Black Sheep (Ed Perkins)

A true/falsey one, with interviews and re-enactments shot in the neighborhood where the story takes place. A British kid is moved into the countryside by his African-born parents where he encounters life-threatening racism and adapts by bleaching his skin, making friends with his tormentors and becoming one of them.

End Game (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman)

The best of the bunch, focused on patients in varying states of mobility with varying family situations, all with terminal illnesses and only weeks or months to live. This is San Francisco, and the terminal patients are given palliative care (treating only the pain, since the symptoms are determined to be incurable) and told to make their peace. It’s a movie, so you know one of them is gonna beat the odds – they don’t. The directors are old-school – Epstein made The Times of Harvey Milk, and Friedman collaborated with him on The Celluloid Closet, Paragraph 175, and a Linda Lovelace biopic starring Amanda Seyfried.

A Night at the Garden (Marshall Curry)

Stock footage of a well-attended 1939 pro-nazi rally at Madison Square Garden. The movie gives little context, just plays around with slow-motion, inviting us to research the rest, so here goes. As I’m writing this, yesterday was the event’s 80th anniversary, and a few days ago the film was projected onto the side of MSG. The man rushing the stage was a Jewish plumber named Isadore Greenbaum, and the speaker was the German-born Fritz Kuhn, leader of a Hitler-worshipping group called the Bund. In the aftermath, Greenbaum was ordered to pay a $25 fine for causing a disturbance. Kuhn was investigated for stealing from his own organization, arrested at the end of ’39, and would spend the rest of his life in various prisons. Curry previously made a Cory Booker doc, a kart-racing doc, and a look inside the Earth Liberation Front.

Lifeboat (Skye Fitzgerald)

Following the (late) captain of a German rescue boat that tries to pick up Libyan refugees from their leaky lifeboats. Spends a couple minutes “putting a human face on the global refugee crisis” by interviewing rescued Libyans, the rest of the time on rescue operations with the crew, and reminds you that the world is completely horrible. Katy said it reminded her of Fire at Sea, which is not a good thing. The director works regularly on issues docs – acid attacks on women, unexploded landmines in Cambodia, the Syrian civil war, and a new one on gun violence.

Period. End of Sentence. (Rayka Zehtabchi)

After the racism, death, nazis and desperation, it was lovely to end on this story of community women outside Delhi working to manufacture and distribute sanitary pads. Much fun is had discussing the forbidden topic of menstruation, and they have dreams of conquering the country and improving women’s lives, but I became annoyed upon realizing that the movie is an advertisement. A feature came out the same year on the same topic, called Padman.

Bao (Domee Shi)
We’d already seen this before Incredibles 2, but our audience must’ve missed that, and found it hilarious.

Late Afternoon (Louise Bagnall)
The obvious artistic achievement in the bunch, smoothly following patterns and colors into memory holes, a fanciful visualization of an Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother’s thoughts while her daughter is tidying up. Louise is from Ireland, worked on Song of the Sea.

Animal Behaviour (Alison Snowden & David Fine)
I don’t recall Bob & Margaret having writing this obvious, but I do recall this sort of thing being done to death in other animated shorts, including some by Snowden & Fine’s former employer Aardman. Group therapy session with different types of animals ends when a rampaging ape can’t control his anger issues.

Weekends (Trevor Jimenez)
Good editing and visual details, but it’s also the third movie in a half hour to feature dream logic while telling a story about strained relationships between parents and kids. Boy lives with his mom who is pulling her life together, spends weekends in dad’s super cool apartment. I saw the director’s noirish Key Lime Pie a decade ago.

One Small Step (Andrew Chesworth & Bobby Pontillas)
And here’s the fourth, minus the dream logic. I think someone on the academy nominating board had just lost a parent and was feeling very emotional about this subject. Katy said this one was a by-the-numbers Pixar-style story – girl is raised by her shoe repairman dad, is failing to achieve her dream of becoming an astronaut, but gives it another go after dad dies.

Wishing Box (Wenli Zhang & Nan Li)
The jokey, cartoony one – pirate recovers a seemingly empty box that contains whatever his pet monkey wants it to. The monkey finally figures out that his master wants gold coins, and pulls out enough to sink their ship, yuk yuk.

