En levande själ (A Living Soul, 2014, Henry Moore Selder)

A living brain, with ear and eyeball, awakens in a fishtank and eventually succeeds in psychically communicating with its nurse Emma. Happy birthday to me – thanks, Trevor!

Based on a novel by a physician. Ypsilon and Emma and nearly everyone else in Sweden acted in the TV series The Bridge, and the briefly-appearing inkblot psychiatrist (the “ink” was on an ipad, nice touch) was in Fanny & Alexander.


Sarah Winchester, opéra fantôme (2016, Bertrand Bonello)

“Dance but don’t move. Do the solo in your head.”

Symphony and dance, spooky old drawings and accusing ghosts, and the story of Sarah, inheritor of the Winchester rifle fortune, who became a crazy recluse after losing her family. I liked this even more than Nocturama. Similarities include doom music, seclusion in abandoned buildings, mannequins, guilt.


The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984, Quay Bros.)

A child visits Master Svankmajer, who removes the fluff and toys from the child’s head and teaches him stop-motion filmmaking. This makes a lot more sense than it did when I watched in the 1990’s, now that I know who Jan Svankmajer is. The cluster of mobile pins still reminds me of Edward Gorey (“Death and Distraction, said the Pins and Needles”)


Stille Nacht I, Dramolet (1988, Quay Bros.)

Extremely short and amazing, dollman watches as his spoon-world grows moldy with magnetized metal filings.


Stille Nacht II, Are We Still Married? (1992, Quay Bros.)

A motion-blur paddleball confounds a toe-stretching girl’s pet bunny


Stille Nacht III, Tales from Vienna Woods (1994, Quay Bros.)

Somebody died in 1892? Spinning smoke bullet, disembodied hand, hovering desk and extra-long spoon. I liked the His Name Is Alive song in the previous film – this one sounds like a buzzing TV from the next room.


Stille Nacht IV, Can’t Go Wrong Without You (1994, Quay Bros.)

The heroes of part two return, the tiptoe girl now quietly bleeding as the rabbit uses his antigravity powers to protect his eggs from a keyhole-peeping Death.


An Eastern Westerner (1920, Hal Roach)

At a hotel we saw this Harold Lloyd short on TCM, and since I watched it, I am duty-bound to put it on the blog somewhere, even though I was entirely focused on being aggravated about the picture being squished and don’t remember anything that happened in the movie itself. I guess it’s the one with the famous still of all the guns pointing at Harold’s head?


Three Monks (1982 Jingda Xu)

Short, flatheaded Red Monk, tall skinny Blue Monk, and fat Yellow Monk arrive separately at a mountaintop shrine and spend their days guzzling water and trying to make the other monk(s) bring up more water from the lake. Eventually they’re all angry, and are stealing water from the shrine’s flowerpot, when a mouse almost burns the place down and they have to cooperate to bring up plenty of water in a hurry. The catchy tunes and musical-instrument sound effects were the best part.


Feeling Good (2010, Pierre Etaix)

A 1965 outtake scene from As Long As You’ve Got Your Health. Etaix goes camping with a campfire and electric coffee pot. Confusion and bad coffee ensues. Then he’s in a military tent camp and I get lost as to what’s happening, because between bird songs and people whistling and blowing whistles, my birds got quite agitated.


Pas a Deux (1988 Renault & Van Dijk)

A couple is dancing, looks maybe like rotoscoped with colored pencil, then he transforms into Popeye the Sailor complete with voice clip, then they each transform (pretty seamlessly) into different famous characters. Cool effect, but feels like they’re just screwing around. Katy called it a precursor to Logorama.

Made by a couple of Dutch animators. Gerrit’s final film was based on a Burroughs story and featured the voice of Rutger Hauer. Monique has a whole bunch of films on vimeo


The Northleach Horror (2016, David Cairns)

Apocalyptic story of a mad scientist doing Frankenstein experiments in an underground bunker, the movie casually killing off characters (and resurrecting them) for laughs. I meant to watch this again and note character names, but my link has gone dead. Fun while it lasted. From the creator of the also-great Cry For Bobo.


