AM/PM (1999, Sarah Morris)

Montage of nicely photographed moments within and above a city (Vegas?), somewhat recalling Broadway By Light with the closeups on signage and unique framings of familiar city objects… “the disorienting world of corporate hotels and casinos which utilise and redefine the spectacle in relation to architecture,” per an official description. Each scene of urban life has its own little MIDI song.


Capital (2000, Sarah Morris)

Opens in a parking lot, then moves to things we don’t associate as much with the word capital – Washington DC pedestrians, police, mail sorting, the newspaper. I assume we see Bill Clinton get out of a helicopter, but the picture quality on my copy is worse than ever so I can’t be positive. Finally an edit from a restaurant called The Prime Rib to a close-up of cash money, that’s the capital I’m talkin’ about. The music changes just as frequently as the other film, but here it’s darker and less dance-beatsy. I preferred Henry Hills’ take, called Money… or I’d gladly rewatch AM/PM with the soundtrack from this one. Sarah has made a bunch more movies since these. Her cinematographer moved on to Leprechaun 6: Back 2 tha Hood and the Teen Wolf TV series.


As The Flames Rose (Joao Rui Guerra da Mata)

A new version of Cocteau’s The Human Voice (a copy of which sits prominently on our protagonist’s nightstand) with excellent photography, theatrical lighting changes and fun greenscreen trickery. The lead (only) actor is João Pedro Rodrigues, Guerra da Mata’s codirector on Last Time I Saw Macao, talking on the phone with a longtime lover soon after their breakup, on the day of a huge (real) 1988 fire in Lisbon that destroyed shops and offices and apartments. Joao watches the news coverage on TV, and sometimes his body or his entire room gets overlaid with flame imagery while he sadly discusses the day’s events and the crumbled relationship with his ex. After hanging up, he puts on a James Blake record (in 1988, ahead of his time).

Mouseover to give Joao a new view from his window:
image


Beauty and the Beat (Yann Le Quellec)

Rosalba puts on the red shoes and starts dancing uncontrollably, and I thought for sure there’d be a connection but no, the premise is that she cannot keep from dancing when she hears music, a condition she tries to hide while working as a Paris tour guide. Her driver has a crush on her, invites her on a date, but is obsessed with Northern Soul records. I guess her secret gets out – anyway there’s lots of music and dancing, and that is fine. He was Serge Bozon, director of La France, and she (clearly) is a professional dancer.


Chemin Faisant (Georges Schwizgebel)

Drawings with great texture, the lines transforming into new scenes while rhythmic music plays. I know that sentence would describe thousands of animated shorts, but it’s all I got. “Through paintings that interact on the principle of Russian dolls, we are drawn along the swirling path of the thoughts of a pilgrim, a solitary walker,” says a description online.


Overseas (Suwichakornpong & Somunjarn)

Some handheld followcam action as a young woman in Thailand goes to work as a squid sorter. After work she gets a ride to the police station to report a rape, to obtain a police report for a legal abortion. The cop, who looks to be about 15, is kind of a dick. Codirector Anocha Suwichakornpong made By The Time It Gets Dark, which I heard good things about last year.

Time-lapse landscape photography with different parts of the frame running at different rates… or moving in slow-motion, then skipping ahead… or fading one time into another… or flipping back and forth between shots from different times… or looping back on itself. Since it’s all about glitching the time-movement, it’s odd that he chose some shots with hardly any movement.

“A survey of the physical qualities and metaphysical quandaries of the United States-Mexico border. Follows the boundary and its immediate surrounding topography incrementally from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean,” says the official description. Rappmund also made a Nebraska movie called Vulgar Fractions, and studied under James Benning (obviously). Cinema Scope has an interview, and a visual map of all the shots in the film. “Repeating images reinforces the stability of the portrayal; it gives viewers a chance to catch small things in dense snapshots; it highlights movement as well as clearly accentuating the static; it breathes a rhythm and a three-dimensional life into pictures that’s difficult to capture with traditional filmmaking techniques alone.”

My still screenshots are can show off the lovely photography, but not the time/motion tricks that bring each scene to life. Atmospheric sound, presumably recorded at each camera site, featuring some birds who got my cockatiels all flustered. It plays like installation art, and my attention phased in and out… I should have been staring raptly at the photography but Katy wrote to ask if I could find any indie movie theaters in Shanghai (short answer: nope), so that took precedence for a while.

Where can I get one of these?

Naturalistic slowcore – I think it’s another hybrid-doc film, and it was a bad move for my attention span to play this right after Orleans and the Sarah Morris shorts. On the other hand I’ve been meaning to watch anything by Pereda since the 50 Under 50 list almost five years ago, so I’m glad I finally did.

