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.

The five members of the Sudanese Film Group in Khartoum reenact scenes from classic movies, pretend to film each other, hold public screenings of Chaplin’s Modern Times – and almost Django Unchained, until the authorities find out.

A warm little movie, slow-paced but engrossing. Played this year’s True/False with director in attendance, but it didn’t fit into our schedule.

The new fantasy/doc from the director of Cameraperson was obviously a must-see at the fest. A semi-sequel since Johnson’s debut covered her mother’s loss to alzheimer’s, so this one has a mild case of sequelitis – more focused and bigger in every way, but somehow less resonant. That said, it’s still a more fun and resonant sequel than Thor 3 Ragnarok, and I look forward to watching again. Loose Loose opened, without the lead male vocalist from last time – an improvement!

“It was a nice tracking shot, but we’re no closer to our dream.”

Wouldn’t you know it… I was proud of myself for being nearly caught-up with the blog before True/False, then a global pandemic came along and set me back by another month. Anyway, lucky I took some notes on this one – it was very good, and also Dupieux’s most convincingly movie-looking movie yet. No Mr. Oizo music, for some reason.

Jean “The Artist” Dujardin drives out and pays too much for a deerskin jacket, the soundtrack playing thriller tension music. Dude’s got money problems, estranged-wife problems, cellphone problems. He steals a book on filmmaking to impress waitress Adèle Haenel (star of The Unknown Girl), then hires her as his editor (he hasn’t read the filmmaking book and doesn’t know what editing is) and keeps asking her for money. Since she is investing in the film, she starts considering herself a producer and bossing Jean around.

Jean is a terrible person from the very start, and that’s before he starts delusionally talking to himself-as-the-jacket, then hitting the town on a jacket-snatching spree and eventually murdering all jacket-wearing citizens with a sharpened fan blade. Good ending, Jean’s actions catching up with him, Adèle inheriting the jacket.

Opened the Cannes Directors Fortnight, playing with a bunch of movies that never opened here, plus The Lighthouse, First Love, and the Luca Guadagnino short I just heard about last night.

I blocked off late January for Rotterdance, and premiere screening Asako was fantastic, then Belmonte and Rojo were pretty whatever… so I’m looking at the remaining options for the following week… Monos, Happy as Lazzaro… movies I keep hearing are great but don’t look attractive like Private Life and The Souvenir… mass-murder fashion-thing Vox Lux… serious stuff by Loznitsa and Petra Costa… and La Flor is there on the list, the ridiculous outlier which obviously I’m not gonna watch because there isn’t time. So that’s what I watched.

Movie from Argentina, in multiple episodes, with multiple chapters, the whole thing cut into multiple parts which don’t align with the episodes (but do align with the chapters) – it’s complicated. The director helps lighten things up by introducing the project in a prologue, looking into camera without moving his mouth, narrating in voiceover, and drawing his diagram of the film’s structure which landed on the cover of Cinema Scope.


Episode 1

Proper b-movie length at 80 minutes, and shot on low-grade video. The audio sounds dry and dubbed, but looks to be in sync. Scientists receive shipment of an ancient mummy, have to babysit it after hours, but one girl (and a black cat) get mummy-cursed, so a psycho-transference specialist comes to help. “I’ll tell you more about it,” she says, as the movie suddenly cuts to episode 2. A Mac OS 9 skype window proves this movie has been in the works for a long time.

Elisa Carricajo = Marcela, lead scientist who is introduced on an awkward date before hectic work day
Laura Paredes = cool, efficient doctor Lucia
Valeria Correa = dazed, cursed, water-guzzling Yani
Pilar Gamboa = mummy-curse specialist Daniela

Dr. Elisa, Dr. Laura:

Mummy-whisperer Pilar:


Episode 2

Famous singer Victoria reminisces to her hair-streaked assistant Flavia about Vic’s rocky/successful recording career and personal life with lousy singer Ricky. Out of the blue, Flavia is in a scorpion cult with the secret of eternal youth, but cult leader Elisa Carricajo doesn’t seem to trust her. Andrea “Superbangs” Nigro, a rival singer, has a whole speech about storytelling and protagonists (it’s a monologue-heavy episode) and is present in the recording booth during the very good climactic Victoria song (but why? I spaced out for a while).

