Our first time at Film Streams in Omaha, which is playing great stuff (Celine & Julie, Je t’aime, je t’aime, Boyhood, the Nick Cave movie) and is located right next to the Saddle Creek shop and the club where The New Pornographers are playing. This was a groovy screening of finely restored Hubley shorts, which looked just brilliant. Katy enjoyed half of them, dozed during the others.

Covered in a post last year:
The Hat, Eggs, The Adventures of *, Moonbird and Urbanissimo

Of Men and Demons (1969)

Man starts to build himself a nice place to live and hunt and work and play, and demons of fire, water and lightning mess it all up. So he teams up with a woman, builds a stronger base with whole manufacturing plants, and the demons find ways to turn his work against him. It ends (either hopefully or ominously, depending on your outlook) with computer technology being the new invention. Some animation by Omaha-born Art Babbitt, creator of Goofy. This lost the oscar to It’s Tough to Be a Bird by John’s former Disney coworker Ward Kimball.

The Tender Game (1958)

Lovely little love story, flower girl meets a gardener. Wordless and slightly abstract, set to an Ella Fitzgerald song, more like a painted music video than anything else here. Some wild techniques – I love the scratchy static as surface motion on the lake.

Windy Day (1968)

Young Emily and younger Georgia are attempting to put on a play with a knight and princess, but Georgia keeps breaking character, asking questions, and changing their characters into kangaroos. Lost the oscar to Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.

Last time I was in love with both The Hat and Moonbird – funny how those are the two I complained about this time, saying The Hat was too rambling and Windy Day outdoes Moonbird in every way.

This seemed like a good time to check out the Hubley DVD that came with an issue of The Believer.

A Date With Dizzy (1958)

Real crackly soundtrack on this one. Ridiculous plot, not brilliantly acted, in which Dizzy Gillespie and his band are being asked to score a TV ad for a fake product (“instant rope ladder”). We see a pencil test for that, plus three completed-looking ads for real products, and hear some good mini-songs by the band, with the dialogue scenes the filler between.

Cockaboody (1973)

Like an indoor, bedtime version of Windy Day. This was made years later but the girls seem about the same age, so I’m guessing the sound recordings for both movies were made the same year. Best part is when Georgia is upset, which the animation shows by having a grey storm start in her belly and form into wild animals jumping through her mouth as she screams. Katy tells me this all sounded obnoxious from the other room.

The Hole (1962)

The original improvised-dialogue Dizzy Gillespie short, predating The Hat, this time with Dizzy and George Mathews as construction workers talking about the big issues, fate and accidents, with a nuclear twist ending. Unlike The Hat and Moonbird, this one seemed better than I remembered it. Maybe it’s about how long I wait between viewings. Animators are Gary Mooney (from Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty to Four Rooms and Jurassic Park) and Bill Littlejohn (from the Parrotville series in the 1930’s to all the Charlie Brown specials, The Phantom Tollbooth and Watership Down.

The disc includes five more advertisements that weren’t in Date With Dizzy. Best is the very short Sanforized piece, but also notable is the three-minute short about what pretentious know-it-alls PBS watchers can be. What ever happened to “flavor maker” dog food sauce?

Plus home movies and photographs and behind-the-scenes footage for Cockaboody. Real cool DVD, can’t believe it came free with a magazine.

Robin Hoodlum (1949, John Hubley)

“I rob from the rich and I give to the poor. I never give a thing to the middle class.”

I guess the UPA revolution started late – this seems like a typical WB/Disney-style character cartoon full of decent jokes (the newly-appointed sheriff Crow and prince john always haggling over payment and due dates) and tired ones (the English sure enjoy teatime). Interesting that Robin is portrayed as a fox, some 25 years before the Disney feature. He’s also kind of terrible with a bow and arrow, another unusual choice. The first UPA short to be oscar-nominated, beaten by Hanna-Barbera’s The Little Orphan.

Nobody helping Robin because it is teatime:

The Magic Fluke (1949, John Hubley)

Good one, story of a a conductor Fox who dumps his one-man-band Crow partner for the big time, until crow gets well-intentioned revenge by getting his ex-buddy a magic wand as conductor’s baton.