Seances: The Disputed Honours (May 31, 2016)

Some familiar footage from The Forbidden Room, with changes. When Jacques Nolot is hired as a gardener, does he usually steal a magnifying glass? Whole new sequence with a man retrieving a key while two women (Camille and her sister?) cower in the night, only to be sucked into a vortex. Color and tinting changes mid-shot. All new intertitles! “O to quench the thirst of my wheat with the blood of slain mail coachmen.”

I wanted to watch When The Broken Toilets Cry but didn’t figure out the website in time. Can’t tell what to make of interruptions like the one below. It looked like typical streaming glitching at first until I realized the shots emerging through the glitch aren’t part of the scene I’m in.

And since I have nowhere else to mention these, I also watched and enjoyed a pile of Netflix’s comedy specials from this year… Joe Mande… Amy Schumer’s The Leather Special (all the fat jokes and poop stories get old, but I admit I laughed at ’em)… Sarah Silverman (more poop stories)… Louis CK “2017” (this has now replaced my memory of his Omaha show – I should’ve taken notes after each)… Dave Chappelle’s Spin and Texas specials (some bits set off my political-correctness alarm, but they’re perfectly constructed/paced hours)… Norm MacDonald’s Hitler’s Dog… three we burned for the drive to Atlanta: Trevor Noah (who we also saw in person a few weeks ago), Hari Kondabolu “Mainstream American Comic”, and the great Hasan Minhaj… and probably a couple I’m forgetting.

Alloy Orchestra returned, with a double-feature this time! First up was this highly ridiculous adventure story, full of corny nonsense, but also featuring some fabulous stop-motion dinosaurs and a cool monkey.

A beardy madman (Wallace Beery of wrestling picture fame) insists to a roomful of people, Lost City of Z-style, that his previous expedition had discovered a plateau where dinosaurs still live, but everyone on his team is now missing so he needs a new team. Sportsman Lewis Stone (Stars In My Crown, Queen Christina) would like to come find new creatures to shoot, and his buddy, romantic doof reporter Lloyd Hughes (title star of Rip Roaring Riley), gets himself invited to impress a disinterested rich girl. Professor Arthur Hoyt (the director’s older brother, mayor of The Great McGinty) comes too, and so does Beery’s dead ex-teammate’s daughter Bessie Love (her final film was The Hunger). Everyone proves to be pretty capable (especially the monkey) at getting into trouble and getting back out of it, and the doof falls for Bessie. More impressive than the “oh shit we’re dead, might as well die together” romance is that the dinosaurs, which would seem to have limited area to live and breed, are constantly killing each other and falling into tar pits. The humans manage to bring a live brontosaurus home to London, where it escapes and nearly goes full King Kong, finally destroying a bridge and either swimming away or drowning, it was hard to tell which.

The evening highlight was A Page of Madness, which had a more experimental score and blew everybody’s minds.

Cool stop-motion, meticulous big-headed characters, the camera rarely moving – kind of a laid-back movie. Opens with a nine-year-old accidentally killing his drunken violent mom by shutting the attic door as she’s coming up the stairs. He’s sent to an orphanage, where he befriends red-haired bully Simon and broken introvert Alice and new girl Camille and gets everyone to work together. The kids are surprisingly in-touch with their feelings for nine-year-olds. Anyway, the cop who first talked to Z after his mom’s death finally adopts him and Camille, but the movie doesn’t address how their budding young romance will be affected when they suddenly become siblings.

Only watched a couple of these lately, but I’d better write ’em up before they get lost and forgotten…


Baby Snakes (1979, Frank Zappa)

Definitely overlong and indulgent… don’t know why Zappa thought we needed to spend so much time backstage with his band goofing around and improvising with props for the camera – not exactly feature film material. And I detest audience participation at rock shows – it’s super fun for the two fans onstage, less so for the rest of us.

Gripes aside, the bulk of the movie is a terrific rock concert, and the highlight is the claymation work by brilliant, possibly crazed animator Bruce Bickford… complex cityscapes, crowd scenes, closeups, Frank and his bandmates and groupies, all constantly morphing into monsters.