Gabino seems to be rehearsing a breakup poem composed of song titles – ah, no he’s selling mp3 discs of romantic songs, and for some some never-explained reason he thinks he needs to memorize the titles of all included songs. Gabino lives with his mom, has a couple siblings, and his dad is trying to get them involved in a pyramid sales scheme with his friend Gonzo. Gradually we figure out that the dad abandoned the family many years ago and has just returned… Gabino is tentatively spending time with him but mom is trying to throw him out. I lost the thread of things towards the end, when the dad returns as a different actor.

Dad #1 would like to sell you a CD:

Enter Dad #2:

Oddball film techniques: sometimes the action freezes, people standing still without speaking for minutes while some harpsichord-sounding music plays, recalling My Son My Son, What Have Ye Done. At least once we simply repeat a scene, but it plays out differently. A few durational “see how long any audience will put up with this” shots. Then mid-movie, someone behind the camera starts talking to an actor, asking about his past. Role-playing: in my favorite scene, Gabino pretends to be his father, making in-character excuses and pleas while mom rehearses telling him to leave. By the end I didn’t know what’s real, and was convinced that Gabino really sells CDs on the subway, but no, he’s an actor who has been in 40 other movies. He also plays “Gabino” in all the other Pereda movies.

Pereda in Cinema Scope:

Greatest Hits is a film where the same scene happens more than once in the film, and some of the scenes that repeat themselves were separate takes. I enjoy the repetition, but when I see that a take is a bit different than the first one, only I can enjoy this difference. In this film I tried to give the audience the pleasure I would get from noticing the differences from one take to another.

At times I sort of interview them, Gabino and his real father, and I ask them real things about their real lives. When the film starts over, in the second half, that’s when it becomes a lot more obvious, because there’s one new actor who’s playing a character that we saw before, but the new actor — my uncle actually — is more of a documentary subject. He doesn’t know when we’re filming him, so he’s just talking away. I told him what the movie was about, but I didn’t tell him at that point that he had to act, I just said we’re making a movie and this is your character.

Some ancient maps and drawings and texts about Joan of Arc – good timing, since I was just reading about Bruno Dumont’s new Joan movie before putting this on. Then a half hour spent at a strip club (or exotic pole-dancing, if there’s a difference). The girls spend most of their time trying to uncomfortably (to me) hard-sell patrons to join them in the expensive private cabins. In private conversations we learn this is a job where girls tend to stay too long, as we’ve recently seen in LoveTrue. “But in my case I know this is only temporary,” says the new girl.

New Girl and her mentor finally venture out into town and meet the girl playing Joan in the town celebrations, spending a moment alone with her horse in the woods. They go to the parade to see their new friend in all her glory, then wander to a church… it’s all pretty low-key, a pillow-film between more substantial LNKarno screenings, but it ends the way all movies should end: telling secrets to a falcon.

A hybrid-documentary, it turns out. Vernier looks prolific, and his Mercuriales appears to be a similar sort of movie. Of the actors, I’m only seeing that Damien Bonnard later starred in Staying Vertical… but who was he, a strip club patron? If so, you could barely make him out under the murky red lighting.

Low-key indie comedy about a weirdo misfit pyro stand-up comedian. Bits of surreal dream-logic invade the story now and then, and I like how there’s no “normal” reality that the movie returns to. The comedian buys an apple from a fruit-stand seller in a cheap devil suit, and after eating it an an apple tree starts growing through his skin. He kills his abusive neighbor with a baseball bat, commits petty arson & vandalism, has basic money problems, sometimes bombs onstage and sometimes does alright, and all these things are given equal weight. This could forever sit comfortably on the cult shelf of any video store, if video stores still existed.

Theoretically we’re rooting for pyro drifter Joshua Burge (also of Buzzard and Coyote) even though he’s really not a good comedian, has rage issues and nothing much going on. His rivals, besides the now-dead neighbor, include a bald fellow comedian, the comedy club owner who keeps bumping Josh from the schedule, a werewolf car-lot mascot, a convenience store clerk, a bike thief, a heckler, and of course The Devil. After taking care of the neighbor, Joel has a string of good luck and minor rebellions, but is also getting taken down by the apple tree, and finally he ends up inside the ape suit.

Potrykus in Cinema Scope, on debuting in Locarno:

Growing up, European cinema was always exotic and incredibly distant. I wasn’t prepared for the tables to turn. Suddenly, I felt like we were the ambassadors of not so much American independent cinema, but of the Midwest as a landscape. Ape’s empty city streets and mundane convenience-store bureaucracies were now the exotic. Locarno as a whole quickly picked up on the politics of the film that are normally overlooked in the US, the subtle racial commentary and economic issues. To them, it became a full-blown political film … I plan on sticking around Michigan as long as I can. I think it’s important to stick with the people who understand you and have been there since the early days … In the end, I just want to hammer out a weird little shack in the forest with my friends, not construct a tacky skyscraper with a bunch of strangers.