Exceptional-looking, and they saved time and effort by having the crow narrate via thoughts sans lipsync. Predates Tex Avery’s great Magical Maestro by a couple years.

Horn section becomes rabbits:

Ragtime Bear (1949, John Hubley)

This one introduced the world to the blind, gruesome-looking Mr. Magoo and his accident-prone son Waldo, who dies early in a hiking accident. A bluegrass-fan bear masquerades as the son (we learn that banjos basically play themselves) while one-joke Magoo quickly wears out the blindness gimmick. Characters talk over each other Popeye-style. But wait, Waldo lives, only to get immediately shotgun-blasted by his father, who attempts revival via vase-of-water in the face. Weird movie.

Bearskin rug in the line of fire:

Punchy de Leon (1950, John Hubley)

Another rival Fox/Crow cartoon, voyaging to Florida in 1503 seeking the (coin-operated) fountain of youth for a vain king of Spain. I enjoy the rivalry thing, and it’s a step up from Ragtime Bear no matter how you look at it, but no real good gags in this one. I’m starting to notice the abstract backdrops that Leonard Maltin told me to look out for.

Flash as the fountain water restores the king:

The Miner’s Daughter (1950, Robert Cannon)

Ol’ prospector and homely daughter have no luck mining gold, then Harvard man turns up next door with fancy modern techniques and strikes it rich. Miner’s daughter lures him over with the smell of Boston baked beans, and they get happily, wealthily married. Dialogue is sung but their mouths don’t move. The instrumental variations on My Darling Clementine are nice, but no decent gags except for Harvard man’s fully-furnished inflatable house and its umbrella-punctured demise.

Harvard man refusing to save the distressed maiden:

Giddyap (1950, Art Babbitt)

Sad horse-drawn ice delivery cart is getting beaten by modern motorized ice delivery cars. Flashback: their horse Jack “the Hoofer” used to be a famous dancer before the movies came along and ruined showbusiness. Cart driver’s daughter gets an idea: put the horse on television (which recently came along and ruined the movies). Happy ending: ice delivery guy now uses a helicopter to beat the car. Implications: embrace changing technology to help your business succeed, and one day we’ll all drive helicopters.

Tapdancing horse vs. period picture:

The Popcorn Story (1950, Art Babbitt)

Nebraska-set story of Wilbur Shucks, who invented popcorn but instead of eating it tried to harness its explosive power to fuel a rube goldberg shoeshine machine, narrated by the town fancypants as he dedicates a statue in Wilbur’s honor.

The Family Circus (1951, Art Babbitt)

Patsy is jealous that the new baby gets all daddy’s attention, so she destroys daddy’s stuff, injures him and torments the cat. Finally daddy gets a clue and decides love is the answer. Dream sequence saved a few bucks using childlike drawings and 2fps animation.

Gerald McBoing Boing (1951, Robert Cannon)

Seen this a few times before, a great one.

Georgie and the Dragon (1951, Robert Cannon)

More actioney than the others. Georgie brings home a baby dragon which grows huge in a matter of minutes while he tries to hide it from his strict father. Meanwhile the movie beats its Scottish setting over the viewer’s head constantly.

The Wonder Gloves (1951, Robert Cannon)

Good one – no dialogue except in the framing story of a guy telling his nephew about the time he discovered magic boxing gloves and accidentally went from boxing gym janitor to world champion.

The Oompahs (1952, Robert Cannon)

Generation-gap music story, big band vs. jazz, as personified by a family of horns.

Rooty Toot Toot (1952, John Hubley)

Musical courtroom drama based on the classic song Frankie and Johnny. J has been shot to death in a bar – the bartender and another girl testify they were nearby and that his girlfriend F killed him in a jealous rage. Defense lawyer tells a tale of poor lovely innocent F, and J’s accidental suicide. Jury acquits, F sees her suitor/lawyer dancing with the girl from the bar and shoots him dead in court. Wow.

I got a collection of the Screening Room series, in which Robert Gardner (a great filmmaker himself) interviews creators of avant-garde, animated and short films and shows their work. The plan is to watch some of these and supplement them with other shorts by the filmmakers. In the Hubleys’ case I’ve got plenty, since I bought all their DVDs when they were in print – probably watched most of the films a decade ago but now I can’t remember one from the other, so need to see again. Since I already had all these movies (except possibly Children of the Sun) I would’ve appreciated more time spent in conversation with Gardner, but when this aired I’m sure it was more important to show the work itself.

