december gems + great films i saw in ’19

Night Without Distance (Patino, 2015): a visually arresting portrayal of a drug deal, this featurette has all the glorious imagery that patino has established himself to be great at creating. i don’t want to blabber on about it bc i don’t think there’s too much subtext involved and it’s short anyways so go watch it!

the entire filmography of patrick wang: new indie kid on the scene, patrick wang has made his first four features in the 2010s. i would say they are all, at the absolute least, worth watching. his influences seem to stretch far and wide and i think his handling on dialogue is unparalleled today, reminding me most strongly of kenneth lonergan in his smart decisionmaking. a great figure to watch out for.

Little Joe (Hausner, 2019): it seems like a minor film in nearly every way, but if Hotel is anything to go by, hausner is fantastic at creating minor films that don’t oversell themselves and merely deliver the goods. pretty basic black mirror social commentary, pretty gorgeous color palette, no obvious screwups, relatively brisk. kinda reminds me of an old efficient noir in that way, even if the content is totally different.

The Strange Little Cat (Zurcher, 2013): speaking of minor films done well, this debut picture is low-key and slight at almost every opportunity, but zurcher seems to be in full control of his mise-en-scene, writing, and all the elements in between. in some ways this most brings to mind a “minor” rivette, where while it’s difficult to cite any one standout feature about it, it propels forward with a relaxing and meticulous appeal.

Time to Die (Ripstein, 1966): very efficient, gothic western. i’ll start this the way that most people start reviews on westerns: although it has a fairly straightforward plot, the dialogue and editing are enough to propel this to being a great film. also a big fan of how singular and small ripstein makes the town feel in this one, like it’s one last jail. eager to check out more from this little-known director.

Inside Out (a bunch of people, 1991): so basically playboy released this…thing in the 1990s, best way i can put it is that it’s a bunch of people making vaguely sex-themed works in very different ways. alexander payne’s (yes, that one) piece is basically just a one note one take joke, where lizzie borden (yes, that one too) has two different sections, both about taboo fantasies in some way. 90s softcore is an underappreciated area of the film world, and this is likely one of its pearls.

The Wild Boys (Mandico, 2017): though i have little direct nostalgia for my childhood, i am always a fan of when movies can replicate the confusion i had to watching “trippier” things at that age. mandico’s debut feature pulls this off in spades. also one of the best looking films of the decade, where it faces some stiff competition. not too sure about how the gender-bender stuff interacts though, would like to see some trans writing on it sometime.

L’eau de la Seine (Hernandez, 1983): teo hernandez is a director that i like but don’t love. this one seems like the best of his i’ve seen. note to film students: if you want to make a good film, just shoot water really well.

Barbara is a Vision of Loneliness (Elder, 1976): an early bruce elder joint that brings to mind kubelka and tscherkassky more than his ever-wordy features. would have been interesting to see what happened if he continued down this direction. great stuff though, while bruce’s features are quite inconsistent, his shorts tend to have good ideas at the very least.

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and now, the great films i saw in 2019, in little particular order aside from the top 5.

though he’s been a director that i’ve fawned over for quite some time, it took me a while to seek out The Freethinker (Watkins, 1994). i think a big reason is that i hadn’t heard basically anything about it other than the fact it was long and literary, like many of watkins films. but seeing it early this year gave me so much hope for the future. it’s mostly just a biopic of the swedish playwright strindberg, but watkins (and the dozens of high schoolers involved with the production) takes a different direction: it largely demonizes strindberg, focusing on the hurt he caused others and his reputation, bypassing who he might have felt he was as a person. it’s four hours of varying perspectives on an artist who no doubt pushed social boundaries forward but was a scumbag while doing so, and it’s a document that i think can be used to learn with today.

i finally decided to give one of ida lupino’s solo works a try after loving On Dangerous Ground, and it happened to be Outrage (Lupino, 1950). it’s pretty crazy that the second studio film to have a rape in it was able to so tenderly portray it and the aftermath of the event, acknowledging how much it can ruin a person and that even good intentions can’t solve it. maybe it goes a bit too far in the melodramatic department at the end; i wouldn’t know as i was crying. like her once co-director nicholas ray, i get this deep sense of empathy from lupino already.

basically a blind watch for me, i was recommended Luce (Onah, 2019). ended up being a fantastic investigation of race and expectations, something which continuously contorts until it becomes unrecognizable, characters doubling down so hard you wonder what their original intentions even were. very smart, a touch overstuffed and literary, yet it doesn’t detract much from onah’s control over all of his elements. an oscar bait film if oscar bait was capable of being good.

i managed to only catch one film at moma’s abel ferrara retrospective, though it ended up being a clear highlight in a filmography full of bangers. the wretched, angry, crass Welcome to New York (Ferrara, 2014) plays out like a response to something like The Wolf of Wall St., painfully constructing what the rich and powerful are actually like as opposed to some half-hearted narrative they sell back to us. a film that pulls exactly 0 of its punches and only caves at the end to show ferrara’s last hint of humanism left, but by the time it gets there, it’s plowed through endless monologues, arguments, and misery all around.

