Been a long time since Too Early, Too Late, so it’s time to give some more Straub/Huillet films a watch, via the lovely new Grasshopper blu-ray. The first five minutes is about the least visually dynamic thing imaginable, but I like the sound recording of the answering choir. Then a long circular pan across a boring landscape, but at least the blue sky is nice. Looking on the bright side here.

Moses (guy in red pajamas with staff) meets A(a)ron (green headband) in the desert, and they bellow-sing at each other, presumably trying to mesmerize the other with their cadence and beards. Staff is turned into snake… Moses turns leprous and back again. The people are extremely confused after Moses leads them away then disappears for over a month, and Aaron tries to talk them down, but screws it up. They sing about the old and new gods as the picture goes all violet… oh no, they butcher a cow during their little knife dance. I was not expecting the phrase “Holy is genital power.” When Moses gets back, he and A. argue over the best way to teach these idiot people. Discussion of how to use words and images to express larger ideas to the idiots = CINEMA!

I only halfway followed this movie… honestly, have no idea what bible story, if any, it’s retelling, and I have no practice in following stories told in opera, even with the aid of subtitles. But it had been a long, unsatisfying work day, and on the drive home I thought of a bunch of movies I could watch, and this is the one that stood out. Straub/Huillet movies aren’t exactly my bag, but they’re not bad, and my total inability to figure out what they’re on about, plus their weird stasis and precision makes them extremely relaxing to watch. Aaron also has dreamy eyes… but the soundtrack was hit or miss (from my notes while watching: “ban woodwinds”). Based on the unfinished opera by modernist composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Ted Fendt in the liners:

Schoenberg was unable to write music for this [third] act of his opera. The impossibility of resolving the opera’s central issue or committing fully to one side could have been the cause. Works whose internal contradictions resisted them, resisted easy solutions, fascinated Straub and Huillet. Unresolved tensions abound in their work…


Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene” (1972)

Sort of an essay film. Some abrupt cuts and blackouts mid-speech. Music rises up halfway through. Majority of the film in b/w and in a recording booth. Brecht and other writers are mentioned… Schoenberg is mad about Kandinsky. It covers a lot of ground in 15 minutes.

Official description is needed for context: “a fierce condemnation of anti-Semitism and the barbaric war machine of capitalism, inspired by a letter written in 1923 by composer Arnold Schoenberg to painter Wassily Kandinsky.”


Machorka-Muff (1962)

“A satirical attack on West Germany’s re-armament and revival of militaristic tradition in the Adenauer era.” The most commercial-looking movie I’ve seen by them – based on a Heinrich Böll novel, as was Not Reconciled. Wikipedia may know why Böll was popular with the Straubs: “Böll was particularly successful in Eastern Europe, as he seemed to portray the dark side of capitalism in his books; his books were sold by the millions in the Soviet Union alone.” He would win a Nobel less than a decade after these adaptations came out.

“Maybe I’d have an affair with his wife… I’ve an appetite for petit bourgeois erotics sometimes.” We follow a general who is dedicating a building to a military bigwig who is posthumously judged a greater leader when it’s discovered that more of his men died in battle than was previously thought. Their debut short, and the only movie performance by Erich Kuby (a writer, journalist and “an important opponent of German rearmament”).


Not Reconciled (1964)

A boy is often beaten up at school – this isn’t shown, but discussed by a rapidfire narrator. A blonde hotel boy encounters a sheep-crazy knitting cult. Two identical-looking dudes out for lunch, the one in the lighter suit was darker-suit’s tormentor as a kid. Now architect Fahmel is narrating for us… I think we’re hopping between time periods… and it all ends in attempted murder. In general, I’m pretty sure I need to be smarter about European history and culture and politics to keep up with these movies, something they have in common with Godard. I can’t tell if it’s a stylistic choice for everyone to speak flatly, or if that’s just Germans… probably the former, since I know Bresson was an influence. The sound always matches camera angle, no attempt to smooth it out with room tone or make audio consistent between shots. From anyone else I’d assume it’s a technical limitation or lack of professionalism, but from these two I’m sure it’s a political position.