Eggs (1970)

Birth and Death share a car, drive through civilization debating (over)population. Then Quetzalcoatl shows up and sends them both to a new planet, announcing that the old one is on its own. The dialogue recording is a little too beatnik, but it’s a nice film, good one to start the program. John mentions to Garner that an advantage of animation is being able to tackle huge social issues in the abstract.

The Hat (1964)

One of my favorites, with Dizzy Gillespie and Dudley Moore as two border guards riffing on the idea of war and artificial boundaries after one drops his hat onto the wrong side of the line.

I also flipped through their book adaptation of The Hat, an attempt to turn the rambling dialogue into written form (with illustrations)… doesn’t seem to have worked as well.

Children of the Sun (1960)

Child play and fantasies (accurate to a fault), ending with a weird string-music motion child collage.

Zuckerkandl (1968)

Opening narrator sounds like WC Fields. An illustrated speech given by Robert Maynard Hutchins about Freud student Dr. Zuckerkandl, who is animated as a tiny man with an amusing accent. Mostly I distracted myself watching him and thinking about animation and missed the part where he’s supposed to be the father of modern times. Oh nevermind, internet says it’s a fiction/parody of psychology, which I suppose accounts for all the laughter during Hutchins’ speech. Regardless, another weird choice for an animated film.

Moonbird (1959)

The cutest of their children-voices movies that I’ve seen – Mark and Hampy dig a hole, lay bait (candy) and set a trap to catch the elusive moonbird. Won the oscar over a Speedy Gonzalez, a biblical Disney and an Ernest Pintoff musical short.

The Adventures of * (1957)

Fun, visually exciting short about how aging crushes your imagination and sense of fun – but with a happy ending.

Urbanissimo (1967)

Another favorite. A farmer is startled by a giant, resource-scarfing mobile city that steals his fruits and spits out canned fruit. Entranced by the music of the city (a nice jazz score by Benny Carter) he drops everything and runs after it. Presented by the National Housing Agency of Canada.

Dig (1972)

Educational short about geology. Adam is going to the store for milk when he falls deep into the earth’s crust. Guided by a talking rock (Jack Warden, the president in Being There) he learns about quakes, salt, stalactites, different kinds of rock, fossils, volcanoes. Songs ensue, including “So Sedimentary,” which Dump has covered. Blacklisted actor Morris Carnovsky protects “the tomb of the earth,” through which they go back through prehistoric eras. Finally Jack returns to his mom (Maureen Stapleton, Emma Goldman in Reds) with his new pet rock (and no milk).

“If things could talk…”

Our hero Lily Rabe, doing something quirky:

Mona (Lily Rabe, a little Drew Barrymorish) is on the run from her mom, dealing with mysterious strangers and memories of her deceased father who used to play a Calvinball version of tic tac toe with her on the beach. A boy finds her wallet, uses her cash to take piano lessons from teacher Kevin Corrigan (Jerry Rubin in Steal This Movie). Five animated commentators (including the voice of David Cross) play a game involving the plot and props of the movie.

D. London on guitar:

Mona likes elevator operator Daniel London (the guy who isn’t Bonny Bill Oldham in Old Joy) but they have a falling-out when Jane Lynch (of A Mighty Wind, possibly my favorite performer here) spills beer on Mona. The cartoon characters intervene, causing the woman who hired Mona (to sort through and retype mysterious papers) to have a seizure in order to reunite Mona with the elevator man and reconcile her with her mother. Possibly.

Cartoon gramma torture:

A quirky indie drama, not realistic in the slightest, but the animation and the digital tomfoolery let us know that’s intentional. Playful and childish and full of cameos (John Sayles is Mona’s landlord, Eugene Mirman is the night elevator man, Jon Benjamin is a cop, and Jon Glaser is an open-mic performer named Toooot). The first voice we hear is Robyn Hitchcock, appropriately as a train conductor.

