Kind of a traumatic movie. You never know if one of the two characters is going to hurt or kill themselves or the other, and/or if there’s a real monster/spirit after them. A little ways in you definitely decide it’s the one thing, but later it’s definitely the other. They’re an odd couple from the start, the kid spending his time building weapons, his mom yelling in anger when her son hugs her. Monsters and ghosts mix with real problems (kid is hungry, mom wants to sleep all the time, protective services pay a visit). She watches Melies shorts on TV.

Ash slept against my neck for the whole movie.

Not as relentlessly Decasian as the trailer suggests, actually settles down into a normal storytelling groove of interview material for a good while, but punctuated by Natan’s papier-mache-headed stand-in, a few effects shots of a wall of posters, and that voiceover by The Film Itself. These are all evocative additions – the poster gallery returns re-postered before and after the nazi invasion, and some of the scant footage of Natan himself, at his trial, has him repeatedly covering his head with a newspaper. This is already more thoughtful stylistic presentation than most documentaries get, then the voiceover and bookending Melies stories put it over the top.

Plus the story is killer, one of those subjects that researchers dream of – a chance to correct the wrongs of history. Bernard Natan isn’t set up as a saint, but at the very least an important figure in history, a founder of French cinema who deserved a better end and reputation than he got. The directors even scored an interview with the academic who brought the unfounded rumors and nazi-era smears into the modern age, a villain of the picture though he doesn’t seem to realize it.

Ruka/The Hand (1965, Jiri Trnka)

Potter just wants to make pots and keep his little plant alive, but a fascist hand keeps intruding wanting him to sculpt fascist hands instead. Potter is kidnapped by the hand and forced to create hand progaganda but escapes only to die back at home. Banned in his home country of Czechoslovakia, naturally. Trnka’s final film – I will have to find more.

Johann Mouse (1952, Hanna & Barbera)

Jerry is a mouse in Strauss’s house who waltzes uncontrollably when the master is playing. The cat learns to play in order to set a trap, but the two are discovered and are invited to perform for the king. Cute enough, but I don’t know about oscar-winning. It beat a not-too-great Tex Avery, two from UPA and one from Canada, the same year McLaren’s Neighbours won best documentary (!?) short. Hans Conreid narrated.

Magoo’s Puddle Jumper (1956, Pete Burness)

Blind Magoo buys an electric car (!) and drives it into the ocean. Somehow his idiot son Waldo survived the bear short and tags along. People must’ve thought Jim Backus was hilarious. All three oscar nominees were UPA productions, so producer Stephen Bosustow could not have lost.

The Nightmare of Melies (1988, Pierre Etaix)

A fun Melies tribute incorporating the earliest cinema techniques, scenes from King Kong, an alka-seltzer commercial and late-80’s computer animation.

D. Cairns for The Forgotten:

Etaix additions to the source script make Méliès a prophet of the whole history of film, from the greatest special effects film of golden age Hollywood, up to the computerized visions of the present day (1988), and taking in the true nightmare of the television commercial. I love how the ad breaks in, hideously colorful and cheery, disrupting what is already a rather stylistically disparate piece .. almost to the point of disintegration.

Bimbo’s Initiation (1931, Dave Fleischer)

Bimbo is kidnapped by a cult that keeps attacking him with sharp things and spanking instruments then asking if he wants to be a member. He always answers no until confronted with dog-eared Betty Boop who dribbles her ass like a basketball. Maltin called it Fleischer’s darkest work, and Jim Woodring reveres it, naturally.

Tord and Tord (2010, Niki Lindroth Von Bahr)

“I felt my need for coffee becoming more and more apparent.”

Clearly somebody watched Fantastic Mr. Fox and David Lynch’s Rabbits then imagined a meeting of these two worlds. Sort of a less-violent stop-motion Fight Club, as a fox named Tord finds out his next-door neighbor is also named Tord, so they start hanging out and exchanging coded messages, until rabbit-Tord disappears and may not have ever existed.

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (2005, Anthony Lucas)

Cool silhouette animation, watched with Katy. Narrator/Jasper (Joel Edgerton, villain of Gatsby) is a disgraced navigator in an airship-steampunk future, whose ship stumbles across deadly creatures whose blood can cure the plague affecting Jasper’s home planet (and more specifically, his wife). Sort of an Alien meets Little Shop of Horrors, with an unresolved ending.

