Kind of Maddin’s most difficult film and his most purely comic one at the same time. Behind the scenes on the filming of great Canadian war epic Hyena Road, Guy reflects on being an extra (dead body in the desert) and subverts his other job as EPK flunky, while the effects-minded Johnsons toy and screw with the footage. I happened to watch Cuadecuc Vampir a few days earlier, one of this film’s most obvious predecessors.

N. Rapold in Film Comment:

The closest these flagrantly uninformative digressions come to a standard featurette is a couple of outtakes of a producer doing a walk-and-talk TV-ad bumper. While earning Maddin some needed cash, this supposed promotional project burlesques the look of a seamless studio-grade war movie — and its very notion. It’s like any number of subversive reappropriations of mainstream genre cinema, except with the added nose-thumbing of having been done with full permission, during the production. But if Maddin expresses some frustration or resentment about Gross’s comparatively big-budget illusionism, he also can’t help but see the playful, bizarre, and beautiful possibilities in these expensive toys.

Stories don’t just lead into each other like in The Saragossa Manuscript – they melt and morph into each other, thanks to codirector Evan Johnson’s digital manipulations, which don’t replace Maddin’s usual bag of tricks, but join the choppy editing and texture fetish and everything else. Some of his early movies had somnambulist rhythms, but this one is ecstatic from start to finish.

Had to watch this a couple times before I could report in.

Second time through, I noted the order of stories:

How to Take a Bath, with Louis Negin

Submarine: Blasting Jelly and Flapjacks

Starring Negin again with Ukranian Greg Hlady, panicky Alex Bisping, Andre the Giant-reminiscent Kent McQuaid, and mysteriously-appearing woodsman Cesare (Roy Dupuis of Mesrine and Screamers).

M. Sicinski:

Like the men in the submarine, The Forbidden Room has an overall mood of anxiety and despair, in the sense that we are asked to grapple with its heady delirium of character trajectories and stunted arcs, all the while searching in vain for some absent center, the organizing “captain” who is supposed to pull it all together. In its endless ruptures and disconnections, The Forbidden Room brings us up short, placing us back in that capsule where the image is a form of confinement, a shortness of breath.

Cowardly Saplingjacks

Cesare sets out to rescue the kidnapped Margo (Clara Furey)

Cave of the Red Wolves

with lead wolf Noel Burton, bladder slapping and boggling puzzlements!

Amnesiac Singing Flowergirl

Margo again, with mysterious necklace woman Marie Brassard (sinister Jackie from Vic + Flo Saw a Bear) and patient Pancho (Victor Andres Trelles Turgeon)

The Final Derriere

with Sparks, Udo Kier (returning from Keyhole) as a man plagued by bottoms, Master Passion Geraldine Chaplin, and the Lust Specialist (Le Havre star Andre Wilms)

Red Wolves / Woodsmen / Submarine / Bath / Submarine

Quick return.

Squid Theft / Volcano Sacrifice

With Margo, squid thief Romano Orzari and Lost Generation attorney Céline Bonnier (The Far Side of the Moon)

D. Ehrlich:

The Forbidden Room may (or may not) be inventing narratives from thin air, but whatever history these abandoned projects might have had is completely supplanted by the present Maddin (and co-director Evan Johnson) invents for them. These stories belong to him now. The Forbidden Room may forego the hypnotically autobiographical thrust of recent efforts like My Winnipeg and Brand Upon the Brain!, but it feels no less personal for it.

Mill Seeks Gardener

With shed-sleeper Slimane Dazi and unpredictable runaway Jacques Nolot

Injured Motorcyclist at Bone Hospital

Caroline Dhavernas and Paul Ahmarani

Doctor kidnapped by skeleton insurance defrauders

Lewis Furey (Margo’s father IRL) as The Skull-Faced Man, and Eric Robidoux as the bone doctor’s long-lost brother who is also a bone doctor.

