Silent newsreel footage played at a handful of frames per second, beginning with Il Duce’s death. Unfortunately I am not someone well-versed in history who says “ah it’s that famous footage I know so well of the notorious event at the end of Il Duce’s life,” but rather I am someone who has to wikipedia who Il Duce was… ah, it’s Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy for twenty years. The movie then flashes back to footage from early in his reign and carries on forward.

It’s silent for the first ten minutes, then gentle glimmering drone music kicks in as Duce stands at some kind of parade or rally, looking like the fourth Stooge. Closeups of the Great Man get intensely slowed down, while crowd shots of darker-skinned people run at almost full speed.

Segment 3 in Tripoli features a Florence Foster Jenkins song about modern Europe letting refugees die. 100,000 Libyans were shot in the 1920’s? Italy carried out a North African genocide by raining poison gas from planes? Someone needs to look into this. The movie is doing some sort of Ken Jacobs thing, hypnotizing the viewer with archive footage (I fell asleep at least once and had to rewind). “Barbaric Land” was a phrase used about Ethiopia when Italy was colonizing.

The evil dictator… the fascist system… the normal people who carried out orders to exterminate thousands, photos of them smiling casually next to their planes loaded with poison gas, and period pictures of Africans representing the victims… a photo slideshow, the pictures handheld by gloved fingers, trembling in front of the camera.

A fairly minor Johnnie To movie compared to the last two I saw, building up suspense in a hospital between a doctor (Wei Zhao of Shaolin Soccer and Red Cliff), a cop (Louis Koo, the Paperman of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart) and a criminal (Wallace Chung of Drug War). Adding some Life Without Principle flair, each of our leads is compromised in some way: Dr. Tong keeps botching surgeries and is tricked into helping the criminals, Chief Inspector Ken plants evidence, and jewel thief Shun, well, he’s an overconfident supervillain full of nasty tricks and secret plans, with no qualms about gunning down all the civilians in the emergency room in a climactic shootout. Shun has also memorized quotes from literature and the entire Hippocratic Oath, dispersing his knowledge to make doctors and cops feel bad about themselves. Oh, and there’s policeman Fatty, Suet Lam (Fatso in Mad Detective, Fat in Exiled). Anyway, the actors are fun and the camerawork is on point.

The Three:

Either I didn’t pay enough attention to story or my subtitles were funky, because the plot description on letterboxd is confusing. “A thug shoots himself to force the cops to cease fire,” that scene’s not in the movie and I thought one of Inspector Ken’s men shot the thug – there’s even a subplot about Shun putting out a hit on the shooter. “The detective in charge sees through his scheme but decides to play along so as to capture his whole gang,” I’m not so sure about that one either, but it’s possible. Anyway, lots of people die then Dr. Tong goes back to killing and crippling patients and Inspector Ken resigns.

Fatty in climactic super-slow-mo shootout:

Typical To composition of people dramatically standing around:

Mesmerising footage using slow-motion and time-lapse to make ordinary things (clouds, a night drive, video games, stock exchange) look wonderous.

Glass:

Several generations have grown up looking at those images, but in ’78 they were extremely startling and it was like looking at the world for the first time.

Reggio: “It’s not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It’s because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live.”

Rebaixes!

I knew what Reggio was going for with the images, but was pondering how, until the final title cards (defining the title as life in turmoil / disintegrating / out of balance), it’d be possible to see most of the movie as a positive celebration of technological progress. Reggio apparently meant it to be ambiguous in this way.

Set to a rightly celebrated Philip Glass score (reminded me at times of the latest Tortoise album), shot by Ron Fricke (Baraka, Chronos), played in competition in Berlin (with La Belle Captive and Pauline at the Beach). But most importantly, someone at IMDB has figured out how many frames of this film contain topless footage of Marilyn Chambers (four).

Pruitt-Igoe:

From the extras it looks like the movie could’ve become a hippie happening, with staged art events and an Allen Ginsberg spoken-word response soundtrack, before the concept was reworked. Reggio was inspired to filmmaking by Los Olvidados and there’s a good segment on his ACLU-sponsored anti-surveillance campaign.

My preparatory viewings of various Crime and Punishment adaptations didn’t end up preparing me at all for Whispering Pages, which uses none of the main events from the novel, instead taking minor scenes and mashing them up with other novels, creating a general tone of miserablist 19th century Russian literature without bothering itself with a story.

