Cursed Mutant kids meet up and share a musical connection. Tomona was blinded by the magic sword that killed his father, and Inu-Oh was born a mutant due to a deal his serial killer father made with a magic mask. Stories of mutants and curses are usually good, and Yuasa’s animation is playful and unusual, especially when visualizing how blind Tomona “sees” the world through sounds. But then after a half hour it abruptly becomes a hard rock musical… returning to sum up the kids’ stories at the end, but too late. And while some directors will shoot the plot scenes normally then make the style come alive during musical numbers, Yuasa does the opposite. The whole hour of rock & roll theatrics is full of repeated shots and movements and angles, third-rate early-MTV stuff.
The boys are misjudged as hardworking and brilliant and sent to space, where they cause some deaths and hop a wormhole into the future. Buncha plotty stuff about an astronaut-turned-congresswoman trying to murder them, the (w)hole point of the movie being to get them into situations where somebody nearby says “hole.” It’s no Matrix 4 or Bill & Ted 3, just minor brand extension / light entertainment.
A Dream Walking (1934, Dave Fleischer)
The soundtrack makes good use of the title song as Olive goes sleepwalking across rooftops into a construction site, while P and B beat each other up for the chance to be her rescuer. P “wins” and takes credit, but O gets home safely on her own. Some good 3D movement through the girder grid. Wimpy’s voice is different than I remembered it.
Adventures of Popeye (1935, Dave Fleischer)
Something different, a live-action child holding a Popeye comic gets beat up by the local bully, Popeye jumps out of the book and runs a clip show of action scenes from previous shorts, the kid gets the message, eats his spinach and pummels the bully.
Minnie the Moocher (1932, Dave Fleischer)
Betty thinks her parents are cruel for making her eat sauerbraten, so she runs away with Bimbo. They hide in a cave where Cab Calloway and his band perform the title song (they appeared in person over the opening titles but an animated walrus is his stand-in here) and this scares them into returning home. Anyway we’ve learned that Betty’ parents are German immigrants, so the name Boop might’ve been an Ellis Island misspelling of Boos or Rupp or Hoppe.
The Merry Musicians (1936, Aleksandr Ptushko)
Puppet animation: four old mistreated animals run away from home and form a traveling band, playing the same song over and over. Needing a place to stay, they find a house of thieves in the woods and scare away its residents, and live happily ever after. Not as much fun as it sounds.
The Barber of Seville (1944, Shamus Culhane)
I haven’t seen one of these in a while – is Woody meant to be chaotic evil? He goes into a barber shop to get a Victory Haircut to support the troops, but the shop is vacant so he takes over, terrorizing anyone who walks in. He does sing Figaro in the last scene.
Who Killed Cock Robin? (1935, David Hand)
How many Disney murder mystery musicals are there? A lady wren seems like a Mae West caricature. The cops respond to the crime with a wave of random brutality (actual lyric “We don’t know who is guilty so we’re gonna hang ’em all”). Turns out Cupid shot the robin, who was only dazed, wakes up to kiss Mae Wren in court. Travis Wilkerson later made a film with the same title. Oscar nominated, beaten by the same director/studio’s Three Orphan Kittens.
The Band Concert (1935, Wilfred Jackson)
Another orchestra toon, people were really into orchestras back then. Mickey’s conducting the William Tell Overture, and an early-model Donald interferes, as does a bumblebee and finally a tornado. Much violence ensues, excellent animation. The first technicolor Mickey, won an award at the third Venice Film Festival.
Clock Cleaners (1937, Ben Sharpsteen)
Literally clock cleaners, like with feather dusters on a clock tower, none of them especially competent. A nesting stork interferes. Some better aerial antics than the Popeye sleepwalking thing.
The Brave Little Tailor (1938, Bill Roberts)
A misunderstanding has Mickey appointed the town giant slayer, offered millions of “pazuzas” and the hand of the princess if he succeeds. I must’ve seen this short a hundred times as a kid, one of the few readily-available Disneys. MM getting swallowed is still a cool scene, and the giant swatting at MM in the same way that MM was swatting flies in the opening scene is nice. Our guy prevails, and the town harnesses giant-snores for wind power. Another oscar-nominated Disney short that lost to a rival Disney short, the far inferior Ferdinand the Bull.
Night on Bald Mountain (1933, Alexander Alexeieff)
Animated engravings? Ah, it’s pinscreens, invented by the director and his wife. Blobby 3D rotations, back-and-forth repetition, transformations, what looks like a photographed miniature town. This goes in a bunch of different directions, all set to familiar music. Can’t say I got what it’s going for (ghosts rampant on the mountainside?) but it’s a change of pace from the Disney stuff.
