Forgotten Silver (1995, Peter Jackson)

I didn’t let Katy see the box, and didn’t tell her it was fake, to see how long it took her to figure it out. But she didn’t ever, so I told her over the end credits. She is still mad.

Codirected with Costa Botes, who I think made the Lord of the Rings making-of docs. I’d forgotten all about “Stan the Man,” the unfunny comic who attacks people then runs away, with Colin filming on hidden cameras.

Auteur Shorts watched mid-2011

Plastic Bag (2009, Ramin Bahrani)

An American Beauty plastic bag, dancing with me for twenty minutes. Only this bag’s journey is very well filmed and the bag has the voice of Werner Herzog – two innovations that would have greatly helped the last plastic bag movie I saw, The Green Bag. A blatant environmentalism screed, but I really enjoyed it. I thought it’d have the same ending as Children of Men, but it had the same ending as AI: Artificial Intelligence instead.

The Dirk Diggler Story (1988, PT Anderson)

An actual fake doc, but not a polished one. I thought it was rigged to look amateurish until I read online that it was actually edited on two VCRs by young Anderson. Narrated by PT’s father Ernie Anderson, a big-time TV announcer. It’s nice that he was willing to participate in his 18-year-old son’s movie about pornography, homosexuality and drug addiction. The most fun part of the movie is hearing this straightlaced announcer pronounce titles like “White Sandy Bitches” and “Bone To Be Wild”.

Dirk is explicitly bisexual in this one, but otherwise it hits some familiar plot points from Boogie Nights: Dirk’s drug addiction, his ill-advised recording career, his buddy Reed. There’s less nudity in the short, and it ends with an on-set fatal overdose for Dirk. My favorite bit that didn’t make the feature was a group prayer for God to protect us against premature ejaculation.

Horner (Burt’s character) is played by The Colonel in Boogie Nights, the only actor who returned. Well, Michael “Diggler” Stein had a cameo as “stereo customer”. He turned writer/director after that – his last film starred Andy Dick and Coolio.

Las Hurdes/Land Without Bread (1933, Luis Buñuel)

A half-hour documentary that has been discussed to death – how much of it is real? Can it be considered surrealist? Etc. Taken at face value as a portrait of an extremely poor mountain community, it’s well made, interesting, and too vibrant (and even humorous) to blend in with your average educational short. I still can’t believe they had a donkey killed by bees, and shot a mountain goat then hurled its body off a cliff, all to make points about the difficulty of life in this place. At least they didn’t kill any people on camera, although the narrator may have exaggerated (or undersold, who knows?) their conditions. Was released in ’33, had a French voiceover added in ’35 then a newsreel-toned English voiceover in ’37 – I saw the French version. I assume the bombastic music was on all three versions.

Senses of Cinema calls it “a documentary that posits the impossibility of the documentary, placing the viewer in the uneasy situation of complicity with a cruel camera probing the miseries of the urdanos for our benefit.”

The Old Lady and the Pigeons (1998, Sylvain Chomet)

This 20-minute movie gives me inexpressible joy. It’s a good antidote to the world-weary realism of The Illusionist, back way past the anything-goes surrealism of Triplets of Belleville into a pure comic cartoon world. A starving policeman dresses as a pigeon, barges into a bird-feeding old woman’s house and demands a meal, then does the same all year until she tries to eat him for Christmas dinner. Full of delightful little details (and at least one sad bird death).

The Italian Machine (1976, David Cronenberg)

“Let’s figure it out, Gestapo-style.”
A series of betrayals leading to an obsessed mechanic gaining ownership over a unique motorcycle. Made for TV, so people call each other “meathead” and “turkey”.

Beardy Lionel (Gary McKeehan of The Brood) hears that a collector’s-item motorcycle is in the hands of a collector. This will not stand, so he grabs his buddies (Frank Moore, second-billed in Rabid, and Hardee Lineham who had a cameo in The Dead Zone) and heads over posing as reporters to figure out how to free the bike from the boring rich guy (played by Guy Maddin’s buddy Louis Negin). Lionel sucks at pretending, though, so they’d be screwed if not for Ricardo, a dull cokehead hanger-on at Negin’s house who helps them out. Cronie’s fascination with automotive machinery peaked early with this and Fast Company, then came back with a brief vengeance with Crash.

Our beardy hero first meets Louis Negin:

Bottle Rocket (1992, Wes Anderson)

Cute sketch, with the Wilson brothers and Bob from the Bottle Rocket feature, plus the gun demo scene shot exactly the same way (just in black and white). They’re budding criminals, robbing Luke’s house then a book/video store, taking one guy’s wallet. No Inez, Futureman, Kumar or James Caan.

