The end of a week catching up with True/False films, beginning with Black Mother. I watched most of this at the airport – inconvenient since I kept having to lift my jaw off the dirty floor. Very happy to learn that Mads has a new shit-stirring movie and we’ll be seeing it next week in Columbia.

“Comedy is the soft spot of all dictatorships.” A group of antifascist subversive Danish comedians takes an official visit to to North Korea with the stated goal of playing Wonderwall with local kids as a cultural exchange. Their purposely terrible musical-comedy act is hijacked by a local cultural director, who “surgically removes” anything cultural and changes their entire act into something just as unfunny but somehow more politically palatable. Meanwhile, Mads has come as a spy, to shine a light on a hated, repressive system. His secret weapon is Jacob, whose physical disability makes his Danish impossible to understand by the censors and translators, but Jacob becomes tormented by all the duplicity. They end up in a parade on national TV cursing the U.S. imperialists, manage to play Wonderwall once, then get the hell out of there.

Slightly perverse to watch a movie called Starless Dreams right after A Star Is Born. This doc hangs out with Iranian girls in a juvenile detention center, which is like a hostel with a recess area and crappy food, surrounded by fences. The twist is that some of them make friends here and dread being sent home to their abusive families.

“Ava, why do you seem so down these days” is answered that her brother is getting the death penalty for being caught with meth. Somayeh calmly explains what she’s in for: “One night we decided to kill my father.” One girl’s baby visits and is excitedly passed around. They get into the filmmaking spirit, interviewing each other, asking Mehrdad questions. A girl grabs the boom mic and sings to the dinner table. Another cries when he mentions his own daughter: “She is being raised with love and comfort, while we were raised in rot and filth.”

The last part of Oskouei’s youth/crime trilogy – True Vision award in 2016, the year before we started attending T/F, playing with Cameraperson, Kate Plays Christine, The Other Side, and a bunch we haven’t caught up with.

Ukraine is Not a Brothel (2013)

“Kitty is filming this for some reason.” Fun, newsy doc about feminists in Ukraine who stage topless public actions and usually get arrested, traveling to other countries to protest in India, getting terrorized by cops in Belarus.

“We get money from charitable donations. We don’t know exactly where the money comes from.” The movie takes a turn upon the introduction of Victor, the man in the shadows who organizes all public appearances of this “feminist” group. “Girls are weak,” he says, then “My influence on the girls is the very same as the patriarchal influence against which we are protesting.”

Victor’s expression when asked if he started Femen to get chicks… which he did:


The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul (2015)

A bunch of girls audition to play Ukraine’s first olympic champ. Perfect stepping-stone film between the two features, too short to make much of an impact, though when all the girls are trying to cry it made me wanna cry.


Casting JonBenet (2017)

Casting sessions for each role in a theoretical JonBenet Ramsey movie, shot in Boulder where the murder took place, cutting between actor reactions. After some desperate attempts to connect themselves with the case or the family, some of them start going through their own family traumas.

The would-be policeman-actors run through the investigation, criticizing and analyzing the work of their real-life counterparts two decades earlier. Each family member gets scrutinized. We get numerology, and perverse conspiracy theories playing out like the final scenes of Top of the Lake. My birds got triggered when the JonBenets demonstrated their screaming abilities – I wonder if that’s where I stopped the movie the first time I tried to watch it. Music by Nathan Larson of Shudder to Think! This played True/False in 2017, and is one of the most perfectly True/Falsey movies I’ve seen.

I was watching movies from last year’s Rotterdam and Sundance festivals, and now for a week on True/False movies. This is a transition film, premiering in last year’s True/False and showing up in this year’s Rotterdam (in Bright Future, with Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Manta Ray, Dead Horse Nebula). Opens with street scenes, talking with prostitutes, a squarish frame with v-hold issues and no sync sound, and I thought this might be a tough watch, then the editing sets it free – jumping around Jamaica meeting all sorts of people, beautiful photography and a vague structure around birth and death. It’s a poem of a movie, even less narrative than Hale County was, and at least as good.

