thoughts on animation

brakhage-dante-quartet_550x238-detail-main

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

wax anim

Persepolis by vincent paronnaud and marjane satrapi

Persepolis_The_Story_of_a_Childhood_(Persepolis_1-2)_1531317056

Waltz with Bashir by ari folman

WaltzWithBashir_Winter2009

*Corpus Callosum by michael snow

Corpus-Callosum

After Last Season by mark region

880c7b_1213480c363342ebb31003caa79c79fa_mv2

Avatar by james cameron

Hell's_Gate_HD.png

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

12 oz. Mouse by matt maiellaro

hqdefault

Dog Star Man by stan brakhage (among others)

MV5BOTc3NGY1M2YtNWUyMy00YzA5LWIzMzMtMzU4OTk3ZTg2MTVmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzU3NTk0NjA@._V1_

and Tower by keith maitland.

tower

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.

Advertisements

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?

the erik reeds guide to becoming a patrician: part 2 (equipment)

we’re living in the 21st century, doin something mean to it (by that, i mean hotboxing outside of dennys at 2am). i mentioned in part 1 of this series that the modern world of cinema has many concrete advantages, the primary ones being that there are more restorations than ever, and that there are more ways to build connections than ever. well that’s awesome, it’s great, but how do we take advantage of this new tech?

the first thing i would recommend is, if you’re just really really new to this stuff, getting a program to play movie files. the primary thing you need here is something that has good subtitle capabilities. i’ve used VLC for years and i also use MPC as well when i have issues with that one. they have pretty good documentation online for whatever you may need with them, but if you’re just casually watching movies then there shouldn’t be any fancy tricks you have to pull off most of the time.

so where do we go to get the movie files, now that we can play them?

if you’re not on any private trackers already, i recommend asia torrents and cinemaz. they have open registration sometimes, usually during the summer, so be on the lookout then. it’s great to have a resource like this because it allows you to request films you may be looking for.

the regular torrent sites are a great resource. openload and novamov as you see fit. another excellent resource is hawkmenblues. i’ve linked to the site index with directors whose name starts with “j” but just change the url to go to the appropriate director you want. this is an excellent resource – don’t let the sketchy links put you off. most of the canon is available for free here. note that the films require a password to unzip, but the password is always available on the site so just type it in to unzip everything.

you also have rarelust, which is great for more obscure gems, ubu, which is great for older avant-garde stuff, festivalscope, which is cool for random new festival stuff, mubi, which gives you a great small selection for a low price (free for students), kanopy, which gives you a huge selection and can be used with a library card, tao films, which is a hub for slow cinema, and the various mainstream streaming platforms that all have noteworthy films on them.

again, making friends is going to be another great way that you can expand your resources. maybe someone has a karagarga account and can hit you up with some r bruce elder films. maybe you  have an asia torrents and can hook your buddy up with the extended cut of Love Exposure.

some additional tips/tricks:

-seed your torrents if you’re on a private tracker, like, obviously. seed your torrents that don’t have a lot of seeders already. self-explanatory, but a lot of people just delete.

-VPNs are good, but i haven’t done much research into em for a while. research them on your own time – a lot of ISPs don’t care if you’re torrenting phil solomon films or what-have-you, but if yours does, there are relatively easy ways around it. just don’t go for brand new stuff unless you’re using a VPN – you can sometimes find those more new mainstream stuff on sites like openload anyways though.

-remember to always google search for english subtitles if you can’t find them – if you have one of the video players i downloaded, you can easily patch them to the movie afterwards. it won’t always work, but it’s generally a good try.

-maintaining your ratio on any private tracker can be difficult, but it’s difficult for everyone the first time around. read the rules carefully as they’re all different. the most important thing is to let everything seed until you start uploading past your initial download – pretty much every site is going to be cool with you if you do that. don’t just delete it after a couple days of it not uploading at all – this is common. some of my torrents take weeks to get any traction.

