Superman (1941 Dave Fleischer)

Wait, everyone on Krypton had superpowers, and Superman was raised on Earth in an orphanage? Mr. White is the newspaper boss. Lois flies a plane, is the only person investigating the letter they got saying an electrothanasia ray would cause devastation at midnight, the villain a mohawked creep, vaguely popeye-voiced, with a pet vulture. “This looks like a job for Superman,” Kent says casually the next day, after Lois is kidnapped and many people are dead, goes out and punches the electric ray into submission (and unforgivably, saves the girl and the villain but not the vulture). A silly story, but check out these colors.


The Mechanical Monsters (1941 Dave Fleischer)

These have a catchy theme song. Another rich mad scientist, this one in a purple suit and twirlable mustache, has developed drone technology – radio-controlled bank-robbing robots. Haha, when Lois and Clark are present at the next robbery, Clark steps into a booth to “phone this in” and… he phones it in! He just calls the newspaper office… it doesn’t occur to him to use the booth to become Superman until later. Lois is of course kidnapped, dangled over a smelter. I suppose all of these stories end the same way, with rescued Lois’s cover story in the paper the next day while Clark winks at the camera.

Everyone on Krypton also sports a Magic Cape:


Let’s Sing with Popeye (1934 Dave Fleischer)

Oh no, this was a two-minute short where Popeye punches some of his own stuff aboard a boat, then sings his theme song in a low, disinterested voice with follow-the-bouncing-ball lyrics.


Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions (1933 Dave Fleischer)

Opens with fireworks with live cats inside, so it’s gonna be good. Betty and friends are at a giant trade show under a circus tent, showing off different impractical inventions. She and Bimbo escape after a haywire sewing machine goes on a rampage, presumably hundreds of people are dead.


In the Future (2019 Phil Mulloy)

Absurd shadow-characters discuss the future. Very short, and a quarter of the runtime is a guy peeing. Phil has been out there since the 1970’s, making a pile of shorts and some features.


Endgame (2015 Phil Mulloy)

Two guys leave the city for some weekend war games and get more war than they bargained for. Stick figure art, the roughly drawn backgrounds include random-seeming numbers and figures. I was with it until the gang-rape joke.


Peter & the Wolf (2006 Suzie Templeton)

Great birds in this: an emotional support duck and a crow tied to a balloon, and terrific camera perspectives and stop motion work. Peter just wants to play in the backyard with his friends, help the crow with bad wings pretend to fly, and skate on the frozen pond, but grandpa wants him to stay indoors because there’s a wolf out there. The boy traps the wolf after it eats his comfort-duck, but frees the wolf at the end rather than hand it over to the ruffian townies. No dialogue, so it premiered with live orchestra accompaniment, and won the oscar, obviously.


My Love (2006 Aleksandr Petrov)

Another half-hour movie based on a Russian story featuring ducks, a cat in a tree, and some good birds. 16-year-old gives a crystal duck to a girl he likes, is figuring out what love is. He dreams of marrying his family’s poor maid, also starts worshipping a hot neighbor, but he is finally weird to the neighbor and when he becomes sick with brain fever the maid leaves to become a nun. My DVD copy isn’t high-res enough to get the full effect, but this is lovely – painted frames, smearing the backgrounds as the characters move past, exploding into fantasy scenes in the kid’s imagination. Feels too wordy, watching so soon after Peter & the Wolf. Petrov’s followup to his great Old Man and the Sea.


The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1981 Mark Hall)

It took a minute to even realize this was stop-motion; my copy’s contrast is off. The opposite of the Petrov in that the wordless animation moments are alright but it comes to life when the narrator is going off – he is Robert Hardy of the 1970’s version of The Green Knight, reading the original poem. Obviously not a movie to explore unless you’re ready to see hundreds of stop-motion rats. Jiri Barta also made a version, which would be worth digging up. A good effort for England, who still had ten years to wait until Wallace & Gromit. Hall was a British TV veteran, working on Danger Mouse among others.


Who Would Comfort Toffle? (1980 Johan Hagelback)

Toffle is alone and scared with nobody to talk to when the night monsters come, so he ditches his house and wanders to find somewhere new. Limited storybook animation with a rock musical soundtrack. The Hemulens are giant things outside that are maybe moomins? Real kids stuff, cute – you don’t see a lot of Swedish mythology cartoons.


