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IMDb names I used to go by: sakrahn, He_who_lurks.
And for those who want to know, that picture isn't of me. I just want you to think it is.
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Statue of Liberty (1898)
As an actuality, pointless
The other reviewers of this Edison 1898 documentary have said it all. Filming a statue, with nothing else occurring in frame and essentially no movement at all, is pretty much wasting celluloid on something that could have been caught as a still photo. Why James White, who was a significant character in the filming of the earliest Edison actualities, did not see this pertains to one thing: Edison was so in demand for films and/or so hungry for cash, that they went to the biggest extremes to find subjects audiences would find interesting. Not at all like the Lumiere Brothers, who were more interested in filming subjects that contained movement to wow their viewers, which could have been anything. The Brothers were also interested in composition, which made their work superior to many Edison actualities.
"Statue of Liberty", illustrates this point perfectly. To begin with, the composition of the picture is nothing to write home about: the camera is stationed clearly on a boat, out of the harbor some distance from the statue, and does not create a particularly appealing shot. There is next to no movement in frame at all, nothing to make it work as a motion picture, nothing to keep the view interesting. The most motion one sees is that the boat, being out on the waves, cannot be held in one stationary position and moves so that the composition is just made worse as the statue moves to the side of the frame. So it's the Statue of Liberty folks. That might make this a just a little bit more interesting despite all these flaws, except that even the interesting aspect of the subject is taken away since the same statue is still in existence today. There is no real historical significance at all except the fact it's an old motion picture. What it mainly serves to show is how not to film an actuality. If the view had been a closer one and there would be more action to see in frame as well as more detail, it could have been much better.
Unique but Very Enjoyable
My family has a long history with this show. My older brothers used to watch it with my dad a long time ago, until we lost the MeTV channel from our TV. None of us had looked at this for years after that, but recently, when we were able to bring it back. Now, every Saturday night, we watch an episode of the show, and it's nice to have something to look forward to after a long week.
"Svengoolie" is basically a show that resurrects old horror, sci-fi, and mystery films from the thirties, forties, fifties, and so on. The host, 'Sven', credited as the "Man in Hat" on the credits (played by Rich Koz), is conceptually creepy but in execution is portrayed as no more than a laughable, pun-loving persona who presents facts about the films, makes ridiculous jokes, and sings absolutely hilarious songs during the intermissions. The movies are about an hour and a half each; the rest of the two-hours is taken up on commercials and Sven's brief commentaries.
The movies, I would say, are quite good for their time period despite the negativity surrounding how bad some of them are. Personally, I quite enjoy them for what they are and despite poor effects and maybe slower pacing, most of them work very well today. I especially enjoy Sven's ridiculous songs that play upon events from the movies - if you like this kind of humor, the show is for you. Of course, this kind of thing is getting harder and harder for most people to appreciate these days, due to the plethora of more fancy, special-effects-based horror movies audiences indulge in now. But this show has an audience, and I'm all for it.
Twenty-Five Demonstrations of Sound and Image Relations
Within "Rameau's Nephew by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen" Michael Snow presents us with something truly unique: an overwhelming succession of sequences which serve to demonstrate the relationships of sound with image in cinema, as well as numerous literary elements creating a series of philosophical puns that provoke and interest the viewer. Four hours and fifteen minutes is the viewer engaged in this montage of gags and effects, and there is so much to be found within that run-time, so many different things to analyze, that the film becomes more of a series of episodes, each one to be studied in its own right, than one film. The only thing that connects each segment is the consistent theme: that sound and image do not always have to be together, and can in fact be separate in a way that confuses and unsettles the audience. To catch every joke, every reference, one would have to see the film many times, and even then the attention of the viewer would be more focused if they were to watch each sequence on its own.
Some segments in the film are short and sweet, only a minute or two with basic ideas that remain interesting ("Whistling", "Focus", etc.). Others run for a half an hour or even longer, and they carry a lot of the meaty stuff that really gets both interesting and humorous at the same time ("Plane", "Hotel" and others). Some of these longer sequences do get old after awhile, especially considering many of them come later in the film, and my attention was waning by the time the well-known Hotel scene, which contained some of the deepest and most profound and interesting ideas in it, came around. The last five segments were so brief they all took place with just a few minutes, and served as a fitting ending.
The humor can be broad at times (take for instance the "fart scene", where an air-freshener bottle spraying sounds like a person passing gas), but it can also be subtle, such as the literal and literary uses of the table in the Hotel segment. Granted, one can't catch everything, which is why the movie certainly deserves more than one viewing, but that's part of the whole beauty of the thing. Additionally, one also sees Snow making use of shock value in a rather unnecessary way, including the use of explicit scenes of nudity that bring nothing analytical to the table. Personally, I find that this movie could be easier to digest if one watched each segment on its own as an episode in a twenty-five part series, since several of these scenes are deep enough to constitute their own film. Nonetheless, "Rameau's Nephew" is an interesting work from Michael Snow, and I would say it's worth watching at least once if you can catch a screening of it.
La région centrale (1971)
Snow Explores All Movements
Michael Snow's earlier works were all focused entirely on camera movement. First came "Wavelength", which was purely experimental: a slow zoom inwards over a period of forty-five minutes. The camera movement concept was not as great in that particular work, but it was nonetheless there. "Standard Time", which I have not seen, followed it next, a simplistic exploration of panning in a singular setting. "Back and Forth" came next, and that was a longer elaboration on it, which provided more depth to the panning movements.