-share your stuff. if you’re shilling some sick film from an unknown director, put it on youtube! mega! google drive! let people have a way to see it if it’s not otherwise readily available. if you were passed something, make sure that you have permission to pass it around too, and respect that person’s wishes. everything becomes available within a couple of years after you hear about it, and even if it doesn’t, there’s plenty else out there for you to watch.

-although many films that you scour the net for are out of print or otherwise unavailable, a good deal of them are up for purchase by their directors. if you’re financially equipped, i highly recommend using your movie allowances in this way; you’re directly supporting the artist in exchange for their film, all using the world wide web. most of them don’t charge inordinate prices for their films or anything, so it’s not a huge commitment. plus, in many cases, the director will be happy to interact with a potential fan!

-many of these sites have features, like movie of the day or lists with a lot of movies available on the site of a certain theme, etc. if you’re unsure of what to watch for the day, check out some of those – can’t hurt!

-the sites i provided are just what i’ve gotten the most use out of. explore for yourself for alternatives – and feel free to tell me about them too. all about helping each other in this world.

the erik reeds guide to becoming a patrician: part 1 (“how do you find out about these movies?”)

hello everyone. i’m planning this as a series of posts to attempt to educate people into how they can get deeper into film, with a heavy emphasis on the practical methods, the new tools at our disposal, and finding ways to enrich your general cinephilia.

as many know, i’ve spent far too much time on movie forums and in movie spaces online. most of this time i’ve regretted in some way, but i guess i have gleaned some good things from it over the years. people often ask me variants of the question in the title: just how do you even find out about most of the stuff you watch? the answer to this sort of question depends on who’s asking it, but since i presume the readerbase here is going to be tech-savvy budding movie-lovers, i’ll try to address it in a way that’s most beneficial.

my go-to recommendation for someone who i don’t particularly get an “artsy” vibe from is generally the imdb top 250 (is it still at 250 now?). over the years, of course, its usefulness has run its course on my end, but it remains a nice list for having immediate access to entry-level filmbro stuff. someone who sees 200 movies on there will likely not be very refined in their tastes, but they can begin to grow the seeds of what exactly they want to get out of their movie watching experience. and it’s also an initial time commitment too; if you can’t get through films like Batman Begins and Se7en, i struggle to think of where else you can go that would be rewarding at that point.

i’ll harp on this quite a bit in this post but i can’t stress the importance of finding your own identity when it comes to your viewing habits. we all have generally the same lists to look at – the letterboxd top 250, they shoot pictures top 1000, sight and sound’s top 250, etc. not everyone is going to end up seeing all of those movies though. me personally, i wanted to complete the TSPDT list by the time i was 25, that was around what i estimated when i was 16 or 17. this is now a feat that i could easily do with my consumption averages, but my desire to see the last 200 some odd movies on the list by now has dissipated more and more. i just can’t see myself ever wanting to endure more bunuel films if i don’t absolutely have to.

but the cool thing about movies is that you’re rarely forced to do these things. movie culture as a whole doesn’t really have a stigma against people who haven’t completed lists or anything; i doubt the people whose opinions i respect the most care at all about their progress on the sight and sound lists. so are these lists useless, if they are rarely ever completed?

certainly not! lists like these offer homogenized perspectives that are great as diving-off points. after you’ve sped through the various bergmans, ozus, and godards on lists like these, you’ll likely begin to get to a point of where you can broadly identify what types of movies you like and what types you don’t.

i’ve mentioned elsewhere that i’m fundamentally against the notion of needing to be “open-minded” when it comes to art, especially in an information era where we have access to tens of thousands of films at any given time. the idea that you need to continually reinforce your negative preferences in some sort of (usually futile) need to expand your horizons is something that can be done with more enjoyment if one simply continues to explore by watching movies they believe they’ll actually like. if you’re watching over 200 movies a year, odds are that you’re probably broadening your horizons plenty; how much you want to get out of that comfort zone is up to you, but as someone who almost exclusively stays in theirs, i wouldn’t say it needs to be demonized much.

