MMC! Double Feature #39: Budget Christopher Nolan at Fantasia

We all love Christopher Nolan, right? With his high concept structures, embedded narratives, elliptical storytelling, and problematized causalities and memory projects, what’s not to love? If your answer is massive budgets and less than mind-blowing executions, then the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival has you covered with a pair of highly inventive, totally mind-bending, and decidedly handcrafted gems!

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Junta Yamaguchi, 2020)

You would be hard pressed to find anything at Fantasia 2021 as simple and clever as Junta Yamaguchi’s Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes. Cafe owner Kato (Kazunori Tosa) returns to his upstairs apartment one evening and finds himself unexpectedly visited on his computer screen by himself two minutes into the future and speaking from a computer screen in the coffee shop. As Kato tries to make sense this micro-time loop, employees and friends arrive and begin playing with the phenomena, managing to modestly extend the loop by placing the screens in front of each other and creating repeating images of the screen each two minutes farther away than the last. Options for fun and profit remain limited in their DIY time tunnel but shenanigans naturally ensue through the interventions of a potential love interest, a couple of gangsters, and pair of mysterious men.

Strawberry Mansion (Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney, 2021)

Set in a future world where dreams are taxed by the federal government, co-writer/co-director Kentucker Audley plays James Preble, a dream auditor sent to the remote home of Arabella Isadora (Penny Fuller) to assess the elderly eccentric’s vast collection of VHS-recorded dreams. In her dreams, James meets her younger self (Grace Glowicki), traverses a vast dreamscape, and uncovers the sinister truth behind dreams and his love of Cap’n Kelly fried chicken. Time between dreams and reality pass differently and James’ existence is tested as he searches for his dream-Arabella while also negotiating the intrusion of her family in real life.

Strolling Through Dream/Time

Both Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion explore the stretch and squash of time on causality and reality in deceptively lo-fi terms. Junta Yamaguchi’s film was born from an acting workshop of the popular theatre group Europe Kikaku and was shot on an iPhone, recalling recent Japanese puzzle box films like One Cut of the Dead and Special Actors. Audley and Birney’s film was shot digitally, then transferred to 16mm to give it a home movie haziness, and its thrift store costumes and craft store props give it a Gondry-esque playfulness that is archly twee but still sufficiently foreboding. Buttressed by their own limitations, these films are dreamier, loopier, and more intriguing than any of Christopher Nolan’s massive science fiction epics. And to demonstrate that brevity is the soul of wit, it should be noted that you can watch Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion in less time than it takes to see InceptionInterstellar, or Tenet.

Both Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion are on-demand titles at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival waiting to be watched whenever it is convenient to you, but be warned — less than a week of Fantasia remains and Festival deadlines are far less forgiving that the temporal rules of either of these films.

Ticket of No Return (Ulrike Ottinger, 1979)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Ticket of No Return.

The it-girl of the West German art subculture, Tabea Blumenschein, stars as a nameless, silent stranger with a one-way ticket to Berlin and a plan to drink herself to death. While touring high class bars, queer nightspots, and seedy dives, she befriends a struggling homeless woman and runs across a trio of prim, judgemental women known as Social Question, Accurate Statistics, and Common Sense. With Blumenschein’s extravagant costumes and writer/director/cinematographer Ulrike Ottinger’s eye for a city still struggling to lift itself out of the bombed-out depression of World War II, Ticket of No Return is an unforgettably unique tour of Berlin and a deliciously shrewd example of feminist camp.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Restored 4K digital transfer, overseen by director Ulrike Ottinger, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New interview with Ottinger
  • Berlinfever – Wolf Vostell, Ottinger’s 16 minute short film of a 1973 Happening organized by artist and friend Wolf Vostell
  • Gallery of Ottinger’s workbook used to develop and produce the film
  • Gallery featuring rare behind-the-scenes production photos
  • An excerpt from Gérard Courant’s Cinématon (2009) featuring Ottinger
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A new essay by critic Michael Koresky

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Wavelength (Michael Snow, 1967)

HAPPY CANADA DAY!

MMC! is happily celebrating this Canada Day with Wavelength (1967), Michael Snow’s legendary experimental film. Essentially a slow 45-minute zoom through an empty Canal Street industrial loft (save for four brief sequences of human presence), Snow has called the film “a summation of my nervous system, religious inklings and aesthetic ideas.” Notwithstanding the appearances of its few human beings (including experimental filmmaker Hollis Frampton and art and film critic Amy Taubin), Snow aimed to create “a definitive statement of pure Film space and time, a balancing of ‘illusion’ and ‘fact,’ all about seeing.” The camera is Wavelength’s true subject and its presence is always foregrounded thanks to the intervention of gels, superimpositions, and other visual effects and the intensifying sound of a sine-wave increasing the speed of its repetition. The artificial mechanism of Snow’s reproduction is never lost, but the slow progress of the camera, the static space of the room, and the drone of the sine-wave creates an experience that is both tedious and anxious, however the effect is also meditative, providing the spectator with room to consider Wavelength’s tensions between outside and inside, permanence and impermanence, and the space between ourselves and the cinematic apparatus. This “diary of a room” is hailed as the definitive “structural film,” an experimental mode typified by a fixed camera position, a flicker effect, loop printing, and rephotography, and it has become a canonical work of avant-garde cinema, with its initial screening in 1967 being hailed by experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas as “a landmark event in cinema.”

