Made and released before My Night at Maud’s, but it’s part four of the Moral Tales. I made a moral decision to watch the films according to their numbering in the DVD box set, and not in the order they were made.

It’d be almost Antonioni-esque without the voiceover. Hardly anything actually happens, but Adrien always keeps us filled in on what he’s thinking. I considered disliking the movie for a while, a movie about idle rich young artists having self-conscious affairs, but it turns out Adrien and Haydée aren’t rich (only idle and leeching off their rich friend) and never manage to have an affair. I ended up liking it.

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Buff 30ish Adrien comes to the beach to take his “first vacation in ten years” prior to an art opening, hopes to sit around with buddy Daniel and do absolutely nothing, not even think (they read so they don’t have to think). 21-yr-old Haydée is also at the house sleeping with a different guy every night. We don’t get much insight into Daniel – he’s the third wheel here – but Adrien and Haydée are both trying to find themselves, define their own moral codes, playing off each other and never quite getting together. At the end, Adrien pulls a standard Moral Tales move. Chances are good that he’s got Haydée for the night, but he leaves her in the middle of the road, deciding that sleeping with her would be against his character, and books a flight for London to see the girl he’s with (briefly) at the start of the film.

Leisurely-paced movie, but never slow or dull. Differently structured than the other films, with a few-minute prologue for each character before the main section of the movie begins. Rohmer and his cameraman would be happy to just stare at Haydée all day – her entire prologue is shots of her barely-clad body. Apparently that’s what defines her character.

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Have I mentioned that it is in color? Guess that’s another good reason to watch it fourth instead of third. Nice, rich color, too. Much of the look is in the bleached grays and browns and blues of the beach and the plain interior of their villa, so what colors we get in clothing and city life and an antique vase all stand out. Adrien and Daniel wear some hilarious clothes throughout (see above). Must be a 60’s artist thing.

Adrien was Patrick Bauchau, had a smallish part in Suzanne’s Career, later in American stuff like The Rapture and Panic Room. Haydée was Haydée Politoff, immediately turned to Spanish and Italian horror movies, had a small part in Love in the Afternoon, and mostly quit acting after that. Daniel was Daniel Pommereulle, appeared in Godard’s Weekend the same year, then two by Philippe Garrel.

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from V. Canby’s NYT review:

Much of the comedy in La Collectionneuse, as in Rohmer’s later films, is provided by the otherwise aware hero’s elegant self-deceptions about his own motives, followed by his dimly seen perceptions of what could be another truth. In this context, it is a momentous event (and, comparatively speaking, momentously funny) when Adrien begins to have doubts about the affair of Haydée and Daniel. “I couldn’t be sure,” he tells himself with complete seriousness, “that their complicity was entirely for my benefit.”

There is a certain chilliness and lack of spontaneity to all of the performances, especially Bauchau’s, which, I suspect, has as much to do with the tiny scope of the film as to the actor’s talents. My Night at Maud’s and Claire’s Knee suggest living worlds outside the films’ rarefied milieus, whereas La Collectionneuse exists in splendid, arrogant isolation. Adrien is tiresome. Daniel is enigmatic, and Haydée is sweet, and great to look at, but, after a while, sadly commonplace.

A note of interest to local film buffs: the Seymour Hertzberg who is listed in the credits (he plays Sam, the American art collector whom Adrien solicits), is the nom d’écran of Eugene Archer, a former New York Times film reviewer who, I’m told, has absolutely no intention of acting again. He is an excellent reviewer.

“Seymour Hertzberg”:
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From P. Lopate’s Criterion essay:

Haydée is not the most articulate young woman, though she says just enough to cast doubt on the men’s interpretations. There will be other Rohmer films that take us deep into the psyches of women; this one does not, but it gives us a very daring, precise portrait of the misogynistic, entitled, self-loathing psyches of men. And unlike, say, most Woody Allen movies, it does not let the rationalizing male character off the hook. Rohmer explicitly warned us, in an interview: “You should never think of me as an apologist for my male character, even (or especially) when he is being his own apologist. On the contrary, the men in my films are not meant to be particularly sympathetic characters.”

