One of the Roughs, a Kosmos (Carmine Grimaldi)

It was late… let’s see if I remember… a girl and her very beardy dad doing farm things on the farm. She climbs trees. There’s a laptop… and ducks. My notes say “like a more fun Ben Rivers film,” which I meant as a great compliment.


All Good Things (Chloe Domont)

Daughter records her parents, who are still married and living together, but mom has a new boyfriend, who she’s been seeing for a couple years. He comes and goes, accepted in theory by the husband, though their comic bickering makes the film worth watching, more than just home movies of an unusual family.


Happy Happy Baby (Jan Soldat)

Oh shit. It’s intense to watch five films in one day, and we maybe should’ve gone home or checked if the Cafe Berlin concert wasn’t sold out, but instead here we were, tired at 11:30pm, watching a long-take mini-doc shot in dimly lit basement, where an “adult baby” has playtime with his fellow-kink friends then goes to bed in a giant crib, then his much younger “daddy” explains how he got involved in all this. Or what does he explain? I don’t recall because we raced into the cold night the instant it was over, the other two shorts forgotten, Katy railing against Happy Happy Baby, saying it went against the spirit of all the other films we’d seen by presenting people with unusual kinks and holding them up like zoo animals.

Pearl (Patrick Osborne)

Machinima/cutscene clip about a girl growing up with her dad with a car and music then getting too old for dad and hanging out with friends with the car and music then remembering poor dad and going back to visit. It felt kinda like an extended commercial, but not as good, surprising from the guy who made Feast. Ah, it was created with VR software, how cutting edge.

Borrowed Time (Coats & Hamou-Lhadj)

Bummer cowboy story, sad man goes to cliff edge where he accidentally killed his dad whom he was trying to help up with the use of a shotgun. It doesn’t feel like 3D animation is best suited for this sort of thing. The codirectors are seasoned Pixar animators.

Blind Vaysha (Theodore Ushev)

Girl is born with a left eye that only sees the past and a right eye that only sees the future, sometimes by a few hours and sometimes by thousands of years. Maybe you could do some cool things with this concept, but the movie’s only concerned with grabbing the viewer and saying look, wouldn’t this be terrible? Imagine if you had to live like this. Wouldn’t it be just awful? Wouldn’t it? Huh? The end. Ushev is a prolific shorts director and this is the first I’ve seen.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Robert Valley)

Long story of the narrator’s troubled friend Techno who gets rich then needs a liver transplant. At least this one has cooler visual style and music than the others, though it’s another sadness drama, and all women be sexy-ass bitches. The director was an Aeon Flux artist!

Piper (Alan Barillaro)

Still the best. Sandpipers rule.

The White Helmets (Orlando von Einsiedel)

Wrenching doc about self-appointed post-bombing rescuers in Syria, mostly set during a training session in Turkey. It would also turn out to be a really useful movie to use when looking for IMDB or Letterboxd users with terrible opinions to block, if either of those sites allowed me to block users with terrible opinions.

The first roundup of misc shorts since the last one.


Tome of the Unknown: Harvest Melody (2013, Patrick McHale)

Wirt and Greg are heading somewhere, manage to get a ride with pumpkin-man John Crops to vegetable city, where they accidentally unleash the fury of the crows. Would play as a deleted scene from Over The Garden Wall if not for bluebird Beatrice’s different voice and some more cartoonish facial expressions. I’m guessing with the Harvest Melody subtitle that he’d planned to make more standalone shorts like this, but then they made the full series.


The Umbrella Man (2011, Errol Morris)

A web mini-doc on a single detail of the Zapruder film: a single man with an umbrella on the cloudless day Kennedy was shot. Interview with JFK assassination expert Tink Thompson, who sets up the mystery, then explains it was discovered that the man was making an obscure visual protest against a policy by JFK’s father.


Demon in the Freezer (2016, Errol Morris)

“Why is it so important to make the monkeys sick?”

The argument over preserved samples of smallpox virus – whether they should be kept, and for what purpose? Floated: vaccines and biological warfare with the Russians. I don’t know a whole lot about smallpox but it sounds horrible.


Dog (2002, Suzie Templeton)

A sick/dying/dead dog, a father, a boy, a murder, a patch of either blood or mold upon a wall, and the most disturbing stop-motion I’ve seen this side of Robert Morgan.