Tweet Tweet (Zhanna Bekmambetova)
Extremely Metaphorical, person walking the Tightrope of Life, growing up, falling in love, losing her husband to the war, and still trudging ever forward, attended constantly by a cutie little bird.

A UFO called The Wild Boys made my top-ten list of 2018, so I tracked down some shorts by the same director to see what he’s on about.


Any Virgin Left Alive (2015)

A rude reimagining of the death of Joan of Arc (Elina Löwensohn). Only her eyes are burned, and she roams the battlefields in a metal mask, capturing and tormenting a young woman.

Amer-reminiscent:


Our Lady of Hormones (2014)

Two women come across a hairy, fleshy creature with a penile protuberance, squabble over its ownership and care. Löwensohn is eventually murdered with a sickle by Nathalie Richard (the great dancer from Up, Down, Fragile). These shorts have the Argento-Maddin coloring of The Wild Boys, and are similarly perverse fun. Narration by Michel Piccoli (currently his most recent credit), making this the Mandico film with the highest percentage of Rivette actors.


Living Still Life (2012)

A woman finds dead animals and poses them obsessively in stop-motion scenarios, stalked by a grieving man. Great sound and music and color, a perfect short, docked a couple points since I’ve recently seen A Zed and Two Noughts.


Ultra Pulpe (2018)

“I am the most hated filmmaker of my generation, the tribal pornographer, the scavenger of the genre. Who will remember me?” Absolute madness involving women and other creatures on a film set. Pascale Granel shot everything else I’ve seen by Mandico, now Sylvain Verdet takes over… I don’t know either of them from anything else, just trying to keep up. Löwensohn and Richard are joined by Lola Créton (Bastards), two of the Wild Boys, and (as actors) the costume designer of Knife+Heart and Michael Haneke’s casting director.

Edith+Eddie (2017, Laura Checkoway)

I guess it’s common practice to screw over elders using the legal guardianship system? Imagine being the lawyer responsible for the lonely death of a nice old man in an oscar-nominated documentary seen around the world. This was filmed 11 miles from my grandmother’s house.


Daredevil Droopy (1951, Tex Avery)

Droopy and Spike compete at a circus to be one of The Great Barko’s daredevil dogs. Rapid-fire series of short contests, mostly ending with the larger dog badly injured, but it’s fine because he was trying to cheat. Lots of dynamite in the second half. Best bits: figure skating, human bullet, that strength-tester bell-ringer seesaw hammer game.

Mouseover to send Spike through the hoop of fire:
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Mouseover to give Droopy a better gun:
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Droopy’s Good Deed (1951, Tex Avery)

Spike is a wild-eyed hobo pretending to be a boy scout, another series of short competitions with Spike cheating and losing to the cool and competent Droopy, who gets a ton more dialogue in this one. Slightly racist jokes in this and the previous one, always to the effect of turning Black after a bomb blast, and it’s not terrible – until one time it definitely is, then a weird, fakeout ending at the White House. I assume I downloaded the uncensored versions of these somewhere or other, they sat on my laptop for a year, and tonight I’m in the mood for some violent cartoons.


Watching Oana (2009, Sebastien Laudenbach)

Earlier short by The Girl Without Hands director. A couple: he is a pastry chef, she translates poetry and brochures. Told from his perspective, wanting a baby, not believing in her ambitions, thinking he knows her inside and out but apparently not. Some cringey moments, I hope it’s not based on a true story. Spoken opening credits, then alternates between written segments created with stop-motion pasta, and spoken conversations with close-up animation of something besides the couple’s faces (wine glasses, shadows, legs in the surf), then the pasta turns into words inked onto skin and the music ramps up for the disturbing final section. The voice of Oana is played by Elina Löwensohn, who keeps coming up lately. Played at Annecy with The Secret of Kells and Western Spaghetti.


The Boy Who Chose the Earth (2018, Lav Diaz)

Two minutes for the latest Vienna Film Festival, a boy at home alone receiving a letter, running outside, apparently surprised – then rain and flooded streets. The last Lav Diaz short I watched was also fierce storms and floods, either footage from the same week or else the Philippines get some regularly nasty weather.