Director Lucas followed this up with a 3-minute rabbit short and worked on new anthology film The Turning. Writer Mark Shirrefs does lots of Australian sci-fi television. The Australians gave this a best-short award, but Oscars picked The Moon and the Son and Baftas the great Fallen Art.

Bobby Yeah (2011, Robert Morgan)

The story of a murderous kidnapper with a predilection for pushing red buttons. Possibly the most grotesque stop-motion movie ever – kudos to Morgan! Reminds of Symbol at times, with a confused-looking guy in a room pushing mysterious buttons with varying consequences, but this one also has elements of murder-spree crime drama, with much sexual imagery.

Hugo-inspired Melies shorts, followed by Melies-inspired silent shorts, followed by Sherlock Jr. Everything except A Trip to the Moon had live music by Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton, and the films were introduced and attended by every Emory film person I’ve ever seen. A great program – Katy loved it too.

A Nightmare (1896)
Melies is trying to sleep, but different people keep appearing in his bed.

The Man With the Rubber Head (1901)
Magician Melies reveals that he’s got his own head in a box, and can inflate and deflate it using a bellows and a valve. Magician Melies is too excited, and Melies Head is super flustered. It goes on like this until M.M. decides to let a passing clown inflate his head, then he is pissed at the clown when it explodes. What did M.M. think would happen??

Extraordinary Illusions (1903)
A straight-up magic show, with things turning into other things. The beauty is he cuts on the action, so to speak, transforming things as they’re thrown into the air.

The Melomaniac (1903)
Conductor Melies lays out sheet music onscreen using eight Melies Heads as notes. Much fun for the musicians.

The Infernal Cauldron (1903)
A devil throws people into a pot, I think there was fire and maybe an explosion – I was mostly staring at the vivid hand-coloring.

A Trip to the Moon (1902)
A group of wizards stands around talking for three minutes – longer than any of the previous films – before they finally decide to take any trips to the moon. What was that all about? After the explorers journey to the moon and make moon men explode by whacking them with umbrellas, they capture one alien (sort of – he grabs onto their capsule) and bring him home triumphantly to an appreciative crowd. In my remake, I would have the moon man suddenly grab an umbrella and whack the mayor, making him explode. Hyper coloring and nonsense music by Air.

The Haunted Curiosity Shop (1901, Walter Booth)
Very Melies-style thing with a sarcophagus and skeleton and throwing someone piecemeal into a pot.

The ‘?’ Motorist (1906, Walter Booth)
Two complete psychos run over a cop, drive up a building, circle the moon, ride on Saturn’s rings, then escape police by turning their car temporarily into a horse. One of the ten best films ever made, according to Ian Christie. I’m inclined to agree.

The Dancing Pig (1907, Pathe Freres)
Someone in a sick pig suit harasses a girl, is forced to strip, then dances for about a hundred minutes. One of the ten best films ever made, according to nobody ever.

Princess Nicotine (1908, J. Stuart Blackton)
Two smoke fairies harass a weirdly antisocial smoker, featuring some matchstick stop-motion.

Fantasmagorie (1908, Emile Cohl)
Holy crap. One minute of trippy stick-figure animation, eating itself.

How a Mosquito Operates (1912, Winsor McCay)
A balding mosquito the size of a man’s head sucks gobs of blood out of the sleeping man after sharpening his proboscis, repeating his actions frequently since McCay discovered the joy of animation reuse. One of the ten best films ever made, according to Mike Leigh.

Sherlock Jr. (1924, Buster Keaton)
Presented on 35mm, as was A Trip to the Moon. What I wrote last time still goes, except this time the music was much better.

Scorsese’s first major non-DiCaprio feature in a decade.

After the films of Georges Méliès aren’t popular anymore, he burns his props, donates his precious drawing robot to a museum and opens a trinket shop in a train station. Museum worker Jude Law takes the robot home to repair it then dies in an explosion. Museum man’s son Hugo, secretly the station’s clock-winder since his drunk uncle (Sexy Beast star Ray Winstone) has disappeared, repairs the mechanical man and, Amelie-like, presents it to Georges Méliès, rekindling his hopes, dreams and love of cinema. Help comes from Méliès wife (Helen McCrory: Tony Blair’s wife in The Queen, Malfoy’s mum in Harry Potter), an author of a book on cinema (Michael Stuhlbarg, star of A Serious Man) and Chloe Moretz, who seems to have gotten younger since her last few films.