Psychiatrist and madman aboard train

Gregory Hlady again, Romano Orzari again, and Karine Vanasse (Polytechnique) as Florence LaBadie

Florence’s Inner Child

Sienna Mazzone as young Florence with crazy mother Kathia Rock

Parental Neglect / Madness / Murder / Amnesia

Bone Hospital / Insurance Defrauders
Mill / Criminal / Doctor
Volcanic Island / Squid Theft / Submarine / Bath

“I haven’t finished telling you: the forest… the snow… the convict… the birthday”

Woodsman Gathers New Allies

Kyle Gatehouse as Man With Upturned Face, Neil Napier as Man With Stones On His Feet and Victor Turgeon again as Listening Man – these are the same actors who played the Saplingjacks earlier, and again they don’t enter the cave with Cesare.

Margo and Aswang The Vampire

M. D’Angelo:

The Forbidden Room was shot mostly at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, piecemeal, in front of a live audience, following which Maddin and Johnson artfully distressed the digital footage and added priceless intertitles. The project took advantage of whichever actors were available to it on a given day.

Elevator Man Unprepared For Wife’s Birthday Kills His Butler

All-star segment with Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier and Amira Casar (Anatomy of Hell, Piano Tuner of Earthquakes).

D. Ehrlich:

[Amalric] gleefully indulges in Maddin’s pure and peerlessly florid sense of melodrama, which here becomes a mechanism for foolhardy and paranoid men to ruin their lives as they attempt to rescue, love, or murder the beautiful women who didn’t ask for their help.

Dead Butler Oedipal Mustache Flashback

Maybe my favorite segment, with Maria de Medeiros (Saddest Music in the World) as the Blind Mother and more mentions of flapjacks.

Ukranian Radio War Drama

With Stranger by the Lake star Christophe Paou as the prisoner

Mustache / Return of the Dead Father

Diplomat Memoirs of Cursed Janus-Head

M. Peranson:

Together, Maddin and Johnson have crafted a formal masterwork jolted by digital after effects, recreating the look of decaying nitrate stock, shape-shifting the image with multiple superimpositions and variegated colour fields (the general look resembling decayed two-strip Technicolor), and compositing swirling transitions that connect (or bury) one film within the other (and the other, and the other). To try and describe “what happens” in The Forbidden Room is both forbidding and beside the point, for the 130-minute film stands more as an interminable, (in)completed object on its own, like the work of one of its main influences, the French poet, novelist and playwright Raymond Roussel (from whom Maddin and Johnson borrow their technique of parenthetical asides); one comes to understand this object, and what it’s trying to accomplish, only while watching it.

Peranson’s writeup is from the Toronto Film Festival, after which nine minutes got removed from the movie. Since nobody at the festivals was able to exhaustively account for all the stories within stories, it’s impossible to track down what got lost. It seems, though, that any lost footage (and more) can be seen in the Seances.

Andreas Apergis and his fiancee Sophia Desmarais (Curling)

Night Auction Doppelganger

featuring LUG-LUG, hideous impulse incarnate!

Stealing Mother’s Laudanum

Charlotte Rampling as Amalric’s Mother, Ariane Labed (Attenberg, Alps) as his girlfriend.

Maddin (in an essential Cinema Scope interview) on the film’s 2+ hour length:

We could have easily had a 75-minute version … but viewers that like it, we wanted to feel like we’d broken their brains, really left a physical impression on them, left them exhausted. Hopefully exhilarated and exhausted, in a good way. We wanted “too much” to still be insufficient … it would be nice if it came out in one endless ribbon, that, like John Ashbery’s poetry, you just snip off for a beginning and an end, and just ask the audience how much they want.

Dead Father / Elevator Birthday Murder Plot / Margo and Aswang / Woodsmen
Red Wolves are Dead, Rescue is Cancelled
Submarine / The Forbidden Room / Book of Climaxes

Bath.

I rewatched My Winnipeg in glorious (glorious!) high definition. Great extras on the blu-ray: shorts and an hour-long interview with Maddin. “I liked the idea of leaping from one subject to another with that paranoiac certainty that the two are connected.”