The Glass Note (2018, Mary Helena Clark)

Miniature frames of music and water and wind. Extreme bodily close-ups. Mostly seems interested in sound being created and moving through channels, with a sidetrack about tourists touching the breasts of bronze statues.


Story of an Old Lady (1985, Agnes Varda)

Lost, deteriorated Varda mini-doc about the woman she cast to get naked in the feather room in 7 P., cuis., s.de b…. Bit of behind-the-scenes interview, her getting a kick out of playing the employer in Vagabond, bossing around Yolande and Sandrine, when she’d worked as a maid all her life.


Trees Down Here (2018, Ben Rivers)

I wasn’t sure that ending my night with Ben Rivers would work out, since he tends to put me to sleep, but it opens with an owl close-up and I’m hooked. Architectural sketches alternate with architectural photos, but with an owl or snake in the foreground. The final minutes have a tape of John Ashbery reading his poem “Some Trees”. Ben’s most engaging work yet, I suppose if you’re into architecture, poems, owls and snakes.

Love’s Refrain (2016, Paul Clipson)

Measured zooms and pans through textures of nature, always overlapping and dissolving, set to an ambient groove with a steady beat. As the music gets blurrier and the beat recedes, the picture focuses more on streaks of light swishing past the natural photography, and finally the music turns into an insistent blare and the picture becomes abstract light squiggles. Clipson died last month, which is how I first heard about his work. My first thought is I’d like to see this in a theater, projected large, maybe in some kind of weekly screening program before a feature, and imagine how lovely that would be, and how nobody who sat through it would ever return.


Describe What You Heard (2017, Joe Callander & Jason Tippet)

“Tips on how to better describe your next mass shooting experience,” reacting to how people in news interviews are always saying “pop pop pop.” Jumps back and forth between shooting story footage and a guy providing a better sound effect vocabulary. This played True/False last year, now on vimeo.


Pure Flix and Chill: The David A.R. White Story (2018, Anthony Simon)

The week God’s Not Dead 3 came out I watched this half-hour doc on its star and studio founder, thanks to a Filmmaker article. Simon uses visuals from Pure Flix features and interview audio from White to craft a hilarious montage about the Christian entertainment industry and one of its biggest stars.


Idiot With a Tripod (2010, Jamie Stuart)

Jamie went out into a New York snowstorm, caught images of the city and edited them rhythmically to a Reznor/Ross song from the Social Network soundtrack. I watched this to see if I need to watch his feature A Motion Selfie, but I still don’t know!


Koko Trains ‘Em (1925, Dave Fleischer)

The earliest Fleischer I’ve seen, and it’s ambitious. An animator (Max) dressed in a suit is trying to impress a fashionable woman at his studio by drawing her dog, but the drawing keeps mutating into Koko the Clown. He puts Koko aside, they wrestle over the fountain pen, and the animator draws the dog next to Koko setting up a circus scenario. Not sure why the fashionable woman would want to see her dog break into pieces while doing flips and impersonate Teddy Roosevelt at the behest of a whip-wielding clown, but I never claimed to understand the 1920’s. Ends with Koko jumping out of the paper and riding the actual dog. Wikipedia says nearly 120 of these “inkwell” cartoons were made, that Dave’s job as a Coney Island clown inspired Koko, and that the dog named Fitz evolved into Betty Boop’s boyfriend Bimbo.


The Heat of a Thousand Suns (1965, Pierre Kast)

One of the few Chris Marker-related movies I hadn’t seen – he’s credited with editing. Sci-fi animation about a rich, bored space explorer with a robot crew who travels to a planet in another galaxy and fails to have a major romance with the beautiful girl he meets there since he does not understand how their relationships work. The animated movement is limited, but the drawings are lovely and unique. There’s a Jules & Jim reference, a cat, and a utopian society that is possibly into orgies.

