Watching shorts from the Flicker Alley blu-ray, part four.

Film that Rises to the Surface of Clarified Butter (1968 Owen Land)

Repetitive little piece in which people draw a character, then it comes to brief stop-motion life, then they ponder this, then it happens again with a constant, quiet burbling horror of a soundtrack. Not as much fun as I’m making it sound.


Our Lady of the Sphere (1969 Lawrence Jordan)

I was rather dismissive of this last time but I’m starting to find its variety of techniques and combinations of images and cutouts from old-time illustrations pretty charming. It’s certainly a funnier and more imaginative way to spend nine minutes than the last movie was. “Jordan orchestrates the film in terms of a rake’s progress” say the liners, but I couldn’t make out much of a story (though I could identify recurring characters, at least).

Mouseover to hit the bear:
image

Mouseover to BZZZZZZT the donkey:
image


DL2 (1970 Lawrence Janiak)

Differently colored patterns fill the screen to varying degrees, from starfields to spaghetti-o’s to shower-curtain dots to bright silly-string and confetti parties, all created by organically Begotten-ing strips of film. Chiming, percussive soundtrack. Hypnotic and strangely relaxing to watch, though next time maybe play my own music.


Love It, Leave It (1970 Tom Palazzolo)

Speech from a car show plays over a nudist festival. Speech honoring the military plays over clowns. Then the soundtrack goes into a hypno-loop of “love it, love it, love it, leave it” under images of contemporary America (sports and recreation, demonstrations and celebrations, people and get-togethers and riot police), the sound finally mutating into a patriotic song layered over itself like that remix I made of the Brave trailer. The liners say he had a “sharp eye for Americana,” true. And the last page of Cinema Scope #66 points out where more Palazzolo films can be found, if I get into an Americana mood later.


Transport (1970 Amy Greenfield)

One of those dance shorts where the camera moves with the dancers, only the movements here are not too exciting – small group of people lifting each other across a dirty field. And the sound is completely unbearable, a series of horrible tones like the ones they play in movies after a bomb goes off to indicate tinnitus in the lead character. Also, two minutes of opening credits in a six minute movie?


Sappho & Jerry, Parts 1-3 (1977 Bruce Posner)

Early film by one of the anthology project’s many film restorationists. Three two-minute pieces where Bruce takes existing film elements, combines, mutates and split-screens the living hell out of them, adding more simultaneous frames in each ensuing chapter. Great fun.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


Ch’an (1983 Francis Lee)

Pans, zooms and crossfades of black and white watercolors, with some short bursts of animation. Nice texture closeups of the watercolor work. I preferred Lee’s 1941 from earlier on the disc (these are his first and last films).


Seasons… (2002 Solomon & Brakhage)

Gorgeous variety of textures and patterns, colors and rhythms. “Intentionally silent” doesn’t fly with me, so I played the second half of the new David Grubbs album, which I would highly recommend. If I understand correctly, Brakhage did the textures and patterns, and Solomon did the lighting and coloring? Bravo to both.

I dig this frame because it looks like a dragon crashing into an aerial antenna:

Quotes below are from Marilyn Brakhage’s program notes.

The Process (1972)

Flashing colors. Negative silhouettes of human figures (wearing hats). Increasingly recognizable scraps of home movies, but yeah, mostly it’s flashing colors. Listened to “Cosmetics (Secret Chiefs 3 Remix)” by Foetus, which had some nice moments of synchronicity, mostly served to make the film seem more sinister than was probably intended.

“Brakhage again addresses the interaction of internal and external sources of imagery, but in this case, as the sole subject of the film. Here, slightly displaced positive and negative versions of the same image create a feeling of insubstantiality.”


Burial Path (1978)

Opens with a dead robin in a box, so I took the title literally and assumed a funeral tone to all the defocused light that proceeds from there. The bird does get buried towards the end, and he intercuts scenes of live birds (not robins) feeding outside. Played the end of Brian Eno & Harold Budd’s “Ambient 2” album, a pleasant change from the previous soundtrack.

Burial Path “graphs the process of forgetfulness.” But Burial Path is also about death, and was sometimes referred to (by Brakhage) as the third part of a trilogy, with Sirius Remembered (1959) and The Dead (1960). (The “path” is also the route taken to visit Brakhage’s friend, the then-ailing literary scholar Donald Sutherland, to whom the film is dedicated.)