The 16mm film full of light flares is interspersed with gliding HD. No subtitles and I can’t make out half the words, and zero sync sound, though sometimes we seem to be hearing the person we’re seeing speak, so it’s being shifted on purpose. So much Christianity – then an explanation for why that is, then an intro to rastafarianism and discussion of weed. I am an uncultured dummy who knows nothing about Jamaica or its culture, but there’s an echo effect on the end of sound clips and I wondered if this was dub-influenced. When the movie ended I was trying to remember how it started, watched the first half again before realizing that I was just going to keep playing it forever on a loop. Vikram Murthi saw it at T/F and notes that “the film is in direct conversation with the work by the Black Audio Film Collective.”

Edith+Eddie (2017, Laura Checkoway)

I guess it’s common practice to screw over elders using the legal guardianship system? Imagine being the lawyer responsible for the lonely death of a nice old man in an oscar-nominated documentary seen around the world. This was filmed 11 miles from my grandmother’s house.


Daredevil Droopy (1951, Tex Avery)

Droopy and Spike compete at a circus to be one of The Great Barko’s daredevil dogs. Rapid-fire series of short contests, mostly ending with the larger dog badly injured, but it’s fine because he was trying to cheat. Lots of dynamite in the second half. Best bits: figure skating, human bullet, that strength-tester bell-ringer seesaw hammer game.

Mouseover to send Spike through the hoop of fire:
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Mouseover to give Droopy a better gun:
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Droopy’s Good Deed (1951, Tex Avery)

Spike is a wild-eyed hobo pretending to be a boy scout, another series of short competitions with Spike cheating and losing to the cool and competent Droopy, who gets a ton more dialogue in this one. Slightly racist jokes in this and the previous one, always to the effect of turning Black after a bomb blast, and it’s not terrible – until one time it definitely is, then a weird, fakeout ending at the White House. I assume I downloaded the uncensored versions of these somewhere or other, they sat on my laptop for a year, and tonight I’m in the mood for some violent cartoons.


Watching Oana (2009, Sebastien Laudenbach)

Earlier short by The Girl Without Hands director. A couple: he is a pastry chef, she translates poetry and brochures. Told from his perspective, wanting a baby, not believing in her ambitions, thinking he knows her inside and out but apparently not. Some cringey moments, I hope it’s not based on a true story. Spoken opening credits, then alternates between written segments created with stop-motion pasta, and spoken conversations with close-up animation of something besides the couple’s faces (wine glasses, shadows, legs in the surf), then the pasta turns into words inked onto skin and the music ramps up for the disturbing final section. The voice of Oana is played by Elina Löwensohn, who keeps coming up lately. Played at Annecy with The Secret of Kells and Western Spaghetti.


The Boy Who Chose the Earth (2018, Lav Diaz)

Two minutes for the latest Vienna Film Festival, a boy at home alone receiving a letter, running outside, apparently surprised – then rain and flooded streets. The last Lav Diaz short I watched was also fierce storms and floods, either footage from the same week or else the Philippines get some regularly nasty weather.


The Glass Note (2018, Mary Helena Clark)

Miniature frames of music and water and wind. Extreme bodily close-ups. Mostly seems interested in sound being created and moving through channels, with a sidetrack about tourists touching the breasts of bronze statues.


Story of an Old Lady (1985, Agnes Varda)

Lost, deteriorated Varda mini-doc about the woman she cast to get naked in the feather room in 7 P., cuis., s.de b…. Bit of behind-the-scenes interview, her getting a kick out of playing the employer in Vagabond, bossing around Yolande and Sandrine, when she’d worked as a maid all her life.


Trees Down Here (2018, Ben Rivers)

I wasn’t sure that ending my night with Ben Rivers would work out, since he tends to put me to sleep, but it opens with an owl close-up and I’m hooked. Architectural sketches alternate with architectural photos, but with an owl or snake in the foreground. The final minutes have a tape of John Ashbery reading his poem “Some Trees”. Ben’s most engaging work yet, I suppose if you’re into architecture, poems, owls and snakes.