It closes with a montage of real-life Earth women, including future Sans Soleil narrator Alexandra Stewart, who appeared in most of Kast’s films. This was his final short – he also directed features including an Easter Island sci-fi mystery, a Stéphane Audran cancer drama, and one in which scientist Jean Marais shrinks his female lab assistant to pocket-size. For Marker this was three years after La Jetée. Shot by Willy Kurant the year before he’d jump very impressively into feature films with Masculin Féminin, Trans-Europ-Express and Les Créatures. Played Locarno 1965 alongside The Koumiko Mystery.


La Legende dorée (2015, Olivier Smolders)

“God is a mediocre idea.” Librarian who hasn’t slept in 57 years claims his mother was conjoined twins, his dad a farting musician cannibal. He is fond of talking straight into the camera and showing off his scrapbook of tragic historical figures including a castrato, some torturous murderers, and Simon of the Desert – repeating and changing his story. Watched this to see if I want to see more Smolders, and… maybe?


Disintegration 93-96 (2017, Miko Revereza)

Either I am tired or the narrator has the kind of voice that it’s impossible to concentrate on – it’s something about this kid’s memories of hating his dad in 1993, his words illustrated with period VHS footage cropped to widescreen. Something about being illegal aliens in America, something about work and philosophy and class. If it was written, I’d have to reread some sentences, skim others, process it in my own time – but it’s spoken at a rapid, droning clip while I’m mostly trying to follow the visuals. Sponsored by Laika!


Muta (2011, Lucrecia Martel)

Someone’s been watching The Ring! Horror movie fashion models, faces unseen, creep around a yacht like an Under The Skin insect alien convention. I guess it’s an ad for a clothing company, like that Leos Carax short, but I appreciate these luxury brands giving great filmmakers a budget and letting them get deeply weird.


Things that aren’t shorts, but aren’t TV or movies exactly:

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette is quite the journey… a middling comedy special for the first half, which turns into something more serious and interesting. Some early bits I’d noted as clunky and overserious turned out to be gradual setup for the later parts. I mean I hope it’s not the future of comedy, but as a singular show, it’s really well-constructed and I felt all the things.

I watched the whole Fred Armisen comedy thing about drummers, and I love both comedy and drumming, so I rather enjoyed it a lot.

And it seems like ages ago, but we saw Distant Sky, the second Nick Cave/Bad Seeds movie I’ve seen in theaters since moving here, and it was just as transcendent as the last one. Well-made concert movies can be better than actual concerts, and they’re easier to tour around the country, so why aren’t there more of them?

I liked Ricky’s Spiral Jetty and his comment about using the shorts to work out ideas before shooting his first feature, so I contributed to the feature’s kickstarter last year and got a bunch more shorts as thanks.


The Stranger (2011)

This one tells a more dramatically straightforward story (and is more of a comedy) than the other three. Wide b/w, divided into chapters, with some nice Hungarian music and heavy droning narration.

“I’m not ideologically complicit about anything. I read Zizek.” Sarah-Doe Osborne and her man Michael Wetherbee are students who just moved into the perfect new apartment. They humor a stranger who asks to stay with them, then quickly convinces them to leave their lives behind and join him. “He said that moving and living with him would turn us into more admirable and interesting people.” They quit their jobs, drop their classes, tear up all their issues of The Nation and Film Comment, then there’s a quite long montage of city scenery, and the stranger never returns.


Pilgrims (2013)

Wetherbee is back as narrator, but now he’s a friend of the couple from The Stranger, who get mentioned. He’s stuck inside with health problems as protests rage outside, visited by a couple of friends and a priest. This one’s in color, dividing scenes with handwritten diary entries (some nice German music). No narration over the final unreadable entry, then he’s passed out on the ground, followed by still shots of the apartment (echoing the city scenes from the end of the previous short – these are playing well as a group).


Six Cents in the Pocket (2015)

Wetherbee in color again, but female narration – letters from Risa, whose apartment he’s staying in while she’s on vacation. Wetherbee takes a picture from the house to get reframed, goes to the movies and coffee shop and bookstore, gets stood up by dark-haired Ananda, runs short on cash (L’Argent-referencing transaction shots), visits Risa’s sister (hey it’s someone I’ve seen before, The Unspeakable Act star Tallie Medel) then learns Risa isn’t going to make it home (“460 on jet die in Queens crash”). Some nice… Italian music? Another city montage, and this one and Pilgrims both feature Wetherbee doing his own thing in an apartment while there’s chaos in the city outside. The list of thanks in the closing credits add a new familiar name with each film: Fendt, Piñeiro, Sallitt.

