I had to open LNKarno with the Claire Simon film to tie it together with True/False, where she was last year’s True Vision Award winner. Cannes Month got interrupted by vacation this year, represented only by The Salesman and Bright Star, so I didn’t give LNKarno a time limit, just picked some selections and kept watching ’em until it felt over. Simon had two related films at the fest in 2013: the train station-set drama Gare du Nord in competition, and a documentary about people they met at the station, Human Geography, in the out-of-competition Fuori Concorso. It reminded me of the In the City of Sylvia double-feature, another doc/fiction pair set in the same spaces.

Gare du Nord stars Nicole Garcia, a filmmaker in competition four times at Cannes, also a star of Mon oncle d’Amérique and Duelle. Mathilde is taking trains to get treatment for an unspecified illness, and runs across the younger Ismael (Reda Kateb of A Prophet and the most recent Wim Wenders), who talks with people in the station for his sociology thesis. “When you’re here, you’re nowhere really, but at the same time it’s like a village square.” She’s a professor and shows some interest in his project, and he shows some interest in her (she’s married but we only see the husband once).

Meanwhile, a TV host (Francois Damiens of Les Cowboys, The Brand New Testament) has a missing daughter, hangs out at the station waving her photograph around and reluctantly taking photos with fans. A fellow student gets Ismael involved in a health services protest that aims to shut down train service. A giant unstable man wreaks havoc in a lingerie shop. Joan (Monia Chokri of a couple Xavier Dolan movies, this year’s Ravenous) is a harried realtor whose job is destroying her family, runs into each of the other characters. The movie ends abruptly with Mathilde’s offscreen death after some vaguely hippie plot contrivances lead the TV host to his missing daughter. Mostly it’s realistic, but sometimes there are ghosts.

Human Geography is a straightforward doc, the music and photography pretty basic, either the film or the DVD transfer turning black faces into smudges. Claire speaks with station workers and regulars, and also employs her friend Simon as an interviewer, meeting people from Tunisia and Mali and Brittany, Vietnam, Algeria, Cuba, USA, Mauritius, Iran, Congo. They talk with a couple of racist Belgians, and witness so much fare cheating at the turnstiles.

Simon, taking a breather after speaking with the Belgians:

The lingerie shop, the photomat, and at least one local (a diner worker with an economics degree who sells art online) appear in both movies. Gare du Nord didn’t come together for me, and the dialogue felt flat (maybe chalk that up to shady subtitles), and Human Geography is interesting enough – maybe if you’re a station regular who walks past the immigrant workers daily without considering their histories or inner lives it’d be extremely enlightening. Watching both movies in a row, though, is pretty great. Not to harp on the True/False connection, but the real stories in the doc suggest the sheer number of directions the feature could’ve taken – you could make a career’s worth of films in the station.

The opening scene sets up some teen school drama – girl who wants to fit in and act adult, lovestruck fool who obsesses over her, and his friends, the popular class president and their weirdo buddy Don. So it’s gonna be that kind of movie… except the lead girl (does she not have a name?) is gulping boozy drinks all at once, her throat bulging as they go down. The animation style keeps changing, and facial expressions extend off people’s heads when they get excited. It’s mentioned that the class president is famous for his cross-dressing and that Don hasn’t changed his underwear in six months. The lead dude lays out his scheme to follow the girl everywhere, bumping into her “by chance” until she thinks it’s fate that they should be together. Then she imagines she’s a train and cho-choos off into the night – this is all in the first four minutes. There’s singing and dancing, so I’m pretty sure it’s a sequel to Girl Walk: All Day.

Soon our girl is beating up a molester in another bar, meeting gamblers and gangsters and secret societies. She faces off against the droopy-eared elf leader of the criminal underworld, who she drinks under the table, the beginning of his rapid decline. There’s a nighttime book market with its own guardian spirit, a hallucinatory hot pot competition, the president using his panopticon to track down a guerrilla theater production rigged by Don Underwear to search for his missed-connection. I can’t tell if the movie believes in fate or is mocking its characters for believing in it. The night ends with everyone tired and sick, except our Girl, who delivers healing soup to everyone in town at once, Santa-like.

Don Underwear and his Apple Girl:

This feels more mainstream than Kate Plays Christine or Actress without compromising Greene’s interest in blurring the lines of performance, and while bringing up tons of new and timely issues. The photography is very good (some epic travelling shots, most notably when introducing our young star Fernando) and Greene has graduated from filming lone actresses to an entire town. I came in with high expectations and couldn’t be happier – this was the standout hit of True/False.