Extreme Slow Cinema here, but Sokurov keeps it short, under 80 minutes. He seems to love paintings and long takes. Motion shots turn to stills. The color temperature of shots changes. The picture sometimes looks blurred or stretched or warped, but given the stills I’ve seen of Mother and Son, this is probably intentional. Film grain and rolling mist are more main characters than our lead actor A. Cherednik, who speaks with a breathy Peter Lorre voice and seems to have killed someone offscreen.

Overall I wasn’t a fan, but it does have some mesmerising moments. There’s the main dialogue scene with E. Koroleva, in which he tells her that he’s killed someone and they debate him turning himself in and the existence of God, and she reacts like this:

There’s an obscure bureaucracy scene with this weirdo:

And there’s an inexplicable (dream sequence?) where everyone around our hero is leaping in slow-motion into unknown depths. Stills can’t do that shot justice, so instead here is some mist.

More consistently great than part one, with higher high points (Robert Morgan!). I’m tempted to make a playlist of ABCs highlights and edit myself a super-anthology but I’ll wait until part three comes out next year.


Amateur
Imagined scenario of cool, efficient sniper in the air vents taking out his target, then reality of tight insect-infested ducts full of nails. Great ending. Director EL Katz also made Cheap Thrills.


Badger
Directed by and starring Julian “Howard Moon” Barratt. Asshole nature-doc spokesman (Barratt) is abusive to his crew, gets eaten by badgers.


Capital Punishment
Local gang of vigilantes take a dude suspected of killing a girl out to the woods and clumsily behead him. Meanwhile the girl turns out to have run away, is fine. Director Julian Gilbey made A Lonely Place To Die, which is probably better than Wingard’s A Horrible Way To Die.


Deloused
I probably would’ve skipped ABCs of Death 2 had I not heard that Robert Morgan was involved. This was… inexplicable… and amazing, and ultimately makes the entire anthology worthwhile. Involves insects and beheadings and knife-arms.

Equilibrium
Funny and well put-together, with single long takes simulating time passing. Couple of idiots stranded on a beach are unexpectedly joined by a pretty girl. Jealousy ensues, then they return to bliss by killing the girl. Alejandro Brugués made the Cuban Juan of the Dead.

Falling
Israel/Palestine, woman whose parachute is stuck in a tree convinces a rifle-toting kid to cut her down, he accidentally shoots himself in the head. Nicely shot, anyway. Directors Keshales and Papushado made Israeli horrors Rabies and Big Bad Wolves (a Tarantino fave).


Grandad
Grandad is tired of his disrespectful grandson living with him. Jim Hosking is working on something called The Greasy Strangler next. Grandad Nicholas Amer has been around, worked with Peter Greenaway, Jacques Demy and Terence Davies.


Head Games
During a makeout session, a couple’s facial features go to war with each other in classic Plympton style. One of two Bill Plympton anthology segments from this year – we missed The Prophet.


Invincible
Old woman will not die, siblings want her inheritance and try everything to kill her. Stylishly shot (as are most of these, so it’s maybe not worth writing that anymore). Erik Matti (Philippines) got awards for crime flick On The Job last year.


Jesus
I think it’s supposed to be payback on a couple of dudes who torture and murder homosexuals, but when the kidnapped gay guy displays his demonic powers I’m not sure what’s going on anymore. Dennison Ramalho wrote latter-day Coffin Joe sequel Embodiment of Evil and actor Francisco Barreiro is showing up everywhere this month.


Knell
Initial scene where girl witnesses supernatural globe over the building across the street followed by people in every apartment turning violent was like Rear Window meets The Screwfly Solution, then it continues in the direction of total doom. Directors Buozyte and Samper are apparently Lithuanian, also made a surreal sci-fi thing called Vanishing Waves.


Legacy
Guy to be sacrificed is being set free and is arguing with this decision, and I lose the plot after that, but there are groovy, cheap Metalocalypse-looking gore effects. Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen is Nigerian, has made a million movies so far since 2003.


Masticate
Drugged-out flesh-eating fat man goes on rampage before he’s killed by cop, all in slow-motion and set to a jangly pop song. Robert Boocheck made a short that apparently played in an anthology called Seven Hells.