Duplicity III (1980)

All crossfades, all the time. The kids are going trick-or-treating, doing house work, playing with cards and toy guns, enacting satanic rituals, performing in school plays which involve ghosts, robots and an Indian chief. Deers and dogs towards the end. Played tracks 2-4 of Coil’s “The Angelic Conversation” which sometimes made the film seem doom-laden, sometimes gave the impression that it was taking place near the ocean.

Halloween: Fire Walk With Me


The Domain of the Moment (1977)

Liked this one a lot because it’s full of critters: baby bird, guinea pig, dog, raccoon, mouse, snake, all double-exposed and playfully filmed, with painted mothlight sections in between animal blocks. Played tracks 4-6 of Secret Chiefs 3’s “Book M”, which was inappopriately energetic at the beginning but worked rather well in the middle.

“A consideration of the consciousness of other life forms.”


Murder Psalm (1980)

Whenever Brakhage films a television it looks like the end of the world. One of his most music-video-looking films, full of increasingly sinister-seeming juxtapositions – pure texture interspersed with stock footage from a strange movie, an education film about brains, leftover autopsy footage from The Act of Seeing, war footage from 23rd Psalm Branch, reversal film of a highway at night. Played the end of Autechre’s “Exai”, which was a great idea.

“A collage of found footage of monstrous implications.”

M. Keller in Film Quarterly:

The most striking imagery comes from an educational film on epilepsy, and Brakhage’s film is structured around that preexisting narrative … Brakhage makes visual relationships between the ball, water in the birdbath, the girl’s hand, a scale model of the brain, a half of a wagon wheel, a covered wagon, and a semicircular tunnel. Circular imagery is cut in half by the frame to make semicircles or hemispheres. The material about epilepsy is transformed into a meditation on the social and cultural circumstances of childhood trauma via a visual string of semicircular imagery. By substituting one image for another – e.g., the model of the brain for the covered wagon – Brakhage links their meanings and implication. The girl’s seizure is made part of the social organism through visual rhyme.


Arabic 12 (1982)

Light asterisks: a film of reddish, star-shaped light artifacts. Wonder if this is what ashtray epic The Text of Light is like – hopefully not, since I lost patience in this 17-minute movie towards the end. Felt like Autechre’s “spl9” was trying to give me a panic attack, but the next track slowed things down for the film’s more diffuse second half.

Scenes From Under Childhood, Section One (1967)

Looks like one of those Brakhage films where he tries to retrain the eye to remember seeing before object recognition, or some such thing, since there’s lots of blackness, then all red, blurry funhouse-mirror images before they finally coagulate into family life and portraits of children. I kept the iTunes music off since Criterion listed the audio as “silent/monaural” but don’t recall hearing anything.

Yup, the Criterion notes say this film “begins Brakhage’s major investigation into stages of consciousness”


The Machine of Eden (1970)

Landscapes and clouds, with zooms and time-lapse, made ominous by Coil’s “Escalation”


Star Garden (1974)

A bit more time lapse, a few more skies, but mostly domestic life: children in a house/cabin, doing things inside and outside, what things exactly it’s hard to tell. Side 2 of Animal Collective’s “Here Comes The Indian” wasn’t the best soundtrack choice.


Desert (1976)

This was my favorite of the bunch. Defocused(?) reds and browns, sunsets – apocalyptic – with a crazy final shot. Faith No More’s “The Real Thing / Underwater Love” worked surprisingly well.

M. Sicinski:

These films denaturalize our vision, positing the most basic rules and habits of the optical world as mere conveniences … Watching any Brakhage film will demonstrate how absolutely “tutored” our seeing really is. We focus on the object, but blind ourselves to its flickering shadow. We count the hours of daylight with the clock on the wall, but we ignore the gradual shifts in color temperature on our walls and through our curtains, the deep hash-marks of negative space in our pets’ fur near dusk or the way that a photo of a loved one becomes eerily elongated when we catch a glimpse of it from the side. Most of the time, we use our eyes to look at things, so we can take them, or throw them away, or avoid bumping into them. In Stan Brakhage’s films, we use our eyes to see, without demand or expectation, so that the surfaces of the world become a renewable resource.