Fétiche / The Mascot (1933, Ladislas Starewicz)
No subtitles, but a feverish kid is haunted by the roomful of dolls he’s resting in, seeing them come alive in glorious stop-motion. A wizard conjures an orange, fought over by a cat and monkey.
Dollmaker mom takes the dolls out to the city, presumably to sell, but if you’re sewing together evil dolls with souls, it’s a mistake to create a knife-wielding thug. He arranges an escape from the moving car, but rather than a fun Toy Story 2 romp through Fontenay-sous-Bois, they get trashed and broken and lost, only the cute dog surviving to the shop, though he escapes his buyer immediately and then it does become Toy Story 2. The blending of controlled puppetry and live-action chaos is beautifully done. Suddenly the devil is there, resurrecting the skeletons of eaten animals, summoning creatures made of paper and shoes and vegetables to his lair, where they party all night. Our doggy comes too, with his prize orange, which he never bites into, so it keeps getting stolen. Some of his old housemates are there helping cause havoc. The devil tries to sow discord and provide entertainment but gets his ass beaten to death – as does everyone else when puppet cops with clubs start brutalizing the innocent. The dog makes it home with his two uncredited-actor people (while Ladislas, who appears for ten seconds in the film, gives himself a prominent opening credit).
L’Idee (1932, Berthold Bartosch)
Guy has a good idea – his idea is for a miniature naked woman he can hold. He puts her in an envelope and mails her to the society of overdressed men, who don’t appreciate her at all, wishing her to be overdressed. The dreamer reimagines her fullsized then goes to town square to convince others that his naked-woman idea is good, but they are dicks and have him arrested and killed. A creepy guy who hangs out in crypts rediscovers the idea in the modern era and has her mass-produced on paper, and this idea givess an overdressed guy a new idea: that he should send people to war in order to get rich. Thousands die, while the original idea re-merges with the cosmos. Dour black and white animation, hard to tell what technique was used from my low-res copy, but the wikis say it’s multiple layers on glass with paper backgrounds.
The Little Match Girl (1937, Arthur Davis)
The barefoot girl’s matches are battered by a merry bustling new year’s crowd. She finds a quiet spot and starts lighting matches in a futile attempt to stave off the cold. From other versions I’ve seen, I don’t remember her lovely fantasies (having shoes and a doll and a parade of naked angels, etc) getting destroyed by a violent storm as she dies.
Galathea (1935, Lotte Reiniger)
An excellent followup to L’Idee, about a guy who sculpts a naked woman who comes to life, to the distress of his wife. He assumes he’s got a new sex slave, but Galathea trashes his studio and runs off. When the sculptor hears that she’s carousing at the pub he brings her home, where the wife tries to solve the problem by putting clothes on Gal, but that doesn’t go well. While everyone’s fighting, Gal transforms back into a statue and all the town’s women get their men back. Shadow-puppet animation of course, nice and crisp looking.
Daffy Duck in Hollywood (1938, Tex Avery)
Daffy causes chaos at a movie studio, then cuts a bunch of random pictures together onto a single reel, driving an Italian pig director insane.
An animated anthology released on netflix, so almost everyone has seen it according to letterboxd stats (as many as Kimi, 3x more than Phoenix or Mad God, 5x more than Downton Abbey 2 or Beavis & Butthead 2) and practically none of the critics/publications I follow have covered it. It got a TV movie nomination at Annecy, winning second place to a short called My Year of Dicks. All three are stories about absolutely doomed attempts at house renovation, something a lotta people can relate to, and it’s all extremely high-quality work.
1. After a visit by some shitty rich relatives, dad goes outside drunk and sad and makes a midnight deal with the satanic spirit of a phantom architect to build the family a glorious new house. The house comes fully furnished, with daily meals and newfangled electric lighting, but after they move in the house starts changing, the architect making “adjustments.” The kids find their old house in the basement of the new house, then crawl lost through the walls, while the parents go mad, burning all their old stuff in a trance then transforming into furniture. The baby falling down the stairs was a rare action highlight.
Small faces on big fuzzy heads, and an all-star cast: the little girl is Mia Goth, her dad is Matthew Goode (crazy uncle of Stoker), and the architect’s rep is Mark Heap. The previous mid-length movie by directors Emma De Swaef & Marc James Roels won awards at Toronto and Annecy.