Jane Lynch (Role Models, Smiley Face) poses next to Hubley artwork:

Hubley’s first feature, very good as far as Sundancey indies go.
Yo La Tengo provides a chill soundtrack (and connections to half the guest stars).

Watercolor self-images by Jeff Scher, whose short films I’ve been enjoying:

I’d considered declaring August to be Shorts Month and watching hundreds of those, so I stocked up, but the inspiration had fled by the time the month rolled around. But we can’t let all these shorts go to waste, so I still watched more than usual.

73 Suspect Words and Heaven’s Gate (2000, Peggy Ahwesh)
Fun gimmick videos, one displaying the “suspect words” found by running the Unabomber manifesto through a spell checker, and the other listing off the search keywords of the Heaven’s Gate cult’s website. In the first the text appears quickly and fades out, and in the second the words flicker constantly.

Apocalypse Pooh (1987, T. Graham)
scenes from Apocalypse Now and Winnie The Pooh inexpertly combined. Actually the lipsync and some of the shot selections were pretty wonderful. I’m pretty sure nobody will ever care about this movie again now that a hundred thousand video mashups are clogging youtube, but it’s a cute piece of cult history. The poor video quality would turn on the guy who made Out of Print.

Thanksgiving Prayer (1991, Gus Van Sant)
William S. Burroughs hatin’ on America, being a general bummer, as is the fashion among leftists around Thanksgiving time. Decent video but I far prefer Ballad of the Skeletons with Allen Ginsberg.

Szalontudo (2006, Szirmai Marton)
That joke where guy 1 thinks guy 2 has stolen his food, so he starts eating from the other side, and they glare at each other eating the same food, then guy 2 walks off and guy 1 sees his food still untouched… he was eating guy 2’s food! Ah! This was terrible, with gross squishy chewing sound effects. Won an audience award in north-central Spain where they’ve never heard that joke before.

Le Vol d’Icare (1974, Georges Schwitzgebel)
I think it’s primitive animation made on a lite-brite. Or maybe it’s HyperStudio version 0.1. Story of icarus, I suppose. I liked the flocks of birds. What is that, a harpsichord?

Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005, Peter Tscherkassky)
Pumping stutter-motion! Variable-speed lock-groove dude in a Leone western having a death-dream. Ends with words “Start,” “End” and “Finish” overlapping as the guy, appearing to be on fire, runs with mirrored graveyards above and below him.

The Adventurer (1917, Charles Chaplin)
Weird to see Charlie as an escaped convict threatening cops with a shotgun. But there’s plenty of ass-kickin and cliff-jumpin so it’s alright. I forgot the encoding quality is garbage on my copy of these… must buy a better one.


Inflation (1927, Hans Richter)
Rich people, money, poor people, more money, stock traders, more and more and more money, digits rushing at the screen whilst speed-adjusted carnival nightmare music plays until the whole damn thing comes crashing down. Only two minutes long! An achievement.

Yellow Tag (2004, Jan Troell)
In the old days we were close to our farm animals but today governments require tracking ear-tags. Fun movie… maybe didn’t need the classroom and religious art scenes, but it makes up for that in the end by going all wacky with shooting galleries and suited men raining down outside some kinda UN building.


Crac! (1981, Frédéric Back)
Animated story of the creation and long life of a rocking chair, accompanied by drum and fiddle music. It’s much better than it sounds.

Thigh Line Lyre Triangular (1961, Stan Brakhage)
Arrrrgh, another birthing movie! Why did nobody warn me? Apparently the title is Brak-code for “vagina.” Once I got over the initial shock, this is excellent. Hand-processed frames over live-action film, intense.


Pol Pot’s Birthday (2004, Talmage Cooley)
In 1985, the scrappy dictator’s men throw him a super-weak budget surprise birthday party, with grey cake and music on an old tape player. Awkward conversation ensues… P-P gets peed on by a dog and “Walking On Sunshine” plays over the credits. Kim Rew got paid?

Meet King Joe (1949, John Sutherland)
More generic propaganda with no direct sense of purpose. Joe is “the king of the workers of the world” because here in America, competition and investment in infrastructure make our jobs easier with more disposable income than anywhere else. Take that, dirt-poor chinaman! Statistics to be proud of: “Americans own practically all the refrigerators in existence. Bathtubs? We’ve got 92% of them.”

