Good photography (by others) and music (by Mary Lattimore) but this falls straight into the personal/parents doc template with the usual outcomes. Mom died before Rachel was two, R doesn’t remember her, so she goes on a journey to find footage and associates. Goes where mom went, meets who she knew, makes mom’s ex-boyfriend cry while Rachel is breaking up with her own husband. I don’t feel like they came up with compelling way to turn their audiotape archives into cinema – re-enactments with faces hidden, video of tape machines, the old kachunk-slideshow from Sr. She performs as her mom, edits herself into film of her mom, interviews other girls who didn’t have moms, generally makes everything about herself and her loss. The stuff about the nature of photography and memory was more interesting than the parental pinings. Her dad seems cool anyway. Some good voices in this, but not the director’s, which is who we’re mostly hearing. When looking for trailers I found one from a decade ago – this was shot and kickstartered back then, and it took this long to finish. Somewhere in the long process it picked up producers who worked on Joonam, Hottest August, Aquarela, Her Smell, and Cameraperson, and the editors of Crip Camp and The Devil and Daniel Johnston. Horns and drums by Gora Gora Orkestar made the trip to the Jesse worthwhile.

Early Wenders muse Rüdiger Vogler drives past Richmond, gets to NYC and sells his car, then goes to Shea Stadium – I like this guy already. He’s a writer/photographer disowned by his editor for wandering the States and ignoring his story and deadlines, but he’s got enough cash to fly home. After he meets a woman and her daughter at the airport then the woman disappears, the movie sneakily adopts my least favorite movie plot of all (aimless adult gets stuck with precocious child), but somehow remains good. Robby Müller did nice work in Goalie, kills it here. Almost Kaurismäkian in its large-heartedness – rare that I watch a movie from the 1970s and think things were better back then. Rüdiger keeps behaving in a very relatable manner (he drops the girl at a police station and goes to a Chuck Berry concert).

Rüdiger on TV: “All these TV images come down to the same common, ugly message: a kind of vicious contempt. No image leaves you in peace. They all want something from you.”

“Who wants to be famous? Who wants to die for art?” I should’ve watched this a very long time ago, like before Cecil B. Demented. Divine is Dawn, who storms out of her parents’ house as a teenager since she didn’t get the cha-cha heels she wanted for Christmas, immediately gets pregnant, flash-forward and she’s got a teenage daughter called Taffy (Mink Stole) and a hairdresser husband named Gator.

Divine & The Dashers:

Then the plot goes haywire. Taffy seeks out her real father (also Divine) and stabs him to death, then threatens to join the Hare Krishas. Gator’s aunt Ida throws acid in Dawn’s face, and the Dasher photographers who own Gator’s hair salon try to make the disfigured Dawn famous, everyone agreeing that she looks even more beautiful now. None of the performances are “bad” because they’re all on the same heightened wavelength, but the dialogue is mostly yelling and it finally gets tiresome during the court scene that sends Dawn to the electric chair.

Post-acid Dawn with daughter and caged Aunt Ida (Edith Massey):

Pandemic-era photo montages.

Messages 1

Utterly delightful, just a slideshow of Pat’s excellent photographs from a lifetime of travels through North America with droll voiceover descriptions, one after the other, no time to waste.


Messages 2

This is the one where he’s interrupted by explosion sounds.


Messages 3

I love how he photographs partial or partially destroyed signs, and reads them aloud to create new meaning from the half-words and phrases. Some New Jersey scenes in this.


Messages 4

These just get better. I don’t know who Pat O’Neill is exactly, but I want to hang out with him.


Messages 5

He has great recollection of these photographs and the locations and situations when they were taken
All these were edited by Martha Colburn.

I watched all the shorts I could find called The Letter,
and some related shorts that were on the same DVDs.


The Letter (2008 Gael Garcia Bernal)

“Achieve universal education” – this is from an anthology in which overqualified filmmakers (Sissako, Wenders, Gaspar Noé) created little issues dramas. Bernal had made one feature before this and never really took off as a director. Mustache man Ingvar Sigurdsson (lately star of A White, White Day, soon to be seen in The Northman) is working in Iceland. He helps his son with homework, reads to him. Any time he’s not talking with his kid, a narrator is speaking, and none of this is in English or subtitled on my disc, so I dunno, but the man seems to be divorced and the only letter they receive is a credit card bill.