In July 1917, striking workers in an Arizona mining town were rounded up and herded out of the town, told they’d be killed if they returned. For the hundredth anniversary, Greene films a town-wide re-enactment of the event, as portrayed by locals with hundred-year roots, by ex-miners and their families, businessmen and government officials, and town newcomers. Few had heard of the “Deportation” before the anniversary committee got underway, but as they research their roles it leads to much discussion and some uncomfortable parallels to still-current problems – deportation and communist agitation were rearing their ugly heads again right as filming began. Two brothers whose grandfather exiled their great uncle play opposite sides, a friendly young dude plays an ambivalent miner who gets swayed to become a flag-waving striker, and a descendant of a town leader insists the deportation was right and necessary until the moment when he finds himself rallying his neighbors onto desert-bound railcars at gunpoint. Minds don’t exactly get changed, but people soften their hardline positions. The whole ensemble piece is beautifully assembled and shot in widescreen, cutting between documentary behind-the-scenes footage and staged-reenactment scenes without radically changing the visuals, breaking down the boundaries between them in true Greene-T/F style.

After lunch we went to the Journalism Institute on campus because we heard there was a Strong Island exhibit. It must have been closed on Sunday, but we came across this instead:

There’s a whole subgenre of action thrillers in which Liam Neeson’s family members get taken, with different spinoffs and variations (like Keanu Reeves’ dog getting taken), all of which I’ve been skipping. I probably would’ve skipped this too, but I was fifteen minutes late for The Square, and I’m saving The Post for Katy, and the vulgar auteurists who prompted my fruitful journey through the Resident Evil movies last summer are saying The Commuter is pure cinema, so fine. And they’re wrong, obviously, though their articles are a blast to read – it’s just a pretty good suspenseful movie where Liam kicks some ass and we forgive the ludicrous situation because we’re having a good time.

Liam is a good family man, ex-cop with a kid entering college and major money problems, especially today when he lost his wallet and his insurance job, so when he’s offered $100k to finger a witness on his daily train, he goes along at first, then discovers the people he’s working with are murderers covering for corrupt cops including his ex-partner Patrick Wilson. Various groups claim to be holding Liam’s wife Lady Grantham, but this turns out maybe not to be true – either way, Liam runs up and down the train, making enemies and alliances, eventually gathering everyone in one car and yelling at them while carrying a gun until things get sorted. This is all what I imagine the recent remake of Murder on the Orient Express was like, but with funnier mustaches. The opening montage detailing Liam’s daily family routine is excellent, and a massive train derailment scene was exciting if you get past the conductor’s little Titanic-like self-sacrifice dialogue. The super-happy post-hostage-situation wrap scene was a bit of a stretch. People are dead, a train is destroyed and Liam is supposedly holding hostages. The cop sent in to negotiate is killed. Then a couple minutes after a thousand police storm the train car and grab everybody, Liam is just allowed to go free because the other passengers say he’s a hero. Call me cynical, but I’d expect him to be taken away, beaten half to death and held as a terrorist for at least a few months.

Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) is Liam’s contact, Sam Neill a cop boss, and Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth herself) a passenger. The crossover casting between this movie and Atomic Blonde (more deserving of the “pure cinema” label) is tough-looking fellow commuter Roland Møller. This is Collet-Serra’s fourth film where Liam Neeson is holding a gun on the poster, and I’m glad it’s working out for both of them – he also made The Shallows, which I’ve been meaning to watch some SHOCKtober.

Spoiler: there are zombies on the train to Busan. But there are suddenly zombies everywhere, and the train survivors aren’t sure whether it’s more dangerous in the zombie-infested train, or out in the zombie-infested world. The heart of the story, which doesn’t work nearly as well as The Host, to take another Korean family/supernatural-disaster movie as an example, is that workaholic dad Gong Yoo (The Age of Shadows) is a professional asshole and a shitty father to his daughter. During the course of the invasion, not only does he step up and learn to help people and work together, but we get a real panicky villain who needlessly kills others trying to save himself, making dad look even better in comparison.

L-R: Baseballer, Tough Guy, Hero Dad

There’s also a big tough dude and his pregnant wife, a high school baseballer and his girl Jin-Hee, the bedraggled survivor from outside, two older sisters, and one extremely dedicated train conductor. Once you get bit, the zombification escalates very quickly, so it’s all panic and chaos. The action is kinda poor, but the tension is great – especially when the group pictured above fights their way through to a car with the other survivors, then Panicky Villain Guy convinces the others that the newcomers can’t be allowed to stay.