"La Region Centrale" proceeds all of these films, and explores the movements of all in one three-hour movie. That's not to say at all that this 1971 work is just a basic exploration of up-and-down and side-to-side movements. Every type of movement possible is present in Snow's enormous art film, contained in a single setting of the "Central Region" of the title. Indeed, the different kinds of panning that comprises this film could not be caught by the human eye: the project took several years, as Snow had to hire an engineer to build a robotic arm that could move any which way, which could support a 16mm camera. The viewer is treated to the same landscape for three hours, but the view is changed so much over that period of time that at times it doesn't look the same as before. The biggest variable that accomplishes this is the lighting, which varies. It is sometimes pitch black (which I would prefer Snow had cut out most of) sometimes it is dawn, other times it is normal daylight. The inward zooms emphasize and disguise certain features.
Is it worth spending three hours of your time on this? Maybe if you are a committed film buff or film theorist. You have to really be immersed in experimental filmmaking to get a lot out of it. For me, the camera movements were interesting and fascinating, yet it did not grip me or completely keep my interest the entire time. I was interested at first, lost interest in the middle during the night time scenes, and regained it when the daylight returned. The colossal runtime makes it hard to swallow, but it should not go without credit, because the views and angles are unlike anything anyone has ever seen before.
Another highlight, outside the crazy movement, is when the viewer catches various peeks of the shadow of the robotic arm, which is a neat behind-the-scenes glimpse.
This movie IS about Mr. Rogers
I caught a late night showing of this beautiful film about Mr. Rogers last night, and the first thing I have to say is that I was blown away. Reading that it was PG-rated and contained some language as well as a bit of violence, I thought "Uh-oh, here goes Hollywood again, throwing in unnecessary crap to a movie about one of the kindest people who ever lived. Gosh, can't they skip that for once?" It turned out I was entirely wrong in this thinking. I knew from the trailers that it would be pretty good, I had read about the fact it was more about the journalist Lloyd Vogel, and I was ready for an eight-star film. Instead, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" exceeded my expectations so over the mark and gave me so much more than I initially thought, that it is truly an outstanding work.
Let me explain my review title. Lots of people who have already seen this and reviewed have said several times "I was expecting this to be a biopic about Mr. Rogers, but instead it got more into the journalist's story than his. Hanks doesn't get enough screen time..." What these people don't see is that if this was about Rogers's life, it wouldn't be impacting in any way, just an exploration into the man as a person. What the real goal of this film was from the beginning was to show Rogers's impact on other people, how he cares and loves for others, how he deals with feelings, and above all, how he teaches them about forgiveness. In the literal sense, the film really is more about Vogel than the beloved children's host. In the figurative sense, it really does center around Mr. Rogers in a way that is hard to explain. To get how, you would have to see it yourself; but those who criticize this as not being a biopic don't get that being a biopic was not the film's goal.
Because the negatives are very few and far between, I'll address those first. Number one, the biggest problem: the guy who played Mr. McFeeley did a bad job. Sorry Daniel Krell, but you just did not do it. Physically, Krell was fine as an onscreen appearance, but when it came to carrying off the energetic charm of his character, he flopped miserably. Mr. McFeeley was always a happy, joyful character when appearing on the show; this guy looked like he was having a mini-seizure whilst being on drugs. It didn't help that the interaction between him and Hanks was awkward because the script wasn't at its finest there: literally, McFeeley comes through the door, and says "Hey, uh, I, uh, have a magazine. I don't know how to start this conversation better, so I'll just jump right into it." Thankfully, this scene lasts no longer than a minute, and McFeeley is out of the picture after that.
One other thing: Hanks, when voicing Daniel Tiger and singing for him, struggles with those high notes. He probably couldn't do any better, so that's just a small gripe that hardly subtracts anything from the film as a whole. Also, get rid of the language. I know it's a broken family, but this is about Mr. Rogers! You do not need to be that realistic. At least it didn't get any worse and remained fairly infrequent throughout the film.
Now come the positives, which are numerous. So many good things to say. Number one, the filmmakers could have chosen no better way to relate the story than to have Mr. Rogers on his normal program in his television house, showing us a picture of Lloyd and talking about him to start the story off. And then continuing the story when Mr. McFeeley arrives with a tape about how people make magazines (titled "How People Make Magazines", lol), which leads into how Vogel gets his assignment to interview the icon. The way it ends, with Rogers playing one of his own pieces on the piano, then cutting to the end credits and even including a bit of archive footage of the real Mr. Rogers himself, is beautiful.
The acting is spot-on. From the beginning, I knew that people wouldn't like this because Tom Hanks wouldn't look EXACTLY like his role. These people are perfectionists. It's hard to make a film about a dead, famous icon that everybody knows and loves so well, but this did the best possible job in every sense. Hanks may not sound like Rogers or look like him, but he carried off the part perfectly; they could have chosen no better actor. Of course, some of this goes to the script fitting the television host's character excellently. The way Hanks talks to the viewer about forgiving people and about how Vogel got abused on the inside is so reminiscent of the TV show's scripts that it's eerie. Matthew Rhys didn't have such a demanding role to play, but he excels every bit as well in playing such a confused, messed-up person. The rest of the cast, likewise, is very good.