For those without the patience for Wavelength, there is WVLNT (Wavelength for Those Who Don’t Have the Time) (Michael Snow, 2003) which cuts the film into three equal portions and then superimposes them, creating a new film experience in the process (although one that is likely most rewarding having first seen the original).

The Savage Eye (Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyers, and Joseph Strick, 1960)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Savage Eye.

Los Angeles at the end of the 1950s. A recent divorceé arrives to break free of the past and journeys into the tawdry side of urban life, seeking refuge in salons and strip clubs, among poker-players and faith-healers, near boxing rings and in the drag scene. Out of the darkness, a voice speaks to her, questioning her cynicism and prodding her to find inspiration in the world around her. A hallmark of the direct cinema movement, The Savage Eye is an experimental documentary made over four years, told with poetic elegance by filmmakers Sidney Meyers, Ben Maddow, and Joseph Strick and featuring music by renowned composer Leonard Rosenman and footage shot by acclaimed photographer Helen Levitt and cinematographers Haskell Wexler and Jack Couffer.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Restored high definition digital transfer with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New video interview with film critic Imogen Sara Smith
  • People of the Cumberland, Sidney Meyers’ 1937 short film directed with Elia Kazan, Jay Leyda, and Bill Watts
  • In the Street, James Agee, Helen Levitt, and Janice Loeb’s 1948 short film on street life in New York’s Spanish Harlem
  • Muscle Beach, Joseph Strick and Irving Lerner’s 1948 short film
  • The Quiet One, two versions of Sidney Meyers’ 1948 film, one featuring a narration by Gary Merrill and another featuring a previously unreleased narration by James Agee
  • The Steps of Age, Ben Maddow’s 1950 short film for the Mental Health Film Board
  • Interviews with My Lai Veterans, Joseph Strick’s 1971 short film
  • PLUS: An essay by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Hinterland Remixed, Mobilize (Caroline Monnet, 2015), and Sign-off (Brett Bell, 2011)

I recently had the good fortune of attending the book launch for Andrew Burke’s Hinterland Remixed: Media, Memory, and the Canadian 1970s, a deep dive into the true north’s televisual archive and collective memory that includes considerations of the Hinterland Who’s Who vignettes, Michael Snow’s La Région centrale (1971), and SCTV. Professor Burke’s discussion and accompanying presentation diverted into a number of unexpected areas – the L’Atelier national du Manitoba film and art project, Kern-Hill Furniture Co-op commercials, electronic musicians Boards of Canada, the With Glowing Hearts short film (Ted Remerowski, 1979) – however two contemporary works stood out: Caroline Monnet’s Mobilize (2015) and Brett Bell’s Sign-off (2011).

Caroline Monnet, a Canadian artist of French and Algonquin heritages, obtained access to more that 700 films from the National Film Board of Canada to create Mobilize, an intense and passionate portrait of Canada’s indigenous people. With footage from the rural north and urban south, from traditional crafts to modern industry, Monnet captures the dynamism of the indigenous Canadian experience and, with the feverish score of Inuk artist Tanya Tagaq, provides a kind of sizzle reel made up of what the filmmaker calls “images of indigenous people kicking ass on screen.” MMC! fans may recognize scenes from Don Owen’s High Steel (1966)! Brett Bell’s Sign-off presents an absurdly nightmarish take on With Glowing Hearts and the anachronism of the television station sign-off culminating the day’s news and entertainment with a collage of landscapes and symbols set against the patriotism of the national anthem. Bell, born and based in Regina, Saskatchewan, creates something wonderfully weird and distinctly Canadian in Sign-off and for that MMC!’s heart does glow.

Clapping Music (Peter van der Ham, 2005)

In anticipation of our next proposal for a Criterion treatment, MMC! thought it might preview that upcoming discussion with an oddly related short – Peter van der Ham’s Clapping Music (2005). The film performs Steve Reich’s minimalist score “Clapping Music” through a scene from John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967) where Angie Dickinson flails away at an impassive Lee Marvin, hitting him 1,344 times before crumpling at his feet. The effect of the short is fascinatingly hypnotic and it offers a kind of weird portrait of cinematic chauvinism in its exaggerated futility.

And so, if you like van der Ham’s Clapping Music, Point Blank, and novel editing choices, you should love MMC!’s next imagined Criterion edition! (Maybe I’ve said too much?)