Watching the Detectives (2017, Chris Kennedy)

Silent and over a half hour long, so I played Zero Kama’s The Secret Eye of L.A.Y.L.A.H., as the director undoubtedly would’ve intended if he could’ve afforded the rights. The day or so after the Boston Marathon bombing, represented mostly through screenshots from reddit: marked-up surveillance photos and a long-distance attempt at forensic investigation by the chatmob. At least I liked that the text was against a gentle wash of dark static instead of plain digital black. Last ten minutes is just reporting news with no new redditting.


Once Upon a Screen: Explosive Paradox (2020, Kevin Lee)

Lee’s always in my feed championing essay film, so checking out one of his… it’s short and lo-fi. He parks outside the liquor store that used to be the movie theater where he saw Platoon as a kid, recalling that experience while shooting parking lots and brick walls. The credits shout out the director of The Viewing Booth, which I watched last night.


Green Ash (2019, Pablo Mazzolo)

A landscape turned into blobby light, like peering through fluttering almost-closed eyelids. Ordinary shot of a bush, but the foreground and background bushes jitter and blur independently. Light starts going crazy across grassy fields, a tricky version of Nishikawa’s Tokyo-Ebisu effect, making it feel like this is lo-fi natural footage, but simultaneously taking place in a glitching holodeck. The lush green Argentinian fields with the hand-drawn map at the end gave me La Flor flashbacks. I played Yazz Ahmed’s “Barbara” since the timing matched, very nice.


I Am Micro (2010, Shumona Goel & Shai Heredia)

Narration by a film artist who dreamed of being Godard or Pasolini before everything went commercial and became “scattered,” the camera roving the grounds of an abandoned studio.


Five by Tomonari Nishikawa – all quotes are by the director, from his website.


Tokyo-Ebisu (2010)

Scenes of a noisy train station, frames within the frames showing different actions, sometimes like a shot has been divided into a semi-grid and each segment is playing a different moment in time. Shot on film, which seems excessively difficult, since he says they’re “in-camera visual effects,” so what, mirrors? Exposing partial sections of the film then running it back?


45 7 Broadway (2013)

Times Square, and this time it’s the full frame overlapping with a time-shifted version of itself, but each source has been processed as red, green or blue, appearing to be a 3D effect gone horribly wrong, or a broken RGB projector during an earthquake, quite wonderful.


Manhattan One Two Three Four (2014)

Quick swish pans up, down, and across city buildings, rapidly cut together (“all edited in-camera”), no sound.


Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars (2015)

Crackling hum, and a very scratched mothlighting blue-dyed image, the sprocket holes often visible. This one is political, the film image resulting from being buried in radioactive soil the government said was safe.


Amusement Ride (2019)

Tracking across the metal skeleton of a Japanese ferris wheel, never looking out at the typical views, the camera panning up a bit at a time, “which resembles the movement of a film at the gate of a film projector or camera.”

Found these on Criterion, whoopee!


No Ward (2009)

Short doc focused on hurricane refugees in Texas, dreaming of life in nearby suburban Carrollton. Cocorosie and Four Tet provide glitchy drone music that wouldn’t be out of place in Tenet.


Their Fall Our All (2014)

A long way from the doc, with beautiful photography and sci-fi editing, transporting a few women and girls between realms. Mirrors reflect different people, identities get mixed up, and there’s a subplot involving a senator being blackmailed. Really good.


You and I and You (2015)

An apparently single-take video to two songs by The Dig (not the “why don’t you believe, believe in your own god” Dig), a couple and their kid walking along a road, accosted by different mystical groups until they’ve been separated and transformed.


Jimi Could Have Fallen from the Sky (2017)

“Nance humor is so chaotic,” writes a letterboxd reviewer. An imagined origin story of Jimi Hendrix in seven minutes, with a bunch of actors (incl. Nance, a purple-haired kid, a skydiver) playing Jimi, with dance scenes and audio trickery. Probably the only great biopic.