Bonus: the illustrated movie poster is great… this is the second LNKarno pick with a poster I wanna own (and both movies have scenes where audio tapes get destroyed, hmm). The guy who played the devil became a director, making a string of demon and alien movies… must’ve gotten really into his role. The rival comic and even Dorito Guy are also directors – looks like there’s a happening scene up in Michigan.

I should’ve watched an actual Johnnie To movie, but instead I watched this generic cops & robbers flick from his production company. A super-hot getaway driver breaks a jewel thief out of prison in time for their big heist… meanwhile, fiery young cop learns a special automotive technique from his about-to-retire partner, who is killed by the baddies post-heist, provoking a cathartic faceoff finale. It couldn’t sound more generic, but fortunately the movie is full of delicate character details which really… haha no I’m kidding, it is totally generic. I bought Heat last week on blu-ray, and should’ve rewatched that instead.

I guess I’m not enough of a gearhead to be excited about the film’s magic getaway technique (which I’m calling the Hong Kong Drift), in which the driver makes the wheels spin awfully fast, squealing without the car driving forward, then turns the wheel in order to rotate in place. So, in a week when I’m watching trailers for this summer’s fast-driving heist movies, Baby Driver and Logan Lucky, this movie’s showcase is… making the cars barely move.

Noble Cops:

Cheang went on to make The Monkey King and Kill Zone 2. Our hotheaded hero is Shawn Yue (Young Tony Leung in Infernal Affairs and its prequel), his mentor is Anthony Wong (also Infernal Affairs, and star of Exiled), and enemy driver is Xiaodong Guo (Tsui Hark’s Missing). In true Johnnie To fashion, there is a minor character named Fatso, but distressingly he is not played by Suet Lam. Oh and hey, there’s even a lady in the film: a doctor whose name I didn’t catch, but was probably Barbie Hsu of Future X-Cops and Croczilla.

They record their chases on in-car VCRs. I’m watching a bunch of 2012 movies this week – this one has VHS tapes, and both Ape and Jack & Diane have audio cassettes – what’s the deal?

Bad Dude in Killer Car:

“Cheang’s background as an horror director serves him very well as every chase becomes a slasher film cat and mouse game full of menace and the white Nissan that serves as the film real villain and one true memorable character gains an almost serial killer status.” Of course Furtado loved it – he likes Alien vs. Predator.

Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara: Catherine’s sister, known as a singer) is called from Montreal to Austria for being her cousin-in-a-coma’s closest relative. Not having any conscious friends in town and without much expendable travel money, she hangs out extensively in an art museum, where she meets guard Johann. They start to meet outside the museum in his off hours too, though unusually, the movie never becomes a romance.

Cohen:

The audience has been conditioned to automatically think this will be a love story … But the cinema I care most about is about the drive toward the everyday, how we actually do live, how we feel, about things that actually happen. People love the fairy tale, but that’s not what happens here. It’s weird that there aren’t more movies about friendship.

Sometimes we linger quietly in the museum or around the city of Vienna – slowly, rhythmically edited slideshows of miniature scenes. Johann sometimes narrates, says his favorite is the Bruegel room, and we get a long sidetrack following a tour guide discussing Bruegel’s paintings with tourists, including the painting that was meticulously recreated in The Mill and the Cross. We see reality emulating the paintings when the museum attendees are portrayed as nude as some of the painting subjects they’re admiring, and I assumed that was a one-off quirk. But there’s a moment early on which I think lets us in on a prime Cohen concern: Johann is scrutinizing a Bruegel, seeing previously unnoticed details, and we cut from stray garbage on the ground of the painting’s scene to stray garbage on the ground in a nearby park, with equal attention paid to each. The movie ends with Johann’s museum-style narration of a humble windowboxed street scene, and other scenes nearby, art criticism of the everyday world… “and one begins to wonder what the main subject is.”

Cohen is, of course, the director of Benjamin Smoke, which I bought on DVD a decade ago and have never watched. He’s a music scene guy – the film was exec produced by Guy Picciotto and Patti Smith, and…

Adam Cook:

It sounds like a terribly dry and academic exploration (and there is even an art history lesson halfway through) but there is a great warmth and intimacy here reflected in the human connections and ephemeral details that surround the characters … Any film that encourages an audience to engage with the world, seeing both the cities we live in and their transient beauty anew, without resorting to manipulative sentiment must be applauded.

