Personal history by Chodorov – I know the name because I was once subscribed to his FrameWorks email list. His dad Stephan was a filmmaker, so Pip grew up surrounded by independent film and artists. He’s got interviews with the big names: Mekas, Kubelka, Jacobs, Breer, Snow… and Hans Richter, so I guess some of the interviews were archival and I didn’t take great notes. He takes a fun, enthusiast approach rather than the history-book implied by the title, and any excuse to revisit this work is a good one.

Includes some short films (in their entirety?):

Free Radicals (1958, Len Lye) – tremendous, white scratches on black, edited rhythmically to an African drum group in ever-changing patterns.

Recreation (1956, Robert Breer) – seen this before, I don’t get the Noel Burch narration but the visuals are fast and exciting.

Rainbow Dance (1936, Len Lye) – insanely complicated color and effects for the mid-1930’s.

And the section of Brakhage’s Dante Quartet called Existence Is Song (I forgot the Quartet sections were titled).

Some selections from the Treasures IV avant-garde set – just the ones from the 1950’s, so they’re all post-Desistfilm but pre-Mothlight.

Eyewash (1959, Robert Breer)
Flickers and movements, accurately titled. Saw this at the Anthology way back when. Think I prefer A Man And His Dog Out For Air over this. Includes a whole alternate version with (most of?) the same scenes in a different order.
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Aleph (1956-66, Wallace Berman)
Berman isn’t a well-known filmmaker – this is his only film and it went unreleased (and even untitled) until now. A cool, unexpected addition to the set, instead of just focusing on known directors. Faces and jittery camerawork, bent and damaged and overlayed with filters and text, its jittery relentlessness (and John Zorn’s squealing sax) got me down after the first five of its eight minutes.
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Odds & Ends (1959, Jane Conger Belson Shimane)
Stop-motion cut-outs and found footage and so on while a guy talks about jazz and poetry, this is supposedly an avant-garde spoof. If not for the jokey commentary, how can one tell serious experimental work from parody?
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Bridges-Go-Round (1958, Shirley Clarke)
Have I seen this before, or only read about it? Looks familiar. A dance film with bridges, overlapping images like sci-fi architecture. Two scores – I prefer the Bebe Barron one.
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Little Stabs at Happiness (1959-63, Ken Jacobs)
Just a dude with a grungy camera filming his friends and neighbors goofing around with props in a room and on a rooftop. Now that it’s less novel to own a camera, and the idea of releasing a film that isn’t a big studio production is nothing new, this seems to have lost its reason to exist. Then again, in Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Cinema Scope article he puts this in the “relatively familiar standbys” category, meaning cinephiles have been watching Jack Smith put balloons in his mouth for decades now, so maybe there’s something I’m missing. Some happy old records play over the start and end, but in the middle Jacobs narrates from ’63, telling us that none of these people shot in ’59 still talk to him, casting a mild bummer tone over the whole project.
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Betty Boop in Snow White (1933, Dave Fleischer)
Just some animated shorts from the 30’s – but this one would fit in nicely with the avant-garde set because it is bonkers crazy and also one of the most excellent things ever. It’s vaguely SnowWhitey but the story comes second to wacky invention and Cab Calloway’s St. James Infirmary clown-ghost music video.
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The Old Mill (1937, Wilfred Jackson)
This is Historically Significant, as the first film to use a multiplane camera. Won the oscar (same year as Torture Money) beating out something called Educated Fish and a dialogue-free animation of The Little Match Girl (sound familiar, Disney?). Animal life inside a battered windmill during an especially stormy night. Katy: “Aren’t owls supposed to be awake at night?”
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Ferdinand The Bull (1938, Dick Rickard))
Won an oscar against three other Disney shorts (including Brave Little Tailor, one of the only mickey cartoons I still remember) and a Fleischer short about two donkeys. Ferdinand is a pansy bull who wants to sit and sniff flowers all day. All the other bulls desperately want to be picked for a bullfight (seriously?) but our pacifist Ferdinand gets picked over them. He screws around and doesn’t fight and instead of killing him they send him back to the meadow to sniff flowers again. I don’t know what’s the moral here.
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I took advantage of the huge weekend snowfall in Atlanta by huddling on the couch with a pile of DVDs of short films which I’ve long delayed watching, followed by two obscure features, totaling eight newly-seen titles on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s hallowed list of 1,000 favorite movies. At this rate of eight per day, I’ll be through the list in no time, so anyone else can feel free to send me their own thousand-faves list and I’ll get to it shortly.


