A Quiet Movie. Mildly disappointing in the same way as Deep Blue Sea – Davies casts some of my favorite actresses, and they’re wonderful in his films, and his use of light is simply the best, and there are some very nice words in the dialogue (like “pillory”), but it all seems kinda polite and I never connect emotionally in the way I feel I should. Much better than Sunset Song, anyway.

An episodic biopic of the life of Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon), with sister Jennifer Ehle (the only good part of Contagion), brother Duncan Duff, and friend Jodhi May (Nightwatching). Spoiler alert for a Terence Davies movie: her heart is full of poetry and yearning but her adult/love life doesn’t turn out very happily.

After an intro sequence where her family is played by younger actors, the movie changes eras, zooming in slowly on each character one at a time, and I was horrified to realize it was morphing the faces of the young actors into the old ones, a technique that I thought was abandoned soon after Michael Jackson’s Black or White video… but a couple seconds later I realized it’s really beautifully done here, and even again at the end, in the biopic-obligatory credits shots where they show the lead actor vs. the real person they’re portraying. The dialogue gets exasperating, but I could watch the actors do their thing forever.

Ehrlich:

Davies has always been as precise with time as Dickinson was with rhyme, and that ineffable sense of rhythm defines several of the standout sequences … The movie is defined by its staccato phrasings, elliptical flow, and opaquely confessional nature … She could have found a husband and moved out, the film suggests, but being a married woman in the 19th Century would have robbed her of what little creative control she was able to maintain over her own life; after all, she had to ask her father for permission to write, and she only did so in the dead of night, when everyone else was sleeping. Davies has said that, “Having your work taken away from you makes you feel like a non-person,” and just as Dickinson couldn’t stand an editor so much as moving a punctuation mark out of place, the filmmaker is too sensitive to survive the destruction of trying to move beyond his comfort zone.

A lovely little movie, spanning a week in the life of Paterson bus driver Paterson (Adam Driver), who lives with quirky, fashionable Golshifteh Farahani (About Elly, Chicken With Plums, Shirin) and a bulldog (deserved Palm Dog winner).

William Harper (The Good Place) stalking Chasten Harmon:

Paterson with poetry whisperer Masatoshi Nagase (Maiku Hama himself):

“He was a weaver… an anarchist weaver” – the Moonrise Kingdom kids discuss historical figures from Paterson NJ:

Richard Porton:

Paterson is now known to New Jerseyans, if they know anything about it at all, as a poor city, avoided by tourists and locals alike and plagued by gang warfare. Jarmusch’s non-naturalistic conception of Paterson … is instead a cinephilic haven with a cozy repertory cinema that enables the happy couple to attend a screening of Erle C. Kenton’s Island of Lost Souls … Despite a few minor skirmishes in the bar among soused patrons, Paterson and Laura’s soulful English bulldog named Marvin is responsible for the film’s only bona fide act of violence. Marvin’s almost unforgivable act of aggression suffuses the film with a genuine melancholy … Unlike Loach, with his penchant for didactic political fables, Jarmusch favours a more intimate critique of everyday life, as well as savouring the utopian possibilities that might emerge if we reject the inanities of our consumer society and, say, combine bus driving with poetry.

B. Ebiri:

There are many moments that, in other films, could presage the beginning of something more dramatic: a shouting match; an automotive failure; a random, puzzling encounter or two. But the film keeps its even keel. So maybe there are two sides to Jarmusch’s manifesto: Finding joy and beauty in the everyday is not just an aesthetic priority, he seems to suggest, but an existential imperative for the uneasy soul.

Watched for Cannes Month – of the movies I wanted to watch from last year’s fest, I’ve already seen 13, missed 7… 4 are opening soon, and 12 have dropped off the face of the earth (I don’t understand how film distribution works).

Great hook for a film – small town poet with cerebral palsy becomes famous online, her fame and newfound self-confidence shaking up her home life. We booked our True/False schedule based mostly on subject matter of the documentaries (Katy is going to Hubei, where this movie is set), not watching trailers or knowing anything about their formal presentations, so we were bowled over by the cinematic beauty in Strong Island, LoveTrue, Manifesto and this one. It’s an amazing story on its own, but the filmmaker also finds ways to visualize Xiuhua’s poetry, showing text onscreen and filming the natural environment around the house where she wrote the words.

