David Blair’s contribution to the 1996 compilation feature film is pretty out there. The narrator reads a tale of telepathy, invasion, and survival while CGI figures spin across the screen.
DIRECTED BY: James Agee, , Bruce Baillie, Stan Brakhage, James Broughton, Rudy Burckhardt, Mary Ellen Bute, Joseph Cornell, Jim Davis, Maya Deren, Marcel Duchamp (as Rrose Selavy), Emlen Etting, Oskar Fischinger, Robert Florey, Amy Greenfield, Alexander Hammid, Hilary Harris, Hy Hirsh, Ian Hugo, Lawrence Janiak, Lawrence Jordan, Francis Lee, Fernand Léger, Owen Land, Helen Levitt, Jay Leyda, Janice Loeb, Jonas Mekas, Marie Menken, Dudley Murphy, Ted Nemeth, Tom Palazzolo, Bruce Posner, Charles Sheeler, Phil Solomon, Ralph Steiner, Paul Strand, Francis Thompson, Slavko Vorkpich, J.S. Watson Jr., Melville Webber
FEATURING: Too many actors (many amateurs) to list
PLOT: A collection of influential short experimental films spanning five decades.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: To be clear, one of the individual films featured in this compilation (Meshes of the Afternoon) has already made the List. Many of the others are noteworthy, but we deem none quite List-worthy. As a collection, these discs are recommended for weird movie fans and adventurous cinephiles. This is a must-own, cornerstone release for dedicated experimental film devotees.
COMMENTS: Released by silent movie specialists Flicker Alley and curated by director/film historian Bruce Posner, “Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film” is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin—although we might quibble about whether every one of these films is actually a “masterwork,” they are all, at the very least, representative of a major figure or category of experimental film. These shorts, spread out over two DVDs or Blu-rays, are rich and challenging, and may be best experienced in small nibbles, one or two at a time, contemplated over a span of several evenings, accompanied by a fine sipping beverage.
The films are arranged chronologically and although they span the full range of artistic expression, they often fall into several distinct types or subgenres. One of the earliest forms is the “city symphony” (à la 1929’s Man With a Movie Camera), of which the very first film in this collection, “Manhatta,” is an example. In a city symphony the director simply takes his camera into an urban environment (in American film usually New York City) and films what he sees, later arranging the footage into a montage that paints a portrait of the town. There are five or six examples of the form here, and although this can be one of the dullest of formats, Francis Thompson’s 1958 eyebending opus “N.Y., N.Y.,” shot with an array of distorting lenses of the director’s own design, is a notably thrilling exception. Other film types you may notice are the figure study, where the lens focuses on the human body in motion (“9 Variations on a Dance Theme,” “transport,” Maya Deren’s “Meditation on Violence”) and purely abstract films (“1941,” which uses broken light bulbs and wet paint, or Stan Brakage’s “scratch on the emulsion” experiments).
An especially noteworthy subset of these experiments is the music Continue reading CAPSULE: “MASTERWORKS OF AMERICAN AVANT-GARDE EXPERIMENTAL FILM 1920-1970”
The Alloy Orchestra Plays Wild and Weird: Short Film Favorites with New Music
DIRECTED BY: D.W. Griffith, Georges Méliès, , Segundo de Chomón, F. Percy Smith, , Ernest Servaès, Ladislas Starevich, Winsor McKay, , Eddie Cline, Hans Richter
FEATURING: Jack Brawn, Paul Panzer, Ernest Servaès,
PLOT: A compilation of twelve strange, fantastic, and experimental films from the dawn of cinema (spanning the years 1902 to 1926) with new scores for each composed by the Boston-based silent film ensemble “the Alloy Orchestra.”
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This presentation won’t make the List solely on formal grounds, because it’s a compilation. You could make a case for several of the individual shorts, however, on the basis of their historical significance, especially “A Trip to the Moon,” “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend,” “Play House,” or “Filmstudie.”
COMMENTS: Hidden off in a corner of the Movie and Music Network‘s catalog, far away from the exploitation films in a quiet place only the cool kids know about, is an obscure little collection of classic cinema. For the most part the Alloy Orchestra’s selections in this compilation aren’t especially rare, at least to silent cinephiles, but wild and weird they certainly are. From trippy nickelodeon snippets to epic hallucinations, these films hail from a thrilling era when cinema was fresh and every new movie was an adventure in invention.
The Orchestra’s musical accompaniment is excellent and appropriate to the material. It’s mostly classical-ish, with a little bit of tasteful electronic ornamentation, and very rarely does it get avant-garde or dissonant enough to threaten the casual listener’s delicate ears. At times it’s electronic-Baroque, often it’s vibraphone and percussion heavy, with a welcome cameos by musical saws and theremins in some dream sequences. Unfortunately, the digitization used here captured some analog rumbling and distortion when the volume got too high, but in general the music is a pleasant accompaniment to the main attraction.
A brief rundown of each slice of weirdness:
- “Those Awful Hats” (1909) – A brief, presumably then-topical joke by D.W. Griffith about ladies wearing elaborate hats in the Continue reading CAPSULE: WILD AND WEIRD (ALLOY ORCHESTRA SILENT FILM COMPILATION)