at the end of the day, everyone takes risks with their viewing habits. i never really know if i’m going to like something when i begin watching it, but i would almost always prefer to like it. i’ve seen plenty of bad movies on accident to the point of where i wouldn’t want to watch them on purpose. but enough on this.

when you begin to develop your identity (this could be based around a myriad of topics and themes, such as: musicals, political films, silents, ensemble works, classic hollywood, new bollywood, experimental film, etc.), this is where your viewing habits are going to begin to diverge from something that people can really give you a flowchart or a generalized list for. you’re not some algorithm, you’re you! you have opinions! dreams! desires! you can’t possibly stomach another werner herzog movie, and you’re dying to see more things like The Wind! another canon list can only “help” so much (by help, i mean: allow you to discover or become interested in things you weren’t before).

this is where the social element to movie watching gets important, and, along with the obvious easy access to kazillions of movies, one of the primary benefits i think of when i examine how the internet era benefits film fans. i’ve joked before about how i don’t care about quality because i “grew up in the early 2010s as a rivette fan.” i have a dvd of Out 1 Spectre i bought off of a bootleg website that is the movie recorded off of a camcorder recording a TV playing the film which was recorded onto tape in the wrong aspect ratio with italian hardcode subs. nowadays, you can find this film readily available online, in pristine quality.

when i first saw A Brighter Summer Day four years ago, it was off of a dark, hazy laserdisc recording that had become widely available to potential viewers. just recently i watched the 50 gig blu ray rip of it from criterion and almost couldn’t believe my eyes at the difference.

point is, i haven’t really even been in the game that long comparatively. though Out 1 being on netflix is always going to top the list of things that “never would have happened in my days,” there are countless restoration miracles like this happening year by year. every time criterion restores a batch of films, i normally don’t care about most of them, but i usually care about one or two, and down the road i’ll probably care for a few more, and the list of films to watch just expands more and more at an exponential rate.

but even these incredible advances are somewhat meager in comparison to how much interacting with other people can aid you in venturing out in the film world more. because, the truth is, if i didn’t have people recommending me stuff or rating it 4.5 on letterboxd or what-have-you, all the criterions and arrow videos and kino lorbers in the world wouldn’t matter – i wouldn’t have any idea of where to start. the most important thing you can do for your film viewership after you’ve begun to see what you do and don’t like is: find people who agree with you! you’ll find plenty that don’t, but there are always going to be film fans that have those same hot takes and goals for their film viewership like you do.

growing up in rural texas, there wasn’t really anybody in my day to day that i could say was realistically watching films in the same wavelength as me. this isn’t a bad thing, but it’s something that many people are likely to encounter. they go into their film class and feel just a complete lack of connection with anyone. they go to a kalatozov screening and shudder at the boomers complaining about it exiting the theater. for a lot of people out there, there really is nobody that can help guide you on your journey.

that’s where the net comes in though. first thing’s first: make a letterboxd. find reviewers you like – oftentimes i go to films i like with not a lot of views and see people who liked them and check out what else they’re into. comment on stuff. review everything you see – even if it’s just 2 or 3 words, put something on there, because other people are going to be doing this too. we go on social media (especially for interests) to gain something, people like seeing your thoughts on movies if they trust your taste or value your insight. comment on other peoples’ lists and reviews, get a sense of everybody’s taste, as this might be how you find your own more.

i’ve often been disappointed when i try to find IRL film groups because the people who happen to live within a few miles from me are likely not some of the few hundred people in the world i feel really connected with on a cinematic level, but with the net at your disposal, there’s no such thing. i know people with extremely idiosyncratic tastes; 80s action films and structuralist shorts and jesus franco joints. there’s always going to be a way to find like-minded individuals on websites where everyone’s ratings and rants are publicly available.

it isn’t just letterboxd; scour the whole net for these people if you don’t feel like that site provides you with enough. i spent a year on r/movies largely as a test of this very theory, and, surprise surprise, i met some people that i genuinely clicked with pretty well. there are always going to be some people that you can connect with, and this increases as you find yourself. if you don’t know what you’re looking for in movies, other people can only help you so much.