Some side plots are loosely integrated – they must be leftovers from the novel. Inspector Cohen has a crush on lovely flower girl Emily Mortimer (of Shutter Island) but is embarrassed by his mechanical leg brace, Christopher Lee is a forbidding/kindhearted book seller, and Richard Griffiths (uncle Monty in Withnail) is doing something or other with Frances de la Tour (in charge of the Albert Finney’s Head science project in Cold Lazarus) and her dog.

Set at the Gare Montparnasse train station where the famous photograph of the train derailment was shot – Hugo must’ve seen the photo because he dreams himself causing it. Some good cinema-reference, a few lovely bits of 3D (and some 90 minutes where I barely noticed the effect), and a nice performance by Ben Kingsley, but ultimately I couldn’t shake the feeling that it’s just a well-made kids movie.

Finally I got a hold of the director’s cut, which I’ve been looking for since reading about this movie somewhere five years ago. In the meantime I’ve discovered that I love most of Ruiz’s movies, but I don’t get much out of painter bio-pics, even artsy ones – so this was destined to be a mixed bag.

I’m not sure what happened, or who was supposed to be whom. I know John Malkovich plays the artist Klimt, and an appealingly manic Nikolai (son of Klaus) Kinski plays Egon Schiele. I know Klimt is visited by an embassy “secretary” (Stephen Dillane, Kidman/Woolf’s husband in The Hours) whom no one else can see. The rest becomes a blur of people and places, but an appealing blur, since Ruiz can’t make a boring film, not even with a prestige artist bio-pic in English (quite good English, translated by the writer of The Dreamers). The very fluid moving camera and framing device of a dying man in bed (Klimt, of syphillis towards the end of WWI) bring to mind Mysteries of Lisbon.

Egon Kinski:

Klimt seems to enjoy refractions and mirrors as much as Ruiz does. Klimt meets Georges Méliès around the turn of the century, sees him a couple times more, also meets the man who portrayed Klimt in a film – is intrigued with the girl named Lea who he “meets” in the film (Saffron Burrows of fellow painter-bio-pic Frida) and her own actress-double.

Either Lea or her double:

Appearing as characters I didn’t figure out: Joachim Bissmeier (Zimmermann in Joyeux Noel), Ernst Stotzner of Underground, and Annemarie Duringer of Veronika Voss and Berlin Alexanderplatz. It also didn’t help that there’s a woman named Midi and another named Mizzi.

B. Berning:

With Ruiz directing, philosophical inquiry is a not an end in itself, but a springboard for the imagination, and for humor. In one scene, there is a street brawl between men wearing top hats and men wearing bowler hats. By the next scene we see that the bowler hats have won, for there isn’t a top hat in sight. The upper class elitists have surrendered their influence, and the symbol of modern egalitarianism, the bowler hat, has taken over. It’s a clever visual riddle that in a way recalls the writer Lewis Carroll. Carroll was also a great imaginative thinker who preferred to clothe his intellect in stories that would amuse a young girl. Ruiz’s audience is decidedly adult, but he aims to entertain nonetheless.

The word I used most in my notes is “unusual.”

I took advantage of the huge weekend snowfall in Atlanta by huddling on the couch with a pile of DVDs of short films which I’ve long delayed watching, followed by two obscure features, totaling eight newly-seen titles on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s hallowed list of 1,000 favorite movies. At this rate of eight per day, I’ll be through the list in no time, so anyone else can feel free to send me their own thousand-faves list and I’ll get to it shortly.


First off, two by Jane Campion. I wasn’t too kind to Sweetie or The Piano, was hoping I’d enjoy the early shorts more. A Girl’s Own Story (1984) is a vaguely Terence Davies-reminiscent period piece about two sisters and a friend one winter in the 60’s – having fun, going to school, singing Beatles songs and dealing with family trauma. The parents only speak to each other through their children, and dad brings his girlfriend to Pam’s birthday dinner… meanwhile friend Gloria leaves school because she is pregnant by her brother. Passionless Moments (1983) is a series of humorous sketches (each with its own title: “Clear Up Sleepy Jeans”, “No Woodpeckers In Australia”) with an ethnographic narrator telling us somebody’s mostly-insignificant stray thoughts (misheard lyrics to “Daydream Believer”, identifying a strange sound outdoors).

