It has been a while since I watched some Orson Welles.
And hey, the voices are in sync, so we’re off to an unusually good start.

“Give me the spare men and spare me the great ones.”

While King Gielgud is off ruling the country, his son Prince Hal fucks around, drinking and robbing and having fun with his low-life friends including Falstaff, an overweight self-obsessed clown played by Welles. Falstaff was apparently a running secondary character in three overlong Shakespeare plays, here stitched together to make him the main player, the royalty drama becoming the background story. A good Welles movie, with fun editing, grotesque close-ups and nice compositions.

I’m not too good with the timelines of English kings, but this is the early 1400’s, Henry IV (Gielgud) having recently killed Richard II. Of course the true heir Mortimer has been locked up somewhere else, as is always the case (at least in Shakespeare), and his friends plot the current king’s overthrow. Hal returns to his dad the king and joins in a victorious fight against the Mortimerists (not their real name), personally killing their leader, which cowardly braggart Falstaff attempts to take credit for.

Falstaff thinks this is all in fun, that his group will be friends forever, and when Henry dies and Hal becomes King Henry V, Falstaff is overjoyed, thinking he’ll become rich beyond belief, but instead is banished from the court by the newly serious Hal, returning home to die (offscreen) of grief. I was amazed that Welles wouldn’t give himself a big, talky death scene, but I suppose he wasn’t adding new dialogue to the Shakespeare.

King Gielgud:

King Falstaff:

King Hal:

Ebert says the battle scene is “edited quickly, to give a sense of confusion and violence — providing an ironic backdrop for the frightened Falstaff himself, running from tree to tree to hide from the combatants” in the comically large and round armor Welles has made for himself. Being a Shakespeare drama about kings and thieves, there’s not much screen time for women, but Margaret Rutherford (Blithe Spirit) runs the pub/inn and Jeanne Moreau (just after Diary of a Chambermaid) plays a friend/prostitute. This played at Cannes alongside Dr. Zhivago, The Nun, The Round-Up and Seconds.

W. Johnson in Film Quarterly:

The vastness of the film’s spaces serve to deepen the sense of nostalgia. The tavern, for example, is enlarged beyond probability in much the same way that a childhood haunt is enlarged in one’s memory: this is how Falstaff, the perpetual child, would remember it. Similarly, the wide horizons of the film’s outdoor scenes (actually shot in Spain) evoke the spacious, innocent Olde Englande that Falstaff imagined he lived in. Naturalistic settings would have called attention to the costumes, the archaic language, the theatrical structure of the scenes, everything except what’s really important – the characters and their changing world. Welles’s exaggerations give the film its human perspective.

As portrayed by Shakespeare, Falstaff is not only lazy, gluttonous, cowardly, lecherous, dishonest and the rest but also a great innocent. He is devoid of malice or calculation; no matter what is done to him, he remains open and trusting. He lives in a dream world where there are no politicians or policemen or pedagogues; and when Hal destroys that world by rejecting him, he does not adjust to reality but dies.


The Fountain of Youth (1958)

Welles himself calls it “a wacky little romance” in his intro, which seems both accurate and too humble. It’s a jokey little story with a predictable twist ending, but the way its told and shown is thrilling.

Glamorous actress Joi Lansing marries scientist Dan Tobin “the gland man,” but leaves him for tennis champ Rick Jason. The gland man has his revenge, claims to have discovered a 200-year youth serum, gives them a single dose and lets them fight over it.

Orson interrupts the action and talks over it, blocking the picture with his body and voicing the characters himself. Instead of editing he’ll use sudden lighting changes. It’s all a charming trick.

Rosenbaum calls it the only completed film besides Citizen Kane “over which Welles had final and complete artistic control” which “even begin to qualify as Hollywood products,” as opposed to his independent works.