Hymn to Merde (2009, Leos Carax)
I agree that Merde/Lavant is wonderful to watch, but Carax doesn’t seem to know what to do with him. Protracted death-sentence courtroom drama wasn’t it, nor is a lo-res music video of him singing a Kills song translated into his own head-slapping language.

.tibbaR (2004, Leo Wentink)
Eerie music and nervous sound effects accompany time-remapped footage of lab rabbit breeding. I never know why anything is happening in short films anymore.

Go! Go! Go! (1964, Marie Menken)
So damn jittery it gave me an eye-ache, exactly what I was getting away from the computer in order to avoid. All nervous time-lapse footage shot around the city. Some real nice high-angle shots of construction sites and traffic patterns, superimpositions on a wedding, lots of boats and bridges. Color/picture looked perfect on my tube TV.

The Spook Speaks (1940, Jules White)
Not-at-all-good short full of corny sound effects and sub-stooges gags, but it’s better than the others I’ve watched on these DVDs since it has a roller-skating penguin. Buster’s costar Elsie Ames (she was in most of these shorts, then showed up 30 years later in Minnie & Moskowitz for some reason) is terrible, but then, Buster is terrible too. Thanks Sony for slapping warnings and disclaimers and legal shit before every short on the disc. They must’ve known it wouldn’t get tiresome because we’d only watch one before quitting.

Who Am I? (1989, Faith Hubley)
Things morph into other things, illustrating the five (or six or seven) senses. Short!

Blake Ball (1988, Emily Hubley)
Didn’t love the narration in this one. The woman who says “some are born to sweet delight/some are born to endless night” (without the preceding lines) has got nothing on Nobody. I guess all the lines are the words of William Blake, but they’re not making much of an impact, and I never figured out Blake’s connection to all the baseball stuff. There’s more five senses stuff anyway. A bit too laboriously new-agey, but some great moments (like below).

O Dreamland (1953, Lindsay Anderson)
Boy did I ever botch the Free Cinema box set, buying it then deciding I didn’t want to watch it after all and letting it sit on the shelf for years. Finally checked this out and I kinda really like it. Could do without the evil laughing clown all over the soundtrack. Kind of like Jean Vigo’s À propos de Nice which, given If….‘s resonance with Zero For Conduct, proves Anderson saw a Vigo retrospective at some point.

This must be the best book I’ve read on the work of a director. It’s organized just how I’d like, with articles covering all aspects of Tashlin’s work (with little overlap), interviews with Tashlin and with others about Tashlin, excerpts from his cartoons, plenty of photographs, critical write-ups of each film he directed and detailed chronology and filmography of all his work. I read the library copy straight through. Gotta adjust myself to not being able to put it on my shelf of film books since it’s so far out of print… can’t own everything, ya know.

Some edited excerpts:

Jonathan Rosenbaum:

It seems to me that “Tashlinesque” can mean one or more of five different strains in the contemporary cinema which I will list below, with appropriate examples…

A. Graphic expression in shapes, colors, costumes, settings and facial expressions derived from both animated and still cartoons and comic books: The 500 Fingers of Dr. T., I Want To Go Home, Dick Tracy

B. Sexual hysteria – usually (if not invariably) grounded in the combination of male adolescent lust and 1950s’ notions of feminine voluptuousness: Seven Year Itch, The Nutty Professor, Lord Love a Duck, The Man With Two Brains

C. Vulgar modernism: a “popular, ironic, somewhat dehumanized mode reflexively concerned with the specific properties of its medium or the conditions of its making” (Hoberman): Duck Amuck, Hellzapoppin’, Sullivan’s Travels, The Patsy, Real Life, The Purple Rose of Cairo

D. Intertextual film references: Shoot The Piano Player, Zazie dans le metro, Celine & Julie Go Boating, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

E. Contemporary social satire: products, gadgets, fads, trends: Christmas In July, A King in New York, Mon oncle, Tampopo

J. Hoberman

Tashlin’s films ultimately have less to do with the production of cultural forms than with their packaging and consumption. His America is a nation of robotic image junkies whose minds have been colonized by the media. Jerry Lewis’s landlady in Rock-a-Bye Baby does exactly what TV commercials tell her to do, even to the point of dying her hair vermilion; the movie fans in Hollywood or Bust and Rock Hunter are little more than popcorn and fan-mag consuming zombies. The protagonist of The Girl Can’t Help It is made to hallucinate singer Julie London every time he hears one of her records on a jukebox.