A Girl’s Own Story:
image

These were two of the most enjoyable shorts I watched all day, so hooray for Jane Campion. Both were worked on by Alex Proyas, director of Dark City, whose new Nic Cage movie opens this month, and Passionless was made in collaboration with Gerard Lee, who wrote/directed a comedy in 1995 involving marital strife because of a sold piano, hmmmm.

Passionless Moments:
image


Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1993, Peter Capaldi)
I’d always admired the title of this and assumed it to be blending of Kafka’s and Capra’s sensibilities, but no such luck… it’s more of a Franz Kafka In Love, as the writer struggles to complete the first line to The Metamorphosis. Might’ve been nicer if I’d watched it earlier then, since by now every known artist’s inspiration has been illustrated by the movies, either as a serious drama or a light fantasy. Richard Grant (same year as The Age of Innocence) is Kafka, and his work-interrupting neighbors include Ken Stott (who’d soon play the lead detective in Shallow Grave) as a knife seller with a missing pet cockroach, and Phyllis Logan (a Michael Radford regular) as a novelty salesman. Our director is better known as an actor (Local Hero, Lair of the White Worm). My favorite detail: being friendly to a neighbor Kafka says “call me F.”

image

image


There’s time in any shorts program for some Norman McLaren. I checked out a section on the DVDs of work he did with Grant Munro, one of the few men strong and patient enough to animate himself with stop-motion. A piece I’ve seen before called Two Bagatelles (1953) has Grant zooming around to music (Katy came in from the other room to express disapproval at the music), a fun exploration of their live-stop-motion ideas. An unreleased set of sketches and experiments called either On The Farm or Pixillation adds slow-mo, film-reversal and mattes into the mix. Canon (1964) features a blippy electronic version of “Frere Jacques” and has four Grant Munroes at once, moving across a stage and interacting. And A Christmas Cracker (1962), for which McLaren/Munro did great dis/appearing stop-motion jester titles and transitions, is a compilation of short holiday cartoons.

On The Farm/Pixillation:
image

A Christmas Cracker:
image

One of the non-McLaren segments of A Christmas Cracker, in which an inventor travels to space to retrieve a real star to top his Christmas tree:
image


Wong Kar-Wai’s Hua yang de nian hua (2000) is a montage of rotting nitrate footage from newly-discovered vintage Hong Kong films. Two minutes long, fast-paced and wordless, set to a song used in In The Mood For Love.
image

Two by Santiago Alvarez. Now! (1965) is a montage of upsetting footage, still and moving images, as Lena Horne belts out the title song, and Hasta La Victoria Siempre (1967) is twenty looong minutes of music and stock footage focusing on Che Guevara and other revolutions and revolutionaries. A chore to sit through – I’m gonna stop watching Alvarez movies for a while now.

Now!
image

Hasta la victoria siempre
image

Two early shorts by D.W. Griffith… although he made about 200 films in the two years between them (those were the days!) so maybe only the first one can be called “early.”

A Corner In Wheat (1909)
Wealthy trader corners the market in wheat, meaning less money for the farmer and higher prices at the market. As unrest grows and the cops are called to protect a bakery, the now even richer trader and some classy women tour the grain elevator to symbolically survey their fortune. He slips and is buried in grain, an ending stolen by Vampyr a couple decades later.
image

Tom Gunning via Erik Ulman says: “the editing has special appropriateness in this film, as it represents the ‘new topography’ of modern capitalist economics, and its ‘lack of face-to-face encounters with the forces which determine our lives.'” Based on a book by the novelist who wrote McTeague (Greed). Actor who played the farmer appeared 45 years later in Ford’s The Sun Shines Bright.
image

Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
A musician, just back in town after some weeks away working, gets all his money stolen by the titular gang. A rival crime gang fights the musketeers, and during the fracas our man gets his money back. When the rival gangleader is about to be arrested, the musician and his girl vouch for him, lying that he’d been with them the whole time, as thanks for his help. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all that.
image

Wikipedia claims this “probably the first ever film about organized crime” and an influence on Gangs of New York – as if Scorsese’s first exposure to crime was in DW Griffith films. Lillian Gish, star of many Griffith movies, plays the girl.
image

Report (1967, Bruce Conner)
Recording of radio broadcasts from when JFK was shot. Sometimes the visuals are robotically repeated loops of newsreels, sometimes film countdown leader, sometimes all white and black flash flickers, which do not translate well to medium-grade internet video. The second half is excellent, still the radio announcers but with shock associative visual editing from all manner of sources: a bullfight, advertisements, war movies and so on.
image