Oskar Kulicke and the Pacifist (1952, Kurt Weiler)

I loved The Apple, so watched some more puppet shorts by Weiler. Bricklayer Oskar endures the whining of a pansy pacifist then sets him straight, asking how the pacifist will like it when he’s conscripted after a U.S. invasion. No, pacifism is dumb and learning proper use of arms is essential, Oskar concludes.

The U.S. military elite:


Heinrich The Dysfunctional: A German Elegy (1965, Kurt Weiler)

Surprising to watch this right after the other, since it’s about a failed German invasion of Poland in 1472 due to misfortune and royal idiocy. King of Libnitz attacks Cracow in order to obtain liquor and a young bride. After recruiting a traitorous young goat farmer, the king makes it to the enemy castle, only to be pissed on by the local kids and sent home on a manure cart, all his cannons destroyed. “The fatal flaw of the heroic German character: thirst trumps wisdom.”

Last-minute reprieve for the goat farmer:

Ceremonial welcome:


Nörgel & Söhne (1968-70, Kurt Weiler)

Three-part story of how the nomadic Nörgel clan developed tools and farming, then trade, then currency. Character-based stop-motion with some fun material tricks with liquids, animals and the heavens. Nörgel becomes more of a brutal slavemaster the closer he gets to modern capitalism, and in the end he retires and reads Marx’s Das Capital (historical chronology is shifty in these movies) and regrets the awful thing he’s done.

Barter calculations:


Street of Crocodiles (1986, Quays)

Live-action man spits into the machinery, activating it, and releases stop-motion man who creeps into a dusty world of pulleys and screws populated by hollow-headed dolls. Wonderful string music. I still don’t know what it all means, been meaning to get the Bruno Schulz book forever now, but it’s all so dusty and textural and mesmerizing in its mysterious movements.


Quay (2015, Christopher Nolan)

Eight-minute trip to the Quays’ workshop featuring some Street of Crocodiles puppets and commentary on their methods. I suppose splashing Nolan’s name across the blu-ray package was meant to get new people interested in their work, kinda like “JJ Abrams presents Phantasm: Remastered“. I hope it’s working.


Esperalia (1983, Jerzy Kalina)

A guy goes slow-mo crawling through the forest overlaid by patterns and rotoscope lines, seeing visions and phantoms, with an increasingly disturbed soundtrack.


The Public Voice (1988 Lejf Marcussen)

Magnifying glass reveals the blueprints beneath paintings, the lines behind the lines behind the lines. Slow zooms in and out as patterns and figures slowly prove to be details within other works, a visual art history folded into itself. I didn’t recognize most of the work, but there’s some Dali and Bosch in there.

Back in the day I’d flip through the Norman McLaren DVD box set regularly, but times change and you get old and overwhelmed with things and one day you realize you haven’t watched any McLaren in six years.


Blinkity Blank (1955)

Advanced hand-etched animation – musical battle of red dot vs. blue dot, flickering and transforming into different images for an instant at a time.

R. Koehler called it “possibly his greatest film, in which McLaren discovered the effect of not drawing on every single frame.”

J-P Coursodon:

One may briefly notice (provided one doesn’t blink) a flurry of feathers, a parachute, a bird cage, a pineapple, an umbrella that turns into a hen-like figure, as well as many undescribable doodles that keep bouncing all over the screen. “This is not a film you see,” wrote French critic André Martin in 1955, “it’s a film you think you see.” You do hear, however, and not just think you hear, Maurice Blackburn’s dodecaphonistic score … with strikingly percussive synthetic-sound punctuations added throughout like so many punches by McLaren’s scratchings on the soundtrack.


C’est L’aviron (1944)

Gentle boat ride in sync with a vocal French tune, constant 3D zoom forwards (and sometimes backwards) over sea, through clouds and towns. There’s a behind-the-scenes film explaining how it was made,


Spheres (1969)

Mathematical dance of stop-motion spheres against a morphing cosmic backdrop. Codirected with René Jodoin in 1946, with music added two decades later.


Love on the Wing (1939)

A post office advert – see also the Len Lye shorts – in which two postal letters are in love. Fast-paced, surrealist-inspired etched animation, characters constantly morphing into different figures.


