Our second Dupont movie after Variety. Rather than Anvil/Alloy we went with the music on the blu-ray, which was fine. After a talkie introduction scene, simply terrible, awkwardly tacked on (starring John Longden who I just saw in Quatermass 2) we get a proper silent film with glamorous costumes and camera moves. The setup is that Valentine (Claudette’s fiancé in It Happened One Night) runs a successful club with star dancers Victor (Hitchcock’s Blackmail) and Mabel (star of The Devil Dancer two years earlier), then after a falling out, the dancers are replaced with kitchen worker Anna May Wong, a vast improvement. Tensions build in the second half – Mabel is jealous that Valentine is sweet on Anna, and maybe murders her, but in the ensuing court drama we learn that Anna’s boy Jim (not her brother, as she’s told people) did the crime. Smooth little drama, mostly noteworthy for its Anna May content.
Cloudless Blue Egress of Summer (2019, Sky Hopinka)
Split screen (sorry, “two-channel”) film, water and sky giving way to drawings and stories (text on screen, and one stereo channel reading the text aloud). Sounds academic, but really cool in the way Hopinka’s films tend to be.
Kicking the Clouds (2022, Sky Hopinka)
Interviewer’s mother talks about language for a while then gives greater family context, the camera showing beadwork, people from a distance, ground and trees, poetry, and of course clouds.
We Need New Names (2015, Onyeka Igwe)
This covers a lot of ground: racial and gender difference, family history and belonging, tradition and its meaning. Clips from black/white archival films of African dance, and modern video of different dance, each of them tourist-docs the way the narrator is removed from the rituals she sees, including dancing pallbearers at her grandmother’s funeral (who reportedly died at age 103 – mom says that’s not true “but I think you should leave that alone”).
Crocus (1971, Suzan Pitt)
Mom and kid move with awkward paper-doll joints, sliding all over the floor, which is better than dad, who moves with no joints at all, like a he-man figure with a gigantic cock. When the adults finally get down to it, the camera spins around them, then various suggestive objects fly through the room and out the window.
In Montreal we checked out a three-part exhibit of her solo works, including a room with a four-screen re-enactment of Pasolini’s final interview with rotating participants reading the same lines, the rare multi-channel video piece that really worked for me. In a larger room was a parallel array of screens showing 30-some dance videos made over a decade – some of which are on vimeo, so I got screenshots.
In the mood for another 1960’s Czech movie after Loves of a Blonde. ChytilovÃ¡ pre-Daisies doing the hybrid-doc thing before it was invented. The mom having an affair with a light-haired guy isn’t terribly enlightening – I came for the dance segments. Good photography overall, but one particular shot, the camera upside-down then rotating rightside in sync with the dancer’s flip, takes your breath away.
VoilÃ lâ€™enchaÃ®nement (2014)
Alex Descas and Norah Krief (a Shakespeare actress) are a mixed-race couple, and not incidentally. She calls him a stud, asks him to tattoo her name on his body, he says both remind him of slavery/ownership. Time passes, she’s paranoid, reports him to the cops for domestic violence and he’s arrested. His prison monologue about “the trap” and his ponderings on racism afterwards feels too much like reciting the moral at the end of an educational film, though I like the rhythm of his speech.
Very short, the camera cruising around a painting (of another mixed-race couple) while Descas smokes outside the frame.
Towards Mathilde (2005)
This played at Big Ears, but we were too busy seeing live music. A rehearsal/process movie, prepping for a show that uses squirky noises and elastic materials, working out to PJ Harvey songs. One of my arms has been stiff lately and I’ve kept a small weight by the bed and the desk so I can grab it anytime and stretch out. I’m not usually inspired to do this during movies, but with this doc focusing so much on arm movements, I got a real workout. The day I watched this the new Denis hadn’t screened at Cannes yet, but the Cronenberg had, and I happened to read a Kristen Stewart interview right after watching this:
The most simple answer comes from a place of wisdom. You donâ€™t have to complicate certain ideas. Like, â€œThe body is reality.â€ At first, I was really trying to shove that concept in my head: What does it mean to me and the world and on every level? But he was like, â€œI shoot people.â€ Thatâ€™s it! Itâ€™s a body. All of that is surprising. These are really lofty concepts, but also theyâ€™re not at all.
None of my notes are useful (see Goodbye Dragon Inn instead) because I assumed I was going to rewatch it with Katy, and maybe someday I will. The lyrics to “America” and “Gee Officer Krupke” are so great, the actors and camera work are swell, and it’s all a Lincoln Center origin story.
