RIP Michael Snow. I’ve seen his Wavelength on film and disrespected it, watched a horrendous home video copy of La Region Centrale and loved it… had fun with Presents and *Corpus Callosum, Sshtoorrty and Cityscape. It’s not so easy for a mid-country dweller like myself to watch his works, but I assume I’ll be watching them (or trying to) for a long time. One thing I can access is his book… which reads very much like a movie, a split-screen tracking shot. It has fade-ups, for god’s sake. It’s not all continuous motion – there are scene changes using page-turn effects (pages held and rephotographed mid-turn, then printed on new pages). The book contains itself, like a movie about its own making.

Reprint publisher Primary Information:

Never bound by discipline, Snow has remarked that his sculptures were made by a musician, his films by a painter. Flipping through Cover to Cover, which is composed entirely of photographs in narrative sequence, one might describe it as a book made by a filmmaker. Snow himself has called the piece “a quasi-movie.” … an elegant, disorienting study in simultaneity that allows the viewer to enter the work from either end.

Martha Langford has a good write-up, and a whole free PDF book on Snow

Chris Fite-Wassilak in ArtReview on the book’s cinematic precedent, which I’ll probably never see:

Snow … made Cover to Cover as a book artwork in 1975, shortly after his film Two Sides to Every Story (1974), the product of two cameramen filming each other from opposite sides of a room, was completed. In the resulting two-part projection (each part projected onto opposite sides of the same aluminium sheet) we can choose to watch, from either of the camera’s perspectives, a woman walk between them and, at one point, spraypaint a green circle onto a piece of clear Perspex. The technique gives a materiality to the projected image, as if trapping it within the plates of a microscope slide ready for examination … Reading Cover to Cover is much like watching one of Snow’s films: visually quite mundane, where what happens isn’t as important as how it’s being shown to you, with a sustained focus that sits with a relatively simple idea for longer than you might think.

Among everything else, Snow was a jazz guy – a music enthusiast, pianist, recording artist. We see his hi-fi setup in Cover to Cover. I spent the day listening to his works available on UbuWeb

“Short Wavelength” from 2 Radio Solos is a 1980 live DJ performance, Snow on the shortwave radio dial, tuning between different stations and statics. Snow claims no other sound manipulation, but he’s been known to lie on his album descriptions, and many of the sounds here have clearly been sped up (like reeeeal clearly). It tried my patience, then I stopped listening closely and got tied up in work, then it ended and I thought “hunh, it’s already over?”

“Conference: Subject: 3 Inches = 77 Milimeters = 3 Min. 30 Sec.” from Hearing Aid (2002) is three guys making mouth noises, commenting that three inches makes a difference, with synth coming in at the end, an avant-stand-up comedy-garde performance. This chaos continues in the “Interview” track that follows, interviewer Doina Popescu asking straight questions in German and getting pained groaning sounds in response. The 20-minute “Discussion” track might even be a proper discussion – postponing listening to the rest of that.

“Left Right” from Music For Piano, Whistling, Microphone and Tape Recorder (1975) sounds simply lo-fi at first, but what has he done with the microphone to make the piano sound like this? Excellent minimalist music to work to, then it gets hyper towards the end. Alan Licht calls it “pretty brutal”:

Snow alternating notes and chords in the bass and treble registers in a very repetitive stride piano pattern. The sound is intentionally distorted and a metronome and telephone are heard … many of Snow’s films are concerned with lateral movement (especially BACK AND FORTH and PRESENTS), which makes the title (and the use of a metronome–get it?) a pun on his own art.

“Falling Starts” also from the 1975 album… Licht again: “a tape of a piano melody first played back at hyperspeed, then slower and slower until it becomes recognisable before transforming into a thunderous, quivering bass boom.” This sounded like it would be good work music, and sure enough. I played the first half.

Sinoms (1989) – One voice at a time reads a list of Quebec mayors, like teachers taking roll. Ten minutes in, it starts getting playful, combining different voices speaking the same mayor name at once, then layering in different stereo patterns. The voices are English or French native speakers with some pronunciation hurdles. After a while in headphones it gives the pleasant feeling of working in a busy cafe surrounded by conversation, but without the distraction of following people’s conversations or phone calls. Ends abruptly.

Discogs says there’s a three-CD collection of piano works out there. Allmusic’s discography is incomplete and mixes him up with another Michael Snow, but bringing things back (and forth), they use a page from Cover to Cover as the artist photo.

Infant Ruiz, nothing like his later stuff (though Tango of the Widower was filmed before this and released over 50 years later). Low-key and post-synched, he claimed Shadows and the French New Wave as influences. Mustached Tito and Hotgirl Amanda are siblings, get into drunken shenanigans with some other guys and tempers flare. Mubi calls it “a nearly plotless glimpse at… Santiago’s semi-criminal underworld.” There’s plenty of drinking, at least.

