In addition to recalling my missed opportunity and retroactive desire to have pursued a career in film restoration and archiving after film school, I am now obsessed with attending the 2023 Nitrate Film Festival and being dazzled by the shimmering wonder of nitrate’s threatening beauty!
We’re nearly a quarter into 2022 and so this seems like a good opportunity to celebrate MMC!’s favourite short film discovery for the year thus far – Spike Jonze’s Video Days (1991). While I’m about the right vintage to have been awed by this seminal skate video on its initial release by Blind Skateboards, I was never a skater-kid and so I now come to Video Days fresh, and while the particulars of the tricks and locations mean relatively little to me, the energy, playfulness, and cheeky construction of Video Days is undeniable. Regularly credited as Spike Jonze’s first directorial effort (though Jonze directed the skate video Rubbish Heap in 1989), the 24-minute video features celebrated skaters Guy Mariano (a mere 14 years-old at the time), Jordan Richter, Mark Gonzales, Rudy Johnson, and Jason Lee. (Lee’s Gulf War ballad purportedly inspired Kevin Smith to cast him in Mallrats!) Jonze establishes a framing device of the five skaters riding in an Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency and sets their trick footage against a diverse series of tracks including “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5, “My War” by Black Flag, Dinosaur Jr.’s “Just Like Heaven,” “Cancion Mixteca” by Ry Cooder, and John Coltrane and the Ref Garland Trio’s “Traneing In” (billed during the end credits as “Some damn good jazz”). Jonze caps off the video with a shocking ending and some hilarious end-credits that had kids in the early ’90s scratching their heads over whether or not this quintet of niche-celebrities survived the production. Video Days is regularly lauded as providing the definitive skate video template and being arguably the greatest skate video of all time, though it should also be appreciated as a stunning opening salvo in the film and videography of now-heavyweight director and VICE creative director Spike Jonze.
An MMC! favourite of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival, Maverick Moore’s hilarious My Dinner with Werner (2019) has been let loose on the public and we couldn’t be happier! Moore’s description of the short sets the stage:
Inspired by the real-life, totally bonkers “friendship” between legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog and controversial actor Klaus Kinski, and set during the finale of their notorious creative partnership in 1987, My Dinner with Werner is a wildly bizarre comedy about a dinner date with a murder plot as the main dish.
A Herzog/Kinski-centric comedy is absolute catnip for any obsessive cinephile and this fictional dinner date between filmmaker Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski is inspired by actual public statements made by the two men. Matthew Sanders’ Herzog is stoic and wistful, Andrew Perez’s Kinski is full of manic bombast, Grant Virtue’s waiter is a perfect whipping boy, and Chynna Walker charms as Werner’s date Christine. Watch My Dinner with Werner and try to live in a world without Hamlet performed in 15 minutes!
Is everyone having a great holiday season? Let’s make sure!
Today is Boxing Day and what better way to observe it than with this hilarious reconsideration of Rocky Balboa’s triumphant Christmas Day victory over Ivan Drago, a boxing match for which the Italian Stallion gave up his championship in order to defeat the man who killed Apollo Creed. Who could have expected that this unsanctioned bout would become a landmark victory for democracy and a turning point in the Cold War. MMC!’s admiration for the ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series is no secret and this CollegeHumor parody is a pitch perfect pastiche of that sports program’s house style. All the high points are here – the James Brown performance, the robot, the whiffing swings, the lack of defence, and the inexplicable reversal of allegiances – and Max Kellerman’s appearance here is inspired, placing him right in his pugilistic wheelhouse. Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky IV (1985) got a new cut back in November as Rocky IV: Rocky x Drago that adjusted the aspect ratio, excised the exploding gloves intro, Paulie’s birthday, and the robot, recontextualized the events of Rocky III, diminished the role of Brigitte Nielsen and Hugo Boss, and made sundry other edits. I guess Rocky was right: Everyone (including Rocky IV itself) can change.
What’s scarier than the exploitation of capitalist culture, our societal collapse into a dystopian nightmare, and our inexorable march into cosmic obliteration? Answer: Nothing. And so MMC! celebrates this All Hallow’s Eve with a trio of animated mind-melters from Canadian animator Nick Cross. First up is The Pig Farmer (2010) – “a simple tale of a wayward soul, awash in an ocean of tragedy and regret.” Well, that and various pork-related gags. Don’t be fooled by the fairy tale-vibe and cutesy look; this short ain’t for the kids!
Next up is Perihelion (2013), “a sort of animated tone poem” inspired by German Expressionist and Surrealist painters of the early 20th Century like Otto Dix, Richard Oelze, Ingrid Griebel-Zietlow, Rudolf Schlichter, and Max Ernst, as well as Francisco Goya. The short operates as something of a Möbius strip tracking a cycle of human downfalls. The effect is amazing in execution and awful in vision. You’re welcome!
Lastly, we wrap up this dispiriting tribute to Nick Cross with The Clockwork Elves (2020). Cross’s summary of the short is questionable: “The Clockwork Elves could be a pyschotropic exploration of spirituality and death – or it could be a tale of a little goofball hopped up on goofballs. Either way — it’s a cartoon.” Made single-handedly over seven years, the short takes the animator’s critiques of late capitalism deeper into the psychedelic nightmare than ever before, creating a vision quest montage that is amazingly spectacular, shockingly vibrant, and exceptionally apocalyptic. This is the squished and squashed, cutesy-pie version of Pearl Jam’s “Do the Evolution” video and it’s just as bracing.
If all of this is a bit too nightmarishly heavy for you, then MMC! recommends revisiting Over the Garden Wall (2014), a modern Halloween classic that perfectly celebrates American colonial folklore, historical commercial art, and East Coast animation. Cross worked as the series’ art director and it should be required viewing for any Halloween fanatic.
Watching the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival’s packed selection of short films was a major priority for MMC! and nearly 150 short films got screened over the Festival’s 21 day run. And while there were some really fun, creative, and moving short films programmed at this year’s FIFF, only ten could make this list of MMC!’s absolute favourites!
And here they are! Right now!
Vanille (Guillaume Lorin, 2020)
Conceived as a half-hour TV special, Guillaume Lorin’s animated adventure concerns Vanille, a nine-year-old Parisian girl with hair issues sent to visit her aunt in Guadaloupe. There, she embarks on a magical adventure involving a hair-stealing spirit, a half-boy/half-shrub companion, and a mysterious flower. Lorin’s film is nimble and playful throughout, full of movement and expression, and it is wonderfully specific in how it draws on the director’s childhood in Guadeloupe, celebrating its natural beauty and Creole heritage. While strongly representing the art style of European bande dessinées, Vanille brings real Studio Ghibli vibes by capturing the movement and wonder of Hayao Miyazaki and the quirk and caricature of Isao Takahata. The incorporation of photographic backgrounds into animated work often feels conspicuously dissonant, but Lorin makes it feel eminently natural here, deepening the short’s connection to its tropical setting. Someone bring me a Vanille series now!