Another entry for…

Initiated by Shadowplay

It’s rare for late-career shorts to even exist. Filmmakers tend to “graduate” from shorts to features, never looking back, unless called to work on some anthology film (like that one called “8” which Altman was scheduled to make after A Prairie Home Companion). Animators may be the exception, so half of the late shorts I rounded up were handmade.

Self Portrait (1988, Osamu Tezuka)
The few animations I’ve seen of Tezuka’s are among the most inventive I’ve seen from anybody. I’m not sure if the ten-second runtime of this short, made when he was 60, was imposed by the producer of this Animated Self-Portraits series or if that’s simply how much time Tezuka needed to make his point. Left/right/center portions of faces spin like a slot machine, and after four or five mismatches, the proper self-portrait alignment is reached – jackpot!

Is That All There Is? (1993, Lindsay Anderson)
Another self-portrait – the artist at age 70. Lindsay wakes up, takes a bunch of pills, puts on the news, watches some TV, has a bath, gazes at posters of his own films on the bathroom walls, goes shopping then back home, entertains writer Bernard Kops who talks about getting paid for his work, chats with some more visitors, moans about transportation with the cleaning lady, gets in a fight with his disgruntled nephew, complains about Michael Caine’s hair, discusses John Ford with a BBC producer, photocopies a newspaper review of Michael Powell’s Life in Movies that Lindsay wrote, goes through his scrapbook of past film writing, watches Ron Howard on Oprah (“I always wanted to make a movie … most importantly, I didn’t want it to be boring”), reviews his history of theater productions and film projects (he claims to have written If… 2), goes to the acupuncturist and the doctor, checks out sets and music for a new theater production, talks with his brother about gravitas, then holds a memorial service for two actresses who had appeared in his TV movie The Old Crowd fourteen years earlier. A full day. I don’t know much about Anderson – seen his bizarre Malcolm McDowell trilogy, but I only enjoyed two of them and probably understood none. This was downright enjoyable, especially considering my lack of enthusiasm for the day-in-the-life documentary format. Though I’m not saying this was a documentary – Anderson gets a writing credit, and the scene construction is subtly more intricate than could be expected from a single camera recording in real time.

Narcissus (1983, Norman McLaren)
McLaren’s final released film, made when he was seventy. A ballet version of the Narcissus tale, in which our hero dances against a black background with a girl, then with a guy, finally shunning them both in favor of his own reflection. Beautifully shot and danced. I didn’t notice much in the way of McLaren’s signature styles in the ballet until Narc began dancing with his own disappearing self accompanied by nintendo computer blips on the soundtrack. Probably won more awards than any other McLaren film, in part because by the 80’s there were more award shows and festivals than ever before.

Narcissus meets himself:

Dances with himself:

I consider “late” Buster Keaton to be the 70-ish movies he appeared in since the 1920’s, shortly after the arrival of sound when his career went to hell. So these are very late Keaton, made in the last couple years of his life when he was around seventy years old (see also: the Twilight Zone episode he did a few years earlier).

The Railrodder (1965, Gerald Potterton)
A wordless journey through desolate Canada, which must have been trying to attract humans to its empty factories, forests, harbors, fields and cities, all seen as Buster whizzes by on a motorized rail car. Not as good as a classic Keaton short, but not as bad as most state-sponsored promo pieces either, just a light amusement with some minor Keaton antics and major Canadian scenery, with possible references to The General and The Cameraman. I like when he turns the car into a duck blind, but the gag’s payoff is lame – it’s not the most well-planned or well-timed little picture. Director Gerald Potterton moved into animation, making the legendary Heavy Metal.

Buster Keaton Rides Again (1965, John Spotton)
A “making of The Railrodder” that runs almost triple the length of the feature. In fact it’s over-long, in love with its subject, providing nice quick summaries of Keaton’s past films and life story, then rambling on with the present-day footage. A coughing, gruff-voiced Keaton smokes whenever not on camera for Railrodder (he died of lung cancer the following year). He’s a stubborn bastard regarding the gags and filmmaking – it’s clear from this doc that the IMDB’s listing Buster as uncredited cowriter/director on Railrodder is accurate. My favorite gag was in the documentary, not the feature, Keaton pretending to pull a train that comes in while he’s standing near the tracks. It closes with Keaton singing “Casey Jones” in his trailer, more emotional of a picture than the fluffy promo piece it accompanies.

Film (1965, Alan Schneider)
Close-up of an eye. Protagonist, always shot from behind, staggers to his apartment, horrifying all who look upon him. Alternate blurry shots from his POV. In the apartment, he covers a mirror and removes or destroys everything that has eyes. Feels for his own pulse. Finally, Buster’s face is revealed, wearing an eyepatch and his signature hat. Close-up of an eye. I don’t understand Samuel Beckett. Could someone explain him to me?

Stop-motion pioneer Charley Bowers made these couple films over a decade after all his other work, and according to his IMDB bio, “no one is quite sure what he did” during that in-between decade. They’re his final films, completed the year before he became sick at age 64, unable to work until his death a few years later.

A Sleepless Night (1940, Charley Bowers)
No sound at all (who watched silent shorts in 1940?) so the DVD producer unconscionably included an audio track of projector noise. I listened to LCD Soundsystem instead, greatly improving the movie, which was otherwise slack-paced and plotless. We’ve got a stop-motion mouse family who defeats the dog of the house, drinks a bottle of milk, then eats soap and floats away on the resulting bubbles.

