Three films from “The Destruction of Plot and Narrative” section of the Vogel.

There is an unbroken evolution towards vertical rather than horizontal explorations – investigations of atmosphere and states of being rather than the unfolding of fabricated plots … art once again returns to poetry and the significance of poetic truth … The elegant characters created by the older masters of world literature, the “full” explanations of human behavior, the delineations of the characters’ past, are replaced by dimly-perceived personages whose actions and motives remain ultimately as unclear as they are in real life: we are all enmeshed in knowledge of others or self that is forever incomplete, forever tinged with ambiguity.


Akran (1969, Richard Myers)

Clips in slow-mo with freeze-frames of… well, if I start listing all the footage sources, I’ll never stop. An Aaron Eckhart-type guy lying in a bed that’s rolling through a park is a memorable image. Entire scenes are constructed from stills, but out of order. Gives the impression of a normal narrative about an attractive young couple who get married, the rushes then handed to a team of maniacs who hated the film but were contractually obligated to turn in a feature-length edit.

Some kind of malicious Marclay-like tape manipulations on the soundtrack. The sound occasionally corresponds to the image, but when people speak we never hear them, instead we hear a cut-up interview about having sex with the devil. Shocker when there’s a sound-synced monologue a half hour in – an older guy who, in keeping with the rest of the film, starts repeating himself. Later, an overlapping montage of monologues may cause insanity in the viewer. A poor moviewatcher myself, an art unappreciator, whenever the audio got too extremely harsh I’d skip ahead a couple minutes.

What even happens in the movie… definitely some dreams, some politics, probably a semi-story of newlyweds hitting the town, fucking and fighting. Escalates somehow to blindfolded executions, gas masks, a mob attacking a car. Ends on a long still of bus passengers – I feel like that’s a callback to a scene I’ve already forgotten.

A lifelong Ohioan, Myers was teaching at Kent State when the cops killed those kids.

Vogel:

Described by the director as an “anxious allegory and chilling album of nostalgia,” its penetrating monomania is unexpectedly – subversively – realized to be a statement about America today: the alienation and atomization of technological consumer society is reflected in the very style of the film.


A Married Woman (1964, Jean-Luc Godard)

A round-haired girl lays naked in bed – she’s Charlotte (Macha Méril, murdered psychic of Deep Red), with a plain-looking guy (Bernard Noël of Roger Vadim’s La Ronde remake). They love each other, but she’s married to someone else (Philippe Leroy of Le Trou, Monocle Guy of The Night Porter). Very unusually for a French chick, she won’t show us her boobs. Lovely shots of legs and hands though, fading out and into the next one, before they stand up and semi-normal scenes proceed. But JLG isn’t here to make a normal love triangle movie, and after we see her with both guys for a half hour, it proceeds to numbered interview segments, the husband then wife explaining their philosophies to unseen/unheard interviewer.

Vogel:

The “plot” of Une Femme Mariée – twenty-four hours with a woman between husband and a lover – is… merely a pretext for vertical, in-depth explorations of values, atmospheres, textures; of relationships, lies, ignorance of self, sex-as-communication. For audiences brought up on Hollywood, the style, tempo, and content of the film is maddening … Alienation is caused in the love scenes by fragmentation and in the interview scenes by the use of real time. This prevents conventional identification with the protagonists, rather compelling the viewer, in Brechtian manner, to ponder the social ramifications of the action.


Anticipation of the Night (1958, Stan Brakhage)

Silent film, so I asked the AI chatbot what music the late Brakhage intended me to play while watching, and it said selections from Thumbscrew’s Never Is Enough, which coincidentally I just bought on half-price sale. I played six of the CD’s 9 songs, treating them like chapters of the film.

“Camp Easy”
Light filtering through glass indoors, intercut with wild swinging camera among nighttime street lights, a silhouette figure opens the door and goes on a trip. Suburbs through a car window, but cutting back and forth to the house.

“Never Is Enough”
The figure returns home, tumbles through the yard, sees a rainbow in the garden hose spray, just as I did 15 minutes ago. Awesome transition through color fields to the night streets as the camera walks into a bush, as if the night hides inside the shrubbery. With all the quick intercutting to the dark scenes I’m starting to make sense of the title. The music gets amped when a baby is sighted in the grass, filmed in constant motion and way too close, of course.