La Poulette Grise (1947)

Variations of chicken/egg paintings, contorting slowly to a vocal song by Anna Malenfant (doesn’t that mean Anna Badchild?). At the end, the chicken sails away upon a crescent moon.


A Little Phantasy on a Nineteenth Century Painting (1946)

Chalky animation upon a reproduction of an Arnold Böcklin painting.


Là-Haut Sur Ces Montagnes (1946)

Another generative painting, a nice pastoral scene


Book Bargain (1937)

Short doc with voiceover showing the process of printing the London phone book. Cool machinery but kind an unexciting industrial film.

A selection of shorts from DVD, since I just enjoyed his An Optical Poem on the Masterworks of Avant-Garde Film blu-ray.


Spirals (1926)

Increasingly complicated pulsating spiral patterns – just the sort of thing that SD interlacing can ruin, though VLC’s deinterlacer helped. Silent.


Walking from Munich to Berlin (1927)

Time-lapse vacation slideshow, filming things he saw along the way, sometimes for just a couple frames, sometimes more. Inspired a Guy Maddin short eighty years later.


Studie Nr. 6 (1930)

Now that’s more like it – light scratches zip around a dark field in time (kinda) to upbeat music.


Studie Nr. 7 (1931)

Like number 6 but one greater, with closer music sync.


Circles (1933)

Colored (yay) circles flow and move about. A warm-up for Allegretto, and one of the first color films made in Europe.


Radio Dynamics (1942)

More complex, definitely more hypnotic visuals than the others. Silent, but called “a color-music composition” with an opening title reading “Please! No Music,” so I guess it’s some theoretical business about creating music with image.

Great collection with the best liner notes, borrowed from a coworker and watched piecemeal.


The Original Movie (1922, Tony Sarg)

Silhouette animation imagining what moviemaking was like in early days (a mashup of eras from the dinosaur age forward). Nice use of Flintstonian animals as machines (like a long-necked dinosaur as camera crane), but Lotte Reineger it ain’t. Seems an in-joke gag about how producers have always ruined the work of screenwriters. Nice Muybridge reference. The notes say Sarg was a famous puppeteer who created the first Macy’s parade floats.

Producer (left) with his editing goat, receiving a pitch:

It’s a mark of how quickly the division-of-labor production system overtook Hollywood that already in 1922 The Original Movie can find its satiric “moral” in the inability of writers to recognize their work by the time it reaches the screen. The puritan-cloaked censors who contribute to the caveman filmmaker’s breakdown would have been on everyone’s mind. Nineteen twenty-one witnessed the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and brought New York’s new censor board as well as a hundred bills in state legislatures to curb perceived Hollywood excess.


The Confederate Ironclad (1912, Kenean Buel)

I guess an ironclad was a hideous, armored boat. Fifteen-minute action flick about confederate soldier Yancey, the Southern girl who loves him, and beautiful Union spy Elinor who easily cons ol’ Yancey into giving up military information. I didn’t realize the movie would take the confederate side, though – their gunboat rips up the union army, and noble Yancey allows Elinor to escape. Unusually, the original music score has survived, and was used in this restoration.

Wounded Yancey with his Southern Rose:

Yancey was married to the spy, Anna Q., who was a superstar in the 1920’s. Rose was Miriam Cooper, who had a lead role (“the friendless one”) in Intolerance.


Early Films from the Edison Company

Blacksmithing Scene (1893) – blacksmiths take turns banging on iron, drinking, banging on iron… sure enough, this is the original film the Lumieres remade.

The Gay Shoe Clerk (1903) – a decidedly not-gay shoe clerk kisses a flirty female customer.

Three American Beauties (1906) – a rose, a girl, a U.S. flag, all hand-tinted.

The liners on the first two films:

Because the three “blacksmiths” are impersonated by Edison employees, this is not a documentary but the first instance of screen acting. It is also the earliest surviving complete motion picture on film … Of course, at the time “gay” referred only to his devil-may-care impetuousness. The modern meaning gives unintended irony to The Gay Shoe Clerk, whose “young woman” was played by one of Edison’s male employees.


Spies (1943, Chuck Jones)

The Looney Tunes staff with writer Dr. Seuss illustrate a “loose lips sink ships” scenario, as Snafu thinks he’s keeping his mission secret but lets enough pieces of information slip for the enemy to put it all together. I thought Snafu had a rather Bugs Bunny voice, though Mel Blanc says he meant for him to sound like Porky. Amazing work, need to find and watch all of these.


