Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara: Catherine’s sister, known as a singer) is called from Montreal to Austria for being her cousin-in-a-coma’s closest relative. Not having any conscious friends in town and without much expendable travel money, she hangs out extensively in an art museum, where she meets guard Johann. They start to meet outside the museum in his off hours too, though unusually, the movie never becomes a romance.

Cohen:

The audience has been conditioned to automatically think this will be a love story … But the cinema I care most about is about the drive toward the everyday, how we actually do live, how we feel, about things that actually happen. People love the fairy tale, but that’s not what happens here. It’s weird that there aren’t more movies about friendship.

Sometimes we linger quietly in the museum or around the city of Vienna – slowly, rhythmically edited slideshows of miniature scenes. Johann sometimes narrates, says his favorite is the Bruegel room, and we get a long sidetrack following a tour guide discussing Bruegel’s paintings with tourists, including the painting that was meticulously recreated in The Mill and the Cross. We see reality emulating the paintings when the museum attendees are portrayed as nude as some of the painting subjects they’re admiring, and I assumed that was a one-off quirk. But there’s a moment early on which I think lets us in on a prime Cohen concern: Johann is scrutinizing a Bruegel, seeing previously unnoticed details, and we cut from stray garbage on the ground of the painting’s scene to stray garbage on the ground in a nearby park, with equal attention paid to each. The movie ends with Johann’s museum-style narration of a humble windowboxed street scene, and other scenes nearby, art criticism of the everyday world… “and one begins to wonder what the main subject is.”

Cohen is, of course, the director of Benjamin Smoke, which I bought on DVD a decade ago and have never watched. He’s a music scene guy – the film was exec produced by Guy Picciotto and Patti Smith, and…

Adam Cook:

It sounds like a terribly dry and academic exploration (and there is even an art history lesson halfway through) but there is a great warmth and intimacy here reflected in the human connections and ephemeral details that surround the characters … Any film that encourages an audience to engage with the world, seeing both the cities we live in and their transient beauty anew, without resorting to manipulative sentiment must be applauded.

The first roundup of misc shorts since the last one.


Tome of the Unknown: Harvest Melody (2013, Patrick McHale)

Wirt and Greg are heading somewhere, manage to get a ride with pumpkin-man John Crops to vegetable city, where they accidentally unleash the fury of the crows. Would play as a deleted scene from Over The Garden Wall if not for bluebird Beatrice’s different voice and some more cartoonish facial expressions. I’m guessing with the Harvest Melody subtitle that he’d planned to make more standalone shorts like this, but then they made the full series.


The Umbrella Man (2011, Errol Morris)

A web mini-doc on a single detail of the Zapruder film: a single man with an umbrella on the cloudless day Kennedy was shot. Interview with JFK assassination expert Tink Thompson, who sets up the mystery, then explains it was discovered that the man was making an obscure visual protest against a policy by JFK’s father.


Demon in the Freezer (2016, Errol Morris)

“Why is it so important to make the monkeys sick?”

The argument over preserved samples of smallpox virus – whether they should be kept, and for what purpose? Floated: vaccines and biological warfare with the Russians. I don’t know a whole lot about smallpox but it sounds horrible.


Dog (2002, Suzie Templeton)

A sick/dying/dead dog, a father, a boy, a murder, a patch of either blood or mold upon a wall, and the most disturbing stop-motion I’ve seen this side of Robert Morgan.


Oskar Kulicke and the Pacifist (1952, Kurt Weiler)

I loved The Apple, so watched some more puppet shorts by Weiler. Bricklayer Oskar endures the whining of a pansy pacifist then sets him straight, asking how the pacifist will like it when he’s conscripted after a U.S. invasion. No, pacifism is dumb and learning proper use of arms is essential, Oskar concludes.

The U.S. military elite:


Heinrich The Dysfunctional: A German Elegy (1965, Kurt Weiler)

Surprising to watch this right after the other, since it’s about a failed German invasion of Poland in 1472 due to misfortune and royal idiocy. King of Libnitz attacks Cracow in order to obtain liquor and a young bride. After recruiting a traitorous young goat farmer, the king makes it to the enemy castle, only to be pissed on by the local kids and sent home on a manure cart, all his cannons destroyed. “The fatal flaw of the heroic German character: thirst trumps wisdom.”

Last-minute reprieve for the goat farmer:

Ceremonial welcome:


Nörgel & Söhne (1968-70, Kurt Weiler)

Three-part story of how the nomadic Nörgel clan developed tools and farming, then trade, then currency. Character-based stop-motion with some fun material tricks with liquids, animals and the heavens. Nörgel becomes more of a brutal slavemaster the closer he gets to modern capitalism, and in the end he retires and reads Marx’s Das Capital (historical chronology is shifty in these movies) and regrets the awful thing he’s done.

