I’ve previously written up McCay’s Little Nemo (aka Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics) and How a Mosquito Operates and The Sinking of the Lusitania, and Bill Plympton’s restoration of The Flying House. Well, I got my hands on the Master Edition DVD, so now I’m watching (in most cases rewatching) the rest.


Gertie The Dinosaur (1914)

Similar to Lusitania, the full movie is more than the animation – it opens with a documentary account of the cartoon’s inspiration, with intertitles explaining to audiences unfamiliar with animation how work-intensive the process was. Per the commentary, the shorter version of this film lacks the intro and titles and was played in a live show with McCay on stage interacting with his dinosaur, giving commands and having conversation. I like how the commentary says Emile Cohl and J. Stuart Blackton were McCay’s primary influences, but that McCay also publicly claimed to have invented the animated film.

Gertie attacks the camera/presenter:

Guess what’s about to happen to that stack of original Gertie drawings:


The Centaurs (fragment)

Because you can show topless women if they’re half horse. A weird, slow-moving little piece that Canemaker imagines may have been part of McCay’s vaudeville act a la Gertie.


Gertie On Tour (fragment)
Gertie torments a trolley then dances for a crowd of dinosaurs. Animation scholars today don’t know why.


Flip’s Circus (fragment)

Little Nemo character Flip performs a stage show with a mini-Gertie, which finally eats Flip then vomits him out. Serves him right, really, since Flip spends half the movie beating the thing with a club.


Bug Vaudeville (1921)

Sketches of insects doing circus-like stunt routines on a stage, each one lasting about twice as long as it could. All this is being dreamt by a hobo under a tree (his head appearing MST3K-style watching the insect action) who frustratingly ate some cheesecake, not rarebit.


The Pet (1921)

Cute little creature walks into a house where a woman feeds it. It grows visibly larger while eating. As as it grows, it eats increasingly large things, from food to dishes to household decorations, finally to buildings and airplanes, until the army blows it to bits. Favorite scene: the pet drinks from a hose, then slurps up and eats the hose like spaghetti. Of course this is all just a rarebit dream by the man of the house, who eats dinner at “the club” and resents his wife for wanting a pet. Plympton’s redo of The Flying House is great and all, but I think this was my favorite of the rarebit fiend shorts.

The included documentary, Remembering Winsor McCay (1976) by John Canemaker, is cool for providing first-hand accounts of McCay’s life and work by his younger assistant John Fitzsimmons. But since the films are silent, I’d already played them with Canemaker’s commentary, which reuses all of Fitz’s stories and comments.

A Gentle Spirit (1985)

Morphy, smeary animation beneath a crosshatched texture overlay. Time is ticking away and people appear still and sad, a slow-motion human drama with insect cameos, until music ramps up to a climactic chase scene. I couldn’t figure out the story, but I think Dumala assumed no viewer would be so uncultured as to be unfamiliar with the source Dostoevsky novel. Will have to watch this again after seeing the Bresson version (Une Femme Douce, “a young woman kills herself, leaving no explanation to her grief-stricken pawnbroker husband”), which sounds like a barrel of laughs. Some very cool effects in this, including a table transforming into a bed.


Walls (1988)

A man is trapped within some walls. Sometimes things (drawers, insects) appear on their featureless surfaces. I guess he goes mad from sensory deprivation, since his senses start freaking out, his eyes and ears transforming. I liked it better than the previous movie.

This would seem to be an inspiration for both Tool’s Prison Sex video and the movie Symbol. Dumala would further explore his interest in insects with Franz Kafka before returning to Dostoevsky for his half-hour opus.


Crime and Punishment (2000)

I don’t think it’s all drawing, looks like there are layers of filmed objects in there, though in standard-def it’s hard to tell. Of course there are insects – buzzing flies in every scene – and I recognize the basic Crime (with an axe, killing the pawnbroker and a witness), but the crime is finished with only seven minutes to go in the film, so there’s little Punishment. The killer sits at home feeling bad for a minute before Dumala goes outside to play with animals in the rain. Perhaps a mute witness to the crime kills himself at the end? There are some cool effects – I liked the liquid glimmer of nervous eyes in extreme close-up – but it’s so static it loses my attention repeatedly over the thirty minutes.

Raptor in the rain, a drop falling from its beak:

Happy to come across this again – haven’t seen it since the VHS days. Awesome, hour-long stop-motion with live actors interacting with the miniature creations, which must’ve been difficult. Dark sci-fi fairy-tale following tiny Tom, born to normal-sized parents, then abducted away to a torture-lab, adopted by a tiny-people society, and brought on a guerrilla mission with a well-armed little guy. Death and horror is around every corner, and pretty much everyone is doomed. The grimy, insect-filled design is marvelous, would be cool to see this in HD someday.

Stills cannot convey the majesty:

Oh no, writer/director Dave Borthwick died a few years ago, after codirecting a kids’ animated feature. Dave’s “Bolex Brothers” partner Dave Alex Riddett is a stop-motion cinematographer (Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, way back to the Sledgehammer video), and the Bolexes also produced the great short The Saint Inspector.