Zombies can see better than they can hear:

The two sisters:

One train crash later, our Hero Dad finally gets zombie’d fighting off the villain, and the daughter makes it to Busan with the Tough Guy’s pregnant wife. I didn’t love the director’s animated The Fake – he bridged the two films with an animated zombie train movie called Seoul Station. He’s joined here by the cowriter of Hwayi: A Monster Boy.

A Brief History of Princess X (2016, Gabriel Abrantes)

“Hey guys, my name is Gabriel Abrantes and I’m the director of this little six-minute film” – probably the first movie I’ve seen with director’s commentary as the main audio. It’s the story of Princess X, the sculpture and the subject, with playful voiceover: the characters’ mute dialogue in semi-sync with Abrantes, the director laughing at the actions and commenting on the filmmaking. “Here we changed his costume so it would seem like time was passing. He just ended up looking like Fidel Castro.”

M. Sicinski:

Princess X is undoubtedly a smart little film, and Abrantes wears his erudition lightly, possibly a little too much so. But in such a small space, he accomplishes several feats — things too modest to call “impressive,” per se, so let’s label them nifty. The film brings out the neurosis and below-the-belt impulses of modernism without turning it into a punchline, making “modern art” some sort of con. Abrantes follows tangents like a champ, following through when, for instance, our Spin the Phallus game lands us on Freud. But above all, he generates an uncanny sense of Victorian human puppetry from his performers, especially Joana Barrios as Marie Bonaparte. We find ourselves inside a weird, high-speed hybrid film, equal parts Guy Maddin and Raoul Ruiz. It’s something special.

Princess X (the marble version?) premiered in 1917 in the same show as Duchamp’s urinal, which grabbed all the headlines, postponing Brancusi’s own controversy until 1920, when the bronze version was censored in Paris. The marble is on display 200 yards from my office, and I visit it some afternoons.


Checked out Festivalscope for the first time with these next couple of shorts… great site, going to have to keep an eye on its new releases.


As Without So Within (2016, Manuela de Laborde)

I think it’s closeups on planetary stone objects. Sometimes we go too close, and the film is overrun with low-framerate grain, and sometimes we pull back with minor Lemony light changes. Soft static on the soundtrack, annoying. Some double exposures toward the middle. I liked the lighting, at least.

Played ND/NF 2017 and Toronto before that. Knew I’d heard about this somewhere – turns out it got six whole pages in Cinema Scope.

De Laborde:

Although I didn’t want to make a film that’s about outer space per se, I do like the metaphor, and also the relation that it suggests between cinema and the theatre. We go into this neutral non-space and we have to make sense of these self-contained universes, with their own balance and rules and life of their own, which works according to a language or order that was born from these materials, and yet they are also just these floating bodies in the middle of a dark, empty room.


Spiral Jetty (2017, Ricky D’Ambrose)

Male narrator gets job working for the daughter of recently deceased, celebrated psychologist Kurt Blumenthal, documenting his papers and tapes. Narrator is the last person to get to see the full collection before the daughter and her conductor husband (played by n+1’s film critic) suppress and destroy certain things (such as “the papers from the maoists”) before it’s all sold to a university. The short premiered just a week before I watched it online, does some things I like with editing and sound, and has an interesting focus on objects (news articles, handwritten notes, photographs). Dan Sallitt gets thanked in this film and Ben Rivers in the previous one, and both of these connections make sense to me.

In a Brooklyn Magazine interview, D’Ambrose reveals that his family’s own home movies substituted for Blumenthal’s. He’s working on a feature called Notes on an Appearance. “The shorts exist because the feature existed before them: each short was an attempt to solve certain aesthetic and conceptual problems that I’ve been thinking about ever since I started writing An Appearance.”


Arm, Flexion, Extension (2011, Bea Haut)

A white wall is painted black from a few tripod setups, while light shapes flicker across the “haphazardly hand processed 16mm film” over the sound of projector noise. On International Women’s Day, Michael Sicinski posted links to seventy female filmmakers’ Vimeo pages and I picked this one at random… the idea was to watch a bunch more, but I haven’t gotten to that yet, just cataloguing them for later.


Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises (1999, David Gatten)

Bible pages and words and letters flash and scroll past, with various levels of enlargement and exposure and opacity and speed, flickering by in different ways, maybe according to the Moxon quote before each section. I was annoyed when I realized it would be all silent text on screen, then I improved things by playing the Monotonprodukt album, against the Wishes and Intentions of the filmmaker. He probably also didn’t intend for me to watch a VHS transfer on an HDTV, or to pause the movie halfway through because my mom called, but that’s life in this 21st Century.