bit the bullet this year and finished season 2 of Twin Peaks. this in turn led me to seeing Twin Peaks: The Return (Lynch, 2017), which i was much more fond of. though i’m not sure of all of the structural decisions here (the first three-ish episodes are great yet fail to establish a solid narrative off the bat, the final episode seems like the start of a fourth season), and i think that we’re in a dire place with television of episode 8 became the event that it was, i have to admit that through-and-through it’s a powerful, arresting piece of media. sometimes funny, more often than not chilling. the fact it kinda turns into a superhero movie at the end is perhaps one of its best gags.

after years of putting it off, i ended up being thoroughly wowed by The Swimmer (Perry, 1968). isolates an aspect that 60s counterculture could have used more of: shifting social values being used to hold bad people to being accountable for their actions. tears down the lead, in a cool way as virtually every scene re-contextualizes those that came before. some needlessly beautiful imagery in here too for some reason. don’t put it off like i did!

another film i had intentionally put off for years was Harakiri (Kobayashi, 1962). i knew i was going to like this a good deal, so like a smart man i saved it for when i was in a movie slump. nah though, great flick. comparisons to kurosawa are obvious, fully earns them at the end of the day.

overstuffed, ambitious, sprawling, flat out weird. Kamikaze Taxi (Harada, 1995), in addition to having one of the best movie names i’ve ever heard, was one of the best films that i saw in 2019. movies between being funny and thrilling, uplifting and brutal. lots of flat out weird themes to be spending this much time investigating in what could have easily just been a basic crime thriller, like national identity, integration, the like 30 minute scene they spend meditating in a temple. though i didn’t see many great “wonky” movies this year as compared to others, this one is near the top of the list in that regard.

i kinda liked phil solomon’s GTA movies, seeing them more as a curiosity than anything, though i felt like i wasn’t getting the full experience of him. cue a bunch of his movies leaking and light industry putting on a screening of his work. though he’s still an avant-garde director that i feel i may appreciate more than i actually enjoy watching, The Secret Garden (Solomon, 1988) is definitely the exception to that loosely-defined rule. a somber, harrowing portrait of…childhood? memories? who knows, it’s just an emotional waterfall. i hear it’s also leaked to the public now, so get your hands on it if you can.

another screening that i was lucky to be able to get to was the takashi makino three night show at anthology. here i was able to see Cinema concret (Makino, 2015) which opened the program. as loud, compelling, and beautiful as the best of his work, this one astounded me in its raw energy and the colors makino picked out. another confirmation for makino as perhaps the best working director in the world today.

they also showed Still in Cosmos (Makino, 2009) at this screening, a film which i saw earlier this year. absolutely love this one too though, probably among my three favorites of his – earth-shattering proportions, droney score that culminates in the birth of the universe type deal. i also think it works excellently in lo-fi, the pixelation kinda adding to the makino aesthetic well in this one.

on a whim, i decided to hit up a US premiere at anthology, this one for a small film called The World is Full of Secrets (Swon, 2018), this one being a debut by someone who’s more known for their producing credits. among the best films i saw this year, and already a pretty high pick for some “best of the decade” material as far as my tastes are concerned, swon’s breakthrough uses some key techniques from the avant-garde, structures it similarly to Landscape Suicide, and frames the whole thing in this hazy, tragic atmosphere that i couldn’t get enough of. i would say it’s kind of rare for genre films to be able to reach this level of pure sadness in them. excited to see where swon goes in his producing, but also now in his directing.

another 90s softcore that will probably never get the recognition it deserves, Cyberella: Forbidden Passions (Garth, 1996) is a soothing, sci-fi take on sex, one that has mostly tastefully done erotica, great music, and concludes in a sort of new age-y serene afterlife where the lead learns to not let men walk over her and to escape the male gaze in a sort of meta sense. also very campy and self aware of it in a not-annoying way.

i wrote a biiit about wang earlier, gotta come back to his seminal debut In the Family (Wang, 2011) tho. long, endearing, quiet, mournful, yet full of empathy, it’s like a laundry list of elements i love seeing in my movies. particularly noteworthy in how it addresses homosexuality, though a reviewer on letterboxd remarked that it’s maybe a bit too hopeful in that regard. one of the best debuts ever though, for sure.

wasn’t too sure what i was getting into when i stumbled upon the debut feature Prototype (Williams, 2017). it ended up being the rare avant-garde feature length film that DOESN’T need to be trimmed by 20+ minutes. nay, williams’ 3D concoction is filled with haunting imagery, questioning a “what-if” city that was destroyed by a heavy storm. recontextualizes a horrible event and questions its outside implications with the 20/20 vision of the future. williams also has talked about this a good deal, which helped clarify his many intentions to me, so i recommend seeking that out if you watch the film.

technicolor miracle One from the Heart (Coppola, 1982) is virtually indescribable. i mean, obviously the whole MGM inspired look is the thing that people stick to, but that doesn’t do it justice. this is a fantasy land of what the world looks like when you’re in love or when you’re embracing a partner, and the fact that it ends with the continuing of an extremely toxic relationship as reflexive criticism of the musicals that inspired it? wellllllll played, francis.

yet another obscure flick that remi put me onto, Finished (Jones, 1997) is a unique take on, like, stalking? seeing someone so beautiful you have to learn more? whatever it is, a DIY investigation over a male pornstar that the director is smitten with takes us in unusual directions, concluding with a respectful sense of mourning that never comes across as exploitative in the wrong ways. kinda reminds me of thom andersen.

onto the top 5.