First off, two by Jane Campion. I wasn’t too kind to Sweetie or The Piano, was hoping I’d enjoy the early shorts more. A Girl’s Own Story (1984) is a vaguely Terence Davies-reminiscent period piece about two sisters and a friend one winter in the 60’s – having fun, going to school, singing Beatles songs and dealing with family trauma. The parents only speak to each other through their children, and dad brings his girlfriend to Pam’s birthday dinner… meanwhile friend Gloria leaves school because she is pregnant by her brother. Passionless Moments (1983) is a series of humorous sketches (each with its own title: “Clear Up Sleepy Jeans”, “No Woodpeckers In Australia”) with an ethnographic narrator telling us somebody’s mostly-insignificant stray thoughts (misheard lyrics to “Daydream Believer”, identifying a strange sound outdoors).

A Girl’s Own Story:
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These were two of the most enjoyable shorts I watched all day, so hooray for Jane Campion. Both were worked on by Alex Proyas, director of Dark City, whose new Nic Cage movie opens this month, and Passionless was made in collaboration with Gerard Lee, who wrote/directed a comedy in 1995 involving marital strife because of a sold piano, hmmmm.

Passionless Moments:
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Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1993, Peter Capaldi)
I’d always admired the title of this and assumed it to be blending of Kafka’s and Capra’s sensibilities, but no such luck… it’s more of a Franz Kafka In Love, as the writer struggles to complete the first line to The Metamorphosis. Might’ve been nicer if I’d watched it earlier then, since by now every known artist’s inspiration has been illustrated by the movies, either as a serious drama or a light fantasy. Richard Grant (same year as The Age of Innocence) is Kafka, and his work-interrupting neighbors include Ken Stott (who’d soon play the lead detective in Shallow Grave) as a knife seller with a missing pet cockroach, and Phyllis Logan (a Michael Radford regular) as a novelty salesman. Our director is better known as an actor (Local Hero, Lair of the White Worm). My favorite detail: being friendly to a neighbor Kafka says “call me F.”

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There’s time in any shorts program for some Norman McLaren. I checked out a section on the DVDs of work he did with Grant Munro, one of the few men strong and patient enough to animate himself with stop-motion. A piece I’ve seen before called Two Bagatelles (1953) has Grant zooming around to music (Katy came in from the other room to express disapproval at the music), a fun exploration of their live-stop-motion ideas. An unreleased set of sketches and experiments called either On The Farm or Pixillation adds slow-mo, film-reversal and mattes into the mix. Canon (1964) features a blippy electronic version of “Frere Jacques” and has four Grant Munroes at once, moving across a stage and interacting. And A Christmas Cracker (1962), for which McLaren/Munro did great dis/appearing stop-motion jester titles and transitions, is a compilation of short holiday cartoons.

On The Farm/Pixillation:
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A Christmas Cracker:
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One of the non-McLaren segments of A Christmas Cracker, in which an inventor travels to space to retrieve a real star to top his Christmas tree:
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Wong Kar-Wai’s Hua yang de nian hua (2000) is a montage of rotting nitrate footage from newly-discovered vintage Hong Kong films. Two minutes long, fast-paced and wordless, set to a song used in In The Mood For Love.
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Two by Santiago Alvarez. Now! (1965) is a montage of upsetting footage, still and moving images, as Lena Horne belts out the title song, and Hasta La Victoria Siempre (1967) is twenty looong minutes of music and stock footage focusing on Che Guevara and other revolutions and revolutionaries. A chore to sit through – I’m gonna stop watching Alvarez movies for a while now.

Now!
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Hasta la victoria siempre
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Two early shorts by D.W. Griffith… although he made about 200 films in the two years between them (those were the days!) so maybe only the first one can be called “early.”