Haven’t watched this since theaters. Blu-ray version 17 years later reinforces first impression that it’s pretty good. Man, Pixar has come a long way with 3D textures. Misfit inventor ant is exiled for causing havoc and getting the ants in trouble with the bully grasshoppers, finds help in the form of failed circus act, returns and fails to save the day but succeeds in convincing his fellow ants to stand up to oppression.

Oh no, I got behind on the blog and didn’t write about these.
I tend to forget shorts pretty fast, so I’m using web sources to recall which of these was which.

Me and My Moulton (Torill Kove)
Narrated memoir of three girls growing up in a normal town with not-normal parents – they are art and design obsessed, and when the kids ask for bicycles they finally get a weird one the proud parents have mail-ordered. Kove won best picture in 2006 for The Danish Poet.

Feast (Patrick Osborne)
We saw this before, playing with Big Hero 6, and I forgot to mention it then. Dog’s-eye-view of food, food, doomed human relationship, more food. Osborne worked on Bolt, Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph.

The Bigger Picture (Daisy Jacobs)
One of my favorite things: wall drawings and real objects interacting, 2D and 3D blending, like the drawn animations on paper-mache backgrounds in Rocks In My Pockets, or in a different sense, the dimension-based drama of Rabbit and Deer. But while I love the idea, it’s still a drab little story about fighting siblings and a dying parent.

A Single Life (Blaauw/Oprins/Roggeveen)
My favorite – also the shortest. Woman puts a 45 on the player, and finds that if she skips to different parts of the record, she travels to different times in her own life. IMDB claims the story was conceived on a drunken college night.

The Dam Keeper (Kondo & Tsutsumi)
Lonely pig runs the windmill that keeps the darkness at bay, but nobody in town loves or respects him so one day he lets the darkness in. Both directors worked on Pixar movies. This was cool, dark and imaginative, so naturally there’s talk of sequels and franchises and live-action remakes.

Sweet Cocoon (Bernard/Bruget/Duret/Marco/Puiraveau)
A student film, I think. A caterpillar is fat!

Duet (Glen Keane)
Keane has been in animation forever, was a lead character animator on many Disney features, and this is his first solo film. A boy is sporty, and a girl is graceful, and they like each other, all in one continual, fluid animation. Katy thought it reinforced oppressive gender roles, but that was before she saw the new Cinderella.

Footprints (Bill Plympton)
Moebius-strip footprint-following detective story.

Bus Story (Tali)
Another memoir, this time of a young woman who dreams of being a bus driver, so rents a shitty bus from its grumpy owner. Tali made La Pirouette, which I saw in 2002 and liked, though I can’t remember at all.

I guess it’s about two people with traumatic pasts who try to track down where their lives went wrong – but as I could tell from the trailer, it’s hard to say exactly what it’s about. One thing I wasn’t expecting: it opens with Swanberg/Wingard regular Amy Seimetz being kidnapped and force-fed a mind-control worm by a patient abductor who takes her home and gets her to sign over all her home equity, which he cashes and disappears.

In her shabby new life working at a signage shop, Amy is relentlessly courted by divorced ex-junkie Shane (our writer/director/etc) who tries to help her come to terms with her life. He has his own identity problems – she tells him stories and he fashions them into his own memories and tries to re-tell them to her. During the mutual-paranoid-freakout scene in a bathtub the movie started to remind me of Bug.

Elsewhere in the world, a pig farmer is somehow involved with the worm-brainwashed abductees and possibly the harvesting of new mind-control worms. Also he seems to be a sound recordist. Amy pieces together enough details to discover his farm and kill him, upon which they find documents on all the other kidnappees, and invite them all to the pig farm.

And I haven’t even mentioned these guys:

The above is a silly description of an entrancing movie.
This was a long time coming after Carruth’s great Primer.
Co-edited by David Lowery, whose Ain’t Them Bodies Saints made waves the same year.

Cinema Scope has an excellent interview with Carruth:

From a writing perspective, I don’t want these people to wake up and have a normal resolution. That’s impossible for me because that means that I understand all of this and have a morality lesson to explain to the audience. And I don’t. All I have is an exploration. So the characters can resolve their story in their own way, but that doesn’t stop the exploration for me.

Miyazaki’s first non-series feature, and the movie that spawned Studio Ghibli. It’s a surprisingly huge-looking feature for a startup/indie flick. Watched the well-dubbed English version on day one of the Belcourt’s retrospective, a weekday matinee populated by children and die-hards. Voices I recognized: just Patrick Stewart as Lord Yupa. Voices I Did Not Recognize: Alison Drag Me To Hell Lohman as Nausicaa, Shia LaBeouf as enemy gunfighter-turned-friend Asbel, Tress MacNeille (Babs Bunny, Principal Skinner’s mom) as the blind old woman, Mark Hamill as the warlord leader of Pejite, Uma Thurman as the warlord leader of Tolmekia, and Chris Jack Skellington Sarandon as Kurotowa, Thurman’s power-hungry buffoon assistant.

