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?”

The narratively-straightforward centerpiece of the Orphic Trilogy. Like Beauty and the Beast before it, it’s full of visual effects, mostly with easily identifiable techniques – reversing the film, tilting the camera, a mirror, rear projection – but so handsomely shot and elegantly presented as to seem fantastically unique. I don’t quite understand the point of the Orpheus myth, why his wife is taken away as if she’s a toy, but Cocteau redeems it with his “it was all a dream” ending, the couple back together (and expecting a child) while their now-forgotten underworld lovers are punished for meddling.

Jean Marais (Cocteau’s ex-boyfriend, returning from Beauty and the Beast) is the title poet, nationally famous, but hated by the locals. I suppose they consider him a sellout. Cocteau makes these kids out as an unthinking mob always looking for the next new thing – a response to his own audiences after he’d become famous himself? He’s married to the beautiful Eurydice (Marie Déa of Les Visiteurs du soir), but mostly ignores her, concentrating on his work. Meanwhile, the kids are swooning over young poet Cegeste (Edouard Dermithe, Cocteau’s current boyfriend, also lead in Les Enfants Terribles).

Orpheus and his death:

But Death comes for Cegeste – Death in the form of Princess Maria Casares (Children of Paradise), who runs him over in the middle of a crowd, then takes him away along with Orpheus. Since the townspeople have never seen her, her car or the two motorcyclists that accompany her, but they see Orpheus’s conspiratorial-seeming involvement, they come after him with weapons towards the end. But first, either the Princess or her buddy Heurtebise (Francois Perier of Stavisky and Gervaise) kills Eurydice out of jealousy, H. leads O. on a tour of the underworld, and the agents of Death fall in love with the poet and his wife, and vice versa. Cegeste, meanwhile, is happily writing messages for broadcast on Death’s private radio network, and back in the real world, Orpheus sits in Heurtebise’s Rolls all day, listening and transcribing the poetry from the airwaves – which only gets him in further trouble with the mob when they realize he’s ripping off the unpublished work of their missing hero.

Cegeste gets carried away:

Quoth IMDB: “Orphee’s obsession with deciphering hidden messages contained in random radio noise is a direct nod to the coded messages that the BBC concealed in their wartime transmissions for the French Resistance.”

And quoth Cocteau, “I have always liked the no man’s land of twilight where mysteries thrive. I have thought, too, that cinematography is superbly adapted to it, provided it takes the least possible advantage of what people call the supernatural. The closer you get to a mystery, the more important it is to be realistic. Radios in cars, coded messages, shortwave signals and power cuts are all familiar to everybody and allow me to keep my feet on the ground.”

My favorite stills from this movie have been on my PC screen saver for years, so I tried to get some different ones. This is from a great subjective shot which seems simple until you realize those can’t be Marais’s hands, nor his reflection:

Cocteau again:

Among the misconceptions which have been written about Orphée, I still see Heurtebise described as an angel and the Princess as Death. In the film, there is no Death and no angel. There can be none. Heurtebise is a young Death serving in one of the numerous sub-orders of Death, and the Princess is no more Death than an air hostess is an angel.

The way the French words “my death” are pronounced in this movie, in combination with seeing those words on the subtitles, “my death”, and pondering their meaning. Does everyone have his own death? And like Cocteau is saying above, the Princess isn’t “Death” in the way he appears in The Seventh Seal. She’s an employee of a system, subject to judgement, part of a bureaucracy so vast that someone mentions orders bouncing from place to place, with no identifiable origin. It’s details like this which lift the movie from a well-shot retelling of an ancient myth into something original and exciting.

Orpheus glimpses his wife in the car mirror:

I didn’t expect this from the most naturalistic of the French new wavers. It’s a period musical adaptation of an epic poem – that part seems up Rohmer’s alley – but he uses spare, symbolic sets (anticipating the digital backdrops of The Lady and the Duke) and has the actors read their character’s dialogue and accompanying narration, speaking along with their actions so as not to break up the verses. The source poem is incomplete, so the story trails off at the end, but not before a momentum-killing passion play with our lead character as Jesus on the cross. It’s quirky and unique, and I liked the story somewhat, but didn’t warm up to the simple lead character or the renaissance music. As far as French movies set in weirdly artificial castles starring Andre Dussolier go, I prefer La Vie est un roman.

Young Andre Dussolier with Perceval:

Perceval (Fabrice Luchini, who’d recently starred in Immoral Tales) takes advice given him VERY seriously, listening first to his mother, then a “worthy man” he meets on his travels. But he is dumb as hell, and sometimes misinterprets the intent of the advice, firstly when he barges into a knight’s tent, steals some food and molests the woman inside. I’m not sure what advice led to that. Later he’s told that it’s better to stay silent than say stupid stuff, so in the enchanted castle of the Fisher King, he doesn’t ask about the miraculous bleeding spear and glowing bowl he sees, and so is cursed for his lack of humility, and spends five years wandering godlessly through the wilderness while his mother dies alone back home. As with many ancient texts, the story takes logical leaps that I don’t follow.

Magic woman with awesome hair who delivers the Fisher King curse:

Perceval Christ:

Elsewhere, Perceval falls for a woman named Blanchefleur (Arielle Dombasle, who made an impression as the goofy wheelchair woman in La Belle Captive), defends her castle and promises to marry her. He gets respect from King Arthur and starts sending his defeated enemies to the King for punishment instead of finishing them off. Then the movie leaves Perceval for a long while, following Arthurian knight Gawain (Dussolier) on a quest to clear his name from some murderous accusation, with a stop on the way to win a jousting contest on behalf of a rich girl. I love that the same choir of musical servants (including Pascale Ogier of Le Pont du Nord, in her first role) appears in every location. I also love the look of the film, and a weird scene involving cartoon geese.

There’s Pascale on the right:

Perceval with Blanchefleur:

Rosenbaum:

a medieval musical that feels a bit like a western … The merit of Rohmer’s realism in Perceval is that it brings something otherwise dead and forgotten to life – not because Rohmer’s imagination is especially rich but because he sees no alternative to his literalism, even if it makes some audiences laugh in disbelief.

Based on the works of 1700’s poet Sayat Nova, and in fact Sayat Nova was the film’s original title. I liked the American title better.

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Doesn’t look or play very similar to Parajanov’s also-amazing Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors.

My screenshots are all from the first six minutes. After that the laptop wouldn’t read the disc so I watched the rest on TV.

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Divided into sections, with the poet at different stages of his life. Little spoken dialogue.

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Just a first viewing. Will watch again (and hopefully again) and pore through the documentaries.