Stop-motion Quay Bros. hair-braid title card, then opening shot of a toilet with blood in it, and already I’m conflicted. There’s more bleeding and vomiting and bathrooms than seems strictly necessary (M. D’Angelo: “in many ways this is a film about the effect of passion on the gastrointestinal tract, which to my knowledge is a subject previously unexplored”), and I’m always a fan of injecting stop-motion and monsters into a movie, but somehow it didn’t work here. But the vast bulk of the runtime is a fucking lovely story about two girls, the actresses giving perfect performances, and I want to buy the movie’s poster and stare at it forever. And I don’t usually wish for sequels, but I’d like to see this movie’s Before Sunset. Good opening night pick for LNKarno.

Jack and Diane meet, make out, seem really good for each other, but Diane is going off to London in a week, so neither knows how to handle this. Each girl is kinda a mess in her own way… Jack (Riley Keough, the boss in American Honey, also this year’s The Discovery and Logan Lucky and It Comes at Night… and Elvis’s granddaughter) is mourning her late brother, gets hit by a cab and spends most of the movie with a scraped-up face, is mean to almost everybody. I don’t know what’s going with Diane (Juno Temple of Killer Joe, Kaboom) at the beginning, with no phone or ID, throwing up and bleeding. They do seem more collected when together, though Diane manages to transfer her nosebleed to Jack.

Diane’s poor Aunt Linda (Cara Seymour of The Knick, An Education, Gangs of New York) gets daily abuse. Kylie Minogue (same year as Holy Motors) plays a Jack ex-lover. Amazing character detail: Jack, wearing a Ministry t-shirt, says sushi is “good with ketchup.” Good texture to the movie thanks to the Múm score, the soundtrack (first time I’ve heard Shellac in a movie?), bursts of Quay visuals, richly colored cinematography. First I’ve seen by either Gray or his collaborator So Yong Kim.

Mike again:

Another thing I cherished: Has there ever been a movie that introduced an identical twin and then deliberately made so little of it? The scene in which Karen calls Jack pretending to be Diane, while terrific for its own sake, seems to exist primarily to raise the possibility that it’s actually Diane in the porn video, using her sister’s name in an unfamiliar situation. Karen is otherwise never seen; one might fairly conclude that she’s never seen at all. Indeed, if not for the fact that Diane’s aunt mentions her, it would be easy to conclude that Karen doesn’t really exist, so blatantly symbolic is her function. (See also: Jack’s dead brother, Jack’s facial bruise.) Like the monster metaphor, this would threaten to capsize the movie were it not so unemphatic; unlike the monster metaphor, its import is so glancing (there’s no overt suggestion that Jack suspects anything, and the subject never comes up again) that it doesn’t seem superfluous.

Single-take camera move (always on the move) through a crowded park in Chengdu, China – further into the center of the country than Katy will travel this month (while I watched this, she was some 900 miles east, in Shanghai). There’s dancing and games and crafts and napping and work and food and commercial demonstrations and so much music – I don’t think there’s a moment where you can’t hear live or recorded music playing.

The camera seems to be waist-high (I later learned that Cohen held the camera while Sniadecki pusher her in a wheelchair), and it’s not hidden – people stare back all the time, and most of my interest in the movie (since the park itself isn’t historically/architecturally fascinating) comes from watching the people, and seeing their reactions as they watch back. I wouldn’t say there’s enough people-watching interest to justify its full 75-minute length though, and roaming a park from my couch kept making me wanna get up and go outside. Funny how far removed this felt from last week’s people-watching doc Austerlitz. The ending is good, the camera circling around a crowd watching a dance routine then breaking through into the center, ending on a great image.

Dennis Lim got the press kit:

Over three weeks they shot 23 takes ranging from 45 to 100 minutes, with many more aborted because of mishaps like miscommunication with each other or children running into their path. The final film… uses a 75-minute segment from the 19th try.

F. Furtado:

In a film with such an evident voyeuristic aspect as this, one usually expects to see the shot at eyes height; but, instead, the vantage point in People’s Park is lower, an unexpected perspective which sometimes breaks with the more repetitive patterns of some of its moments and procedures … There is undoubtedly an element of intrusion in these images: people often look straight at the camera suggesting curiosity and, other times, irritation (the film never allows us to forget that the filmmakers are not an element that belong to that landscape; this is literally a foreign look).

Glimpsed through the crowd – man with rooster on a stick:

Vadim:

Bursts into musical numbers via karaoke fiends co-existing with refreshing indifference to each other, mass dances and sing-alongs to Cultural Revolution standards, the state otherwise conspicuous by its absence … Few people stand out in memory, the point being the democratic proliferation of things to watch.

Produced by the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab (Sweetgrass, Leviathan). Codirector Sniadecki made earlier HSEL movie Foreign Parts, and later The Iron Ministry, and both were thanked in the Manakamana credits.