2. A flipper/investor mouse has fired his construction crew, is working on a renovation by himself during a recession. As soon as the house is finished he discovers a beetle infestation, which he tries to hide during the open house (at which he’s the only one wearing the little shoe-booties). An Odd Couple loves the house and decides to sleep there, then takes it over without paying – they turn out to be supermutant rat forms of the beetles. He goes mad, of course. As a new homeowner myself, I’m not concerned about this at all, nope.
Director Niki Lindroth von Bahr is Trevor’s Stockholm neighbor. I thought I’d seen all her shorts (though I’ve only written up Tord & Tord) but I’m just learning of a recent one; see below.
3. Cat Rosa is having a bad time fixing up the apartments she rents out, because the tenants don’t pay. It turns out new-agey tenant Helena Bonham Carter has a hippie handyman boyfriend, and Rosa is thrilled when he offers to help out. But he’s removing the floorboards to build a boat. The hippies turn out to be right, Rosa in denial, as rapidly rising water levels have doomed the house (actually it sails away too, providing the anthology an unearned happy ending).
Lead cat is Susan Wokoma of a Sherlock Holmes teen spinoff series, the broke artist Will Sharpe of The Wrong Door, and the handyman Paul Kaye of Game of Thrones. Director Paloma Baeza also acts, is married to Alex Garland.
Something to Remember (2019, Niki Lindroth von Bahr)
Feels like The Burden part two. A continuous dreary song of hopeless depression, begun by a child in the first scene, continued into each subsequent scene by a character who was present in the previous one – from an empty zoo, through a mattress store and doctor’s office, culminating in nuclear disaster. Pretty catchy song actually, but the delightful innovation here is the clothing design on the birds, moles, beetles and slugs. Funny, the opening shot made me think of Roy Andersson, and Indiewire says she works with Roy’s set designer.
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.
Superman (1941 Dave Fleischer)
Wait, everyone on Krypton had superpowers, and Superman was raised on Earth in an orphanage? Mr. White is the newspaper boss. Lois flies a plane, is the only person investigating the letter they got saying an electrothanasia ray would cause devastation at midnight, the villain a mohawked creep, vaguely popeye-voiced, with a pet vulture. “This looks like a job for Superman,” Kent says casually the next day, after Lois is kidnapped and many people are dead, goes out and punches the electric ray into submission (and unforgivably, saves the girl and the villain but not the vulture). A silly story, but check out these colors.
The Mechanical Monsters (1941 Dave Fleischer)
These have a catchy theme song. Another rich mad scientist, this one in a purple suit and twirlable mustache, has developed drone technology – radio-controlled bank-robbing robots. Haha, when Lois and Clark are present at the next robbery, Clark steps into a booth to “phone this in” and… he phones it in! He just calls the newspaper office… it doesn’t occur to him to use the booth to become Superman until later. Lois is of course kidnapped, dangled over a smelter. I suppose all of these stories end the same way, with rescued Lois’s cover story in the paper the next day while Clark winks at the camera.
Everyone on Krypton also sports a Magic Cape:
Let’s Sing with Popeye (1934 Dave Fleischer)
Oh no, this was a two-minute short where Popeye punches some of his own stuff aboard a boat, then sings his theme song in a low, disinterested voice with follow-the-bouncing-ball lyrics.
Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions (1933 Dave Fleischer)
Opens with fireworks with live cats inside, so it’s gonna be good. Betty and friends are at a giant trade show under a circus tent, showing off different impractical inventions. She and Bimbo escape after a haywire sewing machine goes on a rampage, presumably hundreds of people are dead.
In the Future (2019 Phil Mulloy)
Absurd shadow-characters discuss the future. Very short, and a quarter of the runtime is a guy peeing. Phil has been out there since the 1970’s, making a pile of shorts and some features.
Endgame (2015 Phil Mulloy)
Two guys leave the city for some weekend war games and get more war than they bargained for. Stick figure art, the roughly drawn backgrounds include random-seeming numbers and figures. I was with it until the gang-rape joke.
Peter & the Wolf (2006 Suzie Templeton)
Great birds in this: an emotional support duck and a crow tied to a balloon, and terrific camera perspectives and stop motion work. Peter just wants to play in the backyard with his friends, help the crow with bad wings pretend to fly, and skate on the frozen pond, but grandpa wants him to stay indoors because there’s a wolf out there. The boy traps the wolf after it eats his comfort-duck, but frees the wolf at the end rather than hand it over to the ruffian townies. No dialogue, so it premiered with live orchestra accompaniment, and won the oscar, obviously.
