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 before the censors changed it.

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. EDIT: nope, all screenshots now replaced with 2018 versions.

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

In the middle section, both Sayat Nova and his girl are played by the same actress:

Just a first viewing. Will watch again (and hopefully again).

2018 UPDATE: This finally came out in a beautiful HD restoration, so now’s the time. I’d forgotten just how completely non-narrative this is. There are scenes from the poet’s life, but you wouldn’t know it without further research. Instead of a story, we get dioramas in front of an unmoving camera. The blu-ray includes a text commentary, since he wants to discuss the audio without obscuring it. He has access to the script and outtakes, so discusses what’s actually happening, in addition to the symbolism and shooting locations and historical context. It’s very helpful to know what’s going on, but I don’t feel like understanding the story makes me love the movie more.

Plaisir d’amour en Iran (1976)
An expanded version of Pauline and Darius’s trip to Iran in L’Une chante, l’autre pas. Pauline and a narrator comment on the sensuality of Persian architecture. I would’ve liked it if the feature had been edited more rhythmically like this short (or if the picture quality had been as good).
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Du Coté de la Côte (1958)
Fun, half-hour exploration of tourism along the coast, more gentle than Vigo’s À propos de Nice and simpler than a Marker travelogue.

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“These parks, overpopulated with merry people attracted by the Latin shore, foreshadow the dead people seeking eternal rest there. In both cases, space is limited because of its good quality. It is a well-rated coast.”

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Les Fiances du pont Mac Donald (1961)
The short within Cleo from 5 to 7 is apparently considered its own little film. “I wanted to provide a little relief for Cleo. … So I thought at the beginning of the third part of the film, where films often have a lull, a weakness, a slow-down … I would introduce something uplifting. My other goal was to show Jean-Luc Godard’s eyes. At the time, he wore very dark glasses. We were friends, and he agreed to this little story about glasses in which he must take them off and reveal his big, beautiful eyes, like Buster Keaton’s.”
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Ulysse (1982)
This was fantastic. Varda finds an old photo of hers, taken in 1954, and investigates. What was she thinking about at the time? What were the models in the photo thinking? She looks them up and asks. Agnes: “This almost painful investigation taught me so much about what an image says, what it says to each of us, and what it cannot say. It merely represents.”
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AV: “How does she see her own goat image? Without making animals talk, like in American cartoons, or defining memory as a rumination of mental images, may I suggest that there is an animal ‘eatingmagination,’ a self-predatory imagination?”
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Salut les cubains (1963)
Months after Cleo from 5 to 7 opened, Varda went to Cuba to photograph the country’s inhabitants for an exhibit which opened in Havana (introduced by Raul Castro!) before it moved to Paris. She also made this film out of the photos, narrated by Michel Piccoli. Subjects include the Castros, famous national artists, workers, dancers, posters and drawings and artworks. She creates action sequences, animating the photos, best of all with this guy dancing for the camera.
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Mentions Marker’s Cuba Si, which came out a couple years before. In her introduction, Varda says twice that “we must place it in the context of 1962,” since the Cuban dream society didn’t turn out the way the French leftists hoped it would. Interesting that she made such a happy, idealist film as this, then her next feature would be the happiness-breakdown of Le Bonheur.
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These last two were reissued in the 2004 collection Cinevardaphoto with a third, current short about a teddy bear collector, but somehow I didn’t have subtitles for that one. If Cleo from 5 to 7 and L’Une chante, l’autre pas revealed Varda’s kinship with the filmmaking of husband Jacques Demy, these shorts represent a definite (and oft-mentioned) kinship with Chris Marker, and either of them could stand alongside his best documentaries. The commentaries are more personal, less consciously witty. The images are wonderful, and the sense of investigation, of images and memory, the psychology of the films puts them on the Marienbad and La Jetee side of the new wave fence… my favorite side.
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Elsa la rose (1965)
A portrait of Elsa in the words of her husband Aragon, who has spent their entire relationship writing and publishing poems about her. Varda calls them a “famous couple and fervent communists.” Elsa is filmed as Aragon imagines and remembers her, says she repeated the exercise with her own husband for Jacquot de Nantes. In voiceover, Piccoli reads the poems as fast as he can, a hilarious idea. First movie Lubtchansky and Kurant shot for Varda.
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Elsa: “The readers of these poems expect me to be 20 years old forever. As I cannot satisfy this need for beauty and youth that the readers have, I feel guilty and it makes me unhappy. That’s what’s terrible, they’re not just for me.”