that’s…pretty much all the advice i can give here. i don’t know everyone, i can’t reasonably vibe with everybody’s sensibilities. people educated in film may have tastes that are just antithetical to what i search for in film. this is just part of the process though, because there are so many people who have similar tastes as me that have helped me discover things i didn’t know about or wasn’t as educated on.

you may have complaint here with how i’ve set this up as “find people that are exactly like you,” but that’s not the case. nobody is exactly like you. the people that i follow on letterboxd and get recommendations from and read academic reviews from are from various backgrounds that we have overlap on but i still have huge differences with. one of my friends is huge on shorter, more transcendent abstract avant-garde films. one of my friends is big on no-budget SOV horrors or romances or other such genre flicks. other are big on political films. others are big on vulgar auteurism. some are just the “classical” TSPDT enthusiast types whose favorites from those circles align with my tastes. some of them are populists that i consider to look at films in a progressive or intelligent way. but that’s just me and my own circles; you yourself are going to find your friends, your admirers, the people that you’ll go on to stan.

but we all have to do the grunt work. at least try to go through some of the canon lists, unless you have other lists that you’re going to use instead (which is fine too!). engage with people and get recs based on your taste. some people can jump entirely into the deep end and binge lav diaz but most people aren’t wired for that. take it slow. watch the normie stuff, when you’re done with that, you can work your way into the more difficult material on the sights and sounds or they shoot the pictures or those sorts. don’t just watch mindlessly! you’re going to watch Jules et Jim or something and think “wow this is absolutely terrible, do i just have bad taste?” and the answer to that is: maybe, but maybe someone else will have bad taste too. and it’s up to you to find them.

gems of may and june

was kinda busy at the end of last month so here we are. mostly newer stuff!

Bitter Lake (Curtis, 2015) is my second feature-length curtis outing, and although its ambitions are surely short from the theory-of-everything scope of Hypernormalisation, it perhaps serves as a better pastiche of more direct essay film tactics, complete with coherent theses and beautiful archival footage/soundtrack combos. curtis has already with these two films made himself interesting enough to me to want to continue seeking out his work whenever i get bored with narratives in some regard.

Retribution (Kurosawa, 2006), while it doesn’t give me the body high that Pulse does by any means, has some distinct traces of that one’s emptiness and godless landscapes. i really enjoy when kurosawa can effectively communicate these guilty-feeling stories, and while he falls short in many of his outings, i think this one is one of the more successful ones.

Last Days in a Lonely Place (Solomon, 2007) and Rehearsals for Retirement (Solomon, 2007) are two shorts that take place within the GTA universe, mostly focused on landscapes or actionless roaming. alongside the music, and bereft of a lot of tryhard-y aesthetic choices that i believe younger filmmakers would resort to, they become moving mini-monologues, elegies to an open-worldness that was new to an old director.

Rose Gold (Cwynar, 2017) is the closest thing i’ve seen to successfully replicating mid 60s godard, which is a case of quantity over quality unfortunately so maybe not the highest praise, but it’s a fun outing that is equal parts decadence and light commentary, one that becomes touching by the time its brisk runtime has concluded.

Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine in Daehakroh (Ki-woong, 2000) is, like, a dream SOV film. runs no longer than 61 minutes, with 10 of those inexplicably being credits. great bad SFX. overloaded with cheese in the most tasteful way – there’s a bit towards the end that’s one of the best examples of comic timing i’ve seen in any film, let alone some sort of genre excess as this creation. would like to see more, but this definitely feels like something you make and declare it your masterpiece.

The Forest for the Trees (Ade, 2003) reminded me of 90s era von trier in many ways, a kind of ode to when these depressing germanic arthouse flicks weren’t quite as doused in self-seriousness and allowed themselves to succeed as comedic when they dared to. anywho, the film itself is great – ade’s progression from this to Erdmann makes me question the middleman in more ways than one, but it’s a mark of consistency no doubt that she’s able to create such distinct works that are, at the end of the day, relatively simple dramedies. i dig the style on this one more, anyways.