Bernard Eisenschitz

Although Truffaut and his colleagues at Cahiers knew little English and even less about contemporary trends in American theater and jazz… they were not caught unawares by The Girl Can’t Help It and Hollywood or Bust. Rivette, Rohmer and Truffaut rated them “masterpieces” in the same month as The Wrong Man and Chikamatsu monogatari. A phantasy view of America to be sure, but no less valid than the recent sociological approach, in which films have little place. Tashlin not only identified and denounced the contradiction of American cinema, but also embodied it, since the ambivalence of his films makes it impossible to say which side he is taking, or to be sure that he is not exploiting the very thing that he is denouncing. The Cahiers group did not only see Tashlin as radically destructive, they also appreciated the sheer beauty of what he showed.

Playing to the French title of Hollywood or Bust, Charles Bitsch wrote, “A true movie nut, Tashlin is the first to have made films for other true movie nuts.”

Tashlin in 1964

Cartoons are a very stimulating medium. For animators, the joke reigns supreme. But it’s also a world of enslavement. The world of an animator, no matter how fertile his ideas may be, is in the end, a confined frame, a tiny glass cel where his creations come to life. It’s as though the whole universe were reduced to a series of postcards. You spend your whole life splicing, flipping through cel sheets, drawing frame by frame. After a few years the whole thing becomes so debilitating that you lose all contact with the real world.

same interview, after he’d quit working at Disney in 1941…

I sought refuge at Leon Schlesinger’s where I worked on the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons, then went to Screen Gems at Columbia where John Hubley and I developed the “Fox and Crow” series. I became a gagman for Harpo Marx in A Night In Casablanca. The mirror sequence, which I invented specially for him, was a series of variations on an old gag … Then I worked for Eddie Bracken, and later for Bob Hope.

Tashlin in 1962

I really hate television. It’s no experience. You sit at home, you don’t get dressed and go out. It’s free – the audience doesn’t participate – they sit there and turn the dial and be critical. I detest it.

1994 interview with Bill Krohn and Joe Dante:

BK: So much live-action filmmaking today is influenced by cartoons which he was the first to do, but so little of it has any social pertinence.
JD: That’s because he was influenced by better cartoons. The people who are doing cartoons today are basing them on The Flintstones. That was the nadir; cartoons were disappearing as cartoons and becoming radio shows. Doing live-action cartoons – movies like L’il Abner, Popeye – it’s a very tough thing to do. But the Flintstones themselves were so uncartoonlike that it’ll be a little easier to translate them into live action. Whereas to do Bugs Bunny, or to do characters that really are fanciful, you just can’t do that in live action.

Mike Barrier interviews Tashlin in 1971

MB: I understand you worked on the very first development of Lady and the Tramp too.
FT: That’s right, Sam [Cobean] and I did that whole story; I’d forgotten about that.
MB: Were you working from the story that Ward Greene wrote?
FT: I don’t recall the book. Joe Grant had modeled the dog, Lady, and Sam and I did a story. I never saw the film… I think we had rats coming after the baby at the end… did they have that? Then that’s what we did.

MB: You’ve mentioned that when you made your cartoons, you were looking forward to feature work. Now that you’ve been making features for many years, have there been occasions when you’ve looked back to your cartoon work and tried to get a cartoon flavor in some of your films?
FT: Oh I guess quite often, because all the reviewers – Truffaut and Godard and all these people when they were reviewers on Cahiers du Cinema, they always treated my films, my Jerry Lewis films and all, as a cartoon. I did a picture with Tom Ewell and Jayne Mansfield [The Girl Can’t Help It] and as far as they were concerned, that was a Tom and Jerry cartoon, and the fact that his name was Tom and hers was Jerri – which I never thought of – they said, “She is the cat and he is the mouse.”