Shorts! I have discs and discs of shorts and rarely watch them. I’m awfully excited about the new blu-ray of avant-garde shorts from Flicker Alley, but how can I justify buying it when I’ve got a hundred shorts collections just sitting around unseen? Let’s watch some, shall we?

Doodlin’: Impressions of Len Lye (1987, Keith Griffiths)

Lye was a New Zealander who could’ve inspired Colin McKenzie through innovation and ambition. When standard animation techniques were too laborious and expensive, he started scratching and drawing directly onto film stock… and when film itself was too expensive he turned to sculpture – but kinetic sculpture, truly gigantic metal works, some of which he filmed. He’s designed a twisted metal “temple” which hasn’t yet been built.

Len demonstrates one of his metal works:

Lye lived in a lighthouse – flashbacks to Brand Upon the Brain – and moved to Samoa for a couple years, concentrated on “old brain” tribal art, wanting to reject Western art styles and doodle from the subconscious (see: Tusalava). Handmade films and unconscious creativity – of course Brakhage was a fan. After WWII, Lye was a director for the March of Time news series while working on silhouette photography.

I’d previously watched Tusalava at home, Kaleidoscope and Colour Flight at a Canyon Cinema screening, and Free Radicals and Rainbow Dance within the documentary Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film. Here are some more I’ve been able to find. Quotations are by Lye biographer Roger Horrocks.

Birth of the Robot (1936)

The documentary didn’t even go into Lye’s stop-motion work. This combines character stop-motion with an abstract sequence. I believe a female robot sends raindrops made of music to turn a man who died driving his car in a sandstorm into a male robot. At the end it’s revealed to be an ad for an oil company, but who cares. “Lye enlisted the help of avant-garde friends such as Humphrey Jennings and John Banting to make the amusing puppets.”

Trade Tattoo (1937)

Musical montage of work in factories and docks and markets, exploding in shifting patterns with wild colors. I guess it was meant to be an ad for the postal service, or maybe a PSA telling you to post letters before 2pm. Partly composed of Night Mail outtakes!

A Colour Box (1935)

Color is less brilliant now that we’re down to standard-def, but this Re:Voir DVD still looks super nice. Abstract lines and patterns run down a film strip to bouncy music. I don’t think he edits to the music, just creates fast visuals then adds something upbeat on the soundtrack. Another postal service ad at the end, meaningless numbers (6 lbs. 9d.). “Lye’s first direct film, which combines popular Cuban dance music with hand-painted abstract designs, amazed cinema audiences. Color was still a novelty, and Lye’s direct painting on celluloid creates exceptionally vibrant effects … in Venice, the Fascists disrupted screenings because they saw the film as ‘degenerate’ modern art.”

Kaleidoscope (1935)

Watched this one before, an ad for cigarettes. Although the films have titles and credits, and the bulk of them is just music and animation with the product placement coming in at the end, so it’s more fair to say they’re sponsored shorts than advertisements. More white space in this one, with clearly defined shapes.

Rainbow Dance (1936)

Boldly colored silhouette mattes as a musician/sportsman whirls through changing backgrounds, leaving psychedelic trails behind him. An ad for savings accounts, obviously. “Lye filmed dancer Rupert Doone in black and white, then colored the footage during the development and printing of the film, adding stenciled patterns.” This is all making me itch for Jeff Scher / Norman McLaren retrospectives as well.

Colour Flight (1937)

More black in this one, a disturbingly pulsating smile behind wavy-line jail bars, then an eruption of dots and lines, some outer space imagery, and a last-minute ad for Imperial Airways (which was bought by British Airways in late 1939).

Swinging the Lambeth Walk (1940)

Okay, this one is synched to the music, wonderfully, with swinging soundwave lines and jellybean dots of color. I like that he uses filmstrip perforations to create patterns. Abrupt edits in the music, as he picks from multiple versions of the song. “For this film Lye did not have to include any advertising slogans; friends at the Tourist and Industrial Development Association, shocked to learn that Lye and his family had become destitute, arranged for TIDA to sponsor the film – to the horror of government bureaucrats who could not understand why a popular dance was being treated as a tourist attraction.”

Colour Cry (1952)

Something different, even more abstract and fuzzy, shadow images with bright, distorted colors, soundtracked by harmonica and yowling vocals. The doc says he used Man Ray’s techniques for this one, “using fabrics as stencils”.

