After reading Beatrice Loayza’s essay for the new box set, I had to watch an Akerman movie. But I cannot tolerate silence in a home screening, so, per the artist’s original intent, I made a playlist with Colleen then Titan to Tachyons then Tomeka Reid Quartet.

Static camera, hanging around in the hotel lobby and hallways and especially elevators, even getting into a couple rooms. Then back to the hallways… long static takes of hallways. Then movement! Dolly up a hallway, looking out the window at NYC, impressive jump cut from night to day, back up and down the hallway. Movie ends on the roof, slow rotation looking out at the city, the movement reminding of La Chambre. Akerman had moved to NYC and made these films with DP Babette Mangolte, both artists influenced by Michael Snow, then Mangolte shot Snow’s Rameau’s Nephew the following year.

Flowers Blooming in Our Throats (2020, Eva Giolo)

Nice sound design in an a/g short, how rare. Sync sound effects, professionally blended between shots. Focus on hands and arms… slapping and clutching, spinning tops, clipping flowers, with and without a red filter. I take the film as an ASMR parody, with its hair-brushing and rubberband-snapping, edited too quickly to evoke whatever trance state the youtubers seek.

Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You (2019, Brandon Cronenberg)

“Eventually I realize I’m in a kind of hell.” Deragh is a brain-implant patient describing the dream states the device puts her in. Three dreams under different color filters, then a good ol’ glitching-video-signal nude freakout before the Twilight Zone ending.

Tomb of Kafka (2022, Jean-Claude Rousseau)

Prague. A small room. The desk has a hat on it. One of the windows is green. Usually there’s a white-haired man without anything compelling to do. His activities have equal weight as the quick fadeouts or fidgets of the camera refocusing. Sometimes a cutaway to a forest or a dead bug. We watch the man read for a minute or two. Hey, I could be reading. Didn’t I get a new Laszlo Krasznahorkai book? I could’ve been reading that.

Dear Chantal (2021, Nicolas Pereda)

Chantal is renting a place from the narrator’s sister, a painter. He’s an Akermaniac so asks to be in charge of communication, which we hear as flatly-narrated letters. Nice shot of brushing leaves from a skylight. Opens and closes with the quote: “Letters never written nonetheless exist.”

Blank Narcissus (2022, Peter Strickland)

A “rediscovered” Midsummer Night’s Gay Porno with audio commentary by a director mourning his long-lost relationship with the star. Maybe Strickland isn’t as great as I’d been assuming.

Open Sky, Open Sea, Open Ground (2022, Baus & Gills)

Ecuador… Grainy film with a wrecked water/shuffle soundtrack of people running across a beach from boat to truck, delivering containers of fish while besieged by pelicans and gulls. I was rooting for the pelicans.

Emergence Collapse (2021, Rainer Kohlberger & Jung An Tagen)

Liquid cityscapes! Best guess is it’s nighttime photography turned into pure digital moosh with the color dial turned to eleven. Some of the most tripped-out shit I’ve ever seen. Loses a point for the nightmarish music, sort of a generative-autechre.

Mnemonics of Shape and Reason (2021, Sky Hopinka)

Wow, a convincing and succinct blend of earth, sky and water. Images upside-rightside overlapping, the sky masked by a person-walking silhouette, desert and plants blurred into blasted lines as if viewed out a rocket-car window.

Mélodie de brumes à Paris (1985, Julius-Amédé Laou)

The only short I watched from the free offerings of Prismatic Ground, which was like most film festivals in not having very clear communication about its streaming program.

Opens on a dubbed guy having a breakdown out the window of an artificial-looking apartment, yelling at neighbors and passers-by to blow up the buildings of the oppressors (start with the bars, banks and pay toilets). He mutters himself to sleep on the can, the synth soundtrack alternating with a pop song repeating the film’s title. In the morning he walks through the fog to a bar, his thoughts still on bombs, is the only customer but still can’t get served (because of racism, not because they heard him advocating for the violent destruction of all bars). He finds his dead father and confesses to being a merciless killing machine during the Algerian war. That night he’s being harassed by a drug dealer when a white doorman starts being racist, the director yells cut but the doorman doesn’t stop, and the cast and crew start fighting with the white locals.

