The Bridegroom, The Comedienne, and the Pimp (1968, Straub/Huillet)
Four minutes in, it’s just been a long car ride in the rain with opera music playing (there was no sound at all for the first two minutes) and I am very suspicious.

Five minutes in, cut to a stage set, with German words on the wall and a clattering wood floor. Rivette (or Michael Snow) would be pleased. A fast-paced stagey farce follows. Blackout, next scene but the camera hasn’t moved, hasn’t even cut for all I know. Actors include Fassbinder regular Irm Hermann, composer Peer Raben, and future superstar Hanna Schygulla (who I’ve recently seen in The Edge of Heaven, Werckmeister Harmonies and 101 Nights of Simon Cinema).

Bang, cut, new location, and back out on the street. An action scene. Jimmy Powell is marrying Lilith Ungerer (star of a couple Fassbinder films). They go home, the pimp (Fassbinder himself, early in his career) is there, she shoots him and gives a speech as the music returns. All affectless acting.
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So, what was that all about? Well the title refers to the cinematic drama in the third section, that much is clear. And the actress and the pimp were in the stage play in the middle. IMDB fellow says “The film has its roots in a theatre production of a play by the Austrian playwright Ferdinand Bruckner which Straub had been asked to direct by a German theatre company. He considered the play too verbose and cut its length from several hours down to just ten minutes, and it is the production of this play which forms the centrepiece of the film.” As for the beginning, the same guy says it’s a “Munich street frequented by prostitutes.” F. Croce calls it a “mysterious, structuralist gag” and notes that “filmic subversion can prompt political revolution, and transcendence.” No revolution or transcendence here – I just thought it was a weird little movie made by an overacademic sweater-wearing type. Was only Straub’s fourth work – let’s check out his tenth, which is half as long.
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Every Revolution is a Throw of the Dice (1977, Straub/Huillet)
It’s in French this time. Actors sit in a half-circle near the memorial site for the Commune members and recite a poem. I’m mistrustful of the English subtitle translation of the poem, and there’s not much in the movie besides the poem (the recitants are as expressionless as in the previous film, maybe even more so), so there’s not much of value for me here. Actors include Huillet herself, Michel Delahaye (the ethnologist in Out 1) and Marilù Parolini (writer of Duelle, Noroit, Love on the Ground), shot by William Lubtchansky and dedicated (in part) to Jacques Rivette.
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Mongoloid (1977, Bruce Conner)
Music video for a Devo song using (I’m assuming) all found footage (science films, TV ads and the like).
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Mea Culpa (1981, Bruce Conner)
Dots, cubes, light fields and… whatever this is. Conner goes abstract! The music sounds like 1981’s version of the future. Aha, it’s Byrne and Eno, so it WAS the future. I didn’t know that Conner died last year, did I?
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(nostalgia) (1971, Hollis Frampton)
of a photo of a man blowing smoke rings:
“Looking at the photography recently it reminded me, unaccountably, of a photograph of another artist squirting water out of his mouth, which is undoubtedly art. Blowing smoke rings seems more of a craft. Ordinarily, only opera singers make art with their mouths.”
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So far I really like Hollis Frampton. His Lemon and Zorns Lemma were brilliant, and now (nostalgia) is too. Anyway this is the one where Frampton films a photograph being slowly destroyed on an electric burner while Michael Snow reads narration describing the next photograph that we’ll see. It’s important to know that Snow is the uncredited narrator for a humorous bit in the middle. The movie also has a funny twist ending that I wasn’t expecting. This would be part one of Frampton’s seven-part Hapax Legomena series. I have the strange urge to remake it using photographs of my own, but I lack an electric burner and a film/video camera.

Gloria (1979, Hollis Frampton)
Remembrance of a grandmother, Frampton-style, meaning annoyingly hard to watch and strictly organized. Clip from an ancient silent film, then sixteen facts about gramma (“3. That she kept pigs in the house, but never more than one at a time. Each such pig wore a green baize tinker’s cap.”) then a too-long bagpipe song over an ugly pea-green screen, and the rest of the silent film. Or as a smartypants would put it, he “juxtaposes nineteenth-century concerns with contemporary forms through the interfacing of a work of early cinema with a videographic display of textual material.” I prefer my version.
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Prelude #1 (1996, Stan Brakhage)
I don’t think that I enjoy watching low-res faded videos of Brakhage movies. I’ll wait for the next DVD set to come out (or the next Film Love screening). As a side note, I cannot believe that Raitre plays stuff like this. Just imagine: art on television. Picture a single TV station anywhere devoted to showing art. Can you? Can you?!? I feel like screaming!!
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NYC (1976, Jeff Scher)
Shots of the city sped-up, rapidly edited, reverse printed and hand colored, two minutes long with a jazzy tune underneath. Super, and short enough to watch twice (so I watched it twice).
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Milk of Amnesia (1992, Jeff Scher)
I’m thinking it’s short scenes from film and television, rotoscoped, with every frame drawn in different colors, with some frames drawn on non-white paper (a postcard, some newspaper). Warren Sonbert is thanked in the credits. I would also like to thank Warren Sonbert.
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Yours (1997, Jeff Scher)
An obscure musical short from the 30’s or 40’s overlaid with rapidly-changing patterns and images from advertisements. Descriptions and screenshots can do these no justice.
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Frame (2002, n:ja)
Black and white linear geometry illustrating a Radian song. I can’t tell if it’s torn up by interlacing effects or it’s supposed to look that way. Give me Autechre’s Gantz Graf over this any day. Between this and Mongoloid and the Jeff Scher shorts, I’m not sure where to draw the line between short-film and music-video. Not that it’s a dreadfully important question, but I’m in enough trouble tracking all the films I have/haven’t seen without adding every music video by every band I like onto the list. Although maybe videos should be given more credit… I’m sure Chris Cunningham’s video for Squarepusher’s Come On My Selector would beat 90% of the movies I watched that year.
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I’d considered declaring August to be Shorts Month and watching hundreds of those, so I stocked up, but the inspiration had fled by the time the month rolled around. But we can’t let all these shorts go to waste, so I still watched more than usual.

