Earthearthearth (2021 Daichi Saito)
Opens with sunrise/sunsets, light tentatively emerging then retreating, broken up with ugly digital artifacting and with one of those a-g drone tracks that says “I didn’t have any sound in mind but I want to act like it’s a sound film so the viewer doesn’t put on an Abraxas album.” But the drone gets bigger and more complex as the visuals turn into fullscreen desert landscapes, superimposed over different ones, infected by huge color tinting – purple-blues, blue-and-gold. The radiation-green with Argento-red section is incredible, as the drone starts to sound like a processed bowed string instrument. I went back and forth on digital/analogue and finally decided it’s scanned film run through a panel of analog video processing effects – am I right? (nope, chemical-processed 16mm). Just a half hour of looking at lights flicker over mountains, but it’s the most times I’ve said “whoa” out loud while watching any movie this year. Eventually I started daydreaming about putting on The Grandmaster, but the Grainy Cloud Explosions finale was worth sticking around for.
The Head That Killed Everyone (2014 Beatriz Santiago Muñoz)
Voice reads methodically, as if from a lesson plan, some lines about the energies that go into casting a proper spell. Then a woman does a long dance in medium close-up without music, just the sounds of the night and an approaching thunderstorm. Not as exciting as its title, which I took to be the opposite energy of that Flaming Lips song.
13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (2020 Ana Vaz)
Another woman reading, this time onscreen but out of sync, a crackly vinyl loop overlaid on the soundtrack, until it suddenly is not. To be uncharitable to the experimental shorts, they revel in adding and removing elements on a random timeline. Title card. Instead of seeing a scenario, we see someone with eyes closed, her voiceover telling us the scenario she’s envisioning. After a couple of those, the camera at least shows a scene that kinda represents what the person dreamed. I think each title card is a line from the opening monologue, so each chapter expands on a section of that. And they mention blackbirds pretty often, though any birds the camera or mic pick up seem pretty incidental to their “what are images, what is the meaning of anything” conversations. Forgot I wanted to save this movie to double-feature with There Are Not Thirty-Six Ways of Showing a Man Getting on a Horse.
Glimpses from a Visit to Orkney in Summer 1995 (2020 Ute Aurand)
Silent defocused montage of extreme close-ups on colorful things – flowers, farm animals, gramma. A personal diary-travelogue short, a-g-style.
What Distinguishes The Past (2020 Ben Russell)
Long take of a fireworks display in reverse motion, neat. I’m glad I watched this, because it’s got a playful reversal on what I consider (based on Let Each One and A Spell to Ward) to be Russell’s signature: handheld cam following a person walking in real-time over terrain. This time the people are walking in reverse, shot from the front, composited into the terrain, and it’s all over in four minutes.
Kyiv Frescoes (1966 Sergei Parajanov)
After Pomegranates and Ancestors, it’s fun to see a Parajanov with modern costumes. This picks up the pace from Pomegranates, practically playing like a silent comedy, though one with impeccable compositions, prominently placed symbolic objects, and few (but some!) actual jokes. Besides being a playful compositional art object, it’s a choreographed dance film and I dunno, maybe a history lesson. I know I’m ridiculous for thinking this might have been about actual Kyiv frescoes, imagining a tour in the style of Varda’s Les Dites Cariatides.
This was to be his followup feature to Ancestors but was shut down during production, so these scenes are outtakes from that project – then he’d develop this new style into Pomegranates. Per The Calvert Journal:
Parajanov intended to set this loosely-structured metaphorical film on the day of the city’s liberation from Nazi troops — but wanted to centre it around a museum, praising beauty and art rather than heroism and patriotism. The production of the film was terminated by the state studio, who deemed Parajanov’s experiments inappropriate for the subject.
The Balloonatic (1923 Buster Keaton)
The most random of the shorts, moving from a haunted house to hot air balloon to canoe, with fishes and bulls and bears along the way. Buster is a ridiculous idiot here with moments of brilliance – and the girl he keeps bumping into is mostly capable with moments of incompetence, so they’re made for each other. Phyllis Haver is his lead actress – a Sennett and DeMille star in the silent era, before something went wrong 40 years on; she took a lot of pills and died.
The Blacksmith (1922 Buster Keaton)
I suppose he’s more capable here, but mostly oblivious. A blacksmith’s assistant, he ruins two cars and two horses, and gets the blacksmith (Big Joe Roberts, of course) arrested, ends up on a chase, hopping a train to elope with customer Virginia Fox. The casual use of hot metal and blowtorches produce some wincey stunts. Better use of a balloon in this short than in The Balloonatic.