Rhythm (1957)

Footage of an auto manufacturing plant, spastically edited to fit a musical rhythm. The doc mentioned that Lye had trouble with U.S. advertising companies. Chrysler paid for this short but wouldn’t use it because they apparently weren’t fond of the tribal drumming on the soundtrack.

Free Radicals (1958)

More African drumming. Scratched twisted lines rotating in 3D space. Funny that after all the colors and manic patterns he came back to simple white figures on a black background. “The film won second prize in the International Experimental Film Competition, which was judged by Man Ray, Norman McLaren, Alexander Alexeiff and others at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.” Seen this a bunch of times on my laptop, and I’ll bet it’s awesome on a big screen. Hey Anthology Film Archives, ever think of opening a Nebraska location?

Particles in Space (1966)

Brakhage’s favorite. Plays like a sequel to Free Radicals, bringing some of the high-energy musical movement and complex patterns into its general design. Spots of white against an inky black, glistening like the ocean in moonlight. I think some of my listed release years are wrong – IMDB cannot be trusted.

Tal Farlow (1958)

Upbeat jazz guitar with synchronized white scratch lines which are definitely meant to evoke guitar strings. Finished by his assistant after Lye’s death in 1980.

I couldn’t find his “live-action film about the need to be careful in addressing letters,” or his first puppet film Peanut Vendor, or his war propaganda films. The new blu-ray mentioned at the top of this post includes Bells of Atlantis by Ian Hugo, which Lye worked on, so I’ll be watching that soon.

Watched bits and pieces of this anthology, but never all the way through before – which I guess is sad given how much I’d been looking forward to its release. I put on a shuffled playlist of instrumental albums, soundtracks, ambient and other strange sounds since Brakhage films tend to be silent. I know you’re supposed to watch them silent, As The Artist Intended, but you’re also supposed to watch them projected off 16mm film in an art gallery with fifty other people all shifting uncomfortably in their folding chairs, instead of at home on a comfy couch accompanied only by birds. I prefer my way.


The Wonder Ring (1955)

Brakhage nerding out on photography in a train station, then on the train itself, shooting through its warped windows. Not knowing in advance where the movie was set, I kicked off the music with Sqürl’s I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, a song that prominently mentions trains. After the Sqürl, iTunes offered 75 Dollar Bill and a peaceful John Zorn number from The Mysteries. I first saw this movie at a Film Love screening of Joseph Cornell works – supposedly he codirected, but the onscreen credits say “by Brakhage.” Fred Camper only says Cornell commissioned this film, a record of a New York elevated train before it got decommissioned. Camper credits Brakhage with the finished work, says he’s “finding a real-world version of the superimpositions Brakhage would later create in the lab.” Elsewhere are mentions of GniR RednoW, a film Cornell made from Wonder Ring outtakes.


The Dead (1960)

Paris cemetery, in positive and negative, overlapped upon itself – the superimpositions mentioned above, making this a great follow-up to Wonder Ring. Heard a long, ambient Per Mission song, worked beautifully. The few living humans on screen are not shot in any great detail, but internet rumors claim Kenneth Anger was one. Doesn’t have much in common with the John Huston/James Joyce version.


Two: Creeley/McClure (1965)

This and the next film were part of the thirty-one Songs series. This one’s technically separate from the Songs, but was edited into the 15th in the series, the 38-minute 15 Song Traits. Portraits of poets Robert Creeley and Michael McClure. Again with some reversed footage. Final section is jittery mania. I watched twice, and the second time Guano Padano’s story-song Dago Red came up, inappropriate since it makes the audio the main focus, turning Brakhage’s film into a music video, but interesting.


23rd Psalm Branch (1967)

Watched on the plane home from a trip. Images of war, wreckage and parades, remixed, with black and brief colored frames. Something Brakhage wouldn’t have expected: myself in place of the blackness, reflecting in laptop monitor in the overlit cabin. Something else: he shoots clouds out a plane window, I look to my left and see clouds out a plane window. A couple of long songs that worked very well: The Nymphs by Zorn and Recks On by Autechre. Prefuse’s Infrared was lyrically appropriate. The film’s second half contained more black than my Dramamine-drowsy state could handle, had to restart some sections. As Film Quarterly puts it, “he has used black leader so brutally this silent film gives the impression of roaring, booming sound,” and part two specifically is “abstract and full of private symbols, difficult to absorb and to watch.” Music by Sqürl, Per Mission and Morricone. Written letters and section headers. Kubelka’s Vienna, then Brakhage’s Vienna, all dim red figures disappearing into the blackness, a few shots of fire recalling Frampton. Marilyn Brakhage called it an attempt “to reclaim person and personal vision from the onslaught of television news.”

