Has it been half a year since we left off in the Vogel book? Since then I’ve picked up the revised edition and found some more shorts.

Pianissimo (1963, Carmen D’Avino)

Beginning with the lowest-quality source of the bunch. Turntable and player piano are embellished with stop-motion rainbows. It’s all extremely fun and colorful, and probably one of the great animated shorts of its time, but we need a better copy to know for sure.


Skullduggery (1960, Stan Vanderbeek)

Phone call over black, the respondent just repeating “hello.” Montages of early cinema and newsreel stock footage with cut-out politician and celebrities added. Stan was obviously a favorite of Vogel’s – I found all three of his films from this section of the book.


Science Friction (1959, Stan Vanderbeek)

Sound effect loops as a score, not as abrasive as these things often are. I wonder if the mad scientist segment is original photography or stock footage. Less politician obsessed and more focused on doing surprising things to recognizable images, this one is great, real snappy and absurd, while Skullduggery felt like Mad Magazine outtakes. Advertising, the space race, hammers hitting figures in their heads causing transformation (see also: Harry Smith)… by the end, pretty much everything has been launched into space.

Stan, from various sources:

A social satire aimed at the rockets, scientists and competitive mania of our time … If this film has a social ambition, it is to help disarm the social fuse of people living with anxiety, to point out the insidious folly of competitive suicide (by way of rockets). In this film and others I am trying to evolve a ‘litera-graphic’ image, an international sign language of fantasy and satire. There is a social literature through filmic pantomime, that is, non-verbal comedy-satire; a ‘comic-ominous’ image that pertains to our time and interests which Hollywood and the commercial cinema are ignoring.


A La Mode (1959, Stan Vanderbeek)

An “attire satire” with cut-outs from glamour, art and lifestyle magazines. The audio includes taped music on fast forward and excerpts from TV episodes or radio plays. I hate to have to say this whenever I see absurd comic cutout animation, but of course it reminds me of Monty Python. Stan: ”A montage of women and appearances, a fantasy about beauty and the female, an homage, a mirage.”


A Day in Town (1958, Hulten & Nordenstrom)

The town is Stockholm, and this is a travelogue, a city symphony in miniature (a city chamber concerto). Some segments are looped. Burst of abstract animation in a skit about a man who wants his name changed. Man with a suitcase of dynamite is chased around by two cops until one cop is poisoned by snake water. Increasingly rapid and random things accumulate until the city explodes.


Sort of a Commercial for an Icebag (1970, Michel Hugo)

Artist Claes Oldenburg wants to create a soft sculpture, or a motion sculpture showing the release and tension of materials, settles on an icebag shape. He wants to mass produce these, send them everywhere “and see what kind of meaning they acquire.” Artist monologue about his hopes for an icebag society feels like a put-on, but you never can tell with artists.


The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam (1971, Case & Mitchell)

Sleepy Sam runs a desert gas station, is knocked out and abducted in a potato sack by a would-be customer, witnessed only by a cameraman apparition. A cabal of tanks, bombs and capitalists plans to blow him up and kidnap Lady Liberty next, but Sam’s bald eagle friend sort-of rescues him and they hop a blimp. When you watch underground movies from this era, you’re gonna see a lot of Nixons. After a pause for a satanic shotgun murder montage, our heroes pull off a rescue mission and dance back into the desert.

Up to the Expressionism chapter in the Vogel. Our Lady of the Turks was a bust, and I had Viva La Muerte lined up but it sounds depressing, so I’m turning to shorts: three from Expressionism then three from Surrealism.


The Reality of Karel Appel (1962, Jan Vrijman)

The artist looks like he is fencing with the painting, and the camera. Short doc portraits of artists aren’t usually the most creative, so I was surprised to see that Vogel picked a few. This is really good, with a jazz montage of Appel cruising a junkyard, and crashing sfx as he attacks a canvas. Appel contributed his own music.


Visual Training (1969, Frans Zwartjes)

Stonefaced blackeyed man eats his jam and toast in a bowl, then smears his breakfast all over a nude woman on the table. There’s lots of posing, and looking into the camera. Sounds like a Kurt Kren actionist short, but unlike Kren’s, this one is actually good. No audio, I played the opening track to Zorn’s Heaven & Earth Magick. Zwartjes made about thirty more films, and if they’re available somewhere I’d consider a marathon.