Tao catches up with his old buddy Dong, a former photographer who’s figuring out what to do next while being needled by his family, wishing he could just stay drunk and hang out with his friends and listen to punk rock, dreaming of returning to his pastoral home town far to the north. Dong’s mom works with fabric, dad sells flutes, and Dong is coerced into starting a jade business. This doesn’t work out – Tao films Dong listening to a jade dealer explain what kinds of stones to buy and how to convince customers into spending more than a piece is worth, then venting into the camera later about this business being an elaborate scam, and that’s the end of the jade story. Dong has lived his whole life in Post-Mao China but still can’t adjust to capitalism.

I’m not always clear on chronology or location. We’re in Kunming in 2011 on Dong’s 30th birthday talking about taking a trip to Hailar, then “Spring arrived in 2013,” and Dong is on a train, pointing to cities on the schedule, talking about his parents and his childhood in Hailar. So, we assumed it’s 2013 and the trip has begun, before realizing a few scenes later that it’s still Dong’s 30th birthday and they’ve gone nowhere, will go nowhere (except for the jade expo) until the final minutes of the movie.

Watched because of a specific interest in China this year, to be further explored soon. Kunming is in the far (central) south of the country, and Guangdong (the jade expo, and the beach where the promo stills were shot) is far to the east, on the south side near Hong Kong. Beijing is in the northeast of the country, but Hailar is even further northeast, around the eastern tip of Mongolia, a stone’s throw from Russia. According to the description of his previous film, post-earthquake survival semi-doc On the Way to the Sea, Tao Gu and his family are from Wenchuan, just northwest of Chengdu and not near any of his Taming the Horse locations. I haven’t figured out the part where drunk, crying Dong says he wants to kill himself in Yanjiang where he first saw the sea, since Yanjiang appears to be just on the other side of Chengdu from Gu’s hometown, 15 hours from the nearest ocean.

Punk Rock tells the Truth:

Love’s Refrain (2016, Paul Clipson)

Measured zooms and pans through textures of nature, always overlapping and dissolving, set to an ambient groove with a steady beat. As the music gets blurrier and the beat recedes, the picture focuses more on streaks of light swishing past the natural photography, and finally the music turns into an insistent blare and the picture becomes abstract light squiggles. Clipson died last month, which is how I first heard about his work. My first thought is I’d like to see this in a theater, projected large, maybe in some kind of weekly screening program before a feature, and imagine how lovely that would be, and how nobody who sat through it would ever return.


Describe What You Heard (2017, Joe Callander & Jason Tippet)

“Tips on how to better describe your next mass shooting experience,” reacting to how people in news interviews are always saying “pop pop pop.” Jumps back and forth between shooting story footage and a guy providing a better sound effect vocabulary. This played True/False last year, now on vimeo.


Pure Flix and Chill: The David A.R. White Story (2018, Anthony Simon)

The week God’s Not Dead 3 came out I watched this half-hour doc on its star and studio founder, thanks to a Filmmaker article. Simon uses visuals from Pure Flix features and interview audio from White to craft a hilarious montage about the Christian entertainment industry and one of its biggest stars.


Idiot With a Tripod (2010, Jamie Stuart)

Jamie went out into a New York snowstorm, caught images of the city and edited them rhythmically to a Reznor/Ross song from the Social Network soundtrack. I watched this to see if I need to watch his feature A Motion Selfie, but I still don’t know!