The Chimney Thief (1944 Paul Grimault)

A thief who steals lightning rods and uses them to pole-vault across the rooftops is a pretty great idea. What ever happened to lightning rods anyway? You don’t see them around much. The scene where he distracts a guard dog with a wind-up mechanical bone is simply odd, all the character animation timing wonky. Their stretchy rubber-band bodies seem Boop-inspired. Nothing more to it than a rod thief outsmarting two identical cops chasing after him, some typical chase scene bits, but remarkably good use of 3D space. Grimault worked with Jacques Demy and made some other widely-acclaimed works that I’ve meant to find.


Birds/Ptakhy (2012 Mykyta Liksov)

Unlike the Blackbird short, this movie called Birds is about birds – this is all I ask for. The birds dance through the air, form couples and nests on the last above-water structures of a flooded Earth, except for one who swims underwater in search of a fallen spouse and finds a glowing egg in the irradiated wreckage of human civilization. I was already enjoying this before its all-timer end-credits sequence.


The Baby Birds of Norman McLaren (2014 Mirai Mizue)

Aha, someone is into maximalist mutations, colorful patterns, and bright pop music. Someone watched the entire McLaren DVD set and took away all the correct lessons, turning in a fun, short, snappy piece with tributes to Norman’s different animation and sound sync styles.


The Big Snit (1985 Richard Condie)

Squiggle-vision cartoon about a domestic squabble over a scrabble game while nuclear war is beginning outside. Between the two Ukraine-related shorts and this one, I hadn’t meant to get so topical tonight. The couple reconciles just in time to be vaporized, a happy ending. This and Condie’s La Salla are maybe over-acclaimed, but I like his very random sense of humor, and he also produced The Cat Came Back.

A wordless stop-motion hell, resonant of the Quays and Bobby Yeah. A lone terranaut descends endlessly through a pitiless parade of horrors, guided by a crumbling map, apparently set on destruction of the core. It’s a mechanized hell, with rampant death of the half-human workers. Gruesome in every particular – even I was icked out by the surgery scene. Some maniac spent twenty years on this movie, and it shows.

I imagined a widescreen stop-motion puppet Midsummer from the creator of The Hand would be magical. It turns out if you remove all the language from a Shakespeare play, reducing it to plot action with explanatory voiceover, you don’t even reach feature length without some padding in the form of dance scenes and overlong rehearsals of the play-within-the-play. Sticking it out, there is some beautiful puppetry and effects, particularly whenever Puck casts a transformation spell.

Street Art (1957, Konstanty Gordon)

To begin with, a short doc on street posters, the profession Lenica and Borowczyk started out in – its history and function and form and prevalence. Narrator, upbeat orchestral music, the main attraction here is seeing a montage of good poster art.


Once Upon a Time (1957)

Magic: the poster art comes alive. Wordless adventures of some ever shifting graphic design elements, fond of fashioning themselves into creatures and hats, interacting with clip art. Playful organ music, some strobing scraps of concert footage, a cute and inventive little movie.


Requited Feelings (1958)

This one’s more limited because it’s based on someone else’s paintings (Jan Plaskocinski), which B&L bring to life the best they can through fast cuts and pans. It tells a story using intertitles of a man looking for love. The film editor would later make No End with Kieslowski.


Banner of Youth (1957)

McLaren-esque abstract animated pieces, with separate quick blasts of every kind of news and sports and entertainment footage, a cultural survey in two minutes set to lively jazz.


Strip-Tease (1957)

This and the previous short were commissioned advertisements for a newspaper, I think. Male and female abstract characters, she “strips” her outer layers revealing newsprint, the messages on which knock him out. Cuter than it sounds.


School (1958)

A rifleman performs training exercises, is pestered by a fly, can’t get his rifle to fire, then dreams of dancing legs, all in live-stop-motion (or very low framerate photography). Some light horn music, heavy percussion and frequent whistle blasts. Composer Andrzej Markowski had already scored A Generation, and would soon do the MST3K-approved First Spaceship on Venus.


Dom (1958)

This one is like an entire Flying Circus episode, bringing together all the techniques from the previous shorts into an anthology of episodes witnessed by a woman before she stops to make out with a decaying mannequin head. Before that, we’ve got sci-fi poster art, early cinema motion studies, archive photography and storybook pages, a man stuck in a time-loop room, and a stop-motion wig consuming or destroying everything on a table. I’d watched this before, ages ago, in a poor copy.


Boro would go on to become a major director of nudie flicks, and I just found out that an early Bertrand Mandico film was a tribute to him.