The Water Diary (2008 Jane Campion)

From the same anthology as the Bernal. Drought caused by climate change causes a farming town to fall apart. The little girl at the center loses her horses, loses her uncle to suicide, spends the day pretend-galloping with her cousin through the dry riverbed. The neighbors tell each other their dreams of rain, and imagine that if the prettiest girl in town plays her viola atop a hill, the clouds will gather and weep. Second movie I’ve seen in a year where people collect their tears in jars. Lovely short, even on DVD, with some unusual visuals. The lead girl later played opposite Elle Fanning in Ginger & Rosa.


The Letter (1971 James Gore & Adam Beckett)

Silent freeform animation, the figures constantly transforming, returning to a striped-shirt character writing then mailing a letter. Besides the figure mutations (just while addressing and stamping the letter, the person becomes a stick figure, a mouse, a bird, a pig and a wolf) we spend some time inside the letter itself, a blue-on-blue field of growing and folding shapes.


Sausage City (1974 Adam Beckett)

Single-color pen drawings of mutating geometries, gradually becomes more 3D as colorful blobbos appear and begin taking over the image, a chaotic jazz combo underscoring the whole thing. This for a while, then it zooms out and a man jumps into the drawing table, where he’s transformed into a hip mouse creature. Music by “Brillo”


The Letter (2002 Vladimir Leschiov)

Man sitting under tall apple tree is writing a letter. Plays around with scale, and the nature of apples. Nice pencil-looking drawing style, with soft music that adds fx and transforms along with the visual scene. Leschiov is described as the most famous of Latvian animators, though he made this in Sweden.


Lost In Snow (2007 Vladimir Leschiov)

A man leaves his shack for some ice fishing and a drink. But the man begins multiplying, differently dressed ice fishers in different nearby spots, as the ice sheet cracks and they all float around each other. Prompted to watch this after we went to the lake today, saw some ice fishers and got very close to a bald eagle. The movie loses points for featuring no eagles, but there is a penguin at the end


The Letter (1998 Michel Gondry)

A boy with a photography hobby is anxious about Y2K and wanting to kiss a girl he likes. His older brother tries giving him advice, the boy dreams that he’s unable to connect with other humans because his head has become a camera, the girl writes a letter saying she likes his older brother. B/W with some nice photochemical effects, I think this was Gondry’s first narrative work that wasn’t a music video.


The Letter (1968 Jacques Drouin)

Only a minute long, simple animation on white background of a person attempting to write a love letter, the words of the discarded drafts appearing onscreen and self destructing.


Pismo aka Letter (2013 Sergei Loznitsa)

Cool jump-cut on a thunderclap, and there is a cow. Either this town is in heavy mist or the film is fogged. This goes beyond Slow Cinema into Sokurovian smear-cinema, without even a pretense at story or characterization, the camera too far from whatever daily menial activities are going on. There’s a four-hour Loznitsa playing True/False next month, and the guy’s not convincing me that’ll be time well spent [edit: a month later, after reviews and global events, now I’m dying to see the T/F feature]

Official description:
“A remote village in the Northwest of Russia. A mental asylum is located in an old wooden house. The place and its inhabitants seem to be untouched by civilization. Over 10 years ago, Loznitsa shot astounding black-and-white footage at a psychiatric institution in a forgotten corner of Russia. Since then it has resided in his archive.”


The Letter (2018 Bill Morrison)

A young man falls for a nurse. Her friend reads alarming news in a letter. A maid is being harassed by her employer. Is Bill a great preservationist, showing us the remnants of old films before they’re physically corroded away? Or is he the cause of the corrosion, has he realized that 1920’s studio pictures of well dressed people having conversations in rooms are inherently uninteresting without an added Decasia effect, and he’s out to document his chemical destruction of silent film history? I like my theory, gonna run with it, though now I see this was made from the Dawson City films.


The Letter (1976 Coni Beeson)

Big keyboard music, voiceover fragments of a man’s breakup letter while a blonde woman in a robe is montaged through all different scenarios, some of them nude. Her voice responds, “what if I change, what if I stop” as the movie deteriorates into hippie-manson-orgy territory with prominent ankhs. She achieves some kinda (still nude) peace at the end. The official description mentions “a symbolic rape by the Devil.”