Singer Victoria = Pilar = mummy-curse specialist Daniela
Assistant/Confidante/Cultist Flavia = Laura = cool doctor Lucia
Superbangs singer Andrea Nigro = Valeria = cursed Yani
Scorpion cult leader = Elisa = lead scientist Marcela

Nigro:


Episode 3

Epic spy drama that starts out fun, tries to pivot to being mournful as everyone appears to be doomed, and takes long sidetracks into backstory. The four lead women are teammates in this one – briefly they were five, until their leader Agent 50 takes out the mole sent by a rival assassin collective led by “Mother.” Both team leaders report to Casterman, a spymaster ordered to kill off his own people. It’s like pulp Oliveira at times – it’s never comedy, but has a delightful heightened quality to it. Multiple narrators of different sexes with different viewpoints, and at one point (not even at an intermission), Llinás stops the episode to show off his storyboards.

Casterman:

Commie-trained mute spy Theresa = Pilar
La Niña, daughter of a legendary soldier = Valeria
La 301, globetrotting assassin = Laura
Agent 50, Ukranian super-spy = Elisa

The promo shot… from L-R: 50, 301, Niña, Dreyfuss, Theresa:

My favorite scene, kidnapped Dreyfuss in the cosmos:


Episode 4

After all that narrative drama, this episode is aggressively messing with us. The actresses play “the actresses,” undistinguished and ignored. Llinás introduces them to new producer Violeta in a studio scene of choreographed arguments, then he ditches his production, taking a mobile crew to film trees in bloom with relaxing string music, stopping frequently to write in his notebook. I think it’s a parody of the pretentious filmmaker who has lost his focus/inspiration.

Halfway through, the focus changes, as paranormal investigator Gatto arrives at the site of a mysterious incident, finding the filmmakers’ car high in a tree, the camera and sound crew raving mad, and Llinás missing, having left behind his journals. Gatto calls the La Flor script notes “a load of crap,” gets mixed up with some residents of a psychiatric colony, and follows the director’s tracks through a series of used book stores, as Llinás searches for an old copy of Casanova with a deleted chapter. This all sounds like nonsense, but it comes together beautifully by the end, after seeming like a waste of time for a good while.

“He never refers to any of them in particular, as if the four were a single thing:”


Episode 5

“In episode five, the girls don’t appear… at the time we thought it was interesting.” I think it’s the same Guy de Maupassant story that Jean Renoir filmed in the 1930’s. A couple of cool dudes with fake mustaches give horse rides to a whitesuit man and his son, when they’re derailed by a couple of picnicking women, who pair off with the mustache men after whitesuit rides away. This is all capped with an air show, and is a lovely diversion after the long previous section.


Episode 6

Heavy organ music and intertitles – the four stars are reunited, but blurred as if shot from behind a dirty screen. Aha, it’s filmed using a camera obscura, a pre-camera device which throws a reverse image through a pinhole. Supposedly the women have escaped from unseen savages and are dodging a giant steampunk insect before returning to their homes. Partially nude and without closeups, they’re finally indistinguishable.

Essential reading: Nick Pinkerton for Reverse Shot and Jordan Cronk’s Cinema Scope feature.

“Try to keep up with the plot.”
“There’s a plot?”

Sure it’s been a while since I watched The Fisher King, but this seems like a semi-remake. Disillusioned former artist comes across a man whose life he’d inadvertedly destroyed some years ago, follows that man on adventures into a dream life inspired by ancient literature and legend? Fisher King was from the writer of The Ref, and this one by Gilliam with his Tideland cowriter Tony Grisoni. Dedicated to two late Quixotes, Jean Rochefort and John Hurt.

Adam Driver is an arty director on a chaotic ad shoot, having an affair with Olga Kurylenko, wife of his boss Stellan Skarsgård, but once he was an idealistic young filmmaker, in fact he made his Don Quixote student film over there, right over that hill, with local Spanish shoemaker townsperson Jonathan Pryce, wonder what happened to that guy. Turns out Pryce still believes he’s Quixote, and when he sees Adam again, he dubs him Sancho and they go on Adventures.

“A good host looks after his hostages. Is that the right word?” The movie has some good writing, and unbelievably, in 2018, Terry Gilliam made a feature film in which the Spanish Inquisition arrives unexpectedly, and this didn’t blow up the heads of every Python-quoting 50-year-old in the English-speaking world. Maybe that was Gilliam’s intention, but alas, the movie remains underwatched. It will age well, as Star Wars fans discover Adam Driver’s peerless pronunciations of swear words, and they will gravitate, one by one, towards this unrated cornucopia of profanity.

Okay, the last hour is weird and didn’t work for me, but that leaves a solid 75-minute movie, and also Rossy de Palma is in there.