The Liberation of Mannique Mechanique (1967, Steven Arnold)

Another short with heavily made-up topless women, this time with less posing, the actors and camera in constant movement. Good use is made of feathers and a glass table, multiple takes of the same scene are strung together. Some pretty-whatever music, I should’ve kept playing Zorn. Debut short of Arnold, a Dalí associate.


Magritte: The Object Lesson (1960, Luc de Heusch)

Cutouts of the paintings fade into each other. I barely know Magritte’s name but I know some of these images – “This Is Not a Pipe” and the hatted man facing away from us. He painted more birds than I realized. Vogel: “one of the few films to deal with the philosophical basis of contemporary art,” true enough. De Heusch worked with Storck, and previous to this he made a film about eating, which would’ve also fit into this program.


Eaten Horizons (1950, Wilhelm Freddie & Jorgen Roos)

Weirdo little short with abrupt picture and sound editing, fetishizing loaves of bread. A woman is opened up so her insides can be eaten, a loaf is cut and bleeds goopy guts. Freddie provides the art-world weirdness here, Roos (who’d just made a Cocteau doc) the cinema experience.


The World of Paul Delvaux (1946, Henri Storck)

Forming a trilogy of short docs about painters. I didn’t dig the music or the dramatic poetry reading, but it’s cool to zoom in and around the paintings, lingering on background details. This one’s all paintings – unlike the other two, the artist doesn’t appear in person. Vogel: “Storck’s outstanding work extends from early radical documentaries to later surrealist films.” He also worked with Ivens, and his other stuff looks interesting; political.

On to the early Soviet Revolutionary chapter in the Vogel book, characterized in form by “an
aggressive rejection of conventional methods and systems and a profound concern with the theory and language of film.” He writes on Eisenstein’s Strike and montage theory, the aesthetic poetry of Dovzhenko’s Earth, the avant-documentary of Vertov’s Man With The Movie Camera, and this Pudovkin. VP is described as “more sensuous and less cerebral than Eisenstein or Vertov” – I’d seen his wonderful Mother and Chess Fever, but not this one.

Master Mongol fur hunter is sick, sending his son to the bazaar. Much is made of the lovely fur he’s gonna sell which will feed them for months, so you know something’s gonna happen, and pretty soon a monk praying for the old man’s healing attempts to grab it as payment until the son kicks his ass and takes it back. The music is all light flutes for 15 minutes until a low bass kicks in when the suit-wearing whites appear “who guard the interest of capitalism.”

There’s a panic in town when the son punches a capitalist for offering too little, everyone flees while the white guy comically falls down getting lost in his own coat. “AVENGE THE WHITE MAN’S BLOOD” say the titles after he knifes an enforcer in self defense, never a phrase you want to see, and son goes on the run.

Sinister Whites:

The white man’s blood:

It’s an exciting and plotty movie, incidentally with lots of sword dancing and some cat tossing. Our guy runs into pro-soviet partisans fighting in the mountains, rescues their chief by tossing an enemy machine gunner off a cliff, and joins the struggle until captured and executed by the whites. But as he rolls down a cliff, they discover the amulet he’d recovered from the ass-kicked monk back at dad’s house, and believe him to be a descendant of Genghis Khan, rushing to save his life in order to install him as a puppet ruler.

Son in the mountains:

In chains:

The whites dress him in their clothes, never noticing the simmering rage on his face. He’s reunited with his enemy and property, snatching his fox fur from the evil furrier’s girl, prompting her to get the vapors and the white trader to go on a racist tirade, while in a back room the other whites draw up papers to steal the country. After a prisoner is shot right in front of the son he finally speaks up, and as he rages, the picture and intertitles begin to strobe. Finally, he grabs a sword and rides away, a literal storm blowing away the whites who give chase.

Vogel:

Other strong images and episodes had … a powerful, radicalizing impact
on audiences: the Mongol about to be executed, heedlessly walking through a mud puddle which his “civilized” British executioner studiously avoids … a dignified Lama priest and a ridiculous British general’s wife cross cut while dressing for a formal occasion … Altogether, the film is an object lesson in visual political cinema, glowing with revolutionary fervor and hatred for oppression.