Another thing that struck me: the dream sequences. I will not give those away, but they were both humorous and dramatic. I could feel Vogel's emotions as Mr. Rogers brings the confused journalist onto set to talk about hospitals, and this is where the dramatic elements of the movie come into play very well. In a Hollywood-type way yes, but done right to where we can sympathize with the protagonist. Sure it's overblown, but in a good way.
Finally, the religious aspect. I didn't think they'd have the guts to do this, but they actually provided some insight into Rogers religious life by showing him first praying for all of his friends at his bedside at night, then swimming in the morning at the pool. Being a Christian, this may be important only to me, but it certainly surprised me that they did that. I'm glad they could throw in a few religious sentiments without annoying non-Christians; it was a really important scene without some realizing it.
I could go on, but need I say more? The bottom line is, this movie has such a great message, provides such an accurate portrayal of the central character(s), and tells its story in such a distinct way that it exceeds all expectations, as it certainly did mine. If you know Mr. Rogers and have seen the show, it's especially beautiful. I completely recommend it to anyone; a masterpiece.
The Book Thief (2013)
Incomprehensible if one hasn't read the novel
Marcus Zusak's novel "The Book Thief" is one of those books that just doesn't work well as a movie adaptation. There is so much to be considered in the novel, so many themes, ideas, and concepts, that the average filmmaker couldn't do it justice. The medium of filmmaking isn't involved enough to fully capture everything like writing can, and this 2013 adaptation perfectly shows how a visualization just doesn't cut the entire story.
Going right in, so much is cut out of the book so that the movie could only run two hours that the story just isn't there anymore. The whole concept of Death being the narrator of the story is barely there; they shouldn't have even bothered including him since he only speaks four times throughout the movie. On top of that, the narrative just happens: Liesel's on the train, her brother coughs a couple times, then they're standing around a grave, which is supposed to be his (those who haven't read the story would be like "What the heck is going on here?") then she's in a car, she goes to her new foster parents...on and on. There is no explanation for anything at all, the dialogue carries no light to anything that is happening and confuses the viewer even further, and very little of the action is brought to life. When the film got to the scene where Liesel, Max, Rosa, and Hans are having a snowball fight in the cellar, it actually got funny and entertaining for a moment - it was then I realized that all the action preceding it just sat there, this was the first time I had gotten engaged in what was happening.
As a result of this, the film is really just a bunch of scenes chained together that do a clumsy job at telling a story. Right there is the issue - the movie is about telling the story that the book told, but the book was not just about narrative. Zusak's novel was more than that. It was a wonderfully interwoven piece of literature showing the power of words, the corruption of society, the strength of love, and so many more important messages. The adaptation takes the basic plot, confuses it, jumbles it around, takes out various things, and leaves behind the messages in the dust. This book just wasn't meant to be a film - only a piece of literature that should not have been tinkered with.
That's not to say everything was done wrong. On the plus side, the director did some things right: great actors for Liesel, Rudy, Hans, and Rosa; good settings; a few decent scenes; and a good ending. Visually, these all make it alright to watch, but it is really not that good mostly because the writing fails to bring any of it to life in a strong way. If anyone wanted to see this, they should read the novel first, because this movie is rather a incomprehensible adaptation otherwise.
Don Sajn (1971)
Visually Interesting But Incomprehensible
"Don Juan" is a rather odd film of Jan Svankmajer, and it came at a point in his career where he had not yet developed the standard of his later works. Normally, stop-motion animation was his triumph and this film is done in live action; surrealism was his main focus but this short is rather straightforward. Certainly one cannot say that it is outside of his area: the visual style is his and the camerawork is the abstract kind one finds throughout his output. However, despite these major pluses, the film's story is incomprehensible except for those who know it and the execution is dull for the first ten minutes.
it, it leaves lots of confusion.
I myself do not know the story of Don Juan at all despite having heard of it, and that was the big road block keeping me from fully enjoying this. Being Czech, Svankmajer's adaptation is spoken entirely in Czech-Slovak, leading the majority of viewers today to have absolutely no clue what is going on. As such, the story's enjoyment is reduced to its active moments, such as the sword-fight and the ghost scene, which are the highlights. This does not mean that the filmmaker was at all a poor storyteller, for all we know this could have been a great and witty adaptation. Sadly, because we cannot understand what is being said, it loses much of its power.
Several things make up for the incomprehensible plot. Visually, the film is beautiful as the ornate puppets and scenery used are works of art in their own respects, and the music is wonderful and brings the tale to life. It is worth seeing, but action-wise remains a little boring due to the fact the average person cannot understand the story or the presumably brilliant dialogue.
Tichý týden v dome (1971)
Stop-motion Show Case
Jan Svankmajer's "A Quiet Week in the House" is one of the strangest surrealist films ever made, not so much in a dreamlike, nonsensical way (that goes to "Un Chien Andalou") but in a more subtle, light manner. The simple plot manages to be quite weird for what it is, and the visuals work extremely well for their purpose. Watching this work, one can clearly see how the Brothers Quay got their inspiration from Svankmajer, as the enigmatic stop-motion that makes it appearance here is very reminiscent of them. The main nit-pick the film offers up is that the animation itself, while incredible, is the backbone of the plot; what story there is is set up mainly to accompany the visuals.
