Not part of my slow delve into Film as a Subversive Art – my copy has no index, so I don’t yet know if Smith is covered within – rather a holdover from when I read Visionary Film. Quotes below are by Smith, as printed in the latter book.


Film No. 1 (1939)

Fast, blobby, hand-drawn animation morphs along a speckled screen. I likened the characters to amoebas, then blew my own mind thinking about the similarities between actions on a microscope slide and on a film frame. “The history of the geologic period reduced to orgasm length.”


Film No. 2 (1941)

Full moon circles pendulum and pac-man across the screen, a 2×2 grid of squares joining them center screen.


Film No. 3 (1946)

Hashtag: The Movie… rectangles form the number sign, then more complicated grids and block patterns, some diamonds thrown into the mix, a lot more complex than the last couple films. The rapid-fire circles of the second movie broke up in compression artifacts on my video copy, but the brilliant colors of this one made up for that. “The most complex hand-drawn film imaginable.”


Film No. 4 (1947)

Short, using an actual camera I think. Familiar circle and grid shapes, as lights, smearing across the screen in multiple exposure blends. “Made in a single night.”


Film No. 5: Circular Tensions (1949)

The technique of the previous piece, refined and improved, with more colors coming in.


Film No. 7 (1951)

Long and great, a huge leap forward. Looks like someone got a proper animation rig (courtesy of the Guggenheim Foundation) and applied all his favorite colors, shapes and patterns to it – brings to mind Oskar Fischinger (I wrote this before discovering that Film No. 5 was aka Homage to Oskar Fischinger).


Film No. 10 (1956)

Another big change – instead of just shapes, we’ve got character-objects. They seem to be based on foreign historical/religious icons, dancing around and forming miniature pantomimes. “An exposition of Buddhism and the Kaballa in the form of a collage.”

Snake made of eyeballs:


Film No. 11 (1956)

Some of the same religious icons/patterns as the previous movie, nicely synched to a Thelonious Monk piece. Possibly the previous films had also been synched, since per the literature, “Smith spoke of his films in terms of synesthesia, the search for correspondences between color and sound,” but the earliest films had no synched soundtracks, and Smith kept changing the music – including at one point awkwardly overlaying Meet The Beatles over the whole collection, as in my copy.


Film No. 12: Heaven and Earth Magic (1962)

Small man with a hammer reconfigures objects, animals and women from/into pieces. Narrativish with sound effects, no music. Fully Gilliamesque, cut-out characters, always with something else hiding behind/beneath them. A house grows feet and walks off, machines with multi-hinged arms, umbrellas, syringes, eggs and watermelons, dripping liquid. One scene reminds me I haven’t seen Guy Maddin’s Odilon Redon in a while.

“8 shots for a quarter, win a kewpie doll,” funny to hear the carnival barker on the soundtrack the day after watching Gun Crazy. I don’t know if I can recommend watching 70 straight minutes of Harry Smith cutout animation. About the 20th time the magician brings out the hammer to reconfigure all nearby objects into new forms, I wondered if this wouldn’t be better served as an installation. And it might be appropriate to the depicted characters, but the sounds of crying babies and yowling cats never improve a movie.

“The first part depicts the heroine’s toothache consequent to the loss of a very valuable watermelon, her dentistry and transportation to heaven. Next follows an elaborate exposition of the heavenly land, in terms of Israel, Montreal and the second part depicts the return to Earth from being eaten by Max Muller on the day Edward the Seventh dedicated the Great Sewer of London.”

Boro in the Box (2011)

Just watched some early Borowczyk so I’m checking out Mandico’s terrific biopic. It is so reverent of Boro’s wife/actress, and so dismissive of Lenica. A bit of Cronenberg there at the end when the camera becomes a living organ.


Memories of a Boobs Flasher (2014)

Elina Löwensohn solo show, repeats a four-minute monologue twice. It’s good to see that Mandico has had the same interests from the beginning, and The Wild Boys feature didn’t come out of nowhere but was a culmination.


Prehistoric Cabaret (2014)

Absolutely the most GuyMaddinist shit I’ve ever seen, GuyMaddiner than some Guy Maddin films, but still with some Cronenberg edge. These are not complaints, this is what movies should be doing. The Boro camera reappears. More dialogue repetition, this one’s about a camera that is inserted into the body. In color and English, wild.


Depressive Cop (2016)

A different sort of thing, in English again and partly filmed like a grey VHS dupe. More of those obsessions, merging with islands and becoming fruit/crab/milk. Aphex Twin t-shirt cameo.


