I imagined a widescreen stop-motion puppet Midsummer from the creator of The Hand would be magical. It turns out if you remove all the language from a Shakespeare play, reducing it to plot action with explanatory voiceover, you don’t even reach feature length without some padding in the form of dance scenes and overlong rehearsals of the play-within-the-play. Sticking it out, there is some beautiful puppetry and effects, particularly whenever Puck casts a transformation spell.

Street Art (1957, Konstanty Gordon)

To begin with, a short doc on street posters, the profession Lenica and Borowczyk started out in – its history and function and form and prevalence. Narrator, upbeat orchestral music, the main attraction here is seeing a montage of good poster art.


Once Upon a Time (1957)

Magic: the poster art comes alive. Wordless adventures of some ever shifting graphic design elements, fond of fashioning themselves into creatures and hats, interacting with clip art. Playful organ music, some strobing scraps of concert footage, a cute and inventive little movie.


Requited Feelings (1958)

This one’s more limited because it’s based on someone else’s paintings (Jan Plaskocinski), which B&L bring to life the best they can through fast cuts and pans. It tells a story using intertitles of a man looking for love. The film editor would later make No End with Kieslowski.


Banner of Youth (1957)

McLaren-esque abstract animated pieces, with separate quick blasts of every kind of news and sports and entertainment footage, a cultural survey in two minutes set to lively jazz.


Strip-Tease (1957)

This and the previous short were commissioned advertisements for a newspaper, I think. Male and female abstract characters, she “strips” her outer layers revealing newsprint, the messages on which knock him out. Cuter than it sounds.


School (1958)

A rifleman performs training exercises, is pestered by a fly, can’t get his rifle to fire, then dreams of dancing legs, all in live-stop-motion (or very low framerate photography). Some light horn music, heavy percussion and frequent whistle blasts. Composer Andrzej Markowski had already scored A Generation, and would soon do the MST3K-approved First Spaceship on Venus.


Dom (1958)

This one is like an entire Flying Circus episode, bringing together all the techniques from the previous shorts into an anthology of episodes witnessed by a woman before she stops to make out with a decaying mannequin head. Before that, we’ve got sci-fi poster art, early cinema motion studies, archive photography and storybook pages, a man stuck in a time-loop room, and a stop-motion wig consuming or destroying everything on a table. I’d watched this before, ages ago, in a poor copy.


Boro would go on to become a major director of nudie flicks, and I just found out that an early Bertrand Mandico film was a tribute to him.

The woman in Dom was Ligia Branice, aka Mrs. Walerian Borowczyk, who also appeared in La Jetee. Chris Marker also contributed to Boro’s Les Astronautes the following year, and must have been influenced by the photography in these films.

Lenica would later make the feature Adam 2, about a guy who escapes his drab life into an animated fantasy world, and a feature adaptation of one of Alfred Jarry’s pre-dada Pere Ubu plays, then a final half-hour short with Piotr Dumala.

A bunch of silliness in the first half which escalated wonderfully in the second. At the beginning Cowboy and Indian try to construct a last-minute birthday gift while Horse takes piano lessons with a cute female horse. But pretty soon they are all enslaved by snowball-prankster kung-fu scientists within a giant arctic penguin robot. Plastic toy stop-motion!

The Lion and the Song (1959, Bretislav Pojar)

Accordion player wandering the sand dunes finds an oasis and amuses the desert creatures with a pantomime dance, with his cape representing his lost love. Lion is more hungry than amused, eats our man, then dies of internal accordion-related pains. Czech stop-motion puppetry, obviously very good even in my old SD copy.


My Green Crocodile (1967, Vadim Kurchevsky)

A crocodile who adores flowers meets a beautiful cow, and they fall in love based on their shared interests, though the other crocs and hippos scoff at their relationship. When autumn arrives, the cow declares their love is gone with the flowers and leaves, so the croc in desperation climbs a tree and transforms himself into a green leaf. The narrator seems to approve of this action, though it feels like a downer ending. Loved the harpist moon.


Film Film Film (1968, Fyodor Khitruk)

Opens with a slideshow/montage music video, then goes into a comic parody of the process of feature filmmaking. After the tormented, sporadically inspired, often suicidal screenwriter creates a perfect script, the valium-popping director takes a hundred meetings, modifying the script each time. And so on – equipment problems, child actors, a tense premiere. 2D animation with a few cool bits and a sixties-rockin’ theme song. I wouldn’t have pegged this as the same guy who started making Winnie the Pooh shorts the next year.

how a cinematographer works:


How A Sausage Dog Works (1971, Julian Antonisz)

Some animation techniques using gels and layers and liquids that I don’t think I’ve seen before. Narrator with a high, irritating voice, untranslated. Based on the title, I might’ve assumed the vision of a dachshund full of gears with a heart in the middle, but I didn’t predict the dachshund being squished underfoot by the devil. Without translation, I don’t have a clear idea of what is happening here, but it looks like pure lunacy, and I love it.