Spanky to the Pier and Back (2008)

In which Spanky walks to the pier and back. I’ve watched this one before. Inspired by From Munich to Berlin by Oskar Fischinger, edited in-camera. “Spanky was my best friend at the time.”

Sinclair (2010)

Camera slowly spins around a plain white room with wide angle lens, Sinclair passed out in a wheelchair to one side, tuneless doom music on the soundtrack. The second half (at least) is a single take, unusual for fast-cut freak Maddin. Guy says it’s a protest film about the death of a native paraplegic in an emergency room, shot in the style of La Region Centrale.

Only Dream Things (2012)

Mesmerising. Low-framerate, Begotten-processed home movie footage overlaid with dream images, pop songs and swimmy sound effects. The home movies were shot by his older brothers, from “the summers of our lives before anything went wrong.”

The Hall Runner (2014)

“When you’re gone I have no memory.”
Extension on the My Winnipeg bit about rugs that can never be adequately straightened.

Louis Riel for Dinner (2014, Drew Christie)

A girl is alarmed that the duck her dad has cooked for dinner has the head of Winnipeg hero Louis Riel. Animated!

Winnipegiana (2014, Evan Johnson)

“The city blighted by these sickly trees is a city that dreams too much and lives too little.”

A series of wonderful “educational” shorts with a verbose narrator whose scripts only barely make sense. Johnson is Maddin’s codirector of The Forbidden Room.

Since that still wasn’t enough Maddin-on-Winnipeg, I also read the book of the film, with the script, another interview, deleted scenes, rough drafts, photos, scans, collaborator essays and more.

Now, back to worrying over the eleven minutes supposedly cut from The Forbidden Room since its Sundance premiere, and whether they’ll be on the Kino blu-ray out in March.

I just found out!

Bing & Bela (2010)

Bing Crosby and Bela Lugosi.

Buried side-by-side.

Red lips. White wolf.

She is film critic Kim Morgan, who married Maddin after filming.

Lilith & Ly (2010)

A one-minute vampire short.

Udo Kier aims to steal a vampire woman’s necklace.

Is it supposed to be silent or is my browser messed up?

These last two were part of a shorts series called Hauntings.

It’s a Wonderful Life (2001)

Music video for Sparklehorse.

Silent actors on rotating sets.

Shot in peep-hole-vision!

Berlin (2008)

Footage from Berlin, Ontario in 1916.

Remixed to doom-music.

Sighs & Bosoms (2014?)

Literally that, in a single sepia-toned shot, with strings.

One Minute Louis Negin (2014?)

Single shot of Negin close-up

Perhaps from the rushes of something Keyhole-related?

Spanky, to the Pier and Back (2008)

Spanky is a small dog.

He walks to the pier and back, the camera frantically recording the experience.

Lullaby (or Funerailles) (2013?)

Takes exciting or upsetting moments from films and tracks back and forth over them obsessively, almost Martin Arnold-style. Intense and wonderful. Includes Santo, Tales of Hoffmann, a zeppelin disaster, Dracula, gladiator battles, more.

Sissy Boy Slap Party!!! (2004)

Louis Negin goes off to the store to buy condoms and the sleepy heap of sissy boys he leaves behind immediately commence with some major slapping, while drummers drum and women stand aside unimpressed.

Also on there:
– a trailer for Archangel with the most edits per second of any Maddin work (yes!)
– a bog in Victoria shot on lo-fi color camera
– a bunch of silent 8mm reels I didn’t watch

“I’m only a ghost, but a ghost isn’t nothing.”

Always great to see a new Maddin work, and this exceeded expectations. Exciting yet familiar, new with firmly recognizable bits of the old, and filmed in a different medium than usual (digital!), like Maddin’s Moonrise Kingdom. “I know a lot of people who follow me probably figured I’d be the last person in the world to switch to digital, and that I also sort of ride a penny-farthing with a bowler hat, but I don’t. I want to be a normal guy. I’m just an artist trying to make stuff that matters to me.” (AV Club)

In this post I quoted Maddin saying that his next feature would have footage from his shorts, “a Frankenstein feature film built together from a bunch of dead short commissions,” and there are two shorts since My Winnipeg that resurface in Keyhole: Glorious (Louis Negin as a ghost, penises growing through walls) and Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair (Isabella and a homemade electric chair).

