Month of 121 Shorts: Animation

Allegretto (1943, Oskar Fischinger)
All colored diamonds and circles, so lovely. In close sync with the music, where in Motion Painting #1 the music seems an afterthought.
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Motion Painting No. 1 (1947, Oskar Fischinger)
Like it says, a motion painting – oil on glass, all small rectangles and big spirals. In The Mystery of Picasso the tension was in figuring how the painting would be finished, where he was heading, but in this the fun is in getting from one intermediate step to another. The process is the destination. There should be more of these!
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Franz Kafka (1992, Piotr Dumala)
Is the movie supposed to be making that sound of a cat in heat beneath the music, or is my laptop freaking out? Dark and scratchy and slow-moving, nothing actually happening. Oh wait, there’s some sex. Fulfills almost all of the Robyn Hitchcock holy keywords: sex, food and insects (what, no death?). I’m sure it’s very technically accomplished but I found it dreary and ponderous. The filmmaker made a plaster-scratch version of Crime and Punishment eight years later (or more likely he worked on it for all eight years).
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Tales from the Far Side (1994, Marv Newland)
Very inessential, slow-paced animated half-hour of Far Side cartoons. Really the most interesting bit is seeing Marv Newland’s name, 25 years after his seminal Bambi Meets Godzilla. Either he’s no longer a master of timing, or there was too much Gary Larson interference… or maybe you just can’t turn a single-panel comic strip into a 30-minute TV special. Doonesbury worked out, but that was talky and story-driven to begin with.
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Mr. Prokouk Shoots a Movie (1948, Karel Zeman)
Czech short, part of a whole series of Mr. Prokouk adventures.
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Prokouk is pointing at us, telling us to get off our asses and join the workforce!
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The Monkey’s Teeth (1960, Rene Laloux)
Intro is a three-minute doc of a group-therapy institution for depressed people, what follows is an animation of the film they wrote together. Sad man has a toothache, goes to a dentist who steals his teeth to sell to rich people (I wouldn’t think the teeth of the poor would be worth much, but maybe in France everyone practices excellent dental care). When the monkey wizard bicycles by, I figured the dentist would be put in his place and the stolen teeth returned, and that’s just what happens but first the sad man gets chased into a high school by some cops who get turned into children. Hmmm.
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Dimensions of Dialogue (1982, Jan Svankmajer)
It’s been too long since I’ve watched my Svankmajer shorts. This is an all-time fave. Faces made of identifiable objects consume each other, becoming smoother until they resemble human heads. Two clay humans make love, create an unwanted clay baby then destroy each other. And so on. Not one for brevity, J.S. takes everything to its conclusion and explores all permutations of his object manipulations – this is what makes his features seem so tedious, but his shorts seem so excellently complicated.
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Flora (1989, Jan Svankmajer)
A clay person tied to a bed and covered in rotting fruit and veg tries to reach a glass of water. Only a few seconds long, made for MTV (that’s czech for WTF).

Food (1992, Jan Svankmajer)
Oooh I love stop-motion using live actors. Guy enters a room facing a paralysed robot guy, reads instructions hanging on his neck (which are actually an MTV entry form: “Entrant must send a VHS or U-Matic, etc.”), manipulates the guy (puts money in his mouth, receives a sausage and mustard from chest, utensils from ears), then the robot guy leaves and the eater takes his place. Two guys sit at a restaurant, can’t get service so they eat their own clothes and the table. Finally, people are made gourmet meals of their own severed body parts. A classic, obviously.
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I Love To Singa (1936, Tex Avery)
“Enough is too much!” An old favorite. Owl Jolson is of course a parody of The Jazz Singer, which I’ve still never seen. Jazz and owls: a combination you don’t see often enough.
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Point Rationing of Foods (1943, Chuck Jones)
An extra tucked away on a Looney Tunes DVD, explaining the wartime canned food rationing system to the public through cheap quickie animation. Helpful to me, since I never bothered to learn how rationing worked before. Also tucked away is the Tashlin-penned The Bear That Wasn’t, probably not because of its unworthiness but because it was made at a different studio.

I Haven’t Got a Hat (1935, Friz Freling)
A variety show of children performers, with hijinks. Porky’s first appearance – the studio intended for a more generic troublemaker character (below, right) to take over, but the public demanded a shy stutterer instead. The title song is catchy, anyway.
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Roof Sex (2003, PES)
Stop-motion of chairs having sex. The cat is blamed.
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Shorts watched April 2009

Wallace & Gromit’s Cracking Contraptions (2002)
Ten W&G shorts. I think these were made to promote the full-length film… of course I had the chance to watch them back then and somehow put it off for seven years. Anyway these are cute – faves were The Snoozatron (a machine that dresses G. up as a sheep and flips him on a trampoline so W. can “count” him and fall asleep) and The Turbo Diner (a table-setting device exactly a la Charley Bowers in He Done His Best).