Réponse de femmes (1975)

“Women must be reinvented.”
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Agnes has a few minutes to state the case of all women, socially and politically. Lots of nudity, which she points out is not exploitative unless used to sell a product or titillate viewers.

Coming attractions (when I’ve got subtitles): Black Panthers (1968)
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Pol Pot’s Birthday (2004, Talmage Cooley)
In 1985, the scrappy dictator’s men throw him a super-weak budget surprise birthday party, with grey cake and music on an old tape player. Awkward conversation ensues… P-P gets peed on by a dog and “Walking On Sunshine” plays over the credits. Kim Rew got paid?
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Meet King Joe (1949, John Sutherland)
More generic propaganda with no direct sense of purpose. Joe is “the king of the workers of the world” because here in America, competition and investment in infrastructure make our jobs easier with more disposable income than anywhere else. Take that, dirt-poor chinaman! Statistics to be proud of: “Americans own practically all the refrigerators in existence. Bathtubs? We’ve got 92% of them.”
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Hymn to Merde (2009, Leos Carax)
I agree that Merde/Lavant is wonderful to watch, but Carax doesn’t seem to know what to do with him. Protracted death-sentence courtroom drama wasn’t it, nor is a lo-res music video of him singing a Kills song translated into his own head-slapping language.
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.tibbaR (2004, Leo Wentink)
Eerie music and nervous sound effects accompany time-remapped footage of lab rabbit breeding. I never know why anything is happening in short films anymore.
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Go! Go! Go! (1964, Marie Menken)
So damn jittery it gave me an eye-ache, exactly what I was getting away from the computer in order to avoid. All nervous time-lapse footage shot around the city. Some real nice high-angle shots of construction sites and traffic patterns, superimpositions on a wedding, lots of boats and bridges. Color/picture looked perfect on my tube TV.
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The Spook Speaks (1940, Jules White)
Not-at-all-good short full of corny sound effects and sub-stooges gags, but it’s better than the others I’ve watched on these DVDs since it has a roller-skating penguin. Buster’s costar Elsie Ames (she was in most of these shorts, then showed up 30 years later in Minnie & Moskowitz for some reason) is terrible, but then, Buster is terrible too. Thanks Sony for slapping warnings and disclaimers and legal shit before every short on the disc. They must’ve known it wouldn’t get tiresome because we’d only watch one before quitting.
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Who Am I? (1989, Faith Hubley)
Things morph into other things, illustrating the five (or six or seven) senses. Short!
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Blake Ball (1988, Emily Hubley)
Didn’t love the narration in this one. The woman who says “some are born to sweet delight/some are born to endless night” (without the preceding lines) has got nothing on Nobody. I guess all the lines are the words of William Blake, but they’re not making much of an impact, and I never figured out Blake’s connection to all the baseball stuff. There’s more five senses stuff anyway. A bit too laboriously new-agey, but some great moments (like below).
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O Dreamland (1953, Lindsay Anderson)
Boy did I ever botch the Free Cinema box set, buying it then deciding I didn’t want to watch it after all and letting it sit on the shelf for years. Finally checked this out and I kinda really like it. Could do without the evil laughing clown all over the soundtrack. Kind of like Jean Vigo’s À propos de Nice which, given If….‘s resonance with Zero For Conduct, proves Anderson saw a Vigo retrospective at some point.

Poyraz (2006, Belma Bas)
Rural people sure live quaint and handsomely photographed lives!
Nuri Bilge Ceylan was thanked in the credits

Why Play Leapfrog (1949, John Sutherland/MGM)
Let’s hear it for capitalism! Clever cartoon describes why inflation is okay and raw material costs don’t mean much. A boring explanation of why America is so darned great that ends by telling factory workers to be more efficient and come up with smart cost-saving ideas which will lead to greater pay increases.