5. Lake Mungo (Anderson, 2008) is a pretty direct ripoff in many ways of Twin Peaks for the digital era, but man is it ever good at pulling that specific niche off. a fascination i’ve had for the last several years is the ways that genre films are able to differentiate themselves from more ordinary dramas, and this is like a playground in that regard; anderson’s lone feature is one that mandates having supernatural elements as an explanation for one character’s horror, as it doesn’t seem to even be comprehensible in the “real” world. imagery reminds me often of kurosawa, particularly in “that” scene. wish we could get more from this clearly talented director.

4. in what appears to be a light comedy, lizzie borden ends up making perhaps the most significant film on sex work in the entire canon with Working Girls (Borden, 1986). a compelling comedy for much of its runtime, borden masterfully fuses this material with an almost sharon lockhart sense of “work as boredom” and solidarity as acknowledging that fact. the movie refuses to succumb to easy categorizations regarding the nature of the work, instead focusing more on how it is, ultimately, a job, and a pretty bad one at that most of the time for these women. as always, wish we had more.

3. seemingly out of nowhere comes Empty Metal (Khalil & Sweitzer, 2018), a film so full of energy, ideas, and aesthetics that it seems to be the work of a seasoned master rather than two youngsters. directors clearly set on tackling the difficult questions that radical politics must ultimately answer, it’s the somewhat rare leftist film that feels thoroughly organic, not at all like it’s punching or talking down to anyone. a chilling, thunderous experience, and one that makes me excited for what these two dudes have in store next.

2. at the makino screening, though i liked pretty much everything i saw there, the big standout was At the Horizon (Makino & Knapp, 2017), a film which appears to finally give makino a protagonist of sorts to work with: the grid that knapp supplies. it’s in some ways a creation story, a simple narrative, an immersive avant-garde film, a horror, really there are too many ways to read this even though it’s ostensibly lines and static. to quote a friend, “unreal this was made by humans.”

1. La flor (Llinas, 2018) u already know what it is boi

november gems

The World is Full of Secrets (Swon, 2018): an extremely exciting project from a breakout director, this arty, slow cinema take on art-horror is what i’ve been desperately craving from a24 but never truly gotten on this level. plenty to talk about and analyze but i’m really in love with swon’s approach to the genre, which feels entirely unpretentious and fresh simultaneously.

The Snowman (Solomon, 1995): though i like solomon’s gta stuff and his Decasia sequel, i think it’s his early work i connect most to and this is no exception. love his textures and sense of sorrow he gets from his memories, a pretty unique spin on diary filmmaking.

Body Double (de Palma, 1984): twisty and turny in self consciously pulpy ways, a pretty effortlessly lean thriller from one of the best in that area. i would say that the way he subverts the male gaze and heroism is very akin to verhoeven here, and there’s a scene towards the end that particularly astounds me (is anyone as good at these random fourth wall breaks as BDP?); overall it’s a joy and one of his best 80s films.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Lee, 2016): forgive my armond white-isms here but i think liberal critics are usually harsher on films which attempt to address these sort of masculine roles if it’s not told in some kind of distancing way. lee’s unusual, eastwood-esque feature mostly plays things straight, paying off in a somewhat too long but usually interesting work with the thesis statement being that the working class is the working class regardless of which industrial complex it serves. which, cool.

The Learning Tree (Parks, 1969): most discussion of this film is based on its importance as the first major film directed by a black director (which i disagree with on those grounds but eh semantics). kinda disappointing because the picture itself is way more than that; would say it has a sirkian sense of empathy even in an unholy world. better than its (perhaps boring) reputation suggests.

The Strawberry Blonde (Walsh, 1941): very effective romcom stuff, the period aspect of it is kinda weird but charming enough. though i’ve only seen White Heat by him, walsh seems much more suited to this lighter fare than for crime dramas, could just be entirely off there.

Luce (Onah, 2019): great soundtrack and some of the most biting writing out there, stuff that could easily veneer into terrible sorkin directions or liberal identity politics yet seems to just get things RIGHT. a couple of plot complaints aside, this is just masterful stuff on every level and a pretty under-seen film for what it is.

The Big Gundown (Sollima, 1966): good spaghetti western, watch when bored. nothing too subversive or amazing, nothing boorish or haphazard. check it out.

Outrage (Lupino, 1950): i think that, when it comes to classic hollywood, the sense of empathy is something which connects with me the most. this is especially apparent in my faves of the era, particularly sirk and ray, the latter of whom lupino co-directed a great film On Dangerous Ground with. this one excels in that way – there’s a boundless sense of hope and understanding in the face of trauma that always has a way to move me.

Love is the Message, the Message is Death (Jafa, 2016): won’t rattle on about this too long as it’s only a few minutes long but yeah uhhhh amazing editing!

All the Marbles (Aldrich, 1981): i was really happy w my letterboxd summary of this and it only got 1 like ;( but i’ll restate: love movies about obscure competition-based subcultures, love campy dramatic stuff, love things with this much care for its characters. aldrich developing nicely into a favorite!