Nexus
Cleverly timed and editing, goes for tension instead of twist ending since we figure out early on that the distracted cabbie is gonna hit the guy dressed as Frankenstein. Larry Fessenden made Habit and Wendigo and The Last Winter, all of which have been on my to-watch list forever and just came out on blu-ray.


Ohlocracy (mob rule)
After the cure for zombiesm is found, human zombie-killers are sentenced to death by a kangaroo court. Hajime Ohata made the non-Kafka movie called Metamorphosis.


P-P-P-P Scary!
Poppy, Kirby and Bart look like escaped convicts, have big noses, meet a face-morphing guy who does a jig, blows out their candles and murders them inexplicably. Todd Rohal made The Catechism Cataclysm, and I might’ve guessed this was him.


Questionnaire
While a guy correctly answers questions on an intelligence test, we see flash-forwards to the “career opportunities” the interviewer has in mind for him (brain transplant with gorilla). I watched Rodney Ascher’s The Nightmare just last week.


Roulette
German game of Russian Roulette ends with the sixth-chamber guy shooting his beloved instead of himself, as some unknown evil approaches. Marvin Kren made Rammbock and Blood Glacier.


Split
Like a remake of Suspense but with more baby murdering. Hammer-wielding intruder destroys family of cheating husband(s) during a phone call.
Juan Martinez Moreno made horror-comedy Game of Werewolves.


Torture Porn
Girl in porn audition turns out to be Cthulhu, I guess. Jen and Sylvia Soska are identical twins who made American Mary and Dead Hooker in a Trunk.


Utopia
Self-driving incineration machines deal with non-beautiful people. Vincenzo Natali made Cube and Splice.


Vacation
Dude is on phone with girlfriend when dude’s friend reveals they’ve been doing drugs and prostitutes while on vacation. The friend is disrespectful, and one prostitute stabs him many times with a screwdriver. Jerome Sable made last year’s Meat Loaf-starring Stage Fright.


Wish
Kids go inside their off-brand Masters of the Universe playset, discover it’s horrible in there. Steven Kostanski made Manborg, which looks similarly wonderful.


Xylophone
Kid won’t stop playing her damned toy xylophone while babysitter Beatrice Dalle (of Inside, the first actor I’ve recognized since Julian Barratt in letter B) is trying to listen to opera records. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo made Inside, of course. Credits say Beatrice is the grandmother not the babysitter, which makes sense since babysitters should leave antique record players alone.


Youth
Miyuki hates her mom and stepdad, imagines them dying in tremendous ways. Soichi Umezawa is a longtime makeup artist who worked on Bright Future and Dr. Akagi.


Zygote
Dad abandons pregnant mom with a 13-year supply of a root that delays labor. Horribleness ensues. Chris Nash has made a bunch of shorts.

Redux is playing in theaters, so I watched the original first to get all the plot and characters straight. I know that Plot And Characters Do Not Make The Movie, but even with crazy movies like this and Out 1, I like being able to keep all that stuff straight before I can lose myself in the atmosphere of the film. Also, although there are about eight mega-superstar actors in this, I only recognize half of them. My Hong Kong/Chinese moviewatching has fallen sadly behind. A study guide follows.

Leslie Cheung is in all the framing-device scenes, probably the single star of the movie. Easily recognized throughout by the mustache. Moved out to the desert to forget his true love, Maggie Cheung, who got tired of waiting for him and married his brother. Sort of a swordsman matchmaker – hooks up would-be killers with people who need somebody killed. One day will be called Malicious West.
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Seen him in: Farewell My Concubine, The Chinese Feast
Still need to see: A Chinese Ghost Story, A Better Tomorrow

Tony Leung Ka Fai, or “Tony 2” – old friend of Leslie’s, comes around once a year. This time he brings a wine of forgetfulness for Leslie to drink, but ends up drinking it himself. Visited Maggie Cheung once a year, gave her an update on Leslie. A ladies man, I think he’s in love with Carina Lau. Will later be known as Evil East.
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Seen him in: Dumplings
Still need to see: Election, The Lover

Maggie Cheung – object of affection of the above men. She gives the wine to Tony 2 to be given to her ex, Leslie, in hopes that Leslie will forget her. Dies of an illness before most of the movie takes place, but we don’t find that out till the end.
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Seen her in: Irma Vep, In The Mood For Love
Still need to see: Comrades, Centre Stage