Something Happened (1987, Roy Andersson)

An AIDS lesson with didactic narration, illustrated with Andersson’s expertly composed setups of depressed-looking white people. One particular pale balding guy is seen a few times. It ends up less depressing than World of Glory, at least. Commissioned as an educational short but cancelled for being too dark

Within The Woods (1978, Sam Raimi)

Ah, the ol’ Indian burial ground. “Don’t worry about it,” says Bruce Campbell, “You’re only cursed by the evil spirits if you violate the graves of the dead. We’re just gonna be eating hot dogs.” Then he immediately violates a grave of the dead. Nice test run for The Evil Dead, with many elements already in place, like the the famous monster’s-pov long running shot, girls being attacked by trees, evil lurking in the cellar, knifing your friend as he walks in the door because you thought he was a demon, and of course, “JOIN US”. Hard to make out the finer points of the film since this was the grossest, fuzziest, lowest-ass-quality bootleg video I’ve ever seen.

Clockwork (1978, Sam Raimi)

Woman at home is stalked by jittery creeper (Scott Spiegel, director of From Dusk Till Dawn 2). He sticks his hands through her crepe-paper bedroom door, stabs her to death, but she stabs him back, also to death. It’s not much in the way of a story, but Raimi already has a good grip on the editing and camera skills for making decent horror. How did 19-year-old Raimi get his lead actress to take her clothes off in his 8mm movie?

Sonata For Hitler (1979, Aleksandr Sokurov)

Music video of stock footage from pre-WWII Germany stuck inside a ragged-edged frame surrounded by numbers and sprocket holes. Halfway through, the music mostly fades away, replaced with foreboding sound effects.

Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers (2001, Simonsson & Nilsson)

Drummers break into an apartment, play catchy beats in the kitchen and bathroom, with a slow bedroom number in between, then a destructive romp through the living room. But just as they finish, the inhabitants return. Clever and fun, and just the thing that probably should not have been extended into a two-hour feature.

A Tale of the Wind (1988, Joris Ivens & Marceline Loridan)

This was unexpectedly awesome. Between this, Regen and A Valparaiso, it’s time to consider adding Ivens to my list of favorite people. Sort of a Beaches of Joris, but less confessional to camera, shot more like an allegorical feature film starring himself. Always playful and never loaded with dialogue, with the occasional film reference, fable flashback or appearance by a prankster tiger-monkey.

Joris sets out to film the wind, goes to China. He trades a print of one of his films (“my first love story in 1930″) for a wind-creating mask. He sets up an array of microphones in the desert. He gets carried over mountains and enters political negotiations to film at a cultural landmark (the Terracotta Army), then gives up and recreates the landmark using models bought from street vendors.

At one point when he walks up to a massive Buddha statue which watches with a thousand eyes, closeups cutting from an eye to the camera lens, I thought strongly of Antonioni’s short Michelangelo Eye to Eye, also made by a director in his 90′s. But while Antonioni has always seemed associated with monuments, this was just a leisurely sidetrack for Ivens before returning to the matter of the wind, sixty years after he filmed the rain in Regen.

Senses of Cinema:

This is an unusually personal account of his lyrical rather than his political obsessions, largely directed by Marceline Loridan-Ivens, his wife and collaborator since the Vietnam films. … Joris Ivens died in 1989, only days after joining protesters against the Tiananmen Square massacre in Paris.

Mango Grove:

Ivens originally planned to use two crews; Ivens’s crew would film the wind, while Loridan’s crew would film Ivens’s crew filming the wind. Complications arose. Ivens was sick and, in a particularly serious incident, required on-the-scene surgery. … Thus the two crews became one. The Wind became Loridan’s film.

Speaking of Loridan, this also sounds good (from ivens.nl):

With La Petite Prairie aux Bouleaux, Marceline Loridan-Ivens made her feature film debut, at the age of 74. … She had agreed with Joris Ivens after A Tale of The Wind, their last project together in which documentary and fiction are mixed together, that she would make the tale of the fire. For a long time she dared not return to Birkenau, but finally she succeeded where Steven Spielberg and Roberto Benigni failed, she got permission to film on the premises of Birkenau. … It is a film about the pain and illusive character of the memory.

Rosenbaum:

The film is clearly addressed to the West and not to China … and the overall message is to listen to all that China has to say. … Both poetic essay and meditative fiction, A Tale of the Wind has certain affinities with movies as different as Jean Cocteau’s The Testament of Orpheus, Chris Marker’s Sans soleil, and Souleymane Cissé’s Brightness, but it is too proud to owe its vision to any source beyond Ivens’s own far-reaching experience and research. Part of the film’s inspired thesis appears to be that cinema and history, fantasy and documentary, have a lot to teach each other.