Foreground: clay Frank at the clay film editing table
Background: Frank at the film editing table


Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015, Brett Morgen)

I don’t feel a morbid urge to read the diaries of dead rock stars or watch their home videos, but I heard this was good, an immersive montage edited according to emotion more than narrative, not a traditional rock doc. But whoever wrote that had a pretty strict definition of traditional narrative, because this is a straightforward, chronological doc, trying to get inside Kurt’s head at the different stages of his life and fame. There’s some Scanner Darkly rotoscoping of reenactment footage (a good compromise) and halfway-decent flash animation of his teenage drawings to illustrate his confessional audio tape collection. Interviews with Krist and Courtney and Kurt’s parents and ex, lots of good photos and concert footage, and a terrific mocking impression he does of Chris Cornell (edit: RIP, Chris). I hadn’t really listened to Nirvana since the late 90’s and mostly the movie gave me the urge to do that – discovered that the bonus discs of concert stuff on the album reissues are reeeeally good.


PJ Harvey in France on the Hope Six tour


Chumbawamba in 1996

What The Eyes See (1987, Pavel Koutský)

Starts out pretty ordinary then goes nuts. A happy-go-lucky wooden Amish man is saddened when a fat guy, a moonface, and a green Swede yell at him. He wanders, head low, being verbally attacked from all directions. Then the animation slows to a halt and we see the animator’s hands moving the little guy around… wide shot to the animator walking around the studio posing and filming the scene… then he slows down and we see giant hands manipulating the human animator. Reverse back into the original scene, where the wooden guy kicks the ass of the next fella who gets in his face.


Strazce majaku (1968, Ivan Renč)

A ship-traveling dandy sexually harasses the boat’s mermaid figurehead, who awakens and heads into the sea to distract the man in charge of the coin-op lighthouse protecting some jagged rocks. She finally drives the lighthouse keeper insane until he retreats inside, projecting his vainglorious dreams on a movie screen using a phonograph horn and pretending to rescue a toy boat in his bathtub, while outside, the real boat runs into the rocks and sinks. I love this. Got a bunch more Czech shorts to go through later.


The Old Lady’s Camping Trip (1983, Les Drew)

Opening credits reveal this was presented by the Fire Prevention Association, so we know it’s not just a casual character moment when Cousin Jim is introduced smoking in bed. Jim is a regular clumsy firebug, and the Old Woman Who Lives In A Shoe is unusually fire-conscious, bringing extinguishers and smoke detectors on a camping trip.


Every Dog’s Guide to Complete Home Safety (1987, Les Drew)

Opens with a cool low-angle view of a spider racing through a house, then turns into the same kind of pleasant-enough kids’ cartoon as the camping trip one – a “safety dog” just wants to practice roller skating but the family dad keeps putting him in dangerous situations as prep for an “iron dog” competition. In the end the dog skates/wagons the family to a hospital when the pregnant wife needs a ride, I’m not sure why.


Evolution (1971, Michael Mills)

History of planetary species in ten minutes. Brightly colored planetary landscapes beget giggling single-cell eyeballs beget water plants and fishies beget land creatures beget monkey-things beget intelligent space-traveling aliens. Innovative approach to reproduction and mutation and natural selection (and creature design) with typical gender division stuff: all creatures are assumed male except the big-titted ones who knit while bearing children. Oscar nominated the year of The Selfish Giant and the inferior Crunch Bird, Mills made a bunch more shorts that would be worth looking up.


La Salla (1996, Richard Condie)

I’ve seen this before, ages ago: early, hideous computer animation with a big-nose opera-singing guy in a room full of living objects making inappropriate sounds, like a surreal indie Toy Story demo. Lesson learned: never open the door. The last of a series of Canadian shorts made by Condie, Oscar nominated the year Quest won.

The first roundup of misc shorts since the last one.