The poetry and the film are extremely bittersweet. She uses her fame and money to get a divorce from the husband she’s never loved while her mother is dying of cancer. The husband is open on-camera about his contempt for her and has a girlfriend in Beijing, though he seems to love Xiuhua’s parents and their child. She’s invited to academic conferences, press events and even reality TV, and her media people are concerned that the divorce will hurt her fame. She finally pays off the husband and after the divorce they ride home together, with him grinning like mad. She seems very independent, giving confident answers to press and fan questions, flirting with the filmmaker and a conference panelist, but she’s deeply vulnerable in the poetry, and says her life has been a failure if she hasn’t found love.

The little one starts a war, and the big one across the ocean extinguishes it … Then a strict master comes who takes people’s shirts and their skin with them. After the war, you think there’ll be peace, but there won’t be.

A Bavarian mountain town of somnambulist glassmakers is torn apart after the man with the secret of their famed ruby glass dies unexpectedly. The first couple of scenes establish that this movie will be more concerned with natural beauty, poetry, prophesy, and irrational human behavior than with story, and that’s just fine with me.

Prophet Hias is Josef Bierbichler (the man Woyzeck‘s wife is cheating with, later of Code Unknown). The rest are mostly non-actors who agreed to be hypnotized by the director, asked to behave strangely for the movie, and behaving strangely in different, unexpected ways due to the hypnosis. It’s a slow-moving, heavily stylized movie with bizarre music

Two neighbors have a slow-motion bar fight and later one dies. The Master of the glassworks has his people tear apart the head glassmaker’s house to search for the secret, later kills a girl to get blood for the ruby glass. The factory is burned down and the people throw Hias in jail with the Master. Either he escapes and fights an invisible bear or the ending is one of his visions, during which he tells of a boatload of men heading out from a remote island to find the end of the world.

“Everyone is walking into a foreseen disaster.” The commentary with Herzog is good. It was shot in Bavaria, reminiscent of the small village where he grew up, and the hypnosis was used to show the town’s “collective trance.”

Watching shorts from the Flicker Alley blu-ray, part two.

Tarantella (1940 Bute & Nemeth)

Abstract designs move in time to music, a la An Optical Poem and some of the Len Lye films. Bold and colorful.

Lewis Jacobs in Film Quarterly:

At first glance, the Bute-Nemeth pictures seemed like an echo of the former German pioneer, Oscar Fischinger, one of the first to experiment with the problems of abstract motion and sound. Actually, they were variations on Fischinger’s method, but less rigid in their patterns and choice of objects, tactile in their forms; more sensuous in their use of light and color rhythms, more concerned with the problems of depth, more concerned with music complimenting rather than corresponding to the visuals … Fischinger worked with two-dimensional animated drawings; Bute and Nemeth used any three-dimensional substance at hand: ping-pong balls, paper cutouts, sculptured models, cellophane, rhinestones, buttons, all the odds and ends picked up at the five and ten cent store. Fischinger used flat lighting on flat surfaces; Bute and Nemeth employed ingenious lighting and camera effects by shooting through long-focus lenses, prisms, distorting mirrors, ice cubes, etc.


Pursuit of Happiness (1940 Rudy Burckhardt)

These NYC mini-docs keep getting better. This one is mostly focused on people and advertisements. Towards the end, Rudy goes nuts in the editing, rotating and slowing and superimposing and splitting images. “Intentionally silent,” which I cannot abide, so I played some Cyro Baptista.


1941 (1941 Francis Lee)

Flowing paint and broken glass, an abstract visual response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor made just before the filmmaker went to war.


Meshes of the Afternoon (1943 Maya Deren)

This is the best. Cocteau-like death-dream narrative from every perspective, with doubling, mirror-faces, slo-mo – all the effects used to great poetic purpose. Wrote (a bit) more here.

Deren:

This film is concerned with the interior experiences of an individual. It does not record an event which could be witnessed by other persons. Rather, it reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret and elaborate an apparently simple and casual incident into a critical emotional experience.


Meditation on Violence (1948 Maya Deren)

A man practicing wutang and shaolin moves to flute music. Drums are added, and completely take over the soundtrack as the man warps to an outdoor setting with a sword and costume. A few token slo-mo and freeze shots then he’s back indoors. Apparently it’s much more complex than it looks and Deren had theories and charts to explain what she was doing, but Sitney calls it “a film overloaded by its philosophical burden.”


