I’ve got no handy documentary on Chomon like I did with Alice Guy, just watching some films. I’d only previously seen The Golden Beetle – these all turned out to be less colorful and more coherent.


Electric Current (1906)

Pretty good one-minute gag film. A couple steals from the grocer, has a picnic then goes back for more, but the grocer has rigged his wares to the electric lights. When they grab the food they’re paralyzed from electricity – and so are the cops who arrive to arrest the thieves, so they arrest the grocer instead.


Kiriki, Japanese Acrobats (1907)

Splendid gravity-defying stunts, using the same which-way-is-up technique as Massive Attack’s “Protection” video. The actors really sell it, trembling and straining in their positions.


En Avant La Musique (1907)

If we’re meant to believe that elite Japanese acrobats have developed incredible skills of strength and balance, this one tosses believability out the window. Just a Mr. B Natural-type conductor transforming the musicians into musical notation and miniaturized song-slaves.


The Diabolical Pickpocket (1908)

A liquid-metal T-1000 criminal escapes two clueless cops by making a mockery of spacetime physics.
Looks like this was part of a series about uncatchable thieves in checkered suits, along with The Invisible Thief and Slippery Jim.


The Electric Hotel (1908)

Before people knew what electricity could do, this imagines a fully automated hotel. Guests get a small electric switchboard and accompanying instruction manual. Each switch causes a whirl of stop-motion – shoe-shining, hair-cutting, suitcase-unpacking. One writes letters home using AI. I was waiting for something to go comically, catastrophically wrong, but all the tech works properly, until a drunken basement employee starts throwing switches haphazardly and all the hotel’s objects violently revolt against their masters.


Legend of a Ghost (1908)

At 14 minutes this is over twice the length of the others, a de Chomon epic. Old fashioned set building and fireworks create a hellscape of dancing demons, or maybe tortured souls, or reveling partiers – in the cavernous set I can’t make out faces. Yeah, it’s either a Halloween parade float or the beginning of the apocalypse, maybe the point is not to know. Then we got hula-girl vikings in a Meliesian underwater scene? An anarchist blows up the parade float and we’re sent to heaven for a minute. It’s almost halfway through the movie before the grim reaper provides some transformative camera tricks, then back to cavorting with fireworks and costumes. The death parade reaches its cavernous destination and the participants celebrate with a scythe dance (The Seventh Seal was a remake of this). But the movie’s not over – the viking frog queen’s servants do an involved dance with the lizard people, layers upon layers. Morning comes and everyone lays dead, except for Death Himself, who transforms into a fancyman. Certainly more expensive than the shorter films, not necessarily more fun to watch.

Young animator Aisling Franciosi (The Nightingale) is completing her dying mom’s final stop-motion film, then tries to turn it into her own work. But Aisling has no ideas of her own. Where do ideas come from? She tries asking her man’s sister for psychedelic drugs, then starts listening to the girl down the hall who doesn’t actually exist. She begins animating in a trance state, believing the monster they created inside her film is after her, and it does finally eat the girl they also created. In the meantime, Aisling pushes her bf Tom down the stairs, and his character name must be a Peeping Tom reference since she kills his sister with a tripod. Unfortunately the movie we’re watching isn’t a stop-motion horror but a mediocre live-action indie movie. I’ve tried to make it sound eventful, but the twist is that it’s ponderous and tiresome, offering nothing fresh, and that’s a crushing disappointment from the creator of the brilliant Bobby Yeah.

Sexy Laundry (2016, Izabela Plucinska)

Gooey clay people Alice and Henry can’t seem to have sex even in their fancy vacation hotel. They give up and consider divorce then try to spice things up one more time. Based on a stage play, which I wouldn’t want to mess with since the only attraction here is the clay.


The Age of Swordfish (1955, Vittorio De Seta)

Restoration paid by George Lucas, so of course the movie opens with a backstory text scroll. The men hunt swordfish while the women do laundry onshore. Paddlers, a spearman in front, and on an elevated pole a lookout guy who yells way too much. Not a mass-scale animal slaughter movie – they catch one fish and come home to sing and dance. This being Italy the sound is out of sync, but the titles tell us the audio was at least recorded on location. Mainly, this thing is shot and edited like absolute mad – it seems De Seta’s other work will be fun to watch.


Fishing Boats (1958, Vittorio De Seta)

Fishing with nets further out at sea this time, Leviathan a half-century early. Added drama from a storm, sea birds, a dolphin, a rainbow. No attempt at talking this time.


Same Player Shoots Again (1967, Wim Wenders)

Person is filmed from shoulders down, stumbling down a street while holding a rifle, the same shot then repeated with green/orange/red/blue tints. It’s a 12-minute movie but they ran out of music after three.