Thanks very much to Neil Bahadur for helping me make sense of this:

Not Reconciled charts a single family in two separate timelines – post World War 1 and post World War 2 – throughout these two timelines events will mirror each other and fold into the present of 1965. Virtually an attack on Germany more vicious than any Fassbinder picture, the purpose is to show the incompatibility of a democratic structure with the new ideas of the 19th and 20th century: communism and fascism. Straub shows us a post-war world where left and right never united after the collapse of both the German Empire and Nazism, and both periods lead (and presumed will lead) to essentially an internal and invisible cold war between classes and ideologies as both sections ascend to bourgeois standards of living – and in the first case, ends up leading to the failure of the left and the rise of fascism. The gun that goes off at the end of the film (in the present of 1965) is the only thing that prevents this.


Nick Pinkerton in Frieze:

The cinematic translation or transcription of texts – poems, letters, fragments, musical scores – is key to Straub-Huillet’s filmmaking practice, which began not in France but in Munich, where the couple landed in 1958 after Straub was faced with prison for his refusal to serve in the Algerian War. (They always put their money where their mouths were politically, and Straub has also crammed his foot in his gob more than a few times.)

“Despite the tendency to reduce their films to a uniform asceticism, there is no such thing as a typical Straub-Huillet film.”

Love is the Message, the Message is Death (2016)

Watching the Alsarabi youtube bootleg since this is only playing in museums. It’s a news and history dance video to a Kanye West song, footage sourced from all over, some with TV station and Getty Images watermarks. Lots of new-to-me clips with some very familiar images interspersed. Really great, powerful montage though (and I don’t call movies “powerful” often, search the blog and see).


Ms. Hillsonga (2017)

A minute of still images set to a fast beat by Jeff Mills, cut almost too quickly to be identifiable (including the shot my letterboxd avatar is from), then the images repeat but motion video footage is added, then it repeats again with new clips or stills substituted to keep things lively. More great montage, again full of imagery of Black freedom and oppression, the footage replacement reminding me of Zorns Lemma in a good way.


Deshotten 1.0 (2009)

Another one with repetition and variations. Young man gets shot in a busy street scene, ends up in hospital with friends and family, then it keeps rewinding and playing out differently, maybe just in his own mind. I love the music, sounds like a Squarepusher song heard from a couple blocks away. Codirected with his TNEG film studio partner Malik Sayeed (TNEG has a lofty mission statement)


Dreams are Colder Than Death (2013)

Artists comment in voiceover about the risk of losing black culture and connection… where things stand on “the goals and ambitions of the civil rights movement in the United States… does the dream live on?”

Statements range from the personal to the academic – I liked the bit comparing jazz musicians to the tension between legality and criminality – a low, constant doom-rumble on the soundtrack beneath the words.

Much more calmly paced than his other work. His most Khalik Allah-like movie, what with the street photography and unsynced sound. Stock photography (that red-sun image I’ve seen in all his films, MLK, war and slavery scenes) and slow-mo shots of the speakers (who include Charles Burnett).


One gallery says Jafa’s artworks “question prevailing cultural assumptions about identity and race,” which is pretty generic – they also say “he is a filmmaker with a unique understanding of how to cut and juxtapose a sequence to draw out maximum visceral effect,” which sounds right. Aha, he has shot Spike Lee movies and Daughters of the Dust and some music videos. I was just the 26 millionth person to watch Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair” video, and all those people are onto something, this is good.


I tried listening to the ICP panel discussion, but academics are hard to listen to while at work, so I skipped ahead to Jafa shitting on 12 Years a Slave, haha. He outlines a script he’s written tying together the Birmingham church bombing, Coretta Scott and Michael Jackson through alternate timelines.

On Daughters of the Dust: “There’s an alternate universe in which Julie Dash is the Toni Morrison of film. It’s not this one, cuz this one is kinda fucked up.”

“We have to transform the understanding of the real” through film.

I’ve hoarding my unwatched Brakhage blu-ray shorts, saving them for when I need them most, and it’s hard to find Hollis Frampton and Michael Snow work that I haven’t already covered… discovering Jodie Mack was a big deal, but really I don’t know many current experimental filmmakers whose work I connect with, and should search for more. So, among the recent best-of-decade lists, Michael Sicinski’s roundup of experimental features and shorts caught my eye, and I’ve resolved to check out some of these, adding in his commercial list and lists by Blake Williams and Jordan Cronk, to explore films outside of the awards/consensus track.


