I watched a couple of Henry Hills shorts in 2011 and loved them to death, have seen them a few more times since. Checked out his DVD last year, which was less exciting, but I’ve gone back to it now and found some great stuff.


Bali Mécanique (1992)

Bali music and dance intercut with other festival scenes, daily life and architecture. The central performance is great – I love that eye movements are part of the dance – and editing is on point. Think this is my favorite of his non-New York films.


Electricity (2007)

Rhythmic rattle and clank, as streetcar rails slide past ancient building, interrupted by a dystopian white tower broadcasting numbers stations. Shot in Prague.


Kino Da! (1980)

Poet/activist Jack Hirschman sits reading in the grass, Hills creating new poetry by editing the hell out of his words.


Little Lieutenant (1994)

Dance and movement, mostly before greenscreen or projected sets, edited to a wackadoo music montage (Zorn, of course). Clips of war footage towards the end. This is one of the good ones, codirected with dancer/choreographer Sally Silvers.


Porter Springs 4 (1999)

Whew, more playful and less rigidly structuralist than the previous Porter Springs. More scenes from the country house on the lake, this time injecting sound clips, songs (I recognized “Cigareets, Whusky and Wild Wild Women”), photographs, home movies, single-frame montages, exposure tricks, silent scenes of shadow and water (callback to the first film?), a whole segment focused on the filmmaker’s feet


Failed States (2008)

1. Amusement park lights and motion, silently contrasting an upsetting-looking spinning and twirling ride at daytime vs. night.

2. Adding a ticking clock, and someone reciting letters and syllables, the rides edited against twiring camera on city streets and people spinning on their own feet.
Finally the sound drops away and the camera keeps endlessly spinning.

3. Spinning and twirling at an India street festival and the carnival rides, each with its own music.

This one has made Sicinski’s top ten of the year, along with films by Ben Rivers and Jennifer Reeves, and was on my Decade List long ago.

I’ve been watching more shorts lately and posting then in thematic batches by director (Len Lye, Emile Cohl) and collection (Disney, Oscar-nominated) and time period (The Movies Begin, 1920’s & 1930’s). Here are some miscellaneous shorts that didn’t get their own thematic post.


False Aging (2008 Lewis Klahr)

Cut-out animation with a recurring yellow bird and a comic-book Adam & Eve. Looks charmingly handmade. Generally slow and dreamy but sometimes the objects flicker maniacally.

I think it’s about drugs. Soundtrack: clips from Valley of the Dolls, a Jefferson Airplane song, and John Cale reading Andy Warhol’s journals.

Klahr was ranked a top-five experimental filmmaker of the 2000’s by Film Comment, and is on the cover of this month’s Cinema Scope. “Klahr’s films construct archetypal narratives and mood trances out of the middle-class utopia we promised ourselves and never got” – M. Atkinson.


Lend/Flight (1973, Rein Raamat)

An ode to flight. Tiny red person rides some dandelion floof through the clouds, performs acrobatics up there, then comes plummetting down upon reaching the atmosphere’s edge. A series of new ideas for flying machines based on existing objects are proposed, scored by a groovy rock song, until finally a plane (and a rocket) is built, based instead on natural flying creatures. I love the color scheme and the multi-layered sky.

Raamat is known as the father of Estonian animation, founded his own animation studio in 1971. Writer Paul-Eerik Rummo was a poet who later became Minister of Culture. Music composer Rein Rannap is best known for judging Estonian Idol.


The Apple (1969, Kurt Weiler)

Whoa, this is amazing. Lively puppet stop-motion telling an anti-greed/ignorance parable – art vs. science vs. the state vs. religion – with rhyming (in German) narration. Kinda hard to explain, but involves rival scientists competing for attentions of the ruler, and trying not to get thrown in jail or burned at the stake for their ideas.

Oops:

One guy invents the drug “hormosexulin” which increases egg production from friendly bulbil creatures, and the ruler goes nuts with it, injects his henchmen, who also start laying eggs. Sometimes reminds me of Jirí Trnka’s The Hand, like when a traumatic scaffold collapse provokes genuinely disturbing cries of pain.