Brigitte Lin – crazy woman who comes around as a “man” trying to hire a killer for Tony 2, then comes back as herself trying to hire a killer for her “brother”. She fights and almost kills ex-flame Tony 2 herself at one point, maybe when she first met him, then later becomes obsessed with him. Finally goes off into the desert practicing sword skills on her reflection.
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Seen her in: Chungking Express, Royal Tramp 2
Still need to see: Bride With White Hair, Swordsman 2, Police Story

Tony Leung Chiu Wai (“Tony 1”) – former best friend of Tony 2, is quickly going blind. Needs one last high-paying job so he can afford to go home and see “the peach blossoms” (see below) before his vision fades completely. Hires on to protect a nearby town from bandits, but the bandits take too long to show up, he loses more of his sight, and he dies in the battle when clouds darken the sky. Perfect role for Tony 1, the saddest of all actors.
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Seen him in: 2046, Infernal Affairs
Still need to see: Cyclo, City of Sadness

Carina Lau – beloved of Tony 1, named Peach Blossom. Mostly crouches in flashback looking awesome… has hardly any lines. She fell in love with Tony 2 years ago, which is why Tony 1 is alone and sad.
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Seen her in: 2046 (she’s Lulu/Mimi), Flowers of Shanghai
Still need to see: Curiosity Killed The Cat, Intimates

Charlie Yeung – poor girl who wants to hire a swordsman to avenge her brother’s death at the hands of the militia with some eggs and a mule. Leslie and Tony 1 turn her down, and Tony breaks her eggs.
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Seen her in: Seven Swords, Fallen Angels
Still need to see: Butterfly Lovers

Jacky Cheung – dirty, barefoot, badass swordsman. Leslie hooks him up, gives business and strategy advice. Jacky is well paid for defeating the bandits, and also takes on the militia in exchange for Charlie’s egg (but almost dies). Rides off with his wife (not Charlie) in the end. One day to be known as the Northern Beggar, will fight a doubly-fatal duel with Leslie years later.
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Seen him in: Once Upon a Time in China, As Tears Go By
Still need to see: Bullet in the Head

Movie is an imagined prequel to popular novel “Eagle Shooting Heroes.” All the cast members also appear in film The Eagle Shooting Heroes, a parody dir. by Jeffrey Lau, with supposed participation by Wong and Sammo Hung. Will have to see to believe. Edit: Found it, watched in between Ashes and Redux, reviewed here, still not sure if I quite believe it! Other filmed versions of Eagle Shooting Heroes all seem to be TV series, although Royal Tramp and the Swordsman series are based on other books by the same author.

Screenshots above are from a scrappy foreign DVD (still not half as scrappy as the American disc looked), then a week later I ran out and watched Ashes Redux on lovely new 35mm (minus the topmost and leftmost 5% of the picture – thanks, Landmark). I am not considering these two separate movies, of course. Don’t know why the IMDB has a new page for Redux – they don’t have five different pages for The New World. Besides being able to see what’s going on and properly appreciate the glorious cinematography, Redux straightens out the plot threads at the start and end, the bits about the memory wine, Tony 2, Leslie and Maggie. It also cuts out a whole fight scene, the one that the original drops the viewer into at the beginning without explaining a damned thing. I miss that fight scene – it was awesome, and one of my favorite shots of the video was in it: a black-eyed, wild-haired Tony 2 giving a monstrous, slow-mo, silent scream.

I did understand everything better while watching Redux – but is that because Wong re-edited, or because I’d spent the week before studying the movie? I don’t think of myself as the type who champions straightforward stories over complex mood pieces, but Redux does probably work better. Movie leads up to this grand emotional moment of Maggie crying over her lost Leslie, talking about her failure to spend the best years of her life next to the person she loves most, and if you didn’t couldn’t make sense of the wild first ten minutes of the film, that’s not going to hit very hard. I’m apparently only good at summarizing plot and character, which, as I said three pages ago, isn’t what makes the movie. The desert, the mountains, the spinning birdcage, the haze, eclipses, sudden swordfights, and endless stories of lost love all add up to a pure and excellent film. I’m not saying it’s my favorite – most of Wong’s films are excellent – but it’s up there.