Delphi Falls (2017)

Opens on disturbed cows, then there appear to be characters – a boy and girl in the woods and an abandoned house – but the stars of the film are still the focus pulls and exposure shifts. Insane image of fire on a mirrored lake, then the climax is a woman doing face stretches on a laptop screen in an empty room. Clark seems to be a master of the strangely defamiliarizing image or motion… also, if you showed me stills from this and told me it was a Blair Witch sequel, I’d believe you.

She wanted to “make a film that explores the separation of body and thought and dispersed sentience.” All that her own website will admit is that she lives in Queens, so I found a great long interview with Dan Browne, which is where any otherwise-credited quotes are from.


Orpheus (Outtakes) (2012)

Film clips, reprocessed, and subtitles, out of context. We go inside a black circle, and stare for a while at eyes staring at us through ghost-holes in a black sheet. Noise loops on the soundtrack, then voices from a celebrity guessing game over the eyes (it’s Buster Keaton’s episode of What’s My Line, with Keaton’s voice removed), ending on a twirling chain of light.

I’m not sure I buy that these were Orpheus outtakes. Clark says she wanted “to make a false artifact” and that the film is “about exploiting the smallest marks to create figuration and feeling.”

Sicinski says the “film originates with optically printed footage from Cocteau’s classic, taking it in a far more materialist direction … Clark continues to foreground other concrete details of the cinematic process, like subtitles (in odd, poetic blurts) and the diagonal lines of a ‘rain storm.’ … Clark locates Surrealism’s very unconscious: the film’s desperate desire to look back.” He writes about the other three films on Letterboxd, from coverage of three different festivals, very helpful.


The Dragon Is The Frame (2014)

I stopped to read some of the interviews before continuing, so I thought her San Francisco film would be more Vertigoey, but there is plenty of nature, sequins, youtubes, in addition to the explicit Vertigo references.

Clark:

I try to produce slightly incongruous rhymes with sound and image that suggest a traditional sync sound relationship, but aren’t simply causal. In The Dragon is the Frame, there is a flagpole recorded by contact microphone, and that sound resonated with me in such a specific way that I knew I wanted it in the film. The flagpole sound is paired with foggy shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, then a hand-processed image of a rope harness. The sound creates an emotional landscape and echoes the pulsing texture of the hand-processed film … How do you film a place that’s photographically exhausted but still conjure the experience of being there? The sound of the traffic moving over the rumble strips became surprisingly central to me — I wanted the sound to pull more weight than the image, a way of recasting the cliché, the dead image.

Images against the flagpole sound:

Erika Balsom in Frieze, on The Glass Note, which I’d watched previously:
We encounter the same noise paired with multiple images, with its meaning shifting dramatically with the cut, to the point that the noise seems to resonate differently, even though only the image has changed. These disjunctions denaturalize the technique of synchronization – usually thought to be ‘obvious’ and ‘natural’, even though it is nothing of the sort – and reveal how much our apprehension of the picture conditions our reception of sound and vice-versa. Cinema turns out to be a synaesthetic art, even far beyond bounds of the visual music tradition.

Palms (2015)

“A largely abstract film in four parts”

1. Slowly wriggling hands against white, with the sound of a tennis match. At the end, the film speed changes, making the hands look like stop-motion.

2. Headlights in inky blackness come forward then retreat, looking like the Orpheus eyes, the sound of a solo vocal rehearsal

3. Haha now we get film of a tennis court, the camera zoomed in and panning rapidly back and forth as if to track an in-game ball, sound of a metronome or other click track.

4. The vocals are back, and a black circular flag rippling against a white void is my favorite Clark image since The Glass Note.

Rotterdam, where most of her shorts have played: “She aims to make trance-like, transparent films.”

What Did Jack Do? (2017, David Lynch)

Jack is a monkey with a human mouth composited onto his face, so he can be interrogated by detective David Lynch. “They say real love is a banana.” Willow’s review is the one to read: “This is a joke, but Lynch is also being completely sincere.”


The Capsule (2012, Athina Rachel Tsangari)

Women slither in from all over, have other women inside them via unrealistic compositing effects… there is slow-mo, nudity, colored tongues, and “Horse With No Name” a cappella. Wait, there’s more: goats on leashes, egg-absorbing bellybuttons, painted mustaches, a confession line, heads that turn all the way around.

Reminds of the Lucrecia Martel fashion short and other high-gloss ads made by deeply weird directors. Then towards the end, talk of clones and life-cycles and vampires summons Never Let Me Go and the Lucile Hadzihalilovic films. I liked it more than Chevalier!