Placid Bulbil interrupts scientist face-off:


Riley’s First Date (2015, Josh Cooley)

Inside Out spinoff short, in which snotnosed boy (with Flea inside his head) comes to pick up Riley, sitting with her increasingly angry father while she gets ready. Mainly focused on the parents’ emotions, which according to one of the Inside Out reviews I read was the feature’s weak point, throwing out all the movie’s Riley-emotion lessons for easy retro-sitcom gender jokes. And there’s more of that here, but it’s still fun. Cooley has been in Pixar credits since The Incredibles, and taking over a spinoff short means he’s probably being groomed to codirect an upcoming feature sequel… yep, there’s his name on Toy Story 4.


Porter Springs 3 (1977, Henry Hills)

Distant trees swaying in the breeze for a minute… then what looks like a circular pan from the center of a lake sped up a hundred times. Then the trees, calmer, then the lake, crazier. If I’d known it was gonna be silent I’d have picked my own John Zorn track.


Gotham (1990, Henry Hills)

Shots of modern NYC mixed with clips from cop shows and set to a cartoony jazz track, awesome.


Goa Lawah (1992, Henry Hills)

Bats! A cave full of squeaking bats! They squabble when they get too close together while sleeping – just like our birds, who somehow didn’t respond to me playing four minutes of bat noises.


In an earlier post I reductively described actionism and watched Kurt Kren’s Leda and the Swan and Silver Action Brus. Checking out a few more from the Action Films disc.

6/64 Mama und Papa (Kurt Kren)

Hurling food and paint and dirt all over a naked woman, then Kren edits it all to pieces with no sound. He’s doing something wrong, because every time there’s an edit (so, 1-10 times per second) we see tape marks at the bottom of frame.


9/64 O Tannenbaum (Kurt Kren)

Naked man under a Christmas tree, naked woman in a shower, covered in food and paint and dirt. I’m sensing a pattern here. “Action” is by Otto Mühl in both films, and both feature men humping women with a balloon full of feathers between them.


16/67 20. September (Kurt Kren)

Remember Brus? Now he’s pissing and shitting in close-up, and now I realize why I didn’t watch the rest of this DVD last time I started it. Jesus, Kren. No screenshot for this one.


Hardwood Process (1996, David Gatten)

Flickering textures, crossfaded. Some Brakhagey slow/fast pattern-shifting. Some photographed action, slowed or sped, some filmstrip hacking. Texture fetish. Each section its own rhythm and style, separated with title cards:
“Day 203 – several hours in the library reading the history of”
“Day 296 – coming to terms with a new vocabulary, slowly”

Incoherence (1994, Bong Joon-ho)

Bong’s half-hour student short has been on my laptop for ages, and since I’d just watched Coherence, I couldn’t resist pairing these. I’m guessing it’s closer in tone to his unseen Barking Dogs Never Bite than his more sinister features of the 2000’s. Three comic chapters, each featuring a man in a position of power doing something immoral (professor reading porn in his office, business exec stealing milk from stranger’s front step, lawyer getting drunk and belligerent) with an epilogue of the three appearing on a panel show to discuss morality and self-control. The drunk prosecutor would go on to play a detective in Memories of Murder.

Light Is Calling (2004, Bill Morrison)

Like a Decasia outtakes short. Scenes from The Bells (1926, James Young), destroyed and decayed, set to serious violin music. The director of Begotten probably cries himself to sleep watching this.

Three Video Haikus (1994, Chris Marker)

Firstly, some manipulated digital video of a river under a bridge.

Catherine Belkhodja from Level Five smokes a cigarette, each exhale punctuated with superimposition of an owl in flight. I think the smoking is the same footage from Marker’s Silent Movie. These first two were set to piano music.

The third has opening and closing titles, static shot of railroad tracks, and electronic sfx, and I think was supposed to be humorous?

Tomatoes Another Day (1930, James Sibley Watson)

I didn’t know indie goof-off sound shorts existed in 1930. Where’d they get the equipment? Oddball talkie featuring a wife, her husband and her lover playing out a predestined scene while flatly speaking their every thought (“You are my husband”). The second half is full of punny wordplay like the title line, which the Portuguese subtitles on Youtube faithfully translate as “outro dia de tomates”.

This is Watson of Watson & Webber, following up their Fall of the House of Usher. A. Grossman, who brought the movie to my attention with a Bright Lights article, calls it a “satire of the redundancy of talkie cinema, in which image and sound are inflexibly congruent” … “a revelation that the silent trance, when granted sound, becomes embarrassingly demystified.”