Nice, clear images, with relatively restrained editing, apparently because Guy could afford an art department so didn’t have to hide the cheapness of his sets. Great, unusual, moody music, and crazy amounts of lightning flashing from outside. But it’s not Maddin Lite by any means – he hasn’t grown up and made a normal movie. He and George Toles have come up with a haunted-house gangster flick/family psychodrama (it’s like The Six Hundredth Sense) full of enough insane details to rival any previous Maddin feature.

Ulysses (Jason Patric of Sleepers, The Lost Boys) appears late to the party, after his men have shot their way into a house surrounded by the cops. The movie pronounces its disdain for reality from the start, when he lines all the men against the wall, telling the still-living ones to face him, then sends the others outside. “Cops’ll make sure you get to the morgue.” There’s no glowing aura or translucency – the dead look and behave like the rest of us.

B/W Rossellini behind a colored curtain:

Ulysses seeks his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini), who is locked in her bedroom at the top of the house with a lover named Chang, while her father Louis Negin is chained to her bed. Negin also acts as part-time narrator: “I am a part of the house you’re looking at. It would be misleading to say I LIVE here.” As Ulysses stalks the house, he gradually unlocks doors and begins to regain his memories.

“Something’s wrong. I can’t hear my own thoughts.”

The Men: Big Ed was in charge of the group before Ulysses arrives, wants to be in charge again, Heatly is Ulysses’ adopted son, sometimes-nude Rochelle (Ulysses’ mistress) only speaks French, Denton (Brent Neale, Renfield in Maddin’s Dracula) wears a hat, Milo has a scarf, Belview (Claude Dorge of The Saddest Music) is a deliciously overacting dapper dude in a tie, Denny is a wet drowned girl, and Ogilbe is Kevin McDonald.

Ulysses, who keeps changing the clocks in the house, warns everyone to stay away from the ghosts, but Kevin McDonald attempts sex with a floor-scrubbing woman in the hallway, sparks fly, and he continues riding her in death, whipped by Negin from behind, as she appears not to notice him.

Ulysses gathers all the guns and drops ’em down the trash chute, but when they’re heated by the furnace, one shoots Heatly dead. Someone drowns in the house’s indoor bottomless bog, and Big Ed fries in the makeshift bicycle-powered electric chair he built to trap Ulysses. “You can’t electrocute a man twice,” says Ulysses as he turns the tables, so perhaps he’s returned from death row. Meanwhile, the cops are still outside…

Big Ed strapped into his own invention:

Ulysses attends to Heatly:

Ulysses is sad when Heatly dies, but doesn’t seem to recognize that the hostage he drags all around the house is his real son Manners, supposedly his only surviving child, though we see the others in the house, Ulysses not recognizing any of them at first. Ned (Darcy Fehr, star of Cowards Bend the Knee) is drinking milk, the head of daughter Lota is in a flowerpot, and youngest son Brucie is masturbating (“playing Yahtzee”) under the stairs.

Manners:

Also, Udo Kier gets one scene (not enough!) as a doctor paying a housecall to examine the drowned Denny, despite the fact that his own child died that night in the hospital. Lots of family death in this movie.

More details of the house: furniture placement is important (Ulysses makes his men undo their arrangement alterations), and there’s a stuffed wolverine named Crispy and a pneumatic tube delivery system in the walls. Manners, who has fallen for Denny, is finally released, as is Louis Negin. Ulysses makes it to his wife’s chambers and shoots Chang, and at dawn all ghosts and signs of the police shootout quietly vanish.

