Love’s Refrain (2016, Paul Clipson)

Measured zooms and pans through textures of nature, always overlapping and dissolving, set to an ambient groove with a steady beat. As the music gets blurrier and the beat recedes, the picture focuses more on streaks of light swishing past the natural photography, and finally the music turns into an insistent blare and the picture becomes abstract light squiggles. Clipson died last month, which is how I first heard about his work. My first thought is I’d like to see this in a theater, projected large, maybe in some kind of weekly screening program before a feature, and imagine how lovely that would be, and how nobody who sat through it would ever return.


Describe What You Heard (2017, Joe Callander & Jason Tippet)

“Tips on how to better describe your next mass shooting experience,” reacting to how people in news interviews are always saying “pop pop pop.” Jumps back and forth between shooting story footage and a guy providing a better sound effect vocabulary. This played True/False last year, now on vimeo.


Pure Flix and Chill: The David A.R. White Story (2018, Anthony Simon)

The week God’s Not Dead 3 came out I watched this half-hour doc on its star and studio founder, thanks to a Filmmaker article. Simon uses visuals from Pure Flix features and interview audio from White to craft a hilarious montage about the Christian entertainment industry and one of its biggest stars.


Idiot With a Tripod (2010, Jamie Stuart)

Jamie went out into a New York snowstorm, caught images of the city and edited them rhythmically to a Reznor/Ross song from the Social Network soundtrack. I watched this to see if I need to watch his feature A Motion Selfie, but I still don’t know!


Koko Trains ‘Em (1925, Dave Fleischer)

The earliest Fleischer I’ve seen, and it’s ambitious. An animator (Max) dressed in a suit is trying to impress a fashionable woman at his studio by drawing her dog, but the drawing keeps mutating into Koko the Clown. He puts Koko aside, they wrestle over the fountain pen, and the animator draws the dog next to Koko setting up a circus scenario. Not sure why the fashionable woman would want to see her dog break into pieces while doing flips and impersonate Teddy Roosevelt at the behest of a whip-wielding clown, but I never claimed to understand the 1920’s. Ends with Koko jumping out of the paper and riding the actual dog. Wikipedia says nearly 120 of these “inkwell” cartoons were made, that Dave’s job as a Coney Island clown inspired Koko, and that the dog named Fitz evolved into Betty Boop’s boyfriend Bimbo.


The Heat of a Thousand Suns (1965, Pierre Kast)

One of the few Chris Marker-related movies I hadn’t seen – he’s credited with editing. Sci-fi animation about a rich, bored space explorer with a robot crew who travels to a planet in another galaxy and fails to have a major romance with the beautiful girl he meets there since he does not understand how their relationships work. The animated movement is limited, but the drawings are lovely and unique. There’s a Jules & Jim reference, a cat, and a utopian society that is possibly into orgies.

It closes with a montage of real-life Earth women, including future Sans Soleil narrator Alexandra Stewart, who appeared in most of Kast’s films. This was his final short – he also directed features including an Easter Island sci-fi mystery, a Stéphane Audran cancer drama, and one in which scientist Jean Marais shrinks his female lab assistant to pocket-size. For Marker this was three years after La Jetée. Shot by Willy Kurant the year before he’d jump very impressively into feature films with Masculin Féminin, Trans-Europ-Express and Les Créatures. Played Locarno 1965 alongside The Koumiko Mystery.


La Legende dorée (2015, Olivier Smolders)

“God is a mediocre idea.” Librarian who hasn’t slept in 57 years claims his mother was conjoined twins, his dad a farting musician cannibal. He is fond of talking straight into the camera and showing off his scrapbook of tragic historical figures including a castrato, some torturous murderers, and Simon of the Desert – repeating and changing his story. Watched this to see if I want to see more Smolders, and… maybe?


Disintegration 93-96 (2017, Miko Revereza)

Either I am tired or the narrator has the kind of voice that it’s impossible to concentrate on – it’s something about this kid’s memories of hating his dad in 1993, his words illustrated with period VHS footage cropped to widescreen. Something about being illegal aliens in America, something about work and philosophy and class. If it was written, I’d have to reread some sentences, skim others, process it in my own time – but it’s spoken at a rapid, droning clip while I’m mostly trying to follow the visuals. Sponsored by Laika!