Since so little has been said about this cool little movie, I’m going to overquote from an article in his book on Welles:

In The Fountain of Youth, Welles’s first television pilot – an adaptation of John Collier’s short story Youth From Vienna that begins as an essay on the subject of narcissism – the dialectic is given a new pattern. For once, the narrating Welles persona is intermittently visible as well as audible; he begins the show, in effect, as a slide show lecturer, and reappears periodically to remind us of his privileged position. … By speaking for the characters as well as about them – literally lip-synching Joi Lansing, Dan Tobin, and Rick Jason, his three stars, at certain junctures to mock their roles as puppets – his moral fallibility (that is to say, his narcissism) becomes identified with theirs, and the implicit nastiness of Welles’s amused, glacial detachment consciously boomerangs.


Too Much Johnson (1938)

JR: “The only copy of the film was lost in a fire .. in August 1970.”

Apparently not! I watched Scott Simmon’s new 34-minute edit. Three sections, to be screened between acts at a Mercury Theater play. Mostly they are goofy chase scenes. In the first (and longest), mustache villain Edgar Barrier (Journey Into Fear, Macbeth) chases Joseph Cotten (The Third Man / Ambersons / Kane star) across city rooftops over a girl. In the second, they board a ship bound for Cuba, continuing the chase, and in the third they’re both chased around the island by Howard Smith. It probably would’ve worked better in context.

Simmon:

It feels to me as if Welles and the Mercury theater were working toward some reenactment of a history of American film up to that point: Silent film comedy interspersed with 1930s screwball stage dialogue. In any case, the revised play, in its tightest last revision, has a spirit far from the Gillette original — with rapid-fire exchanges in place of relatively longer speeches.

Black Mirror season 1 (2011)

Sci-fi/political satire anthology written by Charlie Brooker.
Of course I was gonna watch this.

101: “In a few minutes the Prime Minister will perform an indecent act on your screen.” Prankster kidnaps a British princess, demanding only that the prime minister have sex with a pig on live television. Sounds like the series is getting off to a ridiculous start, but with Charlie’s knowledge of media and politics, it’s a finely detailed story, with humor and tension in equal measure. PM Rory Kinnear was in the last couple of Bond movies.

102: Bing (Daniel Kaluuya of Kick-Ass 2) lives in a Pumzi world, spending his days stationary-bicycling to power whatever complex they all live inside, and his evenings bombarded by shit television, spending cycle-earned credits to skip ads and change channels. A cyclist girl likes him, but he falls for another (Jessica Findlay, Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey) and pays all his credits for her to get a shot on a singing competition show. After getting his dreams dashed by her treatment on the show (I did not realize Rupert Everett was one of the judges), Bing schemes to go back on the show himself, armed with a shard of glass from a shattered screen, speaking truth to the show’s viewers under threat of suicide. Bing is a hit and is offered his own show where he does this weekly, while back on the bike room people purchase “bing shard” to ornament their avatars.

103: Post-google-glass, people have a “grain” in their neck that records everything they see and hear all the time, and works as a DVR of their lives, which they can replay privately or stream onto a nearby TV. Toby Kebbell (in The East this year) is boring everyone by stressing over his latest work evaluation, while his wife (Jodie Whittaker, O’Toole’s crush in Venus, irritable white woman in Attack the Block) is concealing an affair with Tom Cullen (Lady Mary’s wide-mouthed love interest at the start of Downton season 4). Jealousy, threats and much creepy in-eye playback follows.

Paranoia Agent (2004, Satoshi Kon)

A supernatural mystery story that branches and builds, then goes bloody insane for a while, then starts to fall apart, then is revealed to have been one massive hallucination, the first “victim” of Shounen Bat having created him psychosomatically. It’s more complicated than that, though – there’s a whole episode about neighborhood women making up Shounen Bat stories they “heard”, a behind-the-scenes episode about a doomed cartoon series, an internet suicide club, a video game-fantasy cop, not one but two mysterious/magic elderly people, and a city-devouring black blob.