Nausicaa is the uniquely smart and capable princess of the wind valley, introduced scavenging in the toxic forest and helping her uncle Yupa escape from giant marauding bugs known as Ohm. Their village is invaded by Thurman’s Tolmekians, who aim to resurrect a giant mythical warrior and annihilate other tribes. While everyone else worries about becoming the dominant human force on a dying world, Nausicaa is aiming to make peace with the insects and discover why the world’s plants have turned poisonous. In the movie’s Planet of the Apes reveal, she and Asbel learn that civilizations past fatally polluted the soil and that the plants adapted to gradually purify it. Showdown between giant warrior (not fully recomposed, it melts), hordes of undefeatable insects, and prophet Nausicaa, who brings peace to the land.

Two years after The Face of Another and Pitfall, and seven years after I first fell asleep trying to watch it, I finally make it to/through Woman in the Dunes. I know that sentence makes moviewatching seem like a chore, but this was one I’ve been really looking forward to – a movie I knew I would totally love, so it might as well be saved for a special occasion, like staying home from work unable to sleep from painful poison ivy.

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This was made in between the other two, and shares their shining, silvery black-and-white cinematography. An entomologist is allowed to stay at a woman’s house in a sand pit but is not allowed to leave. He rages against his situation, declares the sand illogical, tries to escape through cleverness and trickery, and finally (over months, years) resigns himself to it, living with her and helping to fill buckets with sand to be sold by the villagers for building material.

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At first he doesn’t trust the woman, then he wants to help her get out, then the villagers gather around the edge of the hole offering him favors if he’ll have sex with her in front of them, and finally they’re an acting married couple, and she’s being lifted out of the hole with pregnancy complications, leaving him a chance to escape which he doesn’t take.

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Funny enough, the same week I watched this, Criterion put out a Japanese movie from a year earlier called Insect Woman, a title this film could’ve stolen.

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James Quandt’s essay points out the common theme of breaks in identity from Pitfall and Face of Another – the teacher gives up his life of collecting, identifying and documenting and accepts his captive life in the desert. And hey, Quandt saw the same parallel images of sand-flecked bodies between this and Hiroshima mon amour that I was noticing – good for us.

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The man, Eiji Okada, is the same actor from Hiroshima mon amour, which is probably why that occurred to me. He later appeared in The Face of Another, Crazed Fruit, Samurai Spy, and in the last year of his life, Stairway to the Distant Past. I’m not sure who the dune woman, Ky├┤ko Kishida, played in Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon, but she also starred in Manji which I’d like to see.

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IMDB: “What do an elderly topiary gardener, a retired lion tamer, a man fascinated by mole rats, and a cutting-edge robotics designer have in common?” That’s what I set to find out while watching this very fun, good-looking and well-edited movie. Katy got tired an hour in, liked it for the most part but didn’t enjoy my connection-drawing game.

Dave was a lion trainer who traveled with the circus. He seems ambivalent about his career, not talking it up as a great time with his beloved lions or an exhilarating and rewarding experience, mostly going over the reasons for first wanting to be involved (he idolized and eventually worked with Clyde Beatty, animal trainer and entertainer who once co-starred with Mickey Spillane in a weird-sounding mystery called Ring of Fear) and the procedures and dangers involved.

George is an elderly gardener who creates, trims and maintains the topiary sculptures in one estate garden. You get the feeling there used to be one old woman who oversaw the garden, and now there’s nobody, that he’s gardening for himself on someone else’s land. Unlike Dave, who is helping train newcomers, George has nobody following in his footsteps, and dislikes other gardeners’ methods (using electric hedge trimmers, for example).

Raymond studies and “wrangles” insects, and has become a specialist in the naked mole-rat, a mammal that exhibits insect-like behavior. He sets up a museum installation to put their society on display, and talks about their activity and relationships.

Rodney is a robot scientist trying to innovate robotic movement and behavior by putting together bunches of small robots or processes which try to solve common tasks, instead of attempting to control them with one larger intelligent system.

There are plenty of ways to link these four guys and their jobs/interests, not a large hidden theme which is the One True Key to unlocking the film. They all work with non-human life forms, trying to study and control behavior. Some offer insights into human behavior through the lens of their subjects. All but Dave work with arrays of smaller beings (robots/leaves/rats) which work together towards large tasks (or forms). I had more but I’ve forgotten half of them… IMDB commenters mention themes of growth and development, consciousness and death, or the guys as representative of different concepts of god’s existence.

I loved the editing, the music (by Caleb Sampson, who killed himself the following year), the use of stock footage (such as old Clyde Beatty films) instead of the Mr. Death re-enactments, the pacing. The movie’s got heart… these guys are really involved in what they’re doing, care about it, and each is able to express himself and his subject in an engaging, philosophic way. It’s not the connections and differences between these guys which are interesting in themselves, it’s the way Morris encourages the viewer to discover them. Wonderful.