The woman in Dom was Ligia Branice, aka Mrs. Walerian Borowczyk, who also appeared in La Jetee. Chris Marker also contributed to Boro’s Les Astronautes the following year, and must have been influenced by the photography in these films.

Lenica would later make the feature Adam 2, about a guy who escapes his drab life into an animated fantasy world, and a feature adaptation of one of Alfred Jarry’s pre-dada Pere Ubu plays, then a final half-hour short with Piotr Dumala.

A bunch of silliness in the first half which escalated wonderfully in the second. At the beginning Cowboy and Indian try to construct a last-minute birthday gift while Horse takes piano lessons with a cute female horse. But pretty soon they are all enslaved by snowball-prankster kung-fu scientists within a giant arctic penguin robot. Plastic toy stop-motion!

The Lion and the Song (1959, Bretislav Pojar)

Accordion player wandering the sand dunes finds an oasis and amuses the desert creatures with a pantomime dance, with his cape representing his lost love. Lion is more hungry than amused, eats our man, then dies of internal accordion-related pains. Czech stop-motion puppetry, obviously very good even in my old SD copy.


My Green Crocodile (1967, Vadim Kurchevsky)

A crocodile who adores flowers meets a beautiful cow, and they fall in love based on their shared interests, though the other crocs and hippos scoff at their relationship. When autumn arrives, the cow declares their love is gone with the flowers and leaves, so the croc in desperation climbs a tree and transforms himself into a green leaf. The narrator seems to approve of this action, though it feels like a downer ending. Loved the harpist moon.


Film Film Film (1968, Fyodor Khitruk)

Opens with a slideshow/montage music video, then goes into a comic parody of the process of feature filmmaking. After the tormented, sporadically inspired, often suicidal screenwriter creates a perfect script, the valium-popping director takes a hundred meetings, modifying the script each time. And so on – equipment problems, child actors, a tense premiere. 2D animation with a few cool bits and a sixties-rockin’ theme song. I wouldn’t have pegged this as the same guy who started making Winnie the Pooh shorts the next year.

how a cinematographer works:


How A Sausage Dog Works (1971, Julian Antonisz)

Some animation techniques using gels and layers and liquids that I don’t think I’ve seen before. Narrator with a high, irritating voice, untranslated. Based on the title, I might’ve assumed the vision of a dachshund full of gears with a heart in the middle, but I didn’t predict the dachshund being squished underfoot by the devil. Without translation, I don’t have a clear idea of what is happening here, but it looks like pure lunacy, and I love it.


Apel (The Roll-Call, 1971, Ryszard Czekala)

Shadowy semi-figures – smeary motion-blurs and tops of heads.
Not much of a roll call – the only words are Down/Up/Fire – a military commander or prison guard yells commands at a mass of bald figures. After one refuses to obey and is killed, all the rest refuse to obey and are killed. Not the most uplifting little movie but it has a cool look I guess?


Crane’s Feathers (1977, Ideya Garanina)

Convincingly Japanese-looking stop-motion tale of the Crane Wife. I do love cranes, and ten-minute tragedies. Does our lead guy hang his head low at the end? You bet he does.


King’s Sandwich (1985, Andrey Khrzhanovskiy)

Weird intro, steampunk imagery over the sound of a workout video. So far, all the stop-motion shorts – the Lion, the Crocodile and the Crane – have featured butterflies. This is 2D animation with a nude man and a sausage dog and a cigar-smoking cat dancing with a busty cow – but no butterflies… oops, I watched this thinking it was Khrzhanovskiy’s Butterfly from 1972. This one’s the story of a fussy king who just wants butter for his bread, despite the gigantic queen and the dairymaid trying to convince him to try marmalade instead, while shadowy security agents lurk absolutely everywhere. Bleepy electronic soundtrack.


Repeat (1995, Michaela Pavlatova)

Sketchbook 2D with crosshatch texture. Tight repeating behaviors: a man taking his dog for a walk, a wife feeding her husband, an interrupted tryst, a dramatic breakup, repeating and colliding until the dog brings the whole thing to a halt, wakes everyone up from their motion loops, leading to an orgy, before it all starts again.


Adagio (2000, Garri Bardin)

A stop-motion funeral procession through a terrible storm by origami monk crows. All seems hopeless until a white Jesus-crow leads the way. When the white crow displays his magical powers of cleanliness, the others beat the shit out of him, but after his dramatic resurrection, they all worship him with white-crow billboards. Kind of a dour little movie with halfway decent origami.