Look Around You season 2 (2005)

The fake-science show steps up its game for the second season. Wasn’t sure I liked the changes at first, but the episodes are less isolated here, building to a fantastic conclusion. Always nice to see Nick Frost and Mark Heap as well.

Special appearance by Tchaikovsky:

Orson Welles’ Sketch Book (1955)

Orson does a quick sketch, then tells a story for fifteen minutes or so, illustrating as needed. This used to be all that was needed for a TV program. Long intro about props and sketches, then stories of his beginnings in theater. In the second one he discusses a Boston performance gone bad, then “the negro Macbeth,” during which a racist critic was killed by a voodoo curse. In #3 Orson claims to have helped bring a brutal cop to justice after hearing the story of his beating a soldier into blindness. He continues on the topics of passports and authority into a great ending. #4 tells a comic story about Charles Lederer, then Houdini and magic tricks and John Barrymore. #5 is about how he scared everyone with his War of the Worlds broadcast, and #6 is a great bullfighting story.

At this point Katy and I are still in the middle of Dollhouse 2, Downton 4 and Sports Night 2, and I’ve started some Important Things and Futurama episodes and a miniseries on silent films called Hollywood. Chances of finishing any of these soon are looking slim.

Hour-long, splendorously Wellesian, elegant little movie about storytelling, made between Chimes at Midnight and F for Fake. Why does nobody ever talk about this one? A French production (I watched the English-dubbed version) based on a novel by Karen Out of Africa Blixen and shot by Willy Les Creatures Kurant.

On Macao (a Chinese island then controlled by Portugal), Welles is a fat rich man who takes things very literally, cares only about his accounts, which his accountant (filmmaker Roger Coggio) reads to him every night. One day, Coggio reads his boss the prophecy of Isaiah instead. Welles doesn’t like prophecies, things that are not yet true, so he counters with a “true” story he heard about an old man who hires a sailor to sleep with his young wife, to produce an heir. He’s enraged when the accountant tells him this is a fable, retold by many sailors with variations, and Welles insists that they perform the story for real so that somebody in the world will be able to tell it truthfully. He’s got the old eccentric rich man part covered, now just needs someone to play the young wife and poor sailor.

A poor sailor:

In the town square, the great Fernando Rey (a couple years before Tristana) gives some back-story. It seems that Jeanne Moreau (same year as The Bride Wore Black) grew up in the house Welles now occupies, until her dad killed himself over a 300-guinea debt to the old man. Coggio talks her into playing the wife out of curious revenge – she agrees for a price of 300 guineas. They pick up an honestly down-and-out, recently-shipwrecked sailor (Norman Eshley of a few 1970’s murder films – one thinks of Welles’ own role in The Lady From Shanghai) and pay him five guineas to play the role (he doesn’t seem familiar with the fable).

Coggio awaits Moreau’s reply:

Afterwards:
– “Now you can tell the story”
– “To whom would I tell it? Who in the world would believe me if I told it? I would not tell it for a hundred times five guineas.”

And the accountant finds Welles dead in his chair.

This Is Orson Welles reveals that there were supposed to have been a series of short films based on Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen) stories. The Heroine was canceled after a single day’s shoot, and A Country Tale was to star Peter O’Toole. Welles would later adapt another Blixen story into The Dreamers.

PB: You were interested in the idea of power…
OW: No. He doesn’t have the power – you show that it’s meaningless.
PB: He fails-
OW: It doesn’t even begin to work – it’s a dream. That’s the whole point of the story. He has no power: not that he does have it, but that he pretends that he does. It all turns to ashes.
PB: Why does he die?
OW: He’s getting ready to die when the story begins. And he dies when the thing can’t work. He dies of disappointment, in his last gasp of frustrated lust.

Senses:

Welles was only in his early 50s when he made The Immortal Story for French television, but it appears as an almost too perfect summary of his career; a metaphorical tale of impotence, memory, power and mortality made on a tiny budget in Europe it both chases its own tail and is a deeply felt film of melancholy mood and sensibility. The film has the quality of a miniature; short in length and minimalist in design. It also appears depopulated, as if the product of a fragmented dream or imagination.