My Love (2006 Aleksandr Petrov)
Another half-hour movie based on a Russian story featuring ducks, a cat in a tree, and some good birds. 16-year-old gives a crystal duck to a girl he likes, is figuring out what love is. He dreams of marrying his family’s poor maid, also starts worshipping a hot neighbor, but he is finally weird to the neighbor and when he becomes sick with brain fever the maid leaves to become a nun. My DVD copy isn’t high-res enough to get the full effect, but this is lovely – painted frames, smearing the backgrounds as the characters move past, exploding into fantasy scenes in the kid’s imagination. Feels too wordy, watching so soon after Peter & the Wolf. Petrov’s followup to his great Old Man and the Sea.
The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1981 Mark Hall)
It took a minute to even realize this was stop-motion; my copy’s contrast is off. The opposite of the Petrov in that the wordless animation moments are alright but it comes to life when the narrator is going off – he is Robert Hardy of the 1970’s version of The Green Knight, reading the original poem. Obviously not a movie to explore unless you’re ready to see hundreds of stop-motion rats. Jiri Barta also made a version, which would be worth digging up. A good effort for England, who still had ten years to wait until Wallace & Gromit. Hall was a British TV veteran, working on Danger Mouse among others.
Who Would Comfort Toffle? (1980 Johan Hagelback)
Toffle is alone and scared with nobody to talk to when the night monsters come, so he ditches his house and wanders to find somewhere new. Limited storybook animation with a rock musical soundtrack. The Hemulens are giant things outside that are maybe moomins? Real kids stuff, cute – you don’t see a lot of Swedish mythology cartoons.
The Chimney Thief (1944 Paul Grimault)
A thief who steals lightning rods and uses them to pole-vault across the rooftops is a pretty great idea. What ever happened to lightning rods anyway? You don’t see them around much. The scene where he distracts a guard dog with a wind-up mechanical bone is simply odd, all the character animation timing wonky. Their stretchy rubber-band bodies seem Boop-inspired. Nothing more to it than a rod thief outsmarting two identical cops chasing after him, some typical chase scene bits, but remarkably good use of 3D space. Grimault worked with Jacques Demy and made some other widely-acclaimed works that I’ve meant to find.
Birds/Ptakhy (2012 Mykyta Liksov)
Unlike the Blackbird short, this movie called Birds is about birds – this is all I ask for. The birds dance through the air, form couples and nests on the last above-water structures of a flooded Earth, except for one who swims underwater in search of a fallen spouse and finds a glowing egg in the irradiated wreckage of human civilization. I was already enjoying this before its all-timer end-credits sequence.
The Baby Birds of Norman McLaren (2014 Mirai Mizue)
Aha, someone is into maximalist mutations, colorful patterns, and bright pop music. Someone watched the entire McLaren DVD set and took away all the correct lessons, turning in a fun, short, snappy piece with tributes to Norman’s different animation and sound sync styles.
The Big Snit (1985 Richard Condie)
Squiggle-vision cartoon about a domestic squabble over a scrabble game while nuclear war is beginning outside. Between the two Ukraine-related shorts and this one, I hadn’t meant to get so topical tonight. The couple reconciles just in time to be vaporized, a happy ending. This and Condie’s La Salla are maybe over-acclaimed, but I like his very random sense of humor, and he also produced The Cat Came Back.
Lie Lie Lie (2007 Martha Colburn)
Animated music video, cutout characters with swivel limb joints are always grabbing each other and falling from heights. Judging from his wiki photo, the male lead in the video is based on musician Serj Tankian (System of a Down).
O Black Hole! (2020 Renee Zhan)
Wow, pencil and watercolors on Rejected textured paper gives an intro story on how a woman who couldn’t let go of anything became a black hole, then we go inside to a stop-motion tower and a girl (“the singularity”) who has to climb to the top and free the entrapped people and seasons and planets. So it’s a reverse Mad God – climbing out of the darkness. The paint-swirl black hole transitions into the stop-motion world are nice. And it’s a musical. Presented online by Locarno in February, even though the festival’s in August.
Journey to the East (2021 Eve Liu)
The start of a three hour(!) Metrograph shorts program that I didn’t feel like tackling in its entirety. A Chinese-American Western, had good lighting, and finger jewelry, and Ashes of Time-style slow-mo. Feels like an ad, I dunno for what, maybe for itself.