On Departure (2012, Eoin Duffy)

The Missing Scarf finally showed up online, so after failing to impress Katy with that, I watched Duffy’s other popular success. Depressed alien goes on a business trip… then, as tends to happen at the end of his movies, the world ends. Actually I read an interview with Duffy, and this is about something else entirely, but I’m gonna gonna stick with my interpretation.

Sausage (2013, Robert Grieves)

Local craft food sellers work together to defeat mustache-twirling corporate foodlike-product manufacturer. Populace is easily distracted by whatever shiny new thing tries to catch their attentions. Movie shows the public swayed by price and spectacle (true) and turning up their noses at gross combinations of things like hotdog-in-a-donut (sadly not true).

Three Little Bops (1957, Friz Freleng)

I’d planned to follow up Shocktober with Animation November but cancelled… still watched a few Looney Tunes, though. Wolf vs. Three Pigs story retold in the jazz age. At the end, the wolf dies, goes to hell, returns as a ghost sitting in with the pigs on trumpet. Could they not get a vocalist who could sing on the beat… or is that jazz? Great line: “The Dew Drop Inn did drop down.”

Duck Soup to Nuts (1944, Friz Freleng)

Porky goes duck hunting. Daffy does his thing, gets away.

Ali Baba Bunny (1957, Chuck Jones)

Bugs and Daffy are buddies on vacation together until Bugs digs ’em into an Arabian treasure cavern and DD gets greedy. Showdown with the Sultan’s enforcer follows. DD gets shrunk by a genie. Stereotypes abound, but this is all better than it sounds.

Transylvania 6-5000 (1963, Chuck Jones)

The one with the two-headed bird-witch. Bugs stays at a vampire’s castle, learns some useful magic words. Remade in the 80’s with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis,

Vampire vs. umpire:

Porky in Wackyland (1938, Robert Clampett)

Katy’s first time in Wackyland – she seemed annoyed at just how wacky this was, decried the “darkest africa” bit, asked if that’s what dodos really looked like, and claims scientists are trying to clone new ones.

Boop-Oop-a-Doop (1932, Dave Fleischer)

Less nuts than my favorite Boops can be. A couple terrific visual gags, some good cartoon weirdness (sinister circus ringmaster has a mighty morphing mustache, empty seats applaud on their own) and one song (“don’t take my boop-oop-a-doop away”) but Betty’s act only amounts to whipping lions, and her standard damsel-in-distress scene (saved by Koko the Clown) is uninspiring.

Arcana (2011, Henry Hills)

A half hour of zen based on a “treatment” by John Zorn (a numbered list of things) and featuring his music. I always love Hills’s editing (less extreme here than I’ve seen before), so this is enjoyable and relaxing, with seemingly no rhyme or reason to the order of events. I fell asleep to this a couple times in Georgia but only now watched it all the way through. Katy also praised the movie when I used it once as a kitchen screensaver.

As I said, reading the Canyon Cinema book just made me want to see more of their films, and so I held a solo screening of some video reproductions of films from their archives.

Notes on the Circus (1966, Jonas Mekas)

Doc footage from his seat at the Ringling Bros. circus, edited to a pulp after the fact, divided into four sections.

1. nervous, jittery views of circus acts: trapeze, clowns, animal acts.
2. more of the same, but towards the end of this section the editing goes hyper and adds superimpositions.
3. picks up where the end of 2 left off. This is likely more fun than an actual circus.
4. all energy, focus be damned.

The guitar/harmonica folk music worked pretty well alongside the images. Mekas repeats songs just as he repeats shots (the same woman doffs her white coat and ascends the trapeze at least three times).
Canyon claims “no post-editing of opticals,” so was he rewinding and re-exposing the film while sitting at the circus?

Here I Am (1962, Bruce Baillie)

A pre-Wiseman verite doc on a local school for mentally disturbed children. Why is the caretaker giving the kids cigarettes?!? Non-sync sound (no narration) with added cello. Nicely paced, and very well preserved. Canyon called it “never before released,” but before when? The DVD notes say it was part of a homegrown newsreel program. “Like the school itself, the camera gives the kids center stage and moves at their pace.”

Fake Fruit Factory (1986, Chick Strand)

Shaky, handheld doc of women who work at the titular factory, talking about sex and food and work, interrupted in the middle by their annual picnic. Non-sync sound, I think – hard to tell since close-ups of hands and bodies and fake fruit are favored over faces. Canyon gets the title wrong on their website and botches the description. Wasn’t Strand one of their founders?