If I count right (and it’s difficult), this was director Orson’s fourth of twelve released feature films. All the usual Wellesian eccentric production tales surround it, and the usual claims of studio mistreatment (an unapproved music track, an hour of footage removed), and the usual reports of poor reviews and low ticket sales. That stuff aside, we’re left with a great movie, full of idiosyncratic camerawork and acting (why oh why does Welles assign himself an Irish accent) and super dialogue.

Trophy wife Rita Hayworth (who’d just starred in Gilda) takes a fancy to Irish-Welles, sends her rich husband Arthur (becrutched Everett Sloane of The Patsy, The Enforcer) to hire Welles for their yachting expedition. Welles doesn’t mind being around Rita, but Arthur and his partner Grisby (Glenn Anders of Laughter, hamming it up) get under his skin with their power plays and upper-class bitchiness.

Welles tosses a sharks-eating-each-other metaphor at the rich folk, later is spotted smooching Rita at the aquarium as a visual tie-in. What distracted me from thoughts of the Steve The Octopus controversy from Citizen Kane was noticing that sometimes Welles and Hayworth seem to be conversing before real fish tanks, and sometimes before massive projection-screen blow-ups of fish tanks, so unrealistically out of proportion that it must have been intentional.

Back in the fold, Grisby offers a way out – he’ll give Welles enough money to run off with Rita in exchange if Welles helps Grisby fake his death, boasting about a murder for which the police could find no body. But the plan, as all movie plans must, goes wrong. Grisby kills Arthur’s private investigator (Ted de Corsia, killer who gets chased over the Williamsburg bridge in the climax of The Naked City) then turns up dead himself, Orson the obvious suspect. He escapes the cops and finds Rita, but she’s behind it all, stashes him in an abandoned funhouse – for no reason other than to provide outstanding visuals for the final mirror-room showdown. Arthur and Rita shoot each other down, and Welles is left behind.

It snowed in Atlanta so everything shut down for an entire week. As is now traditional, I celebrated by watching a pile of shorts I’d long been planning to see (some as part of the Auteur Completist Initiative).

The Dreamers (1982, Orson Welles)
Welles as an old man narrates the story of opera singer Pellegrina Leone (Oja Kodar), who lost her singing voice in a fire. It’s all Welles and Kodar doing monologues. Maybe all of Welles’ films come down to monologues. Constructed from fragments, with black screens where footage was missing, narration recorded with the sound of rustling script pages. Ooh look, a Don Quixote reference. Not the most exciting of the many late-career Welles fragment films… personally I’d like to see more of The Deep.

Orson in his magician hat:

Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969, Kenneth Anger)
Good camerawork, but ridiculous movie. I think with his images Anger is trying to say that the military is a death-obsessed homosexual cult. I think with his audio Mick Jagger is trying to declare the death of interesting music. I think with his performance, Anton LaVey is trying to expose himself as a silly clown.

That is a nazi flag, but what is he burning?

Le Lion Volatil (2003, Agnes Varda)
Julie Depardieu (Guillaume’s younger sister) works for a psychic, while an aspiring magician named Lazarus Combes (Anton LaVey would be pleased) works at a tourist-trap dungeon around the corner. Every day on their lunch breaks they meet in front of the Lion of Belfort memorial – the same one featured in Rivette’s Pont du Nord and Paris s’en va. Their brief almost-romance doesn’t pan out, but more interestingly, Julie starts hallucinating variations on the lion – first it has a giant bone in its mouth (as supposedly suggested by Andre Breton), then it vanishes and is replaced by a giant housecat. Special effects + Vardaian whimsy = happiness.