OffOn (1968, Scott Bartlett)

Like the 2001: A Space Odyssey eyeball voyage scene, but homemade with newfangled late-1960’s video technology. Some other indescribable weirdness ensues, funhouse-mirroring and Rainbow Dance techniques. Impressive. Features the kind of grating horror soundtrack in fashion with the avant-garde, though it chills out into some pulsing tones at times.

Speaking in the 1960s at the time he made OffOn, his second film, he saw a technology on the horizon that would make his innovations simpler for future media artists: “With video plus computers you could do it even better,” he said of his imagery of metamorphosis.

A DVD of animated shorts from a Children’s Television Workshop pioneer. I started going through this, but lost interest after a while.

Opens on a weird note:

Owl & The Pussycat (1968)

The very next film has the word “bullshit” and a crudely-drawn naked woman, so we’re not into the Children’s Television Workshop portion of the program yet.

Scratching & Painting on Film (1968)

Yak (1970) – a yak discovers the letter “y”
Tondo (1973) – a 3D geometry/motion exercise, with more naked women.
Floor Tiles (1997) – floor tile coloring fantasia.
Skeletons (1979) – a study of skeletal structure.

Skeletons:

Autosong (1976) – gentle Plymptonian perspective-morphing to low comforting rumble of manual-transmission car. I could fall asleep to this. The second-longest film on here, starts to leave the road entirely in its second half.

Four Quadrant Exercise (1975) – geometry games with blackouts in between.

Hand Trick Letters (1992) – some ugly-looking digital spelling lessons, though to be fair all computer-made video from 1992 is pretty ugly.

Rotating Cubic Grid (1975) – more geometry exercises, though more fun than its title suggests.

To be continued, possibly.

Eight underwater documentaries by Jean Painlevé, with soundtrack by Yo La Tengo recorded live in 2005. This is probably the avant-garde shorts collection I’ve watched the most times, but I’ve never bothered to take notes on the whole thing before, though I noted watching a couple of these with Katy here, and a bunch at Eyedrum with their original soundtracks here. The original films had their own music with wry voiceover, which is preserved here via subtitles. Geneviève Hamon is credited as codirector on half of these.


Hyas and Stenorhynchus (1927)

Crabby creatures that camouflage themselves with bits of algae and sponge, with a side focus on those worms that live inside long tubes and bloom out like kinetic flowers.

The VO calls this pose “a Japanese warrior”


Sea Urchins (1954)

Turns out sea urchins, and everything else in the ocean, are super weird and interesting. Below is a close-up on some of their feeler-protrusions. This is the first film in the series where Painlevé constructed the title and “fin” endcards with a stop-motion arrangement of the title creatures.


How Some Jellyfish Are Born (1960)

Set in Finistère in Brittany in NW France, close to the island of Ouessant where Epstein’s Finis Terrae was filmed thirty years earlier. The topic here is very tiny, crawling jellyfish that cling to algae, full of poisonous structures, and how they’re born is less exciting than the seahorses and octopi, sprouting out of pods like sci-fi space creatures.

Some jellyfish:


Liquid Crystals (1978)

A major change from the other films both in subject (no animals here) and musical accompaniment (loud!), just some ass-kicking micro-photography of crystal formation.


The Seahorse (1933)

I’m not sure Painlevé deserves the “surrealist” tag applied to him, even though the surrealists supposedly loved his films. But he’s definitely playful, with the informative but humorous voiceover, and here when he overlays silhouettes of sea horses with a terrestrial horse race.

This one mostly focuses on the way sea horses give birth. Basically the males get pregnant, with a pouch full of eggs implanted by the females, then he carries the eggs until it’s time to convulsively shoot baby sea horses everywhere.


The Love Life of an Octopus (1967)

Octopuses (this is actually more correct than “octopi”) are absolutely horrific creatures. The way they move in water and on land, and the way they fight and eat and mate will all give you nightmares. It even gives octopuses nightmares – the film shows a couple mating, the male keeping “a prurient distance” while “pallid with fear”. However, the way the females produce giant strings of a half-million eggs, and stay in the nest slowly stirring them to keep them clean with fresh water, the eggs finally exploding into thousands of tiny octopodes, is quite beautiful.