Daffy Doodles (1946 Robert McKimson)
A full-bodied Daffy, all his parts in sync, is a mad graffitist, painting mustaches on all posters and pig cops. Some unusual 3D perspective stuff, good gags and a daffier Duck than normal – I approve.
On Memory (2021 Don Hertzfeldt)
The new piece for the World of Tomorrow blu-ray is a Don monologue on exactly that, placing his voice into characters from his past films, and wonderful new ones. “A movie is something that will eventually spend more time living in our heads than the time we took to experience it.”
Voyage of a Hand (1985 Raoul Ruiz)
Europeans fondle their African art. A mustache man with two souls communicates through whistling. A guy says that all human voyages take the form of a hand, then he screams in pain. Others look at the man’s hand and see maps and patterns. He later travels carrying his own severed hand as a magic talisman, then sews his eyes shut, relying only on the hand to see the world. Obviously needs further study – should be watched annually, alongside Dog’s Dialogue, Zig-Zag, Le Film a Venir, and The Gift.
I watched all the shorts I could find called The Letter,
and some related shorts that were on the same DVDs.
The Letter (2008 Gael Garcia Bernal)
“Achieve universal education” – this is from an anthology in which overqualified filmmakers (Sissako, Wenders, Gaspar Noé) created little issues dramas. Bernal had made one feature before this and never really took off as a director. Mustache man Ingvar Sigurdsson (lately star of A White, White Day, soon to be seen in The Northman) is working in Iceland. He helps his son with homework, reads to him. Any time he’s not talking with his kid, a narrator is speaking, and none of this is in English or subtitled on my disc, so I dunno, but the man seems to be divorced and the only letter they receive is a credit card bill.
The Water Diary (2008 Jane Campion)
From the same anthology as the Bernal. Drought caused by climate change causes a farming town to fall apart. The little girl at the center loses her horses, loses her uncle to suicide, spends the day pretend-galloping with her cousin through the dry riverbed. The neighbors tell each other their dreams of rain, and imagine that if the prettiest girl in town plays her viola atop a hill, the clouds will gather and weep. Second movie I’ve seen in a year where people collect their tears in jars. Lovely short, even on DVD, with some unusual visuals. The lead girl later played opposite Elle Fanning in Ginger & Rosa.
The Letter (1971 James Gore & Adam Beckett)
Silent freeform animation, the figures constantly transforming, returning to a striped-shirt character writing then mailing a letter. Besides the figure mutations (just while addressing and stamping the letter, the person becomes a stick figure, a mouse, a bird, a pig and a wolf) we spend some time inside the letter itself, a blue-on-blue field of growing and folding shapes.
Sausage City (1974 Adam Beckett)
Single-color pen drawings of mutating geometries, gradually becomes more 3D as colorful blobbos appear and begin taking over the image, a chaotic jazz combo underscoring the whole thing. This for a while, then it zooms out and a man jumps into the drawing table, where he’s transformed into a hip mouse creature. Music by “Brillo”
The Letter (2002 Vladimir Leschiov)
Man sitting under tall apple tree is writing a letter. Plays around with scale, and the nature of apples. Nice pencil-looking drawing style, with soft music that adds fx and transforms along with the visual scene. Leschiov is described as the most famous of Latvian animators, though he made this in Sweden.
Lost In Snow (2007 Vladimir Leschiov)
A man leaves his shack for some ice fishing and a drink. But the man begins multiplying, differently dressed ice fishers in different nearby spots, as the ice sheet cracks and they all float around each other. Prompted to watch this after we went to the lake today, saw some ice fishers and got very close to a bald eagle. The movie loses points for featuring no eagles, but there is a penguin at the end
The Letter (1998 Michel Gondry)
A boy with a photography hobby is anxious about Y2K and wanting to kiss a girl he likes. His older brother tries giving him advice, the boy dreams that he’s unable to connect with other humans because his head has become a camera, the girl writes a letter saying she likes his older brother. B/W with some nice photochemical effects, I think this was Gondry’s first narrative work that wasn’t a music video.
The Letter (1968 Jacques Drouin)
Only a minute long, simple animation on white background of a person attempting to write a love letter, the words of the discarded drafts appearing onscreen and self destructing.