Tome of the Unknown: Harvest Melody (2013, Patrick McHale)

Wirt and Greg are heading somewhere, manage to get a ride with pumpkin-man John Crops to vegetable city, where they accidentally unleash the fury of the crows. Would play as a deleted scene from Over The Garden Wall if not for bluebird Beatrice’s different voice and some more cartoonish facial expressions. I’m guessing with the Harvest Melody subtitle that he’d planned to make more standalone shorts like this, but then they made the full series.


The Umbrella Man (2011, Errol Morris)

A web mini-doc on a single detail of the Zapruder film: a single man with an umbrella on the cloudless day Kennedy was shot. Interview with JFK assassination expert Tink Thompson, who sets up the mystery, then explains it was discovered that the man was making an obscure visual protest against a policy by JFK’s father.


Demon in the Freezer (2016, Errol Morris)

“Why is it so important to make the monkeys sick?”

The argument over preserved samples of smallpox virus – whether they should be kept, and for what purpose? Floated: vaccines and biological warfare with the Russians. I don’t know a whole lot about smallpox but it sounds horrible.


Dog (2002, Suzie Templeton)

A sick/dying/dead dog, a father, a boy, a murder, a patch of either blood or mold upon a wall, and the most disturbing stop-motion I’ve seen this side of Robert Morgan.


Oskar Kulicke and the Pacifist (1952, Kurt Weiler)

I loved The Apple, so watched some more puppet shorts by Weiler. Bricklayer Oskar endures the whining of a pansy pacifist then sets him straight, asking how the pacifist will like it when he’s conscripted after a U.S. invasion. No, pacifism is dumb and learning proper use of arms is essential, Oskar concludes.

The U.S. military elite:


Heinrich The Dysfunctional: A German Elegy (1965, Kurt Weiler)

Surprising to watch this right after the other, since it’s about a failed German invasion of Poland in 1472 due to misfortune and royal idiocy. King of Libnitz attacks Cracow in order to obtain liquor and a young bride. After recruiting a traitorous young goat farmer, the king makes it to the enemy castle, only to be pissed on by the local kids and sent home on a manure cart, all his cannons destroyed. “The fatal flaw of the heroic German character: thirst trumps wisdom.”

Last-minute reprieve for the goat farmer:

Ceremonial welcome:


Nörgel & Söhne (1968-70, Kurt Weiler)

Three-part story of how the nomadic Nörgel clan developed tools and farming, then trade, then currency. Character-based stop-motion with some fun material tricks with liquids, animals and the heavens. Nörgel becomes more of a brutal slavemaster the closer he gets to modern capitalism, and in the end he retires and reads Marx’s Das Capital (historical chronology is shifty in these movies) and regrets the awful thing he’s done.

Barter calculations:


Street of Crocodiles (1986, Quays)

Live-action man spits into the machinery, activating it, and releases stop-motion man who creeps into a dusty world of pulleys and screws populated by hollow-headed dolls. Wonderful string music. I still don’t know what it all means, been meaning to get the Bruno Schulz book forever now, but it’s all so dusty and textural and mesmerizing in its mysterious movements.


Quay (2015, Christopher Nolan)

Eight-minute trip to the Quays’ workshop featuring some Street of Crocodiles puppets and commentary on their methods. I suppose splashing Nolan’s name across the blu-ray package was meant to get new people interested in their work, kinda like “JJ Abrams presents Phantasm: Remastered“. I hope it’s working.


Esperalia (1983, Jerzy Kalina)

A guy goes slow-mo crawling through the forest overlaid by patterns and rotoscope lines, seeing visions and phantoms, with an increasingly disturbed soundtrack.


The Public Voice (1988 Lejf Marcussen)

Magnifying glass reveals the blueprints beneath paintings, the lines behind the lines behind the lines. Slow zooms in and out as patterns and figures slowly prove to be details within other works, a visual art history folded into itself. I didn’t recognize most of the work, but there’s some Dali and Bosch in there.

Finally watched this Laika movie. I love love loved the look, beautiful stop-motion with ghostly effects. A total visual triumph, and I wish we’d caught it in theaters. Didn’t expect the screenplay to suck, though. Overall story is fine, weird kid in town can see ghosts, has to use his powers to save the town from a vindictive witch, but most of the plot points and dialogue were boring and obvious, led by a veritable who-cares of voice acting. Maybe it’s just because we watched it on Halloween (Katy’s sole SHOCKtober film) and treaters interrupted the movie every five minutes so I couldn’t get sucked into its particular atmosphere.