Writes T. Brogan on the film vs. novel:

The original plot actually dealt with two characters nicknamed “Evil East” and “Wicked West”, aged, respected and feared demi-gods in the pugilistic world. Arch rivals, their tussle for power was the backdrop against which Cha’s main protagonists (a pair of lovers from the entire trilogy series) were tested in terms of their wits, loyalty and love for one another. In Wong’s film, however, the hands of time have been turned back, and the focus is primarily on the two men, now portrayed in their prime, and seeks to “explain” the beginnings of their bitter feud in a progressive manner.

Wong:

Basically the film is about emotions. It’s a love story about Dongxie [Tony 2], Xidu [Leslie] and a woman, spanning half a life time. Certain emotions are eternal. When I got to the film’s ending I finally realized what Ashes of Time is about, and its relationship with my previous films. They are all about refusal and the fear of refusal. Everyone in Days of Being Wild has been refused. They become afraid of being refused, so they refuse other people before other people have a chance to refuse them. It’s the same in Chungking Express. But I think I have changed, so the film has an open ending. Tony Leung and Faye Wong don’t really know where they stand with each other, but they know they can accept each other. Ashes is most deadly. It sums up the three previous films. How do you go on with your life after you’ve been refused, and you’re afraid of being refused to begin with? So [Brigitte] Lin Chin Hsia becomes schizophrenic, Tony [1] resorts to the most destructive method to solve his problems; Leslie Cheung hides in the desert; Tony [2] drinks himself to amnesia. The only exception is Hong Qi [Jacky]. He doesn’t think being refused is a big deal. He just goes ahead to do what he thinks is the right thing.

I read about this when researching Ashes of Time and wasn’t sure I believed it existed… but whattaya know, the video store has it on DVD. And in crystal-clear quality with good subtitles, versus my blurry, half-assed copy of Ashes of Time. How’s that for justice? Oh well, Ashes gets a sparking theatrical reissue with a blu-ray disc to follow, so I guess time heals.

If you’d run these two movies back-to-back I wouldn’t have even suspected they’re both based on the same novel. Yeah, I’d be aware that most of the same actors are here, and some character names are the same, and both movies have borderline-incomprehensible plots, but the only person who seems vaguely similar is Jacky Cheung’s beggar king. This was exec-produced by Wong Kar-Wai, with great fight choreography by Sammo Hung, and shot at the same time as Ashes. Of course, this came out a year earlier because of Wong’s legendary slowness. And it was a bigger hit, because of Wong’s legendary artiness.

It’s actually a good movie… I enjoyed it more than Katy was enjoying Smart People in the other room. Some of the jokes are funny, some of the action is awesome, color is bright, editing is controlled and coherent, and it never drags. Everyone seems dubbed, though. It’s stupid as hell, but in a fun way. I’m not gonna try too hard to get the plot details straight, but here’s an actor/character spread to match the one I did for Ashes:

Tony “Tony 1” Leung Chiu Wai held his title as “the saddest of all actors” for three days, before it was revoked. This screen shot should indicate why. Here he’s an unexplained evil dude who chases the princess to obtain the royal seal and usurp the throne. It doesn’t go well… despite his very powerful toad-style kung fu, he’s beaten to hell (in self-defense) by Jacky Cheung and defeated at the palace by the combined forces of the good guys, so he decides he’s a giant duck and happily joins the cave monsters. Tony 1 has probably got the most complicated story and the most screen time, and he does a great job, really, as an evil goofball warrior. His name is Ouyang Feng (Leslie’s role in Ashes).
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Veronica Yip is Tony 1’s evil partner. I don’t know where she goes between the first few scenes and the last few.
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Brigitte Lin is the princess being chased by those two. Everybody humors her one kung fu attack, which is powerful but lacks any accuracy. She’s poisoned at the end, but that turns out to be nothing. She was engaged to Prince Duan, but that also turns out to be nothing.
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Leslie Cheung is Yaoshi, a kung fu master chosen to protect the princess. He has a mark of three sixes on his chest, which for some reason doesn’t make him the devil, but rather Tony 2’s one true love. He is sweet on Suqiu, who is the only girl he’d ever seen until the princess comes along. He’s playing the role Tony 2 did in Ashes.
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Joey Wang is Suqiu, Leslie’s sweetheart who fears losing him so follows him and the princess. I think she gets him back in the finale, from the way they’re fighting together. Joey was supposed to be in Ashes of Time, but when she couldn’t do re-shoots, was replaced by Charlie Yeung, another girl with a boy’s name.
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Carina Lau is Zhou Botong – she’s actually playing a male monk, not ambiguous like Brigitte in Ashes. When her master is killed by a magical boot discarded by Tony 1, she thinks it’s Leslie’s fault, and follows them parallel to Suqiu to take revenge. Movie ends with her dreaming of her master returning to requite her love – weird.
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Tony “Tony 2” Leung Ka Fai is Duan, a lame but extremely powerful guy who speaks English in his first scene. He’s engaged to the princess, but wanting to be immortal, he goes looking for his immortal true love. When he finds Leslie and tricks him into saying “I love you” three times (there is cross-dressing involved, and a floating disembodied head), Tony 2 ascends to heaven, returning in the finale to kick Tony 1’s ass.
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Jacky Cheung is Hong Qi the beggar king, cousin of Suqiu who wants desperately to marry her. She won’t marry him so he decides to die instead, tries to get every passing kung-fu master to kill him, but he’s too powerful and ends up hurting them instead. Funny that the only happy guy in Ashes should end up playing a suicidal version of the same character in the comic parody.
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Maggie Cheung barely appears in this, just like she barely appears in Ashes and 2046. Maybe it’s an in-joke, or maybe it’s because IMDB lists twelve other 1993 movies she acted in (not including 1994’s Ashes). She is a sorceress who gives the evil duo some malfunctioning equipment (magic flying boots and invincible killer bees) and shows up in the finale to help kick ass.
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Director Lau made some Stephen Chow movies and another Wong Kar-Wai parody (Chinese Odyssey 2002), again produced by Wong himself.

Excerpts from DVDTalk’s review:

written by no one apparently (there is no credited screenplay)… Lau and his cast appear to have never met a silly joke they haven’t liked, even resorting to Three Stooges-style eye pokes and rubber gorilla suits… I was never entirely sure who was after what mystical book or royal seal, nor could I always tell who hated whom and why… everyone gets chased by the vengeance seeking, chubby homosexual Zho Botong (2046’s Carina Lau playing a man). Most of the characters change allegiances at least once, several do so while hallucinating… Really, it’s the fights that are the best part of Eagle Shooting Heroes, when the movie can take a break from the headache-inducing script (or lack thereof) and show off a little… Eagle Shooting Heroes was shot by the awesome Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, The Promise), which only adds to the incredible roster of talent that threw standards to the wind and made this goofball adventure. It makes it all the more of a waste that Wong Kar-Wai didn’t hire a real comedy writer to whip the material into shape. All of his people are ready to totally go for it, just what “it” is seems to confuse them all.

NAFF says: “We celebrate their 45th birthday with this meticulously-chosen collection selected and introduced by Canyon Cinema’s executive director Dominic Angerame.” I don’t know what it means to be meticulously chosen. I mean, I assume Dominic is well familiar with Canyon’s films and he might’ve agonized over the selection, wondering how best to artistically and effectively represent his company’s holdings. Anyway, it was a very good selection, but NAFF could’ve been more meticulous with the presentation, misthreading one film which caused delays during which half the audience left early. But let’s face it, half the audience always leaves early during avant-garde film presentations. On with the descriptions… italic text is quoted from NAFF’s descriptions, regular text is from me.

Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (Martin Arnold, Austria 1998, 15 min.), where Arnold remixes several clips of a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland Andy Hardy film to form an erotic Oedipal musical.

I talked briefly about this one here and here. Seeing again on a giant screen in a nice theater with a packed audience was rewarding. Lots of laughter when people caught onto the oedipal/sexual jokes. Brilliant movie and concept – still one of my favorites.

Autumn Leaves (Donna Cameron, USA 1994, 6 min.), where the splendor and pleasures of autumn are the focus of this richly textured and brilliantly colored paper emulsion film.

I don’t remember it! I know I liked it – I liked all of these, but I do not remember in what specific ways I liked it. A shame, possibly.

