Auteur Shorts, Summer 2014

Berenice (1954, Eric Rohmer)

An Edgar Allen Poe story about a talky, sickly shut-in who stares at everyday objects all day is an odd choice for your first film. The guy (Rohmer himself!) lives with an epileptic cousin, becomes monomaniacally obsessed with her teeth, and eventually they get engaged since neither can deal with the outside world. But she dies one night, and he takes this very melodramatically, then awakens from a fugue days later having dug up the grave and stolen the teeth. It’s all narration and sound effects, shot by Jacques Rivette, still a couple years before his debut short.


Khan Khanne (2014, Jean-Luc Godard)

“This is not a film anymore, although it is my best.” What Godard sent to this year’s Cannes instead of appearing in person. Godard is his usual latter-day self, acting the scatterbrained professor, possibly quoting Hannah Arendt and/or referencing Chris Marker, cutting in excerpts from Alphaville and King Lear, using camera shots and sound editing that make it seem like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, ultimately making little sense to me, but with a weirdo bravado.

Adieu a TNS (1998, Jean-Luc Godard)

Swaying, smoking, Godard recites a singsongy poem over gentle accordion in three parts, the framing tighter each time. I’ve read that this was “a bitter and mournful farewell to the National Theater of Strasbourg.”

The Accordion (2010, Jafar Panahi)

Two brothers play music for spare change, not realizing they’re outside a mosque. A guy threatens to report them to the police, takes their accordion and runs. But it turns out he’s just a poor bastard hoping to earn money with the instrument, so the kids join him instead of killing him with a rock, which had been the other option.

The Nest (2014, David Cronenberg)

Single-take nine-minute shot from first-person perspective of surgeon (Cronenberg) interviewing patient (Evelyne Brochu of Tom at the Farm) who claims she has a wasps nest inside her left breast. Doubles as a commissioned short for some exhibition and a trailer for his first novel, Consumed, out this fall.

Gradiva (2014, Leos Carax)

Another gallery commission featuring a naked girl. This time the girl has gone to buy cigarettes, returns and has a short conversation with Rodin’s The Thinker.

The Legend of Hallowdega (2010, Terry Gilliam)

Unfunny fake investigation into haunted goings-on at the Talladega racetrack from a Daily Show writer. Just terrible. I won’t give away the twist comedic ending because I’m too embarrassed. Ends with a nice Wolf Parade song, at least.

On demande une brute (1934, Charles Barrois)

Early Jacques Tati, who wrote and starred as a hapless actor who accidentally signs up to be a wrestler. Despite all the time spent on audition scenes and the wrestling match, the only good bit is when he tries to keep his shrew wife from absentmindedly eating a pet fish at the dinner table.

Gravesend (2007, Steve McQueen)

Beautiful shots that seem to go on longer than they should, check, yep it’s the guy who made Hunger. One of those art installation pieces that is very cool to read about and less fun to watch. I wanted to like it, and almost did…

From the official description:

Gravesend uses a documentary approach to focus on the mining of coltan, employed in the manufacture of cell phones, laptops and other high-tech apparatus. The film cuts between two sites: a technological, highly automated industrial plant in the West where the precious metal is processed for the final production of microelectronic parts, and the central Congo, where miners use simple shovels or their bare hands to extract, wash and collect the ore on leaves. .. coltan, traded at an extremely high price, represents one of the key financial factors in the armed conflict of the militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where decades of civil war have cost several million human lives.

Away From It All (1979, John Cleese & Clare Taylor)

Fake travelogue disguised to look and sound like a real one (unless you recognize John Cleese’s voice), very gradually straying from the company line, slipping in notes of humor and aggression. Stock footage takes us from Rome to Venice to Ireland to Bulgaria to Vienna to New York, back to Venice to Acapulco, to a rapid montage of vacation spots as the narrator begins ranting about existential terror. Accompanied Life of Brian in British theaters.

Stories We Tell (2012, Sarah Polley)

Katy and I disagreed over which was the bigger twist ending: the revelation of Sarah’s real father, or that half the family home-movie stock-footage was faked. I figured the way the movie was going, something bigger than her mother’s death, which we learn about early on, had to be coming – the stories have to be building to some family secret, so the fact of the affair was less surprising than the betrayal of the documentary form, as we briefly see Polley directing her own “mother” in the re-enactments.

