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Archive for August, 2009

Alain Resnais made a number of strange films that got oodles of attention and kudos from film critics during the 1950s and 60s. “Night and Fog” is one of his more straightforward efforts, but it is undeniably powerful and memorable.

It is a documentary which focusses on the abandoned concentration camps at Auschwitz and Majdanek, while describing the lives of prisoners there.

Watching “Night and Fog” is like peering into the reality of man’s deep sickness and inhumanity to one another. One may ask whether this is such a difficult thing to accomplish when considering the holocaust. However, Resnais does so with a deep sadness rather than a morbid fascination. His images linger in the memory, even though he does not linger.

After the slew of holocaust films (“Schindler’s List”, “Life is Beautiful”, “The Pianist”) in the last twenty years, it is interesting to see a film that, without dramatizing the horror, still succeeds in communicating the terrible reality of it.

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French director Georges Franju made two great films. The sophisticated horror film “Eyes without a Face” (1959) and the short documentary “Blood of the Beasts” (1949). Despite the difference in genre between these two, both films explore the macabre side of an increasingly advanced and dehumanised society.

I cannot say enough good things about “Eyes without a Face”. If you get an opportunity to see, grab it. However, it is a difficult film to find on dvd.

Thankfully “Blood of the Beasts” is freely available on most public domain sites. It takes the viewer inside the normal daily running of a slaughterhouse in Paris. Franju doesn’t hold anything back from the viewer, and in lots of ways that what makes this little film compulsive viewing.

But its’ genius lies more its’ overall tone. It has a sadness and weight rarely expressed through simple, unjudgemental images; Franju has managed to remain detached from his subjects while implicitly drawing out responses from his audience. If you can stand the gruesomeness, there is much to reflect on here.

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Another surrealist film, this time an American one from the 1930s.

Joseph Cornell, the director of this short was so taken by the actress Rose Hobart, he decided to create a movie in homage to her. He took scenes of the actress from her film East of Borneo and re-edited together with footage of an eclipse. He then filled the movie with music from a record he bought at a junk shop.

The finished product feels like a modern clip show, but is probably closer in spirit to a modern film mash-up.

Watched in its entirety, it has a cumulative effect; it is hard not to be taken by the actress, and feel the otherwordly nature of the shots. Enjoy.

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This is one of the most famous short films of the 20th century. It is widely praised for its beautiful shots of the streets of Paris.

It is about a boy and the balloon he finds one day while walking the streets. He later discovers that the balloon has a life of its own. This explains why many refer to this film as fantasy.

The theme of the film is the corruption of innocence, seen in the journey of the boy and his red balloon.

Interestingly, the director of this classic, Albert Lamorisse, was also the creator of the strategy boardgame, Risk. He also made another film after “The Red Balloon”, called “White Mane”, before he died tragically in a helicopter crash. “White Mane” is also well worth chasing down; it is perhaps even more memorable than this one.

Hope you like it.

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This is perhaps the most famous of all surrealist films.

It has lots of really peculiar images, including, most famously, a close up of an eyeball being severed by a razorblade. Frank Black was so taken by this provocative little movie that he wrote the song “Debaser” in appreciation of it (from The Pixies’ album “Doolittle”).

Got me a movie,  I want you to know

Slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know

Girlie so groovy, I want you to know

Don’t know about you

But I am un chien Andalusia

This film still has the power to shock and amuse, but it is hard to imagine how it would have been received back in the late twenties. These days lots of film directors continue to borrow from this trailblazing short, including surrealist, David Lynch (see “Blue Velvet” and “Eraserhead” for evidence of this).

I especially appreciate the creepy image of lots of ants pouring out of someone’s hand. Weird but amazing stuff.

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This is the first in a series of posts on short films. Some of these are highly celebrated amongst film scholars, some are experimental and some just plain weird.

The first in this series is “The Heart of the World” from 2000. This strange little short was made by Canadian director Guy Maddin. I don’t love it – it has a little bit too much phallic and sexual imagery for my tastes. But it has a very cool retro feel (reminiscent of German silent film e.g. “Metropolis”).

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