Auteur Shorts watched mid-2011

Plastic Bag (2009, Ramin Bahrani)

An American Beauty plastic bag, dancing with me for twenty minutes. Only this bag’s journey is very well filmed and the bag has the voice of Werner Herzog – two innovations that would have greatly helped the last plastic bag movie I saw, The Green Bag. A blatant environmentalism screed, but I really enjoyed it. I thought it’d have the same ending as Children of Men, but it had the same ending as AI: Artificial Intelligence instead.

The Dirk Diggler Story (1988, PT Anderson)

An actual fake doc, but not a polished one. I thought it was rigged to look amateurish until I read online that it was actually edited on two VCRs by young Anderson. Narrated by PT’s father Ernie Anderson, a big-time TV announcer. It’s nice that he was willing to participate in his 18-year-old son’s movie about pornography, homosexuality and drug addiction. The most fun part of the movie is hearing this straightlaced announcer pronounce titles like “White Sandy Bitches” and “Bone To Be Wild”.

Dirk is explicitly bisexual in this one, but otherwise it hits some familiar plot points from Boogie Nights: Dirk’s drug addiction, his ill-advised recording career, his buddy Reed. There’s less nudity in the short, and it ends with an on-set fatal overdose for Dirk. My favorite bit that didn’t make the feature was a group prayer for God to protect us against premature ejaculation.

Horner (Burt’s character) is played by The Colonel in Boogie Nights, the only actor who returned. Well, Michael “Diggler” Stein had a cameo as “stereo customer”. He turned writer/director after that – his last film starred Andy Dick and Coolio.

Las Hurdes/Land Without Bread (1933, Luis Buñuel)

A half-hour documentary that has been discussed to death – how much of it is real? Can it be considered surrealist? Etc. Taken at face value as a portrait of an extremely poor mountain community, it’s well made, interesting, and too vibrant (and even humorous) to blend in with your average educational short. I still can’t believe they had a donkey killed by bees, and shot a mountain goat then hurled its body off a cliff, all to make points about the difficulty of life in this place. At least they didn’t kill any people on camera, although the narrator may have exaggerated (or undersold, who knows?) their conditions. Was released in ’33, had a French voiceover added in ’35 then a newsreel-toned English voiceover in ’37 – I saw the French version. I assume the bombastic music was on all three versions.

Senses of Cinema calls it “a documentary that posits the impossibility of the documentary, placing the viewer in the uneasy situation of complicity with a cruel camera probing the miseries of the urdanos for our benefit.”

The Old Lady and the Pigeons (1998, Sylvain Chomet)

This 20-minute movie gives me inexpressible joy. It’s a good antidote to the world-weary realism of The Illusionist, back way past the anything-goes surrealism of Triplets of Belleville into a pure comic cartoon world. A starving policeman dresses as a pigeon, barges into a bird-feeding old woman’s house and demands a meal, then does the same all year until she tries to eat him for Christmas dinner. Full of delightful little details (and at least one sad bird death).

The Italian Machine (1976, David Cronenberg)

“Let’s figure it out, Gestapo-style.”
A series of betrayals leading to an obsessed mechanic gaining ownership over a unique motorcycle. Made for TV, so people call each other “meathead” and “turkey”.

Beardy Lionel (Gary McKeehan of The Brood) hears that a collector’s-item motorcycle is in the hands of a collector. This will not stand, so he grabs his buddies (Frank Moore, second-billed in Rabid, and Hardee Lineham who had a cameo in The Dead Zone) and heads over posing as reporters to figure out how to free the bike from the boring rich guy (played by Guy Maddin’s buddy Louis Negin). Lionel sucks at pretending, though, so they’d be screwed if not for Ricardo, a dull cokehead hanger-on at Negin’s house who helps them out. Cronie’s fascination with automotive machinery peaked early with this and Fast Company, then came back with a brief vengeance with Crash.

Our beardy hero first meets Louis Negin:

Bottle Rocket (1992, Wes Anderson)

Cute sketch, with the Wilson brothers and Bob from the Bottle Rocket feature, plus the gun demo scene shot exactly the same way (just in black and white). They’re budding criminals, robbing Luke’s house then a book/video store, taking one guy’s wallet. No Inez, Futureman, Kumar or James Caan.