Apel (The Roll-Call, 1971, Ryszard Czekala)

Shadowy semi-figures – smeary motion-blurs and tops of heads.
Not much of a roll call – the only words are Down/Up/Fire – a military commander or prison guard yells commands at a mass of bald figures. After one refuses to obey and is killed, all the rest refuse to obey and are killed. Not the most uplifting little movie but it has a cool look I guess?


Crane’s Feathers (1977, Ideya Garanina)

Convincingly Japanese-looking stop-motion tale of the Crane Wife. I do love cranes, and ten-minute tragedies. Does our lead guy hang his head low at the end? You bet he does.


King’s Sandwich (1985, Andrey Khrzhanovskiy)

Weird intro, steampunk imagery over the sound of a workout video. So far, all the stop-motion shorts – the Lion, the Crocodile and the Crane – have featured butterflies. This is 2D animation with a nude man and a sausage dog and a cigar-smoking cat dancing with a busty cow – but no butterflies… oops, I watched this thinking it was Khrzhanovskiy’s Butterfly from 1972. This one’s the story of a fussy king who just wants butter for his bread, despite the gigantic queen and the dairymaid trying to convince him to try marmalade instead, while shadowy security agents lurk absolutely everywhere. Bleepy electronic soundtrack.


Repeat (1995, Michaela Pavlatova)

Sketchbook 2D with crosshatch texture. Tight repeating behaviors: a man taking his dog for a walk, a wife feeding her husband, an interrupted tryst, a dramatic breakup, repeating and colliding until the dog brings the whole thing to a halt, wakes everyone up from their motion loops, leading to an orgy, before it all starts again.


Adagio (2000, Garri Bardin)

A stop-motion funeral procession through a terrible storm by origami monk crows. All seems hopeless until a white Jesus-crow leads the way. When the white crow displays his magical powers of cleanliness, the others beat the shit out of him, but after his dramatic resurrection, they all worship him with white-crow billboards. Kind of a dour little movie with halfway decent origami.


Deputy Droopy (1955, Tex Avery)

The one where two safecrackers have to be quiet, Droopy torments them into making noise, so they keep running out to a nearby mountain to unleash their yells. Droopy’s attacks range from silly (get ’em to sit on a snapping lobster) to quite violent (wailing on ’em with a spiked board while their feet are stuck in glue). Anticlimactic hearing-aid joke at the end.

Don’t know if it counts as a short film, but we watched Spike Lee’s NYC pandemic montage, psyched that he has a new feature out in a couple weeks.

Quick stop-motion pans across photograph backgrounds
Cutouts and objects (paper, flowers) puppeteered across the photos,
some set to dramatic music

Circles/dots, repeating as texture, single circles used as punctuation

Multiple episodes, a series of shorts, made over 13 years.
Dedication at the end of each one, then title of the next.

Some episodes have music, some have audio from a movie or show, some silent.
Halfway in, one uses music in reverse.

Pretty consistent visual approaches, with some surprises.
Round and rectangular chiclets appear in scenes.

Long hypodermic story at the end is the most narrative yet
Word bubbles and actions that tell a story, woman seems to be in afterlife.

A cute blue psychokinetic alien child crash-lands on the farm, and Shaun and the sheep have to avoid the farmer and his dog and a government alien detection agency to send the little fella home. Movie is fully charming, and just an explosion of bright colors – I watched on the plane where everyone around me was watching dirty, dull-looking movies like Joker and Tolkien on their 4-bit seatback screens, and felt that my movie’s color on the laptop seemed radioactive by comparison. The only note I took at the time was “argh, pop songs.”

Darkness/Light/Darkness (1989 Jan Svankmajer)

I’ve seen stills from this, but somehow never watched it before. Peak Svankmajer claymation, a human gradually assembled from pieces entering a cramped apartment, including a dumb dick joke.

Won an award at Berlin alongside a Petrov short, a Bruno Bozzetto animation, The Asthenic Syndrome and, oh, Driving Miss Daisy. One of Svank’s final shorts, post-Alice, before he turned exclusively to features.


Prometheus’ Garden (1988 Bruce Bickford)

The Svankmajer turned out to be a gentle Claymation intro course compared to this batshit epic. Like a long, vaguely narrative music video, with no fixed sense of scale or permanence of scene or set or character. Watched in SD, would be amazing to see in a larger format

Casual synth-rock on the soundtrack… in the machine-gun massacre scene, I appreciated the use of outer-space raygun effects instead of ratatatat.

Apparently unreleased for twenty years until it came out on a 2008 DVD. RIP 2019 Bruce – I need to dig up his final feature Cas’l and the other doc about him, Monster Road.