The film begins with a man spying through binoculars at the surrounding countryside. Shortly after, he enters an abandoned house to stay a week; every day of his life in the quiet place, he drills a hole through each door and looks through to watch numerous weird surrealistic visions only Svankmajer could come up with. The execution of the images is particularly stunning in how they stutter consistently to create an interesting effect (one also new to the filmmaker as well as to me). There is a very weird ending to top it off, which brings a nice close to the twenty-minute short. As a whole, it is one to see mainly for the stop-motion, but the story itself is a good one even if it does little more than set up the effects.
Setting and Elaborate Camerawork Makes the Film
In "The Ossuary", Jan Svankmajer shows that while he was still in his preliminary stages of filmmaking, the styles he utilized in his earliest works would ultimately become extremely important to his work later on. This 1970 work does not make use of any animation as later became the director's trademark, and is more of a documentary than an avant-garde short, but the absolute most is made of the setting he had to work with, and it is executed to perfection as a result. Most of this is due largely to the camerawork, which is sometimes non-stationary and other times moves controlled by stop-motion - essentially the only use of the technique seen in the entire movie.
The ten-minute film documents a historic chapel, famous for the fact that the various decorations and ornaments inside the place are made entirely of human bones. The setting alone is interesting enough to make the film work, but the creative editing and camerawork brings the setting to life in a crazy way. Little actually happens, and the soundtrack itself consists entirely of a Spanish-speaking narrator talking about the history (apparently), but Svankmajer made the most of what he had to work with and the result is a truly amazing meditation on death.
Picknick mit Weismann (1969)
A Demonstration of Stop-Motion
"Picknick with Weismann" was a very early work in the career of Jan Svankmajer, and compared to other shorts he had made prior to this one might expect a little more than what is offered here. The eleven-minute film contains little plot, hardly any premise, and the premise there is is there mostly so the filmmaker can demonstrate and show off his stop-motion skills. As always, these skills are very impressive, but they do not cater to create that truly unique world one accustoms himself to when watching a Svankmajer movie because they are not put to the proper environment. The setting is standard, and hardly a fantasy world; the action is simple and does not create anything more than some neat animation gags.
The short sees a group of inanimate objects doing various things in an outdoor setting. There is a suit eating fruit in a rather clever way, a record playing on a record player, chairs messing around, and a shovel digging a hole. All of this is the type of inanimate moving objects stuff I myself have done previously in numerous animation clips (albeit not as elaborate), and it was entertaining even if it did get old when expanded to eleven minutes - but when the twist at the end came, I realized it was all worth it. Svankmajer's premise was weaker than others, and while containing some excellent tricks was not nearly as engaging, but his payoff was great and I would say it's definitely worth a look.
"The Flat" was another of Jan Svankmajer's early live action works that the Czech filmmaker made before he developed his distinguished style, and it's a really weird short. There is no big plot other than a basic story set up to make way for the wide array of visual effects produced, and on a whole it remains more of a demonstration of the director's wild imagination than anything else. This does not mean that it isn't good however, just lacking in concept and on the whole, even without much of a concept, it provides some wonderful entertainment in the thirteen minutes it runs.
The story sees a man being thrown into what could be called a prison cell, where a series of mystical things occur. Pictures move on their own, the beer glass changes shape, the bed turns to sawdust, etc. There is never a dull moment as these comical and elaborately-executed gimmicks keep the viewer's interest throughout, and the stop-motion is outstanding. Svankmajer was clearly beginning to see the boundlessness of his imagination and animation skills, and he makes the most use of them that he can within the run-time, sometimes even where it's not needed (i.e. the man's face contorting into weird facial expressions). His work is becoming more and more engaging and visually diverse, and I look forward to seeing the later material he would produce when he was in his most prolific years.
Unusual, Particularly for Svankmajer
"The Garden" may be the most out-of-place Jan Svankmajer film of his earliest works, mostly pertaining to the fact that while the style of filmmaking remains the same (using the standard closeups and intriguing camerawork) the lack of stop-motion drastically changes everything. At the point in his career when the great Czech animator made this sixteen-minute short, his trademark was hardly developed yet: some of his works were animated segments, others were visually bizarre, and others still remained simple experiments in animation. "Zahrada" follows the path of the infamous surrealist shorts that started the experimental film movement (including the legendary classics "Un Chien Andalou" and "Meshes of the Afternoon"): the story and camera movement is meant to convey a mysterious setting, as well as the dark hints shadowing the entire premise. The main thing that separates it from those early avant-garde works is that is does follow, more or less, a coherent plot and does not cause random things to happen just to shock the audience. It's much more thought out than that and comes off as sort of an Edgar Allen Poe story to my eyes.
The premise deals with Joseph and his friend Frank going to visit Joseph's house after stopping to go to the bathroom by the side of the road. The strange thing is that the fence surrounding the house consists entirely of humans holding hands, a living fence which exchanges bets behind the back of their employer. The uncomfortable setting of the film is pulled off well, and it could be interpreted any way - what Joseph really whispers to Frank about the fence will always remain a mystery. And, despite the lack of any type of stop-motion, the short stays an interesting work in the filmmaker's output, even though he would later go on to different things.
Historia Naturae, Suita (1967)
Visuals to Music
In regards to the previous reviewer who gave "Historia Naturae, Suita" a four out of ten, I would argue that in the case of this film one should not compare it to Jan Svankmajer's later, more complex work but instead look at it on its own and on how well-crafted it is. When seen alongside the rest of the large output of films by the great Czech animator, it is true this early 1967 effort is rather simplistic in visuals and concept. There is little of the stop-motion Svankmajer was known for, and it is made to be more a music video than a humorous animation. That doesn't mean it's worse though, just outside his standard and still good for what it is.