Ruiz was still a Chilean upstart director, 5 years away from Pinochet and exile. Adapted from a play by Alejandro Sieveking (The Club) based on a celebrated Cuban novel by Guillermo Cabrera Infante (who cowrote Vanishing Point). Both Amanda and Tito appeared in Miguel Littín films after this. Some actors were in Widower and/or Wandering Soap Opera, a couple others would pop up 40+ years later in Pablo Larraín’s No. This won an award at Locarno, shared with Alain Tanner and a couple others.

Ian Christie in Rouge:

An important theme is the everyday violence and moral cynicism typical of an alienated urban class who are neither proletarian nor part of Chile’s Europeanised bourgeoisie. The film’s temporal ambiguity, seeking to represent the suspended tempo of Chilean life, looks forward to Ruiz’s later more stylised and cerebral projects.

We have found another great Ruiz movie – the cinematography and music in this are not kidding around. Like La Flor, it opens with a diagram of the movie’s structure, then proceeds to blend some of Ruiz’s favorite things (pirates, painting, mirrors) into a meta-narrative folding in on itself. Death is extremely temporary here. Throw in some cannibalism and incest. And of course there’s a Ruiz film with morphing in it, why wouldn’t there be?

Guy Scarpetta in Rouge:

Here, the familiar features of Ruiz’s universe – parallel worlds, baroque uncertainties, telescoping of different times, co-presence of multiple spaces, deconstruction of characters, transgression of every parameter of classical narrative – are subject to an overflowing enthusiasm and gamesmanship … But we must not conclude that the film proceeds from the pure arbitrariness of an unbridled imagination. Quite the contrary, and this is the first great paradox to be emphasised: nothing, here, is left to chance … Nine narrative themes (in principle autonomous, heterogeneous) are posed as the raw material … the entire combinatory consists of making these cellular narratives cross each other’s paths, whether two by two or three by three, and also consecutively – each of these telescopings engendering, almost automatically, a specific narrative (one which logically implies that the characters can double or reincarnate themselves, leap time frames, and belong in several places at once).

Alec Baldwin is the guy from headquarters issuing ultimatums, Kevin Spacey the boss with the promising leads that he isn’t handing out, Al Pacino the loudest, most confident salesman, and Jonathan Pryce as Al’s customer and drinking buddy from last night who wants to back out of his deal. They’re selling property in Arizona or something, all real scumbag scam artists, and washed-up old-timer Jack Lemmon is the most desperate with family issues. Ed Harris decides to steal the leads, gets the very nervous Alan Arkin caught up in it before turning to Lemmon.

Foley (also Who’s That Girl and the Fifty Shades series) knows that movies aren’t just guys talking, however great the talk and the guys, so he injects strong colored lights – red, blue, green. Good seeing this again in high quality… RoboCop got me thinking that it’s time to rewatch EVERY movie I saw before 2000 or so.

First movie of 2023, if anyone is keeping track, and off to a shaky start. This was on the Sight & Sound list, and of course I’ve always been curious about the movie where a boy befriends a hawk. But I also know about animals in movies, and assumed the hawk has to die in the end, which it does. At least, per imdb trivia, it’s the favorite film of both Krzysztof Kieslowski and Karl Pilkington.

British adults are authority-obsessed obstructionists, and Billy is a smart, resourceful kid who gets into kestrels, then steals a chick and raises it. He steals something in every scene, so the adults have reason to be suspicious of him. Billy gets brief fame at school, the others impressed by his pet hawk, until his older brother kills the bird. If the movie is about anything, it’s that institutions fail us and birds are beautiful. I hope England sinks into the sea (but slowly enough for the birds to relocate). The kid kept acting, was in an All Quiet on the Western Front remake with Donald Pleasence and Ian Holm.

I thought it’d be funny for my last movie of the year to be called Running Out of Time. Better than A Hero Never Dies but still pretty mainstream-looking. The Mission came out only two months later, and seems more evolved, more of a signature To film, with more grounded characters – despite his cancer-death-sentence, Andy Lau is an unstoppable mastermind in this.

That’s not to dismiss the great pleasure of watching Andy Lau as an unstoppable mastermind. Hotshot cop Ho is Lau Ching-wan (a lead in Hero Never Dies and Life Without Principle, and the Mad Detective himself). Lau successfully and singlehandedly robs a bank, and uses that robbery to stage another robbery, settling a score with some diamond-dealing gangsters. Ho comes to respect the guy and even help him out – and will return solo in the sequel, since Andy’s cancer diagnosis wasn’t bullshit. Hui Siu-Hung is the chief inspector always fucking up his own crime scenes, Yoyo Mung the cute girl Andy meets, Waise Lee (Bullet in the Head) the gangster with lucky henchman Lam Suet.

also featuring: great disguises:

disguise-makin’ software:

Someone or other, at the beginning of 2022, said they might watch a pile of 1972 movies on their fiftieth anniversary, and I stole the idea. This is probably why I watched The Inner Scar and The Boxer from Shantung and The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant and Boxcar Bertha and Fat City and Asylum and The Blood Spattered Bride… and sometimes my release years get mixed up so it might’ve been why I watched A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin or Fantastic Planet. It’s definitely why I gathered these 1972 shorts and kept them around for many months before finally deciding on Dec 30 that it’s now or never. Turns out they were all very good.


