More deadpan sketches from the Songs from the Second Floor creator. Seems more despairing than funny, focusing mainly on two terrible novelty salesmen, but it’s punctuated by some crazy and memorable scenes – like when King Karl XII’s entire army passes by a modern-day bar, and the king enters on horseback – then again a few scenes later, defeated by the Russians (which actually took place in 1709). Then there’s the one scene of generous warmth and happiness, set in another bar run by Limping Lotta, who sings that she’ll trade drinks for kisses from the soldiers.

M. Sicinski:

The final shot in Pigeon, and therefore of the trilogy, involves random citizens at a bus stop, trying to help a confused man decide if it’s Wednesday. “But it feels like Thursday,” he protests. After awhile, an older man in a suit delivers the final word: “You can’t feel what day it is. Yesterday was Tuesday. Today is Wednesday. Tomorrow is Thursday. You have to keep track of these things. If you don’t keep track of that, chaos will reign.” This pronouncement, gentle but firm, is the voice of liberal democracy, avuncular but brooking no disagreement. Some of us take years to sort out what it means for us to be human. But this man knows. If Pigeon finds Andersson lost in a shell game where every move is the same, it’s probably because this voice, and others like it, are winning every time.

Won the top prize at Venice, where it played alongside Birdman, The Look of Silence and 99 Homes – and Tsukamoto’s Fires on the Plain, which has barely been heard from since.

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.

“Beloved be the one who sits down.”

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I heard this was a Scandinavian deadpan comedy, so half expected something in the Kaurismaki/Jarmusch vein, tempered by my recent memory of the unexpected Holocaust content in Andersson’s short World of Glory. At first I found this understated to a fault, and not funny at all, but I was fascinated by the composition and content of each scene. Seemed like a depressive view of various social ills (including religion, ha). But I spun the disc again with commentary and caught on to the humor and overall themes. Really, if I had the time and inclination, I should watch EVERY movie twice before talking about it. Ultimately, Songs gets closer to the first half of Playtime than anything else I’ve seen, in terms of directorial obsession with sets and compositions in what’s supposed to be a comedy. But unlike Playtime, this one seems more admirable than enjoyable. Has its moments of pleasure, but when dude is fat, broke, unloved and literally haunted by ghosts at the end it doesn’t send ’em out laughing.

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A magician performs the ol’ saw trick poorly, sending a man to the hospital and leaving him unable to do anything without pain. Government finance ministers lose their paperwork and instead peer into a crystal ball. A young girl is ritually sacrificed at a quarry in front of a thousand spectators. At the airport there’s a slow-motion oversized-luggage exodus. Best of all, military leaders visit the country’s former commander-in-chief in a rest home on his 100th birthday, and the senile man responds to the official-looking activity with a smiling nazi salute, embarrassing everyone in the room.

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Eventually a central character emerges: Kalle, with two sons, one of whom “wrote poetry until he went nuts.” Kalle has burned his business down for the insurance money. He doesn’t seem to have a goal until, pursued by the ghost of a man he owed money, he joins a friend’s doomed business selling Jesus crosses for the millennium. At the end Kalle stands facing us before a Jesus-cross dumping-ground as the ghost plus a hundred others rise from the ground and slowly approach from behind. Andersson definitely has a knack for striking images.

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Andersson, from the commentary:

“This movie is about power, the abuse of power and highhandedness.” I love filmmaker quotes that begin with “this movie is about…”

“I want a scene or a film to surprise the viewer,” he says, exactly as a nude housewife walks into the room.

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“People have wondered how to classify my film. Absurdism or surrealism… what the hell is it? This film introduces a style that I’d like to call ‘trivialism’. Life is portrayed as a series of trivial components. My intention is to touch on bigger, more philosophical issues at the same time. Life is full of trivia, after all.”

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Musco (1997, Michael Smith & Joshua White)
A fake 1984 infomercial for a music-oriented lighting equipment company. I don’t get it. It was part of an art installation, and I don’t get those in general, maybe because I don’t live in New York.
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Flash Back (1985, Pascal Aubier)
Two-minute short – soldier is killed in combat, life flashes before his eyes represented by photos going back in time until to the earliest baby picture. Guess Pascal had to find an actor with lots of family photos for this.
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The Apparition (1985, Pascal Aubier)
A guy’s bathroom light makes the Virgin Mary appear in a church across town. Aubier ought to be at least as popular as Don Hertzfeldt.
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Un ballo in maschera (1987, Nicolas Roeg)
Things I like:
1. That the king is played by a woman (Theresa Russell) with a mustache
2. That the action takes place in an ellipsis (“…but”) between the opening and closing text (“King Zog Shot Back!”)