In the film, Svankmajer goes through the different catagories of animals - such as mammals, reptiles, and other species - by presenting a series of drawings, live-action clips, diagrams, and other things in rapid succession to be in time with the Suite of the title. Like "A Game with Stones" of the same year, the short explores entirely the relationship between sound and image, and comes across as a music video of sorts in how the images are made to match up perfectly with the beat. To make it so effective with his combination of imagery and his superb editing skills, Svankmajer must have taken a great deal of time on the project, and the result is a wonderful payoff. The music is the highlight, but it's the wonderful array of visuals that pull it off and the film becomes an eye-catching, arresting short as a result. Well made for what it is.
Et Cetera (1967)
A Lesser Svankmajer
"Et Cetera" is a very unique film from the career of Czech animator Jan Svankmajer for a number of reasons, most of them pertaining to the overall difference between it and his other work. It makes one wonder what the filmmaker was thinking when he created it, since his previous shorts before this had all been similar in one form or another to others, and all of which bear no resemblance to this. "The Last Trick" and "Punch and Judy" were not yet his standard style in stop-motion but were both visually interesting in their fantastic imagery; "Johann Sebastian Bach: Fantasia G-moll" and "A Game with Stones" both explored the concept of matching animation with music cleverly. This film is very different visually and stylistically, and doubtless was dismissed later as being preliminary work the director made prior his golden years.
What makes "Et Cetera" so unique for Svankmajer is the overall visual look of it. Instead of plain stop-motion, it is made as a cartoon with no live-action material, consisting of several different stick figures doing fantastical things. These include drawing a house which they can literally fit inside of, hitting a weird creature with a whip, and using wings to fly. While the antics are clearly meant to be impossible stunts, the movie lacks a certain element of the surreal that would make it him. There is nothing dreamlike or strange about it, just a trilogy of animation experiments mildly entertaining to see but at the same time hardly living up to what he had produced before. Then again, it's possible the film really shouldn't be compared to his other works because of how stand-alone it is for Svankmajer. It is executed well and is worthwhile for fans of the filmmaker, but at the same time inferior visually and stylistically when compared to other works.
Hra s kameny (1967)
Jan Svankmajer's "A Game with Stones" shows that, even though it was made only three years after his first film, the filmmaker was already beginning to test the boundaries of his creative mind in the different things he could do with stop-motion animation. His first effort, "The Last Trick", utilized stop-motion but was not quite the creepy and surrealistic short most might expect; his second, "Johann Sebastian Bach: Fantastia G-moll" explored the concept of putting animated images to music; and his third, "Punch and Judy" contained little stop-motion but displayed the humorously bizarre mind of the maker. This film, like his second, explores putting music to images as well, but shows development of Svankmajer in that the animation is more complex and the visuals more interesting. It is also a little bit more his standard style compared to his first works.
The set-up is that a bucket - stationed below a clock - catches stones that are released from a small faucet every time the clock chimes. After each succession of stones drops into the bucket, the stones become animated as they dance around, break apart, and form shapes and figures. As another reviewer has pointed out, the style which Svankmajer utilizes to create the abstraction is very polished and quick, giving the short a hypnotic feel, and the music timing with the visual aspect is very well executed. As far as the set-up itself goes, it's a wonderfully entertaining abstraction for what it is, yet not, as others might say, as good as the filmmaker's later works.
Puppetry and Stop-Motion Combined
While visually Svankmajer's 1966 short film "Punch and Judy" is up to the standards of his normal work in the bizarre and artistic imagery, one thing this film lacks a lot of is the infamous stop-motion that made his style distinct. Being a puppet show, much of the movie is not animated at all and instead combines a good deal of live-action within its run-time, save several sequences. This is not a huge issue since it remains as weird and crazy as later works, but at the same time it does show how much developing needed to occur before the director would have an obvious style.
The film is set up as a puppet show, in which Punch and his enemy Harlequin battle furiously over a guinea pig. The stage itself is hardly lacking in any visual uniqueness; on the contrary, it is decorated with just about everything Svankmajer could lay his hands on. B&W nineteenth century photos appear throughout, as well as newspaper article clips. As the fight gets crazier and crazier, the film becomes darker and darker - supposed deaths of both puppets occur, only for each to be resurrected for a final battle. On top of that, the guinea pig is entirely live and out of place in the lavish setting, which makes the short even stranger.
The plot, while ridiculous and pointless, is mainly the key to set-up the action, and it is fun and interesting to watch although not nearly as interesting as later efforts. In the end, one must appreciate the filmmaker's lavishly artistic production design, but the film is far from outstanding though it does stay entertaining enough to give one a chuckle or two.
"Johann Sebastian Bach: Fantasia G-moll" was Czech animator Jan Svankmajer's second work in a career of many animated movies he would go on to make. Unlike his first, "The Last Trick" of 1964, it shows a bit more of the filmmaker's style in what it presents, hinting more strongly at what he would produce in later years. As other reviewers have stated, it is not nearly as complex nor as weird and surrealistic as those later movies, and thus not a good place for those interested in his output to begin, but as an early effort it shows how he can evoke a certain atmosphere out of putting appropriate sound to the proper image, which was undoubtedly the film's main goal.