Good looking movie with nice fourth-wall-breaking and synth music. I do think a few of the voiceover lines were clunky (guy is haunted by the past, we know because he says “the past, the past”). Star Greg Germain also appeared in the similarly themed Soleil O and popped up in everything from Chabrol movies to Emmanuelle sequels.

Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916, Roscoe Arbuckle)

Farmhand Roscoe marries Mabel and they move into a cottage her parents buy when a shady realtor’s car breaks down outside their house. R&M sleep as far apart as possible inside, while outside his romantic rival the Hated Milk Machine conspires with some random thugs to … push their house into the ocean? Or it happens to slide away during a storm while HMM and the thugs are attempting to break in. Either way, they don’t become adrift until the last 7 minutes. The cops and parents somehow save them, meanwhile HMM and the thugs gamble all night, argue over the wad of cash, then all die in an accidental explosion. I know that watching silents while listening to Zorn is a cliche with me, but Cleric playing Bagatelles vol. 12 was perfect for this.

Mabel’s parents with villain Al St. John as the HMM:

From the Bressane straight into another movie opening with a long take, wind overloading the mic. Sometimes long static shots of empty rooms – but this one goes even further than the Bressane, if that was our goal. Consumer-grade looking and sounding, despite the evident care that went into editing.

Chantal hangs out with her mom… later, her mom is not doing so well. In the kitchen they talk about escaping Belgium during WWII, and on skype they talk in circles. One great bit when Chantal zooms all the way into the screen during a skype call to see her own reflection overlaid on her mother. Otherwise, I have to say I preferred the documentary.

Andréa Picard in Cinema Scope gets it, and links it to Akerman’s memoir and her gallery work that came out shortly before the feature:

In No Home Movie, it is as if Chantal Akerman, perhaps for the first time in her career, has revealed the core of her work and her wounds in the most naked of ways: her frequent focus on confinement, repetition, and confrontation; her longing to be elsewhere; her dizzying instability.

LNKarno opening night is an Akerman doc, watching as prep for LNKarno closing night No Home Movie. I ended up enjoying the doc, with its discussions of editing strategies in the feature, more than the feature itself. I am a sucker for these things.

Akerman worked at a gay porn theater’s box office, raising money for her early shorts, then stole boxes of expired film to shoot Je, Tu, Il, Elle. “My mother was at the heart of my work,” flashbacks to News from Home. Wonderful to see Saute ma ville, which I just watched, intercut with Jeanne Dielman, discussion of their similarities and her mother’s take on the latter feature. Gus Van Sant, whose Last Days was Akerman-inpired, weighs in. The doc has the same closing credits shot as True Stories.

The Amateurist (1998, Miranda July)

Miranda 1 “the professsional” is presenting her work on Miranda 2 “the amateur” to the viewer. I think 1 transmits numbers and patterns to 2, who paces a cell, reacting with hostility to these communications, while 1 watches lovingly. “A portrait of a woman on the brink of technology-induced madness”

Pioneer (2011, David Lowery)

Another single-room two-person short. Will Oldham is an ageless man telling his stepson a bedtime story about how the boy was kidnapped and sought for over a hundred years, only to mysteriously reappear.

Saute ma ville (1968, Chantal Akerman)

Whoa… teenage Chantal comes home, eats dinner, tosses the cat out the window, cleans the apartment, then kills herself on the stove. Jeanne Dielman in miniature – with less technical mastery, replaced with a playful sense of anarchy, extended to the dubbing (she sings in voiceover when not singing onscreen, and when lighting a match, the sound effect is a voice saying “scrrratch”). Watching the doc later, she calls it “the mirror image of Jeanne Dielman.”