Something Happened (1987, Roy Andersson)

An AIDS lesson with didactic narration, illustrated with Andersson’s expertly composed setups of depressed-looking white people. One particular pale balding guy is seen a few times. It ends up less depressing than World of Glory, at least. Commissioned as an educational short but cancelled for being too dark

Within The Woods (1978, Sam Raimi)

Ah, the ol’ Indian burial ground. “Don’t worry about it,” says Bruce Campbell, “You’re only cursed by the evil spirits if you violate the graves of the dead. We’re just gonna be eating hot dogs.” Then he immediately violates a grave of the dead. Nice test run for The Evil Dead, with many elements already in place, like the the famous monster’s-pov long running shot, girls being attacked by trees, evil lurking in the cellar, knifing your friend as he walks in the door because you thought he was a demon, and of course, “JOIN US”. Hard to make out the finer points of the film since this was the grossest, fuzziest, lowest-ass-quality bootleg video I’ve ever seen.

Clockwork (1978, Sam Raimi)

Woman at home is stalked by jittery creeper (Scott Spiegel, director of From Dusk Till Dawn 2). He sticks his hands through her crepe-paper bedroom door, stabs her to death, but she stabs him back, also to death. It’s not much in the way of a story, but Raimi already has a good grip on the editing and camera skills for making decent horror. How did 19-year-old Raimi get his lead actress to take her clothes off in his 8mm movie?

Sonata For Hitler (1979, Aleksandr Sokurov)

Music video of stock footage from pre-WWII Germany stuck inside a ragged-edged frame surrounded by numbers and sprocket holes. Halfway through, the music mostly fades away, replaced with foreboding sound effects.

Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers (2001, Simonsson & Nilsson)

Drummers break into an apartment, play catchy beats in the kitchen and bathroom, with a slow bedroom number in between, then a destructive romp through the living room. But just as they finish, the inhabitants return. Clever and fun, and just the thing that probably should not have been extended into a two-hour feature.

Goodbye Solo (2008, Ramin Bahrani)

A lot like the trailer, but a ton better and with a sadder ending. Katy liked it too!

Much of the same crew as Chop Shop but all new actors – and as before, most of them have never acted in a film before (except for Red West, an old Hollywood vet). Set in Winston-Salem NC, near where Bahrani is from, Solo (Souleymane) is a cab driver who aspires to being a flight attendant but keeps failing the exam. He lives with pregnant girlfriend Quiera and her daughter Alex, is kicked out halfway through the movie, but probably not for good. Cheery, happy dude makes it his mission to solve cranky Red West’s problems, like a Wendy-and-Lucy-realism version of Happy-Go-Lucky. Red warms to him until he feels that Solo has interfered too much with his life and plans (threatening to reconnect Red with his estranged grandson, whom Red secretly visits working at a movie theater) then cuts Solo off. But Solo won’t allow himself to be cut off, sticks close to Red in the last couple days before his suicidal trip, and drives him up there with no further questions. Not the ending I was expecting

Chop Shop (2007, Ramin Bahrani)

Bahrani has Iranian heritage but was born in North Carolina, and this movie was clearly made in the USA so it sadly doesn’t count as part of Iranian Month.

I liked it a lot. It’s got the realist approach, child protagonist and hopeful ending of Where Is The Friend’s Home, but set in the auto junkyards in the shadow of Shea Stadium in Queens. Ale(jandro) and older sister Isamar live and work in an auto garage. He hustles cars into the shop and helps the mechanics by day, and sells bootleg DVDs by night; she works a food stand by day and dabbles in prostitution by night. Together they hope to afford a $4500 food-service truck of their own, but after they buy it the dream comes crashing down. The vehicle can be fixed and painted but the kitchen is unusable so they scrap their just-bought truck for $1000 in parts. Meanwhile, Ale finds out his sister is sucking dicks in the parking lot and wonders what to do/think about that.

Whole movie I’m thinking “indie dramas about poor people in poor neighborhoods always ends in tragedy”, but this one didn’t. The truck is a setback, and nobody wants their sister to be a prostitute, but at the end the kids are still together, making money, with friends and a place to live. They’re making plenty, really… doesn’t seem like it took that long to afford the truck. Nobody is physically hurt or killed, Ale’s secret cash stash is never found/stolen, they’re not kicked out of the garage and back on the street, drugs are never mentioned. Not that big a deal, but jeez do movies love to pile on the tragedy when it comes to poor people, so it was refreshing.

Camerawork is nice, all handheld, nothing that stands out except the awesome final shot (Isamar scares pigeons, camera follows pigeons quickly up, lingers on white frame of the sky, then cut to black). I don’t know if everyone read this in the same place or if they’re all just having the same idea, but every time I hear about this movie it’s compared to Italian Neorealism (fair enough) and they say if it wasn’t for the stadium it would be easy to believe it was set in some foreign country. I don’t know what country they’re talking about, and it seems neither do they. Felt pretty American to me. The kids are very good. My favorite part of the movie was Isamar’s voice, actually. Predictably this kid-salesman movie won the “someone to watch” independent spirit award over Munyurangabo (kid movie) and Frownland (salesman movie).