Nov 2023: Watched again with K (who liked it) and M (who did not). Since this came out two years ago, Maria and her boyfriend’s killer Chino have appeared in the Hunger Games prequel, Ariana DeBose has become a Disney/Marvel star, and Riff is doing films with Luca Guadagnino and Jeff Nichols.
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.”
There were some beats I actually know in this, including some by Liquid Liquid, whose music was ancient when this takes place, the reissues still a couple years off. Two loser kids, a dark mophair with downturned mouth called Johnno, and fuckup Spanner with a drug-dealing bully brother, just wanna go to raves, at the time when Britain is trying to make dance music illegal. The notorious law-loophole soundtrack with no repetitive parts comes into play. Black and white except for the little red lights on stereos, and psych-freakout imagery when the kids take their pills.
There’s violence and breakups and hurt feelings and reconciliations – the whole coming-of-age teen period drama isn’t my thing, but I kept watching for the cool accents. The kids finally have their party, a moment of bliss, but the cops and the drug dealers are both descending, the plot needing to pummel the vibes, making it no better than the government order to punish ravers. It’s got nothing on the Michael Smiley episode of Spaced. Spanner ended up on Bridgerton and Johnno’s on some kinda submarine mystery.
Speaking of Dance: Meredith Monk (1996 Douglas Rosenberg)
An absolute monologue, MM’s head against black, talking about her personal history and what she’s aiming for in her work. For those of us who don’t know her work and watched this program to find out, it’s boring – but the clips of her actual dance and vocal performance work are neat, aand much more exciting than the couple of CDs I’ve heard.
Meredith invents dabbing:
Max Richter’s Sleep (2019 Natalie Johns)
Los Angeles performance of an all-night composition during which the audience is allowed/encouraged to sleep. Neither composer nor audience speaks very well about what this is or what it means, the filmmaker going for artsy widescreen shots for whatever purpose, making the Meredith Monk doc less pretty but more informative. I slept through the middle section myself, which only seems appropriate. The audience applause after a ten hour performance feels well-earned, and the last 15 minutes is music as underscore while everyone raves about how much they love Max. Apparently the shots with heavy film grain were from previous Sleeps and provided by Richter’s collaborator Yulia Mahr.
The director, in Mubi:
What happens when we begin to dream all together? When we are vulnerable, together? Even as a documentarian of real life, Iâ€™d never actually filmed anyone falling asleep in front of the lens before. So one of the biggest challenges of the film would be to make it without disrupting its sleeping audience, who are, in Mahr and Richterâ€™s words, â€œan extension of the work.â€
Searching for Josephine Decker I found an unusual anthology – five filmmakers adapting each other’s dreams. The introduction guy recommends watching in a trance state.
Black Soil, Green Grass (Daniel Patrick Carbone, dreamed by Wolkstein)
B/W forest fire tower, a couple wearing big headphones while she sings in (Italian?). They even bathe with ear protection, to not hear destructive sheep-counting announcements coming from the tower – shades of A Quiet Place or Pontypool. Our dude keeps getting distracted by insects, but finally destroys and replaces the man in the tower. Nice tape-dubbing montage in this.
First Day Out (Josephine Decker, dreamed by Baldwin)
A big jump to color, long-take camera roving through a house of dancers, with fun choreographed camera movements and match cuts. Conversation about court trial and jail. Long takes with each dancer in their own style reminds of the heights of Climax.
Beemus, It’ll End in Tears (Lauren Wolkstein, dreamed by Bodomo)
Coach Beemus seems sensitive in one-on-one but yells “enjoy the pain!” in groups. “This is not a drill” – he prevents them from leaving when the fire alarm goes off – “your bodies will protect you.” Maybe accurate to the feeling of the dream, but it’s no fun spending time with a shouting high school gym teacher.
Everybody Dies! (Nuotama Bodomo, dreamed by Decker)
A 4:3 VHS game show hosted by Ripa the Reaper, who seems to be fighting the producers/network. Her line “especially if you are Black” cuts to “Please Stand By” color bars. After killing a bunch of children, Ripa repeatedly fails to do herself in, doomed to star in the next episode.
Swallowed (Lily Baldwin, dreamed by Carbone)
A family goes shopping then back home. When baby feeds, mom has a disassociative mirror/light reverie, with horror-film skin effects. A kebab and corndog party devolves into mute psychosis, then the next day mom has an extreme milk-fueled kitchen freakout.
I already know Decker… Baldwin has danced with David Byrne… Bodomo is from Ghana, made Afronauts and wrote for Random Acts of Flyness… Carbone produced We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (that movie’s director produced this) and Chained for Life… Wolkstein made The Strange Ones (I’ve seen the short version), is working on a Dead Ringers remake (oh no).