Dark Angel: The Ascent (Hassani, 1994): a movie about the “good satanists” if you will. plays by its own rules. funny. sweet. good gore at times. not seen anything like it!

A Solar Dream (Bokanowski, 2016): animation usually leaves me cold and feature length experimental films often get the worse of me, plus i didn’t really know much about bokanowski beforehand, yet he creates this gorgeous lump of abstract cinema that totally works. really diverse visual treat though i quite like it about a third of the way in. makes me wanna see more from the dude.

reply to scorsese vs marvel

wanted to get some quick notes down about the scorsese vs marvel discourse currently going on. you can read it here. nothing super formal, just wanted to get my voice in before it’s washed away by whatever disney+ controversies we get.

 

-scorsese’s films are not from earth to alpha centauri when it comes to marvel movies. i have no idea where he got this notion from, especially because he knows the movies that are actually in that vein. a lot of scorsese’s comments here confuse me for similar reasons because he’s aligning himself as the opposite to marvel when this comes across as complaining of a system that brought him up and then left him to rot (except, that didn’t happen at all) when it’s mostly a similar system as before, just with different tastes. i acknowledge that the cultural landscape has absolutely changed, though scorsese still sits at a pretty standard midpoint by any recognizable definition. but i guess being that rich for that long can make you lose perspective a bit sometimes.

-something i see a lot of in a the comments of certain anti-MCU people is a certain preference against a “cinema-of-attractions” approach to the medium.  scorsese kinda sets himself up for the “not everything needs to be Citizen Kane” strawman here. it’s one thing to say that the movies lack depth, another to say that movies which lack depth are necessarily worse than those that do. how many masterful cult films are there that get brushed aside in favor of these terrible films? probably far more than the type of “adult” projects that scorsese seems to favor, and i would argue that the two are way more comparable as far as broad filmmaking goals go.

-scorsese speaks of the cultural importance of projection, and repeats this a couple of times to solidify his notion. this is a waning demand however; it’s his one like “ok boomer” moment where he veneers into the territory of seeing the movie house as the monolith when everyone who gets hardcore into art cinema knows their way around a VPN by the time they’re out of high school. this is important because many of these people never even go to theaters normally; for them, the cinema is their laptop screen. i don’t see the cinema as being whatever happens to play on a metroplex for $12 near you – the advent of streaming is what will assist cinema, even if it ruins “cinema.”

-not falling for his “i had to go to netflix” sob story lol, waaah only one media conglomerate would give me 9 figures for my oscar bait

-the financial situation is brutal for small theaters not just because of indirect forces like everyone only seeing disney trash but also directly because of extremely harsh, borderline illegal theater policies that disney themselves employ. i wish scorsese would have brought this up – someone with his sway and clout speaking against that practice could do some popular good.

-i think in parts of his article, his notion of success is directly linked to “is it playing on a theater screen for millions of people.” it conflates financial success with cinematic success, which as someone who has had a lot of the former, seems to come from a biased position. obviously he doesn’t entirely mean this should be taken all the way – as evidenced by him, you know, hating superhero movies – but i do see this line of reasoning a lot and think it’s kind of unhealthy.

-it’s good that someone with some iota of clout is saying these things even if the points are a bit rough around the edges. i generally agree with his thesis, just believe we need to have more carefully crafted criticism on the subject.

gems of september and october

spent a lot of the month watching Twin Peaks, the rest watching makino. then i got back into melee.

Harakiri (Kobayashi, 1962) – was in a bit of a movie slump prior to seeing this and i’d been saving this movie for a day like that. i knew i would at least find it solid but it sorta exceeded expectations and became a favorite of mine. my first kobayashi and i want to definitely check out his other classics at the least, and maybe dabble in his deep cuts as well.

virtually everything i saw at the Show and Tell exhibit for takashi makino would rank as either a highlight or a bonafide masterpiece, but i’ll give a special shoutout to At the Horizon which, upon my first watch, seems like it could be the greatest non-narrative film i’ve ever seen. words really can’t do it (or other makino films) justice; it really needs to be experienced to be believed.

Homework (Kiarostami, 1989) – this endures as one of kiarostami’s more direct and “simple” films, which is hardly a mark against it. its examination of how generational norms can be transposed to the younger ones (albeit in a specific framework that never feels anything other than universal) is well-crafted and builds to a classic kiarostami finale, ripe with his ever-present humanism.

Finished (Jones, 1997): a great find by remi. labyrinth tale about a man fixated on someone who struck him, a kind of obsession i think most people can occasionally relate to. one of the only films that has a similar vibe to Los Angeles Plays Itself in how it’s constructed as an essay film of sorts. definitely a huge film even when it admits its own shortcomings outright.

Twin Peaks as a whole: well, i finally bit the bullet and finished S2 (which wasn’t very good), excitedly devoured Fire Walk With Me (which was great) and then plunged into The Return (which, will maybe a bit overhyped, is some fantastic movie-making). lynch is a master of these intricate, guilt-ridden tales, and the best parts of this series are when he meshes this with his knack for striking imagery. i’m down for more of it now that i’ve actually gotten through the S2 slump.

Super Inframan (Shan, 1975): unbridled fun. like seriously, you are not ready for how fun this movie is. sets, oversatured cinematography, action editing, costumes (especially the costumes), SFX, stunt choreography, everything is designed for maximum campy excellence. can’t believe i don’t hear more about this.