ExtaZus (2019, Bertrand Mandico)

1. The sword-wielding, red-haired Nirvana Queen, tastes a crystalline rock in front of the orally-attached twins, awakens in a green world surrounded by crystal-headed hook-handed persons, talks to a woman in a bubble with a strong French accent, gets aggressively tongued by a giant cave-mouth, then she disfigures the titular sunglasses-man who’d been typing her story with his Freddy Krueger fingers.

2. She convinces him to create a new heroine named Peach Machine, and he has her dance with death in the desert. Peach is unhappy with her role, and slaps his face off.

3. With the author dead, PM visits NQ. As NQ plays a dual-dicked statue like it’s a Robotron machine, PM approaches and makes out with the face on the back of NQ’s head.


Veslemøy’s Song (2018, Sofia Bohdanowicz)

The Deragh Campbell-as-Audrey short coming between Never Eat Alone and MS Slavic 7. It’s more lively than the previous feature, which is a good sign for the next one. She finds a book about her grandfather’s violin teacher Kathleen Parlow, who played lead on a music piece titled V’s Song that was written for her when she was 18. Audrey flies to NYC to hear the only known recording of this piece, but can only hear part of the record, since the archive will only play excerpts and will not make copies. Not a documentary, of course, despite the real people and events, since we hear the song in the film. Hand-processed film, full of texture and scratches.


The Sky Is Clear And Blue Today (2019, Ricky D’Ambrose)

German lesson repeating the film title… kids recite My Pet Goat to camera… scraps and stories from post-9/11 America. The story proper is about an American director named Helmar contracted by German TV to make a cheap 60-minute film about a photograph showing a happy get-together while the twin towers burned in the background. They cast lookalikes from the photo and resort to digital trickery to fake the location, after the real location owner (Glenn Kenny, introduced as “an especially unpleasant and gluttonous man”) refuses to let them shoot. But the director and eight others die in a fire during production – “it was just like a movie” said the survivors. Fits in nicely with my previous short, stylistically and in its blend of real events with fictional ones, matter-of-factly narrated.


Visit (2020, Jia Zhangke)

Oh noooo, a beautiful short about covid quarantine. I was still getting angry over The Plagiarists and wasn’t ready for anything this delicate and lovely. Add it to the list of movies that show off their directors’ DVD collections: shout out to Suzhou River.


Fire (Pozar) (2020, David Lynch)

Abstract animation solidifies into shapes: a house, a tree, fire. Still images, but the drawn page shakes under the camera. Nice string music with surface noise (added?). Through a burned hole floats a flying creature with hands reaching from its eye sockets. A welcome callback to the very early Lynch shorts blended with the Inland Empire-era web works.


France Against the Robots (2020, Jean-Marie Straub)

Single shot, a man walks along the lake and talks about the sad necessity of revolution, since the capitalist systems aren’t gonna reform themselves. Then the credits repeat, and the film repeats – but at a different time of day, and with more swans about.


Pigeons and Architecture (2020, Anne Linke)

A chill movie looking at how pigeons live in buildings, and how people who love pigeons illicitly feed them by shawshanking healthy grains down their pantlegs, something I will be doing wherever I go from now on.

Visions of an Island (2016)

Portrait of an Aleutian island, interview of a local man with attention to language and landscape and animal life. Doubling and overlaps, adding and removing sounds, manipulating the colors (with a cool moment where you see the before and after). A town in the sky, the sea in the sky. Seals and jellyfish… this has got everything.


Space Without Path or Boundary / Anti-Objects (2017)

Rough/archival sound recordings, and rough audio editing to go with it. Wilderness and city, with some of the most abstract color-field, motion-smear and hand-marked imagery I’ve seen yet from Hopinka. Focused less around descriptive text like the last one, more conceptual.


Fainting Spells (2018)

A whole different sort of thing. Letters written to a friend (who sometimes passes out) scroll from right to left, while the imagery ranges from vertical landscapes seen through an eyeball lens to invisible hooded persons against abstract backdrops to roads along burned-up hills to all sorts of landscapes.


Lore (2019)

At band practice playing a Bo Diddley song, but more usually, on an overhead projector shuffling through colored films, a poetic correspondence spoken throughout.

Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis (2009)

Time-lapse impressions of trees, or the light through and around trees, gives way to flicker impressions, colored like abstract stained glass, gives way to fast smeary movement, the trees now only occasionally recognizable as trees. Set to a manic violin drone by Malcolm Goldstein.


Engram of Returning (2016)

More black than image in this one, the picture coming through in snatches… maybe a snowy hillside, or a body of water, the camera shutter pulsing with the tide. Halfway through we get superimposed landscapes, then things break down very colorfully towards the end. I like that his movies shift from one kind of indescribable thing at their beginnings into completely different kinds of things. Buzzing insect of a soundtrack by Jason Sharp (that was a saxophone??).

The description calls it a “metaphysical travelogue,” fair enough. Saito cofounded a Canadian film collective with a pretty good manifesto. I also re-read Jordan Cronk’s Cinema Scope piece, which is too complex to excerpt here.

Going through some animation and avant-garde DVDs on a Saturday afternoon, looking for shorts I’ve never seen before… time well spent.


Cinq minutes de cinema pure (1926, Henri Chomette)

Silent light shines on glassy objects… spinning and cross-fading, never lingering more than a few seconds on each pattern. We go unexpectedly outside to a forest and pond with blown-out white skies in the final minute. It’s pure cinema, I suppose. Chomette was René Clair’s brother.


Dots (1940, Norman McLaren)

Hand-drawn on 35mm (including the soundtrack!), a rhythmic dance of blue dots on a red field, short and very fun.


Mail Early (1941, Norman McLaren)

Public service announcement to not wait till the last minute to send your Christmas mail, via lively hand-drawn envelopes flying across screen to a jazzy Jingle Bells.


Mail Early for Christmas (1959, Norman McLaren)

The remake is shorter and crazier, all flashing light and pattern (etched on film with “vibra-drill”), the title message coming through in single-frame flickers.


Lines Vertical (1960, Norman McLaren)

The line pongs left and right, multiplying again and again until the background color field starts to shift as the line-dance gets more complex. Various optical illusions: imagining the filmstrip flying upwards is easy with this short, and at a few points the lines’ relative thickness with their back-and-forth motion gives the impression of cylindrical columns. Music sounds like electric harp emulating wind chimes and is very soothing.

The lines definitely get un-vertical at the end:


Mosaic (1965, Norman McLaren)

Lines Horizontal is literally Lines Vertical turned on its side, so I skipped to Mosaic, whiich is the two of them superimposed and processed somehow. I was expecting a shifting line grid, but I got dots, maybe the vertices of the intersecting lines. More sputtering hand-drawn sounds (now with added reverb), the white dots flickering to color in brief spots.


Two Greedy Bear Cubs (1954, Vladimir Degtyaryov)

Early post-Stalin film from the first History of Soviet Puppet Animation DVD. Bright fairy-tale stop-motion puppetry about two sibling bears who promise to share equally, but fight over the bedding and over their breakfast, then when they find a gigantic block of cheese they can’t figure how to split it equally until a helpful fox comes to help, creating unequal sides, then biting chunks off the larger piece each time the whiny bears complain about their smaller share, until the bears are left with crumbs.


Kolobok (1956, Roman Davydov)

Love the look of this one, like the wooden incense-smoking figurines my family used to collect. Six decades before Pixar’s Bao, a childless couple bakes a gingerbread bun and it comes to life. The bun romps through the fields and woods, taunting the bear and wolf while singing a happy song about how delicious it must be, until a fox (again with the foxes) chases it to safety at home where it lives happily with its family.


How to Kiss (1988, Bill Plympton)

A classic example of Plympton finding a multitude of ways to turn something lovely into ghastly images. Our lovers end up dead or mutilated many times over – practically a horror movie.


Nosehair (1995, Bill Plympton)

Man struggles to remove a nosehair, and I thought this would end up like Wisdom Teeth, but it goes in remarkable new directions, too many to describe. The hair turns into a line, and for a while the movie becomes a riff on all things animators can create from simple lines. Can’t believe I’d never seen this, it’s one of his greats.