China Girls (Michelle Silva, USA 2006, 3 min.), a short composition of women posing for skin tone and color slates used in film leaders that reveal some skin and the aesthetics of their day through film stocks and fashions.

Didn’t love this one, actually – all slates and countdowns and blips and test patterns. I see that stuff at work all day. I mean, yeah they were vintage test patterns with subliminal shots of women with carefully-maintained hairdos. A minute longer might’ve been too much, but this was harmless, probably of interest to someone else.

Delicacies of Molten Horror Synapse (Stan Brakhage, USA 1991, 10 min.), where four superimposed rolls of hand-painted and bi-packed television negative imagery are edited so as to approximate the hypnagogic process whereby the optic nerves resist grotesque infusions of luminescent light.

I mentioned this one previously here. Silent and gorgeous. Audience didn’t rustle around or yawn loudly or start to leave – they liked it too! Some of the multi-layered visuals are television images, and given the “molten horror” title you’d expect something like Light Is Waiting, but thankfully that’s not what you get.

Eaux D’Artifice (Kenneth Anger, USA 1953, 12 min.). Filmed in the gardens of the Villa D’Este in Tivoli, Italy, and accompanied by the music of Vivaldi, Camilla Salvatore plays hide and seek in a baroque night-time labyrinth of staircases, fountains, gargoyles, and balustrades.

Covered this one here. Light through water!

Ellipses (Frédé Devaux, France 1999, 6 min.), where a ripped strip of film is sewed back together following an aesthetic mode, in a celebratory end-of-century apocalypse of positive, negative, super-8, regular-8, black and white, color, saturated and faded found footage.

Oh god, I don’t remember this one either!

Georgetown Loop (Ken Jacobs, USA 1997, 11 min.), a reworking of 1905 footage of a train trip through the Colorado Rockies, where the original image is mirrored side by side to produce a stunning widescreen kaleidoscope effect.

Opens with the original film (discussed here) on the right half of a wide screen, kind of unnerving, then gloriously mirrors it onto the left. Images don’t overlap over themselves like in Light Is Waiting, but vanish into the center line, expanding and contracting, the train’s always-curving motion making it constantly split and merge. But it’s kind of an easy trick, doesn’t seem worth being called a great film, or even very “experimental.” I’m guessing they wanted to show something by big-name artist Jacobs and this was his shortest film?

In Kaleidoscope and Colour Flight (Len Lye, 1935/1938, 8 min.), Len Lye, pioneer kinetic artist, sculptor and experimental filmmaker, painted colorful designs onto celluloid, matching them to dance music.

Zowie wow, these are electric. They start out all hoppin’ jazz, colors and shapes and stripes and light and love, all in fast motion to the beat, then about three minutes in when you least expect it, they hit you with a cigarette ad. More, please!

Psalm III: Night of the Meek (Philip S. Solomon, USA 2002, 23 min.), a meditation on the twentieth century at closing time. Psalm III is a kindertotenlied in black and silver on a night of gods and monsters…

I guess it’s scenes from other films turned grey and treated with a heavy emboss filter. Often no recognizable details, then they’ll emerge suddenly from the murk. We see some nazi imagery at one point, pretty sure I saw Frankenstein a few times, and little Elsie’s balloon from M caught in the power lines. Longish, but nice, enjoyed it. Can’t remember the audio at all.

Program kinda sucked this year. Feels like I spent enough time on it already, so not gonna spend too much more writing about it. I’m sure each film felt “experimental” to its creator, but there was nothing here we hadn’t seen before. Also with few exceptions people feel the need to accompany their “experimental” images with “abstract” blippy swimmy music, ugh. Also also, forget any references to “film” below, since everything but Shake Off was on video (and Shake Off either originated on HD or at least had mostly digital components). Why can’t everyone call ’em “movies” like I do? All quotes are from the film festival booklet, with their queer use of commas intact.

Doxology (Michael Langan)
“An experimental comedy…” Cute. Tennis balls and automobiles and vegetables defy space and time – funny and not overlong. Probably would’ve been my favorite here, but the picture was fucked and distorted, stretched out much wider than it should have been. Thanks, AFF365/Landmark.