73 Suspect Words and Heaven’s Gate (2000, Peggy Ahwesh)
Fun gimmick videos, one displaying the “suspect words” found by running the Unabomber manifesto through a spell checker, and the other listing off the search keywords of the Heaven’s Gate cult’s website. In the first the text appears quickly and fades out, and in the second the words flicker constantly.
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Apocalypse Pooh (1987, T. Graham)
scenes from Apocalypse Now and Winnie The Pooh inexpertly combined. Actually the lipsync and some of the shot selections were pretty wonderful. I’m pretty sure nobody will ever care about this movie again now that a hundred thousand video mashups are clogging youtube, but it’s a cute piece of cult history. The poor video quality would turn on the guy who made Out of Print.

Thanksgiving Prayer (1991, Gus Van Sant)
William S. Burroughs hatin’ on America, being a general bummer, as is the fashion among leftists around Thanksgiving time. Decent video but I far prefer Ballad of the Skeletons with Allen Ginsberg.
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Szalontudo (2006, Szirmai Marton)
That joke where guy 1 thinks guy 2 has stolen his food, so he starts eating from the other side, and they glare at each other eating the same food, then guy 2 walks off and guy 1 sees his food still untouched… he was eating guy 2’s food! Ah! This was terrible, with gross squishy chewing sound effects. Won an audience award in north-central Spain where they’ve never heard that joke before.
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Le Vol d’Icare (1974, Georges Schwitzgebel)
I think it’s primitive animation made on a lite-brite. Or maybe it’s HyperStudio version 0.1. Story of icarus, I suppose. I liked the flocks of birds. What is that, a harpsichord?
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Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005, Peter Tscherkassky)
Pumping stutter-motion! Variable-speed lock-groove dude in a Leone western having a death-dream. Ends with words “Start,” “End” and “Finish” overlapping as the guy, appearing to be on fire, runs with mirrored graveyards above and below him.
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The Adventurer (1917, Charles Chaplin)
Weird to see Charlie as an escaped convict threatening cops with a shotgun. But there’s plenty of ass-kickin and cliff-jumpin so it’s alright. I forgot the encoding quality is garbage on my copy of these… must buy a better one.
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Inflation (1927, Hans Richter)
Rich people, money, poor people, more money, stock traders, more and more and more money, digits rushing at the screen whilst speed-adjusted carnival nightmare music plays until the whole damn thing comes crashing down. Only two minutes long! An achievement.
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Yellow Tag (2004, Jan Troell)
In the old days we were close to our farm animals but today governments require tracking ear-tags. Fun movie… maybe didn’t need the classroom and religious art scenes, but it makes up for that in the end by going all wacky with shooting galleries and suited men raining down outside some kinda UN building.
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Crac! (1981, Frédéric Back)
Animated story of the creation and long life of a rocking chair, accompanied by drum and fiddle music. It’s much better than it sounds.
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Thigh Line Lyre Triangular (1961, Stan Brakhage)
Arrrrgh, another birthing movie! Why did nobody warn me? Apparently the title is Brak-code for “vagina.” Once I got over the initial shock, this is excellent. Hand-processed frames over live-action film, intense.
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I’ve said the Brakhage set is my favorite DVD… and yet I’d never watched Dog Star Man all the way through, and never seen The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes until lately. Soon after I got the discs, I had a traumatic experience with DSM. Thought I’d watch it at night lying on the couch with Coil’s Moon’s Milk (In Four Phases) album playing. I remember the image of a man (Brakhage himself, I believe) with his dog climbing a snowy hill, but I quickly fell asleep and had awful nightmares, my worst in years, and woke up not wanting to watch DSM anymore.