Late Shorts

Another entry for…

Initiated by Shadowplay

It’s rare for late-career shorts to even exist. Filmmakers tend to “graduate” from shorts to features, never looking back, unless called to work on some anthology film (like that one called “8″ which Altman was scheduled to make after A Prairie Home Companion). Animators may be the exception, so half of the late shorts I rounded up were handmade.

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Self Portrait (1988, Osamu Tezuka)
The few animations I’ve seen of Tezuka’s are among the most inventive I’ve seen from anybody. I’m not sure if the ten-second runtime of this short, made when he was 60, was imposed by the producer of this Animated Self-Portraits series or if that’s simply how much time Tezuka needed to make his point. Left/right/center portions of faces spin like a slot machine, and after four or five mismatches, the proper self-portrait alignment is reached – jackpot!

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Is That All There Is? (1993, Lindsay Anderson)
Another self-portrait – the artist at age 70. Lindsay wakes up, takes a bunch of pills, puts on the news, watches some TV, has a bath, gazes at posters of his own films on the bathroom walls, goes shopping then back home, entertains writer Bernard Kops who talks about getting paid for his work, chats with some more visitors, moans about transportation with the cleaning lady, gets in a fight with his disgruntled nephew, complains about Michael Caine’s hair, discusses John Ford with a BBC producer, photocopies a newspaper review of Michael Powell’s Life in Movies that Lindsay wrote, goes through his scrapbook of past film writing, watches Ron Howard on Oprah (“I always wanted to make a movie … most importantly, I didn’t want it to be boring”), reviews his history of theater productions and film projects (he claims to have written If… 2), goes to the acupuncturist and the doctor, checks out sets and music for a new theater production, talks with his brother about gravitas, then holds a memorial service for two actresses who had appeared in his TV movie The Old Crowd fourteen years earlier. A full day. I don’t know much about Anderson – seen his bizarre Malcolm McDowell trilogy, but I only enjoyed two of them and probably understood none. This was downright enjoyable, especially considering my lack of enthusiasm for the day-in-the-life documentary format. Though I’m not saying this was a documentary – Anderson gets a writing credit, and the scene construction is subtly more intricate than could be expected from a single camera recording in real time.


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Narcissus (1983, Norman McLaren)
McLaren’s final released film, made when he was seventy. A ballet version of the Narcissus tale, in which our hero dances against a black background with a girl, then with a guy, finally shunning them both in favor of his own reflection. Beautifully shot and danced. I didn’t notice much in the way of McLaren’s signature styles in the ballet until Narc began dancing with his own disappearing self accompanied by nintendo computer blips on the soundtrack. Probably won more awards than any other McLaren film, in part because by the 80′s there were more award shows and festivals than ever before.

Narcissus meets himself:

Dances with himself:

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I consider “late” Buster Keaton to be the 70-ish movies he appeared in since the 1920′s, shortly after the arrival of sound when his career went to hell. So these are very late Keaton, made in the last couple years of his life when he was around seventy years old (see also: the Twilight Zone episode he did a few years earlier).

The Railrodder (1965, Gerald Potterton)
A wordless journey through desolate Canada, which must have been trying to attract humans to its empty factories, forests, harbors, fields and cities, all seen as Buster whizzes by on a motorized rail car. Not as good as a classic Keaton short, but not as bad as most state-sponsored promo pieces either, just a light amusement with some minor Keaton antics and major Canadian scenery, with possible references to The General and The Cameraman. I like when he turns the car into a duck blind, but the gag’s payoff is lame – it’s not the most well-planned or well-timed little picture. Director Gerald Potterton moved into animation, making the legendary Heavy Metal.

Buster Keaton Rides Again (1965, John Spotton)
A “making of The Railrodder” that runs almost triple the length of the feature. In fact it’s over-long, in love with its subject, providing nice quick summaries of Keaton’s past films and life story, then rambling on with the present-day footage. A coughing, gruff-voiced Keaton smokes whenever not on camera for Railrodder (he died of lung cancer the following year). He’s a stubborn bastard regarding the gags and filmmaking – it’s clear from this doc that the IMDB’s listing Buster as uncredited cowriter/director on Railrodder is accurate. My favorite gag was in the documentary, not the feature, Keaton pretending to pull a train that comes in while he’s standing near the tracks. It closes with Keaton singing “Casey Jones” in his trailer, more emotional of a picture than the fluffy promo piece it accompanies.