From an appreciation in The Guardian:

Drama, for Rohmer, is made up of a number of frequently small incidents which culminate in an inevitable denouement. There are many kinds of film-making but Rohmer’s would be very difficult to beat within the confines of his chosen metier.

A Modern Coed, 1966

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“People used to say girls went to college only to land a husband. Though today’s coed might find a husband, she isn’t necessarily looking.”

Just a short doc to tell the world that there are female college students, and some of them even study science. Its main reason to exist today is to document mid-60’s Paris hairstyles. Narrated by Vidal from Maud’s.

Foreground: our coed. Background: a cat with a hat in a box.
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Rohmer on La Collectionneuse in 1977:
“It’s the only film I made that followed the era’s fashion. Audiences loved the new fashions, the long hair, the blue jeans. Then there was Haydée, whom audiences adored. Marcel Carné signed her for his next film right after that.”

He speaks proudly of a conversation scene in the 1976’s The Marquise of O, calling it “tiresome and static” but saying nobody else would have dared film it as written.

“This is a problem that concerns me. In the past, I was drawn by the way people spoke. I’m deeply interested in language. Currently, I find a kind of sloppiness has crept into the French language and I don’t like it very much. I like colloquial language, but today, especially as it’s used in intellectual circles, I find little of interest in it. … That said, I also believe characters in film should speak naturally. I’m getting around this currently by shooting films set in the past. When I return to contemporary films, I don’t know what my position will be. Perhaps by then language will have evolved further. Today’s spoken language is so extremely impoverished that it doesn’t inspire me. You find the same dialogue in every film now.”

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One of those documentaries that I don’t think I should be celebrating because it seems deceptive, hiding facts in order to heighten the drama… but on the other hand – a classic video game competition with scores pursued over a period of years and the players not even competing at the same time – this is drama that needs heightening. What they’ve done is made an awesome, exciting movie with equal parts pathos and comedy, and a portrait of two really interesting guys, hot-sauce mogul Billy Mitchell and science teacher Steve Wiebe (and one really awful guy who the camera mostly avoids). A simple, boring premise, but somehow pulled off sooo entertainingly. I wanted to clap and cheer but I was alone in my room and Katy would think I was weird.

“Human beings will always betray you. You can only trust the numbers.”

Well-chosen images (sometimes picked for more comic effect than illustration) keep the thing entertaining while it lectures us. Good use of stock footage and music (incl. Yo La Tengo’s “return to hot chicken” and “nowhere near”).

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PART 1

Post-Depression-and-WWII expansion of American gov’t in order to “control the economy and protect society from the dangerous self-interest at the heart of capitalism.”

Friedrich Von Hayek predicts tyranical outcome from gov’t planning and control of society, says everyone pursuing their own individual self-interest should lead to social order.

Intro of game theory and cold war strategy.

John Nash enhances Hayek’s theory, shows that “rational pursuit of self-interest” leads to a happy equilibrium, but after Nash was locked away to treat his schizophrenia, his coworkers tried to adapt his theories. Nash one of the few theorists and politicians who comes off looking kinda good at the end, saying that he was wrong and that his theories were mis-used.

RD Laing investigates schizophrenia, discovers a treatment (getting affected people the hell away from their horrible families) and a related scary fact, that sane people can be sent to an asylum and believed to be mad. Develops system to quantify personality disorders and remove subjectivity from diagnosis.

James Buchanan argues that politicians’ working for what they call “the public interest” is deceptive, greatly influences Margaret Thatcher. Sets up number-based productivity targets for health-care employees to “free” them based on Nash’s simplified vision of purely selfish individuals.

PART 2

John Major sets out to harness the individualism of public servants through liberating paradigm of the free market via performance targets.

Greenspan and Clinton’s economic advisor tell Clinton that his programs won’t work, needs to move to market-driven society and government.

“Freedom was redefined to mean nothing more than the ability of individuals to get whatever they wanted.”

When he talks about misinterpretations leading to this market-driven society, John Carpenter’s sinister “Halloween” theme kicks in… nice.

An anthropologist actually named Napoleon did a bizarre observational experiment which “proved” that game theory can be applied to the genetic level, that humans, like other animals, are self-interested machines.