Koko Trains ‘Em (1925, Dave Fleischer)

The earliest Fleischer I’ve seen, and it’s ambitious. An animator (Max) dressed in a suit is trying to impress a fashionable woman at his studio by drawing her dog, but the drawing keeps mutating into Koko the Clown. He puts Koko aside, they wrestle over the fountain pen, and the animator draws the dog next to Koko setting up a circus scenario. Not sure why the fashionable woman would want to see her dog break into pieces while doing flips and impersonate Teddy Roosevelt at the behest of a whip-wielding clown, but I never claimed to understand the 1920’s. Ends with Koko jumping out of the paper and riding the actual dog. Wikipedia says nearly 120 of these “inkwell” cartoons were made, that Dave’s job as a Coney Island clown inspired Koko, and that the dog named Fitz evolved into Betty Boop’s boyfriend Bimbo.


The Heat of a Thousand Suns (1965, Pierre Kast)

One of the few Chris Marker-related movies I hadn’t seen – he’s credited with editing. Sci-fi animation about a rich, bored space explorer with a robot crew who travels to a planet in another galaxy and fails to have a major romance with the beautiful girl he meets there since he does not understand how their relationships work. The animated movement is limited, but the drawings are lovely and unique. There’s a Jules & Jim reference, a cat, and a utopian society that is possibly into orgies.

It closes with a montage of real-life Earth women, including future Sans Soleil narrator Alexandra Stewart, who appeared in most of Kast’s films. This was his final short – he also directed features including an Easter Island sci-fi mystery, a Stéphane Audran cancer drama, and one in which scientist Jean Marais shrinks his female lab assistant to pocket-size. For Marker this was three years after La Jetée. Shot by Willy Kurant the year before he’d jump very impressively into feature films with Masculin Féminin, Trans-Europ-Express and Les Créatures. Played Locarno 1965 alongside The Koumiko Mystery.


La Legende dorée (2015, Olivier Smolders)

“God is a mediocre idea.” Librarian who hasn’t slept in 57 years claims his mother was conjoined twins, his dad a farting musician cannibal. He is fond of talking straight into the camera and showing off his scrapbook of tragic historical figures including a castrato, some torturous murderers, and Simon of the Desert – repeating and changing his story. Watched this to see if I want to see more Smolders, and… maybe?


Disintegration 93-96 (2017, Miko Revereza)

Either I am tired or the narrator has the kind of voice that it’s impossible to concentrate on – it’s something about this kid’s memories of hating his dad in 1993, his words illustrated with period VHS footage cropped to widescreen. Something about being illegal aliens in America, something about work and philosophy and class. If it was written, I’d have to reread some sentences, skim others, process it in my own time – but it’s spoken at a rapid, droning clip while I’m mostly trying to follow the visuals. Sponsored by Laika!


Muta (2011, Lucrecia Martel)

Someone’s been watching The Ring! Horror movie fashion models, faces unseen, creep around a yacht like an Under The Skin insect alien convention. I guess it’s an ad for a clothing company, like that Leos Carax short, but I appreciate these luxury brands giving great filmmakers a budget and letting them get deeply weird.


Things that aren’t shorts, but aren’t TV or movies exactly:

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette is quite the journey… a middling comedy special for the first half, which turns into something more serious and interesting. Some early bits I’d noted as clunky and overserious turned out to be gradual setup for the later parts. I mean I hope it’s not the future of comedy, but as a singular show, it’s really well-constructed and I felt all the things.

I watched the whole Fred Armisen comedy thing about drummers, and I love both comedy and drumming, so I rather enjoyed it a lot.

And it seems like ages ago, but we saw Distant Sky, the second Nick Cave/Bad Seeds movie I’ve seen in theaters since moving here, and it was just as transcendent as the last one. Well-made concert movies can be better than actual concerts, and they’re easier to tour around the country, so why aren’t there more of them?

Preparation and conflagration of a two-day incendiary festival in a fireworks producing town. Day one is the Castles of Fire, then day two is the Bulls. We spend time with participants, mostly paying attention to stories about when things have gone wrong during past festivals leading to death and disfigurement, then watch the pretty sparks with the tension of hoping not to see anybody caught aflame. Missed this at True/False but it played on PBS in an apparently edited version. Lindy Lou, Juror Number Two seems to be cut even more, so this calls for investigation.