Polley:

I wanted people to constantly question what they were seeing and if it was real or if it wasn’t, because that was my experience. My experience going through the story was “Is what I’m hearing fact? Is it nostalgia? Is it subjective? Is it objective?” So I wanted the audience to have a paralleled experience to that and that’s why we worked so hard to make the recreations as accurate as we possibly could.

Incidentally, Sarah’s mom was a casting director and acted in a late-80’s TV series, dad Michael has acted in Slings and Arrows, and biological dad Harry Gulkin was oscar nominated for a movie appropriately named Lies Me Father Told Me.

Cinema Scope’s A. Nayman admires it partly, but finds it all too carefully filled with self-regard.

The Clock (2010, Christian Marclay, 12:37pm-2:16pm)

I’ve read a couple of great articles about The Clock – never thought I’d have a chance to see it, but we were in Minneapolis while it ran at the Walker, so we watched almost two hours of it, which seems like a lot but is only seven percent of the total. And we could’ve easily kept watching (yes, Katy liked it too) – it’s not only a great conceptual achievement, it’s also very entertaining and ingeniously edited. To my great pleasure, as much care was given to the sound mixing as the picture, so audio will overlap in interesting ways. And the picture isn’t as clock-obsessed as I’d assumed. Clocks aren’t always onscreen, sometimes in just one fragment of a scene, or sometimes not at all, instead with characters speaking (usually in English) about the time or its passing (Nick of Time with Johnny Depp and Chris Walken got some repeat play), and clever connective shots will be used to fit scenes with similar times together. Plenty of humor – we got a confused phone conversation between two different movies, and Karl Malden in Baby Doll honking his horn to annoy characters of a whole different era.

One-Armed Swordsman (1967, Chang Cheh)

Fang Kang is a loyal soldier, the lower-class son of a servant who died saving the master’s life. The master takes this seriously, but the younger generation does not, and master’s daughter Pei-er cuts off his arm. A bleeding Kang is rescued by a cute girl called Chiao Chiao who happens to guard a book of secret fighting techniques. He perfects his one-armed swordsmanship, returns in time to save his master from baddies Smiling Tiger (Ti Tang) and Long-Armed Devil (Chih-Ching Yang), who have been easily killing the master’s men by clamping their swords then knifing them with the other arm. Even after the master’s men see how this approach works, they keep getting killed because they have only one fighting tactic. One-arm with his broken sword is immune to the clamp, kicks everyone’s ass then retires with his Chiao.

Long-Armed Devil:

Lot of people standing still and talking, but some inventive editing (between and within scenes) makes up for that somewhat. IMDB calls star Yu Wang “the first screen hero of modern Chinese cinema” and shows him appearing in seven one-armed movies (including major crossover Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman).

The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013, Cattet & Forzani)

Amazing giallo tribute that outdoes any of the originals except maybe the peak Argentos. Apparently this is what this Belgian filmmaking duo makes – loving, intensely stylized fever-dream giallos – which makes me sorry I skipped their Amer a few years ago. Full-color widescreen lunacy with trippy credits, great but too-infrequent music, extreme close-ups, bondage, nudity and lots of knife murders.

Danish Klaus Tange returns home from a trip to find his wife missing. They live in a Lords of Salem apartment building full of odd neighbors and evil unopened rooms and hidden passageways above and behind everything, in which first a tenant named Laura and now Klaus’s wife have disappeared. Mysterious bearded guy lives in there and seems to know what’s going on, and Klaus has an Italian police detective on his side. Also there’s a grey-haired old woman who tells a story of when her husband disappeared into the walls, and she might in fact be Laura and/or the murderer, and I believe Klaus gets killed, but none of this seemed important at the time, even less so afterwards.

N. Murray in Dissolve:

The problem is that Cattet and Forzani have done this before—and with more focus. Strange Color gets at the voyeurism of giallo, and how investigating a mystery gives people license to peer into other people’s homes and lives. But the movie as a whole doesn’t say anything about male sexual desire and female sexual power that Amer didn’t already say.

J. Anderson in Cinema Scope:

One reason Forzani and Cattet’s films are so alluring and unnerving is how well they tap into giallo’s fundamental core of irrationality. They invest a new elegance and a renewed vigour into the “science of plotless shock and dismemberment.” O’Brien intended that phrase to serve as faint praise for Bava and his successor Argento, but it’s also suggestive of the careful manner in which The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears induces ever more advanced stages of dread and derangement on the viewer’s part.