Les Dites Cariatides (1984, Agnes Varda)
A tour of caryatids – human statues used as building columns or ornamental facades – throughout Paris, with poems by Baudelaire. “The Peloponesian city of Karyate aided Persia in a war against other Greeks, but Persia lost. The Greeks took revenge on Karyatian collaborators, slaying all the men and enslaving the women. They were paraded as spoils of war. The noble women were triumphantly shown in their lovely gowns and finery. To illustrate their punishment, architects used these statues on public buildings instead of columns.”

The Calligrapher (1991, Bros. Quay)
Three short (15-sec?) segments rejected as BBC2 ident bumps. My favorite kind of Quay film – awesome stop-motion with no human actors, repetition or long-winded confusing mythological story.

Storytime (1968, Terry Gilliam)
This came out while the show Do Not Adjust Your Set (a precursor to Flying Circus) was in production. Opens as a poorly-animated (in Gilliam’s magazine-cutout style) story of a cockroach named Don, who is then stomped on by a man called Jeremy Trousercrease… and so on, each minute-long concept leading into another. Even features a “we apologize for the previous cartoon – the animator responsible has been sacked” disclaimer, which would be reused in Monty Python. Not exactly a lost masterpiece, but a fun little series of cartoon gags.

Pandoora (2002, Takashi Miike)
Just a cheesy samurai music video – does not count as a Miike movie. It ends with our hero about to face off against a giant mantis. What, were they expecting a sequel?

Male (1962, Osamu Tezuka)
Lots of play with frame sizes and positions as a male cat narrates, talking to the man of the house, about how sex should be simple and private and should not end in stabbing your partner to death.

The London Story (1986, Sally Potter)
A woman conspires with a door opener and a retired photocopy machine operator, takes a government minister out to the theater and while he sleeps, replaces his speech about the future of Britain with a new one, causing panic in the media the next day as the conspirators enjoy a choreographed dance on a bridge. Delightful.

Reasons To Be Glad (1980, Jeff Scher)
More of Scher’s fanciful drawing and incredible editing based on rotoscoped (?) images and set to a Dinah Shore song.

The Bum Bandit (1931, Dave Fleischer)
Oh my. A Popeye-muttering train robber gets out-toughed by a passenger in the form of Proto-Betty Boop (still with the dog ears), the robber’s abandoned wife, who steals the locomotive and the bandit, closes the shades and makes with the sweet pre-code lovin’.

Betty and the Bum:

Negro passenger with stolen chickens:

Russian Rhapsody (1944, Robert Clampett)
Watched this recently on the big screen but it never gets old. Hitler’s plane is taken out by gremlins from the kremlin. Why don’t we have wartime cartoons anymore? I want to see the Penguins of Madagascar take on Osama Bin Laden.

Vinyl (1965, Andy Warhol)
In the 60’s it was revolutionary to make slow, cheap movies with bad gay actors, but not anymore. There are probably three filming as I type this. This isn’t technically a short film, but I gave up after thirty minutes, having dozed for the previous ten. A dude recites Burgess and dances to pop music – and it’s all one shot. Wikipedia says it was filmed unrehearsed, which I don’t doubt, and says it’s one of the “1000 films to see before you die,” which I do.

A catalog-style entry for…

Initiated by Shadowplay

Not just a late film, but a whole compendium of late films: a catalogue of works by Orson Welles during his last twenty years, assembled with stylish fun by Silovic and Oja Kodar, very entertaining and informative. All these years I’ve read Jonathan Rosenbaum championing the late, unreleased works of Welles, I still haven’t been clamoring to see them – I figured I’ve got enough things to watch. But now that I’ve had a taste, the clamoring begins.

It starts, naturally, with magic and stage shows – this wonderful bit of duck hypnosis which I played again and again.

Then Orson’s 1975 acceptance speech for his AFI lifetime achievement award, at which he presented scenes from The Other Side of the Wind.

P. Bog as actor:

Oja introduces herself, says she wants to combat the public opinion that Orson idly spent his time doing voiceovers and liquor commercials, but she only fuels the opinion that he couldn’t finish projects at the end because he was easily distracted by newer, shinier projects. Sure, some of it was sheer bad luck, mostly finance-related, but also the negatives of Merchant of Venice going missing.