“With the rise of this machine model of human beings a new idea of how to change society began to emerge, not through politics any longer but by adjusting how well the individual machines function” and into “a new form of order and control” in the form of imagined new mental disorders and treatments such as prozac. And the drugs turned them into simpler beings, closer to the machine model.

Meanwhile, performance targets weren’t working, corporate crime was huge, and class division was greatly increasing.

PART 3

Overview of how these simplified machine models of human behavior and other stupid theories led to increasingly bad policy decisions in England and the US, into an intro to Isaiah Berlin. I thought I kept notes during this one, even remember spelling out “Isaiah Berlin” but I can’t find them. So here’s wikipedia:

“Berlin is best known for his essay Two Concepts of Liberty, delivered in 1958 … at Oxford. He defined negative liberty as the absence of constraints on, or interference with, agents’ possible action. Greater “negative freedom” meant fewer restrictions on possible action. Berlin associated positive liberty with the idea of self-mastery, or the capacity to determine oneself, to be in control of one’s destiny. While Berlin granted that both concepts of liberty represent valid human ideals, as a matter of history the positive concept of liberty has proven particularly susceptible to political abuse.”

Tony Blair tried at least, sending Berlin a letter asking for advice, but Berlin was on his death bed and never responded. Bunch of sadness ensues, and the movie’s ray of hope for humanity’s future only appears in the final sentences. I will have to watch this part again.

Overall a helluva terrific movie. I want to see it again and I want everyone everywhere to see it also. Katy even almost watched it with me.

Addendum JAN 2011:
Watched again with Katy and I was thrilled that she loved it also. We talked about how damned clever, well-researched and respectful of its audience it seems to be, and how all other documentaries seem lessened in its wake.

An awesome little movie that my memory is already threatening to lose since I watched it right in between two Japanese mind-fucks, Glory to the Filmmaker and Sukiyaki Western Django. This is an English-language documentary by a French filmmaker about two British couples who raised each other’s children after a mix-up at the hospital. One mother knew it, or at least strongly suspected, and constantly fussed over what should be done, tried desperately to stay in contact with the other family, wrote letters to George Bernard Shaw, and so on. Other mother was unconvinced that there was a problem and just carried on. Unexpected end result is that one of the girls grew up twice loved as the other.

Excellent, interesting movie… well-considered storytelling with tons of cool framing tricks and window/mirror effects. All of the people involved gamely play themselves, relaying events and participating in recreations. Listening to them talk, you wouldn’t think these to be the kind of people to go along with a comic sort of retelling of their painful pasts for a foreign camera crew, but thankfully they did. A quirky sort of movie, but in a good way. Each member of the camera crew was shown during the closing credits – I think that’s a first for me.

It’s the late 60’s, early 70’s, and Chris Marker has got himself a Great Cause. Inspired by Aleksandr Medvedkin (Alexandre Medvedkine) and by political and social unrest in France and elsewhere, Marker and his friends have decided to read lots of Lenin, to try to make films that change the world, and ultimately to try putting film production into the hands of the people, the workers.

Marker hadn’t been greatly involved with the French New Wave movement, but he was present at the end of it, contributing to the 1967 omnibus film Far From Vietnam, wherein Marker, Resnais, Godard, Ivens, Lelouch, Varda and Klein voiced their support for the communist north vietnamese, while Rohmer, Rivette, Truffaut and Demy stayed out of it, pursuing their own romantic ideals.

Marker, Godard and others started making purely political works and stopped putting their names on their films, using collective names. I can’t find copies of some of these films (Cinetracts, Battle of the Ten Million) and can’t find English subtitles for most others (Far From Vietnam, Sixth Face of the Pentagon, À bientôt j’espère, Les Mots ont un sens), so it’s pretty much just these two, The Train Rolls On and Embassy. I’m filling out the rest of the timeline by quoting heavily from Catherine Lupton‘s amazing book on Marker.

1967-1977
Marker goes “beyond the privileged status of the auteur-director into the humbler and less visible functions of producer, fund raiser, editor, facilitator and general fixer, ensuring the exposure through [production company] SLON of other people’s work while continuing to make his own (unsigned) films.”