So some years later I tried again, this time with Sonic Youth’s Koncertas Stan Brakhage on the stereo, again at night on the couch. Dozed off again during sections of Part 1 and most of Part 2, but I got more of an impression of the overall film this time. It’s tremendously complicated, with ideas and techniques from his other films all run into a feature which actually plays as a feature… I didn’t realize you could extend a Brakhage film past the hour mark and it’d stay gripping. And I know it sounds bad for me to call “gripping” a movie which I can’t stay awake through, but I know what I mean, and I’m the only one who reads this stuff anyway.

Prelude:
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Part 1:
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Part 2:
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Part 3:
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Part 4:
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Thee Autopsy Movie. I’ve had the Brakhage set for over five years and have proclaimed it the single best thing on my DVD shelf, but have never even attempted to watch this particular short before. I assumed it’d be just like Window Water Baby Moving, but using dead bodies instead of Stan’s pregnant wife, which seemed like the worst idea in the world, or at least something guaranteed to make me physically upset upon viewing. But on this particularly slow week in Shocktober, I gave it a go. Fortunately it turned out to be more stylistically tame, less jittery than WWBM, Stan not trying to horrify us, just to filter what he’s seeing through his always intense camera eye. I’m glad this exists, and I’m somewhat glad I saw it, but I might not want to ever see it again.

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.

A thorough viewing of the second disc of my favorite DVD set in the world this weekend. Some thoughts:

I do not know how to talk about Brakhage. Mostly on this site I talk about story, quality of performance… how do I talk about a non-narrative motion painting? Don’t have the background or vocabulary for that.

Cat’s Cradle and Window Water Baby Moving are early ones with actual camera shots of actual things. The editing of Window Water is entrancing.

Mothlight will be great forever. I’ve watched it twenty times now.

Then, chronologically, came Dog Star Man and Act Of Seeing, which I haven’t watched yet because I am afraid of them. The scariest nightmare I’ve had in a decade resulted from falling asleep during my only attempted viewing of Dog Star Man, and if Window Water is so attractive and disturbing, I can just not imagine how my stomach will feel after viewing The Act Of Seeing.

Eye Myth (a nine-second film) took a year to complete because Brakhage had to convince himself that it could be done, had never done a hand-painted film before. Mothlight was almost a decade earlier, but I guess Eye Myth was a big step. I’ve watched it a ton of times just because I can.

I’m not so wild about the visuals of The Wold Shadow (painting on glass over a view of the forest) or The Stars Are Beautiful (creation myths with shots of home and chickens with sync sound) or Kindering (kids at play), but then The Dante Quartet and Rage Net hit hard… some of my favorites of the painted films.

Black Ice and Delicacies and Study In Color are creepy. The screen shots below reveal nothing about those two. The Dark Tower is always a favorite. And I don’t remember ever seeing Commingled Containers before so I watched it three times. Can’t understand what it is, what those things are, what is happening. Something in a stream? What are “containers”? Beautiful, of course. That applies to all of the above… beautiful, beautiful, blah.

Need to read Brakhage’s book(s), to read Fred Camper’s writings, to read the DVD liner notes again and listen to the interviews with Brakhage on the discs. But I don’t expect to learn much that will gain me a deeper appreciation of the films… they need no explanation.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker were Brakhage’s students. He acted in Cannibal the Musical and loved the South Park movie. Incredible.

Katy did not watch it. I’m afraid to show her any Brakhage. What if she doesn’t love it? How will I explain or convince?

A barrage of screen shots.

Cat’s Cradle
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Window Water Baby Moving
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Mothlight
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Eye Myth
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The Wold Shadow
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The Garden of Earthly Delights
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The Stars Are Beautiful
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Kindering
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I… Dreaming
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The Dante Quartet
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Nightmusic
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Rage Net
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Glaze of Cathexis
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Delicacies of Molten Horror Synapse
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For Marilyn
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Black Ice
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Study in Color and Black and White
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Stellar
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Crack Glass Eulogy
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The Dark Tower
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Commingled Containers
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Love Song
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Amphetamine (1966)
Where Did Our Love Go? (1966)

Warren Sonbert started his career just like Stan Brakhage (Desistfilm) – sitting around his apartment, shooting his friends doing daily stuff. But where Brakhage used camera tricks and crazy editing, Sonbert (12 years later) relied on his friends’ outrageous antics (drug use, homosexuality, knowing Andy Warhol) to make his movies interesting. It didn’t work for me, but the mid-60’s pop songs he strung together on the soundtrack made for good listening.

Honor and Obey (1988)
Friendly Witness (1989)

Then Sonbert travelled the world for a number of years, reviewing operas and shooting everything he came across with his portable Bolex. And like the dude who did “Ashes & Snow”, he one day sat down and edited all his stuff through the years into some movies. Unlike “Ashes” though, it’s quickly and intuitively edited, the shot order making sense only to the director, if anybody. “Honor and Obey” is completely Brakhage-silent, and Friendly Witness starts with the same 60’s pop songs from before, then uses opera over the second half. Slightly more excitingly edited than “Honor” and would’ve been preferable anyway if only for the pop songs. Completely wonderful films, great color, great framing, lots of animal shots, shots from planes, on water, on children. Loved ’em. Didn’t understand ’em, of course, but didn’t have to.