From the chronology:

1952 – Tashlin spends nearly six months working with Robert Welch on the script for “Sapphire Sal,” later re-titled Red Garters. Tashlin is originally set to direct, but when he checks off the Paramount lot in late August the production is put on hold awaiting the loan-out of Jane Russell from RKO. (Red Garters, not produced until 1954, ultimately stars Rosemary Clooney, with screenplay credit going to Michael Fessier.)

Flight of the Conchords: A Texan Odyssey
Short doc of the duo band at SXSW. Funny! Seen below massaging the feet of Peaches.

Wallace and Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008, Nick Park)
This was as fast-paced as the action scenes in the Wallace & Gromit full-length, and packed full of jokes and puns. Our heroes are bakers now, and a former bread company model, now grown fat on breads and pastries, is out for revenge on the bakery world. She gets cozy with Wallace, plotting to murder him with a giant cartoon bomb (among other things) while Gromit and the woman’s terrified pet poodle try to ruin her plans. Lovely movie, probably inspired by the name of cowriter Bob Baker and/or voice actor Peter Sallis’s appearance in the movie Who Is Killing The Great Chefs of Europe. Must check out Nick Park’s series Shaun The Sheep.

Living in a Reversed World
Educational doc. Sadistic Austrian professor, trying to prove a point about perception, gets students to wear special mirror/prism glasses which reverse left/right or up/down and see if they can adjust. They can. He also puts goggles on a chicken, which I don’t think is a good idea.

The Contraption (1977, James Dearden)
Closeups of construction. What’s he building in there? What the hell… is he building in there? Turns out to be a giant mousetrap for our suicidal handyman. Dearden later made Matt Dillon thriller A Kiss Before Dying. Contraption-builder Richard O’Brien had lately been in Rocky Horror, would play Mr. Hand in Dark City. Tied for best short at the Berlin fest… this is pretty neat, but I wouldn’t have thought it an award-winner.

Cameras Take Five (2003, Stephen Woloshen)
Abstract hand-drawn animation set to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. Liked it, not super busy, didn’t think people were doing stuff like this anymore.

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Double Feature (1966, Hubleys)
John & Faith animate two short musical numbers to Spanish Flea and Tijuana Taxi. Not slick like the Doonesbury short, homemade-looking. Cute pieces though (predictably about a flea and a taxi). Beat out a Pink Panther short and an anti-smoking PSA for the oscar. Rough year for animation, I guess. Lost at Cannes to a documentary on Holland (not by Bert Haanstra).

The Tortoise and the Hare (1935, Wilfred Jackson)
Hare is kinda an asshole – supposedly his character was stolen by Warners as a prototype for Bugs Bunny. This plays like the other Silly Symphonies, not as good as the Three Little Pigs though.

A Perfect Place (2008, Derrick Scocchera)
Sharp b-w cinematography and two very dryly comic actors (Mark Boone Jr. of Memento & Thin Red Line and Bill Moseley of all the Rob Zombie films) make for a good movie. In the first second, MBJ “kills” an acquaintance who was cheating at cards, then they spend the next 25 min trying to dispose of the body. Not the usual over-the-top situations either, movie keeps it cool. I guessed early on that the cheat wasn’t really dead but that didn’t make it less enjoyable. Dig the theme song by Mike Patton.

MANT! (1993, Joe Dante)
Tracigally not a full feature. All the scenes shot for the film-in-a-film of Dante’s awesome Matinee were assembled into this short included with the laserdisc.

Three excellent shorts by Norman McLaren. Fiddle-de-dee (1947, painted to an upbeat fiddle tune), Boogie-Doodle (1948, drawn with pen to a piano boogie) and Serenal (1959, etched and hand-colored to a Trinidadian string quartet number)




Frank Film
Barebones story of Frank Mouris’s life narrated on the soundtrack blended with a free-association list of words. Visual is a fast-motion collage of magazine-clipped images. Neat, must’ve taken forever. Won the Oscar, kickstarting a long life of filmmaking obscurity for Frank, poor guy.

Valse Triste
Looks like a montage of found footage from rural America in the 1940’s set to sweeping sad music. Sepia-tinted, only 5 minutes long. Took me a visit to IMDB to realize the montage represents the wet dream of the boy who goes to sleep at the beginning of the film, damn. I get it now. Bruce Conner born in Kansas in 1933, so he WAS that boy!