The first minutes of the nine-minute film are entirely live-action, as a man enters a cathedral, climbs the stairs to the pipe organ, and after stuffing a whole apple (albeit a small one) in his mouth for no reason, he begins to play the Bach title piece. The rest of the work is a series of simple animations of cracks in stone walls growing and shrinking, doors opening by themselves, iron bars on windows, and other mechanical devices. Although basic compared to what he would later produce, the music fitting well with the dark images (the film is rendered in B&W) is enough to make it work and creates a fine music video. I would not consider it a masterpiece as have other reviewers, but it works on its own level and shows what Svankmajer would later go on to create.
Visually and Elaborately Stunning
"The Last Trick" is the first Jan Svankmajer film I have seen and having watched a lot of the Quay Brother's output I was familiar with his name since he had been significant inspiration to their filmography. This first effort by the renowned Czech animator, who would later go on to create entire feature-length films, is actually not animated for the most part, but instead relies on stage machinery and fanciful costumes used to create the unique visuals on display. Yet, as with all of the filmmaker's output, its atmosphere is a surrealistic one and while the not the greatest example of his work (due to lacking the animated aspect) it remains a weird, fanciful short like the rest of Svankmajer's films.
The set-up is that two magicians on a stage (actors wearing enormous, visually stunning painted masks) are trying to outdo each-other by demonstrating their talents. Each one takes a turn doing a trick before the next one goes, and the tricks get really insane - such as the magicians opening their heads and removing items, making objects dance to music, and other impossible antics. In the end, they become so angry at each-other a violent finale occurs.
Visually, the film is beautiful and the ornate masks and effects that take place are remarkable. One thing about it that left me wondering was the constant motif of a large beetle which appears throughout in numerous spots for no apparent reason, and that dies at the end. An interesting touch, that - and also the only interpretive part of the short, since the action is pretty straightforward and tells its basic story in 11 minutes.
After seeing the highly controversial Michael Snow film "Back and Forth" I really have to say this is a very under-evaluated work. Before seeing it, I had read much about the work: it is trash, it's a time waster, it's a camera spinning on a tripod for fifty-two minutes. When seeing it, I was struck by how wrong everything people said about it was. I didn't expect a lot because I knew the premise and I was fine with that, but I got so much more than I ever thought I could get out of what I thought it would be. With a concept so simple, one would think they could scarcely find much to appreciate, but the work has left me completely satisfied and I am really glad I watched.
While some may disagree, this film's set-up, to me at least, is quite reminiscent of the director's even more controversial "Wavelength" (1967). That film is set within a room also, and focuses on camera movement and people's comings and goings within the space like this. The difference between the two is the type of camera movement: "Wavelength" consists of a slow zoom inwards over a forty minute time period, "Back and Forth" is a panning motion both in side to side and up and down movements. Very little happens onscreen outside of the motion, so the detail one can see from the low picture quality stands out.
Shot inside a classroom on a college campus, the camera at first steadily moves in a back and forth motion. As time goes on, things happen in the room: a class session is held, students joke around, and people are seen outside the windows. More importantly, the camera moves into quicker pans until it is going so fast the viewer begins to see optical illusions within the blurr. Just as my attention was failing, the view changed: now the camera moves quickly up and down before slowing down to a gradual pan. Finally, after the ending credits, the filmmaker does five minutes worth of special effects superimpositions, so that (SPOILERS) the two scenes are shown overlapped over each-other, as they are sometimes mirror-imaged, turned upside down, etc. (The big highlight here is when the back and forth scene is superimposed over the same scene mirrored, which creates a dizzying effect). Since I had never read about this, I was surprised and mystified as to how people could possibly overlook it.
Don't listen to those that call this movie a piece of trash; it is more than just a camera being swiveled on a tripod. Snow does the most he can with the set-up, and it's great - possibly better than "Wavelength" if not equally good.
Le sang d'un poète (1932)
Slow-Moving But Visually Interesting and Thought-Provoking
"Blood of a Poet" has often been compared to the infamous surrealist 1929 short "Un Chien Andalou", but despite some similarities many may find between the two, both films are entirely different. "Un Chien Andalou" was entirely random in its incomprehensible storyline, bearing no meaning, no coherency, and just throwing its unusual imagery out there to shock spectators; "Blood of a Poet" seems to contain a more deep meaning in what it presents and follows a fantastical and thought-provoking tale more traceable than that of the former. In addition, the ideas and visuals are very much different from each-other, some only slightly comparable.
Maybe Jean Cocteau was not thinking deeply in this work. Maybe he meant to make it a series of visual highlights, and that's basically what it is if nothing else. The surrealist work follows a constant stream of poetic and artistic visuals: the movie theme itself seems to be centering around art as a whole as well as containing a wonderful if unintentional commentary. Indeed, the main character it follows is an artist, a topless man encountering a series of strange occurrences, including his own hand taking on a mouth, a statue coming to life, and himself falling into a mirror. Images including a girl in bells climbing on the walls, paintings of reclining models with human arms and legs, and the face of a dead boy with blood dripping from his mouth are highlights.
The commentary appears through the second half of the film, in which two posh people, one of which is the artist from the first part, play cards at a table stationed next to the boy's corpse. To me, this seems to be commenting on how the upperclass people often ridicule and vainly ignore the poor suffering folk, indulging in their own privileged lives. The message is further emphasized by having King Louis XV and his friends watch the scene from a balcony, which definitely shows the director was playing with the idea.