Balance (1989, Christoph & Wolfgang Lauenstein)
Ominous stop-motion – five mute guys with numbers on their shirts and telescoping fishing poles in their shirts are on a balanced platform suspended in space. One catches a sort of music box and the others get greedy, leading to a fight which ends with one guy on the far end of the platform from the box.

Broken Down Film (1985, Osamu Tezuka)
It’s a popeye-like cowboy cartoon except that the film’s projection problems (hair in the gate, scratches, countdown leader, etc) are part of the story. Cute.

and a few from the Unseen Cinema box set…

Paris Exposition Films (1900, James White)
Some one-minute films at the Eiffel Tower a decade after its construction. Best part is this guy on the left side of the screenshot. People were walking up to the camera and this guy saw his chance for stardom, so he prepares himself for some manuever (maybe a backflip) but blows it, stopping instead to shake hands with an acquaintance offscreen as the film runs out.
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Captain Nissen Going Through Whirlpool Rapids, Niagara Falls (1901, Edison Co.)
It takes longer to type the title than to watch the film, which is of some submarine-looking craft bobbing in a river. Found a wonderful tale online of Nissen’s stupid death four years later, but unsure if it’s true.
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Down The Hudson (1903, Frederick Armitage & AE Weed)
Much more interesting than the submarine thing – New York riverfront over a hundred years ago. I assume lots more of this stuff will be on disc five.
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The Ghost Train (1903)
Oooh, someone learned to invert the black/white image AND to matte a moon into the upper corner. This is one of my favorites because it is neat-looking and twenty seconds long. If only you could say the same for Transformers 2.
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Westinghouse Works, Panorama View, Street Car Motor Room (1904, Billy Bitzer)
Long factory tracking shot reminds me of the beginning of Manufactured Landscapes. Unlike in ML, all the workers stop and look at the camera.
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In Youth, Beside the Lonely Sea (1925-ish)
Crazy three-panel layout illustrating the poem told with text above and below the picture. Lots of ghostly superimpositions. This was so damn cool I had to lay down for a while.
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Allures (1961, Jordan Belson)
I don’t know Belson very well, but this reminds me of my favorite parts of Norman McLaren and Len Lye, abstract animation set to music. Not frenetic, slow swirls and twirls, overlapped colored light patterns set to sparse music with dark electronic manipulation (composed by Belson and Oscar-nom musician/humorist Henry Jacobs). Must see again.
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Allures (c) Jordan Belson

Finger-Fan (1982, Linda Christanell)
Austrian title is FINGERFÄCHER so I thought I’d get something racy for my lunch hour, but no, we’ve got some hands fanning out some fabric on a table… a finger-fan. Synopsis says “objects tell a random story – objects are bearers of obsessions-issuing energy as fetishes,” which might be badly translated or it might not… with the avant-garde it is hard to tell. Camera shoots some objects and photographs, a mirror re-directs part of the frame, there are some basic stop-motion and optical effects, and I remain unimpressed but lightly amused.
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La Cravate (1957, Alejandro Jodorowsky)
Glad it was short, I couldn’t have taken much more of that accordian score. Goofy mimes swap heads at the head-swap shop while a guy with a silly tie tries to land a girl. Strong, bright colors. I guess the concept of swapping heads can be kind of dark, but otherwise this is like a kid’s fairytale compared to El Topo. Fun movie.
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The House With Closed Shutters (1910, DW Griffith)
A Dixie-loyal young girl runs a message to the confederate front lines after her supposed-to-be-messenger brother comes home drunk and afraid. When she’s killed (because she was playing like a kid in no man’s land), their mother covers it up by acting like her son was killed and forbidding her “daughter” to ever leave the house or open the shutters. Decades later his old friends walk by the house, he swings the shutters open and dies from the shock.