Goldman v Silverman (2020, Safdies)

Adam Sandler is a gold-painted human statue with a kazoo, then Benny Safdie arrives as a silver-painted human statue with a kazoo, insults Goldman then sets up across the street until Goldman comes at him with a can of spraypaint. The ending is played for pathos, Silverman sad and alone with messed up clothes, but, man he started it. Really the point of this movie is that the Safdies filmed Adam Sandler in Times Square and nobody realized it.


The Fall (2019, Jonathan Glazer)

Another short with masks. This time everyone’s wearing ’em, and a mob shakes a dude down from a tree then drops him down an extremely deep hole. At some point he catches himself and starts to painstakingly climb back up. Pretty much pure nightmare fuel, no other reason for this to exist than to deeply upset everyone who watches.

Darkness/Light/Darkness (1989 Jan Svankmajer)

I’ve seen stills from this, but somehow never watched it before. Peak Svankmajer claymation, a human gradually assembled from pieces entering a cramped apartment, including a dumb dick joke.

Won an award at Berlin alongside a Petrov short, a Bruno Bozzetto animation, The Asthenic Syndrome and, oh, Driving Miss Daisy. One of Svank’s final shorts, post-Alice, before he turned exclusively to features.


Prometheus’ Garden (1988 Bruce Bickford)

The Svankmajer turned out to be a gentle Claymation intro course compared to this batshit epic. Like a long, vaguely narrative music video, with no fixed sense of scale or permanence of scene or set or character. Watched in SD, would be amazing to see in a larger format

Casual synth-rock on the soundtrack… in the machine-gun massacre scene, I appreciated the use of outer-space raygun effects instead of ratatatat.

Apparently unreleased for twenty years until it came out on a 2008 DVD. RIP 2019 Bruce – I need to dig up his final feature Cas’l and the other doc about him, Monster Road.


Printed Rainbow (2006 Gitanjali Rao)

Gramma lives a dreary, blurry b/w Rear Window existence until she opens a case full of colorful matchbooks and experiences an open-eyed smiley-faced adventure in crisp color fantasy. The b/w segments are in that smeary, charcoaly style where it appears that each frame is partially erased, the next frame drawn on top of it, leaving a smudge trail behind the action…OR ELSE it wasn’t animated that way at all, and my digital copy needed more keyframes. Kinda not my thing, but the ending is pretty good, and you can’t laugh off the dedication “to my mother and her cat.”

Rao also acts, appeared in a Seven Samurai remake in 1998, and she recently completed a hand-painted animated feature about Bombay’s history with Bollywood.


Old Man and the Sea (1999 Aleksandr Petrov)

Glorious paint or watercolor, with such good light and water and cloud – made for imax! English dialogue, new agey music. Shades of the Monk when he becomes one with the Fish. Won a ton of awards including the oscar – fellow winners that year were Sam Mendes, All About My Mother, The Matrix and Phil Collins.


The House of Small Cubes (2008 Kunio Kato)

Another old man in the sea, also beautiful. Dystopian story of a rising flood, building a new house atop the old one every few years, losing more items and people with each story. Hunched old man lives alone at the top, takes a diving expedition through his past.

Kato is my age, has made a bunch more shorts. This one won the oscar too, beating that great undertaker short and one of my favorite Pixars, with fellow winners Penelope Cruz, the late Heath Ledger, Danny Boyle, A.R. Rahman, Benjamin Button’s makeup artists, WALL-E, and Man on Wire.

After Keystone and before Mutual, Chaplin spent a year at Essanay Studios in Chicago.


His New Job

Oh man, these Essanay shorts are a half hour long? And there are seventeen of them, so that’s gonna be… about a hundred hours of dudes opening doors into other dudes’ faces and knocking them down. But if I wasn’t amused, I’d quit… the only thing that definitely has to go is the generic silent-film music on the blu-ray. If they’re gonna play music with no regard to the visuals’ mood or editing anyway, next time I might as well just put on something of my own. Anyway, Charlie comes to a film casting office, gets hired as an extra but fucks that up, is made a carpenter until a lead actor is fired, then Charlie replaces that guy in the film-within-film. So many asses get kicked and stabbed and sawed and thwacked, and finally a hammer-wielding Charlie flies into a workplace-violence rage. With Charles “no relation” Hitchcock as the late-arriving male lead, and Gloria Swanson as a background stenographer… I love that extras played movie stars, and stars played extras.