Young lovers, one of them dead:

NYTimes:

Like his Homeric namesake Ulysses is seeking a way back to his wife, though there is not much evidence of love or loyalty between them. Nor is Keyhole, narratively speaking, a reimagined Odyssey any more than it is a ’30s crime drama. It’s more like a dusty attic full of battered, evocative cultural references.

Maddin again:

We just live in a space that’s just thronged with ghosts and I honestly think I’m even a ghost sometimes. I often wonder if when I die, and I don’t believe in ghosts, but if I’m going to haunt any place, it’s that childhood home that I keep falsely remembering. In my dreams now I very rarely dream of people. I just dream of that space. I’m walking around and I’m the only person in it. I’m actually haunting in the future, in my dreams anyway.

The dialogue George [Toles] and I write isn’t naturalism, but [Patric] knows how to give it a reading that makes it adhere to a character. If no one likes the movie, they should at least watch Jason, just to see how he’s taken lines that would be impossible to read naturalistically and how he puts them into his processor and spews them out. It’s kind of amazing.

Falkenau, The Impossible (1988, Emil Weiss)

Weiss seems to love Sam Fuller, but he’s not on Fuller’s wavelength, unable to have much of a conversation with the man. So this doc (which is an hour long, but I crammed it in the shorts section anyway) admirably fulfills its purpose by screening all of Fuller’s WWII concentration camp cleanup footage while Sam narrates, taking him to the site of the camp in present-day and asking for his thoughts. That would’ve been more than enough, but Weiss leaves us with a one-sided (Sam likes to talk) silly-ass conversation about fictional representation of war, which would’ve been better left out. I’m most of the way through Sam’s autobiography, one of the greatest books I’ll ever read, where Fuller says this doc screened at Cannes and was praised for its straightforwardness.


Cry For Bobo (2001, David Cairns)

Poor and desperate, a man resorts to thievery to get by. He’s caught and imprisoned, then shot to death after escaping, as his wife and kid leave town, trying to start a new life without him. It’d be a miserable little story if the main characters weren’t clowns. Hilarious, reference-heavy, and better than I’d expected – and I had expected greatness. Already watched twice and trying to get Katy to see it (she hates clowns).


The Possibility of Hope (2007, Alfonso Cuarón)

Zizek:
“We no longer live in a world. ‘World’ means when you have a meaningful experience of what reality is which is rooted in your community, in its language, and it is clear that the true most radical impact of global capitalism is that we lack this basic literally ‘world view,’ a meaningful experience of totality. Because of this, today the main mode of politics is fear.”

Naomi Klein:
“More and more we see the progression of this economic model through disasters. So we’re now in a cycle where the economic model itself is so destructive to the planet that the number of disasters is increasing, both financial disasters and natural disasters.”

James Lovelock:
“If you live in the middle of Europe or here in America, things are going to get very bad indeed.”

Of course the “hope” part comes at the very end, as it does with all recent doom-gloom climate-change global-meltdown documentaries, and the hope in this one, despite the film’s title, isn’t all that hopeful. Start preparing now for how badly the future will suck – and it will suck. An Inconvenient Truth supposedly has a credit-time list of ways you can help the planet, Home encourages us to build windmills and go vegan, Wake Up Freak Out says we must act politically, and there’s always the hope during Collapse that the subject is just wrong, or that he’s a crackpot. Not so much here. If I’ve avoided talking about the filmmaking, well it’s basically a radio show with distracting visuals, much of it b-roll from Children of Men.


Night Mayor (2009, Guy Maddin)

Pronounce it similarly to “nightmare.” An inventor, a Bosnian immigrant, harnesses the “music” of the Aurora Borealis and converts it into dreamlike images which are sent across phone lines to his fellow Canadians using his Telemelodium. Even more/cooler junkpile inventions than in the electric chair short, some nudity (not as much as in Glorious or The Little White Cloud That Cried) and some delicious nonsequiturs. Clean narration by the accented inventor and two of his kids, along with excellent string music. At the end, the government shuts down his project, so he turns his attention from the skies to the seas, considers visualising whale songs.