“Emojis Have Consequences”
There’s not much to see in the night scenes – I can’t tell the moon from the streetlights. This must be one of Stan’s films about seeing, how the world was seen before we understood what we saw? An orange color field then the night scenes pick up when we visit an amusement park, the camera panning fast as children whip from left to right, then the camera-eye gets onto the ride.

“Fractured Sanity”
More rides, beginning with the ferris wheel, then a chill merry-go-round for younger kids, showing how the young riders and the surrounding lights look from each ride, Mary Halvorson’s pinging guitar helping greatly with the blurry nighttime feeling. We leave the park and examine some lit-up atrium from the dark distance, in a series of precision movements.

“Unsung Procession”
Driving, trees rush overhead, flash glimpses of a deer, of children in bed, the lighting and music both more blue than before. Wow, the kids are dreaming a water bird, flapping and preening, filmed in zoomed-in fragments, or all at once but defocused.

“Scam Likely”
Is the sun rising or has he wheeled a giant lamp into the sleeping kids’ room? I think the latter. Still intercutting to the nighttime trees, and now a bear instead of the bird. Flashing between night and dawn as the music gets more loopy, then firmly into morning, the silhouette person hanging disturbingly from a rope in the tree.

In the Defining Moments book Fred Camper calls it Brakhage’s first major masterpiece, and says it is not one of the child’s-eye films:

Quite the contrary, it opens with a man’s shadow falling across the frame … we observe his travels as he tries to establish some connection to the world. But except for some brief bursts of light poetry, such as flickering shadows on the wall, the film is largely a depiction of abject failure … the mechanical movements of the [amusement park] rides are the severest versions of the almost mechanical repeating motions through which the camera depicts most of the film’s world, trapping all in the kinds of fixed movements and mechanical rhythms that Brakhage’s later work largely overcame.

Unconscious London Strata (1982)

Defocused colory blorbs. Some nice reds in there. Tiny flickers of what might be a street scene (London?), or water, or a person, but mostly it’s very defocused, the image scrambling back and forth, cutting to a new blorb every couple seconds. SB says he’s exploring the depths of the unconscious here. I played the first four tracks of Mary Lattimore’s Collected Pieces II and it was extremely peaceful.


Boulder Blues and Pearls and… (1992)

This is my kind of stuff. Boulders and streams and such, overlaid with frantic single-frame paintings that turn on and off, get more and less intense, all picture frequently fading to black. Good music, a light spazzy buzzing. SB says he’s showing the inside of the mind, and viewers say this one’s frightening, but I dunno.


The Mammals of Victoria (1994)

Brakhage goes on a beach vacation, sometimes patiently watching the tide come in, sometimes darting like a fish through the shallows. Shooting from every possible angle, of course, and mixing in hand painted sections, and what looks like shots from a microscope – even scrambled pay-per-view shot off the hotel TV. All kinds of lighting and composition and movement, the green film grain sometimes clashing with the waves, brief shots of fire and sky for contrast. A really beautiful movie, I watched with Mary Lattimore’s “A Unicorn Catches A Falling Star In Heaven” and “What the Living Do” (I’d reverse their order next time).


From: First Hymn to the Night – Novalis (1994)

Wow, a hyperactive flicker of colors and patterns with poetry in between, the handwritten text not limited to opening and closing titles anymore. Words by Novalis, a “late 18th century mystic poet.” Watched with Mary’s “Princess Nicotine,” which was written to score a different silent film, but it’s a minute too long.

Visions in Meditation #1

Uniquely wonderful experience watching this with Marvin Pontiac’s Asylum Tapes in the headphones, though it’s more of a vocal album than I was expecting and probably distracted from the visuals at times. Regular handheld and sometimes extreme-jitter, mostly nature, snow and slushy river, mountain valley at different times of year. SB seems to be able to walk around outside and capture images in ways nobody else does. Aperture keeps opening all the way, washing everything in white. I suppose it’s meditative – earth and mist and water, finally fire in the last few seconds.


Visions in Meditation #2 (Mesa Verde)

Tourist film of mountainside stone ruins with accompanying travel footage shot through windows, but it gets bleary and bendy, and brings in cameos by deer, geese and a nude man in a field. I played along with Chesley/Albini/Midyett’s “Irish” which lent a dirge-metal atmosphere well-suited to the ruins.


Visions in Meditation #3 (Plate’s Cave)

Sometimes there is plinky space-music in the caverns. Other things combined and juxtaposed with caverns: a carnival, a snowy road. More tourist-film car-window stuff, but the last section is focused on a whirlwind in a field, and if there’s anyone I want to see filming a whirlwind it’s our Stan. Ends on black with electro-chirp music by Rick Corrigan (who is still recording, and has stuff on bandcamp).


Visions in Meditation #4 (D.H. Lawrence)

The most distorted of the four, swirling earth and skies. A few glimpses of humanity: a reflection, a backlit figure, a closeup on toes. Silent, so I accompanied it with three songs from the new Low album… I couldn’t help myself, the bandcamp page said Rick Corrigan is RIYL John Zorn, and Zorn’s playing Big Ears with Low, and I’m obsessed with Low’s new record. Anyway Camper just texted to say it’s okay, that the Low/Brakhage combo is frisson-inducing.

Rare, cool wasteland-set movie, a whole methodically-posed headfuck art-feature a half decade before Marienbad. Vague reverb-affected announcements echo on the soundtrack as a truck drives over gravel and desert. I’m happy to see there are still flocks of birds after the German apocalypse. Driver drags passenger’s luggage to an abandoned-looking town where he finds a kid among drum-and-bass soundtrack jazz. The man loses his shit, pulls a gun on the kid (covered in ants) for not speaking, the woman spills her drink on purpose. Everything from the editing to the focus and music and sound takes turns messing with your head.

A monologue about Sisyphus as the moody driver lies under the truck covered in oil. I can’t tell if the movie is a time loop or if we spent some time in a flashback. Eventually the man finds a cute girl and shoots her dead – biggest surprise is when the cops show up and bust him, in what I’d assumed was a lawless wasteland. After the Goalie, I programmed an accidental double-feature of German stories of motiveless murder.

The credits claim participation by Hans Richter (according to a Richter interview, not true) and commentary by Albert Camus. Played Locarno ’55 alongside a couple of Jiri Trnka features and a Karel Zeman, a lot of nazi movies, and the latest prestige dramas from the US, UK, Germany and France

Vogel’s descriptions are off to a shaky start. “In a desolate, destroyed landscape – bearing now irrelevant traces of technological society – a man and a boy try to find their way under a
fierce sun.” There’s cars, oil, money and cops, all still relevant, and the boy isn’t trying to find his way anyplace.


More of Vogel’s Subversives…

Blue Moses (1962, Stan Brakhage)

Melies motion/edit tricks in a flickering cave. Sync sound! Clean dialogue, no music/fx, of a rich-voiced Wellesian actor, or maybe Charlton Hestonian per the film title. He seems to be riffing in a field, unsure what to say, Brakhage holding still on the actor but going into jitter-mode whenever the camera looks away at the scenery. The actor goes through a range of looks, sometimes wearing so much makeup he looks like a cartoon. Repetition of the credits (drawn in chalk on the rocks). In the last section the actor’s words and a projector beam with Stan’s shadow draw our attention to the filmmaking process. I’m out of the habit of watching Brakhage films – this is from the Dog Star Man years and is very good. Actor Robert Benson, a fellow Colorado resident, had also appeared in Desistfilm.


Canyon (1970, Jon Jost)

Full-day time-lapse looking over the Grand Canyon… shooting a few seconds at a time, lap dissolving the segments. I’d only seen narrative(ish) work by Jost, wasn’t aware of the shorts. Silent, so I played El Ten Eleven’s “Growing Shorter,” which worked great.

Mouseover to move the sun:
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Peter Tscherkassky’s Cinemascope Trilogy

I’ve watched these before, first in 2008 and at least once since then, but this time I thought to play them on the big TV while listening in headphones to better hear the audio textures over the noise of our air conditioner – a good idea!

L’arrivée (1999)

One short scene: a train arrives, woman gets off and hugs the guy waiting for her, but given every available footage treatment within its two minutes, soft fluttering on the soundtrack.


Outer Space (1999)

The crazy one – this holds up better than ever in HD. As much care given to the soundtrack as the visuals, full of fluttering, looping and reversing.


Dream Work (2001)

Dedicated to Man Ray. This is my jam… appreciation of classic cinema while also interrogating/destroying it. This same day I read a couple of articles mentioning nostalgia in cinema, Letterboxd’s interview with Rick Alverson, and a Ringer review of the new Refn series, which gets compared to Twin Peaks: “Showtime gave the auteur free rein under the pretext of Twin Peaks nostalgia, even if Lynch ultimately sought to weaponize those feelings against his audience.” I think Weaponized Nostalgia needs to be a new genre.


Shot-Countershot (1987, Peter Tscherkassky)

Ooooh, never seen this before. Scene from a classic film, slightly processed, of a guy playing harmonica, drawing his gun, and getting drilled. It’s a single camera take, so I assume the title is a gunshot joke. This 20-second bit of silliness does not detract from my love of his major works.


Crossroad (2005, Phil Solomon)

Argh, machinima. A dude in Second Life acts bored in a rainstorm, and runs in circles through a forest, a bouquet of flowers spinning nearby as if suspended from a string. I did appreciate the way the 3D objects clipped as they spun too close to the camera, revealing themselves as origami structures of 2D surfaces. Dedicated to David Gatten. I’ve only seen one other film by Solomon, in Nashville a decade ago. This was codirected with Mark LaPore, who died the same year.


Liberian Boy (2015, Mati Diop & Manon Lutanie)

I felt guilty finally watching my first Mati Diop film without African Studies Katy, while she sat unaware in the other room, but I’m not sure she’d have gotten much out of this white kid doing (very good!) Michael Jackson moves against a greenscreen whilst holding a knife. Lacking any African studies scholars in the room, I don’t know what it meant, but it’s a cool piece. The kid also appears in the latest Nobuhiro Suwa film.


Shoot (2014, Gaspar Noe)

The camera is a soccer ball (representing France?), kicked around in a courtyard – pretty nice La Region Centrale rig with an unpleasant soundtrack of percussive kicks mixed with tinnitus whine.


Nectar (2014, Lucile Hadzihalilovic)

Nectar is collected from the body of a flower-eating woman. Hive-honey harvesters seduce men into a Matrix global pollination scenario. Olga from Film Socialisme plays the Queen of Bees.


Two-Gun Mickey (1934, Ben Sharpsteen)

Minnie is cruel to animals. Mickey rescues her after a shootout with Pegleg Pete and his men. The movie promotes automatic weapon use, and makes an overweight, handicapped foreigner the villain.


The Fly (1980, Ferenc Rofusz)

Pleasantly short fisheye (flyeye?) lens animation from a fly’s POV, entering a house and being vanquished by a resident. Won the oscar, the only other nominees being one by the Evolution guy and one by The Man Who Planted Trees guy. The Hungarian director was still making shorts as of 2017.


Toy Sequence (1990, Péter Szoboszlay)

Fun, short Toy Story prequel, a nursery coming to stop-motion life in the night, the pieces transforming and rearranging themselves, and the dolls being generally creepy.


Filmstudie (1926, Hans Richter)

Richter the dark Master of light, pattern and pacing, a hundred years ahead of his time. I’ve previously raved about three of his other shorts – was not impressed with my terrible copy of his late collaboration with Cocteau, but overall it looks like I’ve loved his work and need to check out his feature Dreams That Money Can Buy. Anyway this one is mostly eyeballs and wands of light, but it’s impressive.


Night Music (1986, Stan Brakhage)

I forget just how short this is, not counting titles and credits. The film I’ve watched the most times.

Watching shorts from the Flicker Alley blu-ray, part four.

Film that Rises to the Surface of Clarified Butter (1968 Owen Land)

Repetitive little piece in which people draw a character, then it comes to brief stop-motion life, then they ponder this, then it happens again with a constant, quiet burbling horror of a soundtrack. Not as much fun as I’m making it sound.


Our Lady of the Sphere (1969 Lawrence Jordan)

I was rather dismissive of this last time but I’m starting to find its variety of techniques and combinations of images and cutouts from old-time illustrations pretty charming. It’s certainly a funnier and more imaginative way to spend nine minutes than the last movie was. “Jordan orchestrates the film in terms of a rake’s progress” say the liners, but I couldn’t make out much of a story (though I could identify recurring characters, at least).

Mouseover to hit the bear:
image

Mouseover to BZZZZZZT the donkey:
image


DL2 (1970 Lawrence Janiak)

Differently colored patterns fill the screen to varying degrees, from starfields to spaghetti-o’s to shower-curtain dots to bright silly-string and confetti parties, all created by organically Begotten-ing strips of film. Chiming, percussive soundtrack. Hypnotic and strangely relaxing to watch, though next time maybe play my own music.


Love It, Leave It (1970 Tom Palazzolo)

Speech from a car show plays over a nudist festival. Speech honoring the military plays over clowns. Then the soundtrack goes into a hypno-loop of “love it, love it, love it, leave it” under images of contemporary America (sports and recreation, demonstrations and celebrations, people and get-togethers and riot police), the sound finally mutating into a patriotic song layered over itself like that remix I made of the Brave trailer. The liners say he had a “sharp eye for Americana,” true. And the last page of Cinema Scope #66 points out where more Palazzolo films can be found, if I get into an Americana mood later.


Transport (1970 Amy Greenfield)

One of those dance shorts where the camera moves with the dancers, only the movements here are not too exciting – small group of people lifting each other across a dirty field. And the sound is completely unbearable, a series of horrible tones like the ones they play in movies after a bomb goes off to indicate tinnitus in the lead character. Also, two minutes of opening credits in a six minute movie?


Sappho & Jerry, Parts 1-3 (1977 Bruce Posner)

Early film by one of the anthology project’s many film restorationists. Three two-minute pieces where Bruce takes existing film elements, combines, mutates and split-screens the living hell out of them, adding more simultaneous frames in each ensuing chapter. Great fun.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


Ch’an (1983 Francis Lee)

Pans, zooms and crossfades of black and white watercolors, with some short bursts of animation. Nice texture closeups of the watercolor work. I preferred Lee’s 1941 from earlier on the disc (these are his first and last films).


Seasons… (2002 Solomon & Brakhage)

Gorgeous variety of textures and patterns, colors and rhythms. “Intentionally silent” doesn’t fly with me, so I played the second half of the new David Grubbs album, which I would highly recommend. If I understand correctly, Brakhage did the textures and patterns, and Solomon did the lighting and coloring? Bravo to both.

I dig this frame because it looks like a dragon crashing into an aerial antenna:

Quotes below are from Marilyn Brakhage’s program notes.

The Process (1972)

Flashing colors. Negative silhouettes of human figures (wearing hats). Increasingly recognizable scraps of home movies, but yeah, mostly it’s flashing colors. Listened to “Cosmetics (Secret Chiefs 3 Remix)” by Foetus, which had some nice moments of synchronicity, mostly served to make the film seem more sinister than was probably intended.

“Brakhage again addresses the interaction of internal and external sources of imagery, but in this case, as the sole subject of the film. Here, slightly displaced positive and negative versions of the same image create a feeling of insubstantiality.”


Burial Path (1978)

Opens with a dead robin in a box, so I took the title literally and assumed a funeral tone to all the defocused light that proceeds from there. The bird does get buried towards the end, and he intercuts scenes of live birds (not robins) feeding outside. Played the end of Brian Eno & Harold Budd’s “Ambient 2” album, a pleasant change from the previous soundtrack.

Burial Path “graphs the process of forgetfulness.” But Burial Path is also about death, and was sometimes referred to (by Brakhage) as the third part of a trilogy, with Sirius Remembered (1959) and The Dead (1960). (The “path” is also the route taken to visit Brakhage’s friend, the then-ailing literary scholar Donald Sutherland, to whom the film is dedicated.)


Duplicity III (1980)

All crossfades, all the time. The kids are going trick-or-treating, doing house work, playing with cards and toy guns, enacting satanic rituals, performing in school plays which involve ghosts, robots and an Indian chief. Deers and dogs towards the end. Played tracks 2-4 of Coil’s “The Angelic Conversation” which sometimes made the film seem doom-laden, sometimes gave the impression that it was taking place near the ocean.

Halloween: Fire Walk With Me


The Domain of the Moment (1977)

Liked this one a lot because it’s full of critters: baby bird, guinea pig, dog, raccoon, mouse, snake, all double-exposed and playfully filmed, with painted mothlight sections in between animal blocks. Played tracks 4-6 of Secret Chiefs 3’s “Book M”, which was inappopriately energetic at the beginning but worked rather well in the middle.

“A consideration of the consciousness of other life forms.”


Murder Psalm (1980)

Whenever Brakhage films a television it looks like the end of the world. One of his most music-video-looking films, full of increasingly sinister-seeming juxtapositions – pure texture interspersed with stock footage from a strange movie, an education film about brains, leftover autopsy footage from The Act of Seeing, war footage from 23rd Psalm Branch, reversal film of a highway at night. Played the end of Autechre’s “Exai”, which was a great idea.

“A collage of found footage of monstrous implications.”

M. Keller in Film Quarterly:

The most striking imagery comes from an educational film on epilepsy, and Brakhage’s film is structured around that preexisting narrative … Brakhage makes visual relationships between the ball, water in the birdbath, the girl’s hand, a scale model of the brain, a half of a wagon wheel, a covered wagon, and a semicircular tunnel. Circular imagery is cut in half by the frame to make semicircles or hemispheres. The material about epilepsy is transformed into a meditation on the social and cultural circumstances of childhood trauma via a visual string of semicircular imagery. By substituting one image for another – e.g., the model of the brain for the covered wagon – Brakhage links their meanings and implication. The girl’s seizure is made part of the social organism through visual rhyme.


Arabic 12 (1982)

Light asterisks: a film of reddish, star-shaped light artifacts. Wonder if this is what ashtray epic The Text of Light is like – hopefully not, since I lost patience in this 17-minute movie towards the end. Felt like Autechre’s “spl9” was trying to give me a panic attack, but the next track slowed things down for the film’s more diffuse second half.

Scenes From Under Childhood, Section One (1967)

Looks like one of those Brakhage films where he tries to retrain the eye to remember seeing before object recognition, or some such thing, since there’s lots of blackness, then all red, blurry funhouse-mirror images before they finally coagulate into family life and portraits of children. I kept the iTunes music off since Criterion listed the audio as “silent/monaural” but don’t recall hearing anything.

Yup, the Criterion notes say this film “begins Brakhage’s major investigation into stages of consciousness”


The Machine of Eden (1970)

Landscapes and clouds, with zooms and time-lapse, made ominous by Coil’s “Escalation”


Star Garden (1974)

A bit more time lapse, a few more skies, but mostly domestic life: children in a house/cabin, doing things inside and outside, what things exactly it’s hard to tell. Side 2 of Animal Collective’s “Here Comes The Indian” wasn’t the best soundtrack choice.


Desert (1976)

This was my favorite of the bunch. Defocused(?) reds and browns, sunsets – apocalyptic – with a crazy final shot. Faith No More’s “The Real Thing / Underwater Love” worked surprisingly well.

M. Sicinski:

These films denaturalize our vision, positing the most basic rules and habits of the optical world as mere conveniences … Watching any Brakhage film will demonstrate how absolutely “tutored” our seeing really is. We focus on the object, but blind ourselves to its flickering shadow. We count the hours of daylight with the clock on the wall, but we ignore the gradual shifts in color temperature on our walls and through our curtains, the deep hash-marks of negative space in our pets’ fur near dusk or the way that a photo of a loved one becomes eerily elongated when we catch a glimpse of it from the side. Most of the time, we use our eyes to look at things, so we can take them, or throw them away, or avoid bumping into them. In Stan Brakhage’s films, we use our eyes to see, without demand or expectation, so that the surfaces of the world become a renewable resource.

Shorts! I have discs and discs of shorts and rarely watch them. I’m awfully excited about the new blu-ray of avant-garde shorts from Flicker Alley, but how can I justify buying it when I’ve got a hundred shorts collections just sitting around unseen? Let’s watch some, shall we?

Doodlin’: Impressions of Len Lye (1987, Keith Griffiths)

Lye was a New Zealander who could’ve inspired Colin McKenzie through innovation and ambition. When standard animation techniques were too laborious and expensive, he started scratching and drawing directly onto film stock… and when film itself was too expensive he turned to sculpture – but kinetic sculpture, truly gigantic metal works, some of which he filmed. He’s designed a twisted metal “temple” which hasn’t yet been built.

Len demonstrates one of his metal works:

Lye lived in a lighthouse – flashbacks to Brand Upon the Brain – and moved to Samoa for a couple years, concentrated on “old brain” tribal art, wanting to reject Western art styles and doodle from the subconscious (see: Tusalava). Handmade films and unconscious creativity – of course Brakhage was a fan. After WWII, Lye was a director for the March of Time news series while working on silhouette photography.

I’d previously watched Tusalava at home, Kaleidoscope and Colour Flight at a Canyon Cinema screening, and Free Radicals and Rainbow Dance within the documentary Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film. Here are some more I’ve been able to find. Quotations are by Lye biographer Roger Horrocks.

Birth of the Robot (1936)

The documentary didn’t even go into Lye’s stop-motion work. This combines character stop-motion with an abstract sequence. I believe a female robot sends raindrops made of music to turn a man who died driving his car in a sandstorm into a male robot. At the end it’s revealed to be an ad for an oil company, but who cares. “Lye enlisted the help of avant-garde friends such as Humphrey Jennings and John Banting to make the amusing puppets.”

Trade Tattoo (1937)

Musical montage of work in factories and docks and markets, exploding in shifting patterns with wild colors. I guess it was meant to be an ad for the postal service, or maybe a PSA telling you to post letters before 2pm. Partly composed of Night Mail outtakes!

A Colour Box (1935)

Color is less brilliant now that we’re down to standard-def, but this Re:Voir DVD still looks super nice. Abstract lines and patterns run down a film strip to bouncy music. I don’t think he edits to the music, just creates fast visuals then adds something upbeat on the soundtrack. Another postal service ad at the end, meaningless numbers (6 lbs. 9d.). “Lye’s first direct film, which combines popular Cuban dance music with hand-painted abstract designs, amazed cinema audiences. Color was still a novelty, and Lye’s direct painting on celluloid creates exceptionally vibrant effects … in Venice, the Fascists disrupted screenings because they saw the film as ‘degenerate’ modern art.”

Kaleidoscope (1935)

Watched this one before, an ad for cigarettes. Although the films have titles and credits, and the bulk of them is just music and animation with the product placement coming in at the end, so it’s more fair to say they’re sponsored shorts than advertisements. More white space in this one, with clearly defined shapes.

Rainbow Dance (1936)

Boldly colored silhouette mattes as a musician/sportsman whirls through changing backgrounds, leaving psychedelic trails behind him. An ad for savings accounts, obviously. “Lye filmed dancer Rupert Doone in black and white, then colored the footage during the development and printing of the film, adding stenciled patterns.” This is all making me itch for Jeff Scher / Norman McLaren retrospectives as well.

Colour Flight (1937)

More black in this one, a disturbingly pulsating smile behind wavy-line jail bars, then an eruption of dots and lines, some outer space imagery, and a last-minute ad for Imperial Airways (which was bought by British Airways in late 1939).

Swinging the Lambeth Walk (1940)

Okay, this one is synched to the music, wonderfully, with swinging soundwave lines and jellybean dots of color. I like that he uses filmstrip perforations to create patterns. Abrupt edits in the music, as he picks from multiple versions of the song. “For this film Lye did not have to include any advertising slogans; friends at the Tourist and Industrial Development Association, shocked to learn that Lye and his family had become destitute, arranged for TIDA to sponsor the film – to the horror of government bureaucrats who could not understand why a popular dance was being treated as a tourist attraction.”

Colour Cry (1952)

Something different, even more abstract and fuzzy, shadow images with bright, distorted colors, soundtracked by harmonica and yowling vocals. The doc says he used Man Ray’s techniques for this one, “using fabrics as stencils”.

Rhythm (1957)

Footage of an auto manufacturing plant, spastically edited to fit a musical rhythm. The doc mentioned that Lye had trouble with U.S. advertising companies. Chrysler paid for this short but wouldn’t use it because they apparently weren’t fond of the tribal drumming on the soundtrack.

Free Radicals (1958)

More African drumming. Scratched twisted lines rotating in 3D space. Funny that after all the colors and manic patterns he came back to simple white figures on a black background. “The film won second prize in the International Experimental Film Competition, which was judged by Man Ray, Norman McLaren, Alexander Alexeiff and others at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.” Seen this a bunch of times on my laptop, and I’ll bet it’s awesome on a big screen. Hey Anthology Film Archives, ever think of opening a Nebraska location?

Particles in Space (1966)

Brakhage’s favorite. Plays like a sequel to Free Radicals, bringing some of the high-energy musical movement and complex patterns into its general design. Spots of white against an inky black, glistening like the ocean in moonlight. I think some of my listed release years are wrong – IMDB cannot be trusted.

Tal Farlow (1958)

Upbeat jazz guitar with synchronized white scratch lines which are definitely meant to evoke guitar strings. Finished by his assistant after Lye’s death in 1980.

I couldn’t find his “live-action film about the need to be careful in addressing letters,” or his first puppet film Peanut Vendor, or his war propaganda films. The new blu-ray mentioned at the top of this post includes Bells of Atlantis by Ian Hugo, which Lye worked on, so I’ll be watching that soon.