Asparagus (1979, Suzan Pitt)

Up there with Lynch in terms of having the most warped ideas and having the technical chops to get them onscreen. This is the height of color and form/space/scale weirdness while still maintaining some vague narrative trajectory, accompanied by bent spooky music, then it hits new heights when our heroine leaves the house (putting on a mask first, much appreciated), sneaks into a theater and unleashes her phantasmagoric cel-animated phallic-symbol madness on an unsuspecting stop-motion audience. A masterpiece, filmed from 1974 to 1978.

Atlantiques (2009, Mati Diop)

Serigne boarded a pigogue heading to Spain and died on the way. However, Serigne sits around the fire with a couple of friends detailing the trip and his reasons for leaving. Obviously a ghostly precursor to the feature.

– bonus short –

Strasbourg 1518 (2020, Jonathan Glazer)

Exhausted repetitive dances in vacant domestic spaces.

Faster cutting between a larger set of dancers towards the end.

New music by Mica Levi is an irritating fast club beat with hints of bird calls

Exciting to get to see this in theaters… glad I held off on watching the DVD for so long. I’m always afraid Akerman’s movies will put me to sleep at home, probably unfounded since I found D’Est mesmerizing. This one is similarly anthropological, showing New York in its specific era, making me wonder if the movie feels more special as a time capsule with each passing year. Akerman had moved to the States for a couple years and her mom wasn’t taking the separation well, writing constant letters, mostly to ask why Chantal hadn’t sent more of her own letters. So Chantal reads the letters from her mom aloud rapidly over her long-take images and sounds from the city, often letting the spoken correspondences get drowned out by traffic and train noise. In practice, it’s more interesting than it sounds.

M. Orange:

The keenest signifier of Akerman’s pervading sense of rootlessness, of unbelonging — a reaction, perhaps, to the threat of confinement of any kind — would also be her truest anchor in the world: her mother, Natalia … Speaking in I Don’t Belong Anywhere, a documentary profile shot shortly before her 2015 death, Akerman wonders if “throw[ing] Jeanne Dielman in her [mother’s] face was very generous of me,” describing the film as “a kind of mirror that wasn’t necessarily something [women of that generation] appreciated seeing.” In the same documentary, Akerman says it was only with News From Home that she realized her mother formed the center of all of her work. At the time of these interviews, Akerman was completing work on No Home Movie, a meditation on her elderly mother’s decline and impending death. It would be her final film.

A slideshow of filmed images from Russia and Eastern Europe, decontextualized, no voice-over or dialogue (though people notice the camera and speak to it). Generally quite long shots cut together, though the sound is mixed and faded nicely, not always simply cut with the picture. Camera is often moving, slowly gliding through a scene, and the photography is top-notch.

It’s probably my favorite Akerman film so far, at least the most lively and eventful (from what I remember of From The Other Side). Much of the joy comes from watching people stare back at the camera and crew. Chris Marker would approve. Mostly shot in public places, she also films some women at home, posing for a motion portrait or going about their day. Mostly it gave me a happy sense of peace, with vague anthropological and historical interest – not an intensely moving film, but much more enjoyable than any description of it could sound.

The montage has no discernable purpose, and I saw some complaints about how she almost ends with a long cello performance followed by the musician collecting roses from audience members, but then cuts to one more street scene, perversely denying the movie its obvious finale.

E. Henderson in Slant:

[Russia] was at a précis between history and future, and many of the individual frames in Akerman’s motion picture slideshow rumble with the juxtaposition of the Old World and the New. What Akerman does not do is offer exposition, commentary, or argument. Essentially, she eschews the tenets of documentary in order to avoid clouding her presentation up with, as she suggests in her explicatory notes, agenda.

As observed by Jonathan Rosenbaum, From the East is one of Akerman’s—and maybe cinema’—most fully realized attempts at existing as place, not setting. Rosenbaum notes that almost each and every human being caught by Akerman’s camera (some candidly, others in deliberately staged tableaux) appears to be waiting interminably for God knows what, standing and looking and breathing as Akerman pans to the right, pans to the left.