One Minute Racist (2007, Caveh Zahedi)

Sweet three-minute cartoon story about the slippery slope of racism narrated by CZ, who codirected with a couple animators. Story of a student who doesn’t like asians because they’re too uptight and a paranoid library security guard who threatens to confirm the stereotype.


Talking Heads (1980, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
“What is your year of birth?”
“Who are you?”
“What do you most wish for?”
These three questions are asked to a one-year-old, then a two-year-old, and so on. The final answer: “I’m one hundred years old. What do I want? To live longer. Much longer.”

Most people seem to have thought about the questions for a while – possibly while the camera and lighting crew buzzed about their head, since the film looks like a lesson in how to effectively shoot subjects, professional but no-frills, by cinematographers Jacek Petrycki (No End, Camera Buff) and Piotr Kwiatkowski (second camera on the Three Colors). As a result, the answers come out seeming like a beauty pageant. Everyone wants more honesty and fairness, for everybody to just get along. The answers from kids under ten and adults over seventy are the best.


Born Free (2010, Romain Gavras)

I don’t count music videos as “shorts” or things would get too complicated, but then, I don’t really count this as a music video. M.I.A.’s music isn’t far enough up front, and the video (by Costa-Gavras’s son) is twice as long as the song. It’s a little piece wherein red-headed kids are rounded up by violent cops, beaten, shot and made to run through a minefield. Probably trying to make a point about tolerance and freedom, but for messages of tolerance I preferred the climactic speech in Cry For Bobo, also featuring overzealous cops: “First they came for the mimes, then the jugglers, then the bearded ladies. Next time, it were you.”


Hotel Torgo (2004, buncha dudes)

Buncha dudes head for El Paso and interview the last guy who remembers working on Manos: The Hands of Fate. There’s no real point to this, but the guy is very good-natured about it. Learned that Torgo was high all the time, which shouldn’t come as a surprise but somehow still does.

A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (2009, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

Slow-panning shots outside looking in, but mostly inside looking out. Unique location (Nabua village in Thailand) but also unique photography style. I wonder if another filmmaker could’ve found images half as strong as these. As for the story, well, as usual with A.W. I don’t really get it. The village has a history of violence and repression, and this (fictional?) uncle is unseen, addressed by a narrator. Actually it’s more than one narrator, reading the same script, which is later critiqued for accuracy of dialect as we continue roaming the houses, looking slowly up at the trees. Makes me want to catch up with A.W.’s features that I’ve missed. Later: So I have, with Syndromes and a Century. Its dialogue repetition and shots of trees from inside buildings reminded me of this short.

Academic Hack:

In a stunning act of political avant-gardism, Joe has adapted Thai Buddhist tenets regarding reincarnation as a means for excavating the hidden history of a troubled landscape. As his camera slowly creeps and pans through darkened, abandoned homes, Apichatpong is displaying the remnants of a repressed past, in an assertion of ghostly, vertical time. … Joe’s dominant visual cue throughout Boonmee is the depiction of dark, illegible interiors whose porous walls and broken-out windows allow the bright green of the jungle to puncture the once-domestic space with light and texture. As beautiful as the effect may be, it is also chilling, since it represents the breakdown of human effort’s separation from natural encroachment, the dissolution of basic boundaries.


We Work Again (1937)

A newsreel short about how “we” (meaning black americans, though it sounds like the regular white studio voiceover guy saying “we”) are finding jobs after the depression – mostly jobs in the arts, thanks to the federal works agency. Contains rare footage of Orson Welles’ “Voodoo Macbeth,” which used all black actors and looks like it could’ve used a higher prop budget.

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The Little White Cloud That Cried (2009, Guy Maddin)

Commissioned for a Jack Smith program. It reminded me of Kenneth Anger, with the classic pop songs strung together, the soft-focus closeups, but that’s probably because I barely know anything about Jack Smith. Lots (lots!) of nudity, largely (maybe entirely) transsexuals. Typical Maddin editing (which is to say: exhilarating). It’s either art or the best porno I’ve ever seen.