Barter calculations:


Street of Crocodiles (1986, Quays)

Live-action man spits into the machinery, activating it, and releases stop-motion man who creeps into a dusty world of pulleys and screws populated by hollow-headed dolls. Wonderful string music. I still don’t know what it all means, been meaning to get the Bruno Schulz book forever now, but it’s all so dusty and textural and mesmerizing in its mysterious movements.


Quay (2015, Christopher Nolan)

Eight-minute trip to the Quays’ workshop featuring some Street of Crocodiles puppets and commentary on their methods. I suppose splashing Nolan’s name across the blu-ray package was meant to get new people interested in their work, kinda like “JJ Abrams presents Phantasm: Remastered“. I hope it’s working.


Esperalia (1983, Jerzy Kalina)

A guy goes slow-mo crawling through the forest overlaid by patterns and rotoscope lines, seeing visions and phantoms, with an increasingly disturbed soundtrack.


The Public Voice (1988 Lejf Marcussen)

Magnifying glass reveals the blueprints beneath paintings, the lines behind the lines behind the lines. Slow zooms in and out as patterns and figures slowly prove to be details within other works, a visual art history folded into itself. I didn’t recognize most of the work, but there’s some Dali and Bosch in there.

Rutger Hauer plays Bruegel planning his painting “The Way to Calvary,” as Majewski uses CG backdrops a la The Lady and the Duke, posing actors (including Charlotte Rampling and Michael “Basil Exposition” York) to create a series of motion tableaus instead of relying on dialogue and story. Like living inside a painting for a couple hours, a series of smaller compositions forming a part of a climactic larger one. I’m glad that at least in Poland it won costume and production design awards, which it richly deserved.

The famous painter Hokusai and his daughter O-Ei work in the same house, sometimes finishing each other’s works. She likes a dreamy guy, but some doofus guy likes her. She has a blind sister whom Hokusai never visits, and the sister takes up about half the movie. A few moments of grace (the paintings coming to life, blind girl making snow angels, geisha whose head escapes at night) enliven an ordinary story that opens awkwardly with out-of-place guitar rock then limps along to the end after the blind girl dies. Katy says the advertisements were misleading, implying that O-Ei would break free from her dad’s shadow and find her own style.

Back in the day I’d flip through the Norman McLaren DVD box set regularly, but times change and you get old and overwhelmed with things and one day you realize you haven’t watched any McLaren in six years.


Blinkity Blank (1955)

Advanced hand-etched animation – musical battle of red dot vs. blue dot, flickering and transforming into different images for an instant at a time.

R. Koehler called it “possibly his greatest film, in which McLaren discovered the effect of not drawing on every single frame.”

J-P Coursodon:

One may briefly notice (provided one doesn’t blink) a flurry of feathers, a parachute, a bird cage, a pineapple, an umbrella that turns into a hen-like figure, as well as many undescribable doodles that keep bouncing all over the screen. “This is not a film you see,” wrote French critic André Martin in 1955, “it’s a film you think you see.” You do hear, however, and not just think you hear, Maurice Blackburn’s dodecaphonistic score … with strikingly percussive synthetic-sound punctuations added throughout like so many punches by McLaren’s scratchings on the soundtrack.


C’est L’aviron (1944)

Gentle boat ride in sync with a vocal French tune, constant 3D zoom forwards (and sometimes backwards) over sea, through clouds and towns. There’s a behind-the-scenes film explaining how it was made,


Spheres (1969)

Mathematical dance of stop-motion spheres against a morphing cosmic backdrop. Codirected with René Jodoin in 1946, with music added two decades later.


Love on the Wing (1939)

A post office advert – see also the Len Lye shorts – in which two postal letters are in love. Fast-paced, surrealist-inspired etched animation, characters constantly morphing into different figures.


La Poulette Grise (1947)

Variations of chicken/egg paintings, contorting slowly to a vocal song by Anna Malenfant (doesn’t that mean Anna Badchild?). At the end, the chicken sails away upon a crescent moon.


A Little Phantasy on a Nineteenth Century Painting (1946)

Chalky animation upon a reproduction of an Arnold Böcklin painting.


Là-Haut Sur Ces Montagnes (1946)

Another generative painting, a nice pastoral scene


Book Bargain (1937)

Short doc with voiceover showing the process of printing the London phone book. Cool machinery but kind an unexciting industrial film.

I guess I’m starting to get Pasolini’s style, thanks not to this confusing movie but to the blu-ray extras, which say he combines his knowledge of art and iconography with deliberately naive framing and ignorance of film history and style, influenced by Gramsci (“the revolutionary potential of the arts”) and the neorealists (who insisted on a “high level of political and cultural engagement on the part of directors and writers”). In retrospect I can see how these ideas work, but in my experience of watching the movie, it seemed like a silly bunch of populist, amoral comedic sex stories, lightly enjoyable.