Deputy Droopy (1955, Tex Avery)

The one where two safecrackers have to be quiet, Droopy torments them into making noise, so they keep running out to a nearby mountain to unleash their yells. Droopy’s attacks range from silly (get ’em to sit on a snapping lobster) to quite violent (wailing on ’em with a spiked board while their feet are stuck in glue). Anticlimactic hearing-aid joke at the end.

Don’t know if it counts as a short film, but we watched Spike Lee’s NYC pandemic montage, psyched that he has a new feature out in a couple weeks.

Quick stop-motion pans across photograph backgrounds
Cutouts and objects (paper, flowers) puppeteered across the photos,
some set to dramatic music

Circles/dots, repeating as texture, single circles used as punctuation

Multiple episodes, a series of shorts, made over 13 years.
Dedication at the end of each one, then title of the next.

Some episodes have music, some have audio from a movie or show, some silent.
Halfway in, one uses music in reverse.

Pretty consistent visual approaches, with some surprises.
Round and rectangular chiclets appear in scenes.

Long hypodermic story at the end is the most narrative yet
Word bubbles and actions that tell a story, woman seems to be in afterlife.

A cute blue psychokinetic alien child crash-lands on the farm, and Shaun and the sheep have to avoid the farmer and his dog and a government alien detection agency to send the little fella home. Movie is fully charming, and just an explosion of bright colors – I watched on the plane where everyone around me was watching dirty, dull-looking movies like Joker and Tolkien on their 4-bit seatback screens, and felt that my movie’s color on the laptop seemed radioactive by comparison. The only note I took at the time was “argh, pop songs.”

Darkness/Light/Darkness (1989 Jan Svankmajer)

I’ve seen stills from this, but somehow never watched it before. Peak Svankmajer claymation, a human gradually assembled from pieces entering a cramped apartment, including a dumb dick joke.

Won an award at Berlin alongside a Petrov short, a Bruno Bozzetto animation, The Asthenic Syndrome and, oh, Driving Miss Daisy. One of Svank’s final shorts, post-Alice, before he turned exclusively to features.


Prometheus’ Garden (1988 Bruce Bickford)

The Svankmajer turned out to be a gentle Claymation intro course compared to this batshit epic. Like a long, vaguely narrative music video, with no fixed sense of scale or permanence of scene or set or character. Watched in SD, would be amazing to see in a larger format

Casual synth-rock on the soundtrack… in the machine-gun massacre scene, I appreciated the use of outer-space raygun effects instead of ratatatat.

Apparently unreleased for twenty years until it came out on a 2008 DVD. RIP 2019 Bruce – I need to dig up his final feature Cas’l and the other doc about him, Monster Road.


Printed Rainbow (2006 Gitanjali Rao)

Gramma lives a dreary, blurry b/w Rear Window existence until she opens a case full of colorful matchbooks and experiences an open-eyed smiley-faced adventure in crisp color fantasy. The b/w segments are in that smeary, charcoaly style where it appears that each frame is partially erased, the next frame drawn on top of it, leaving a smudge trail behind the action…OR ELSE it wasn’t animated that way at all, and my digital copy needed more keyframes. Kinda not my thing, but the ending is pretty good, and you can’t laugh off the dedication “to my mother and her cat.”

Rao also acts, appeared in a Seven Samurai remake in 1998, and she recently completed a hand-painted animated feature about Bombay’s history with Bollywood.


Old Man and the Sea (1999 Aleksandr Petrov)

Glorious paint or watercolor, with such good light and water and cloud – made for imax! English dialogue, new agey music. Shades of the Monk when he becomes one with the Fish. Won a ton of awards including the oscar – fellow winners that year were Sam Mendes, All About My Mother, The Matrix and Phil Collins.


The House of Small Cubes (2008 Kunio Kato)

Another old man in the sea, also beautiful. Dystopian story of a rising flood, building a new house atop the old one every few years, losing more items and people with each story. Hunched old man lives alone at the top, takes a diving expedition through his past.

Kato is my age, has made a bunch more shorts. This one won the oscar too, beating that great undertaker short and one of my favorite Pixars, with fellow winners Penelope Cruz, the late Heath Ledger, Danny Boyle, A.R. Rahman, Benjamin Button’s makeup artists, WALL-E, and Man on Wire.