Blow Up, Le Cri dans l’œil (2019)

Let’s not forget Lynch in our list of influences. This is simply a montage of some of the best screams and yells and shouts in modern cinema, which keeps returning to Wild at Heart.

Street Art (1957, Konstanty Gordon)

To begin with, a short doc on street posters, the profession Lenica and Borowczyk started out in – its history and function and form and prevalence. Narrator, upbeat orchestral music, the main attraction here is seeing a montage of good poster art.


Once Upon a Time (1957)

Magic: the poster art comes alive. Wordless adventures of some ever shifting graphic design elements, fond of fashioning themselves into creatures and hats, interacting with clip art. Playful organ music, some strobing scraps of concert footage, a cute and inventive little movie.


Requited Feelings (1958)

This one’s more limited because it’s based on someone else’s paintings (Jan Plaskocinski), which B&L bring to life the best they can through fast cuts and pans. It tells a story using intertitles of a man looking for love. The film editor would later make No End with Kieslowski.


Banner of Youth (1957)

McLaren-esque abstract animated pieces, with separate quick blasts of every kind of news and sports and entertainment footage, a cultural survey in two minutes set to lively jazz.


Strip-Tease (1957)

This and the previous short were commissioned advertisements for a newspaper, I think. Male and female abstract characters, she “strips” her outer layers revealing newsprint, the messages on which knock him out. Cuter than it sounds.


School (1958)

A rifleman performs training exercises, is pestered by a fly, can’t get his rifle to fire, then dreams of dancing legs, all in live-stop-motion (or very low framerate photography). Some light horn music, heavy percussion and frequent whistle blasts. Composer Andrzej Markowski had already scored A Generation, and would soon do the MST3K-approved First Spaceship on Venus.


Dom (1958)

This one is like an entire Flying Circus episode, bringing together all the techniques from the previous shorts into an anthology of episodes witnessed by a woman before she stops to make out with a decaying mannequin head. Before that, we’ve got sci-fi poster art, early cinema motion studies, archive photography and storybook pages, a man stuck in a time-loop room, and a stop-motion wig consuming or destroying everything on a table. I’d watched this before, ages ago, in a poor copy.


Boro would go on to become a major director of nudie flicks, and I just found out that an early Bertrand Mandico film was a tribute to him.

The woman in Dom was Ligia Branice, aka Mrs. Walerian Borowczyk, who also appeared in La Jetee. Chris Marker also contributed to Boro’s Les Astronautes the following year, and must have been influenced by the photography in these films.

Lenica would later make the feature Adam 2, about a guy who escapes his drab life into an animated fantasy world, and a feature adaptation of one of Alfred Jarry’s pre-dada Pere Ubu plays, then a final half-hour short with Piotr Dumala.

Really very uninterested in tennis, so of course when I sign up to Metrograph they are showing tennis films, centering on William Klein’s doc The French. I watched Wes Anderson’s intro to that, then moved straight to this mid-length (or long-short) followup to Rat Film, very much a precursor to the electronic surveillance of All Light, Everywhere – what is observable and provable, either by man or by camera/computer, etc.

Then Katy and I watched a beautiful copy of Broadway by Light, and I meant to follow up with the Canadian/Chinese table tennis doc by Marcel Carrière, but instead rewatched Perfect Fifths.

I half-remembered this from watching Eros at the Landmark way back then, and the new remaster gives us a good excuse to revisit. Gong Li is a high-class call girl, whose life/career hits a rocky patch, then she has to move into a dank moldy place and gets the croup. Chen Chang is her devoted tailor in good times and bad. Besides all the perfect costuming and sumptuous dim-light photography, highlight is a scene of erotic dumpling stuffing.


There’s Only One Sun (2007)

Found this short, nonsensical spy drama on vimeo, with horrid video compression compared to The Hand blu-ray. It’s a commissioned television ad that culminates in Amélie Daure of Frontier(s) making out with her flatscreen. Before that, there’s some talk off finding an untraceable person(?) named The Light, a flashback structure, a couple murders – that’s a lot for Wong, who likes to let his camera linger, to pull off in eight minutes. Mostly it seems designed to show the brightest colors possible, bleeding into each other, to impress the rubes when the brightness is cranked up at the Best Buy video wall. No need for too many new ideas – songs are reused from the 2046 soundtrack.

Brothers Bearhearts (2005, Riho Unt)

I think it was stop-motion with 3D added… if the whole thing was 3D I’ll be impressed. The adventures of three bears modeled after historical artists taking cross-continent revenge on the hunter who shot their mom. Looks like Unt is a prolific shorts director and I can find some of his early 80’s work.