Sicinski in Cinema Scope:

Portions of the Biblical texts are affixed to the film, lifted from their source with cellophane tape after Gatten has boiled the books. We see the ink, hanging together in atomic word-forms like nervous constellations, mottled and wavering in thickness. The Word, indeed, is made flesh.


Secret History of the Dividing Line (2002, David Gatten)

The first five minutes were fun, flipping through a timeline of events, pausing on the biographical details of William Byrd and his expedition to determine the border between Virginia and North Carolina (very Lost City of Z), and this time I knew to start the Monotonprodukt album right away. But then a scroll of the two versions of the Dividing Line publication take over the screen, with a vertical-mask Dividing Line switching between them… this part was mostly unreadable in my SD copy. The text ends and the screen flickers and lights up with horizontal noise patterns, often weirdly in sync with my music.

If I’m reading a Wexner Center program correctly, this is part one and Moxon’s is part three of the same project (“the Byrd films”). Michael Sicinski’s article on Gatten in Cinema Scope 49 is the best, and makes me want to seek out more by Gatten, even though I’ve only found these subpar video copies so far.


A Train Arrives at the Station (2016, Thom Andersen)

Clips from train scenes in movies, using their own sound, including some of my favorite movies (Shanghai Express, Dead Man) and memorable scenes (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). Feels like this was meant to go with a speech or discussion of some sort, because otherwise I don’t see the point of it… I mean, I like trains in film as much as the next guy, so it’s enjoyable at least.

News From Home, perhaps? No source credits, so I can’t be sure.


From The Drain (1967, David Cronenberg)

A comedy sketch in a bathtub, scored with Renaissance acoustic guitar, Hat Guy doing his exasperated theater-guy voice while Glasses Guy mutely grins at him. References to “the war” and a veteran’s center, where the two either work or are patients, then Glasses guy warns of murderous tendrils coming from the drain, and is eventually strangled by them (or a stop-motion phone cord). It’s silly, and surprisingly not the only Cronenberg movie to be shot entirely in a bathroom, but he does an effectively strange thing, swapping positions of the two guys in the tub but acting like it’s normal continuity cutting.

I missed the evening show of Manchester by the Sea because I misremembered the start time and got caught up watching Black Mirror episodes. But I still wanted to get bummed out watching a long Casey Affleck movie, so fortunately I had The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford handy. I don’t remember Casey from the Oceans trilogy or Interstellar, so this served as a reintroduction before Manchester, and both turned out to be stunner movies with great lead performances. If anyone is working on a Timothy Carey biopic, I nominate Casey as lead.

I’ve seen this story before, in Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James, in which The Coward Robert Ford shoots his hero/boss Jesse in the back, then lives the rest of his short life as a famous outlaw-killer, reenacting his crime onstage. This movie fleshes out the gang much more, showing a Robert as a starstruck, excitable kid, the runt of the Fords, and Jesse as paranoid and dangerous.

After one last train robbery, the gang lays low. Jesse has a family with wife Mary-Louise Parker, lives in a forest house near Kansas City under a fake name, never got caught. Ol’ Frank James (Sam Shepard) and Charley (Sam Rockwell) make the weasely, weak-sounding Robert feel bad about his Jesse James hero-worship, but Jesse recruits Robert when the rest of his gang starts falling away and he gets nervous that someone will sell him out for reward money, visits old friend Garret Dillahunt and kills him. Meanwhile, Paul Schneider and Jeremy Renner are none too bright, compete for the attention of a teen girl, eventually have a huge falling out and Bob kills Renner and calls the cops on Schneider. Late appearance by James Carville as the governor, Nick Cave as a troubadour and Zooey “She” Deschanel.

Casey and Carville have a psychic battle:

Dominik and DP Roger Deakins don’t overdo the stylistic quirks, allowing the story and actors to do their thing against gorgeous landscapes, but the movie’s got its share of flair – shots with edges blurred like old-timey photographs, an occasional omniscient narrator.

Casey of the Clouds:

A. Cook:

On one side it mythologizes the transitionary period of American history via the fable-building narration and dreamy photography, and on the other it slowly and methodically demystifies the characters that populate it and the falsehood of celebrity. It is this contradiction that is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film and mirrors the inner-conflict of Robert Ford and his complex relationship with Jesse James.