Rosenbaum also says (and I, too, was reminded of the Straub-Huillet):

The only other film I know that imparts such a vivid sense of being somewhere is the Egyptian section of Straub-Huillet’s Too Early, Too Late. Everyone goes to movies in search of events, but the extraordinary events in Akerman’s sorrowful, intractable film are the shots themselves–the everyday recorded by a powerful artist with an acute eye and ear.

Grunes calls it “a film populated by ghosts whose substantial reality provides an index of the depth of humanity that, metaphorically, has been lost,” and finds tons of deeper meaning in the shots.

Jon Jost liked it somewhat less (though it’s impossible to like it more than Grunes did):

Again and again the camera passes grim townscapes, and their equally grim occupants… Akerman in a sense gives very little, though what she gives provides enough suggestive power for the viewer’s mind to swarm with thoughts. . . Critics naturally scurry in to fill in the blanks with innumerable speculations, most of which show more about themselves than what is on screen. For those for whom guidance is a requirement a film such as this is doubtless quickly boring and pointless.

Monsieur Fantomas (1937, Ernst Moerman)
This was the prize short of the month… good show, Moerman. Takes the dream-logic, intense crimes and crazy escapes of Feuillade and goes all-out surrealist with them. The master criminal lives in a room with no walls on the beach (much of the movie takes place on the beach), seeks out his true love Elvire. Chief Juve is roused from the bathtub, consults with some seashells and heads buried in the sand. A hundred delightful things happen then it closes with the title card “end of the 280,000th chapter.” Made in Belgium, and I’m very sorry that Moerman didn’t shoot any more films. There really needed to be more surrealist cinema.

The cops close in on Fantomas… but is it really him, or just a cello?

Dinner For One (1963)
Shot in Germany, and shown traditionally every year on television since, a beloved little sketch in which a butler sets the table for an old woman’s absent guests, drinking toasts in each of their places and getting roaring drunk as he continues to perform his duties.

May Warden and Freddie Frinton:

The Spine (2009, Chris Landreth)
Group marital counseling + codependency, slowly coheres into a story. I didn’t like it nearly as much as his short Ryan.

Three by Sally Potter
These shorts predate Thriller by almost a decade, early film experiments not having much in common with her features – well, perhaps slightly with The Gold Diggers, which I started watching but haven’t finished.

Hors d’oeuvres (1972)
Silent avant-garde film, a flickering light shines on still photographs, then slow, unstable film footage of one person at a time in a bare room. Dance movements, slowed down then paused, superimpositions, the light pulsating. Lasted about twice as long as my willingness to appreciate it.

Play (1970)
Also silent, two cameras high up at different angles capture the same scenes of children playing on the sidewalk, at first presented side-by-side simulatenously, then re-edited, slowed down and chopped up.

Jerk (1969)
Faces, sped up and extremely rapidly edited. This was my favorite. I wonder if Potter considered the film’s motion to be “jerky” or if she thought this guy was a jerk.

Father (1977, Shuji Terayama)
a one-take silent sex scene that turns into a pleasant slideshow, featuring video superimpositions of a hand and the back of a head. No audio on my copy.

La Chambre (1972, Chantal Akerman)
Four slow pans around a cramped apartment, fully silent. First the director flutters her eyes at us from bed, then she is wriggling around, then playing absently with an apple, then – change of camera direction! – eating the apple, as the camera finally realizes she’s the only thing of interest in the room and starts rocking back and forth, homing in on her bed.

Birds Anonymous (1957, Friz Freleng)
“Birds is strictly for the birds.”
Just an average tweety and sylvester short, some kind of parody of werewolf movies and alcoholics anonymous, as far as I can tell. Wonder why this was on my laptop. And what is alum?

Playback (1970, Pere Portabella)
Two cameras, and you can see each in the other’s shot as they circle a composer who is arranging his unconventional choir piece, chattering constantly in unsubtitled Catalan. It’s all kind of exciting. I don’t know anything about Portabella, but I like his shooting style so far.