A Corner In Wheat (1909)
Wealthy trader corners the market in wheat, meaning less money for the farmer and higher prices at the market. As unrest grows and the cops are called to protect a bakery, the now even richer trader and some classy women tour the grain elevator to symbolically survey their fortune. He slips and is buried in grain, an ending stolen by Vampyr a couple decades later.
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Tom Gunning via Erik Ulman says: “the editing has special appropriateness in this film, as it represents the ‘new topography’ of modern capitalist economics, and its ‘lack of face-to-face encounters with the forces which determine our lives.'” Based on a book by the novelist who wrote McTeague (Greed). Actor who played the farmer appeared 45 years later in Ford’s The Sun Shines Bright.
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Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
A musician, just back in town after some weeks away working, gets all his money stolen by the titular gang. A rival crime gang fights the musketeers, and during the fracas our man gets his money back. When the rival gangleader is about to be arrested, the musician and his girl vouch for him, lying that he’d been with them the whole time, as thanks for his help. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all that.
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Wikipedia claims this “probably the first ever film about organized crime” and an influence on Gangs of New York – as if Scorsese’s first exposure to crime was in DW Griffith films. Lillian Gish, star of many Griffith movies, plays the girl.
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Report (1967, Bruce Conner)
Recording of radio broadcasts from when JFK was shot. Sometimes the visuals are robotically repeated loops of newsreels, sometimes film countdown leader, sometimes all white and black flash flickers, which do not translate well to medium-grade internet video. The second half is excellent, still the radio announcers but with shock associative visual editing from all manner of sources: a bullfight, advertisements, war movies and so on.
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Tunneling the English Channel (1907, Georges Méliès) has long bothered me because it’s the earliest film on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s 100 favorite films list but hasn’t been available anywhere on video. Fortunately the new Flicker Alley set remedied that, and I could finally see it, in fine condition with wonderful hand-coloring. It’s a cute story and a technically superior film, with the color and the combination of animation, live action and Melies’ usual fun effects. Story goes that the leaders of France and England agree to build a tunnel under the channel, and all goes well until the train crashes. As the tunnel fills with water undoing months of work and drowning the prime minister, they wake up – it was all a dream and they decide not to build the tunnel after all.
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LMNO (1978, Robert Breer)
A hammer, a faucet, a headless naked woman. Rapid-fire comic-book situations. Mainly-irritating soundtrack of running people, running water, and running tape static. Next time I’ll feel free to see how it works with a couple Kinks songs instead. Not my favorite Breer, but I’ve actually seen his films projected in a theater before, so this one obviously suffers from being a bootleg download watched on a laptop.
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Chris Stults, Film/Video Assistant Curator at the Wexner Center in Columbus, says (out of context): “The thing that has always drawn me the most to avant-garde cinema is that it is intended for an individual viewer, not a mass audience. The individual has to complete the work. To go back to the idea of seeing cinema anew, the viewer often has to figure out how to watch the particular film or video and then from that process of learning how to watch, meaning and interpretation can follow.”

Watched some of the earliest shorts I downloaded, over a year ago, and had never seen before.

The World of Stainboy (2000, Tim Burton)
Stainboy is a hero of sorts whose only power is creating stains. He takes on a giant darth bowling ball, a poisonous chemical hazard, a power-sucking robot, a girl with a hypnotic stare, and a match-prostitute, then in the final episode he flashes back to birth and the orphanage (where “boy with nails in his eyes” has a cameo). Pretty okay little show, short with funny bits.

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Breakfast (1976, Michael Snow)
Decided not to watch it because the quality is too low. Don’t know how I’m going to see the Michael Snow films, but not like this.

Vibroboy (1994, Jan Kounen)
Loud, cartoonish, full of threatened sexual violence, feels like taking a beating or watching the Shelly and Leo home scenes from Twin Peaks for a half hour. Explorers spirit away ancient statue from Mexico, it’s entrusted to transvestite Francesca, who comes home to his trailer park to find his pet murdered and his neighbors Leon and Brigitte fighting. Leon is a violent shit, and threatens both “women”, ends up shooting F. (not fatally), breaking the statue, retrieving the metal dildo within and turning into Vibroboy, who just goes on beating the two girls but with the dildo now. Stylishly shot, but why film such a piece of shit story? Real disappointing because Kounen is someone I’d decided I was interested in before seeing any of his movies, so now I don’t know what to do about Dobermann and Blueberry. (Update: a Kounen fan advises to check out the uneven Blueberry and the doc on psychedelics and skip Dobermann)

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Escargot de Venus (1975, Walerian Borowczyk)
Camera pans over color drawings of half-snail-half-women having sex with each other and themselves and various snaily men, while renfest flute music plays. Halfway in, a woman starts narrating in French, didn’t catch most of it except some of the dirty words. We actually see her flipping through the drawings, closes with her feeding a snail to an iguana. Nice, sexy images, liked it better than his DOM short. Internet says the woman is Bona Tibertelli De Pisis, and the drawings are hers.

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L’Amour monstre de tous les temps (1977, Walerian Borowczyk)
Close-up on a painter at work, nicely edited with music by Richard Wagner. Final painting involved a beast and human nudity, so right up Walerian’s alley. A good one. Can’t find who the bearded painter was.

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Lapis (1966, James Whitney)
finely detailed geometric images (points of light?) falling inwards and outwards to and from the center into infinity. Sound (indian music) didn’t play right on my copy, but when it did, it adds to the trance effect. Would be pretty awesome to see this in a theater. Apparently used motion-control camera (“analogue computer equipment”) and the circular shape is a mandala, “a Tibetan Buddhist spiritual meditation aid”. Director’s brother designed the motion-control for the title sequence of Vertigo!

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Recreation (1956, Robert Breer)
extremely rapidly edited shots of objects on plain backgrounds, a little animation, some guy talking in French, FIN.

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A Man And His Dog Out For Air (1957, Robert Breer)
flowing line drawing animation forming many abstract shapes but nothing quite recognizable until right before the end, when they form a man and his dog out for air. Neat.

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