Personal history by Chodorov – I know the name because I was once subscribed to his FrameWorks email list. His dad Stephan was a filmmaker, so Pip grew up surrounded by independent film and artists. He’s got interviews with the big names: Mekas, Kubelka, Jacobs, Breer, Snow… and Hans Richter, so I guess some of the interviews were archival and I didn’t take great notes. He takes a fun, enthusiast approach rather than the history-book implied by the title, and any excuse to revisit this work is a good one.

Includes some short films (in their entirety?):

Free Radicals (1958, Len Lye) – tremendous, white scratches on black, edited rhythmically to an African drum group in ever-changing patterns.

Recreation (1956, Robert Breer) – seen this before, I don’t get the Noel Burch narration but the visuals are fast and exciting.

Rainbow Dance (1936, Len Lye) – insanely complicated color and effects for the mid-1930’s.

And the section of Brakhage’s Dante Quartet called Existence Is Song (I forgot the Quartet sections were titled).

Night Music (1986, Stan Brakhage)

A brilliant-looking hand-painted montage.
Only 30 seconds long including credits.
I’ve been playing it before everything I watch.

La villa Santo Sospir (1952, Jean Cocteau)

Cocteau was hired to decorate a wealthy villa in summer 1950, and documented his own work afterwards. Even in a documentary short he can’t resist shooting in slow-motion and reversing the film.

“Being a professional, I wanted to make an amateur film without burdening myself with any rules.”

Cabale des Oursins (1991, Luc Moullet)

Comparable to Alain Resnais’ plastics short, something that seems like it should be a straightforward industrial film, but goes poetic and absurd. Beginning with a topic even less interesting than plastic factories, “slag heaps made of waste from old mines.” I couldn’t help getting the Hubleys’ rock-based songs in my head (“midnight ride down the rock bottom road, bump-de-bump-de-bump… bump-bump”).

“Coal mining is considered shameful. It has always been hidden underground. Slag heaps are an insult to this secrecy.”

The Case of Lena Smith (1929, Josef von Sternberg)

Fragment of lost Sternberg feature! Lena and friend are at a carnival, witnessing a magic act, a bit overwhelmed. Some cool superimpositions and carnival-glass effects.

Speaking of lost films, there’s also making-of footage on The Day The Clown Cried online, so everybody is talking about that movie again.

Cantico das Criaturas (2006, Miguel Gomes)

Shaky handheld music video for acoustic song by bald guitarist. At the moment this is my favorite Gomes movie. Then on to stylised poetic story of St. Francis regaining memory to anthropomorphized Francis-worshipping nature footage. Ash responded to the sounds of mice and owls.

Trains Are For Dreaming (2009, Jennifer Reeves)

People Like Us-reminiscent mashup soundscape lockgroove with flash-frame alternating strobe edits of faces with scenery. Pulsing ambient soundtrack. Screengrabs can give no indication of this.

Light Work I (2007, Jennifer Reeves)

Sepia animated industrial photography with tone drones. Bubble-chem mixology, molten metal flows. Abstract paint-motion. Aphex Airlines hatefully obnoxious audio. Superb visuals, play some Zorn over ’em next time.

Capitalism: Child Labor (2006, Ken Jacobs)

Oh my god. An historical stereoscopic photograph has been acquired, depicting children in a factory. Ken shows us left frame, right frame, black, on repeat for fourteen fucking minutes, with variations, accompanied (as all a-g movies must be) by ambient music by Rick Reed that gets increasingly hard to bear. I cannot tell a lie: I skipped ahead.

Lullaby (2007, Andrej Zolotukhin)

Among all the analog-looking pencil lines and rumpled paper, there is some sort of software manipulation and either live-action or rotoscoping. I can’t work out how it’s done, but it’s remarkable and original. It is russian, so involves death and bare wooden rooms. Bonus topics: angels and puppets, dreams, pregnancy, birds.

