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.

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:
image

Mouseover to give Droopy a better gun:
image


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.