Cocteau ends the film with an archival footage clip of a chimney falling over. While completely disconnected from the rest of the work, this brief finale makes a good finishing touch to the film, and was likely meant to be such - Cocteau probably wanted a memorable ending rather than having the last scene leave the viewer wondering what happened.
The film is fifty minutes long, and this is due largely in part to slow-moving action. It takes a little bit to get going and the second part is quite slow-paced in action - so needless to say, some people, including myself, might become impatient with the molasses pace at which everything occurs. Nevertheless, the unusual images and thought-provoking ideas make it a much deeper watch than "Un Chien Andalou" - its strange occurrences and visuals give the viewer something to think about, and are not there purely to shock the audience. A very thought-provoking movie and not at all to be compared to Bunuel's movie - as both are entirely different.
Variations on a Scene
"Wavelength" is and will always be one of the most controversial films of experimental cinema: the type of film that you either despise it or you consider it a masterpiece. From the ratings and reviews on IMDb, it is evidently the former is definitely common among most cinema goers, those who criticize it as being "boring"' "drudgery", "annoying", "unbearable", etc. Frankly, those claims cannot be directly pushed aside due to the truth that is in them: yes, to some forty-five minutes of a single scene would be the most intolerable thing on earth; indeed, for those with sensitive hearing, the sound would be enough for anyone to tear their hair out. But that does not mean it's bad. On the contrary, I believe Michael Snow was not a horrible, untalented filmmaker that tried and backfired to please audiences when he made "Wavelength", but deliberately attempted to be unconventional, boring and downright irritating. This was not the only film to fall in such a genre either; there were actually quite a number of unpleasant avant-garde films made around the sixties period, some even worse, that were intended to challenge the viewer in their difficult aspects.
The forty-five minute long work is a single scene of a room, experimented with using various color filters, slowly and gradually zooming in to a photo on the wall of the room. Very little occurs onscreen except for the zoom, and in many ways it is really a series of film variations on the only focal point. That's not to say there is no onscreen action though; traffic can be seen occasionally moving outside the windows of the room, several women enter early on whilst a Beatles song is played, and the climax is a series of loud banging noises--as though a burglary is happening offscreen--before the great experimental filmmaker Hollis Frampton enters the shot and falls dead to the floor.
One other reviewer has interpreted that the film's goal is that to have almost nothing happen the viewer gets to appreciate more what does happen, and this is a very good point. In either case, it is a very interesting and abstract experimental work, as well as the ending which does a quite literal turn on the title, and an absolute must for fans of experimental cinema. It's boring only if you look at it as a scene of a room; it becomes interesting when you delight in the moments of action and I really liked it because it kept my interest despite the lack of events. I found that when watching it it was not a painfully boring watch like many say, because after a while you accept nothing big is going to happen and let the movie play out as it is. To be constantly bored at a movie for an entire forty-five minutes is quite unnatural, at least for me.
The New 3 Stooges (1965)
Entertaining if Badly Animated
"The New 3 Stooges" is very little remembered today as a sixties classic animated series due to lasting only one year, and containing some of the cheapest animation in cartoon history. Like all the television animated series of that period, this is to be expected, but the simplistic art style and stiff, unmoving characters may not be for some people's taste. It's not a bad attempt however even despite this, and retains watchability for younger children and cartoon buffs through its simplicity.
The cartoons themselves are rather short even for that period in cartoon history, but this is to accommodate the extra addition of a sequence at the beginning and end of each episode starring the actual stooges. The viewer is first treated to watching the live-action clip, which is then cut in the middle so that "you can watch a cartoon while we figure our way outta this mess." After the animated part, which may or may not bear similar themes to the live-action, the stooges return at the end to finish their act. It is unfortunate that most DVDs that include episodes from the show exclude the live-action--to be able to pack more on the disc--and I can say I've only truly seen five complete episodes.
The cartoons are good and entertaining though cheap and lacking in real laughs. I myself have no problem with the way the stooges's routine is dumbed down, having only seen a couple of the trio's early shorts, but because of this change in dynamic fans may not like the show. The theme song is catchy, and I enjoy both parts of it--the live-action and cartoon, although it's not outstanding and awful from a technical point of view.
Hoppity Hooper (1964)
A Watered Down "Rocky and Bullwinkle"
The other reviewers are right that "Hoppity Hooper" has been largely underrated, but not without reason. When it comes to remembering the work of Jay Ward, this particular show is little recognized today, mostly due to the few years it ran. "Rocky and Bullwinkle" had a total of five seasons, had a large cast of recurring characters, creative plots each time, and long-spanning story arcs sometimes lasting more than ten half-hour shows. Albeit poorly and cheaply animated (understandable since most sixties cartoons were every bit as bad) it lived to please both kinds of audiences: the adults could see it for its witty and sophisticated puns, the kids could watch it for its funny character designs and lovely colors. It is no wonder then, that because of all the lovable characters and witty jokes that R&B is a remembered classic.
"Hoppity Hooper" had lots of potential. It makes me sad to think how little of it was used. The show ran for about two seasons and is hugely overshadowed by its longer-running predecessor. Furthermore, each story-line feels cramped and little-used since all story arcs run for only two half-hour shows ("Jet Fuel Formula" from R&B had a total of twenty) and all of the various adventures Hoppity and his friends go through could have been more filled with gags. The characters are all great: Filmore makes a good Bullwinkle while Waldo's brilliant ideas make his person a success, but Hoppity himself is uninteresting and lacking in any real noticeable traits apart from being the smartest of all three. The stories are creative and fun, but as stated above are not exercised like those of "Rocky and Bullwinkle".
