A final film that works just as well as an introduction.

On one hand, it’s mainly a career summary, and I didn’t need one. But I guess I did, because Jane B. looks different than I imagined it, and it’s really time to rewatch Le Bonheur, and it even made me think that One Sings needs another look, and time with Agnès is always well-spent.

I mainly know W.C. Fields from Looney Tunes caricatures… his muttering insult comedy is pretty appealing. Not just a harmless old man with a funny drunk routine – when he got creative control of a movie, it turned out mental. He plays a screenwriter for studio boss Franklin Pangborn(!), living out the scenes he’s pitching, while Pangborn interrupts to say these are lousy ideas for a movie.

Fields becomes infatuated with a rich woman in a mountaintop home – she’s played by Marx Brothers regular Margaret Dumont. Unfortunately, the other thing he borrowed from the Marxes is the idea that a comedy should have terribly high-pitched singing. Up-and-coming studio star Gloria Jean plays his niece, who performs painful Snow White scream-singing, and throwing in a shriek-whooping fake gorilla, the movie has unpleasant audio. It ends with a really unexpectedly good car chase, at least!

Fields unplugging his ears after a Gloria song

“The Rival” Leon Errol with Dumont:

Strata of the Image (2015, Lois Patino)

The backlit figure from the Phil Solomon shorts stands motionless before a monochrome waterfall, which gradually colorizes into a full rainbow. Peaceful, silent and short, but it feels more like an art-gallery screen-saver than a festival short – and indeed it was, originally.


Fajr (2017, Lois Patino)

Desert figure tableaus, this time with rumbling wind sound then a vocal song, but back to monochrome, each shot looking like the motionless standoff before a samurai battle begins. I dig how each shot is too dark when it begins, and gradually, imperceptibly brightens, but still getting a gallery vibe. When the figures in the final shot dissolve into spectral light then the ocean washes away the desert, this short jumps way ahead of Strata.


Night Without Distance (2015, Lois Patiño)

Technically, this film and Strata are LNKarno selections, having played the Fuori Concorso in Locarno 2015, and this one also appeared on the lists of experimental films I’m following, so I get to count it twice.

Dialogue! Color-inverted tableaus of motionless figures, but this time with dialogue. They’re gonna sneak over the mountains from Galicia with some sort of contraband. The scenario is tense and dangerous, but you wouldn’t know that without sound – the film visuals with their slow-moving figures betray no sense of urgency, even though some are holding rifles.


The Glory of Filmmaking in Portugal (2015 Manuel Mozos) 720p 17min

While we’re in Portugal, here’s a cool little movie, mostly edited from archival materials, investigating four minutes of mysterious footage which seem to prove that a group of poets in 1930 teamed with a French cinematographer to attempt to launch a Portuguese cinema. It seems their attempt was aborted, and Manoel de Oliveira came along the following year anyway, so the country just pinned all its hopes on him.


The Girl Chewing Gum (1976, John Smith)

Something completely different: a street scene with traffic noise and a ringing alarm in the distance, the director shouting out orders to the extras and the cameraman telling them when to make each move… but it’s really ordinary documentary footage with the voiceover added afterwards. Towards the end he speculates that a man in a raincoat just robbed a bank, which explains the alarm. This movie presenting doc footage as planned orchestration has funny timing, since when the collector brought out his reels of mysterious film in the previous short I wondered if this was true or a Forgotten Silver situation. “Art Basel” seems to be a Locarno program of shorts brought over from the same year’s Gässli fest.

The Village Voice, as excerpted on Smith’s website: “Smith takes the piss out of mainstream auteurist ego, but provides proof of the underground ethos: Even with meagre mechanical means, the artist can command the universe.”

LNKarno opening night is an Akerman doc, watching as prep for LNKarno closing night No Home Movie. I ended up enjoying the doc, with its discussions of editing strategies in the feature, more than the feature itself. I am a sucker for these things.

Akerman worked at a gay porn theater’s box office, raising money for her early shorts, then stole boxes of expired film to shoot Je, Tu, Il, Elle. “My mother was at the heart of my work,” flashbacks to News from Home. Wonderful to see Saute ma ville, which I just watched, intercut with Jeanne Dielman, discussion of their similarities and her mother’s take on the latter feature. Gus Van Sant, whose Last Days was Akerman-inpired, weighs in. The doc has the same closing credits shot as True Stories.

I thought this would be some kind of drama about a film actress (Jess Weixler of Somebody Up There Likes Me) trying to find common ground with her facially deformed costar (Adam Pearson of Under The Skin), but it’s more of a behind-the-scenes hangout movie. Appealingly hazy-looking (shot on 16mm!) and well acted and executed, with some good jokes (Nigerian limo driver is writing a book called My Struggle).

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.