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Someone got the filmmaker by accident. He looks so intense!
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Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair (2009, Guy Maddin)

No credits. Need to get a copy someday without interlacing. Made for the Rotterdam festival for an outdoor exhibit. Isabella is in the ‘lectric chair. A man rushes to save her, too late, embraces her as the switch is pulled. Charming homemade effects: tin foil, sparklers and exercise equipment. Louis Negin (reused footage from Glorious?) dances shirtless in celebration!

Maddin: “Now, I was immediately told no nudity, I was immediately told no strobing, so strobing became the new taboo. It would throw the citizens of Rotterdam into epileptic fits flipping on the sidewalks.”

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More, from a simply fantastic interview with Maddin: “My condition for doing it was that I got permission to re-use the footage in my next feature. Whenever I accept a short film commission, I get permission to use the footage from it and so I’m slowly assembling clips… and in this financially depressed time, you need to. It’s a Frankenstein feature film built together from a bunch of dead short commissions.”

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Zoo (1962, Bert Haanstra)

One of the greatest short films ever. He must have shot for days and days to get so many great shots of animals and spectators, then associatively edited them together into a docu-comedy. I learned from the ravingly positive writeup on the official Bert site that it was all filmed with a hidden camera.

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Contact (2009, Jeremiah Kipp)

Boy and girl visit dealer, get bottled drug and take it together naked. Bad trip ensues. Girl’s concerned parents wait at home, until she shows up late, hugs daddy. Very little spoken dialogue – for artistic sake, or with international film fest distribution in mind? Heavy-handed sound design with echoey shock-horror effects with a sidetrack into 8-bit glitch noise.

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The Bookworm (1939, Hugh Harman)

The crappiest little time-filler of an MGM cartoon. Can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy these as a set, so may as well parcel ’em out as bonus content on other discs. Poe’s raven wants to catch a bookworm (that’s a worm who eats books) to put in the Macbeth witches’ cauldron, but the worm is saved by characters from other books, with a complete lack of imagination, not even the har-har caricature value of those not-great Tashlin library shorts. Why would the books want to save a bookworm anyway? This seems an important part of the story, and it’s just ignored. Ted on IMDB overthinks the movie, says it’s “amazingly sophisticated in its abstraction,” no kidding. A Tashlin movie would just blow Ted’s head right off. Harman put more effort into the same year’s classic short Peace On Earth.


Love On Tap (1939, George Sidney)

At least with The Bookworm you can tune out the story and watch the animation, but there’s no joy in this one. Well, it’s a musical short so I guess you’ve got dancing, but that’s not much of an attraction. Story goes this dude is trying to marry a gal who leads a dance troupe, but her dancers are whiny dependent brats and she caters to their every whim, putting off the guy until he threatens to leave instead of marrying her. He should’ve. Sidney later directed celebrated musicals like Annie Get Your Gun and Kiss Me Kate… guess you gotta start somewhere.


Michelangelo Eye to Eye (2004, Michelangelo Antonioni)

Antonioni silently contemplates the work of another Michelangelo. 15 minutes of static or slowly tracking shots, with just room noise until an ethereal choir sings us out into the credits. Nice to see that after all these years, M.A. is still filming people dwarfed by giant structures and pillars.

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Wake Up, Freak Out, Then Get a Grip (2008, Leo Murray)

A cute cartoon illustrating how we’re all going to die from global warming. Only Leo doesn’t say we’ll all die, he says all the good species of animals will die, leaving rats and roaches, and since there won’t be enough resources left for all of us, those with the most guns and lowest morals will survive to slaughter the rest. Then he says we can’t stop things by being jolly good consumers and buying fluorescent bulbs, we must rather campaign our governments and friendly local corporations to smarten up. Not likely! Move inland.