Forevermore: Biography of a Leach Lord (Saks, 1989) is a somewhat difficult to describe film that has traces of essay film ambitions, conspiracy theory tones, and indie scifi aesthetic goals. i don’t entirely remember enough about it to really give much of an opinion on how it addresses and renders those divergent influences, but anytime a work attempts that sort of a fusion, it’s worth checking out for me.

Introduction to the End of an Argument (Salloum & Suleiman, 1990) would make a great double viewing with some adam curtis flick, or something like Notre musique if that’s more your vibe. there’s a review that says that it isn’t super deep or anything (probably true) but it is well made (very true), and that’s about all i can really ask for sometimes. not many deep films out there. free palestine and all that.

Welcome to New York (Ferrara, 2014) is a shocking, gruesome affair from one of the all-time greats in the medium. the bitterness in it towards its protagonist and the fervor it retains throughout its entire two hour runtime is nothing short of incendiary, a mammoth achievement that lesser directors often ham up or underplay at critical times. basically: if The Wolf of Wall Street was good, Welcome to New York is a masterpiece.

1857 (Fool’s Gold) (Elder, 1981) continues me on my goal to complete The Book of All the Dead with a bang; just as i was beginning to lose faith in elder’s capabilities past his now increasingly insurmountable Lamentations, along comes this peculiar short film to raise my expectations again. the best way i can describe it? Leviathan with a penchant for written poetry and set theory. again, the most intuitive combinations are rarely the best, as are the least intuitive, but at least those least intuitive ones have the advent of persistent interest behind them.

Candyman (Rose, 1992) is a solid with a capital ‘s’ horror film elevated to great with a lowercase ‘g’ in large part due to the lovely score by the ever-inconsistent glass, whose laziness ended up working out quite well here. while it unfortunately lacks anything that i would really call a standout, it’s not a must see or anything, it’s an effective horror that rarely lets up and explores some cool thematic ground and the direction is generally solid.

The Seasons (Makino, 2008) shows some of makino’s palette range that i wasn’t quite aware that he had even dabbled in (though the most that any of us have seen is like 1/4th of his filmography so i guess it’s good to avoid hasty conclusions) and i think that his textures are up to snuff with his masterpieces here, but it isn’t -quite- on that same level as his greatest work, perhaps because it lacks that aural haymaker that Still in Cosmos has, or the aesthetic progressiveness that 2012 oozes. but as a primer for what else he could do (and has matched several times over), it gets me excited for what makino we’ll get next online (Generator, anyone?).

Rangeela (Varma, 1995) is one of the few bollywood joints i’ve checked so far in my 22 years, but like the others it’s encouraged me to see more. adore the colors and the music in this, which was expected based on the raves i saw, but i more was moved by the romance. it’s a simple idea – make the romance based on understanding characters that have believable character flaws and reconciliations, but it’s effectiveness exponentiates when placed in this sort of kaleidoscope.

Ali (Mann, 2001) should have been about ten, maybe 20 times, longer. as it stands, we get an all-too-brisk rise-fall-kind-of-rise biopic about a figure more complicated than this complex film can hope to address, though mann fills in the gaps with some iconic fight choreography and the film has traces of the digital heaven he would go on to perfect.

Unhinged (Gronquist, 1982) falls into an ever-increasing list of “horror movies that bring into question why they exist at all,” and luckily this one’s one of the good ones. some believable drama and acting, every synthesizer that i have on FL studio, and some bouts into absolutely terribly choreographed gore is a combination i don’t think i could ever expect, and i think i’ve made it clear how much of a soft spot i have for these sorts of uncanny juxtapositions.

The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 2: Vaux to the Sea (Greenaway, 2004) excites me more than the first film in the trilogy for a pretty simple reason: with the possible exception of The Falls (i say “possible” because that film is so ridiculously exhaustive not exhausting, and bereft of head-scratching distancing effects) greenaway is a filmmaker whose moments of purely emotional drama elevate the baroque tales that his films display. the best moments of Prospero’s Books, A Zed and Two Noughts, and, as we see, the first two Tulse Luper films, are those wherein the overboard narrative-obfuscation is allowed to be reeled back to the ship a bit. this has more reeling than part 1, so it’s more to my tastes.

Prototype (Williams, 2017) is some of the most exciting new cinema i’ve seen in ages. obviously, the 3d is a big aspect, but even beyond that, this attempt to utilize found footage and archival media as a plot device in the form of an experimental science fiction essay film is just such a cool concept and i believe that this is already among the best in the small “noise film” category (think things like Night Awake, projects that ordinarily are more successful outside of feature length territory). along with King of New York, the only new masterpiece i saw in these two months.

gems of march-april

One From the Heart (Coppola, 1982): coppola’s best film or coppola’s best film? man what kinda glorious maximal vibe was he on when he did this? and it’s not just in the aesthetics, though those are all-time worthy, but also in the dialogue, the structure of the film. it’s obviously a big homage to the zaniness of technicolor musicals, but even the bizarre decisions the characters make particularly at the end is fully in that mold – a lesser director could have succumbed to revisionism over maximalism.

Nuestro Tiempo (Reygadas, 2018): a film i had been looking forward to for quite some time now, reygadas delivers with what i believe to be his 2nd greatest film (behind the towering Battle in Heaven). i love when great directors are just able to make free-form films that can indulge in their runtime to this degree; i surely could have watched another 3 or 6 hours of a film of this caliber, and reygadas’ eye for great shots and harsh drama has never been more particular. slowly solidifying himself in a pantheon of sorts.

Last Chants for a Slow Dance (Jost, 1977): a jost film to the core, and while it doesn’t hit as hard as a few other films i would describe that way, it’s still magical filmmaking; the stuff amateurs attempt and get points for trying. i think his option to go for a less sympathetic protagonist here is an interesting one, and despite its working class roots, i’m not sure that the antihero approach is as good as something like Bell Diamond. great stuff regardless.

Misery Loves Company (Brown, 1993): i think what brown achieves here is similar to what brakhage went for in many of his hybrid pieces. while brakhage’s painted work is kinda unparalleled in my eyes, he sort of could struggle at times like this, outside of like Dog Star Man or Spring Cycle, but brown excels. i haven’t seen anything else from the director but i think his sense of aesthetics and rhythm are both great and i want to check out more.

Odds Against Tomorrow (Wise, 1959): i’ve generally perceived wise to be a competent workman director and this is a general reaffirmation of that belief. he does late noir (which is where noir could get particularly interesting as it ventured into fusion areas), plays it up with some racial commentary, and lets it play out with his usual excellent pacing. great looking stuff especially at the end too.

The Diary of an Unknown Soldier (Watkins, 1959): watkins does eisenstein, maybe better than eisenstein. another “student film you wish you made” type deal, almost pathetically simple concept pulled off in a style that hardly draws attention to itself yet remains compelling the whole time.

It has to be lived once and dreamed twice (Kohlberger, 2019): i wanna rewatch this a couple more times to really absorb what sort of primordial soup it’s dishing out to me, but my semi-immediate thoughts here are that it’s got an aesthetic rhythm that many experimentalists can only dream to achieve and that the writing is great but not quite as great as some make it out to be. if i ever screen Wax, i’ll screen this first.

The Swimmer (Perry, 1968): this was, imo, a really bad time for american cinema because it was trying to play catch up with the rest of the world and transitioning from the classic era to the modern era is never quite easy unless you’re godard but perry makes this beautiful, very visceral/physical feeling work that makes me wonder sometimes. great thing about this one is how it subverts even its own structure, playing around with its episodic ways that it lays out within the preliminary minutes. the direct and biting social commentary is something that i think movies could have used more of and can still do good with today.

Project X (Moltke & Poitras, 2016): speaking of direct biting social commentary, this /x/-core short doc definitely has that. it’s like 10 minutes so just watch it instead of reading me talk about it.

Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company (Godard, 1986): though technically every day i get nearer and nearer to running out of good godard movies, it seems like with every few new ones that i see from him, that endpoint gets further and further away. minor in every sense of the word, this mid 80s production has an almost staggering beauty that i think he attempted in Passion that captures this sort of artistic, economic, and emotional hopelessness that can only come in the eyes of working class people. for that alone, it’s worth checking out for godard enthusiasts.

I Am Keiko (Sono, 1997): wish that every great director would do 1 structuralist film and 1 slasher film. i’m sure sono’s done the latter at some point, but i wouldn’t have pegged him as the structuralist type. the product remains as playful as his other works and as compelling as the decent ones, pretty comfy watch if you’ve got an hour and want to check out a major director.

Kamikaze Taxi (Harada, 1995): almost reminiscent of The Sunchaser as far as plotting goes, harada’s 3 hour yakuza flick is equal parts fun, meditative, and accomplished as a genre outing. really can’t believe that this is so great at doing so many things that directors so often stumble to achieve, but this harada dude (who i hadn’t heard of previously) manages in flying colors. something that feels like a comfort film in the making.

The Element of Crime (von Trier, 1984): this is the I Know Who Killed Me of lars’ filmo because it’s like 100 movies i know put together but it’s totally a unique thing by the end of it. beautiful to behold and i didn’t even know he had a visual palette this well refined (which explains The Kingdom by extension).

Lady Terminator (Djalil, 1989): a Terminator ripoff that goes into psychosexual uturns and campier dialogue, in a film that amounts to being a glorious construction of genre, trash, lo-fi greatness. where so many vinegar syndrome core flicks can falter in their technical inadequacies or poor editing decisions, this one revels, spitting out the bone of course. it’s what the movies are all about sometimes.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Gan, 2018): i’m a huge sucker for anything 3d that isn’t a corporate smorgasbord, so obviously i have to love this. this is sort of my form of escapist entertainment; high art, totally trashy meta-noir flick with a bunch of flashy long takes and an extended 3d sequence, all with the appropriate slow pacing and half-turalist dialogue that i’ve come to find comfort in. see it in 3d if you can.

Demons (Matsumoto, 1971): completely unlike his other joint i’ve seen, this is a rather straightforward samurai tale with few stylistic flourishes. this minimalism is what allows matsumoto to bring great effect to when those touches do reveal themselves. early on there is some double-play with imagination, and later on, well, there’s some crazy stuff that sits up there with some of the best cinema i’ve seen all year. wish he did more features.

Keep That Dream Burning (Kohlberger, 2017): makino-lite, but makino-lite is pretty good by my standards.

Duel to the Death (Siu-Tung, 1983): one of those wuxia films that’s able to deftly combine the actual reasons why we watch wuxia films and the reasons that we watch other films, basically something that people who misunderstand genre films often want to make and suck at. works here, though; grueling meditation on nationalism and honor ends up being a work about clout chasing through the ages. recommended if you want to broaden your genre horizons.

Cinema Steve (Buck, 2019): straddles a fine line between self parody and parody, between malicious tomfoolery and harmless satire. makes me excited for what comes next, but hoping this character can die in this great film.

Deafula (Wolf, 1975): after all the dracula movies i’ve seen, it’s the one by the guy who remakes it in sign language to the same style as Manos: The Hands of Fate that sticks with me? crazy stuff, but the film is unironically pretty cool. there’s some eerie uses of shadows and the characters all seem like they’re out of franco movies. last half has some fun imagery and setpieces; surprisingly comfy all in all.

The Zero Years (Nikolaidas, 2005): another surprisingly comfy film, this time about a sex dungeon. yeah. check it out.

gems, december-february

British Sounds (Godard, 1970): as i begin my descent into the world of 70s godard, this featurette composed of primarily sound/image tomfoolery and leftist montage was a great intro. keeps it concise and hard-hitting, with little of the tedium i was expecting given the dire reception of many of these works.

The Sunchaser (Cimino, 1996): while the finale kinda squanders a lot of the back and forth politics of the early scenes, i think it earns a healthy amount of the catharsis it goes for. always interesting takes and the cinematography is capable throughout. not quite a great film but one that makes me more interested in the filmography anyways.

Solidarity (Wieland, 1973): only a few minutes long but all the invigorating content i crave in my inspirational agitprop.

EMBARGO (Lurf, 2014): also only a few minutes long. mysterious and i think it has a fantastic sense of rhythm and pacing. exciting film anyways.

Tales From the Quadead Zone (Turner, 1987): oddly entrancing, experimental, and funny. comes close to being the quintessential video horror and feels surprisingly ahead of its time, appearing more as a mid 90s SOV horror than anything else. well paced and has a nice sense of camp. great gentle watch.

Looking for Langston (Julien, 1989): expressionist portraits of what were, at the time, impressionist portrayals. beautiful stuff.

Picnic on the Grass (Renoir, 1959): i’m kind of up and down on renoir but i love his more relaxed and comfy films like this. it’s just a sort of basic screwball that’s elevated immensely by its score, b-footage, and great pacing. makes me really admire what renoir was able to do with it.

Wall (Ito, 1987): what can i say, ito just makes consistently entertaining and groovy shorts.

Ascension (Hussain, 2002): i had some technical difficulties getting this one to work so i’ll have to hold off on going in depth on it but it’s got a great aesthetic and i love the dialogue.

Working Girls (Borden, 1986): a chamber drama that shifts from camp, satire, leftism, theatrics, and always keeps it fresh and interesting. borden’s quickly becoming a director i love and this sort of synthesis of so many different elements creating a fresh prostitute story is a huge reason why.

The Drivetime (Alli, 1995): while it’s not something i would call a personal favorite, this sort of dotcom era of film that reconciles the possibilities of the net is going to always be interesting to me. sensory overload and i wish it was more coherent but it makes me want to see another alli or two.

Still in Cosmos (Makino, 2009): my only complaint about this is that i couldn’t see it in a higher definition because, wow. this is an overpowering abstract film, makes me want to completely surrender to the breathtaking aura that it imposes on the viewer. makino is like one or two films on this level away from being my favorite avant-garde director.

Love Massacre (Kar-Ming, 1981): again, technical difficulties forbids deeper praise, but the contrast between the antonioni-esque formal aesthetics and the giallo-inspired, well, other stuff, is really interesting to me. kind of reminds me of Blood Beat but not as good.

Ruby in Paradise (Nunez, 1993): too long for being what it is but i think it’s a great slice of life film that never feels to demeaning or sadcore or any of the usual minor tragedies that plague this sort of filmmaking. surprisingly funny at times and, when it decides to veer into the aesthetic side of things, succeeds in strides.

Warsaw Bridge (Portabella, 1990): completely different from the other portabella i saw, this is baroque, maximal, and narrative in a cool way. this kinda reminds me of a more minor greenaway mixed with some elements of tati, which is to say that it’s cool if not something i can call masterful or essential. if piavoli, greenaway, etc are your faves, give it a shot.

Spontaneous Combustion (Hooper, 1990): insane pyrotechnics and, like The Mangler a few years later, has this sense of misery that permeates every frame of the film. looking back on hooper’s filmography, it’s shocking how many of his films deal with americana and different stages of capitalism, first with curiosity, then brutality, finally hopelessness.

At Eternity’s Gate (Schnabel, 2018): very pleasant and comfy and soothing, which is all that i ask for when i watch many slow cinema films. nothing can come close to Edvard Munch when it comes to artist biopics so why bother trying anyways? but this goes for something different and excels.

Vortex (B and B, 1983): want to rewatch it so i can reconcile the plot, influences, and aesthetics better but this really won me over by how bizarre and stylish it is, merging a flurry of genre beats and tempos into an ultimately incredible project start to finish.

Seeking the Monkey King (Jacobs, 2011): i’m not really that interested in jacobs more freewheeling work or his structuralist work and i really wasn’t sure how much else he was doing, but this film definitely has kindled an interest in his other films. trippy, partially soothing and scorning, always unique. glad to see his fire hasn’t been put out from his Star Spangled to Death era.