“Cops are pigs / cops eat shit!” You know when your cynical movie opens with a couple of news guys chancing upon a car wreck and filming the dying victims before bothering to call an ambulance, the movie’s gonna end with the death of a main character and the camera looking back at us, accusingly.

Pausing to get a beer halfway in, I looked up the female lead Verna Bloom (paper-mache artist in After Hours, Mary in Last Temptation of Christ) and realized our lead is Robert Forster – I had no idea, never seen him young before. Forster wheels around town with his soundman (Peter Bonerz of Catch-22, later director of Police Academy 6: City Under Siege) in the lead-up to the ill-fated Democratic National Convention. They follow a kid home and Forster falls for his mom Eileen (Verna).

Robert and Verna enjoying some TV:

The movie has character to burn. Playful editing, very mobile camera, and full of Zappa songs. A black community confronts the white camera crew about exploitation in the media, the morals of Mondo Cane are discussed, and in a movie (/city/year) where police are the villains, the reporters discover that their TV bosses have been letting cops study their raw footage. After Forster is fired, and before he’s hired by someone else to cover the convention, he seems like a calm and okay guy, just a good dude who loves shooting film and hanging out with Eileen and her pigeon-loving son Harold – so it’s the profession that’s sick, not him personally.

This would’ve been a vaguely-memorable late’60’s anti-establishment movie, but for the ending. Harold goes missing, Forster’s at the convention, so Eileen walks the city wearing a bright yellow dress in the midst of the real police riots – some of the most intense location shooting I’ve seen.

Wexler shot everything from Burt Reynolds’ film debut in 1961 to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Conversation, to Hal Ashby and John Sayles movies, to concert docs and a Zappa video.

There’s shooting and there’s shooting:

Thomas Beard for Criterion on the movie’s True/Falsey nature:

Wexler has had a kind of double life as an artist, known both for his poetic reportage and for his role as a studio craftsman, and his bifurcated career is mirrored in the dual nature of Medium Cool … To watch a fiction film and subordinate its plot and characterizations to the documentary value of the world it depicts, or, alternatively, to watch a documentary and constantly question its veracity, is to read the work against the grain. Given the design of Medium Cool, a film that explicitly functions as both document and fantasy at once, to view it at all is to read it against the grain. It’s a movie whose very composition not only allows for but demands multiple kinds of perception and visual thinking; it preserves its own disorder.

Bogart is given the porn-star name Dix Steele, a washed-up Hollywood screenwriter who happens to be the last guy to see murdered coat-check girl Martha Stewart (not the rich felon, the actress from Daisy Kenyon) – other than the murderer, of course, which the cops suspect Dix of being, since he gets so fired up about the details of the case.

Dix’s alibi is neighbor Gloria Grahame (The Big Heat). She’s hiding out from her violent ex, and as the pressure mounts, with the murder suspicion and Dix’s new screenplay and his general manic-depression, ex-soldier Dix begins to act paranoid and violent as well. He turns on Gloria at the end, and she leaves him for good. Between this and Bigger Than Life, Ray seems very good at portraying men with manias.

Art and Gloria:

Bogie’s old war buddy Brub (Frank Lovejoy, useless cop in House of Wax) is police, walks the line between friendship and suspicion (as does Gloria). He works for Captain Carl Reid (of the same year’s Fuller Brush Girl – a profession mentioned by Grahame in this movie), who has it in for Dix until the dead girl’s mustachey boyfriend confesses to the crime. Art Smith (of Ride The Pink Horse from the same novelist) is Dix’s agent, at least until he casually fires Dix for slapping him. And speaking of the source novel, it’s fun that this film, reportedly a very loose adaptation of the book, is about a screenwriter writing a very loose adaptation of a book. Also good: the coat-check girl in this black and white movie telling Dix “I do hope it’s gonna be in technicolor.”

Brub and his wife Jeff, re-enacting the murder:

The earliest Ray picture I’ve seen, unless you count my notes saying I watched They Live By Night a couple decades ago on TCM, which I do not recall. Good, dark movie, but most importantly it seems to be the inspiration for lyrics from the Versus song “Morning Glory.”

Satire about the limited/terrible roles for black men in hollywood movies – Townsend’s directorial debut, a few months before his film of Eddie Murphy Raw (and containing some hilarious Murphy impressions). Sometimes it’s clunky and low-budget, but overall a winning comedy. There’s a main plot, where aspiring actor Townsend gets cast in a demeaning role and takes the moral high ground by walking out, but half the movie is sketches and parodies, reimagining Hollywood hits with black actors. This was a couple years before cowriter Keenan Ivory Wayans would create In Living Color. Townsend’s girl is played by Anne-Marie Johnson of Robot Jox, and Paul Mooney plays the head of the NAACP.