Valéry Inkijinoff the Son would continue acting, appearing in late Fritz Lang movies, a non-Lang Mabuse, and an Eddie Constantine action flick. The furrier was in Pudovkin’s previous film The End of St. Petersburg. Pudovkin himself acted in films by the other major filmmakers mentioned above.

Rare, cool wasteland-set movie, a whole methodically-posed headfuck art-feature a half decade before Marienbad. Vague reverb-affected announcements echo on the soundtrack as a truck drives over gravel and desert. I’m happy to see there are still flocks of birds after the German apocalypse. Driver drags passenger’s luggage to an abandoned-looking town where he finds a kid among drum-and-bass soundtrack jazz. The man loses his shit, pulls a gun on the kid (covered in ants) for not speaking, the woman spills her drink on purpose. Everything from the editing to the focus and music and sound takes turns messing with your head.

A monologue about Sisyphus as the moody driver lies under the truck covered in oil. I can’t tell if the movie is a time loop or if we spent some time in a flashback. Eventually the man finds a cute girl and shoots her dead – biggest surprise is when the cops show up and bust him, in what I’d assumed was a lawless wasteland. After the Goalie, I programmed an accidental double-feature of German stories of motiveless murder.

The credits claim participation by Hans Richter (according to a Richter interview, not true) and commentary by Albert Camus. Played Locarno ’55 alongside a couple of Jiri Trnka features and a Karel Zeman, a lot of nazi movies, and the latest prestige dramas from the US, UK, Germany and France

Vogel’s descriptions are off to a shaky start. “In a desolate, destroyed landscape – bearing now irrelevant traces of technological society – a man and a boy try to find their way under a
fierce sun.” There’s cars, oil, money and cops, all still relevant, and the boy isn’t trying to find his way anyplace.


More of Vogel’s Subversives…

Blue Moses (1962, Stan Brakhage)

Melies motion/edit tricks in a flickering cave. Sync sound! Clean dialogue, no music/fx, of a rich-voiced Wellesian actor, or maybe Charlton Hestonian per the film title. He seems to be riffing in a field, unsure what to say, Brakhage holding still on the actor but going into jitter-mode whenever the camera looks away at the scenery. The actor goes through a range of looks, sometimes wearing so much makeup he looks like a cartoon. Repetition of the credits (drawn in chalk on the rocks). In the last section the actor’s words and a projector beam with Stan’s shadow draw our attention to the filmmaking process. I’m out of the habit of watching Brakhage films – this is from the Dog Star Man years and is very good. Actor Robert Benson, a fellow Colorado resident, had also appeared in Desistfilm.


Canyon (1970, Jon Jost)

Full-day time-lapse looking over the Grand Canyon… shooting a few seconds at a time, lap dissolving the segments. I’d only seen narrative(ish) work by Jost, wasn’t aware of the shorts. Silent, so I played El Ten Eleven’s “Growing Shorter,” which worked great.

Mouseover to move the sun:
image

“This is a book about the subversion of existing values, institutions, mores, and taboos… by the potentially most powerful art of the century.” I saw it was Amos Vogel’s 100th birthday and celebrated by beginning to read his Film as a Subversive Art. The plan is to watch some movies covered within, though sticking to grand long-term viewing projects isn’t my forte. Hey, Vogel went to UGA before moving to NYC, wonder what the Athens film scene was like back then.

A modern alienation movie, the still camera and attention to jukeboxes presumably an influence on Kaurismaki. The Goalie is on leave after arguing with a ref, wanders about with nowhere special to be, seeing movies and picking up women, the movie sexlessly fading to black whenever he’s alone with one. After spending some time with ticket taker Gloria he randomly strangles her, and it fades out on this too. The people get more eccentric as he goes to the country to visit an old friend and his focus on the local newspapers turns from soccer scores to the murder investigation closing in on him.

Wim’s debut feature. A film marquee advertises a then-nonexistent Patricia Highsmith adaptation – a few features later, Wenders would make his own. Our hero Arthur Brauss (who explains the title in the final scene) had smallish roles in a Peckinpah, a Frankenheimer, an Elaine May.

Per Vogel:

His world – a glossy, Americanized Vienna – is seen as existential mystery, lacking explanation. Fearful matters are touched upon in laconic, strange dialogue. An air of vague dread, intensified by the film’s magic realism, permeates the mysteries hinted at but never confronted.