Silver City (1968, Wim Wenders)

Nice opening, fading between a sea of people and the sea. Then long static shots of various traffic intersections (car and train), light flaring at the end of each film roll. There’s a take of a still photograph, one of the Rolling Stones on TV (silent, so Criterion didn’t have to pay for the song). Feels like location scouting for the later road movies combined with a Benning-like duration experiment.

narration: Swan > Henry > Rat > Poison
visuals: Henry > Rat > Swan > Poison
story: Henry > Rat > Poison > Swan

The Swan:

Poison:

Richard Brody:

Anderson has long mastered the lesson that Godard delivered from Breathless onward: that viewers can remain deeply engaged in the events of a drama even while being pulled outside of that drama by fillips of form or fourth-wall-breaking winks and nods. Here he stands that notion on its head; he never breaks the framework of classically realistic drama because he never establishes it in the first place. It is not a question of characters breaking the action to address the camera but the reverse, and, for this reason, the direct address comes off as natural and central, and the acted-out drama as strange and supplementary. Ever since Rushmore, Anderson’s work has been an ongoing reproach to the unquestioned dramatic realism of even most of the great filmmakers of the time, and these four new shorts both heighten the audacious inventiveness of his wondrous artifices and sharpen their powers of critical discernment to a stinging point.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar:

The Rat Catcher:

Bad move to watch an awesome HK movie near the start of Shocktober, because now I’m off-mission listing HK movies I need to see, considering a TsuiHarkTober rebrand. Leslie Cheung, incompetent in his job as a tax collector, is told he can sleep for free in the spooky old temple infested by stop-motion skeletal zombies. Meanwhile White Snake herself, Joey Wong, is a hot ghost girl doomed by a giant tree called Old Evil to lure men into becoming new stop-motion skeletal zombies.

Joey with her evil stepmom:

“The bearded guy killed your sister. Let’s report him.” Wu Ma is in every kung fu movie but gets a rare big role here as the bearded guy. After Leslie meets the hot girl (Hsiao-tsing, aka Siu Sin, which sounds just like “Susan”) he gets the bearded guy invested in rescuing her soul and defeating the spirit so she can be reincarnated. They spend a long time fighting a gigantic tongue in the woods… cool movie.

Bead Game (1977, Ishu Patel)

Stop-motion beads create a series of creatures devouring each other until inevitably, as most animated films do, it becomes a cautionary tale about senseless human violence. Really impressive work, fast and complex, synched to a percussion soundtrack, and I don’t know how they got that 3D light effect in the final minute. Up for the oscar that The Sand Castle won.


Paradise (1984, Ishu Patel)

A completely different kind of thing, bright 2D animation, frames fading into each other to create a slow dreamy blur-motion on everything. All very bird focused. A black bird flies into a magic castle made of a million points of light and sees a human king and a parade of colorful exotic birds. Back in the real world he brutalizes all the local birds and flowers, stealing colors and patterns and props to make himself look prettier, does a crazy dance for the king who locks him outdoors in the cage of shame. After escaping, I guess he lives in harmony with his fellow wild birds. Lost the oscar to a shorter British thing I haven’t seen.


Labirynt (1963, Jan Lenica)

This is exciting since I’ve watched the Lenica & Borowczyk shorts but not any of his solo work. Man in a wingsuit descends into the city and hides from various beasties and sees different animal-based horrors. Surreal low-motion clip-art animation, full of birds and moths and traps. He’s finally captured, scanned and identified, rescued by his hat-bird, then shredded when he attempts to escape in the wingsuit. Verdict: cool. This won a prize at Annecy, where Borow also won for his Concert de M. et Mme. Kabal.


The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912, Wladyslaw Starewicz)

One-ups the Lenica by using actual dead bugs (with wire legs) as stop-motion puppets. A cheatin’ movie, a couple of beetles make out with other bugs and get caught. A jealous grasshopper films the husband with a hot dragonfly – including through their hotel keyhole – and projects it when the beetle couple go to the movies, causing a riot that ends with the beetles in jail. Robert Israel soundtrack on the now-rare DVD.


The Frogs Who Wanted a King (1922, Wladyslaw Starewicz)

Clay frogs, a hundred times more expressive than the insect cadavers. Fed up with democracy, the frogs pray to the gods to be sent a king. He sends them a stone idol and they get pissy, so he sends a stork which eats all the frogs it can find. An original Aesop fable (he sent a water snake instead of the stork).


Little Bird Gazouilly (1953, Wladyslaw Starewicz)

I can’t resist watching another bird short and catching Starewicz forty years later. It’s a beautiful one, adding camera movement to the complex stop-motion. Baby birds are born in the trees over the city, and the bulk of the story follows their first day in the human world, getting into hijinks. A bird gets mad at a mirror, just like my birds did earlier today. Wladyslaw had moved to France after 1917, and this film and many more were co-credited to his daughter Irene.