Cleopatra (Bressane, 2007): i haven’t seen anything by bressane and have really no idea what his other movies are like, which makes analyzing what is already a pretty difficult film to analyze even more difficult. i can say at least that i get heavy straub-huillet vibes, manoel de oliveira in baroque mode, and India Song. i really don’t have enough to say about this in terms of analysis, but really like the sets, the purple prose, and the ardent sexuality of it.

Dusty Stacks of Mom: The Poster Project (Mack, 2013): i’d known about this and its acclaim for a while but never actually had an idea of what it would be like. as it turns out, it’s Crashbox for art thots. yeah.

The Amazonian Angel (Klonaris & Thomadaki, 1992): i think the closest reference point i have to this would have to be Salome by hernandez. like that film, i’m drawn to how impressive and dreamlike its imagery is, although in this there’s a bunch of dialogue that very dissociative and reminds me of abstract poetry. it’s a combination that clashes occasionally but the end product is one that works well for me, and i would love to see more of these directors’ work.

Every Single Night (Tsao, 2019): it confirms not only tsao’s consistency but also his range; where Utah was a well-shot, well-edited direct cinema sort of documentary, the artificiality of Every Single Night‘s construction and the setups of its concept scream an entirely different idea altogether. always attempts to re-invent itself in unique ways, homerun with this one. look forward to producing what the director manages next.

Lake Mungo (Anderson, 2008): i somehow entirely had mis-categorized this film in my head. i thought it was supposed to be some slower slasher film, when in reality it’s a mockumentary that feels like reverse kiyoshi kurosawa; something which starts creepy, seems to suggest that the world is creepy enough as we know it, and then pivots into unusual lynchian directions. some of the most effective horror of the last two decades and an easy favorite for me.

Bliss (Begos, 2019): out of the 6 horror movies i saw at the horror marathon, this was the only one that really knocked it out of the park for me. takes some obvious cues from ferrara structurally and from a laundry list of films stylistically but begos has the control of a seasoned director in how he synthesizes these many styles and ideas. a great gem to find, one i probably never would have seen if not for the screening.

Milla (Massadian, 2017): an indie film which is so careful about sidestepping negative indie conventions that it ends up becoming somewhat toothless by the end of it, though it’s still an engaging watch with some beautiful moments to it. reminds me of costa more than anything, who i like but have rarely seen as a personal favorite (seems to be the case with this film too). would love to check out some more of massadian’s work though.

gems: july and august

Two Lovers (Gray, 2008): gray is a solid 3 for 3 right now, an immersive dramatic director whose deft navigating of melodramatic and adventure archetypes reminds one of, say, a 60s hollywood director making 40s hollywood pictures. can never quite pin down what makes him good, it’s likely a mixture of his ear for dialogue and impressive cinematography which treads the line between dull and flashy. as his other two have done, builds my excitement for Ad Astra.

Offering (Caldini, 1978): this movie’s only like 3 minutes or something, just go watch it. great non-narrative.

Surrender (Kopko, 2019): manages to pull off lo-fi VHS retro-vaporwave aesthetics in the decade where that mode of creation seemed to die and rebirth at least three times already. kopko’s eye for inorganic imagery and sounds, surely influenced by her immense knowledge of the medium, is what propels this to the forefront of the modern avant-garde to me.

Jane (Christensen, ???): adore the music in this, adore how un-pretentious this film is in its portrayal of a teen who demands to be taken seriously while acknowledging the paradox in this sometimes. other people are probably going to hate the dialogue in this, and its trashy-ness certainly encourages that to an extent, but it’s something that has a really profound appeal to me, hokey as it can be. a fantastic gem in the rough.

The Deadly Spawn (McKeown, 1983): it’s something that i can’t quite call a masterpiece because i generally prefer my shlocky genre films to go really far in some political or vulgar direction, but as a lean, mean 80s horror it’s pretty much as good as it gets this side of tobe hooper. not too much to say, pick it for your midnight movie sometime.

The Last Film (Martin & Peranson, 2013): alex ross perry taking the piss out of every white person who’s ever been to latin ruins for an hour and a half is a surprisingly fun way to use an hour and a half

The Death of Louis XIV (Serra, 2016): been meaning to get to this for a while, and i felt with the fact that his other Louis films are going to be easier to get ahold of, now was as good a time as any. doesn’t quite hit the maximum height that slow cinema is easily capable of; think of it like a more baroque van sant if that’s your fancy. and it obviously doubles well with rossellini’s film too. leaud can do no wrong etc.

Rumble Fish (Coppola, 1983): had no idea what this was gonna be like going into it, and nobody really thought to call this Tetro 0.5? man, film criticism is a dead art. anywho, some beautiful vignettes, generally up to snuff with his other great-not-masterpiece tier work. the central visual motif/metaphor here is surprisingly well-done even if it seemed like slam poetry at first.

Cyberella: Forbidden Passions (Garth, 1996): remi’s extremely good at finding these giga-obscure SOV/genre/no budget/sleazecore type films that end up becoming favorites for me. this is among the best of those types; 90s softcore about the afterlife and learning that sometimes the most difficult thing to do as a woman is being able to demand more for yourself from misogynists. the dredges of being a manic pixie dream girl, set to dialogue that would sound corny in a sega commercial. masterpiece because of it though.