That unlabeled can holds the original cut of Ambersons:

Scenes from Filming The Trial are shown, a good opportunity for Welles to speak for himself out of character (or, more accurately, in character as himself).

Oja discusses the great trailer for F For Fake (his final completed feature) and shows half of the trailer, then rifles through paintings and sketches he made.

Monologue readings from Moby Dick: filmed solo performance of select scenes before water-shadowed backdrops. Supposedly the rushes have been edited together and screened in Germany and New York. Please feel free to send them here next.

Don Quixote, which he spent 30 years trying to complete. I haven’t seen Jesus Franco’s version, but despite all the public whining about it, it’s probably better than nothing. Franco had no access to some of the footage, which has since aired on television (and therefore on youtube).

A Winston Churchill-related comedy sketch piece in silhouette, and an embarrassing bit at a hammy tailor shop – these are possibly part of the compilation piece known as London, also edited in Germany. I wonder if the Germans would care to release a DVD.

With tailors Charles Gray (of Dearden’s Man in the Moon and a couple of Bond movies) and Jonathan Lynn (director of Clue, My Cousin Vinny):

A trailer for The Deep, a thriller set on a couple of boats in the middle of the ocean, featuring Jeanne Moreau.

Footage shot for Merchant of Venice. The film was almost completed when part of it went missing.

A desperately lonely-looking Welles performing the missing monologue outdoors on a windy evening.

“I think acting is like sculpture, in other words it’s what you take away from yourself to reveal the truth of what you’re doing that makes a performance … There is no such thing as becoming another character by putting on a lot of makeup.” – spoken by Welles, but similar to what Renoir says in that short with Gisele Braunberger.

More projects: The Orson Welles Show (featuring The Muppets, and available on video):

The Dreamers, which I know little about:

Overall a very useful little doc, which unsurprisingly got me fired up to watch more Welles movies (and to finally read that recent Welles book by Rosenbaum). Unfortunately my follow-up feature, Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles, was much less enlightening.

Afterwards I scouted around online, having a Late-Welles scavenger hunt. I came up with a couple interesting bits. First, a piece of Vienna, as it aired on the Arte channel – a segment of the 1969 One Man Band project. Seems like an unexceptional travelogue, featuring a man who feeds birds, a montage of quick zoom-ins on different cakes (also shown in the Silovic/Kodar doc). A caped and hatted Orson walks through the city scenery, visits a ferris wheel and comments on the Third Man soundtrack, then he and Mickey Rooney perform a magic trick with Senta Berger (of Major Dundee, The Terror of Dr. Mabuse).

Ten minutes of silent screen tests and still photography in preparation for Merchant of Venice, compiled by the Italians – not especially enlightening except to get another look at those long-nosed Eyes Wide Shut masks. I wonder how these tests got out while the film itself remains under wraps:

Shot by Mike Leigh’s buddy Dick Pope (also The Illusionist), all widescreen and colorful (except for a fun sepia-toned postcard backdrop standing in for 1937 New York). He and Linklater seem an overqualified group to shoot a minor teen coming-of-age thing with Zac Efron. I wouldn’t have minded if the movie had more of that Newton Boys energy, but I didn’t think it came to life until the final third, and even then I was more impressed by the recreations of Welles’s Julius Caesar production than anything Zac and Claire Danes were up to.

Zac, based on the character of Arthur Anderson (who went on to voice Lucky Charms commercials), stumbles into the ramshackle Mercury theater group on charm (heh), then is fired after the opening performance for trying to act noble instead of shutting up while the boss was trying to sleep with his girl. I hope this whole project was Richard Linklater’s attempt to make Welles’s family unleash The Other Side of the Wind and whatever other projects they’re preventing from being released. How do you fight back when your father is being portrayed on screen as a tyrannical sex-crazed egotist? Release his unseen works to remind the audience of his artistry! If it works, we each owe Linklater a fiver. Professional Welles impersonator Christian McKay does a good job, not going into hysterics like Angus Macfayden in Cradle Will Rock (the only detail in which this film improves on the great Cradle Will Rock).

