This Week In Cinema: July 28-August 03, 2013

the heart of the world

I’d like to think that there’s a big vat of root beer at the earth’s core, that makes me happy!

It’s an all short film type of week this time out,

Thanatopsis (1962, Ed Emshwiller, United States Of America) ***

Death surrounds a man, but he can’t control death. He is forced to sit and watch as Ed Emshwiller plays with sound, editing, and visual effects. The beating heart and the drilling sound create a brooding tension to the film. The quick cuts and the focus on the passivity of the man whose mind we are inside of brings an immediacy to the film. The visual effects morph and twist and create the sort of surreal images that can only come from nightmares. The man in Thanatopsis is stuck in his nightmare, and we’re along for the ride.

The Cat That Hated People (1948, Tex Avery, United States Of America) ***1/2

Another strong entry in the “animated character as plaything of the artist” subgenre of animated shorts. Tex Avery does all kinds of nifty things with Cat. He uses him to explore the zanier side of animated comedy, but he also puts him through the wringer. Cat suffers a lot in The Cat That Hated People, but you know what, it’s a lot of fun watching him get punished. There’s a fun zeal to the madness Mr. Avery unleashes in this short, the sort of fun zeal that is infectious. The Cat That Hated People isn’t Mr. Avery’s best, but it’s pretty darn great and another swell Looney Tunes short.

The Dante Quartet (1987, Stan Brakhage, United States Of America) ***1/2

The more I explore Stan Brakhage’s work the more I appreciate his filmmaking. The Dante Quartet highlights Mr. Brakhage’s ability to combine technical prowess with personal struggle. A series of fleeting paintings superimposed over film reveal a tortured artist trapped in his own kind of hell. He wants his work to be seen, to be explored by others. But, he is trapped in his work and his work in turn is trapped behind a wall. The personal side of The Dante Quartet is appealing, while the technical side of the film is really a joy to ogle over.

The Heart Of The World (2000, Guy Maddin, Canada) ***1/2

My first exposure to Guy Maddin, and what an introduction. I had always thought Mr. Maddin would be very serious, but in The Heart Of The World he’s quite playful. This is a comedy through and through, as well as a wonderful representation of silent cinema. Mr. Maddin takes shots at religion, industry, and the human race in general. None of said shots are mean spirited, rather they are playful in tone and very funny in execution. The Heart Of The World also has a kinetic energy about it, and it was easy for me to get lost in that energy. The Heart Of The World was my first Guy Maddin, but I’m looking forward to seeing more.

Dots (1940, Norman McLaren, Canada) **

Technically strong, and interesting from the technical perspective. The process that Norman McLaren went through to manipulate the film stock to create the dots, scratches, and warbles in the soundtrack is interesting. However, when all is said and done Dots is a series of dots, blobs, and sound scratches with no real discernible reason behind them. Dots is a great exploration of the technical side of film, but as a whole film it is lacking.

Zapruder Film Of Kennedy Assassination (1963, Abraham Zapruder, United States Of America) ***1/2

An extremely short, uh, short film, but a powerful one. Everyone, or I would imagine most Americans at least, know of the John F. Kennedy assassination. Over the years its an event in time that has lost some of its bite thanks to countless conspiracy theories, cheap reenactments, and parodies. Zapruder Film Of Kennedy Assassination is the real deal, footage of an American President being assassinated. Seeing this footage, it’s amazing how raw and visceral the death of President Kennedy was. Removed from all the popular media that has surrounded the event Zapruder Film Of Kennedy Assassination is important, powerful, and visceral in a way that is hard to put into words.

La Sortie Des Usines Lumière (Employees Leaving The Lumière Factory, 1895, Louis Lumière, France) *

There’s not much to be said for a film of a group of people leaving a factory. This is a historically significant film, the first ever film that an audience paid to see, but it has nothing to offer besides its historical significance. It’s under a minute to watch, and anyone who likes film history should watch this, but it’s not a must see film by any other measure.

Schwechater (1958, Peter Kubelka, Austria) *

I appreciate the technique, but this was too abstract for my tastes. This short didn’t offer anything I was interested in, as the rapid editing isn’t my thing and neither were the washed out images. An avant garde film for sure, and one that succeeds in being the type of film it wants to be. That being said, the experiment that is Schewechater left me cold and not enamored with what I watched.

Wrap-Up:

A very short week run time wise, but not a week that was short on great films. Of those great films The Heart Of The World impressed me the most and that’s why it’s taking home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!

Cheers,
Bill

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