Muta (2011, Lucrecia Martel)

Someone’s been watching The Ring! Horror movie fashion models, faces unseen, creep around a yacht like an Under The Skin insect alien convention. I guess it’s an ad for a clothing company, like that Leos Carax short, but I appreciate these luxury brands giving great filmmakers a budget and letting them get deeply weird.


Things that aren’t shorts, but aren’t TV or movies exactly:

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette is quite the journey… a middling comedy special for the first half, which turns into something more serious and interesting. Some early bits I’d noted as clunky and overserious turned out to be gradual setup for the later parts. I mean I hope it’s not the future of comedy, but as a singular show, it’s really well-constructed and I felt all the things.

I watched the whole Fred Armisen comedy thing about drummers, and I love both comedy and drumming, so I rather enjoyed it a lot.

And it seems like ages ago, but we saw Distant Sky, the second Nick Cave/Bad Seeds movie I’ve seen in theaters since moving here, and it was just as transcendent as the last one. Well-made concert movies can be better than actual concerts, and they’re easier to tour around the country, so why aren’t there more of them?

Chess Nuts (1932)

Where I last left off with Betty Boop cartoons: a less-than-thrilling circus romp with Koko the Clown from 1932, but previous to that was the insane and wonderful Bimbo’s Initiation. All three characters are back in this one. I think Bimbo is a dog, but he’s pretty uninteresting, like Mickey Mouse minus the voice and ears. Anyway this opens with a live-action chess game then turns into the animated world of the chess pieces. Queen Boop is kidnapped by a wicked king and Bimbo comes to the rescue. No lipsync on dialogue, Popeye-style, except during songs. These are the ideal cartoon shorts – fun and extremely inventive, never content to have a character walk from here to there without trying something new (“what if he’s high-stepping but his shoes glide forth independently of his feet?”)

The Betty Boop Limited (1932)

The crew travels by train to their next short-film adventure. Betty sings a song. Train hits a cow, which transforms into bottles of milk, in a scene I played over and over.

Betty Boop, M.D. (1932)

Betty and gang sell snake oil to townspeople, who experience psychosomatic symptoms.

Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle (1932)

Okay I was surprised that Boop is blacked up until I realized it’s a damn cartoon and that she’s no more “white” than anything else, so I relaxed for a second then “white” Bimbo blacks up to escape capture by the earringed and bone-haired island natives, so I suppose that’s license to be offended but there’s too much else going on… like Betty doing a topless hula dance (apparently rotoscoped from the live-action dance that opens the short). Sure she’s got a lei covering her boops, but still. Took a wikipedia sidetrack and discovered that animator Shamus Culhane married Chico Marx’s daughter, so there’s your Boop/Marx connection.

Betty Boop’s Birthday Party (1933)

Watched one with Katy, who enjoyed it more than she expected to. Betty hangs out at home with all her sentient objects, like the Beauty and the Beast castle gone haywire, when her friends (Bimbo, Koko, a hundred others) show up to throw her a surprise birthday party ending in a huge food fight. Of course it ends with Betty hugging George Washington.

All these Boops were by Dave Fleischer, and I also managed to watch one other short…

Good Mothers (1942, Carl Theodor Dreyer)

Work-for-hire shorts made for government organizations by great filmmakers don’t tend to be essential. This one was pretty surprising, though – an ad for the Mother’s Aid group, which convinces young mothers not to have abortions (“Erna has listened to reason and has decided to give birth to her child”). They also convince Erna not to give up her kid for adoption by forcing a waiting period before she decides, during which she bonds with the kid. But Erna can’t afford a child… no worries, Mother’s Aid teaches her how to make her own clothes, and make baby toys out of paper. There’s no further mention of the job Erna was afraid of losing by having the baby, or where she finds time to work, raise the kid and make all these paper toys. Finally they teach Erna songs to sing her kid. I didn’t realize this was a primary problem for mothers, not knowing what songs to sing, but Mother’s Aid wants particular songs: “Poor little negro boy / he is black from tip to toe.”