Dear Basketball (2017, Glen Keane)

The most beautiful hand-drawn animation, illustrating Kobe Bryant’s motivational(?) essay about loving basketball all his life. The animation >>>> the words. My writeup is late as usual, so the winners are in, and now Kobe Bryant has more competitive oscars than Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, Sam Fuller, Howard Hawks, Spike Lee, Wes Anderson, Terrence Malick, Abbas Kiarostami, Robert Bresson and Agnès Varda combined.


Negative Space (2017, Ru Kuwahata & Max Porter)

Poem about a guy who only knew his dad through helping him pack for trips, with a stinger joke at dad’s funeral. Poem > animation > movie. French short with a weak English voiceover… even though this didn’t work for me, the directors have three other shorts which I’m tempted to seek out.


Lou (2017, Dave Mullins)

Pixar’s entry – it must’ve played in front of Cars 3. “Lou” is a sentient lost-and-found box which sets out to reform the schoolyard bully. Funny that we got two lost-and-found shorts in the same program this year. The first writer/director credit for Mullins, who is credited on features dating back to Monsters, Inc. (and Bjork’s Hunter video!).


Revolting Rhymes, Part 1 (2016, Jakob Schuh & Jan Lachauer)

The long one – first half of a sixty-minute fairy-tale mashup TV-movie from the team behind Room on the Broom, so I dunno why it technically counts as a short. The animation is more functional than the Pixar, but I got into it – these two probably tie as my faves. Interweaving stories of Red Riding Hood and Snow White with some Three Little Pigs at the end, as narrated by a vengeful big bad wolf. The credits went by too quickly so I don’t know who Dominic West played, but this is already the second movie I’ve seen with him at The Ross this year.


Garden Party (2017, MOPA)

Beautiful 3D work of frogs in a garden, gradually revealing the sordid scene around them – a trashed mansion with a body in the pool. Made as a final project by six French animation students.


Lost Property Office (2017, Daniel Agdag)

Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’. Cityscape in lovely stop-motion reminds of More with its sepia-toned conformity. Guy at the Lost Property Office has spent the last eighteen years constructing wonderful things out of the lost property instead of making any attempt to return it to original owners, and after a suicide fakeout when he’s fired, he breaks out to glorious freedom. Writer/director/animator/DP/designer/editor Agdag is best known for making wonderful sculptures out of cardboard.


Weeds (2017, Kevin Hudson)

Dandelions on dry ground seek a better life for their children. It’s a metaphor! One nice shot of a dandelion head exploding into fluffy seeds, otherwise a clunky time-filler. The director has done effects for movies from Darkman and Cast a Deadly Spell to John Carter.


Achoo (2018, ESMA)

Another one by six different French people. There should be more cartoons about flying dragons, at least, but this was a groaner of a cartoon leading to “and that’s how fireworks were invented”. At least this was better than the interstitial pieces in between the main shorts about a hungry little guy and the oaf who keeps trying to help him. I hated these, but they cracked up my fellow moviegoers.

Winnie-the-Pooh (1969 Fyodor Khitruk)

The A.A. Milne books made it to Russia, but the Disney film versions did not, so Khitruk’s team removed Christopher Robin and imagined their own versions of Pooh and Piglet for a series of shorts. In this first one, Pooh fails to score some honey by masquerading as a small black cloud, all against charmingly hand-drawn backgrounds with lots of singing.


Winnie-the-Pooh Pays a Visit (1971 Fyodor Khitruk)

I love the voices so much in these. Pooh and Piglet visit their friend Rabbit to scam some food off him. Rabbit has exceedingly good manners, so keeps feeding his guests until Pooh can’t fit through the doorway to leave.