The Letter (1970 Roman Kachanov)

Daddy’s off at war, and wifey gets very mopey when he hasn’t sent a letter lately, to the concern of their kid. Cute stop-motion.

Even for me, three movies is a lot on a work day. More family history told through photographs, and we think stock footage but with sources uncredited. No tricks pulled with the photos except in the poster shot when torn and discarded pics of pre-revolutionary mom are reassembled. Some tricks with the house scenes though, camera slowly gliding through a long house with furnishings that change according to the political and family situation in each part of the story. Iranian Mom gets a culture shock upon marrying a secular scientist and moving to Europe, but when they return to Iran she embraces the Islamic Revolution and becomes the dominant force in the household.

Having a rough week, I considered pulling out the emergency relief film, Paddington 2, but Brian Dennehy had just died, and I’d long wanted to see it, so chose to watch the movie about a man in constant pain whose professional and personal life falls apart until he commits suicide – great fuckin’ idea.

Composer Wim Mertens does a serviceable Michael Nyman impression – or maybe that was Glenn Branca, one of his few film credits. Architect Dennehy is in Rome with wife Louisa (Chloe Webb, just off starring in Sid & Nancy) outlining the exhibition he’s preparing on an obscure French architect. Webb is pregnant, and having a blatant affair with Lambert Wilson, who is also stealing money and discrediting Dennehy so he can take over the exhibition, and whose photographer sister Stefania Casini (Jessica Harper’s murdered friend in Suspiria) is trying to seduce Dennehy. I like how Dennehy finds her room full of photographs of previous scenes, as if whenever Casini is offscreen, she’s filming the movie we’re watching.

Happy to see that much of the motion in these motion-paintings involves snow or animals – in fact, when there are humans in a scene, they’re the only things that don’t come alive. The visuals sometimes remind of The Mill and the Cross, and sometimes you can’t tell they’re based on still photos at all.

Here’s me, pointlessly taking stills of motion versions of stills:

Crows are prominent. Rare is the scene without any birds in it. The movie is as attuned to outdoor bird behavior as I am, always wondering what the crows and ducks and sandpipers are up to. Whenever there are birds seen through a window we hear opera. Not all the animals survive… tense music in frame 5 before a deer gets shot, and there are more bird fatalities in this than in The Lighthouse. In the most narrative scene, a seagull gets shot and another mourns him. Great ending: a Disney-sounding song, a sleeping motion designer, a classic film on an iMac rendering at about 1fps, the wind in the trees outside.

Tao catches up with his old buddy Dong, a former photographer who’s figuring out what to do next while being needled by his family, wishing he could just stay drunk and hang out with his friends and listen to punk rock, dreaming of returning to his pastoral home town far to the north. Dong’s mom works with fabric, dad sells flutes, and Dong is coerced into starting a jade business. This doesn’t work out – Tao films Dong listening to a jade dealer explain what kinds of stones to buy and how to convince customers into spending more than a piece is worth, then venting into the camera later about this business being an elaborate scam, and that’s the end of the jade story. Dong has lived his whole life in Post-Mao China but still can’t adjust to capitalism.

I’m not always clear on chronology or location. We’re in Kunming in 2011 on Dong’s 30th birthday talking about taking a trip to Hailar, then “Spring arrived in 2013,” and Dong is on a train, pointing to cities on the schedule, talking about his parents and his childhood in Hailar. So, we assumed it’s 2013 and the trip has begun, before realizing a few scenes later that it’s still Dong’s 30th birthday and they’ve gone nowhere, will go nowhere (except for the jade expo) until the final minutes of the movie.

Watched because of a specific interest in China this year, to be further explored soon. Kunming is in the far (central) south of the country, and Guangdong (the jade expo, and the beach where the promo stills were shot) is far to the east, on the south side near Hong Kong. Beijing is in the northeast of the country, but Hailar is even further northeast, around the eastern tip of Mongolia, a stone’s throw from Russia. According to the description of his previous film, post-earthquake survival semi-doc On the Way to the Sea, Tao Gu and his family are from Wenchuan, just northwest of Chengdu and not near any of his Taming the Horse locations. I haven’t figured out the part where drunk, crying Dong says he wants to kill himself in Yanjiang where he first saw the sea, since Yanjiang appears to be just on the other side of Chengdu from Gu’s hometown, 15 hours from the nearest ocean.

Punk Rock tells the Truth: