Marie Menken seems to have started it all. She inspired Jonas Mekas to make his own films (“she represents the lyrical aspect in cinema that sings the invisible”) and organized Brakhage’s first show (he says he owes her for his career). Kenneth Anger doesn’t credit her with his whole career, just Scorpio Rising. She appears, screaming, in a section of Chelsea Girls. And unfortunately, her relationship with her husband inspired Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

The doc shows some of her films, in full and partially, with new music by John Zorn (and sometimes just with mechanical sounds, leaving the viewer yearning for Zorn). It sets her up as a character and an artist pretty well, but plays a couple of cruel tricks. Firstly, they keep telling us about her amazing voice, then after 90 minutes of interviewees, we only get to hear it in the final minute or two. And most cruelly, the second half is handed over to Warhol groupies.

I watched some Menken shorts afterwards to recover from all the Warhol.

Menken and Warhol:


Visual Variations on Noguchi (1945)

All editing and movement. Looks like she was set loose in a sculpture gallery, and ran up to each piece (not too sharply in focus), tracing their shapes and lines with her camera. The music by Lucille Dlugoszewski is a noise piece, sounds like someone ran a TV broadcast through too many filters.


Arabesque for Kenneth Anger (1961)

Many years later… her editing/movement style is unchanged, but she’s got color film stock and a pleasant Teiji Ito guitar and percussion score. This time she’s been set loose among ancient Islamic/Spanish architecture, paying attention to the flowing water and the light coming through the ceilings and walls, in addition to all the lovely tile patterns.


Eye Music in Red Major (1961)

Lights, mostly red, in a dark room, the camera whirling. My favorite was when she turned the camera sideways and whirled, so on film the lights appear to fall like rain. Of all these, this one would make the most sense to see on film in a dark theater, not on my laptop screen over the reflection of my NEBREWSKI t-shirt. Briefly the moon, then a light kaleidoscope effect over the last couple minutes. Silent, I played Zorn’s Canto II from The Ninth Circle.


Notebook (1961)

Opens with ducks, always a good move, then rain on the lake and plants. The camera is barely even whirling, many static shots. Aha, it’s a notebook of different scenes, so after the rain comes a greek festival at night, then experiments with filming the moon, a rush of McLaren-ish lines, paper cut-out animation, swirling lights at a distance, jumping on a rooftop. Ends without warning. This was my favorite, assisted by a couple of Bagatelles tracks feat. the John Medeski Trio.


Lights (1966)

Marie goes to town on some decorative Christmas lights. I picked a good music track in Bagatelle #54 with Kris Davis Quartet, because when Marie goes into overdrive, slowing down the shutter speed and jiggling the camera to turn the dots into squiggles, Mary Halvorson hits a pedal turning her guitar notes into squiggles.

Scaffold (2017 Kazik Radwanski)

Good shallow-focus construction scenes. We see full people at a distance, but our two primary scaffold-workers and the homeowner are only seen around their waists, no faces. A cellphone and a flowerpot are dropped.


Cilaos (2016 Camilo Restrepo)

Per her mother’s dying wish, a woman goes to Cilaos to find her deadbeat dad and make him pay. When she arrives, he’s apparently dead, so she becomes him. And this is a musical, songs written by the performers, shot in simple long-take setups with sharp lighting.


La Bouche (2017 Camilo Restrepo)

A sequel? The dad is again known as The Mouth but this time he’s being told his daughter is dead and that he should get up and take revenge. People sing and drum and dance at him, La Bouche never speaks but finally he drums upon the red devil. Also a side conversation between a doomed tree and a chainsaw.


Plus Ultra (2017 Samuel Delgado & Helena Girón)

Ambient decayed mummy shot on decayed film, made me flashback to Begotten but not in a bad way. Then guys carrying something through the jungle. When they sleep a handful of fruit-munching robed women appear. Then I guess something mysterious happens… whatever the movie’s intention, it’s not to give us an adventure story.


Indefinite Pitch (2016 James N. Kienitz Wilkins)

The director/narrator pitches a film about Berlin (New Hampshire) on the soundtrack, the image is stills of black and white patterns, looks like icy water from a distance, or a soapy window (turns out it’s the polluted river of his hometown). The pace of the stills speeds up, as does the voice of the narrator, getting higher pitched (ah I get it, “pitch”) as he admits his initial pitch was based on a Jean Arthur movie set in Berlin, and he admits he’s never seen this movie or been to the town. “Pitch” the substance also comes up, and pitch as an angle. The narration ties different histories together, roaming New England, discussing fires and drugs and the nature of cinema. This is all surprisingly good except for one scene in the middle when the soundtrack becomes a blaring siren for a while – no thanks for that.

Wilkins was on my radar due to (what else?) Cinema Scope, where Dan Sullivan said:

Seemingly resistant to the idea of carving out a single position for himself and maintaining it for very long, the prolific Wilkins has launched one of the more strikingly frenetic investigations into the life of the mind and the lives of artists, race, money, and technology in recent cinema, playfully and thoughtfully posing tough questions about the features of the contemporary world we tend to take for granted.


The Hunchback (2016 Gabriel Abrantes & Ben Rivers)

“Welcome to Historical Works, where you are history.” Narrator advertises supplements that help you experience “obsolete human feelings,” and Timmy’s holophone tells him his character is a medieval hunchback. Arthouse Brainscan murder-mystery, as the present-day participants are interviewed to discover how Hunchback Timmy died (“a head just doesn’t come off that easy, and that’s when I realized something was wrong”), tracing how the body got passed around by everyone in town. What is the deal with the standing goat there at the end? I’m worried about the goat. Lead actor Carloto Cotta is a Miguel Gomes regular, therefore he appeared in a different irreverent Arabian Nights the year before.


Among the Black Waves (2016 Anna Budanova)

A fisherman sees hot nude selkies cavorting on the shore and steals one’s skin to keep her imprisoned in human form. At first she tries to drown herself but he retrieves her with his net, and she stays with him. Eventually their daughter finds the skin and mom escapes. Wordless animation.


The Hedonists (2016 Jia Zhang-Ke)

Another movie about miners – the shorts programs tend to bring everything together – the boss even says “Good Luck” when they all get fired. Big camera moves, abrupt scene changes, loud period music. Three laid-off guys go in search of work, as a bodyguards and actors. I think it’s a comedy? Alternate title: Jia Got a Drone


A Brief History of Princess X (2016, Gabriel Abrantes)

Not sure how I felt about The Hunchback, I rewatched one of my favorite shorts, which tells the story of one of my favorite artworks, and it’s still perfect.

How to Live with Regret (2018, John Wilson)

Before the TV series he made a few standalone shorts, which I must find. His metaphors go on for too long and get lost sometimes, and there are a few classic film clips, otherwise basically a shorter, more tightly topic-focused version of the series. He interviews a guy who writes down all his regrets, and gets distracted by the guy’s screensaver, then talks with a friend whose apartment burned down (the multiverse is mentioned).


Autoficcion (2020, Laida Lertxundi)

Short 4:3 doc scenes, and some staged shots of a woman being dragged around. Subtitled interviews with Los Angeles-area women whose lives feel unstable. Repeated play of the song “Time Is On My Side.” Not more exciting than her other films, but I can spare 15 minutes per year for these.


Prometheus (2021, Dominic Angerame)

Spark showers, sometimes frame-in-frame, pure whites on black. Perhaps the camera was wearing a welders mask. Dom playing improv music on bells.


Austrian Pavilion (2019, Philipp Fleischmann)

The most filmy-lookin’ film I saw all weekend (on my TV), a hitching blue-tinted flicker down a hallway to some trees, the edges of the frame closing in.


The Newest Olds (2022, Pablo Mazzolo)

City buildings across the river, gently flicker-vibrating from a few angles with street dialogue, then moves inland to fields, still flickering, cool colors, people discussing unusual sounds on the audio, back to the city, this time with the sounds of recent protests. Would’ve been a perfectly fine a/g movie full of cool vibrations, why’d he feel the need to insert photos of dead birds?


Ruka/The Hand (1965, Jiri Trnka)

Watched this again in the latest video restoration, super. The hand uses sex and money and TV and newspapers and bribes and intimidation and imprisonment, then after all the man’s refusals the hand still claims him as a champion after he dies.

States (1967)

I’ve watched this one before… was hoping I got a higher-quality copy, but nope. Sometimes the water is a torrent, sometimes slight drips that look like sparks. Fully white-on-black with no grey in between, all elements given the same visual character. Unfortunately that character is destroyed with standard-def interlacing, the horizontal artifacts interrupting the all-vertical movements. Silent, so I watched with a couple of Craig Taborn piano tracks from the Avenging Angel album, which accounted for at least 75% of my enjoyment of the experience.


Apparatus Sum (1972)

Color fields, sometimes gently crossfading, sometimes strobing. Lingers on red for a long time. then, holy shit, is that a dead body, or what is happening? Freaky little movie, the second one in a row affected by low video quality (this time compression artifacts in the color fields), but I’ve run out of films from the beautiful Criterion blu-ray, so you get what you can get.


Not the First Time (1976)

A pier, shore birds, a person in red on the beach, always double-shot and superimposed out of sync, like a misaligned 3D camera, with frequent cuts to pure white. Short, silent.


Cadenza XIV (1977-80)

Prolonged marching band beat over black…
then… a smokestack with a laugh track
As the camera lingers on the flame atop the smoke stack, the obvious loop point of the repeated laugh track makes me wish for the return of the marching band.


Mindfall I & VII (1977-80)

Cartoon sfx as the camera goes, I dunno, just all over the place. Jittery footage of nature and architecture and what not. Wipe/iris transition mattes standing on their own between shots – like it cuts from the footage to the transition, instead of the footage itself wiping or irising. Between the video effects and the sound effects library and the single-frame flash edits before cuts to black, it feels like a prank, and one that last almost a half hour too long. I spaced out somewhat, reconsidering that dream of attending a complete screening of Frampton’s Magellan project. At least it has a closing shot that isn’t just a random rock or cactus, but approaching the shadow of the filmmaker on the side of a building. Sicinski liked this one, anyway.

Circle in the Sand (2012)

Two guys trash a campsite, a third guy is blindfolded in a tent, sound of gunfire in the distance. Three women burying and unburying things on the beach. Each scene involves someone reading haltingly from a book. These two groups have been separated by a concrete tunnel reading “off limits” – when they hear the signal, the women walk through. One beach girl is taken away, the others dig up a jambox then destroy it after it plays a plangent indie song, then create pinhole galaxies in pages of a People magazine. One of the women psychically merges with the blindfolded man, and dirty knives begin materializing nearby. The subtitled text from the beginning reappears: “We wanted to destroy knowledge, but from within knowledge.” I don’t get it, but it’s well put together, with excellent sound design (probably helped that I switched to headphones for this one).


These Hammers Don’t Hurt Us (2011)

Extremely jeweled ornamental clothing while a woman speaks of fertility. We go inside a pyramid where a women peers through a secret panel and sees… Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” video – bizarre stock footage juxtapositions, combining the midcentury feature film, the music video, the jeweled clothing and the pulsating 3D pyramid graphics. Finally the Robinson strobing effect arrives, and it’s beautifully done, with restful black pauses in between.


Mad Ladders (2015)

When I first saw his Full House short I was mostly annoyed, but the more of these I watch, the more I appreciate his cultural recycling and mutations. This one is structured with a voiceover by a woman explaining a dream or vision. Sounds like a MIDI version of Tori Amos’ “Crucify” at one point.


Polycephaly In D (2021)

“There isn’t an anchor in the drift of the world.” Two men, in desert and water settings, speak psychically from a distance about encounters among earthquakes and landslides, each speaker represented by different colored subtitles. Brief montage of famous film shots of characters looking into camera. Music video imagery and a kinda Clash of the Titans thing. Unexpected Robin & Marian/King Kong mashup at the end, with some Muppets thrown in. I’d started to write this one off as lesser Robinson, then a robot monkey strobing tsunami titan freakout made my heart beat double-time.

Pandemic-era photo montages.

Messages 1

Utterly delightful, just a slideshow of Pat’s excellent photographs from a lifetime of travels through North America with droll voiceover descriptions, one after the other, no time to waste.


Messages 2

This is the one where he’s interrupted by explosion sounds.


Messages 3

I love how he photographs partial or partially destroyed signs, and reads them aloud to create new meaning from the half-words and phrases. Some New Jersey scenes in this.


Messages 4

These just get better. I don’t know who Pat O’Neill is exactly, but I want to hang out with him.


Messages 5

He has great recollection of these photographs and the locations and situations when they were taken
All these were edited by Martha Colburn.