There Will Come Soft Rains (1984, Nazim Tulakhodzhayev)

Opens with an egg, but it’s not another bird movie, it’s a breakfast-making machine. The humans have disintegrated but the household automation carries on. The concept (by Ray Bradbury) and illustration is cool, but the animation is nothing much. Aha, it’s a bird movie after all, as a bird flies in the open window while the automation is celebrating the new year 2027, and the anti-intruder robot arm tears the house apart. It doesn’t end great for the bird either.

Symphonie Diagonale (1924, Viking Eggeling)

Patterns of curved and diagonal lines rhythmically shift and unmake themselves. Good modern soundtrack by Sue Harshe.


My Childhood Mystery Tree (2008, Natalia Mirzoyan)

A Russian kid whose main fear is that hawks will steal his teddy bear has an intricate dream of human-held cities of junk collectors atop a giant tree. After a dogged chase, he refuses to give up his bear when asked, leading to the collapse of their entire owl-bug society.


Kitty Kornered (1946, Robert Clampett)

Porky has too many cats, tries to put them out for the night but they revolt and take over the house. I like that the red-nosed cat’s whole personality was “the drunk one.” Their leader is a proto-Sylvester. A shadow-puppet dog and a martian invasion get involved.

The Emperor’s Nightingale (1949, Jiri Trnka)

Live-action, a pent-up litle kid prevented from going outside or ever having fun gets a mechanical bird, then has a fever dream that all his toys come to stop-mo life. He proceeds to imagine that the emperor of China feels the same way, lives in a house of riches but never gets to have any real experiences. When the emp hears of the existence of nightingales, he demands one. The most accurate part of the story is when the emp gets into birds, so at his next birthday everyone gives him bird-related things – including a mechanical nightingale which glitters and sings so perfectly that he has no need for the real bird, but eventually the machine’s perfect unchanging song has the emp decrying “music without life, without meaning,” getting physically ill over the idea, until the real bird returns and heals all with its song.

Some motion and interlacing problems on my video copy – the English version adapted by Pulitzer-winning children’s author Phyllis McGinley and read by Boris Karloff. The music, by Trnka’s regular guy Václav Trojan, had a theme that sounds like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

best bit is the court scientist, interrupted while counting stars, has to start over:


Water Birds (1952, Ben Sharpsteen)

You had me at “naked baby pelicans.” Disney setting nature scenes to wild music, synched to the picture like a cartoon. I disagree with the narrator calling flamingos “awkward and grotesque,” otherwise this is good, and at the end it stitches various bird movements into a ballet montage.

Narrator Winston Hibler had been a writer on Disney animated films since the late 1940’s and both Sharpsteen and composer Paul Smith had worked on Pinocchio and shorts since the early days. Editor Norman Palmer (later The Shaggy D.A.) was the new guy on the team. A ton of credited photographers, at least two of them from Wisconsin, which is where I’m writing this now. Won a two-reeler oscar against a whale hunt, a traffic safety film, and a British short that absolutely nobody remembers.


Ballet for Birds (1975, Beryl Sokoloff)

There are plenty of gulls, a piper or two, but Beryl is equally interested in the crashing waves and in passing jets. Without a zoom lens or any sustained interest in a single creature or group, we don’t get too close to any bird (or jet). Editing isn’t especially to the music/rhythm. At the end the camera gets distracted by the distorted reflections of passing humans in a curved mirror.

Set to Stravinski’s 1945 “Ebony Concerto” (which has been used in ballet). Sokoloff had been making 16mm shorts since at least the early ’60s – a Time writeup says he was “sympathetic to the aesthetics of excess.”

Digging back into the revised edition of Film as a Subversive Art for some shorts on the destruction of time and space. “No other art can so instantaneously and so completely expand, reverse, skip, condense, telescope, or stop time, or so suddenly change locale, abolish or accent perspective or distance, transform appearances or proportions of objects, or simultaneously exhibit spatially or temporally distinct events.”


The House (1961, Louis van Gasteren)

Good stuff – a couple of family generations live in a house with a stuffed owl until the nazis take over. Love affairs, birth and death, the editing jumping between timeframes, including the house’s present-day demolition. Orchestral score, very little spoken dialogue. As a confirmed Resnais nut, this kind of thing is up my alley. Vogel: “There is no looking back, since time never exists as a fixed point; everything is now.”

A Dutch movie – one of the cinematographers also shot Vogel-approved The Reality of Karel Appel, and later, Daughters of Darkness.


London to Brighton in Four Minutes (1952, Donald Smith)

Trick/stunt film, just a time-lapse train voyage, taking us “faster than sound” with normal little bookend segments.