Dead guy on chair (left) while his mother orders the friends to leave
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Suspense. (1913, Lois Weber & Philips Smalley)
After the servant quits and leaves the key under the mat, a vagabond takes the opportunity to enter the house, eat a sandwich and stab the woman and her baby to death with a knife. Or he would – but she calls her husband who races home from work in a stolen car followed closely by the cops (who, as cops do in silent movies, shoot their guns constantly not worrying about the casual damage they might cause – not to mention that it hardly seems fair to shoot a guy dead for stealing a car). Worth watching for the titular suspense, and the reaction of the guy whose car the husband stole when he finally catches up and sees the wife & baby safe: a big “well whattaya know” shrug to camera and a pat on the husband’s back. Co-director Weber played the wife.

Sweet split-screen:
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Return of Reason (1923, Man Ray)
Whirling carnival lights at night, nails and tiny beads exposed directly on the film, a tic-tac-toe structure twirling on a string, all in stark black and white. Ends with negative image of a topless woman with psychedelic light patterns on her body.
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The Starfish (1928, Man Ray)
A reputedly beautiful woman is shown behind distorting glass. A man holds a starfish in a jar. Terrifying close-up of starfish. Mirrors, split-screens and superimpositions. This is nice – how come poets don’t make movies anymore? Adaptation of a poem by Robert Desnos.

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Emak-Bakia / Leave Me Alone (1926, Man Ray)
Twirling, swirling light patterns, spinning prisms, a girl with painted eyelids (paging Mr. Cocteau), broken dice, a tad of stop motion. The notes say Ray uses ‘all the tricks that might annoy certain spectators,’ and eighty years later he has annoyed me. Or maybe I’ve just watched too many of his movies in a row. I’d seen no films by Man Ray, then poof, I’ve seen half of them. Good stuff.

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Oooh look, her painted lids are half-closed so you can see all four eyes:
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The Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra (1928, Robert Florey & Slavko Vorkapich)
Far and away the greatest of these shorts. Intense shadowy miniatures interspersed with close-up photography of actors tells the story of a young hopeful actor defeated by the ruthless Hollywood star system. After he dies, he rises to heaven, where there is always open casting. A predecessor to Mulholland Dr.? Incredible-looking homemade film, very expressionist-influenced. Florey went on to direct 60+ features before moving to television, Vorkapich edited montage sequences for Hollywood films in the 30’s, and assistant cinematographer Gregg Toland shot Citizen Kane.

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Rhythmus 21 (1921, Hans Richter)
“generally regarded as the first abstract animated film”, wow! Squares of light and dark get bigger/smaller, more complex patterns start to appear, pretty slow movement, never gets outrageously intricate, but if it’s the first film of its kind, it’s a great start.
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Wonderful 16mm screening at Emory, but not well-received by the students and regulars who came to be entertained. Silly students and regulars, it is not a university’s job to entertain you!

Scorpio Rising – 1964, Kenneth Anger
Couldn’t remember if I’d seen this before, but of course I have… opening credits bedazzled onto a motorcycle jacket were immediately familiar. Despite the nazi imagery and comparisons between bikers headed for a gay orgy and Jesus and his disciples, I heard no complaints. I think people enjoyed the juxtapositions (well-prepared presenter Andy warned us about ’em in advance) and grooved on the hot 60’s rock radio score (kept hearing “oh I love this song” from behind me).

Lemon – 1969, Hollis Frampton
Lovely film, second time I’ve seen it. Should be shown every year. Only comment overheard: “I don’t know about the second movie. Just a lemon.” Mostly people were quiet about this one. I choose to believe that they were awed into silence, contemplating its light play and imagining possible deeper meanings, and not quietly wondering what they needed to pick up at the grocery store. A movie can feel much longer or shorter than it is. Lemon is supposed to be seven or eight minutes long, but I say it feels like four, five tops.