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All This And Rabbit Stew (1941, Tex Avery)
Tex’s final Bugs short before moving to MGM. Hooray, now that I’ve watched those John Ford movies I can recognize that the offensive black stereotype hunter is based on Stepin Fetchit. I tried telling myself that if he didn’t look African the character would basically be Elmer Fudd – but then Bugs gets out of being held at gunpoint by shaking some dice and that idea goes out the window. Ouch.
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Vivian (Bruce Conner, 1964)
If you liked a girl in the 1960′s, you made an avant-garde film of her. Harvard Film Archive: “An ecstatic portrait of actress Vivian Kurtz that features footage of a 1964 Conner exhibition and couches a humorous critique of the art market.” Set to a pop song called Mona Lisa, loads of fun and only three minutes long. This would go on my “best of a-g” gift reel if it wasn’t such a problem to make such a thing.
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Journey on the Plain (1995, Bela Tarr)
Poems about friendship loss, life and death, each with a long tracking shot (imagine that), written by famed Hungarian poet Sándor Petöfi and performed by one of my favorite film music composers, Mihály Vig (Irimiás from Sátántangó, in color!). Suddenly in one scene 20 minutes in, he’s on a truck loudly playing a doomed keyboard. An odd movie, peaceful and beautiful. I would gladly watch again, paying more attention to the words of the poems.

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Thriller (1979, Sally Potter)

A narrator goes over the story and characters of an opera, then analyzes it while staring into a mirror, memory and identity swirling about. Very art-film, told in black-and-white stills and scenes, narrator all heavily french-accented. Kind of entrancing, really, with repeated poses and images and phrases, never quite turning into something I can make sense of (though I hear it’s some kind of marxist-feminist critique of Freud and contemplation of human existence, thanks to a useful, knowledgeable and well-considered review on the IMDB – a rare thing indeed).

Sony Pictures: “a critical re-working of Puccini’s opera La Boheme, was a cult hit on the international festival circuit.” Sudden bursts of the shower theme from Psycho. “Yes, it was murder. We never got to know each other. Perhaps we could have loved each other.” I need to see it again, obviously, but I’m not dying to do so anytime soon.

from K. McKim’s great Senses of Cinema article

Potter’s 16 mm black and white cult hit Thriller (1979) overtly equates revision with survival; the film invokes formal conventions to interrogate the narrative necessity of Mimi’s death. Inscribing this inquiry within allusion to female murder victims (Thriller cites Bernard Hermann’s screeching Psycho score), Mimi questions the conventions that locate meaning in the death of a young beautiful woman. Scripted, edited, produced and directed by Potter, Thriller transforms the opera into, as the title suggests, a thriller that uncovers operatic form’s generic and gendered hypocrisy.

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Dottie Gets Spanked (1993, Todd Haynes)
Wow, this was great. Boy with a mommy complex idolizes an I Love Lucy-esque TV show, wins a contest and gets to visit the set. Movie swirls with repression and fantasy and budding sexuality.

The distributor: “anticipates … Far from Heaven with its excavation of placid mid-century surfaces and deeply-buried emotions.” R. Lineberger: “This short film was commissioned by the Independent Television Service as part of a search for short films about American television. The pairing is perfect. Haynes is subversive, but approachable. His film deals with ominous and disturbing themes, but he never comes out and says anything objectionable. For example, Steven’s father is suggested to be violent, or at least sharply critical, but we never actually see any aggressiveness from him. The whispered consequences and punishments exist in glances, or in Steven’s thoughts.”

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13 Screen Tests (1964-66, Andy Warhol)

Rented Warhol’s screen tests sorta against my will (I just wanted to hear the new Dean & Britta songs) then proceeded to half-watch ‘em while listening to the music. The films were better than I thought (that Edie Sedgwick has got something, and Lou Reed and Dennis Hopper are funny) and the music was worse (standard instrumentals, a few new songs and some covers). I did try watching a screen test straight through, the way I’m supposed to, to see if I experienced a sudden tingly appreciation for the Cult of Andy, but it didn’t work; maybe I picked the wrong one.

G. Comenas:

Factory visitors who had potential “star” quality would be seated in front of a tripod mounted camera, asked to be as still as possible, and told not to blink while the camera was running. … Some of the earliest Screen Tests were those included in Warhol’s film The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys. … More than 500 Screen Tests were made. In addition to The 13 Most Beautiful Boys, some of the footage was incorporated into other compilation reels such as The 13 Most Beautiful Women (1964) and 50 Fantastics and 50 Personalities (1964).

LA Times:

Each test lasted as long as a single 100-foot roll of film. Each was shot at 24 frames per second and projected at two-thirds of that speed, a trick Warhol often used. Each took a little less than three minutes to film, and takes a little more than four to watch. The slow-motion effect adds a discernible flicker, heightens every movement and contributes to the dreamy, ghostly quality.

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