Adam, 5 to 12
Begin the rhythmic Estonian vocal music. Trippy animation doesn’t do much, then the clock appears, then a whole pile of grim images of war and death are overlaid on the clock. Adam tries to turn the clock back but it’s frozen at 5 to 12. Finally it moves dramatically to THE END. Director Petar Gligorovski died in 1995.

V. Gligorijevic (via email) on the music: “Its composer, Veljo Tormis, had clash with Soviet authorities which perceived Estonian nationalist overtones in Tormis’s music, from which the Curse to the Iron, the featured background, is considered one of his most recognizable works.”

Reflecting Pool
Wow, this is great. Seven minutes of a reflecting pool with some video effects. A man motions to jump in, but is frozen in midair while the pool stays in gentle motion. The man slowly fades out, and most of the rest of the action takes place in the pool’s reflection and through its varying levels of agitation. Probably just a more complicated metaphor for sex than the last film… I don’t pick up on those things easily. Bill Viola is only 56 and still working.

Sweet Light
Another by Bill Viola. Close-up: some flies on a windowsill. Camera moves slowly and evenly away and turns toward a man writing at a desk. Camera fast follows a ball of paper he hurls on the floor. Abrupt change to camera spinning around a dinner table candle, then insects leaving vapor trails in the air. There is light involved, and it’s all pretty sweet, so there’s your title.

A man against a wall making hand gestures, distorting his face and making breathy sounds. Gets violent at times. Probably also a metaphor for sex. My copy was dark and muddy but it’s not like I’ll be scouring rare video stores looking for a better version. Oh, I looked it up and the man is Arnulf Rainer, a surrealist-influenced artist known for “body art and painting under drug influence”. This must be body art. I wouldn’t have named a museum after this guy, but I guess the New York art scene knows better than I do. Directed by Peter Kubelka.

Powers of Ten
By famous designers/architects/filmmakers Charles and Ray Eames. “A film dealing with the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of adding another zero”, made for IBM. A man is laying in a park in Chicago. We zoom out from him to 100 million light years (10^24 m) then zoom into his hand to 0.000001 angstroms (10^-16 m). Both Eames died on August 21, ten years apart. Music by Elmer Bernstein (also dead) of Far From Heaven and Ghostbusters.

The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa
The Kafka story done with cool mushy black and white perspective-shifting animation (paint on glass?). Samsa might be some sort of spider/beetle. Caroline Leaf works with the National Film Board of Canada.

Elimination Dance
Co-written and starring Don McKellar (Last Night). Dir. by Bruce McDonald, who made cult films Roadkill and Hard Core Logo. Couples dance all night while an announcer reads off descriptions (“anyone who has lost a urine sample in the mail”) eliminating them one by one, as the cops slowly close in fearing unrest. A comedy, cute. Not from the seventies, I realize (1998).

A Doonesbury Special
Kind of limited animation, but that’s not a cool criticism to make of a well-intentioned independent production like this one. Neat movie, could’ve stood to be another half hour longer. A regular day at the commune with a bunch of flashbacks, “feeling the present as it moves by”. A little sad, some disillusionment about the fallen ideals of the late 60’s, probably a nice companion to the comics (which I haven’t read since Hunter died). Both Hubleys have died, Trudeau cowrote the Tanner movies.

La Soufriere
“This is the police station. It was totally abandoned. It was a comfort for us not having the law hanging around.” Would’ve probably been one of Werner Herzog’s best-known movies (OR have led to Herzog’s fiery death) if the volcano had exploded as predicted, but since it didn’t, this is an obscurity on a DVD of documentary shorts. “There was something pathetic for us in the shooting of this picture, and therefore it ended a little bit embarrassing. Now it has become a report on an inevitable catastrophe that did not take place.” Herz and crew tromp about an extremely dangerous volcano site in the Caribbean, explore the completely empty towns below, and interview what few stragglers remain. One of the cameramen is from Morristown NJ, also shot Far From Heaven, A Prairie Home Companion, Tokyo-ga, True Stories and The Limey.

Most of these movies are as old as I am.