Zorns Lemma – 1970, Hollis Frampton
(no apostrophe, in tribute to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake)
Okay, this one feels its length… its exact length, measured second by second.
1) Black screen, voice reads us some children’s poetry, each line beginning with a successive letter of the Roman alphabet (so I=J and U=V) to make 24.
2) The meat of the piece, 24 seconds, one letter per section. First section we see each letter once. Then a word beginning with each letter. Then again (different shots, different words). Again. Again, but X has been replaced by a shaking, roaring fire. Again, with the fire. Again. Again. Again, but Z has been replaced by the ocean, flat horizon, a wave rolling out to sea. Again with the fire and the ocean. Again. 24 letters at 24 frames per second (though it’s 25 seconds if you consider that each alphabet section is followed by a second of black, a shout-out to our PAL-locked buds in Europe who see everything on video a little faster than we do). And on until, some 40 minutes later, each letter has been replaced (C was the last to go). No audio except the groaning and laughter of my fellow filmgoers.
3) Sound and Vision together! A visual cooling-down after part two, two people and their dog walk across a snowy field from bottom of the screen to top as six alternating female voices on the soundtrack read us some philosophical writings about light – at precisely one word per second.
4) The audience members (those who hadn’t walked out) were horrified!

D. Sallitt liked it:

The bizarre experience of taking a test during a movie was completely distracting, so that I absorbed the materiality and the narrativity of the alphabet images only indirectly, during brief rest periods. Somehow this strengthened my investment in the images: I don’t think I would have found the “letter H” guy’s walk around the corner very interesting in itself, but that corner took on mythic spatial qualities for me.

Hahaha, I know what he means about the corner. Of the little movies that replace each letter, seen in one-second increments, some stay pretty much the same (the fire, the tide) and some progress as time passes (someone peels and eats a tangerine, this guy walks towards a corner). Everyone breathes a little sigh of relief when, finally after a half hour, the man disappears around the corner in a one-second bit toward the end. Next bit is just the corner. Next one the man comes back around the corner! Must be considered one of the biggest twist endings in non-narrative avant-garde cinema.

excerpts from S. MacDonald:

Even a partial understanding of Frampton’s films requires a rudimentary sense of the history of mathematics, science, and technology and of the literary and fine arts. … Nowhere is Frampton’s assumption that his viewers can be expected to be informed, or to inform themselves, more obvious than in Zorns Lemma, the challenging film that established Frampton as a major contributor to alternative cinema. Zorns Lemma combines several areas of intellectual and esthetic interest Frampton had explored in his early photographic work and in his early films. His fascination with mathematics, and in particular with set theory … is the source of the title Zorns Lemma. Mathematician Max Zorn’s “lemma,” the eleventh axiom of set theory, proposes that, given a set of sets, there is a further set composed of a representative item from each set. Zorns Lemma doesn’t exactly demonstrate Zorn’s lemma, but Frampton’s allusion to the “existential axiom” is appropriate, given his use of a set of sets to structure the film. Frampton’s longtime interest in languages and literature is equally evident in Zorns Lemma. …

The tripartite structure of Zorns Lemma can be understood in various ways, at least two of them roughly suggestive of early film history. The progression from darkness, to individual onesecond units of imagery, to long, continuous shots. … If the second section of Zorns Lemma is Muybridgian – not only in its general use of the serial, but because the one-second bits of the replacement images “analyze” continuous activities or motions in a manner analogous to Muybridge’s motion studies – the final section is Lumieresque.

As set after set of alphabetized words and their environments is experienced, it is difficult not to develop a sense of Frampton’s experience making the film. The film’s collection of hundreds of environmental words suggests that the film was a labor of love, and an index of the filmmaker’s extended travels around lower Manhattan, looking for, finding, and recording the words.

For most viewers the experience of “learning” the correspondences is fatiguing – especially since the process of watching sixty shots a minute for more than forty-seven minutes is grueling by itself – but the laborious process has been willingly (if somewhat grudgingly) accepted. The experience of learning the correspondences is the central analogy of the second section. It replicates the experience of learning that set of terms and rules necessary for the exploration of any intellectual field.

In a philosophic sense, Grosseteste’s treatise [spoken during the third segment] is an attempt to understand the entirety of the perceivable world as an emblem of the spiritual. And, on the literal level, what Grosseteste describes in the eleventh century is demonstrated by the twentieth-century film image: For a filmmaker, after all, light is the “first bodily form,” which, literally, draws out “matter along with itself into a mass as great as the fabric of the world.”