Jay Ward and his company unmistakably stumbled upon some excellent characters and ideas, but they didn't seem to realize it. "Hoppity Hooper" is cheaply made, conformed to a very tight space to where it's only decent entertainment, and little effort appears to have been put into it. It's sad, because the premise could have been just as good as "Rocky and Bullwinkle", but with four-part stories, great ideas left un-exercised, and great characters unused to their full extent, the show is mainly one for younger kids and serves as little more than decent entertainment. I like what I see, and I think it's sad that the studio never realized all the things they could have done with it.
MisteRogers' Neighborhood (1968)
The Best Children's TV Show of All Time
PBS nowadays is not at all like PBS back when this show aired. Back then, they knew what was educational and worthwhile for kids and did not put on any old thing just for money. Nowadays, kids are stuck with watching stuff like "Peppa Pig" (which is lacking in anything educational) "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" (which is a sad, cartoon-ized ripoff of the characters from this show) and worst of all, "Teletubbies" (which actually does the opposite of educational to the one-year-olds it targets). In fact, it was only a few years after this show ended that the channel decided to give it the boot--showing how crazy some people can be. Simply put, "Mister Roger's Neighborhood" is the best kid's show ever created, by one of the loveliest, pleasantest, and most caring person that ever lived. Fred Rogers was a dedicated and humble man and in his show, he blends education, psychology, and entertainment into one half-hour bag. Not only is this show entertaining and provides an array of interesting things for small children, it also teaches its audience how to deal with anger, sadness, and all sorts of feelings. The man truly cares, and he does in a short amount of time what most kiddie shows nowadays fail to do: teaches his audiences life lessons and illustrates his lessons in a number of ways. Just because a show is a cartoon nowadays doesn't mean it's better.
"Mister Roger's Neighborhood" is the best kid's show for anyone to see, it's targeted to kids four to eight but its lessons are often ones that even older kids and adults fail to use. Instead of looking at the various crap shows PBS runs today, just buy the DVDs of this. Fred Rogers's show is centered not around the people in it, but pointed entirely in the direction of the viewer's well-being. He stars as the host of each episode, as he visits his 'television house' every day and talks directly to the viewer about the feelings and thoughts they have from time to time, and enhances these ideas with songs and events. Each day in each episode will be part of one 'week' that has a constant theme, which is illustrated through the 'Neighborhood of Make-Believe' and the various things Mr. Rogers 'does' with the viewer and the other people on the show. Sometimes, he'll talk to famous musicians and other celebrities; sometimes he'll go places, such as an art gallery or doctor's office; sometimes, he and Mr. McFeeley will go on factory tours with 'Picture Picture'. It's a wonderful mix of education, life skills, and is extremely entertaining for all the children. The fact that Rogers starred in it for a total of thirty-three years shows how much he cares for the well-being of younger kids, and as other reviewers have already pointed out his kind manner of approach toward the audiences is oftentimes the only kindness most children see these days.
Now, there will be those who won't ever understand this show, dismissing it as 'goofy', 'boring', or 'stupid'. These people are adults that don't realize what the show is trying to do. It looks a little dumb on the outside to most, but that's exactly the opposite of what it is. Even though kid's shows have gotten more advanced these days, we are actually heading in the wrong direction. PBS has ended this show for good and gone on to indulge in the mindless, money-making drudgery that hardly matches up to this show, which is not what you want your child to watch. "Mister Roger's Neighborhood" is educational, fun, and life-changing, and altogether is the absolute best show for the young'uns ever made. No one will ever provide the kids of this generation with such a kindness again, and if you want your four-year-old watching television at all, then this is the best thing you'll find.
A and B in Ontario (1984)
In Memory of Frampton
"A and B in Ontario" belongs more to the output of lesser-known experimental filmmaker Joyce Wieland than it does to the great Hollis Frampton's. In 1984, the former died of lung cancer at age 48; his output, up to his death, had been entirely focused on completing the "Magellan" film cycle which he had began in 1974. Thus, this sixteen-minute short was actually shot by both filmmakers in 1967, seventeen years before the footage was finally edited to be released as a final result. Due to Frampton's death that year, it is assumed that Wieland remembered the footage she and he had shot in the sixties and thought to make it a finished product as a sort of tribute...and because motion picture records of the great experimental filmmaker are somewhat rare, we are lucky to have this.
"A and B in Ontario" was shot as a sort of amateur home movie originally by both filmmakers as they visited each-other in Toronto, which explains the clumsy camerawork. It is a self-reflective work in which the two directors shoot each-other using film cameras, and the entire movie consists of the footage each is shooting of the other. The concept is creative, and the manner in which it results is rather comical, as the pair hide in bushes, stare at each-other over the roofs of cars, and hide behind buildings. Occasionally, each will stop to load their cameras again, whilst the other takes this as an advantage to capture that person on film.
It's not an experimental work, per se, as it is a comedy--and because of how it begins in the house and continues outdoors, has a sense of continuity between the shots filmed by both cameras. Rather funny and lighthearted, and while obviously shot silent, the addition of sound effects to match the setting enhances the film.