That must be Gloria in the back:


A Night Out

Katy joined me for most of this, making it the first Chaplin we’ve watched since The Gold Rush in 2010. I suppose it’s better than the previous short, but not much. Chaplin plays a fucking asshole, out drinking with his crosseyed friend Ben Turpin, who tries to keep him out of trouble and whom Charlie will later try to murder with a brick. In the meantime he gets into hijinks with Edna Purviance (her first Chaplin film) and hides from her husband Bud Jamison (a Three Stooges sideman who died in the 1940’s from being a Christian Scientist). This one’s more notable for the personnel involved than anything that takes place in it.


The Champion

Charlie is down and out, but still offers a bulldog some of his lunch. He signs up as a human punching bag for boxer Spike Dugan (Ernest Van Pelt, on loan from the Broncho Billy cowboy series) and gets his face kalsomined, then fights back with a horseshoe in his boxing glove. So Charlie is pitted against Bob Uppercut (Bud Jamison) for the championship (featuring some fun long-take boxing shenanigans) and wins with help from the bulldog. Also, the movie stops dead for a while when a shady character arrives (prolific mustache villain Leo White) trying to bribe Charlie into throwing the fight while continually stopping to talk into the camera and do his Snidely mustache thing. Edna appears as an obligatory love interest. I listened to Bill Orcutt, which didn’t really work at all, but I got used to it.

That must be Essanay cofounder Broncho Billy next to our black-hatted villain:

Charlie and Edna heard us looking:


In The Park

In the park are: (2) romance-novel-reading Edna and her would-be-man (Bud Jamison in a short tie), (4) a pair of lovers (Leo White with his nogoodnik mustache, and Leona Anderson, Broncho Billy’s little sister), (5) the world’s most obvious pickpocket (future film director Lloyd Bacon), (7) a couple of violent bumpkins with a pot of sausages, (8) a cop, and (9) Charlie, going around being an absolute ass to everyone. More people get whacked in the head with bricks, the rest get kicked into the lake, and this terror spree is all fun and charming because Charlie is the one doing it.


A Jitney Elopement

Wow, a car chase, with Chaplin driving and being filmed from another car alongside. This is advanced stuff, but not very funny, as he spends 85% of the movie running away from his girl’s dad, her suitor and two cops, pausing to kick them in the ass or throw bricks at their heads. A promising intro section though, Chaplin pretending to be “Count Chloride” to get dinner at Edna’s house, but has table manner troubles. Some prop stuff we didn’t follow – the servants keep destroying the food and dishes, I’m not sure why, and Chaplin is constantly fidgeting with cigarettes. All the same actors as usual, now joined by Irish theater star Paddy “Bungling Bill” McGuire as one of the butlers.


The Tramp

More bricks to heads, in fact there are some worrying head injuries in this one, but now some new actions, as Charlie jump-kicks a guy, gets shot, and sits in a drain pipe cuz his ass is on fire. Naive Edna has two dollars, and everybody wants them, but Charlie wants mostly to protect the girl from his fellow tramps because she is his true love. When it turns out she’s not in love but just helping him out, and he sees her with fiancee Lloyd Bacon (also one of the tramps!), he sneaks away and walks off down the road, an ending he’d keep coming back to.

Edna and her two dollars:

Edna’s dad Ernest has more than two dollars:


By The Sea

Filmed at Crystal Pier, reportedly because Chaplin was between studio locations, having found the Essanay sets unacceptably low-rent. Chaplin gets mixed up with a mustache man because their hats, both tied to their coats with string because of the high wind, get tangled. He torments the guy, who ends up punching a cop, they make up then antagonize big Bud Jamison and an ice cream man, while Charlie takes time to flirt with all the wives. After minor roles in the previous films, Billy Armstrong has his big moment as the mustache man, with newcomer Margie Reiger as his wife, and extremely prolific sideman Snub Pollard as the ice cream man. I played a mix of Book Beriah songs, which worked great, especially Banquet of the Spirits.


His Regeneration

What is happening… it’s a crime drama with a cameo by Chaplin but mostly starring Broncho Billy with creepy glowing eyes as a thief and murderer. He gets shot, apparently not too badly, in a bar fight over a girl, then breaking into the same girl’s house that night he kills his partner Lee Willard. Lee was a Broncho regular, likewise the girl Marguerite Clayton, who agrees to tell the cops that she shot the partner breaking in, while Broncho promises that he’ll turn over a new leaf because of her kindness. More Book Beriah: Secret Chiefs and Julian Lage worked fine, but Abraxas just reinforced how unexpected this thing is.