Such As It Is (Walter Ungerer)
“The film is divided into four parts and four themes: the underground in the city; above ground in the city; a field in the country; and fog and the ocean. Each theme has its separate identity, yet they are not separate. Through manipulation and abstraction of imagery the four parts are joined, as the land, and the air, and the oceans are joined by the earth.” Besides the over-use of commas at the end there, this description is far better than the film it describes. The interminable subway bit, tiny flicks of reflected light turned into digital noise on an ugly gray glowing background, seemed suddenly less crappy in comparison when I saw a cityscape turned into spinning 3D cubes within cubes. What did they mean by the title? How is it? This was the first of a bunch of ugly video-projected shorts (from digibeta or dvd?). I do a bit of quality-control on our video deliveries at work, and I never would’ve allowed this thing to go out with all the banding issues it had. Go check your After Effects settings, re-render in 16-bit and bring it back to me later.

A Convolution of Imagined Histories (Micah Stansell)
“The film is comprised of four chapters, telling four separate stories that make up a meta-narrative. The works are the result of imagining the visual track to the story of someone else’s memories.” One of those short films where a narrator talks about shit their parents did when they were young or before they were born, like The Moon and the Son but with less animation and more overlapping sounds and video and slow/fast effects… anything to make it seem interesting (which it was, but only barely). Director in attendance seemed a nice enough guy. Talks not about “filmmaking” but “compositing”. Experimental Short Composites would be a more honest name for the program.

Dear Bill Gates (Sarah J. Christman)
“A poetic visual essay exploring the ownership of our visual history and culture.” Thought I was in trouble when the voiceover said “40,000 years ago…” but it was well-done, with deep storage of photos in old mines subliminally connected with “data-mining” and the mining of our memories. The longest of the shorts, and interesting enough to justify its runtime.

Passage (Peter Byrne)
“A reflection on the peripheral… this work visually catches sight of experience, as it moves past.” Notes I took in the theater read: “flickering, fluttering digital colored mess overlapped w/ blurry video of birds w/ sucky jangly music. These all have crappy music. I can hear yawning.” Film festival directors: I am available to write blurbs for your shorts programs!

Office Mobius (Seung Hyung Lee)
“An abstract story…” I didn’t find it abstract at all. Kinda cute buncha office collisions, with one character who got laughter whenever he’s on screen – a star in the making. My notes say “butt-ugly digi credit titles.” Letterboxed within the 1.33:1 projector frame within the 1.85 movie screen.

24 Frames Per Day (Sonali Gulati)
“The film raises important questions around immigration, cultural stereotypes, and the meaning of home from a transnational perspective.” Bunch of field recordings interspersed with a fake-sounding conversation (perhaps based on a real one) between director and “cab driver”. The stop-motion visuals of a hallway manage to be less interesting than the soundtrack. They say it was shot 24fpd over nine months, but La Region Centrale (or even 37/78 Tree Again) this ain’t.

Drop (Bryan Leister)
“The aesthetic journey of a drop of water – animation sound and image are combined to create a zen-like exploration of fluidity and nature.” I might have written: “a bit of nothing to fill out four minutes in the program.” Nice to hear actual music, though.

Rewind (Atul Taishete)
“The film moves in reverse towards the beginning as the opening of the film evolves as the climax.” Clumsily worded, but what they mean is the film’s shot totally in reverse, not just in reverse-ordered segments like Memento. Unlike Memento, there’s no reason within the narrative to justify the reversal, except I suppose that it wouldn’t have been as cool (or “experimental”) in regular motion. It’s about a blind guy in a diamond heist and ahhh, I’m not going into it. This also had music.

Shake Off (Hans Beenhakker)
“A perspiring boy dances magically across borders.” Seriously, a perspiring boy? I would’ve called him a “dancer” as do the credits, but then they would’ve had to think of a synonym for “dances” as an action verb. Can’t tell if it was the same dance footage looped four times, or just a similar performance. The dance and fluid camera movements weren’t enough – they had to put fakey digital backdrops behind the guy and with David Fincher zooms and cuts that appear seamless. A nice dance & technology demo.

The last two (both non-U.S.) are the only ones listed on IMDB. I spend so much time on that site, sometimes I consider making a film JUST so I can be listed on IMDB. These compositors have different ambitions than I do.

Sometimes I consider taking this “blog” off the internet and making it for my eyes only. I just know one of the filmmakers is going to google themselves, find this page and be offended. I’m sorry!