Wild Oysters (1941, Charley Bowers)
More technically accomplished (featuring much more camera movement) and snappier than the last one, and with the same models for the mouse family, makes me think A Sleepless Night was a test run for what he’d planned as a series of mouse adventures. Although, spoken dialogue and a song with lyrics that comment on the action aren’t the major improvement. The mouse torments a different dog and also a cat, drilling holes in the floor and pulling their tails through. Weirder is when he runs across some oysters, which link together as a chain and chase him about. Why oysters? Even Tom and Jerry never ran so low on ideas that they introduced a string of oysters. Anyway, weird movie but enjoyable.

The Karateguard (2005, Joseph Barbera & Spike Brandt)
The final Tom & Jerry short released to theaters, and the only one made by Barbera, aged 94 at the time, after the passing of partner William Hanna in 2001. It was a passing of the torch to Brandt, who is still making T&J cartoons. I was never a wildly enthusiastic T&J fan, so I can’t share the outrage of the IMDB reviewer who calls it “unbearably mediocre.” Jerry isn’t great at his karate lessons, so his translucent sensei encourages him to quit, instead gives him a magical gong that summons a stone-faced samurai dog, who proceeds to pummel Tom for six minutes. A good time is had by all.

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.

“Racism was rife in the public school system then, as were silly uniforms”

Rented this back when it came out – so about two years ago. More intense than I’d thought. Sets up a miserable, oppressive hierarchical school system, a couple rebel friends in the middle of it, and ends with them on the rooftop merrily blowing everybody away.

Malcolm’s conspicuous entrance, three years before A Clockwork Orange:

Divided into numbered and titled sections, each with one or two scenes in black and white for reasons I never figured out. Turns out cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek (who worked with Milos Forman a bunch of times, earning oscar nominations in the 80’s) used it for budget and simplicity in one scene, then Anderson would request that other scenes at random be shot b/w as well. Gave critics something to talk about, anyway.

D. Ehrenstein:

When it was first released, it was impossible to look at If…. without thinking of Zero for Conduct, Jean Vigo’s classic 1932 featurette about a schoolboy revolt. But Vigo’s rebels pelted their hated teachers with vegetables. Anderson’s are armed with bullets. And more than teachers and school officials, it is their fellow students—the senior classmates who truly rule their lives, treating them not as equals but as prison inmates they’re guarding—who are the real targets. Consequently, it is impossible to look at If…. today without thinking of the Columbine massacre of 1991 … Still, that was real, and Anderson’s slaughter is clearly meant to be metaphoric. Why else end the film with McDowell firing straight into the camera like the nameless bandit in Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903)? By doing so, If…., like so much else of sixties culture, poses a challenging question rather than offers a glib and easy answer.




A sad ending to Anderson’s famed trilogy that began with If… (which I did not watch this week because Vdrome didn’t get it in) and O Lucky Man! (which I half-remember from watching on tape five years ago – a musical, right?).

If the first of the trilogy mixes “color and black and white as audaciously as it mixes fantasy and reality” and “remains one of cinema’s most unforgettable rebel yells”, according to Criterion, and the second was a fun, “surrealist musical [which] serves as an allegory for the pitfalls of capitalism”, according to the IMDB, then what’s left for this little apocalyptic satire? It feels flat, unfunny and bizarrely plotted, with Malcolm McDowell barely present and not much holding the whole thing together.


The final scene (after M. McD’s beheading death) features a long dull speech railing against all of human society by a mad scientist (Graham Crowden of O Lucky Man and The Ruling Class) who unveils a computer named Genesis that will somehow solve everything. Before that, McDowell is an ineffectual investigative reporter, with stoned colleagues Mark Hamill (post-Big Red One, pre-Jedi) and Frank Grimes.


Movie felt sucky at the time, but it had noble intentions, throwing all of British society into the title hospital, staging a joint protest against both the way the country (err, hospital) treats its less-wealthy citizens, and the way it coddles corrupt and brutal foreign dictators. It’s against both the boss who expects too much and the worker who provides too little, it makes a small mockery of the royal family (midget and tranny royal reps) but shows the Queen’s handlers to be resourceful, sneaking her past the mob incognito, it tosses hatred at the labor unions (portrays them as killing patients through negligence and unnecessary regulations) and it throws some police violence, mob rule and frankenstein medical experiments into the mix. The lead actor is actually hospital director Leonard Rossiter, who mostly keeps his composure, except when he murders a striking electrician to turn the hospital’s power back on.


Best online source I could find on the film, an unsigned article on site, sums up:

The question posed at the end of the film is ‘Is man intelligent enough to survive?’ The speech concluding the film is not sentimental; it’s much more the speech of an angry rationalist who is appalled and irritated by the stupidity of mankind. He proposes that the only solution is intelligence. But, of course, having made this speech, which most people would agree with, he then proposes a solution that is even crazier and more horrifying than anything the establishment represents. He produces the idea of a disembodied intelligence, this brain we see, which he tells us will be combined into a silicon chip. So, the challenge at the end is a question, If only intelligence can save us how can that intelligence be controlled? The film does say, I hope, that we must mistrust institutions, power, the instincts for power within us, and in that way I think Britannia Hospital is an anarchist film. It puts the responsibility squarely on the individual to develop first the intelligence and the moral awareness by which alone man can control his destiny.

The film’s location manager is quoted as saying “Unlike a lot of directors, [Anderson] doesn’t make films just for money but because he has something to say.” This was clearly a low-budget effort, with big stars (McDowell, Hamill) working for free, and the film had too much of a social conscience to dismiss by saying “ehh, the plot didn’t grip me and McDowell wasn’t in it enough and it was too disjointed” and give it the C- rating it may deserve on the grounds of a pretty poor final product. I’m upgrading to a B- for honorable intentions.

Lead actor (hospital director) Leonard Rossiter would die of a heart attack in 1984, with director Anderson following a decade later.