Work

Charlie drives an equipment rickshaw up a steep hill, narrowly missing the streetcar, whipped the whole way by his abusive boss Charles Inslee (he played bosses and professors, made it to 1921’s Adventures of Tarzan before dying at 52). They are meant to wallpaper a house full of its own petty dramas (with the usual suspects plus housewife Marta Golden), but of course these workers are incredibly incompetent – and it’s kinda a mess of a movie too, feels excessively padded. One good bit: Marta puts her silver in the safe, and in response the workers safety-pin their watches into a pants pocket. I played my new guitar+cello CD from Drag City but it proved too dissonant for slapstick, so back to Zorn.


A Woman

Even before the crossdressing second half, this is an improvement in the action. Opens with more messing about in a park – a “flirt” is aggressively picking up guys, and family man Inslee fights Charlie over her and ends up in the lake. Charlie in turn picks up Inslee’s wife Marta and daughter Edna and they invite him home for doughnuts (whatever conditions these movies were filmed in, you can see the table is crawling with flies). When the man of the house comes home and Charlie realizes who it is, he dressed as a woman (even “shaves” his mustache) to escape, pauses to taunt dad and his new friend Billy Armstrong, then declares his love for Edna. Pretty much nonstop activity, with one delicious pause trying to find the perfect lakeside spot to kick in the blindfolded Inslee. One of five Chaplin shorts on the Anthology Film Archives Essentials list.

Edna is not impressed by Charlie’s initial attempt to be a woman:


The Bank

Back into filler territory already… cute bank vault intro, then it’s mostly Charlie feuding with fellow janitor Billy Armstrong and playing havoc with his mop, and a mixup where Edna is in love with a cashier also named Charlie. Things pick up when Lawrence Bowes (a newcomer but wearing the same fake mustache as all the heavies, so who can tell) brings some guys to rob the bank after his meeting with the president goes badly, our Charlie singlehandedly takes them all out while Cashier Charlie hides under a desk, and the girl switches Charlies… but in the apparently deleted final minute, the janitor wakes up kissing his mop, the robbery just a dream. Cashier Charlie was Carl Stockdale, bit actor and alleged murderer of director William Desmond Taylor in 1922.

A Tale of Two Charlies:


Shanghaied

More intricate than usual, and with some good acrobatics, mostly involving keeping things upright while a boat sways – even while doing flips! – then smashing everything anyway, because the general public didn’t pay their five cents to see Chaplin carefully protect a bunch of dishes. Ship owner pays captain (Bowes again) to destroy his boat for the insurance, captain needs a bunch of men onboard who I guess are supposed to drown to make it look convincing, so he pays Charlie to bonk sailors on the head and toss them into the boat until the sailor pile is large enough to go out to sea. Charlie was also dating the owner’s daughter Edna, so everyone ends up on board along with a barrel full of gunpowder. Newcomers: the cook in the best scene (Charlie absolutely ruining the soup) is John Rand, who would get minor parts in Chaplin films through Modern Times, cabin boy Fred Goodwins, who would make the jump to the Mutuals before dying of bronchitis at 32, and as the owner: Wesley Ruggles! After ten more Chaplin shorts, Wesley started directing, made about 50 movies in the 1920’s, then won best picture with Cimarron and directed Mae West in her censor-defying I’m No Angel.

Conspirators Bowes and Ruggles:


A Night in the Show

A very drunk Posh Chaplin, predating his excellent drunken Mutual short One AM, is seated up front in the richie section for a variety show, while a Poor Chaplin with completely different mustache and eyebrows sits in the balcony cheap seats. On the plus side, it’s all very funny – on the minus, there’s Leo White in blackface. Newcomers: As the chuckling fat boy who brings two pies to the performance (guess where those end up) we’ve got Dee Lampton, whose final film would be the Harold Lloyd short Haunted Spooks before he died at age 20 of appendicitis. May White (no relation to Leo?) plays a performer, and Carrie Clark Ward (woman with the feather hat that Charlie destroys) appeared in the first screen version of The Awful Truth (the Cary Grant was its second remake).