Ben Chaplin (private Bell in The Thin Red Line) was my favorite as George Coulouris/Mark Anthony, though I didn’t recognize him and suspected him all along of being a young-looking Ciaran Hinds. Eddie Marsan, the foul driving instructor from Happy-Go-Lucky, was a flustered John Houseman. Zoe Kazan (Elia’s granddaughter, currently appearing in Meek’s Cutoff) is Zac’s savior from the theater crowd – he meets her shortly before getting involved with them, sees her again in the thick of it, then goes off to have a date with her after bittersweetly giving up on theater life. Decent enough movie, but if instead of joining Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater, Zac Efron was part of Kriminy Krafft’s Fiction House Theater or some other thing, I don’t think I would’ve bothered to continue after I paused halfway through to get some pie. Take away the Welles interest and there’s nothing here for me.

“A film should never be an illustration of a book or a play; it should be itself.”

Welles is in a good place here – not a passive interview subject nor the hammy magician from F For Fake nor the self-important actor/director, but some happy role in between those. But I know Welles can be a suave, informative and entertaining fellow; what’s surprising here is that it’s a 90-minute Q&A, seemingly unedited (except when the camera ran out of film) without being full of stupid questions from the audience. The same day I watched this, Katy & I attended a Q&A with an author at the book festival at which ALL (or at least most) of the questions were stupid. Somehow, some university found a group who was familiar with The Trial (maybe they’d just watched it), interested in the conversation, and not just raising their hands to ask “what are your influences?” in order to get themselves on camera.

So, a good interview, full of valuable material. It’s inexcusable that this isn’t out on DVD alongside the film itself. Welles was making great DVD extras twenty years before there were DVDs.

A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (2009, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

Slow-panning shots outside looking in, but mostly inside looking out. Unique location (Nabua village in Thailand) but also unique photography style. I wonder if another filmmaker could’ve found images half as strong as these. As for the story, well, as usual with A.W. I don’t really get it. The village has a history of violence and repression, and this (fictional?) uncle is unseen, addressed by a narrator. Actually it’s more than one narrator, reading the same script, which is later critiqued for accuracy of dialect as we continue roaming the houses, looking slowly up at the trees. Makes me want to catch up with A.W.’s features that I’ve missed. Later: So I have, with Syndromes and a Century. Its dialogue repetition and shots of trees from inside buildings reminded me of this short.

Academic Hack:

In a stunning act of political avant-gardism, Joe has adapted Thai Buddhist tenets regarding reincarnation as a means for excavating the hidden history of a troubled landscape. As his camera slowly creeps and pans through darkened, abandoned homes, Apichatpong is displaying the remnants of a repressed past, in an assertion of ghostly, vertical time. … Joe’s dominant visual cue throughout Boonmee is the depiction of dark, illegible interiors whose porous walls and broken-out windows allow the bright green of the jungle to puncture the once-domestic space with light and texture. As beautiful as the effect may be, it is also chilling, since it represents the breakdown of human effort’s separation from natural encroachment, the dissolution of basic boundaries.


We Work Again (1937)

A newsreel short about how “we” (meaning black americans, though it sounds like the regular white studio voiceover guy saying “we”) are finding jobs after the depression – mostly jobs in the arts, thanks to the federal works agency. Contains rare footage of Orson Welles’ “Voodoo Macbeth,” which used all black actors and looks like it could’ve used a higher prop budget.

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The Little White Cloud That Cried (2009, Guy Maddin)

Commissioned for a Jack Smith program. It reminded me of Kenneth Anger, with the classic pop songs strung together, the soft-focus closeups, but that’s probably because I barely know anything about Jack Smith. Lots (lots!) of nudity, largely (maybe entirely) transsexuals. Typical Maddin editing (which is to say: exhilarating). It’s either art or the best porno I’ve ever seen.