Dreyer made this just before Day of Wrath, and given his own upbringing (unmarried mother, orphanages, adoption) and conservative leanings, I’m sure it’s of interest to biographers at least. More importantly, it was Dreyer’s re-entry into Danish cinema, proof that he could produce an appealing film inexpensively, after his reputation of excess in the silent era, and after the success of this short he worked on ten more government shorts over the next decade.

Baby power!

It’s stupid to chuckle at foreign words, but I can’t help it when the end title card for a short about pregnant unmarried women reads:

Premiered accompanying a feature by Christen Jul, the cowriter of Dreyer’s previous film Vampyr.

Another great set of Clay’s 16mm cartoons, and it’s been too long since the last one.

Mysterious Mose (1930, Dave Fleischer) is a proto-Betty Boop (she looks like a dog; a sexy dog) cartoon in which she is haunted by a sorta ghost casanova. The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946, Robert Clampett) is a weirdly violent Daffy Duck gangster parody. Since his “Duck Twacy” fantasy is spurred by a knock on the head while reading comic books, it’d be a good short to play before Artists & Models. It’s Tough to Be a Bird (1969, Ward Kimball) is a Disney doc about birds and watchers with musical cartoon segments. And We Have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us (1973, Walt Kelly) is an unfinished Pogo cartoon with a harsh environmental message. I think all the voices were done by one guy.

Bunch of TV stuff. Spiderman fights a bank robber in a mole-man costume. There’s a Casper cartoon (in which Casper does not appear) about a watch repairman who gets attacked by an eagle at the end. Ralph Bakshi contributes an episode of Captain America. A horrible show called Hoppity Hooper (set in Wisconsin) with a Rocky-and-Bullwinkle-repetitive bit about “the traffic zone” was the low point. The high point was the hilarious 60’s-70’s commercials for Mr. Wizard, Hot Wheels, Cheerios and the like. Real fun program… too bad the next one is scheduled for the same night Art Brut is playing.

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Koko’s Earth Control (1928, Dave Fleischer)
Koko the Clown walks the planet with his dog until they find the Earth Control station. The dog willfully and maliciously pulls the end-of-the-world switch and then acts all panicked when the world begins to end. What did he think would happen? Fun mix of live-action (tilt camera while people pretend to fall to the side, the dog skittering atop an animation table) and animation (earthquakes, volcanoes, the sun melts the moon).
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Dutch Bird (2004, Kirk Weddell)
Ridiculous comedy – old man is sad and alone, so his friends convince him to go out again by pranking him with a story about drugged racing pigeons. On my TV the color was way off, which was really the main interest in the movie. In the below shot, everyone had green skin against a pinkish sky. It was eerie – as the 20 minutes stretched on and on, I liked to imagine that green-faced aliens had gotten a hold of The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine and were producing Brit-com films of their own. Sadly, getting screenshots on my PC the color turned out normal.
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Tale of Tales (1979, Yuri Norshteyn)
At least two jury competitions have named this the greatest animated film of all time. It is really good, but we all wished it’d been half its 30 minute length, and its symbolism was extremely obvious. Not that I ever get less-than-obvious symbolism, so that’s not something I ought to complain about. Wild Things are playing jump rope and a little dog kidnaps a baby, and there’s war and peace and what not. Supposedly the director has been working on his film of Gogol’s The Overcoat ever since – for 30 years. He must be the Jeff Mangum of Russian animated films.
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Harpy (1978, Raoul Servais)
Kind of an absurd, funnier Tales from the Darkside episode. Guy saves a poor harpy from being beaten to death by an angry man and takes it home. But it keeps eating and eating and making his life hell. Finally it eats his legs off when he tries to escape, so he attempts to beat it to death, it gets saved by another man, etc. Same ending as Argento’s Jenifer, then. Mostly appealing for the crazy harpy visuals. The Belgian director has also made films called Siren and Pegasus, must find those sometime.
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Grasshoppers (1990, Bruno Bozzetto)
Cute, no-frills cartoon that looked like something out of Mad Magazine. Civilization rises out of the grass only to fight war after war after war, represented by a few dudes at a time, not by whole armies. The kind of thing that would’ve played on O Canada if it wasn’t Italian.
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Out of Print (2008, Danny Plotnick)
A dude yearns for the days when cult movies were actually rare and you could only get crappy unwatchable dubbed versions if you knew a guy who knew a guy. As someone who enjoys being able to see cult movies easily and in relatively good quality, I don’t see the dude’s point.
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World Cinema (2007, Joel Coen)
Llewelyn from No Country stops at an arthouse movie theater playing Rules of the Game and Climates. Gets advice from the ticket guy, watches Climates and likes it. Having seen Climates myself I’m not sure this is too realistic. Also not sure why it was cut from the DVD of To Each His Cinema.
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Some selections from the Treasures IV avant-garde set – just the ones from the 1950’s, so they’re all post-Desistfilm but pre-Mothlight.