Tunneling the English Channel (1907, Georges Méliès) has long bothered me because it’s the earliest film on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s 100 favorite films list but hasn’t been available anywhere on video. Fortunately the new Flicker Alley set remedied that, and I could finally see it, in fine condition with wonderful hand-coloring. It’s a cute story and a technically superior film, with the color and the combination of animation, live action and Melies’ usual fun effects. Story goes that the leaders of France and England agree to build a tunnel under the channel, and all goes well until the train crashes. As the tunnel fills with water undoing months of work and drowning the prime minister, they wake up – it was all a dream and they decide not to build the tunnel after all.
image

LMNO (1978, Robert Breer)
A hammer, a faucet, a headless naked woman. Rapid-fire comic-book situations. Mainly-irritating soundtrack of running people, running water, and running tape static. Next time I’ll feel free to see how it works with a couple Kinks songs instead. Not my favorite Breer, but I’ve actually seen his films projected in a theater before, so this one obviously suffers from being a bootleg download watched on a laptop.
image

Chris Stults, Film/Video Assistant Curator at the Wexner Center in Columbus, says (out of context): “The thing that has always drawn me the most to avant-garde cinema is that it is intended for an individual viewer, not a mass audience. The individual has to complete the work. To go back to the idea of seeing cinema anew, the viewer often has to figure out how to watch the particular film or video and then from that process of learning how to watch, meaning and interpretation can follow.”

Story begins March 17, 1871 and ends two months later. Watkins introduces the movie via his two commune reporters (one of whom is played by Peter’s son Gérard, who has also acted in They Came Back and Diving Bell and the Butterfly), showing the set (a factory on the former site of Georges Melies’ studio!) at the end of the shoot. The set is minimal – walls and rooms were constructed, and props seem accurate and well-placed, but you never doubt that you’re on a set – you can see the walls, the lights, sort of Dogvillian. And the camera – of course the actors talk directly to the camera, since this is a Peter Watkins film. The cameraman (Odd Geir Saether from Edvard Munch) is always mobile, always shooting full cartridges at a time to be (slightly) edited later on.

image

There are intertitles which comment on the action, fill in missing context, flash-back-and-forward, connect the revolutionary ideas of the commune with the present realities of France. People break out of character mid-scene to talk about the film and about their own present situations, to comment on the relevance of the film and of the commune – but they’re not talking to us, exactly, telling us what to do or think, it’s more that they’re working out their own thoughts and we can make what we will of it. That’s not to say the film is unbiased – it’s extremely pro-commune. The mass media is represented by a more traditionally shot right-wing telecast which gives twisted accounts of the events we see in the commune.

An official statement:
image

Most of the actors didn’t have screen credits before this one, but some have gone on to appear in other movies (The Barbarian Invasions, Eric Rohmer’s Lady and the Duke, Science of Sleep, Miracle at St. Anna, etc). They workshopped the story and their own roles, and came up with their own dialogue, full participants of the film. Some of this I learned from the very good hour-long doc on the disc The Universal Clock, which dares to ask questions (like whether Watkins is responsible for his own marginalization) as it discusses his career and the making of La Commune. This would actually be a fine standalone film to play before some of PW’s better movies for the uninitiated – it stands high above the usual DVD-extra fare.

Lots of death and guns in the movie, all offscreen. Nobody is ever shown killed, no actor ever plays dead:
image

There’s a lot to say about the Commune and I’m not gonna say it all here. I’m worn out on the topic from watching all seven hours on these DVDs, and I’m pretty sure I’ll remember the important stuff (plus PW’s excellent website has a good summary).

The hated bourgeoisie:
image

Was the film good, though? Well, it’s far from my favorite Watkins feature (I’d maybe put it above The Gladiators). While it’s not dry and academic, it’s not exactly immersive – and while I wouldn’t say there were unnecessary scenes or that it should’ve been shorter, it’s exhausting at its present length, a mountain of a movie. The guy’s got a point that films and videos should not have to fit the “universal clock” of a television schedule, but this one didn’t fit the clock of my work week, and even with Katy out of town and my evenings supposedly all to myself, it still took me three nights to watch. So it’s an extremely admirable production, in every sense, about an important topic, but unlike other monumentally long films (hello, Satantango) I’m in no hurry to see it again.

image