From the filmmaker’s official site:

Playback is presented as a short rehearsal in a double sense. It is a satellite of the constellation of works that Portabella dedicates to the analysis of the “materiality” of aesthetic and cultural languages (Vampir-Cuadecuc and Miró l’Altre among others can also be understood in this manner). At the same time, he analyzes the rehearsals that Carles Santos carries out for the playback recording of a film on the work of Antoni Gaudi. The choir of the Gran Teatro del Liceu of Barcelona reads fragments from Wagner’s Tannhauser, Lohengrin and the Valkyries. The film was shot in the theater “Lluïsos de Gràcia”.

Two Portraits (1981, Peter Thompson)
The director narrates a series of one-sentence statements about his father, as we see consecutive film frames cross dissolving. “His oldest son died at age 31. The decision to have children was left to his wife, as were all decisions except those concerning money.”

Second portrait is of his mother, filmed sleeping outdoors, while on the audio she reads pages from her diary. The first half was far more illuminating and sympathetic. I’m not sure what to do with the second part, but as with all of Thompson’s films that I’ve seen, I’d be glad to watch it again.

First portrait:

From Chicago Magazine: “When Peter Thompson was 35, his father committed suicide. That tragedy 29 years ago sent the Columbia College professor searching for Super 8 film of his father. He found only 12 seconds’ worth, but stretched them out to 17 minutes and added narration. When he expanded it to include his mother, the resulting film, Two Portraits, moved audiences to tears.”

Second portrait:

I’m glad I got to see this in a theater, since I don’t know if I could’ve sit still for it on video. Also fun to observe the number of walkouts, probably from the half of the audience who hadn’t read the description beforehand and gasped loudly when Andy mentioned its 3.5-hour length in his introduction (AKA the half that wasn’t receiving class credit for attendance). But surprisingly I didn’t like it very much, never got the sense that all the elements (formalist experiment + weight of duration + story or lack thereof + static, careful camera compositions + subtle lead performance) congealed into a singular, great experience.

So, as I already knew, the film portrays Jeanne going about her routine for three days: making coffee, awakening her son and sending him to school, shopping, sleeping with some guy, making dinner, eating with her son, going to bed. Towards the second half her routine isn’t going as smoothly. Potatoes are overcooked. She walks into the wrong room. She can’t comfort the infant she watches while her neighbor shops. Then on the third day she stabs her guy to death with scissors. I’m still thinking about language since watching Pontypool. IMDB and Criterion descriptions say she “turns the occasional trick,” but most viewer descriptions outright call her “a prostitute.”

Delphine Seyrig was already a star (see: Last Year at Marienbad) and would remain one. Jan Decorte (her son) would only be in one more film (also by Akerman). The first two (non-murdered) men are both directors, the middle being Jacques Doniol-Valcroze. He played Etienne, whose letters get stolen and ransomed, in Out 1.

I. Magulies:

The perfect parity between Jeanne’s predictable schedule and Akerman’s minimalist precision deflects our attention from the fleeting signs of Jeanne’s afternoon prostitution. They nevertheless loom at the edge of our mind, gradually building unease. Jeanne Dielman constitutes a radical experiment with being undramatic, and paradoxically with the absolute necessity of drama.

Helping explain the movie’s feminist reputation:

Aunt Fernande, Jeanne’s sister, living in Canada, only appears in the form of a letter, read in litanylike monotone by Jeanne to her son; the neighbor, heard by the door (and played by Akerman herself), describes how, shopping for her husband’s dinner, and still undecided, she ended up getting the same expensive cut of meat as the person in front of her on line. Never casual, each of the film’s uniquely strange and long-winded monologues expresses some form of gendered pressure: they refer to Jeanne’s marriage, the son’s Oedipal thoughts, each breathing a sexual anxiety, each a drawn-out, wordy attempt to mitigate the “other scene” we never see, the elided afternoon trysts.