Ordinary Matter (Hollis Frampton)

The opening seconds, the camera rockin’ and rollin’ over some shingles, effectively demonstrates the weakness of my overcompressed VHS rip. A man speaks single syllables (a Chinese alphabet? you can download the script from Carnegie) with feedback echo, as the low-framerate camera tears ass through the countryside, producing frantically framing foliage. Then a square park surrounded by a columned hallway, the camera running through the halls looking inwards towards the park, the columns providing a film-flicker effect. Then over the Brooklyn Bridge, the camera getting distracted by any stone columns it encounters. Into the earth and grass, the image like an abstract fireworks display with the occasional tire track running through it. The voiceover runs out of syllables during a romp through Stonehenge with ten minutes still to go in the film – that’s poor planning for a structuralist! A shock when the camera stops and lingers in the cornfields. Anticlimactic ending, silently stomping sunward through the bushes. One of the more vibrant Frampton films I’ve seen, overall – part of his Hapax Legomena project.


Leonardo’s Diary (Jan Svankmajer)

Intercutting painstaking journal pages come to life with stock footage of human antics, creating some wild juxtapositions. A really fun one, released the year after the also-great Jabberwocky.


The Midnight Parasites (Yoji Kuri)

More animation, this one a colorful panorama of hellish mutilations. Among all the things gobbling up and shitting out other things, there’s a rare 1970’s human centipede. Real demented Boschian cartoon, the music a nifty electrogroove.

Mouseover for centipede, ya sicko:
image


The Bathroom (Yoji Kuri)

Stop-motion lunacy in a striped room (and sometimes the bathroom). Objects make and unmake themselves and clip through the floor, 3D cartoons and human actors turned into animation. Kuri’s interest in food and butts continues. Then suddenly, sped-up doc footage of crowds visiting a gallery of Kuri’s butt-centric art. Obviously this is all wonderful. The wikis say that Kuri was an early star of the Annecy Film Fest, made 40+ shorts, and is alive at 94.


Winnie-the-Pooh and a Busy Day (Fyodor Khitruk & Gennadiy Sokolskiy)

Alas, the last of the Russian Pooh shorts.
The one where Eeyore cries a lot on his birthday, then finds his lost tail.


Chakra (Jordan Belson)

Richly colored video light, washing like waves, flying like ashes, drifting like clouds, with a better soundtrack than these things tend to have. I bet seeing this projected properly would be gobsmacking.

Chakra (c) Jordan Belson


Take Five (Zbigniew Rybczynski)

Dancers’ images, tinted and overlapping, like these screenshots but in rapid motion over a jazz soundtrack. In the final minute the editing goes berserk, the jazz gets chopped and screwed. Real out there. I’ve only previously seen Rybczynski’s oscar-winning Tango. Take Five was among his earliest work, a thesis film, and the wikis say he’s had a big life since then, becoming a pioneer in video technology.


Top Ten Still-Unseen 1972 Movies:

The Merchant of Four Seasons
Morgiana
Don’t Torture the Duckling
Remote Control / Special Effects
Last Tango in Paris
What’s Up, Doc?
Red Psalm
Savage Messiah
The Death of Maria Malibran
Pink Flamingos

Getting to this movie due to its placement in the latest Sight & Sound lists. Made in between L’Avventura and L’Eclisse, this time Monica Vitti isn’t the protagonist but a third-party temptation. Main couple is Marcello Mastroianni (a few years after White Nights and Big Deal) and Jeanne Moreau (the year before Jules & Jim). Ennui at a party, ends with him on top of her in a golf course sand trap, neither still in love with the other. Won Berlin’s golden bear vs. Godard, Kurosawa – and vs. Bernhard Wicki, who acts in this as the couple’s dying friend. Richard Brody’s Criterion article is very good.

Wedding photographer John and bartender Levi discover supernatural phenomenon in Levi’s apartment and shoot a documentary about it. Maybe his closet is a gateway to another dimension. Finding symbols and coincidences in Los Angeles, like Silver Lake or Lodge 49, but this time it’s not just one conspiracy/coincidence, it’s ALL of them.

“Why did you play yourselves in the recreations?” Feels pandemicky, the writers/directors playing the lead roles, set in an apartment. As they start to mistrust each other, doc interviewees cast doubts on the histories and findings, and the movie we’re watching itself, speaking of visual effects tests to create the floating crystals and stuff. But it ends – in typical Benson/Moorhead fashion – with a possible callback to a previous film (someone falling inexplicably from a great height).