Down to the Bone (2001, Rene Castillo)

Guy is buried, falls into a Mexican afterlife nightclub full of skeletons, while trying to ward off the carnivorous worm that will turn him into a skeleton. Won prizes at every fest that year, including Annecy which had a good year between this and The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg and Father and Daughter and Mutant Aliens. The director was working on a feature called Thingdom but I can’t find evidence that it ever came out.


Restart (2010, Miao Xiaochun)

Throwing everything at the wall, adding opera music, and listing classic influences in the credits – trying to turn machinima into art. This sort of thing should not be encouraged.


The Selfish Giant (1971, Peter Sander)

An overly long and precious story of a giant who selfishly kicks out the children who love to play in his garden, then permanent winter comes to his walled-off castle until he breaks down the walls and lets in the kids and the springtime. I was already pretty mad, then one of the kids turns out to be Jesus Christ. Presented by Reader’s Digest, with a very based-on-a-storybook vibe and a couple hippie harpsichord-and-choir song breaks. The snow and frost characters are cool, at least. Peter Sander worked on the animated Beatles TV series. Based on an Oscar Wilde story which was also adapted as a Jackanory story, a Pete Postlethwaite short, and most confusingly, Clio Barnard’s feature follow-up to The Arbor.

That’s twice in a row this list of the best animated short films ever made has steered me wrong… but my other list of the best animated short films ever made is full of Mickey Mouse and Woody Woodpecker cartoons… please, I need more lists of the best animated short films ever made.


The Road to Zennor (2017, Mark Jenkin)

Shaky handheld film photography of rural settings, an unseen narrator speaking I think in quotes and listing quizzical British placenames. Little sketch of a movie. Interested in Jenkin because of the recent feature Bait.


To Kill a Dead Man (1994, Alexander Hemming & Portishead)

Wow, it’s rare that a movie opens with an apology saying they didn’t realize how hard it would be to make a movie. Black-gloved sniper walks suspiciously through public spaces, assembles his rifle and takes down a politician-looking guy, at which point the Portishead soundtrack shifts from classic chill Morricone to action Morricone. The dead man’s wife’s trauma is visualized as her in a screening room with a feeding tube, watching films of the death on an endless loop, before we return to sunglasses-sporting suit dudes playing chess games under noir lighting. I guess in the end the husband wasn’t dead and she hires the same hit man to kill him again, but I needed the internet to explain that to me. As a band demo it’s perfect – nice bit where the music plays a reversed guitar as confetti “falls” upward – though it’s not until recently that Barrow started getting regular soundtrack work. Maybe he wasn’t looking. Nobody else involved in this went onto any sort of film career, but the makeup person worked on The Cat With Hands.


Deborah Harry Does Not Like Interviews (2019, Meghan Fredrich)

Oh no, I’m sorry I made Katy watch this. Adding credits and titles doesn’t make your vhs/youtube clips collection a short film. Not as snarky or awkward as reported, the average KCRW band interview is worse. One good mid-period song I’d never heard, so we got our money’s worth.


If Only There Were Peace (2017, Carmine Grimaldi & Deniz Tortum)

An entry in the select genre along with Jodorowsky’s Dune and Clouzot’s Inferno and (kinda) Lost in La Mancha of making-of docs for features that never existed – this one a Turkish anti-war drama. I get the feeling the script isn’t in the lead actress’s native language. There’s a lotta direct address to camera, and the sound mix is off. We saw Grimaldi’s very different One of the Roughs, a Kosmos at True/False, and Tortum has a new feature-length doc set in a hospital.

Many Thousands Gone (2015)

Better in concept than in specifics. Juxtaposing street scenes in NYC and Brazil with emphasis on dance, silent film with improv music added after, this all sounds great. What we get: so-so photography with blowy sounds in the audio, reminiscent of that grating windbag noise on Nine Inch Nails “A Warm Place”.


Kindah (2016)

Flutey frequencies that bugged me even more than the windy blowing, but the middle half was all percussion and the photography seems to have improved even if the subject matter (group dance routines in Jamaica and New York) is less inherently interesting, so we’ll call it even.


Fluid Frontiers (2017)

Short poems and segments about slavery and blackness, read to us on camera, the book covers visible. Detroit and Southern Ontario, the split locations in these films getting closer together each time.