First, someone is murdered in a cave, but it’s dark and I’m not sure what’s happening or if it’s important.

Then Andreuccio (Ninetto Davoli) is scammed by a princess who claims to be his long-lost sister before ejecting him into a toilet and stealing his money. He finds fortune with grave robbers later that night, stealing a gemstone ring from a bishop’s crypt.

Masetto pretends to be stupid and mute in order to gain favor with the nuns and eventually have sex with all of them.

A husband returns home to his cheating wife Peronella where she has stashed her lover in a huge vase, pretending that he’s interesting in buying it. This is when I realized that none of these episodes are related in any way.

Legendary liar/forger Ciappelletto (Franco Citti, title star of Accattone – aha, learned that he’s the murderer in the prologue) is dying, gives a final fake confession to a very impressed priest.

A multi-part episode framed by the story of a painter (Pasolini himself) working on a mural… also featuring young lovers Caterina and Ricardo caught nude on a balcony and forced to marry… Lorenzo is killed by his lover’s brothers and she finds his grave and keeps his head… and a sex fiend returns from the dead to tell his buddy that the afterlife has “nothing against screwing around”

Back to the painter: “Why complete a work, when it’s so beautiful just to dream it?”

Won a prize in Berlin (despite featuring some of the laziest dubbing work I’ve ever seen) where Vittorio De Sica took the Golden Bear. “It also quite infamously started a trend of pornographic films based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, something Pasolini actually found very upsetting,” per Patrick Rumble’s vital video essay.

Sure it’s the cutest-ever story of an orphan mouse who befriends a hermit criminal bear, but it also has major subplots about teeth theft at the behest of a sinister orphanage.

Also there’s a family with a dentist mom who works across the street from her candy seller husband, which is funny and low-key cynical but they don’t seem to deserve the chaos Ernest wreaks upon their businesses.

Beautiful watercolor backgrounds, often fading away at the edges. According to the codirector the writing was influenced by Studio Ghibli (naturally) and Kikujiro (ha!).

I was crazy about it, but something seemed off with the English voices. After just having seen The Little Prince and feeling Jeff Bridges was just perfect as the inventor neighbor, I wasn’t feeling Forest Whitaker as Ernest. The movie is short, so I watched it again in French with original Ernest Lambert Wilson (the American in Not On The Lips), which was perhaps an improvement, perhaps not, but either way a joy to see twice.

M. Sicinski:

With its first-person musings and associative image-track, Francofonia’s first half resembles nothing so much as a late Godard video, but the approach and mood is open and accessible even as the subject matter turns highbrow … But most of the remainder of the film is spent dramatizing the wartime cooperation between the Louvre’s Vichy-era chief, Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), and Nazi cultural attaché Franz Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath).

A complicated movie which I thought about for days afterwards, but I waited long enough before writing anything down that now it’s not fresh in my mind and I’m hesitant to write anything at all. A variety of styles, aspect ratios, color palettes, time periods and strange effects (the film’s soundtrack waveform visible alongside the picture was a new one to me). Some Russian Ark-ian museum cruising with your host Napoleon, who showed off paintings of his own exploits and earned a big laugh at our screening when he gazed at the Mona Lisa saying his usual line, “It’s me.” Even the regular historical drama scenes (Louvre chief meeting his Nazi overseer) don’t go in the directions you’d expect of a historical drama and they culminate in a wondrous bit where each character is told by the narrator how his life will end up.

My preparatory viewings of various Crime and Punishment adaptations didn’t end up preparing me at all for Whispering Pages, which uses none of the main events from the novel, instead taking minor scenes and mashing them up with other novels, creating a general tone of miserablist 19th century Russian literature without bothering itself with a story.

Extreme Slow Cinema here, but Sokurov keeps it short, under 80 minutes. He seems to love paintings and long takes. Motion shots turn to stills. The color temperature of shots changes. The picture sometimes looks blurred or stretched or warped, but given the stills I’ve seen of Mother and Son, this is probably intentional. Film grain and rolling mist are more main characters than our lead actor A. Cherednik, who speaks with a breathy Peter Lorre voice and seems to have killed someone offscreen.

Overall I wasn’t a fan, but it does have some mesmerising moments. There’s the main dialogue scene with E. Koroleva, in which he tells her that he’s killed someone and they debate him turning himself in and the existence of God, and she reacts like this:

There’s an obscure bureaucracy scene with this weirdo:

And there’s an inexplicable (dream sequence?) where everyone around our hero is leaping in slow-motion into unknown depths. Stills can’t do that shot justice, so instead here is some mist.