Aria (2001, Pjotr Sapegin)

You know it’s classy from the opera music, but it also opens with some explicit puppet sex. After a fling with a sailor, the Island Woman gives birth… and never cuts the cord, so she and her daughter fly each other like kites. That is not even nearly the craziest thing that happens, for when the sailor and his Barbie wife come to take the child away, the woman undoes herself, down to her puppet armature and beyond, some 14 years before Anomalisa.


The Dingles (1988, Les Drew)

Gentle, over-narrated kids’ cartoon about a woman and her three cats who experience a minor drama when a thunderstorm arrives.


The Magic Pear Tree (1968, Charles Swenson)

A Decameron story. Jean visits the Marquis, he makes her prove her love with difficult tasks before he’ll have sex with her. A cheap-looking silly-ass movie, so of course it’s oscar-nominated. Swenson later wrote Fievel Goes West and produced Rugrats, Jimmy Murakami produced, and the overqualified voice cast includes Agnes Moorhead (Citizen Kane) and Keenan Wynn (Dr. Strangelove).


Hell’s Bells (1929, Ub Iwerks)

You don’t expect a Disney cartoon to take place in hell. Betty Boop-lite antics as demons and bats dance and transform to the music. The Silly Symphonies tend to seem more like a bit of fun than anything of great interest… time-filler content before the feature. Carl Stalling, however – I hope he died a billionaire.


Projekt (1981, Jirí Barta)

Apartment building is drafted in stop-motion, then furnishings and residents are added, each with their own art style and soundtrack, until all the soundtracks are playing at once, then the architect runs a roller over the building until everything is colorlessly conformist again. Pretty great.


Ballad of the Green Wood (1983, Jirí Barta)

Now beyond paper and ink, he’s animating light, wood and water, mud, worms and plants. An anthropomorphic piece of split wood is eaten by a crow, who becomes part wood, transforming into a wood-demon crow-bat harbinger of winter, until a wooden soldier arrives and slays him to bring back the spring. I think from the art style that it might represent Christians burning pagans? It brought to mind Hannah Gadsby‘s “am I made of box?” and also was amazing in every way – I’ve seen Jirí Barta’s name around before, and now I must see everything.


When the Leaves Have Fallen from the Oak (1991, Vlasta Pospisilova)

A long one, almost a half hour. Superb puppet animation, very talky and unsubtitled, but I usually knew what’s going on. Devil arrives in a whirlwind to a drunken failure of a farmer, will give him magic contraptions to make the farm thrive if he only signs a contract surrendering his firstborn. The farmer attempts suicide when collection time is near and… an old man hears his story then rolls around in honey and feathers? Anyway the farmer ends up in hell himself, running a daily routine of freezing / boiling / hard labor / drinking, until he breaks the cycle by refusing to drink anymore. Another devil contract to bring the farm back to life, this time he fools the devil by promising something when the leaves of an evergreen begin to fall… surprised it’s so easy to fool the devil, but it’s nice to see things work out for once. Vlasta also did animation for directors such as Kihachiro Kawamoto and Jan Svankmajer.


Is The Earth Round? (1977, Priit Pärn)

A boy reads that you can prove the earth is round by walking in one direction until you end up where you started – so he does, but arrives home as an old man. Appreciate the seventies freakout rock & roll, and when his empty pockets become wings and fly him out of the city.


Hotell E (1992, Priit Pärn)

I did not even nearly follow the metaphors here. After a couple of prologues, the movie splits between two worlds: a clock-driven monochrome fly-infested hellscape, and a music-video new-age dreamscape, each mirroring one of the prologues. There’s a door, and they begin to intersect. Movie goes on for ages, always repeating actions but always in new variations. It seems angry.

I read a couple good write-ups of this festival, then realized the whole thing was freely viewable online for a limited time. I skipped around, but these are all selections from their second program.