Cheap Charlie grabs the firehose:


A Burlesque on Carmen

Atypical Chaplin short for a number of reasons… for one, his character has a name: Darn Hosiery. He’s a guard who turns on his fellow officer Leo White for the love of Carmen Edna, who has seduced him into helping him admit her smuggler friends through the gates. She runs off with bullfighter John Rand and Chaplin chases her to Seville, demanding that she belongs to him, then murder-suicides (kind of – it’s the second movie I watched this month to end with a gag knife trick). Added to the usual gang of idiots is Jack Henderson as a barkeep – his career of bit parts would fizzle after the silent era. Based on the famous novel/opera, which has also been filmed by Lubitsch, DeMille, Raoul Walsh (twice!), Jacques Feyder, Christian-Jaque, Charles Vidor, Otto Preminger, Terence Young, Radley Metzger, Carlos Saura, Francesco Rosi, Joseph Gaï Ramaka, Mark Dornford-May, Alexander Payne, Jean-Luc Godard, and Lotte Reiniger. I played an excellent Roberto Rodriguez album.


Police

“Each man kills the thing he loves” – I didn’t realize this Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier album would have lyrics, but they’re appropriate, Patton croaking “where’s the money at” during the heist scene. Charlie gets robbed on his way out of prison by a fake preacher and fails to get into a flophouse. Why does he put an alarm clock in his pocket? A costarring role for Wesley Ruggles as Chaplin’s ex-cellmate who ropes him into burglarizing Edna’s house, and who later shoots Charlie multiple times in the butt. Charlie takes Edna’s side during the ensuing tussle, so when the cops arrive, she acts like he is her husband – shades of the fake-Chaplin His Regeneration. Consistently good movie – they’ve come a long way since the plotless slapstick nonsense of the earlier films.


Triple Trouble

The most poorly restored and shoddily edited of the bunch, cobbled together by Essanay after Chaplin had left the studio from outtakes stitched together with a newly-filmed framework starring unknown actors. I listened to Steve Gunn and William Tyler in honor of Hanukkah night one. Chaplin works as a janitor for explosives inventor Nutt, torments Edna the maid then retires to the flophouse from Police, where Billy Armstrong is robbing the residents and chewing the scenery. This ends in a pretty good brawl, then we’re out of fresh Chaplin footage, as he meets Ruggles in a couple scenes directly recycled from Police to get back into the inventor’s house, where a bunch of cops are flailing about. Thus ended Chaplin’s Essanay era. It’s a considerable amount of output for a single year. Essanay barely lasted past the Chaplin year as a studio; signed Max Linder and merged with Vitagraph before becoming part of Warner Bros.

Peter Tscherkassky’s Cinemascope Trilogy

I’ve watched these before, first in 2008 and at least once since then, but this time I thought to play them on the big TV while listening in headphones to better hear the audio textures over the noise of our air conditioner – a good idea!

L’arrivée (1999)

One short scene: a train arrives, woman gets off and hugs the guy waiting for her, but given every available footage treatment within its two minutes, soft fluttering on the soundtrack.


Outer Space (1999)

The crazy one – this holds up better than ever in HD. As much care given to the soundtrack as the visuals, full of fluttering, looping and reversing.


Dream Work (2001)

Dedicated to Man Ray. This is my jam… appreciation of classic cinema while also interrogating/destroying it. This same day I read a couple of articles mentioning nostalgia in cinema, Letterboxd’s interview with Rick Alverson, and a Ringer review of the new Refn series, which gets compared to Twin Peaks: “Showtime gave the auteur free rein under the pretext of Twin Peaks nostalgia, even if Lynch ultimately sought to weaponize those feelings against his audience.” I think Weaponized Nostalgia needs to be a new genre.


Shot-Countershot (1987, Peter Tscherkassky)

Ooooh, never seen this before. Scene from a classic film, slightly processed, of a guy playing harmonica, drawing his gun, and getting drilled. It’s a single camera take, so I assume the title is a gunshot joke. This 20-second bit of silliness does not detract from my love of his major works.


Crossroad (2005, Phil Solomon)

Argh, machinima. A dude in Second Life acts bored in a rainstorm, and runs in circles through a forest, a bouquet of flowers spinning nearby as if suspended from a string. I did appreciate the way the 3D objects clipped as they spun too close to the camera, revealing themselves as origami structures of 2D surfaces. Dedicated to David Gatten. I’ve only seen one other film by Solomon, in Nashville a decade ago. This was codirected with Mark LaPore, who died the same year.