In the Street (1948 James Agee, et al)

Documentary of kids of all ages hanging out and playing in the street. Builds to a climax with a war of boys fighting with stockings filled with gravel, then chills out again, then a montage of close-ups. Costumes are involved, and rambly piano music accompanies.


Four in the Afternoon (1951 James Broughton)

Four vignettes set to Broughton poems. 1. Jump-roping woman imagines possible suitors. 2. Gardening man imagines finding a date. 3. Prancing woman in garden is pursued by even prancier man. 4. Sad man in rocking chair dreams of ballerinas past. This one has some nice reverse-action.

Sitney:

For each of the four film poems there is a distinctive cinematic trope; with Game Little Gladys it is stop-motion manifestation and disappearance of possible lovers; in the case of The Gardener’s Son it is a composition-in-depth with the boy in the foreground and the woman he desires in the background … The final section, The Aging Balletomane, may be the finest … Reverse motion is the trope of this episode.

The most awesome/unevenly ambitious Spike Lee movie since She Hate Me. I knew in advance that Teyonah Parris (Coco in Dear White People) has a plan to deny her man (Nick Cannon) sex until he stops fighting with a rival gang led by Wesley Snipes, but didn’t know she gathers a legion of women who commandeer an army base. The social issues within a heightened, unrealistic comedic production (rhyming dialogue, dance scenes, narrator Sam Jackson) make for a great combo.

Cowriter Kevin Willmott was here last week but I didn’t go see him since my parents were in town.

The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger (2010)

Because the advertising billboard looks cool. Then he finds out the horrible truth and with his mom’s help, rebels against the burger factory. Has a different look, Bill says he drew with sharpie on small sheets of paper, and I believe he said painter Kandisky was his coloring inspiration.

Gary Guitar (2007)

Gary invites Vera Violin out. Obstacles threaten to derail their picnic, but Gary is prepared for almost anything, and friend/annoyance Danny Drum helps out with the rest. Was meant to be a pilot.

Gary makes the mother of all sandwiches, which will later be used as a weapon against a fire-breathing robot:

Waiting For Her Sailor (2012)

One minute, one gag, but a good one.

Summer Bummer (2012)

Colored-pencil illistration of unrealistic fears of sharks in swimming pools.

The Flying House (1921, Winsor McCay)

Kickstarter-fueled restoration of McCay’s final film (a predecessor to Up), using McCay’s newspaper cartoons for color reference. I had Mr. Show flashbacks when they blew up the moon.

Tiffany The Whale (2012)

Rivalry between two top runway models, a woman with huge blonde hair, and a whale. Long and talky – I’m surprised Bill meant this to be a pilot as well, since I’m not sure where else you can take a whale-as-model story.

Drunker than a Skunk (2013)

Cool poem by Walt Curtis (subject of Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche and of an hour-long doc by Plympton). The poem’s partly lost under music and effects so I watched this twice, but the animation is wonderful – my favorite on the disc.

Horn Dog (2009)

Finally I get to see the fourth dog film. The dog finds love in the park. Tries to give her gifts, but imagines terrible repercussions a la Guard Dog. Finally settles on a violin serenade but accidentally kills her owner.

Guard Dog Global Jam (2011)

Based on a Marv Newland concept called Anijam, Plympton coordinated online to get animators to recreate Guard Dog, one shot each. The best bit: the guy with the laughing-girl shot subcontracted each frame to different illustrators. Good story on the commentary about this film’s near-failure – submissions were open and they thought nobody was signing up, but really it was so many people the server crashed.

and from the Cheatin’ blu-ray:

The Gastronomic Shark (Bill Plympton)

A very silly, very short, bad-taste piece on human meal options for sharks.

There’s more on the Dogs & Cows disc, commissioned shorts and extras, which I haven’t explored yet.

Castello Cavalcanti (2013, Wes Anderson)

Cute – Schwartzmann is a racecar driver who happens to crash in his ancestral village then decides to slow down and hang out for a while.

Aningaaq (2013, Jonas Cuaron)

The other side of a radio conversation Sandra Bullock has in Gravity, with a man in the icy wilderness who doesn’t understand her. It’s fun as a companion short but gets all its emotional weight from the Gravity recall.