FAR FROM VIETNAM, 1967
“Under the auspices of SLON (which also happens to be the Russian word for elephant), Marker instigated, edited and wrote the commentary for Far From Vietnam, a collective portmanteau film made to protest against American military interventionism in Vietnam.”

A BIENTOT, J’ESPERE, 1968
In support of striking workers in southeast France, they started on “a film about the strikes, entitled A Bientot, j’espere (‘Hope To See You Soon’).” Workers complained that the film was pessimistic, that they came off as victims. “Marker’s response to these criticisms was that he and Marret would always be outsides to the workers’ lives, and that the logical step forward was for them to begin making their own films.” And so the Medvedkin group was born.

CINETRACTS, 1968
After the May ’68 business, “The Estates General of the Cinema sponsored a series of collective short documentaries recording the May events from the perspective of students and striking workers. Following an idea suggested by Chris Marker it also produced the Cinetracts. These were a series of anonymous, combative and often strikingly eloquent visual pamphlets, filmed on silent black and white 16mm-negative stock using easily assembled materials – still photographs, collages and texts – in order to respond quickly to unfolding events. Marker, Godard, Resnais, Jean-Pierre Gorin (who formed the Dziga Vertov Group with Godard), Philippe Garrel and Jackie Raynal were among the better-known contributors to the series alongside young militants with no prior experience of film.”

LES MOTS ONT UN SENS, 1970
“Number 5 in the [SLON counter-information newsreels] series, On vous parle de Paris: Maspero, les mots ont un sens (‘Maspero, Words Have Meaning’), is an affectionate portrait of the left-wing publisher and bookshop owner Francois Maspero, who was a contributor to Far From Vietnam and would later publish the commentary to Le Fond de l’air est rouge. Maspero is one of the most satisfying and likeable of Marker’s films from this period, achieving an exemplary balance of quirky human warmth with a clear and inventive form of political argument.”

1970-71
Marker worked as a still photographer on Costa-Gavras’s film The Confession, then made a film about the shoot called Jour de Tournage, and a film on the controversy surrounding The Confession, number 6 in the newsreel series, Le Deuxieme proces d’Artur London.

BATTLE OF THE TEN MILLION, 1970
“Both [Les mots & Artur London] consider the question of how committed socialists and revolutionaries can acknowledge past mistakes, undergo productive self-criticism and still maintain their basic political beliefs, in a climate where their political opponents on the right take such criticism as proof of the total failure of communism. … This dilemma comes sharply to the fore in The Battle of the Ten Million, a clear-eyed account of the failure of Fidel Castro’s ambitious project for Cuba to achieve a 10-million-ton sugar-cane harvest in 1969-70.”

LE TRAIN EN MARCHE, 1971
“The French version of Happiness was accompanied in cinemas by Le Train en marche, an introduction to Medvedkin, Happiness and the film-trains based around an animated interview with Medvedkin filmed in a train depot in the Paris suburd of Noisy-le-Sec. Its core motifs are the eye, the hand and the train.”

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A 10-min intro about trains in the 1920’s traversing russia/asia acting as bookmobiles, then a change of narrator voice when Medvedkin is introduced, and his story takes us away. His crew watched and filmed the techniques of successful and unsuccessful farmers and showed the films to each other to help increase production, then moved on to steel plants.

Medvedkin: “We realized that the cinema could be not just a means of entertainment, a way of arousing aesthetic emotions, but also a great and forceful weapon capable of reconstructing factories, and not just factories but the world, making it a better place. Such a cinema in the hands of the people was a powerful weapon.”

In the last bit, he talks about his motivation for filming Happiness, which makes sense now that i know Le Train en marche was screened as an introduction to that film.

A pretty straightforward documentary with english voiceover rather than subtitles on my copy, using archive footage (but none from the actual cine-trains, which had all been lost). No cats or owls or tricks, though halfway through the movie, Marker reveals the camera crew filming Medvedkin.