Demoiselle (Eeva Siivonen)

The camera is in a garden, getting very close to leaves and flowers, so close that I don’t know how it can focus clearly, surely none of my cameras could. I was not expecting Alain Resnais to pop up and start questioning the filmmaker, who is creating a tribute to Claude Monet, and requesting alongside his all-male crew that she step aside.


Dusty Wave (Eeva Siivonen)

This time a dead forest at night, lit by flashlight, the subtitles a story told by a moth.


Camera Sick (Jeremy Moss)

Jeremy takes a camera (a film camera! avant-gardists love the texture) into the desert and spins around until he falls over. Some good stutter effects when it spins faster than the framerate can keep up. You can’t just use the “Tammy’s in love” song in a movie, it’s already been reclaimed by Terence Davies.


Noonwraith Blues (Kamila Kuc)

Field and scythe, a smear of mud, and much mothlighting in between.


Fire Fly EYE (Kerry Laitala)

Forest fire embers, electric ghosts and starling murmurations entwine over a locked-groove ambient track. Output from a “dual projection expanded cinema work,” which had me very suspicious, but my recent obsessions over fires and birds and electricity all come alive here to thrilling effect.


Fragment (1988, Laura J. Padgett)

More patterns and close-up objects over murmured conversation

Notes on Film 01: Else (2002)

Five-panel video up top, starring a woman in what look like camera tests, sometimes holding numbered cards, while down below the word IF transforms into THEN and ELSE via lines slowly sliding. Big string music, the sliding lines are fun but the woman is far more eye-catching. The URL in the credits has expired.


Notes on Film 05: Conference (2011)

A cacophony of cinematic Hitlers, one after the other, their voices replaced by distorted static which gets louder according to how much each Hitler is shouting. After a Mel Brooks appearance we see film leader then a Hitler in a movie theater, so maybe all these Hitlers are being screened for another Hitler. The footage has all been processed with some heavy grain so it’ll match better.


Notes on Film 04: Intermezzo (2012)

Escalator chase scene from Chaplin’s The Floorwalker remixed to a rock song. “Play Loud,” it says, so I did.


Notes on Film 06A: A Messenger from the Shadows (2013)

Another multi-film montage, but this time Lon Chaney instead of Hitler – an improvement. The montage is fun, but really works because of the great music and sound design. More distorted-Hitler when people talk on the phone, at least one piece of actual sound footage. Love the climactic death-and-destruction montage.

Watched all these because of a rave article in Cinema Scope 56 about Notes on Film 06B, which takes the Lon Chaney approach but with Boris Karloff, and which I cannot find.

The Big Shave (1967, Martin Scorsese)

Scorsese’s queasiest film? Guy just keeps shaving until he is bloody all over, ending with a full cross-throat red slash. Jazz score with no direct sound, very student-filmy.

We’re Going to the Zoo (Josh Safdie +3)

Stop-motion opening title, nice. Woman on a long drive pulls over for a minute when she spills her coffee and hitchhiker Josh jumps in back with her little brother. They stop at a diner and dine-and-dash, but he runs back in and pays? He gets lectured about sex before marriage from a rest-stop cashier. They have a fun ride, drop him off, proceed to the zoo which is closed, then pick him up on the way back. Lo-fi camera.

When We Lived in Miami (2013, Amy Seimetz)

Scenes of a woman and her daughter in Miami, a day or two before a hurricane comes through, then it adds her cheating husband into the mix. Lovely editing.

The Lonedale Operator (2018, Michael Almereyda)

John Ashbery recalls his childhood love of movies, and the viewing of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which led to his beginning to write poetry at age 8. He’s interviewed in color 16mm, reading from his own letters, with photos and film footage cut in. He moved to Paris and binge-watched silents at the Cinematheque… pretty standard interview doc except for a cool bit of editing between classic films at the end, and the factor that this was filmed just months before Ashbery’s death. DP Sean Price Williams is just everywhere.

Pinball (2013, Suzan Pitt)

The director’s own paintings, detailed and turntabled then fast-cut to the music Ballet Mechanique. So far Pitt is 2 for 2, and there’s more on the Channel – hope it’s sticking around.