Glorious (2008, Guy Maddin)
Far more guns, gangsters and cocksucking than has ever been in a Maddin film before. Features Louis Negin as a single-frame apparition turned fellatio-ghost. Must pay more attention to the music next time. In other news, when I looked up Louis Negin on IMDB, it says he played a zombie in Pontypool.
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Yay, got me a 2007 disc of cartoons based on the work of Jim Woodring. Jim himself kicks off the collection with the one-minute Whim Grinder: A Frank Adventure, in which Frank and his pet… box? intercept a transmogrifying eggbeater from a mischievous devil.
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Frank (Pushpow) (Taruto Fuyama)
I dig the use of the “meet george jetson” music cue. Watched twice because there’s a second audio track with elektronischy music by James McNew. Black and white and very stripey. Done in Flash, maybe? then transferred off a videotape from the looks of the credits. One of the greatest things ever.
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Frank (Eri Yoshimura)
Next one, done in a puppet cutout style, is very different. Frank seems to be having a picnic with his buds until a rampaging pig beast tears them all apart. Seems about two minutes of animation edited into four. The closing credits are pretty nice – not so much the rest.
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I’ve Been Twelve Forever (Michel Gondry)
Gondry talks with his mom, storyboards his dreams, builds a spinning camera-spirograph triggered by strings tied to Bjork’s fingers, makes cartoon farts with cotton balls, invents new animation methods, films himself in stop-motion, and discusses his best music videos. This turned out not to be a short at all, though I thought it would be when I started watching it, and much more elaborate and creative than its status as a DVD-extra on a music videos disc would suggest. I’m pretty sure I like this better than Be Kind Rewind. Co-directed with four people including Lance Bangs.

Wet Chicken (2003, Myznikova & Provorov)
A woman’s hair blows in the breeze, then she shakes her head, then she’s shot with a stream of water. Seems like the kind of rough materials that Shinya Tsukamoto would make something interesting from, but these guys forgot to make something interesting and accidentally released it like this. Too late to re-edit now that it’s on the internet.
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The Marker Variations (2007, Isaki Lacuesta)
One ruler of Dijon uses photographs to rule, and the next uses them as execution aids. 12th century monks composed Bach concertos 900 years before Bach did, inscribing the notes into their stone architecture. Buenos Aires is “the divided city” so a story of two mirroring authors is told using split-screen images.

Opening with these unbelievable stories reminded me more of Magnolia than Chris Marker, but an exploration of the images and possible existence of Marker is what follows. He goes over Marker’s references, he asks his own Japanese friend the questions asked of Koumiko, and eventually he gets caught up in his own essay, his own connections, but accompanied by so many images from Marker’s films (not to mention the music) that none of it escapes, sticks in my mind. To a Marker-phile such as myself it’s just too much.
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Another Maddin masterpiece… I loved it. Slow start as he dreamily navigates his home town, telling stories, showing off landmarks, talking of snow and sleepwalkers. Trying to escape, he decides to film his way out, rents his old house and hires actors to play his family, except for his real mother (ha, “really” 1940’s noir queen Ann Savage) and of course, Maddin himself (ha again, really Darcy Fehr of Cowards Bend the Knee). So the premise is a lie, and the real-life actors are a lie, and yet he got this to be classified a documentary – I love it!

The parts about Maddin’s childhood are as veiled as usual – there’s the hair salon and siblings and pet dog, and some could-be-true anecdotes about straightening the hall rug and a fear of birds, but we also get his mother’s unlikely starring role in long-running TV drama “Ledge Man”. And there’s the traditional dead father, this time represented by a mound of earth under the living room rug, which the brothers use as a sort of beanbag headrest when watching TV. When Guy leaves home, things become sadder and more personal, showing city landmarks destroyed to build corporate malls, discussing the demise of the local hockey team and eventually the stadium. Very wonderful final segment imagines a character called Citizen Girl, representing the proud past of Winnipeg, who turns back time and resurrects the city’s history – as moving as anything in Guy’s filmography so far.

This is being called Maddin’s most accessible work. I guess the plot is more straightforward than most, and there’s less incest and horror than in my own starter pic Careful, but I’d still give that title to Saddest Music… it’s got stars and songs and an engrossing story and it’s right hilarious.