Up, Down, Fragile (Rivette, 1995): it comes off to me as a minor rivette in the way that, idk, Love on the Ground does (or that Secret defense doesn’t). good thing jacques is incapable of making bad movies, or even movies less than really good in most cases. pacing god.

La flor (Llinas, 2018): the best film of the last 5 years for my money. i was impossibly hyped for this movie and my hype still couldn’t have prepared me for how much i unabashedly adored this mammoth feature. it’s always fresh, funny, entertaining, inventive – this is really just what the movies were made for. reminds me of that jimmy neutron episode where he engineers the perfect movie – this one’s got like everything in it i could ever want. lifetime subscriber to the church of llinas.

Chain (Cohen, 2004): while its aesthetics only touch the vaporwave movement, the influences seem very akin to that aesthetic, and the notion of late capitalism swirling together the entire working class into this depressed day-to-day “there has to be more to life than this” is done beautifully. makes me interested in what else cohen has to offer. great fake-doc feel as well, legitimately thought it was a real documentary for most of the time (though i suspect a lot of it is very true to life).

Esophagus (Fotopolous, 2004): not a genre you hear of everyday, this fotopolous flick combines noisy soundscapes, lo-fi digital, and repetitive sequences into this scifi-horror-experimental fusion. works perhaps a bit better in concept than in execution at times but there are moments that are beautiful and moments that are horrifying and it’s paced well for an outing of this nature.

The Secret Garden (Solomon, 1988): i saw several solomon shorts at a screening and they were all good to varying degrees but this was the biggest highlight. something so nostalgic and primal about it, especially in the like subtitled dialogue that was extra zoomed in with almost a christmas-y filter going on. would love to see this one again soon!

The Black Tower (Smith, 1987): structuralist horror of sorts but still lighthearted enough to not feel like it’s too tryhard-y. great stuff, fun little picture. go watch it on youtube it’s just a short!

The Sticky Fingers of Time (Brougher, 1997): the poster and name had me thinking this was gonna be some like lighter campy scifi when in reality it was quite funny but in a sort of rivette way, there’s a humor to it that sort of extends in unusual directions. i always like scifi concepts even when it’s just the same type of time travel, this one has a great allegory for it, and the pacing is on-point for the majority of the runtime. cool little gem for sure.

thoughts on animation

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been meaning to make a post like this for a while and i’m only now getting around to it. but here we are, the dreaded animation discussion. in this post i’ll attempt to lay out my philosophy for my approach to animation as a tool in film, its limitations, and what i believe is pushing the medium forward.

i’ll start this off with a perhaps-needed disclaimer, which is that i fully believe animation to be capable of the heights of live-action film. if anything, mixed media formats are going to have an even more important role in time as technology to utilize either one (and, thus, synthesize them) will see an uptick, and socialized filmmaking has always been a good thing. there are already concrete examples now, of which i’ll list ten, of films that i believe utilize animation to a progressive degree that i don’t believe can be done with live action.

this isn’t the same as saying something would be different if made in live action or that it couldn’t be done or what-have-you, although this is probably true as well, but rather that these films advance the medium of animation (and greatly heighten my rather meager opinion of it). this could be from their juxtaposition with live-action, their style lending to a more substantial thesis on behalf of the film at large, an important thematic role for the animation to begin with, or excel at making animation look aesthetically pleasing or immersive in some way.

these are…

Wax or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees by david blair

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Persepolis by vincent paronnaud and marjane satrapi

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Waltz with Bashir by ari folman

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*Corpus Callosum by michael snow

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After Last Season by mark region

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Avatar by james cameron

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It’s Such a Beautiful Day by don hertzfeldtimages-w1400

12 oz. Mouse by matt maiellaro

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Dog Star Man by stan brakhage (among others)

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and Tower by keith maitland.

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these are not necessarily the animated films that i believe are best (calling some of these animated is dubious at best anyways), but rather ones that actively give me encouragement that the medium isn’t entirely dead. these are films which meaningfully utilize the plasticity, variation, and contrasts that animation has the capacity for, and don’t settle for merely drawing cartoons that could end up being compelling or not depending on if the screenwriting is.

while i don’t want to get too exhaustive with this list, i do want to at least briefly illustrate what i mean when i speak of this sort of progressive-ness. there are many ways a film can be aesthetically progressive. eisenstein famously spoke about the plasticity of early disney, in a sort of childlike adoration for the new capability of cinema. this is something which has surely happened to many of us over time – seeing something brand new which just totally knocks us back – but i believe this initial hype must inevitably be answered with some form of payoff. childlike wonder is an interesting concept to build a film around, but variation in themes and tones is something i tend to value above an exclusive approach.

obviously, you say, not all animation is about this sense of childlike wonder. but i do have to question this to some extent. due to the way that our cultural zeitgeist has been set up, there are inherently different visceral reactions one gets depending on the media they consume. as a child, one who either prefers live action or animation, seeing the “other” medium will trigger a desire to return the more recognizable, comfortable, soothing one. these notions have the potential to become cornerstones of their developmental taste, which progresses into adolescence and some people just never seem to really move on past there. the way that our culture is set up, though, is that there will always be that innate sense of wonder based somewhat on comforting nostalgia that i think surrounds our reactions to seeing animation as opposed to live action.

this is psychology 101, surely, but i need to address the “childlike” aspects of animation. the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of animation is tailored towards young audiences. this shouldn’t stop us, however, for there is countless animation out there which isn’t (predominantly) going for that age group (and for the revisionists who sincerely believe something like The Incredibles is part of that group, well, stop reading now i guess). so what’s the problem?

i think these two somewhat self-evident truths coalesce into my general theory of animation, which is that it attempts to humanize adolescent tastes – be those by the people who created the film, or the viewer. i understand that this is culturally not true everywhere and that the rep of animation largely depends on your habitat, but from my western perspective it stands to reason that this call to animation is, at its core, a call to nostalgia, to going back. this medium which is capable of the infinities allotted by your HDTV screen, customizing each and every one of the 4096 lines that show up there, has its primary appeal relegated subconsciously towards a longing for simplicity. as a viewer, it’s something i have little to no interest in. the only animated film which moves me in this way is My Neighbor Totoro, which is an all-timer for me and sort of makes anything going for this broad type of appeal irrelevant for my personal viewing.

there are other sorts of appeals that one can have, though, but i have rather dismal views of those as well. lots of animation goes for cheap psychedelia or attempts to utilize the plasticity of the medium to create surrealism, a concept that surely blew the mind of sergei eisenstein 80 years ago, but has long become tired and only interesting in contrast with other cinematic elements, not as a lone goal.

the films that i’ve mentioned above are films that, while they may flirt with these notions, approach them from an ironic distance or contrast them to a reasonable extent such that the final product is one of subversion rather than strict adherence to a nostalgic beckoning.

one such example of subversion is Persepolis. in this work, the ironic distancing is achieved by the non-realistic style; the heightened, childlike proportions and view of the world that the protagonist encounters are meaningfully portrayed in a film about learning from these experiences and ultimately rejecting many of them. in a feminist move, it employs the stance of criticizing not necessarily your own past, but the world that you have matured from, that which you no longer feel like you belong to. this form of rebellion is successfully shown alongside a medium which we subconsciously relate to our adolescence.

satrapi’s usage of minimalism in the animation of Persepolis grants it a more universal appeal, de-colorizing the world and even the people so as to not have the viewer be overloaded on specifics and more interested in the ideas and feelings that her character has. while there was surely a massive amount of time that went into the production of Persepolis, the movie’s stripped down style and aesthetics acts as a counterbalance to this – it is a film where your self-insertion is encouraged because it is a film that wants you to accept, on some level, a rejection of your past. the narrative engine in coming-of-age films being maturity is facilitated through these contrasts in intelligent ways here.

the limitation to satrapi’s approach is that the film is devoid of the catalyst for most narrative payoff: faces, glances, gestures. her minimal approach doesn’t even attempt to reconcile this – sure, characters are created with generally acceptable human proportions, but the distancing effect is ever-present. while we may self-insert as marjane, we never feel as though this is our world, these are our friends, that this is truly happening in a concrete sense; it’s purely in the cinematic that the catharsis in Persepolis lives.

to some extent, all of the films i’ve listed here are like this. the only two you could really make a case against would be Avatar – which is really just the cinema of attractions for the modern era – and Waltz with Bashir – whose central themes of PTSD and trauma meaningfully climax in a switch to live action, a pivot which far too many animated films are afraid to utilize.

the rest of the films i’ve selected are ones which accept the irreality of the animated world and, in their own way of minimalism, maximilze the brechtian distancing effect that’s possible with pictures. you can self-insert as a stick figure, but you will never believe the stick figure is truly you or having your experiences – the goals of these films are entirely different to both most of the animated canon (constantly attempting to live up to the best of live action or utilizing century old plasticity) and the live action (which oftentimes is focused on verite in some fashion).

many of these films acknowledge the differences between the two media and utilize their respective aspects properly. in It’s Such a Beautiful Day, the live-action bits bring us from self-insertion to the potential of that stick figure really being us, the bridge from sympathy to empathy. in After Last Season, the animated segments serve as a contrast to the sterile, artificial environments – they provide childlike wonder and bafflement in a world that appears clinical and cold for most of the time. even when there are murders and ghosts afoot in this world, in some ways, it is more acceptable than the reality of live action.

for me, the existence of plasticity is only a small fraction of the appeal to animation. it’s something which can give it purpose at times, but reliance on it simply exposes us to tired surrealism. the existence of animation’s irreality can doom it to preying on nostalgia that i have no interest in digging up again. these two engines are those which seem to be the ones that continue to drive animated works forward; the canon is filled with them. this is my primary issue with animation – where there are boundless possibilities, there is boundless laziness. a desire to keep returning to the same roots and choices that past masters have done, with little to build upon them in the form of meaningful analysis or recontextualization.

so much of animation is painfully, painfully limited in what it attempts to do. there is no rhyme or reason to the creative choices made – and i don’t mean which color signifies what or analysis of this sort, but more decisions on entire media – why is something animated instead of just shot normally? budgetary constraints are usually not the issue. even as large of an advocate for 3D as i am, i am still in the stage of requiring some method to the madness when it comes to using that as a device.