Luckily, a Canyon Cinema program was playing at the university when we rolled into Portland, and I somehow got Katy to come along to the severely under-attended screening.

Our Lady of the Sphere (1969, Larry Jordan)

Occasionally amusing clip-art animation with a colorful circus theme, featuring a woman with a balloon head. But if amusing is what Jordan was going for, he’s about 20,000 leagues below Terry Gilliam. I assume there’s something else that eludes me. The sound was irritating. I give it slightly more credit for difficulty once I realized it was made in the 60’s with physically-clipped-art and not on a Macintosh in the early 90’s. Apparently this is one of his best-known works – it’s in the National Film Registry, whatever that is. Internet says it draws from the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Dream Work (2002, Peter Tscherkassky)

Quiet (relatively) centerpiece of the Cinemascope Trilogy – a world of difference seeing this on a cinema screen vs. my laptop and television. So, so awesome. Katy watched with her eyes closed. I’ve seen it before on DVD, noted here.

Self Portrait Post Mortem (2002, Louise Bourque)

A decaying pattern scrolls up on left and right of frame, low frame rate but with a weird sliding motion. During the second half, a woman appears in the center of screen.

Happy-End (1996, Peter Tscherkassky)

The one composed from stock footage of a couple in the 60’s at different holidays (or is it just one holiday?), opening and drinking a ton of celebratory booze, dancing and posing for the camera. I’ve seen it before on DVD, noted here.

Very (2001, Stan Brakhage)

We saw a trailer for some upcoming Helen Mirren thing before the shorts started, and I was annoyed to see that the projectionist was running another trailer beneath this totally gorgeous, brightly-colored hand-painted Brakhage piece, but no, it looks like Stan ran out of blank film and painted over a trailer reel for the movie Quills, taking his title from the on-screen superlatives complimenting that movie and cast. Hilarious and wonderous.

Night Mulch (2001, Stan Brakhage)

Companion piece to Very, coloring over the shortened TV version of the Quills trailer. Katy loved these.

Mirror (2003, Matthias Muller)

The rare piece with original footage using actors and locations and lots of careful lighting, not hand-tooling some stock footage. Lots of darkness, and chairs.

The Observer: “The tableaux in which the figures stand like statues are animated by light alone. A light that glimmers, or suffuses a room like smoke, or crackles and fizzes from overhead lamps in long corridors. It polishes a grand piano, soothes the cheek of the pensive woman, surrounds the man with glassy halations and then makes him vanish, as if his part was over, before the room in which he stands disappears.”

Phantom Limb (2005, Jay Rosenblatt)

Title cards tell the story of Jay’s little brother who died as a boy, then a series of short pieces (home movies, some stock footage, some staged) are presented in order of the stages of grief. Katy didn’t approve of the birthing scene, and I was mesmerized by the sheep-shearing one.

As I said, reading the Canyon Cinema book just made me want to see more of their films, and so I held a solo screening of some video reproductions of films from their archives.

Notes on the Circus (1966, Jonas Mekas)

Doc footage from his seat at the Ringling Bros. circus, edited to a pulp after the fact, divided into four sections.

1. nervous, jittery views of circus acts: trapeze, clowns, animal acts.
2. more of the same, but towards the end of this section the editing goes hyper and adds superimpositions.
3. picks up where the end of 2 left off. This is likely more fun than an actual circus.
4. all energy, focus be damned.

The guitar/harmonica folk music worked pretty well alongside the images. Mekas repeats songs just as he repeats shots (the same woman doffs her white coat and ascends the trapeze at least three times).
Canyon claims “no post-editing of opticals,” so was he rewinding and re-exposing the film while sitting at the circus?

Here I Am (1962, Bruce Baillie)

A pre-Wiseman verite doc on a local school for mentally disturbed children. Why is the caretaker giving the kids cigarettes?!? Non-sync sound (no narration) with added cello. Nicely paced, and very well preserved. Canyon called it “never before released,” but before when? The DVD notes say it was part of a homegrown newsreel program. “Like the school itself, the camera gives the kids center stage and moves at their pace.”

Fake Fruit Factory (1986, Chick Strand)

Shaky, handheld doc of women who work at the titular factory, talking about sex and food and work, interrupted in the middle by their annual picnic. Non-sync sound, I think – hard to tell since close-ups of hands and bodies and fake fruit are favored over faces. Canyon gets the title wrong on their website and botches the description. Wasn’t Strand one of their founders?