Printed Rainbow (2006 Gitanjali Rao)

Gramma lives a dreary, blurry b/w Rear Window existence until she opens a case full of colorful matchbooks and experiences an open-eyed smiley-faced adventure in crisp color fantasy. The b/w segments are in that smeary, charcoaly style where it appears that each frame is partially erased, the next frame drawn on top of it, leaving a smudge trail behind the action…OR ELSE it wasn’t animated that way at all, and my digital copy needed more keyframes. Kinda not my thing, but the ending is pretty good, and you can’t laugh off the dedication “to my mother and her cat.”

Rao also acts, appeared in a Seven Samurai remake in 1998, and she recently completed a hand-painted animated feature about Bombay’s history with Bollywood.


Old Man and the Sea (1999 Aleksandr Petrov)

Glorious paint or watercolor, with such good light and water and cloud – made for imax! English dialogue, new agey music. Shades of the Monk when he becomes one with the Fish. Won a ton of awards including the oscar – fellow winners that year were Sam Mendes, All About My Mother, The Matrix and Phil Collins.


The House of Small Cubes (2008 Kunio Kato)

Another old man in the sea, also beautiful. Dystopian story of a rising flood, building a new house atop the old one every few years, losing more items and people with each story. Hunched old man lives alone at the top, takes a diving expedition through his past.

Kato is my age, has made a bunch more shorts. This one won the oscar too, beating that great undertaker short and one of my favorite Pixars, with fellow winners Penelope Cruz, the late Heath Ledger, Danny Boyle, A.R. Rahman, Benjamin Button’s makeup artists, WALL-E, and Man on Wire.

There is so much going on in this movie. In the beginning, a sink is dripping with stop-motion paper drops, which turn into fullscreen water collaged from paper, which zooms out to a flickering series of motivational posters on an office wall, then back into the flickering water upon which sails a poster-paper boat as the rhythm of the water drops begins to build into an autobiographical theme song – this is the first minute of a 40-minute movie.

Mack uses posters and packaging, markers and sales sheets, posters and shelves and office supplies, posters and boxes of posters, the parking lot and fluorescent lights, and just when it couldn’t get any more wonderful, her mom enters the movie, sped-up and stop-motioned, as Jodie sings about the family’s failed poster business as a homemade parody of Pink Floyd’s Money.

It ends in psychedelic mania, as it must, and meanwhile, it’s one of the most inventive, poignant and personal “experimental” films I’ve ever seen. Katy liked this more than The Grand Bizarre – probably same, but I’d like to see TGB again. Interesting that Cinema Scope had more to say about each of her 3 to 10-minute shorts than this longer piece, will have to watch a few of those and revisit the article.


Persian Pickles (2012, Jodie Mack)

We also watched this 3-minute short from her vimeo page, all rapid-fire textiles with curved patterns, like swimming swirling fishies. Surprised by the audio, a typical a/g noise track sounding like bassy factory robots conversing over staticky phone lines, considering the sound in her features is so fresh and upbeat.

Twenty-three SHOCKtober movies this year… I would’ve guessed the worst would’ve been Cannibal Holocaust, or another Italian horror, or the late Ken Russell, or one of the 1980’s movies… but it ended up being this made-for-TV horror-comedy stop-motion feature. The very words “stop-motion feature” make for a must-see movie, and this month’s The Wolf House was an insane masterpiece, but this thing felt like a celebrity Scooby Doo episode.

Outside of the stop-motion (especially anything involving water), Bride of Frankenstein Phyllis Diller’s laugh is the main source of enjoyment – otherwise it’s all horrible jokes and slow, pointless plot and voice impressions. All the world’s monsters, plus a sap (Jimmy-Stewart-sounding Felix Flankin) convene at Dr. Frankenstein’s castle for something or other, then fight over the doctor’s inheritance and his “formula for destroying matter.” I think we turned it off after red-haired Francesca falls in love with Felix for hitting her, or maybe it was during the endless song she sings right afterward. The monsters are all hoping IT doesn’t show up, so I watched the end of the movie the next day, but IT was just King Kong minus his trademarked name.

Most voices were by Allen Swift – his career ranged from Howdy Doody to Courage the Cowardly Dog. In the late 1950’s he was on WPIX channel 11 NYC as “Captain Allen,” ensuring his eternal legacy via the Arcwelder song. Karloff played the Doctor, at the end of his career, the year after voicing The Grinch. Francesca was Gale Garnett, who beat Bob Dylan at the Grammys a few years prior, and also appears in future Shocktober classic The Children. Diller was in her celebrity prime, the year before Tashlin’s Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell. Rankin/Bass made this between their Rudolph and their Frosty, long before their Hobbit and Last Unicorn, and the cowriter was Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman, whose jokes work better in print.