From the sound of it, Marker’s Medvedkin Group has at least partially succeeded. In CM’s own words: “I think that it’s this fabled and long forgotten bit of history… that underlies a large part of my work – in the end, perhaps, the only coherent part. To try to give the power of speech to people who don’t have it, and, when it’s possible, to help them find their own means of expression. The workers I filmed in 1967 in Rhodesia, just like the Kosovars I filmed in 2000, had never been heard on television: everyone was speaking on their behalf, but once you no longer saw them on the road, bloody and sobbing, people lost interest in them. To my great surprise, I once found myself explaining the editing of Battleship Potemkin to a group of aspiring filmmakers in Guinea-Bissau, using an old print on rusty reels; now those filmmakers are having their films selected for competition in Venice.”

VIVA LA BALEINE, 1972
“Ecological politics are not usually mentioned as being among Chris Marker’s preoccupations, but they are at the heart of a short film he co-directed with Mario Ruspoli in 1972, Viva la baleine / Long Live The Whale… a sharply politicized re-take on Ruspoli’s anthropological study, which now sets the archaic practices of the Azores whaling communities in the context of a pointed condemnation of industrialized whaling.”

CHILE & PATRICIO GUZMAN, 1973-75
Marker traveled to Chile to make a film about the new socialist government under Salvador Allende but “discovered that the Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman and his colleagues already had the job in hand” so CM instead helped bring their films to France and contributed financial assistance for Guzman’s later three-part The Battle of Chile, 1975, after the government’s 1973 takeover by a military dictatorship.

EMBASSY, 1973
In late ’73, “Marker transposed recent events in Chile into a remarkable fictional document, L’Ambassade (Embassy). As a fictional commentary on the contemporary political world, Embassy invites comparison with La Jetee. Despite their evident differences, the films share a measured, inexorable narration, and a catastrophic transformation of Paris that leaves a small group of survivors trapped.

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“Wednesday, 2 days after the coup”

Lupton’s notes: “An unexpected response to Pinochet’s 1973 coup d’etat in Chile. A Super-8 film apparently found in an embassy -as it’s written in the original title-, where political activists had taken refuge after a military coup d’état. But the events -and their setting- are not what they first appear to be.”

8mm film with no direct sound. Also English voiceover rather than subs on this one, a bored-sounding reporter voice.

“You are all motherfuckers as dumb as corpses quarrelling in the grave. The only lesson to draw is that all political directions have gone bankrupt.”

I admit I snickered at the ending. Shades of Cradle Will Rock as the “truth” behind the film is revealed: “From a window of the embassy I took my last shot, the van that was leading them into exile from that city we had known when she was free: Paris.”

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE SINGER, 1974
La Solitude du chanteur de fond fused personal friendship and the pressing political concern of the moment by filming the rehearsals and final performance of [Yves] Montand’s one-man benefit concert for Chilean refugees, held at the Paris Olympia on 12 February 1974 and his first stage appearance for six years. … [Loneliness] was released in December 1974 with the dormant If I Had Four Camels [completed in ’66], but it was the Montand film that attracted critical accolades, as a fond and revealing homage to one of France’s best-loved film actors and popular entertainers. … Loneliness is a minor masterpiece of observational documentary…”

SPIRAL, 1975
Marker helped initiate and wrote the commentary for the film Spiral, helmed by a French sociologist expelled from Chile, Armand Mattelart, and editors Jacqueline Meppiel and Valerie Mattelart. “The title of the film, Spiral, derived from its proposed spiral structure of seven successive phases of right-wing reaction leading up to the coup of 1973, many of which also delved back in history to consider, for example, the past roles of the military and the United States in Chilean affairs.” The film was largely edited from archive footage, then matched to a 3-hour Marker-written commentary and edited to 155 minutes for final release. “Although Marker was not involved at every point of the film’s production, Spiral nonetheless stands as an instructive precursor to Le Fond de l’air est rouge. It develops the same intricate marshalling of archive resources as Marker’s later film, representing the arraignment of conflicting social forces at a given moment in history by playing off film extracts informed by different political perspectives against each other.”

Hope I’m able to see more of the above films sometime. Learning French would help. Meanwhile I’m either tackling Grin Without a Cat next, or taking a Patricio Guzman or Alexander Medvedkin sidetrack before heading boldly forth into the 1980’s.