Pismo aka Letter (2013 Sergei Loznitsa)
Cool jump-cut on a thunderclap, and there is a cow. Either this town is in heavy mist or the film is fogged. This goes beyond Slow Cinema into Sokurovian smear-cinema, without even a pretense at story or characterization, the camera too far from whatever daily menial activities are going on. There’s a four-hour Loznitsa playing True/False next month, and the guy’s not convincing me that’ll be time well spent [edit: a month later, after reviews and global events, now I’m dying to see the T/F feature]
“A remote village in the Northwest of Russia. A mental asylum is located in an old wooden house. The place and its inhabitants seem to be untouched by civilization. Over 10 years ago, Loznitsa shot astounding black-and-white footage at a psychiatric institution in a forgotten corner of Russia. Since then it has resided in his archive.”
The Letter (2018 Bill Morrison)
A young man falls for a nurse. Her friend reads alarming news in a letter. A maid is being harassed by her employer. Is Bill a great preservationist, showing us the remnants of old films before they’re physically corroded away? Or is he the cause of the corrosion, has he realized that 1920’s studio pictures of well dressed people having conversations in rooms are inherently uninteresting without an added Decasia effect, and he’s out to document his chemical destruction of silent film history? I like my theory, gonna run with it, though now I see this was made from the Dawson City films.
The Letter (1976 Coni Beeson)
Big keyboard music, voiceover fragments of a man’s breakup letter while a blonde woman in a robe is montaged through all different scenarios, some of them nude. Her voice responds, “what if I change, what if I stop” as the movie deteriorates into hippie-manson-orgy territory with prominent ankhs. She achieves some kinda (still nude) peace at the end. The official description mentions “a symbolic rape by the Devil.”
The Letter (1970 Roman Kachanov)
Daddy’s off at war, and wifey gets very mopey when he hasn’t sent a letter lately, to the concern of their kid. Cute stop-motion.
Labor of Love (2020 Sylvia Schedelbauer)
Visuals of pure pulsing hypnosis, a voiceover speaking of a cosmic pagoda, “portals within portals.” Highly colorful, ever-pulsing visions of an eye and then a brain, through water waves, into pure geometry, the voice falling away leaving only loud ambient music.
Inspired by a Paul Clipson film, in fact the only one of his I’ve seen. This must count as some kind of animation – not sure how it was done, but the official site says “16mm archival footage and HD Video” and recounts inspirations and sources and intent.
By Pain and Rhyme and Arabesques of Foraging (2013 David Gatten)
I’ve watched a few of his, and he does love filming old texts. I made the mistake of playing a song from Craig Taborn’s Avenging Angel that matched the movie’s length – it might’ve played better silent, since the cutting is so rhythmic, steadily editing between handwritten letters, a typed description (“an experimental history of colours”), and R/G/B colored objects, the camera often gliding slowly, as when it creeps all the way up a telescope. Abrupt switch to monochrome, and a new page on dreams (“folly and madnesse”), a tinted study of water on glass, still cutting back and forth but with more frequent cuts to black.
Matchstick (2011 Jeff Scher)
Wow, speaking of colours, Jeff’s painted animation of lines and dots, rapidly growing and shifting, soundtracked by a good song by an electro-psych-rock band.
Social Skills (2021 Henry Hills)
Hills is still making these. Filmed for a month, barely pre-pandemic at a Belgian dance workshop, then presumably edited for a year. The music is chopped clips and loops from old songs, plus cartoon sound effects and a Zeena Parkins piece. Large number of dancers in a room doing every sort of exercise and movement. Besides cutting rapidly (but not so rapidly that we don’t get a sense of each motion) he’s also using masks to highlight parts of the image. Wonder how long Henry had been in edit-room pandemic lockdown when he added the audio clip about “practicing the fantastic intelligence of touching people.”
Whistle Stop (2014 Martin Arnold)
No longer torturing poor Judy Garland and Gregory Peck, Arnold has moved to cartoons. Also demonstrating his erasure techniques from Deanimated, here he’s taken a manic Daffy Duck scene, isolated each of Daffy’s body parts in different layers, and as he scrubs the audio three steps forward, two steps back, the body parts play the scene out of sync with each other.
Happy Valley (2020 Simon Liu)
Like a John Wilson episode, a montage of unusual signs filmed off the street, but instead of voiceover commentary there’s layered decaying noise loops, recalling my Brave Trailer Project (which I’m guessing Liu hasn’t seen). Nice complex sound mix, but apparently the Negativ(e)land film lab in Brooklyn has no relation to the music group, too bad.
Looked up Liu after reading the Phil Coldiron story in Cinema Scope… he calls this and Signal 8 “Liu’s most lucid works to date, emotional reports from an imperiled homeland [Hong Kong] that continue his effort to give memorable and engaging form to personal experience while broadening the scope of what this experience entails.”