A Hard Day’s Night (1964, Richard Lester)

Handheld b/w, a low-budget shoot but always terrific-looking in sharp focus. Not Lester’s first feature – why do you never hear about It’s Trad, Dad or Mouse on the Moon? DP Gilbert Taylor shot Dr. Strangelove the same year, Repulsion the following.

It has more of a story than most concert movies but much less of a story than most non-concert movies. The premise is that the guys catch a train to the city, have to rehearse and then film a TV appearance, but they keep wanting to run off and play and insult people.

As Paul’s clean grandfather, Wilfrid Brambell, known for playing comic character Albert Steptoe. As the two guys responsible for getting the boys through their day, Norman Rossington (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning) and TV writer/actor John Junkin. Uptight sweater-wearing TV director Victor Spinetti would return in Help! the following year.

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944, Preston Sturges)

A perfect comedy. Unfortunately Sturges was double-nominated for writing this and Hail The Conquering Hero, splitting his own vote and some damned Woodrow Wilson bio-pic got the oscar. Been too long since I saw The Great McGinty so I didn’t realize Governor McGinty (in the framing-device phone-call) and the other guy in his office were from that movie, just thought the name was being reused.

Betty and Eddie had played together in musical The Fleet’s In two years earlier, and she’d play the title role in sharpshootin’ musical Annie Get Your Gun, which we should probably watch. Trudy’s 14-year-old little sister is wonderfully played by 18-year-old Diana Lynn, later in Track of the Cat.

I was gonna write up a plot summary, but… THE SPOTS!

About Time (2013, Richard Curtis)

Not really a romance movie, turns out it’s a father/son bonding flick with some incidental women: perfect girlfriend/wife Rachel McAdams (Passion), and troubled sister Lydia Wilson (kidnapped princess in the first episode of Black Mirror). Father (Bill Nighy, natch) and son Tim (Domhnall “son of Brendan” Gleeson) have the boys-only inherited ability to revisit previous moments in their lives, change things then return. Movie starts out having Tim use his power to impress girls, but later to teach us that life should be enjoyed and fully experienced the first time through. Non-time-travelers: Tim’s mum (Lindsay Duncan of Traffik) and first crush (Margot Robbie, Leo’s second wife in Wolf of Wall Street), and I can’t remember if they explained whether Tim’s weird uncle Richard Cordery could time-travel. Nighy has Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms” play during his funeral, so now I’ve gotta find a new Nick Cave song to request for mine. “Push The Sky Away” sounds too obviously like funeral music with that organ, and “Babe I’m On Fire” goes too far the other way, so maybe “People Ain’t No Good”? I guess “The Weeping Song” would work, or “Let The Bells Ring”. I’ll have to listen to those two again, and maybe “No More Shall We Part” before deciding for sure, but for now I’m leaning “People Ain’t No Good”.

Viola (2012, Matias Piñeiro)

Delicate drama mostly shot in shallow-focus close-ups – so delicate that it has pretty much flown right out of my head. I remember some actors rehearsing Shakespeare, a girl with a pirate video delivery service, chance meetings and a dream sequence. And I remember really, really liking it. Katy did not.

Quintin has a great Cinema Scope article about the Argentinean writer/director:

The films take Shakesperean promiscuity to the limit: in the end any actor can play any character—including sex changes—as if all the bodies, the names, and all of Shakespeare’s and Piñeiro’s characters are impossible to distinguish. In Viola, María Villar plays a character named Viola who—in principle—has nothing to do with theatre. But then she meets a girl who is acting in a production of Twelfth Night who asks Viola to be her replacement. In the second act of Twelfth Night, Viola disguises herself as a man called Cesario, but in the play within the film he is called Bassanio, a character from The Merchant of Venice. Any multi-talented member of this magic sect can act, write, or even play music, as is clearly shown at the end of Viola. These endless confusions and exchanges continue on and on in the film. Piñeiro has declared that he doesn’t want to make the kind of film where characters’ paths intersect due to the cleverness of the script, but rather one that allows people to live as they want or as they can. But, in that way, all of these individualists living like monads, trying to succeed in love and art, end up mixing into a symbolic orgy, where film and theatre, men and women, music and literature, work and leisure, dating and talking, are molded into a single entity.