Again, I’m away from my Cinema Scope collection, but this time the Michael Sicinski article that put me in touch with Silva’s work is available online.


In The Absence of Light, Darkness Prevails (2010)

Chintzy dance music plays over astronomical images perverted by interlaced video screens. Reverse monochrome of baby sea turtles heading into the ocean. Some kind of costumed street event. Weedwhacking the jungle. The camera playing with a campfire. And so on, the sound design ranging from innocuous to annoying. Shock ending, the camera suddenly escaping the planet through a hole in the ground!

Per MS, this was filmed in Brazil and “examines human and animal experience at multiple levels of abstraction … this is the film in which the subjective element in Silva’s work is fully incorporated into a total way of seeing, one not bound to individual history or biography.”


The Watchmen (2017)

Naked man in a field, then a pulsing light, lasting for just long enough that I assumed the rest of the movie would be the pulsing light, but no. Prison yard, prison wall, abandoned prison, prison guard tower – so there’s the title. Various hot dog places. Return to the naked man and the pulsing light, with a voiceover about the watchman. Very mysterious.

MS:

The Watchmen takes as its subject Illinois’ now-defunct Joliet prison, perhaps best known for being featured in 1980’s The Blues Brothers … Silva stands at the heart of the prison and starts spinning his camera, faster and faster, describing the curved walls of the panopticon; not coincidentally, the flicker and blur of this accelerated image, with flecks of light disrupting the darkness, forms a combination camera obscura and phenakistoscope.


Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder (2017)

A perversely looped version of “Pale Blue Eyes”… a bird trapped in an apartment… the title card made from a Metallica album cover. A guy plays us the intro to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” A red-coated birdwatcher gives an unexpected callback to Brown Thrasher. Reappearing scary hands creep from behind objects.

Hey look, it’s what I hope to get out of watching these shorts:

Hey look who’s in this:

MS:

Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder was Silva’s final film before embarking on the Rock Bottom Riser project … A return of sorts for Silva to the Hudson River region of New York, where the filmmaker’s alma mater Bard College is located, Ride Like Lightning is not explicitly about experimental filmmaker (and Bard professor) Peter Hutton, but shares with Hutton’s work a keen fascination with the Hudson River area, its landscape and shifting seasonal character.

Hoarders Without Borders (2018)

Shows us what it’s gonna do before it does it. First the camera faces down with fixed focus as drawers of rock samples are pulled into view, the higher they get, the clearer the image. Then real-time view of the process of putting the rocks and their identifying notecards in front of the fixed camera. Then a blast of time-lapse, every rock in rapid succession. A couple of suspect frames (a can of fruit?) to investigate later.


Wasteland No. 1: Ardent, Verdant (2017)

Lightplay on circuit boards, rapid slideshow of circuit boards, then red fields of flowers, then alternating circuit boards with red flowers, a surprisingly pleasing combination. Silent.


Wasteland No. 2: Hardy, Hearty (2019)

More intense than number one, this overloaded my eyeballs, alternating green plants and their brown roots, loose dirt on a white background, with flowers frozen in ice cubes. For a while there in the middle I seemed to see the green plant falling through space, constantly shifting because of a sustained attack by the flower-cubes.


Wasteland 3: Moons, Suns (2022)

Less strain on the nervous system than part two, this is time-lapse of flower arrangements melting from their frozen-in-ice states, with no rapid flicker elements.

Sound That (2014)

The Cleveland water department searches for underground pipes by putting their ears to a long rod stuck into holes drilled in the ground. Payoff at the end when they settle on a location and the caterpillar rips up the street so they can access it.


Brown Thrasher (2020)

I was hoping this would center on a brown thrasher, but of course it’s people, it’s always people with Everson. Red-shirted birdwatchers with binoculars, being watched themselves by a jittery, vibrating camera.


IFO (2017)

The soundtrack is the thing in this one – spoken reports of UFO sightings, first in a taxi, then a military helicopter, then the same taxi again. The visual montage of people outdoors looking to the sky and air-traffic graphics seem secondary, though the people get some breathing room to themselves after the long helicopter story, and I love the extreme film grain on the grey sky.


Traveling Shoes (2019)

A great one, interviewing members of The Brown Singers and playing the title song, their record, with some obvious visuals (the record spinning on a turntable) and some less obvious (a girl holding the record in a dramatic pose, way out of focus).