Nice piece, set to music by Giuseppe Verdi. First segment of the anthology film Aria, which I must watch the rest of when I’m not so tired (next segment put me to sleep in a couple minutes).
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Universal Hotel (1986, Peter Thompson)
“1980, I have a strange dream. Between the fortress and the cathedral is the universal hotel.” Slow, calm analysis of photos and reports about a nazi experiment where prisoners were frozen then revival was attempted using boiling water, microwaves and “animal heat.” “I make statements about the photographs which cannot be proven. I speak with uncertainty.” Increasingly intense, with narrated dreams illustrated with photography tricks, a murder-mystery without an ending. Last line: “they come while I’m asleep.” Scary, and I would not have watched this right now had I known nazis were involved, but now I’m glad I did.
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Universal Citizen (1987, Peter Thompson)
Now in Guatemala, Peter talks with a concentration camp survivor who told himself he would move to the tropics if he survived. He did, so he does, laying in a hammock, floating in the warm water, working on the sun roof of his house, listening to Armenian records and refusing to be filmed. Mayan ruins. This time the dream/nightmare scenes lack narration. Ends with a joke (and a shot from the beginning of the other film). Oh wait, no it ends with depression after the credits. I preferred the joke.
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Bunker of the Last Gunshots (1981, Jeunet et Caro)
There’s an insurrection inside the bunker. A timer count backwards, people have gas masks and eyegear and prosthetic limbs, there are shootings, eletroshock, cryogenics, there is complicated machinery, tubes and wires and hidden cameras. Possibly they are Germans, it is possibly post-apocalyptic, and the soldiers possibly go crazy and kill each other. I am not entirely sure of the politics, but it’s a neat little flick, definitely full of the clutter style of their later features.
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Opening Night of Close-Up (1996, Nanni Moretti)
That’s just what it’s about. The nervous cinephile (Moretti himself) who runs an Italian theater is opening Kiarostami’s Close-Up and wants everything to be just right.
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World of Glory (1991, Roy Andersson)
“This is my brother. My little brother. I suppose he is my only true friend, so to speak. [both look away uncomfortably]” I just checked and yeah, Roy Andersson is the acclaimed deadpan comedic filmmaker who made Songs from the Second Floor and You, The Living. I’d believe it, and be almost excited to see those two after viewing this short, a guy grimly introducing us to his sad life, with he and others looking slowly into the camera as if we’re to blame for all this – except why did it start with a mini-reenactment of the holocaust? The whole rest of the movie I’m wondering that… he won’t let go of the “blood of christ” wine pot at mass and it’s supposed to be a funny scene but I’m thinking “the holocaust?!?”
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Reverse Shot explains:

World of Glory locates a society — ostensibly the director’s native Sweden, but easy interchangeable with any modern European country — so paralyzed by ennui, anxiety, and desperation that its inhabitants are apparitions. The main character is a thin, pasty man who takes us on a guided tour of his life — his loveless marriage, his stultifying job, his pathetic day-to-day activities. It was not until the second time I saw the film that I realized that this character had been present in the first shot: dead center of the frame, turning away from the proceedings every so often to fix us with his gaze. His meek, self-effacing misery in the later scenes thus comes into sharper relief: a person who does not act to avert tragedy endures beneath its weight.

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Je vous salue, Sarajevo (1993, Jean-Luc Godard)
“Culture is the rule, and art is the exception. … The rule is to want the death of the exception, so the rule for Cultural Europe is to organize the death of the art of living, which still flourishes.” This two-minute piece is a montage made from a single photograph, with voiceover. Directly to the point, I like it better than almost all of Histoire(s) du cinema.
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Origins of the 21st Century (2000, Jean-Luc Godard)
A bummer of a film, montaging footage from news videos and feature films (The Shining, The Nutty Professor, Le Plaisir) over quiet music with the occasional commentary or block lettering, war and death, pain and happiness and a few plays-on-words.
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If 6 was 9 (1995, Eija-Liisa Ahtila)
Sex, split-screens and supermarkets. More people looking into the camera confessionally, but all about sex this time, not too similar to Today.
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Can’t figure what a full hour-long Ahtila film would be like, but she’s made two of them so I’ll find out eventually.
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Zig-Zag (1980, Raul Ruiz)
Ruiz had adapted Kafka’s Penal Colony ten years earlier so surely he knows he’s making another Kafkaesque film here. A man named H. “realizes he is the victim of the worst type of nightmare: a didactic nightmare” when, late for an appointment, he finds himself part of a global board game at the mercy of pairs of dice. The game keeps changing scale, zooming out, so H. has to travel further distances more quickly – from walking to taxi to train to plane. Rosenbaum (who says it’s Borgesian not Kafkaesque) says it was made to promote a map exhibition in Paris, which to me just makes it more strange than if it was promoting nothing at all. “The history of cartography [is] the business of labyrinth destruction.”
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Either H. or the mysterious gamer was played by Pascal Bonitzer, cowriter of some of Rivette’s best films. “We now live in the pure instantaneous future.”
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