An extremely lame waste of time. Uninteresting doc about uninteresting man who claims to be a zen chef then undermines both parts of that description. I was willing to bet that the director was one of his middle-aged female students so enamored with his personality that she simply had to make this movie to show the rest of the world how fascinating he is… but she turns out to be a professional filmmaker with more than 25 works to her name, most of them fictional. Oops. As for our chef, I think he wants to look cool on camera, but he overdoes the dorky humble shtick and ends up looking like a mixed-up hippie who has gotten where he is by faking it. Either way, Hal Holbrook and Catherine Keener were much more convincing and entertaining as mixed-up hippies in “Into The Wild”.

Comedians: Patton Oswalt (with his star wars bit), Sarah Silverman (scripted as always), Blaine Capatch (then wastes half his running time on lame stephen hawking jokes), David Cross (dog jokes?), Jasper Redd, Eugene Mirman (keeps the props and charts to a minimum), Maria Bamford (voices), Brian Posehn.

“Comedy”: Dana Gould (extended blowjob joke not as good as louis ck), Zach G (had nothing to say), Steve Agee (the gay neighbor who is not posehn in sarah silverman’s show), Jon Benjamin (as usual with prepped material that overstays its welcome), Andy Kindler, Morgan Murphy, “Seth” G.

Movie is shot on batman-bad-guy angle and edited in a way that does not pretend it was a seamless show, which is kinda refreshing for being more truthful than usual, but kinda sad because we get the full-length intros of each comic but abbreviated actual comedy.

“Innocence will overcome destruction.”

More poetry (written and filmed) on death and war. Narration is about the town of Guernica destroyed by German (film says Nazi?) bombings in ’37 during the Spanish Civil War, while the visuals are of Picasso paintings, then a sculpture at the end. Mournful in tone, dark, with crossfades between paintings and segments, a few lighting and editing tricks to tell the story. Most of the screen time is not the Guernica painting – that’s just one of the ones they use. The writing by Paul Éluard is good but didn’t strike me as great as the Night and Fog narration. I enjoyed the score by Guy Bernard (Statues Also Die). The visuals are more of a Picasso showcase than a filmmaker showoff, though it’s all cut together very effectively.

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Co-directed by Robert Hessens, Resnais’s Oscar-winning accomplice on the Van Gogh short.

Paul Éluard was a poet who associated with Dali, appeared in L’Age d’or, was quoted in Alphaville, and died shortly after this film was released. Same photographer as on Gauguin and Van Gogh. Resnais credited as editing himself. Narration by the princess from Cocteau’s Orpheus.

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Hellraiser Prophecy
Holy crap this was bad. I’ve avoided fan films for this long, so why did I watch this one? Oh yeah – I’ll watch anything in the Hellraiser series. I’m sure this guy was proud of his fan script, trying to tie the Leviathan thing from Hellraiser 2 together with the lead character who I don’t remember from Hellraiser 4 and introducing Lucifer himself into the Hellraiser world for a collision of different hells. That’s all fine and good – the mistake was to actually shoot the thing, with dismal actors who stumble over their lines and no sense of skill or vision behind the camera, just some series-aping tribute bits with the chains and some good makeup and costumes on the cenobites. Guess I’m not sorry I watched it (only 20 minutes long) but I won’t be checking out the hour of DVD bonus features.

Flowers and Trees
First technicolor cartoon AND first oscar-winner for best animated short (probably no coincidence) is a disney “silly symphonies” musical. Two trees (a nasty gnarled one and a strong young one) compete for a beautiful girl tree, and there’s a forest fire and singing and stuff. Like a popeye episode, but with plants.

Super Mario Movie
Clever: guy hacks a super mario bros. cartridge and turns it into a “movie” installation piece. It’s over-long at 15 minutes, but cute. The “plot” is that Mario is trapped inside an old game cart in a closet somewhere while the code is starting to break down. Like Rejected, but in 8-bit.

Hyas and Stenorhynchus & Love Life of the Octopus by Jean Painlevé
These are a lot cooler looking than I thought they’d be. The Yo La Tengo music works fine – I was going to try synching up the live versions, but I don’t suppose exact timing matters much in this case. Katy is grossed out by the idea of octopus sex.