In an earlier post I reductively described actionism and watched Kurt Kren’s Leda and the Swan and Silver Action Brus. Checking out a few more from the Action Films disc.

6/64 Mama und Papa (Kurt Kren)

Hurling food and paint and dirt all over a naked woman, then Kren edits it all to pieces with no sound. He’s doing something wrong, because every time there’s an edit (so, 1-10 times per second) we see tape marks at the bottom of frame.


9/64 O Tannenbaum (Kurt Kren)

Naked man under a Christmas tree, naked woman in a shower, covered in food and paint and dirt. I’m sensing a pattern here. “Action” is by Otto Mühl in both films, and both feature men humping women with a balloon full of feathers between them.


16/67 20. September (Kurt Kren)

Remember Brus? Now he’s pissing and shitting in close-up, and now I realize why I didn’t watch the rest of this DVD last time I started it. Jesus, Kren. No screenshot for this one.


Hardwood Process (1996, David Gatten)

Flickering textures, crossfaded. Some Brakhagey slow/fast pattern-shifting. Some photographed action, slowed or sped, some filmstrip hacking. Texture fetish. Each section its own rhythm and style, separated with title cards:
“Day 203 – several hours in the library reading the history of”
“Day 296 – coming to terms with a new vocabulary, slowly”