The cast:

The crew:

Back in the day I’d flip through the Norman McLaren DVD box set regularly, but times change and you get old and overwhelmed with things and one day you realize you haven’t watched any McLaren in six years.


Blinkity Blank (1955)

Advanced hand-etched animation – musical battle of red dot vs. blue dot, flickering and transforming into different images for an instant at a time.

R. Koehler called it “possibly his greatest film, in which McLaren discovered the effect of not drawing on every single frame.”

J-P Coursodon:

One may briefly notice (provided one doesn’t blink) a flurry of feathers, a parachute, a bird cage, a pineapple, an umbrella that turns into a hen-like figure, as well as many undescribable doodles that keep bouncing all over the screen. “This is not a film you see,” wrote French critic André Martin in 1955, “it’s a film you think you see.” You do hear, however, and not just think you hear, Maurice Blackburn’s dodecaphonistic score … with strikingly percussive synthetic-sound punctuations added throughout like so many punches by McLaren’s scratchings on the soundtrack.


C’est L’aviron (1944)

Gentle boat ride in sync with a vocal French tune, constant 3D zoom forwards (and sometimes backwards) over sea, through clouds and towns. There’s a behind-the-scenes film explaining how it was made,


Spheres (1969)

Mathematical dance of stop-motion spheres against a morphing cosmic backdrop. Codirected with René Jodoin in 1946, with music added two decades later.


Love on the Wing (1939)

A post office advert – see also the Len Lye shorts – in which two postal letters are in love. Fast-paced, surrealist-inspired etched animation, characters constantly morphing into different figures.


La Poulette Grise (1947)

Variations of chicken/egg paintings, contorting slowly to a vocal song by Anna Malenfant (doesn’t that mean Anna Badchild?). At the end, the chicken sails away upon a crescent moon.


A Little Phantasy on a Nineteenth Century Painting (1946)

Chalky animation upon a reproduction of an Arnold Böcklin painting.


Là-Haut Sur Ces Montagnes (1946)

Another generative painting, a nice pastoral scene


Book Bargain (1937)

Short doc with voiceover showing the process of printing the London phone book. Cool machinery but kind an unexciting industrial film.

The ultimate meta-storytelling, misfit-family, humans-vs-gods, origami-magic, epic-quest movie featuring the ultimate ass-kicking monkey.

My only complaint about the gorgeous stop-motion, which features a centerpiece sailboat battle that is possibly the best scene I’ve ever seen accomplished in animation, is that it’s all so perfectly executed that you often can’t tell it’s stop-motion.

We stayed through the credits to see my favorite armaturist’s name on the big screen – way to go, Spake!

J. Spiegel:

I was pretty much an emotional wreck for the last 25-30 minutes of Kubo. It’s not that I was surprised by the twists–very soon after we meet Monkey and Beetle (the former of whom voices Kubo’s actual mother), it’s pretty clear that they’re not just metaphorical stand-ins for his parents, but literal ones. It’s that the way the script handles the notion of accepting death and treating it as a fitting end to our “story” was unexpected and achingly humane.

D. Ehrlich:

The physical reality of their characters conveys an otherwise impossible sense of impermanence, and reveals stop-motion to be the perfect vehicle for a story about the beauty of being finite. The movies have explored the afterlife almost as thoroughly as they have life on Earth, but this one is so powerful because of the precision with which it articulates these immortal ideas of transience.

Lightning strike:

T. Robinson for The Verge:

One of Laika’s ideals is that only one animator should work on a given scene at a time … for instance, in a scene where Kubo stands in a wooded area and a wind blows through the trees, that’s the work of a single animator moving every leaf and branch separately. The process is incredibly laborious: On Kubo, 27 animators worked simultaneously on their own scenes, each trying to achieve the company goal of 4.3 seconds of animation per week, and more often, only hitting about three seconds per week.