Film (1965, Alan Schneider)
Close-up of an eye. Protagonist, always shot from behind, staggers to his apartment, horrifying all who look upon him. Alternate blurry shots from his POV. In the apartment, he covers a mirror and removes or destroys everything that has eyes. Feels for his own pulse. Finally, Buster’s face is revealed, wearing an eyepatch and his signature hat. Close-up of an eye. I don’t understand Samuel Beckett. Could someone explain him to me?

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Stop-motion pioneer Charley Bowers made these couple films over a decade after all his other work, and according to his IMDB bio, “no one is quite sure what he did” during that in-between decade. They’re his final films, completed the year before he became sick at age 64, unable to work until his death a few years later.

A Sleepless Night (1940, Charley Bowers)
No sound at all (who watched silent shorts in 1940?) so the DVD producer unconscionably included an audio track of projector noise. I listened to LCD Soundsystem instead, greatly improving the movie, which was otherwise slack-paced and plotless. We’ve got a stop-motion mouse family who defeats the dog of the house, drinks a bottle of milk, then eats soap and floats away on the resulting bubbles.

Wild Oysters (1941, Charley Bowers)
More technically accomplished (featuring much more camera movement) and snappier than the last one, and with the same models for the mouse family, makes me think A Sleepless Night was a test run for what he’d planned as a series of mouse adventures. Although, spoken dialogue and a song with lyrics that comment on the action aren’t the major improvement. The mouse torments a different dog and also a cat, drilling holes in the floor and pulling their tails through. Weirder is when he runs across some oysters, which link together as a chain and chase him about. Why oysters? Even Tom and Jerry never ran so low on ideas that they introduced a string of oysters. Anyway, weird movie but enjoyable.

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The Karateguard (2005, Joseph Barbera & Spike Brandt)
The final Tom & Jerry short released to theaters, and the only one made by Barbera, aged 94 at the time, after the passing of partner William Hanna in 2001. It was a passing of the torch to Brandt, who is still making T&J cartoons. I was never a wildly enthusiastic T&J fan, so I can’t share the outrage of the IMDB reviewer who calls it “unbearably mediocre.” Jerry isn’t great at his karate lessons, so his translucent sensei encourages him to quit, instead gives him a magical gong that summons a stone-faced samurai dog, who proceeds to pummel Tom for six minutes. A good time is had by all.

David Holzman’s Diary (1967, Jim McBride)

“My life, though ordinary enough, seems to haunt me in uncommon ways.”

And so, fictional amateur filmmaker Holzman sets out to film his life because, after all, film is truth. By studying the film, he will discover the truth about himself. But the film of his life begins to replace his life… and forty years before Synecdoche, New York. I think the movie’s claim to fame is that it’s a fake-documentary two decades before This Is Spinal Tap – but it’s a full decade after Peter Watkins got started, and two of his masterpieces were out already.

Holzman in his apartment:
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Not a lot of scenes, many are one shot. McBride says there was lots of rehearsal beforehand, since there wasn’t much extra film to burn. D.H. wastes no time making his girlfriend leave by filming her naked in her sleep (below), then wanders the city, filming people on park benches, following a woman out the subway, becoming more of a camera-voyeur a la Peeping Tom / Rear Window, alternated with long nowhere-conversations with himself and a camera/mirror. There’s actually not much to Holzman or anything else in this… it’s a good enough movie, but I wouldn’t call it a favorite. Probably has less of an impact now that everybody’s got a camera and every fifth person under 30 has put a fictionalized documentary of himself up on youtube.

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David Holzman gets as excited as Brendon Small over his fisheye lens:
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Also watched My Girlfriend’s Wedding, which I liked better. J. Rosenbaum: “In many respects, the best ‘critique’ of David Holzman’s Diary that I know is McBride’s 1969 63-minute follow-up to it.” He’s right on – the is great to watch after the other one, with life-imitating-art actual similarities, and some obviously planned ones (Bartleby The Scribner is mentioned in both movies).

My Girlfriend, cameraman, Jim McBride:
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Grainy and foggy as hell, nice and filmy-looking, gets off to a slow start with girlfriend (her name is bleeped out) giving us a select history of her life by pulling out everything in her purse and explaining it. She’s a Brit trying to stay in the States legally by marrying one of Abbie Hoffman’s Yippies whom she doesn’t even know, and McBride interviews her about this, watches the wedding, and talks to her new husband afterwards. The doc is simplicity itself, but the subject is well worth watching.

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McBride went on to direct the Richard Gere remake of Breathless (co-written with the actor who played Holzman – who also worked on Bottle Rocket and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) and Great Balls of Fire. Guy who shot both movies directed Woodstock and an Albert Finney werewolf movie called Wolfen.