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Someone got the filmmaker by accident. He looks so intense!
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Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair (2009, Guy Maddin)

No credits. Need to get a copy someday without interlacing. Made for the Rotterdam festival for an outdoor exhibit. Isabella is in the ‘lectric chair. A man rushes to save her, too late, embraces her as the switch is pulled. Charming homemade effects: tin foil, sparklers and exercise equipment. Louis Negin (reused footage from Glorious?) dances shirtless in celebration!

Maddin: “Now, I was immediately told no nudity, I was immediately told no strobing, so strobing became the new taboo. It would throw the citizens of Rotterdam into epileptic fits flipping on the sidewalks.”

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More, from a simply fantastic interview with Maddin: “My condition for doing it was that I got permission to re-use the footage in my next feature. Whenever I accept a short film commission, I get permission to use the footage from it and so I’m slowly assembling clips… and in this financially depressed time, you need to. It’s a Frankenstein feature film built together from a bunch of dead short commissions.”

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Zoo (1962, Bert Haanstra)

One of the greatest short films ever. He must have shot for days and days to get so many great shots of animals and spectators, then associatively edited them together into a docu-comedy. I learned from the ravingly positive writeup on the official Bert site that it was all filmed with a hidden camera.

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Contact (2009, Jeremiah Kipp)

Boy and girl visit dealer, get bottled drug and take it together naked. Bad trip ensues. Girl’s concerned parents wait at home, until she shows up late, hugs daddy. Very little spoken dialogue – for artistic sake, or with international film fest distribution in mind? Heavy-handed sound design with echoey shock-horror effects with a sidetrack into 8-bit glitch noise.

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The Bookworm (1939, Hugh Harman)

The crappiest little time-filler of an MGM cartoon. Can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy these as a set, so may as well parcel ’em out as bonus content on other discs. Poe’s raven wants to catch a bookworm (that’s a worm who eats books) to put in the Macbeth witches’ cauldron, but the worm is saved by characters from other books, with a complete lack of imagination, not even the har-har caricature value of those not-great Tashlin library shorts. Why would the books want to save a bookworm anyway? This seems an important part of the story, and it’s just ignored. Ted on IMDB overthinks the movie, says it’s “amazingly sophisticated in its abstraction,” no kidding. A Tashlin movie would just blow Ted’s head right off. Harman put more effort into the same year’s classic short Peace On Earth.


Love On Tap (1939, George Sidney)

At least with The Bookworm you can tune out the story and watch the animation, but there’s no joy in this one. Well, it’s a musical short so I guess you’ve got dancing, but that’s not much of an attraction. Story goes this dude is trying to marry a gal who leads a dance troupe, but her dancers are whiny dependent brats and she caters to their every whim, putting off the guy until he threatens to leave instead of marrying her. He should’ve. Sidney later directed celebrated musicals like Annie Get Your Gun and Kiss Me Kate… guess you gotta start somewhere.


Michelangelo Eye to Eye (2004, Michelangelo Antonioni)

Antonioni silently contemplates the work of another Michelangelo. 15 minutes of static or slowly tracking shots, with just room noise until an ethereal choir sings us out into the credits. Nice to see that after all these years, M.A. is still filming people dwarfed by giant structures and pillars.

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Wake Up, Freak Out, Then Get a Grip (2008, Leo Murray)

A cute cartoon illustrating how we’re all going to die from global warming. Only Leo doesn’t say we’ll all die, he says all the good species of animals will die, leaving rats and roaches, and since there won’t be enough resources left for all of us, those with the most guns and lowest morals will survive to slaughter the rest. Then he says we can’t stop things by being jolly good consumers and buying fluorescent bulbs, we must rather campaign our governments and friendly local corporations to smarten up. Not likely! Move inland.