SSS (1988, Henry Hills)

Oh wonderful, a dance film. Many dancers in many locations, all wearing hilarious clothes, rapidly edited in a pleasing way, punctuated by a few seconds of black every once in a while. Best part is the music, orchestral then cartoonish, sounds like a DJ with some electronics, all by Tom Cora, Christian Marclay and Zeena Parkins (and recorded by Kramer). Canyon says “filmed on the streets of the East Village and edited over three years.”

Money (1985, Henry Hills)

No music this time, but lots of musicians and some dancers. Seems like a hundred people on the street were interviewed about money (some were given scripts to read) then their every word was chopped out of context and edited against everyone else, sometimes forming new sentences or patterns from different sources, sometimes just spazzing out all over, interspersed with the musician and dancer clips. Somewhere in there were John Zorn, Fred Frith, Tom Cora, Eugene Chadbourne, Ikue Mori, Bill Laswell, Christian Marclay and Derek Bailey. I’ll bet they play this at every Tzadik party. Hills would seem to have a love for music, a sense of humor and tons of patience. Canyon: “thematically centered around a discussion of economic problems facing avant-garde artists in the Reagan era. Discussion, however, is fragmented into words and phrases and reassembled into writing. Musical and movement phrases are woven through this conversation to create an almost operatic composition.” Good poster quote by J. Hoberman: “If time is money, this 15-minute film is a bargain.”

( ) (2003, Morgan Fisher)

Composed entirely of insert shots from other films. Could be the most intricate murder/conspiracy film of all time, what with all the plots and notes and watches and gambling and guns and knives and secret goings-on. I wish it’d had music. Didn’t recognize a single film, and I couldn’t even find any of the sources by searching character names spotted on notes and letters with IMDB. Shadowplay would be ashamed of my b-movie image-recognition prowess. I really want to do a remake, but the logistics and time involved would be hefty. Fisher is only glancingly mentioned in the Canyon book, but I had this and wanted to watch it.

Thom Andersen:

Fisher appreciates inserts because they perform the “self-effacing… drudge-work” of narrative cinema, showing “significant details that have to be included for the sake of clarity in telling a story,” and he made ( ) to liberate them… to raise them from the realm of Necessity to the realm of Freedom,” to reveal their hidden beauty.

Oh Dem Watermelons (1965, Robert Nelson)

Much talk about this one in the book. A silent, still shot of a watermelon lasts an age, then a singalong with an old racist song – or is it an ironically racist new song? – then some melon smashing with pioneering use of the shaky-cam. The song starts repeating and becomes irritating, as must all avant-garde film soundtracks. This time, Steve Reich is to blame. There’s stop-motion and Gilliam-style cut-out animation. My favorite bits are the dog that appears to poop out a watermelon, and the melon slowly crushed by construction equipment. Made as an intermission film for a theatrical racial satire, Nelson claims to have been inspired by Louis Feuillade.

Samadhi (1967, Jordan Belson)

Eclipses and auroras, perhaps the eyeball of a wizard, five spherical minutes with a blowing, groaning soundtrack.


Samadhi (c) Jordan Belson

The Way To Shadow Garden (1954, Stan Brakhage)

The camera stalks creepily around an empty room. A clean-cut young man comes home, struggles with a glass of water and the bed, dances, reads a book. The camera continues its subtly creepy assault, lingering on light bulbs, but otherwise I’m thinking this is Brakhage’s most performance-based film that I’ve seen, a wordless narrative episode. But then the man claws his eyes out, the film stock reverses, and he seems to find the shadow garden, all blind light and shubberies. The first half makes me think Brakhage could’ve made some killer Sirkian dramas if he’d had the urge.

The Potted Psalm (1947, Sidney Peterson & James Broughton)

Shots of people and things. A graveyard. A snail. An accordion. A funhouse mirror. Dolls suicide. A woman eats a leaf. The cameraman has a beer and a cigarette.

Not the first Sidney Peterson movie I’ve watched, and I still don’t get what he is on about. Kino made an interlaced transfer, hired a woman whose Casio can make neat sounds to record a horrible score.

I had a bunch more in mind to watch, but I suppose I’ll get to them another day.