i’ll conclude by saying that plasticity’s modern counterpart is almost surely the avant-garde (brakhage and snow have more meaningfully contributed to the notion of physically malleable cinema than any studio has in the last 50 years) and that there is hope for animation yet. i just wish there was more to the canon than what we currently have.

the erik reeds guide to becoming a patrician: part 3 (“branch out”)

the foreboding laugh react when you post your top 4. the unnerving silence of the comments. maybe a sympathetic “I love Drive!” in the comments, coupled only by a “bro you just posted cringe!” reaction image shortly after. you’ve made a fool of yourself online for your taste, something you’ve put hundreds of hours into. where do you go from here? how will you ever recover?

there are, fundamentally, two paths you can take. if you’re experiencing this phenomenon for the first time. you can continue to see stuff your coworkers know the names of, blissfully trekking on in your endless swaths of multi-million dollar products, maybe even take up funko pop collecting on the side. while i think this is a terrible decision, ultimately, you are you. you’ll face scorn from people no matter what your hobbies are.

this is, unfortunately, not a series on how to be a pleb for the rest of your life though. anyone can do that – maybe i’ll do it on how i’ve yet to expand my tastes in music for the 22 years i’ve been on this planet. this series assumes that you’ve taken the second path. you’re determined to do better than this. you want people online whose names you can’t pronounce to admire and fawn over your every letterboxd entry and the friends and family you’ve had all your life to awkwardly make small-talk with you when they try to merely mention the word “movies” in your presence. in short, you want to be a patrician.

i’ve already covered the basics of this in my other two “patrician” posts in terms of the social aspect (tl;dr make friends who understand your tastes as opposed to algorithms that try to predict them) and the physical ones (tl;dr SEED YOUR TORRENTS) to becoming a patrician, but i think that some people might miss the “why?” aspect of it. i’ve clearly been a bit light-hearted about this above because i need to contrast how one might perceive the art of becoming cultured. a descent into film-dom might be romanticized in media as seeing the classics and crying to Schindler’s List, but the reality is that the exciting part of it is finding yourself, finding some hidden gem that nobody’s heard of, that kind of a deal. and while many of the canon flicks will understandably astound you with how great they are, many of them will also underwhelm you. that’s the nature of the game.

so why would you ever choose this time-consuming, antisocial habit? all for the name of some dopamine hits online and some street cred when you shill some forgotten fassbinder movie?

partially yes, though i think there is more. the primary issue i see with being a “basic” viewer is that you’re much more susceptible to burnout. it makes sense, you know; there is practically an infinite amount of rainer kohlbergers, jon josts, and kiyoshi kurosawas out there – not to say that these filmmakers are anything but singular, just that there are filmmakers with directly similar appeal to these sorts. for as long as i’ve been watching 200-300 movies a year, i’ve always been able to find stuff that interests me and new corners to explore – mostly due to the new discoveries i’d made just a few months prior. i have no earthly idea what cinematic obsession i’ll have in a year – a director, a movement, a genre, etc.

for the blissful path, there are only so many edgar wrights, 70s coppolas, and steven spielbergs. sure, these directors have all made some great films – however, if your palette is only extended to such creators who operate on budgets like this, then you’re going to be physically limited by the market already. though we may joke about how marvel has taken over the industry (which financially is true: boycott disney and all that), in reality, if all you watch are superhero movies, your pool is pretty shallow at the end of the day. even today, you can manage what like, 6 movies to get excited about per year? 8? rookie numbers.

if movies are a part time curiosity to you, it’s not a big deal. people burn out of their part time interests all of the time to mutually beneficial ends; it’s happened to me, anyways. so many people these days, however, seem to lack a passion. they lack something they can really dig into and get obsessed over. they kinda meander through a number of “easy” fields – video games, netflix, budget fashion – but never get super deep into any of them.

that’s always a concern on my end. it pains me to see or hear about individuals that seemingly have no direction or obsession or something of this sort, as if these short term gratifications are all they have to live on. so although i mock the patrician crowd for that dopamine craving on letterboxd, i don’t see it as being very different from the hit that people who aren’t living fulfilling, passionate lives get when they watch Shaun of the Dead for the 7th time, thinking silently to themselves that it seems just a bit worse this go around than the 6th.

i know that it’s possible for me to burn out on movies someday – it’s possible for anyone. i don’t think it’s possible that the mentality i have about movies is going to let me do that though, so unless that changes, i’ll pretty much always have an active interest in them. there is just so much out there that i’d love to see, and that’s only 2019 erik reeds. 2020 erik reeds will have even more he wants to see, in spite of having seen more of the stuff that 2019 erik reeds wanted to see, and 2021 erik reeds will want to see even more than the 2020 one and so on and so forth. it takes 100 minutes to watch a movie, but only a few seconds to add it to my watchlist.

so the “broaden your horizons” accompanied with some other mocking comments, in addition to being a way for patricians to finally flex their e-peens, is something that could genuinely assist you in the long run. there are a lot of things to love in this life, but if you’re going to go with movies, why not go about them in a way that’s rewarding over time AND gratifying now? are you really missing out from those small talks at family reunions about the last disney HD remaster?