Power of Plants (1949, Paul Moss & Thelma Schnee)

Awful educational-film acting, but watching time-lapsed tendril vines move around is cool. This was a segment of a series hosted by talk-show scientist John Kieran. The married directors also wrote an Alec Guinness detective-priest movie. “A magical film” – Vogel really loved time-lapse, but there’s not much point in taking stills from these, since the magic is in the motion.


Renaissance (1964, Walerian Borowczyk)

Excellent stop-motion. Walerian makes a still-life scene of fruit, musical instrument, furniture, doll, and stuffed owl (tying this film nicely to the stuffed owl in The House), violently destroys it all, then re-creates the scene using stop-motion in reverse. This was completed halfway between Boro’s moving to France after the Jan Lenica collaborations, and his first feature film (Goto in 1968).

Invocation (2013, Robert Morgan)

Robert Morgan is back, baby! Or rather I’m back at his vimeo, watching some recent-ish stuff. Incredible couple minutes here of meta-stop-motion. The animator bleeds into his camera, inadvertently causing the filmed frame images of his stuffed bear to become flesh, birthed from the camera, which then destroys the animator and stop-motion-animates the human body before the camera (and before the animator’s flesh-birthed in-camera avatar). Takes less time to watch than to explain. The actor-animator Robin King has made some intriguing-sounding shorts himself.


The Ossuary (1970, Jan Svankmajer)

Time to rewatch some ancient Jan Svanks which I’ve completely forgotten. He sets up the scene outdoors, then goes bananas when he gets inside this church made of bones. The photographer was alone, but the audio is a tour guide explaining it all to a group of unseen kids… one of whom is coughing incessantly in a confined space full of the bones of plague victims, argh. The tour is broken up the the sounds of a squeaky bicycle. Rating: 10 out of 10 bones.


The Fall of the House of Usher (1980, Jan Svankmajer)

A decade after the Ossuary but the same idea – Svank alone in an empty old place, no humans are seen as we hear dramatic stories on the audio. This time it’s a rushed narrator reading the wordy Poe story while Svank’s camera reels seasick around a house, and the objects inside are less ancient and precious, so the animators can destroy them in stop-motion (a hammer’s wood handle, and in the final seconds a stuffed raven) or cover the floor in mud and make fun patterns. Poor Usher apparently buries his sister alive then dies of shock in front of his narrator friend.


Belial’s Dream (2017, Robert Morgan)

“Belial, the deformed conjoined twin from the Basket Case series, has a strange dream.” More stop-mo monstrosities, this trounces the original movie.


Down to the Cellar (1983, Jan Svankmajer)

Girl goes to the cellar to get a basket of potatoes, but she’s haunted by a cat in the walls, self-propelled potatoes and shoes, and coal-obsessed basement-dwelling neighbors. She almost makes it back upstairs, too.


The Pendulum, the Pit, and Hope (1983, Jan Svankmajer)

Dual adaptation, stitching stories by different authors. First-person narrator is tied beneath the pendulum blade, frees himself by smearing delicious glop on the ropes for the rats to chew through, defeats the flaming clockwork demon walls from closing in and forcing him into the pit, flees down the halls and escapes through a hole to the outside, where he’s accosted by an evil monk.

Pendulum:


Tomorrow I Will Be Dirt (2019, Robert Morgan)

An authorized, stop-motion sequel to Jörg Buttgereit’s 1993 film Schramm. That is by the guy who made Nekromantik, so I never planned to watch it. The feature must end with Schramm dead, because this short follows his hellish afterlife, smashing himself in the face and dick with a hammer before getting eaten by a vagina dentata. Verdict: cool.


The Flat (1968, Jan Svankmajer)

A more pranksterish version of Pit/Pendulum/Hope, a man in an apartment full of traps, nothing as solid as it seems, trying to have a meal and a rest. One of Svank’s best live-action/stop-motion blends. Threatens derailment when a man enters with a chicken and a hatchet, but the chicken survives.


A Quiet Week in the House (1969, Jan Svankmajer)

Man is hiding, surveilling house, then breaks in with his equipment to spend the week, each day drilling a hole in a different spot and observing stop-motion antics.

1. screws escape from their candy wrappings to sit atop typewriter keys
2. sentient tongue grinds itself into bullet casings
3. wind-up bird eating beans causes the cabinetry to shit in revolt
4. pigeons fly into offscreen shredder, feathering a chair
5. suit jacket siphons water from potted plant then pisses itself
6. spool of wire picks lock to cabinet of body parts and winds itself horribly around them

Then the man wires the six holes with dynamite, sets a timer and runs for the hills. Technically, his segments have amateur-looking editing and projector noise, like he’s being followed by a guerrilla crew. The six animation pieces have weirdly blended frames, like someone screwed up their pulldown settings in handbrake, and that someone may well have been me.