Curses (2016 Jodie Mack)

First light confetti blows across a white background, then it gets ever more complex, introducing different swirl patterns, until finally the last section is a rotoscoped dance swirl animation against color-strobe backgrounds. This is all a music video to an upbeat piano-rock song by Roommate (“I sing my curses in reverse and what’s worse, no one notices”). Happy flashbacks to Jeff Scher.


Blanket Statement No. 1: Home Is Where The Heart Is (2012, Jodie Mack)

Blankets, I guess… rapid stop-motion shots of fabric panels, swirling about. Only three minutes, but with more colors and patterns per second than any other film. The chirpy bloop ‘n crackle audio sounds like when I hit fast-forward on the minidisc player. Katy disapproved, said they’re not even blankets.


Blanket Statement No. 2 (2013, Jodie Mack)

Knit rows of varying colors, washing past the camera in patterns that look like abstract computer graphics, then flickering gradually to black, and back into colorful rows, the audio like the road noise in an 8-bit motorcycle racing game.


Lost Camel Intentions (1988, Lewis Klahr)

Transformation journey of a guy from skeleton airplane pilot to male silhouette balloonist to his final form: a photo of a Monty-Python-looking mustache dude against a series of automobiles. I suppose if you’re Lewis Klahr, people bring up Monty Python to you an awful lot. This was the first part of a series called Tales of the Forgotten Future which I’m not finishing right now because it kinda looks like low-detail VHS and I can find better-looking Klahr works elsewhere.


A Wish for Monsters (2012)

Forgot I’d done this… I ran the trailer for Gareth Edwards’ Monsters and the first few minutes of A Wish for Wings That Work on top of each other, setting one semi-transparent, and submitted it for Shorts Club one month.

I thought I’d do another Shorts Month, but February turned out to be pretty busy, so I only got to a dozen (plus the Oscar Animation program). Breaking them up into two posts…


Skinningrove (2013, Michael Almereyda)

After Experimenter and now Escapes, I thought it’d be worth watching everything I can find by Almereyda. This one is simply a slideshow, narrated by photographer Chris Killip who’d spent a few years documenting the titular fishing village. We get descriptions of who we’re seeing, how his (excellent) photographs were taken, and what happened after (two of the boys died in a storm). Killip says he’s never been sure what he should do with the photos – I suppose this is what.


Me the Terrible (2012, Josephine Decker)

Girl dressed like a pirate conquers New York, from the Statue of Liberty to Wall Street to the Empire State Building, until a gang of red-suited bicyclists steal her teddy bear in Central Park and she abandons the rest of the conquest. The adults seem to be lipsyncing to voices from old movies. Not at all like Decker’s Butter on the Latch, but fully wonderful in all new ways.


Split Persona (2017, Bradley Rust Gray)

Twin sisters Karrie and Jalissa have a majorly depressed mom. Jalissa always takes care of mom, so she asks Karrie to stay home for once, but apparently whenever mom is left home with Karrie she attempts suicide. Bummer of a little film, possibly made as a PSA for mental health care – it barely exists online, despite coming from the director of Jack & Diane. This was written by a Nelson, whose mom suffers from depression, and it stars a Nelson as the mom, but no word whether it’s Mom Nelson.


Second Sighted (2015, Deborah Stratman)

Movement through space. Stock footage. Water and earth… earth under water, and flowing like water. Graphic markups on photographs. Models and data and data models. Good stuff, and I didn’t even mind the soundtrack: drones, chimes and that chirpy chatter that accompanies old computer images. My first by Stratman – I’ve been seeing her name here and there.


Woodshock (1985, Richard Linklater)

Bunch of pretty annoying dudes clown around at a Texas underground film festival. Daniel Johnston makes an appearance, then the footage starts overlapping and running in reverse in order to get groovy and psychedelic. He calls this a “film attempt” in the credits, fair enough. I spotted GBH and Exploited t-shirts! Shot by Lee Daniel, who was still working with Linklater as late as Boyhood.


Gazing at the Catastrophe (2012, Ali Cherri)

Closeup of a man’s face, his skin tone shifting every couple of frames. A photoshop cursor strokes each of his features, slowly applying scars or burns to his visage, then the picture cuts away to stuttering video horrors for a few seconds, and repeat.