Liberian Boy (2015, Mati Diop & Manon Lutanie)

I felt guilty finally watching my first Mati Diop film without African Studies Katy, while she sat unaware in the other room, but I’m not sure she’d have gotten much out of this white kid doing (very good!) Michael Jackson moves against a greenscreen whilst holding a knife. Lacking any African studies scholars in the room, I don’t know what it meant, but it’s a cool piece. The kid also appears in the latest Nobuhiro Suwa film.


Shoot (2014, Gaspar Noe)

The camera is a soccer ball (representing France?), kicked around in a courtyard – pretty nice La Region Centrale rig with an unpleasant soundtrack of percussive kicks mixed with tinnitus whine.


Nectar (2014, Lucile Hadzihalilovic)

Nectar is collected from the body of a flower-eating woman. Hive-honey harvesters seduce men into a Matrix global pollination scenario. Olga from Film Socialisme plays the Queen of Bees.


Two-Gun Mickey (1934, Ben Sharpsteen)

Minnie is cruel to animals. Mickey rescues her after a shootout with Pegleg Pete and his men. The movie promotes automatic weapon use, and makes an overweight, handicapped foreigner the villain.


The Fly (1980, Ferenc Rofusz)

Pleasantly short fisheye (flyeye?) lens animation from a fly’s POV, entering a house and being vanquished by a resident. Won the oscar, the only other nominees being one by the Evolution guy and one by The Man Who Planted Trees guy. The Hungarian director was still making shorts as of 2017.


Toy Sequence (1990, Péter Szoboszlay)

Fun, short Toy Story prequel, a nursery coming to stop-motion life in the night, the pieces transforming and rearranging themselves, and the dolls being generally creepy.


Filmstudie (1926, Hans Richter)

Richter the dark Master of light, pattern and pacing, a hundred years ahead of his time. I’ve previously raved about three of his other shorts – was not impressed with my terrible copy of his late collaboration with Cocteau, but overall it looks like I’ve loved his work and need to check out his feature Dreams That Money Can Buy. Anyway this one is mostly eyeballs and wands of light, but it’s impressive.


Night Music (1986, Stan Brakhage)

I forget just how short this is, not counting titles and credits. The film I’ve watched the most times.

We went to see some animated shorts, at a respectfully full theater across the street from SCAD. I’m struggling to remember A Dinner With Dad (Johanna J. Lunn) and Creationism (Janale Harris) and Lost In Phone (Yongji Chen & Mengchen Zhao). We missed Unsolicited (Meg Cook) and Don’t Croak (Daun Kim), and came in late during Reboot (Ellen Osborne), which was a beautiful vision of post-human Earth reminiscent of Handsome Family songs. The rest, in some order:


Aripi (Dmitri Voloshin)

Tribute to a fallen pilot friend, an astronaut experiences absolute chaos and ends up falling to earth, improvising a glider on the way down.


Shell (Stella Rosen)

Creature and Alien go through the same disfiguring changes in reverse, feels Jim Woodring-inspired in a good way.


Tutorial > SKIP? (Thy Vo & Sydney Seekford & Ryan Imm)

Cute gaming parody, co-created by a former coworker.


Tiffany (Christina Christie)

Memorable character design of a stained glass sculpture that becomes sentient without the coordination to navigate stairs, the sculptor’s daughter trying to prevent disaster while prepping the works for display.


Godspeed (Sunny Wai Yan Chan)

A tiny mother/son airport story by another former coworker!


Ouija (​Ashley Young)

I cannot improve on the official description: “Two dumb kids explore the dangers of a Ouija board and come face to face with the Ouija demon, Zozo.”


Anacronte (Emiliano Sette & Raúl Koler)

The one with blank-faced humanity walking across a giant game board, malevolent reapers hurling spears at them from cliffs above, causing misfortune and death in their real lives – kind of cool imagery.


Serpendipity (Carlos Mejia & Kevin Barwick)

Medusa-haired guy and blind-without-her-glasses girl on a date… kind of a disaster of flailing, rubbery 3D characters, but the fun, fast-paced story makes up for it.


Balance (Barzan Rostami)

Oh no, it’s the most heavy-handed visual metaphor of the decade.


Hawkeye Sucks (Hunter Collins)

Love when movies feel overlong at 3 minutes. People laughed at least, but then people laugh at the pre-show ads at the multiplexes too.

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.