Sicinski in Mubi says the locations are an Underground Railroad reference and “a tribute to Detroit’s Broadside Press, a publishing house of the late 60s and 70s that specialized in radical black poetry … They are reciting works by the Broadside poets, reading them directly from the original chapbooks … Asili insists on a place-based activism, making it clear that only certain kinds of interventions could occur in certain places.” Asili’s debut feature The Inheritance looks to be worth watching.

A Thousand Suns (2013, Mati Diop)

Starts with very few indications that it’s not a purely observational doc following the lead actor of Touki Bouki making his way to an anniversary screening, but by the end we’re in a new realm with nude women in the Alaskan snow. Nice use of Tex Ritter’s “High Noon”

Diop in Cinema Scope:

The sole element of reality that I kept in my film is that Magaye Niang stayed in Dakar and Myriam Niang left for Alaska. From there I took fictional liberties, but the phone conversation that is heard in the film remains quite faithful to the real conversation that I recorded between the two actors. Nothing is true and nothing is false in my film.


Metaphor or Sadness Inside Out (2014, Catarina Vasconcelos)

The metaphor is an elephant. Bookending square-frame film segments with HD in the middle, circling around memories of a mother who died when her kids were teens. More focus on family, photos and letters – a proto-Metamorphosis of Birds that stands well on its own, and an example of how to use home movies and photographs in poetic ways.


A So-Called Archive (2020, Igwe Onyeka)

Upbeat promo soundtrack introduces a museum while the camera shows its pigeon-infested remains, tracing cobwebs, tattered filmstrips and lines of decay. Filmed inside two shuttered colonial archives in UK and Nigeria, this was already a fascinating little movie and the online description only improves it.

The Coyote Shorts Program:

Department of Injustice (Travis Wood & Chloe Gbai)

Didactic anti-racist dialogue in an ironic-jokey automated phone tree framework. Looks like street and news photography mapped into a 3D gaming engine, which is neat at least.


Spirits and Rocks: An Azorean Myth (Aylin Gökmen)

Opens with b/w volcanic rock photography, so a good pairing with last night’s Rock Bottom Riser. The stock footage scenes announce themselves when the widescreen frame goes square. Smoke and trees and rock, textures and landscapes, really great looking.


VO (Nicolas Gourault)

Former Uber self-driving test riders tell all, circling around an accident that killed a bicyclist in Arizona while the human operator was watching TV episodes on a cellphone instead of looking at the road. Along with news footage and camera views inside and outside the car, we get repeated radar-view driving scenes, what the car “sees” of its environment.


Maat Means Land (Fox Maxy)

Takes the game-engine mashups of the first short to the next level… also this and the second short featured lizards, and there has been a theme of image manipulation – overall a well assembled shorts program. This film has everything at once, too many to start listing, all kinds of distorted music and styles and presentations, returning to scenes involving indigenous people and land. A sign about killing the colonizer in your head cuts straight to Tupac, extremely reminiscent of the latest Adam Curtis.


The Truth About Hastings (Dan Schneidkraut)

And finally the Adam Curtis connection brings us to a Nebraska-set numerology-obsessed conspiracy-theory voiceover over shots of a conference-room family gathering full of meats and Husker games, the picture gradually shimmering and smearing to reveal the alien intelligence underneath. “A Runza restaurant exactly nine minutes away – think about it.”


Plus some non-Coyote shorts we watched over the course of the week…

The I and S of Lives (Kevin Jerome Everson)

Simply a guy rollerskating around the Lives in DC’s Black Lives Matter Plaza… Sicinski compares Everson’s films to Lumiere actualités, I dunno, I find them especially pleasant to watch and hope they become regular, comforting presences in T/F programs. I’m even leaning towards checking out Park Lanes, or at least the shorter Tonsler Park.


Brontosaurus (Jack Dunphy)

This guy’s name kept coming up – I think he was in the online game show with the Beasts of the Southern Wild director and an especially good MC, and this made us decide to check out his film. I was pretty sure I’d remember an eight-minute short i watched late at night (which somehow offended Katy so we watched the Everson afterwards as a palate cleanser) but now it’s a month later and I’m afraid I do not… the only letterboxd review just says “Raw,” which is no help. I can see I rated it 3.5 stars, that ain’t bad!


Homage to the Work of Philip Henry Gosse (Pablo Martín Weber)

Another forgotten short, but apparently well loved and referenced in my All Light, Everywhere notes. Fossils vs. creationism, artificial images and Syrian war.


O Arrais do Mar (Elisa Celda)

The one where we could barely see anything happening, filmed late at night on a Portuguese beach. Some fishing was involved, some hanging out – a long and sleepy movie.