Stephane Mallarme (1968, Eric Rohmer)

A visit with a typical pretentious french poet. Or I can’t tell if he’s pretentious since the spoken interview is translated but his written poetry excerpts are not. It’s all starting to seem odd, when the “documentary” short ends and the credits tell me Jean-Marie Robain (of Melville’s Le Silence de la Mer) played the poet, who died in 1898.

“In a society without cohesion, without stability, it’s impossible to create stable, definitive art.”

Weed (1996, Fatih Akin)

A corny-assed comedy starring Akin with Counting Crows hair, who tries to impress his new dance-club friends by claiming he has amazing weed at home, which he does not. So in order not to get killed once the lie has spun out of control, he brings them weeds from the garden, which they smoke and find to be amazing, because potheads have no standards I guess.

The House Is Black (1963, Forugh Farrokhzad)

I’ve seen this a couple times before, and there’s really nothing to be said. Farrokhzad brings poetry to a leper colony, with thrilling results. It sits alongside Sans Soleil and Resnais’s 1950’s shorts as a supreme example of the possibilities of the personal documentary form. Katy was happy to watch it, and cringed from the images less than I thought she would.


Pumzi (2009, Wanuri Kahiu)

Usually a young aspiring filmmaker will make a short to prove her abilities before moving on to more expensive feature-length films, but Kahiu’s feature drama From a Whisper predated this slick, expensive-looking 20-minute sci-fi film.

Between watching this and Hello Dolly, we are having an unintended WALL-E tribute week. Story goes that Asha lives in a tightly-regulated base in a post-WWIII wasteland. No plant life grows outside, all water is obsessively recycled and rationed, and each resident has to generate their own daily portion of electricity via exercise machines. An outsider sends Asha a soil sample that seems able to sustain life, and when the authorities try to suppress her discovery, she sneaks outside, treks through the desert to the origin point of the soil sample, plants a tree and shelters it with her body. But then we’re confused by the final shot, aerial pull-out beneath the PUMZI title, which appears to show her lonely tree off to the east and a vast forest to the west.


Entr’acte (1924, René Clair)

Twenty-minute film shown during intermission at a play with music by Erik Satie. Clair pulled out all the cinematic tricks he could think of – flashy editing, speed changes, superimposition, stop-motion. He brings the camera on a rollercoaster and positions it under a glass table on which a dancer is leaping.

There is kind of a story – a man with a bird on his hat gets shot, falls off a building. After his funeral procession goes wrong, he pops out of the coffin then makes the pallbearers disappear. Also: Marcel Duchamp plays chess with Man Ray. Ah, early surrealism, how I love it.


Nothing But Time (1926, Alberto Cavalcanti)

“This is not a depiction of the fashionable and elegant life…”

“…but of the everyday life of the humble, the downtrodden.”

A city-symphony short, portraying the work day, after hours, early morning, leisure, crime, etc. – a visual, non-narrative social issues movie with mournful music. It’s nice to watch, but the message seems to come down to “gee, it sucks to be poor.” I dig the montage of vegetables becoming garbage the next day

Crazy split screen – all these puzzle pieces are in motion:

Best shot: inside a man’s steak dinner you can watch the cow being slaughtered:


Shelagh Delaney’s Salford (1960, Ken Russell)

A slightly strange blending of the omniscient documentary and an artist-interview film – an invisible narrator talks about Delaney in the third person then she responds. It’s shot like an interview, but more like a drama in parts, the camera already in her house when she opens the door and comes in like an actress ignoring it. The opposite effect when the crew follows her into town to the market, where every single person stares at the camera.

It’s exciting to explore Ken Russell’s early work, but the heart of the movie is Delaney and her words. Unfortunately she speaks mainly in cliches about the life and heart of the city, which doesn’t make me anxious to see her plays. Delaney wrote Lindsay Anderson’s The White Bus and was a huge influence on The Smiths.


From Spain to Streatham (1959, Ken Russell)

A boy plays along with Elvis Presley’s record of “Hound Dog,” thus ensuring that this little film will never see a DVD release. I wonder where that boy is now, and if he’s pleased with himself.

A ten-minute survey of the national craze over guitars, an appropriate short subject for Russell, who loved classical music and was bemused by rock. It moves from kids destroying an old piano in a courtyard to an older kid jamming on his guitar to a professional music school to a teacher in prisons, religious singers on a street corner, and so on.

“Where are the tambourines of yesteryear?”