Night Music (1986, Stan Brakhage)

A brilliant-looking hand-painted montage.
Only 30 seconds long including credits.
I’ve been playing it before everything I watch.

La villa Santo Sospir (1952, Jean Cocteau)

Cocteau was hired to decorate a wealthy villa in summer 1950, and documented his own work afterwards. Even in a documentary short he can’t resist shooting in slow-motion and reversing the film.

“Being a professional, I wanted to make an amateur film without burdening myself with any rules.”

Cabale des Oursins (1991, Luc Moullet)

Comparable to Alain Resnais’ plastics short, something that seems like it should be a straightforward industrial film, but goes poetic and absurd. Beginning with a topic even less interesting than plastic factories, “slag heaps made of waste from old mines.” I couldn’t help getting the Hubleys’ rock-based songs in my head (“midnight ride down the rock bottom road, bump-de-bump-de-bump… bump-bump”).

“Coal mining is considered shameful. It has always been hidden underground. Slag heaps are an insult to this secrecy.”

The Case of Lena Smith (1929, Josef von Sternberg)

Fragment of lost Sternberg feature! Lena and friend are at a carnival, witnessing a magic act, a bit overwhelmed. Some cool superimpositions and carnival-glass effects.

Speaking of lost films, there’s also making-of footage on The Day The Clown Cried online, so everybody is talking about that movie again.

Cantico das Criaturas (2006, Miguel Gomes)

Shaky handheld music video for acoustic song by bald guitarist. At the moment this is my favorite Gomes movie. Then on to stylised poetic story of St. Francis regaining memory to anthropomorphized Francis-worshipping nature footage. Ash responded to the sounds of mice and owls.

Trains Are For Dreaming (2009, Jennifer Reeves)

People Like Us-reminiscent mashup soundscape lockgroove with flash-frame alternating strobe edits of faces with scenery. Pulsing ambient soundtrack. Screengrabs can give no indication of this.

Light Work I (2007, Jennifer Reeves)

Sepia animated industrial photography with tone drones. Bubble-chem mixology, molten metal flows. Abstract paint-motion. Aphex Airlines hatefully obnoxious audio. Superb visuals, play some Zorn over ’em next time.

Capitalism: Child Labor (2006, Ken Jacobs)

Oh my god. An historical stereoscopic photograph has been acquired, depicting children in a factory. Ken shows us left frame, right frame, black, on repeat for fourteen fucking minutes, with variations, accompanied (as all a-g movies must be) by ambient music by Rick Reed that gets increasingly hard to bear. I cannot tell a lie: I skipped ahead.

Lullaby (2007, Andrej Zolotukhin)

Among all the analog-looking pencil lines and rumpled paper, there is some sort of software manipulation and either live-action or rotoscoping. I can’t work out how it’s done, but it’s remarkable and original. It is russian, so involves death and bare wooden rooms. Bonus topics: angels and puppets, dreams, pregnancy, birds.

Some selections from the Treasures IV avant-garde set – just the ones from the 1950’s, so they’re all post-Desistfilm but pre-Mothlight.

Eyewash (1959, Robert Breer)
Flickers and movements, accurately titled. Saw this at the Anthology way back when. Think I prefer A Man And His Dog Out For Air over this. Includes a whole alternate version with (most of?) the same scenes in a different order.
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Aleph (1956-66, Wallace Berman)
Berman isn’t a well-known filmmaker – this is his only film and it went unreleased (and even untitled) until now. A cool, unexpected addition to the set, instead of just focusing on known directors. Faces and jittery camerawork, bent and damaged and overlayed with filters and text, its jittery relentlessness (and John Zorn’s squealing sax) got me down after the first five of its eight minutes.
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Odds & Ends (1959, Jane Conger Belson Shimane)
Stop-motion cut-outs and found footage and so on while a guy talks about jazz and poetry, this is supposedly an avant-garde spoof. If not for the jokey commentary, how can one tell serious experimental work from parody?
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Bridges-Go-Round (1958, Shirley Clarke)
Have I seen this before, or only read about it? Looks familiar. A dance film with bridges, overlapping images like sci-fi architecture. Two scores – I prefer the Bebe Barron one.
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Little Stabs at Happiness (1959-63, Ken Jacobs)
Just a dude with a grungy camera filming his friends and neighbors goofing around with props in a room and on a rooftop. Now that it’s less novel to own a camera, and the idea of releasing a film that isn’t a big studio production is nothing new, this seems to have lost its reason to exist. Then again, in Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Cinema Scope article he puts this in the “relatively familiar standbys” category, meaning cinephiles have been watching Jack Smith put balloons in his mouth for decades now, so maybe there’s something I’m missing. Some happy old records play over the start and end, but in the middle Jacobs narrates from ’63, telling us that none of these people shot in ’59 still talk to him, casting a mild bummer tone over the whole project.
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Betty Boop in Snow White (1933, Dave Fleischer)
Just some animated shorts from the 30’s – but this one would fit in nicely with the avant-garde set because it is bonkers crazy and also one of the most excellent things ever. It’s vaguely SnowWhitey but the story comes second to wacky invention and Cab Calloway’s St. James Infirmary clown-ghost music video.
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The Old Mill (1937, Wilfred Jackson)
This is Historically Significant, as the first film to use a multiplane camera. Won the oscar (same year as Torture Money) beating out something called Educated Fish and a dialogue-free animation of The Little Match Girl (sound familiar, Disney?). Animal life inside a battered windmill during an especially stormy night. Katy: “Aren’t owls supposed to be awake at night?”
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Ferdinand The Bull (1938, Dick Rickard))
Won an oscar against three other Disney shorts (including Brave Little Tailor, one of the only mickey cartoons I still remember) and a Fleischer short about two donkeys. Ferdinand is a pansy bull who wants to sit and sniff flowers all day. All the other bulls desperately want to be picked for a bullfight (seriously?) but our pacifist Ferdinand gets picked over them. He screws around and doesn’t fight and instead of killing him they send him back to the meadow to sniff flowers again. I don’t know what’s the moral here.
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NAFF says: “We celebrate their 45th birthday with this meticulously-chosen collection selected and introduced by Canyon Cinema’s executive director Dominic Angerame.” I don’t know what it means to be meticulously chosen. I mean, I assume Dominic is well familiar with Canyon’s films and he might’ve agonized over the selection, wondering how best to artistically and effectively represent his company’s holdings. Anyway, it was a very good selection, but NAFF could’ve been more meticulous with the presentation, misthreading one film which caused delays during which half the audience left early. But let’s face it, half the audience always leaves early during avant-garde film presentations. On with the descriptions… italic text is quoted from NAFF’s descriptions, regular text is from me.

Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (Martin Arnold, Austria 1998, 15 min.), where Arnold remixes several clips of a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland Andy Hardy film to form an erotic Oedipal musical.

I talked briefly about this one here and here. Seeing again on a giant screen in a nice theater with a packed audience was rewarding. Lots of laughter when people caught onto the oedipal/sexual jokes. Brilliant movie and concept – still one of my favorites.

Autumn Leaves (Donna Cameron, USA 1994, 6 min.), where the splendor and pleasures of autumn are the focus of this richly textured and brilliantly colored paper emulsion film.

I don’t remember it! I know I liked it – I liked all of these, but I do not remember in what specific ways I liked it. A shame, possibly.

China Girls (Michelle Silva, USA 2006, 3 min.), a short composition of women posing for skin tone and color slates used in film leaders that reveal some skin and the aesthetics of their day through film stocks and fashions.

Didn’t love this one, actually – all slates and countdowns and blips and test patterns. I see that stuff at work all day. I mean, yeah they were vintage test patterns with subliminal shots of women with carefully-maintained hairdos. A minute longer might’ve been too much, but this was harmless, probably of interest to someone else.

Delicacies of Molten Horror Synapse (Stan Brakhage, USA 1991, 10 min.), where four superimposed rolls of hand-painted and bi-packed television negative imagery are edited so as to approximate the hypnagogic process whereby the optic nerves resist grotesque infusions of luminescent light.

I mentioned this one previously here. Silent and gorgeous. Audience didn’t rustle around or yawn loudly or start to leave – they liked it too! Some of the multi-layered visuals are television images, and given the “molten horror” title you’d expect something like Light Is Waiting, but thankfully that’s not what you get.

Eaux D’Artifice (Kenneth Anger, USA 1953, 12 min.). Filmed in the gardens of the Villa D’Este in Tivoli, Italy, and accompanied by the music of Vivaldi, Camilla Salvatore plays hide and seek in a baroque night-time labyrinth of staircases, fountains, gargoyles, and balustrades.

Covered this one here. Light through water!

Ellipses (Frédé Devaux, France 1999, 6 min.), where a ripped strip of film is sewed back together following an aesthetic mode, in a celebratory end-of-century apocalypse of positive, negative, super-8, regular-8, black and white, color, saturated and faded found footage.

Oh god, I don’t remember this one either!

Georgetown Loop (Ken Jacobs, USA 1997, 11 min.), a reworking of 1905 footage of a train trip through the Colorado Rockies, where the original image is mirrored side by side to produce a stunning widescreen kaleidoscope effect.

Opens with the original film (discussed here) on the right half of a wide screen, kind of unnerving, then gloriously mirrors it onto the left. Images don’t overlap over themselves like in Light Is Waiting, but vanish into the center line, expanding and contracting, the train’s always-curving motion making it constantly split and merge. But it’s kind of an easy trick, doesn’t seem worth being called a great film, or even very “experimental.” I’m guessing they wanted to show something by big-name artist Jacobs and this was his shortest film?

In Kaleidoscope and Colour Flight (Len Lye, 1935/1938, 8 min.), Len Lye, pioneer kinetic artist, sculptor and experimental filmmaker, painted colorful designs onto celluloid, matching them to dance music.

Zowie wow, these are electric. They start out all hoppin’ jazz, colors and shapes and stripes and light and love, all in fast motion to the beat, then about three minutes in when you least expect it, they hit you with a cigarette ad. More, please!

Psalm III: Night of the Meek (Philip S. Solomon, USA 2002, 23 min.), a meditation on the twentieth century at closing time. Psalm III is a kindertotenlied in black and silver on a night of gods and monsters…

I guess it’s scenes from other films turned grey and treated with a heavy emboss filter. Often no recognizable details, then they’ll emerge suddenly from the murk. We see some nazi imagery at one point, pretty sure I saw Frankenstein a few times, and little Elsie’s balloon from M caught in the power lines. Longish, but nice, enjoyed it. Can’t remember the audio at all.