Shrimp Stories (1964)

Maybe the only scientific undersea documentary to ever include a Groucho Marx impersonation. On second thought, maybe we can call Painlevé a surrealist after all. Shrimpies are such cuties, and I started to see how horrible it is that we eat them ten at a time, and thought this was going to be troubling. But then the film shows how they shed their hard skin as they grow (“like a ghost emerging from its diaphanous cloak”) and while defenseless before a new shell is formed they’re often devoured by their fellow shrimp, then they didn’t seem so cute anymore.


Acera or the Witches’ Dance (1972)

The most unfamiliar creature of the series, walrus-molluscs that swim in a blobby mushroom-dance when they’re not having perverse multi-partner sex. Love how the film has flash cuts to a woman dancing in a flowing dress as visual metaphor.

Two more sections from the amazing-looking Lumière blu-ray:

Chap 3: Enfances

La Petite fille et son chat (1900)

A horrific film introducing early filmmakers to the problem of making movies with animals. The action is a girl in a preposterous hat hand-feeding a hungry cat, but the cat loses interest halfway, ditches the film and has to be thrown back into frame. The girl’s a much better sport – in the second half you can see the cat clawing her arm, but she continues to act through the pain, pushing further back in her seat in case the animal goes for her eyes next.


Premiers pas de bébé (year unknown)

Kid in wind-inflated clown clothes walks unsteadily down the sidewalk, then falls down – a comedy or a tragedy, depending whether you like kids.


Pêche aux poissons rouges (1895)

Mustache man works hard to get a kid in a diaper-hat to reach for the fish, which she does occasionally in between trying to keep a steady foothold and trying to pull the whole thing over – kind of a failed attempt at a filmed action, but maybe film was super expensive so they released it anyhow.


Petit frère et petite sœur (1897)

Boy and girl swing in circles until they fall down, what fun. The film hasn’t run out yet, so he picks her up and they start again, with the girl shooting a “what? I thought we were finished” look into camera.


Enfant pêchant des crevettes (1896)

Kids in increasingly ridiculous hats skim the water with shrimp nets while their parents hover nearby.


Le goûter des bébés (1897)

Two girls at either ends of a table while young Casanova sits in between feeding them grapes. According to google, the title translates as The Taste of Babies.


Baignade en mer (1895)

Older kids dressed as escaped convicts jump off a rickety diving board into the sea.
I’ve seen some of these before (and taken the exact same screenshots).


Enfants jouant aux billes (1896)

A game of marbles, at an unfollowable distance even in this beautiful HD edition. The dirty kids in their adorable period garb are still worth watching, though.


Défilé de voitures de bébés à la pouponnière de Paris (1897)

Long train of nannies with babies in buggies.


Chapter 4: La France Qui Travaille

Ateliers de La Ciotat (1899)

What is happening? Spinning gears and flywheels, as workmen carry large things about.


Chaudière (1896)

Men climb down a ladder, then remove the ladder. What is that thing? Ah, English title is Loading a Boiler, not so thrilling.


Ouvriers réparant un trottoir en bitume (1897)

Spreading what looks like black tar on the ground – looks hot and miserable.


Défournage du Coke (1896)

I’ve seen this one a bunch of times, and it’s fascinating… super-hot coal residue, sliding slowly out from whatever contraption this is, one guy hosing it down, others hesitantly attacking it with poles, finally increasing the pole action towards the end.


Laveuses sur la rivière (1896)

There was a laundry shed for ladies along the river. Nicely framed shot – my favorite part is the men standing lazily above watching the laundry get done.


Transport d’une tourelle par un attelage de 60 chevaux (1896)

Sixty horses towing a massive whiskey barrel (or a turret, acc. to google translate). This film has a cut, because obviously the Lumières wanted to see the line of the horses then the giant object wheeling into view but a supervisor holds the line, so it seems they stopped shooting until it resumed.


Pêche aux sardines (1896)

Untangling fish from the net, which goes slowly because the fishermen keep turning around to look at the camera.


Les pompiers I: passage des pompes (1896)

So cool, horse-drawn firetruck passing through, as street traffic moves aside for them.


Attelage d’un camion (1896)

More horse-pulling action, this time a smaller team than a few films ago, pulling a less interesting load (concrete blocks).