The Village (1993, Mark Baker)

Fun story with a fairly minimal drawing style. Small town is hateful and suspicious of each other until they have something to unite around: imprisoning and hanging their falsely-accused neighbor. After a rooftop fight, he manages to escape into the woods with his lover. I dig the decorative swarm of ants who end up complicating the plot. This won a pile of awards, also oscar-nominated against winner The Wrong Trousers.


His Comedy (1994, Paul Bush)

More an art piece than a short story – the poetic voiceover does nothing for me, and I couldn’t make out any sort of narrative. Maybe something religious or mythological? Ah, it’s all Dante quotes, as I should’ve known from the title. Cool looking, though – everything composed of wavy lines, with some parts (motion of bird flocks, fire, bombings) that appear rotoscoped. I liked Bush’s later, twitchy Episodes from the Life of Jekyll and Hyde.


Dreamland Express (1982, David Anderson)

Sleepwalker finds a train in the woods and takes it for a ride. All manner of wonderous imagery ensues. One of those animations that reminds you how limited and straightforward most animations are. Glad I didn’t skip this after realizing it’s by the same guy who made Deadsy. Won a Bafta (interesting thing that year: Burden of Dreams won an award; Fitzcarraldo was nominated but lost).

Holy shit, the Lumière films have been remastered in HD and look incredible. I understand no spoken French, so played the music-only track on the blu-ray, though I’ll bet the narration is super interesting. Hope this comes out in the U.S. eventually.


Sortie d’usine III (1896)

Sortie d’usine II (1896)

Sortie d’usine (1895)

Three takes shown in reverse order (and with declining picture quality). There are dogs (the same dog?) in all three, and dudes who need help riding their bikes.


Débarquement du congrès de photographes à Lyon (1895)

The first self-reflexive movie? A photographer notices he’s being filmed, his own camera aiming towards our camera.


Repas de bébé (1895)

This baby would be 120 years old now.


Forgerons (1895)

Hammering and cranking – right as the film ends the anvil guy is being poured a drink. Can’t help but notice how clear the scene looks even with the fast hammer motion. I wonder what (approx) framerate this was shot at. Reportedly a remake of an Edison kinetoscope from 2.5 years earlier.


Arroseur et arrosé (1895)

Classic hose gag, ends in a spanking.


Partie d’écarté (1896)

While drinks are poured, cigars are smoked and cards are played, the waiter in the background is overreacting to the scenario, single-handedly inventing silent-film ham acting.


Arrivée d’un train à La Ciotat (1897)

It’s coming right at us!


Démolition d’un mur (1897)

I’d like a hand-cranked wall-demolisher. Everything was hand-cranked those days – construction equipment, cameras, fireplaces. Afterward this film is played in reverse, which is apparently a thing projectionists did to blow minds, a post-post-production effect.


Panorama de l’arrivée en gare de Perrache pris du train (1896)

Looking out the side of a train, with nice view of a horse-and-wagon bridge. “Panorama” apparently meant “moving camera”.


Arrivée d’un train à Perrache (1896)

Another train arrival (possibly the train we rode in the previous film). The behavior is what’s odd here. Bunch of uniformed mustache fellows waiting anxiously for the train to arrive, motioning at it, grabbing its handles seemingly in an effort to make it stop faster, then opening all the nice-looking cushioned side doors as a Napoleon-hatted man in the distance slowly paces.


Place des Cordeliers (1895)

Nice angle on a busy street. Horse-drawn double-decker bus!


Place Bellecour (1896)

Some of these are probably really special if you’re familiar with the corner today. Wonder if that hotel being built in the background is still standing. Unexciting until right at the end, a car reading “Absinthe Premier” appears on the right side. An advertisement like we put on tops of cabs and sides of buses, or – still my heart – an absinthe delivery truck??


Quai de l’Archevêché (1896)

It must have been unusual that this street would be flooded, given the huge audience of people watching from the sidewalk as cars pass by. But maybe not, since there’s also a boat. Don’t these people have somewhere better to be? Ah, “floods of the Saône river during the first week of November, 1896” says IMDB.


Place du Pont (1897)

Camera glides beautifully down a trolley line, but Lumiere didn’t have great timing with this one, as we stop to allow a rubble truck to pass. I guess those are simply bus ads for alcohol after all, since here we’ve got “Dunoise liquor exquise” and “Alcool de menthe” (probably De Ricqlès). My new theory is that these are party buses full of college students, who hop from one to another when they want to try a different spirit.


Concours de boules (1896)

A pretty damned exciting game of boules with a big crowd of suit-wearers, who are apt to dash into the middle of the court right when someone’s about to throw.