Eyewash (1959, Robert Breer)
Flickers and movements, accurately titled. Saw this at the Anthology way back when. Think I prefer A Man And His Dog Out For Air over this. Includes a whole alternate version with (most of?) the same scenes in a different order.
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Aleph (1956-66, Wallace Berman)
Berman isn’t a well-known filmmaker – this is his only film and it went unreleased (and even untitled) until now. A cool, unexpected addition to the set, instead of just focusing on known directors. Faces and jittery camerawork, bent and damaged and overlayed with filters and text, its jittery relentlessness (and John Zorn’s squealing sax) got me down after the first five of its eight minutes.
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Odds & Ends (1959, Jane Conger Belson Shimane)
Stop-motion cut-outs and found footage and so on while a guy talks about jazz and poetry, this is supposedly an avant-garde spoof. If not for the jokey commentary, how can one tell serious experimental work from parody?
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Bridges-Go-Round (1958, Shirley Clarke)
Have I seen this before, or only read about it? Looks familiar. A dance film with bridges, overlapping images like sci-fi architecture. Two scores – I prefer the Bebe Barron one.
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Little Stabs at Happiness (1959-63, Ken Jacobs)
Just a dude with a grungy camera filming his friends and neighbors goofing around with props in a room and on a rooftop. Now that it’s less novel to own a camera, and the idea of releasing a film that isn’t a big studio production is nothing new, this seems to have lost its reason to exist. Then again, in Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Cinema Scope article he puts this in the “relatively familiar standbys” category, meaning cinephiles have been watching Jack Smith put balloons in his mouth for decades now, so maybe there’s something I’m missing. Some happy old records play over the start and end, but in the middle Jacobs narrates from ’63, telling us that none of these people shot in ’59 still talk to him, casting a mild bummer tone over the whole project.
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Betty Boop in Snow White (1933, Dave Fleischer)
Just some animated shorts from the 30’s – but this one would fit in nicely with the avant-garde set because it is bonkers crazy and also one of the most excellent things ever. It’s vaguely SnowWhitey but the story comes second to wacky invention and Cab Calloway’s St. James Infirmary clown-ghost music video.
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The Old Mill (1937, Wilfred Jackson)
This is Historically Significant, as the first film to use a multiplane camera. Won the oscar (same year as Torture Money) beating out something called Educated Fish and a dialogue-free animation of The Little Match Girl (sound familiar, Disney?). Animal life inside a battered windmill during an especially stormy night. Katy: “Aren’t owls supposed to be awake at night?”
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Ferdinand The Bull (1938, Dick Rickard))
Won an oscar against three other Disney shorts (including Brave Little Tailor, one of the only mickey cartoons I still remember) and a Fleischer short about two donkeys. Ferdinand is a pansy bull who wants to sit and sniff flowers all day. All the other bulls desperately want to be picked for a bullfight (seriously?) but our pacifist Ferdinand gets picked over them. He screws around and doesn’t fight and instead of killing him they send him back to the meadow to sniff flowers again. I don’t know what’s the moral here.
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