SSS (1988, Henry Hills)

Oh wonderful, a dance film. Many dancers in many locations, all wearing hilarious clothes, rapidly edited in a pleasing way, punctuated by a few seconds of black every once in a while. Best part is the music, orchestral then cartoonish, sounds like a DJ with some electronics, all by Tom Cora, Christian Marclay and Zeena Parkins (and recorded by Kramer). Canyon says “filmed on the streets of the East Village and edited over three years.”

Money (1985, Henry Hills)

No music this time, but lots of musicians and some dancers. Seems like a hundred people on the street were interviewed about money (some were given scripts to read) then their every word was chopped out of context and edited against everyone else, sometimes forming new sentences or patterns from different sources, sometimes just spazzing out all over, interspersed with the musician and dancer clips. Somewhere in there were John Zorn, Fred Frith, Tom Cora, Eugene Chadbourne, Ikue Mori, Bill Laswell, Christian Marclay and Derek Bailey. I’ll bet they play this at every Tzadik party. Hills would seem to have a love for music, a sense of humor and tons of patience. Canyon: “thematically centered around a discussion of economic problems facing avant-garde artists in the Reagan era. Discussion, however, is fragmented into words and phrases and reassembled into writing. Musical and movement phrases are woven through this conversation to create an almost operatic composition.” Good poster quote by J. Hoberman: “If time is money, this 15-minute film is a bargain.”

( ) (2003, Morgan Fisher)

Composed entirely of insert shots from other films. Could be the most intricate murder/conspiracy film of all time, what with all the plots and notes and watches and gambling and guns and knives and secret goings-on. I wish it’d had music. Didn’t recognize a single film, and I couldn’t even find any of the sources by searching character names spotted on notes and letters with IMDB. Shadowplay would be ashamed of my b-movie image-recognition prowess. I really want to do a remake, but the logistics and time involved would be hefty. Fisher is only glancingly mentioned in the Canyon book, but I had this and wanted to watch it.

Thom Andersen:

Fisher appreciates inserts because they perform the “self-effacing… drudge-work” of narrative cinema, showing “significant details that have to be included for the sake of clarity in telling a story,” and he made ( ) to liberate them… to raise them from the realm of Necessity to the realm of Freedom,” to reveal their hidden beauty.

Oh Dem Watermelons (1965, Robert Nelson)

Much talk about this one in the book. A silent, still shot of a watermelon lasts an age, then a singalong with an old racist song – or is it an ironically racist new song? – then some melon smashing with pioneering use of the shaky-cam. The song starts repeating and becomes irritating, as must all avant-garde film soundtracks. This time, Steve Reich is to blame. There’s stop-motion and Gilliam-style cut-out animation. My favorite bits are the dog that appears to poop out a watermelon, and the melon slowly crushed by construction equipment. Made as an intermission film for a theatrical racial satire, Nelson claims to have been inspired by Louis Feuillade.

Samadhi (1967, Jordan Belson)

Eclipses and auroras, perhaps the eyeball of a wizard, five spherical minutes with a blowing, groaning soundtrack.


Samadhi (c) Jordan Belson

The Way To Shadow Garden (1954, Stan Brakhage)

The camera stalks creepily around an empty room. A clean-cut young man comes home, struggles with a glass of water and the bed, dances, reads a book. The camera continues its subtly creepy assault, lingering on light bulbs, but otherwise I’m thinking this is Brakhage’s most performance-based film that I’ve seen, a wordless narrative episode. But then the man claws his eyes out, the film stock reverses, and he seems to find the shadow garden, all blind light and shubberies. The first half makes me think Brakhage could’ve made some killer Sirkian dramas if he’d had the urge.

The Potted Psalm (1947, Sidney Peterson & James Broughton)

Shots of people and things. A graveyard. A snail. An accordion. A funhouse mirror. Dolls suicide. A woman eats a leaf. The cameraman has a beer and a cigarette.

Not the first Sidney Peterson movie I’ve watched, and I still don’t get what he is on about. Kino made an interlaced transfer, hired a woman whose Casio can make neat sounds to record a horrible score.

I had a bunch more in mind to watch, but I suppose I’ll get to them another day.