Manhatta (Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, 1921)

I recently watched Redes (Emilio Gómez Mariel and Fred Zinnemann, 1936), from the first Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project box set, and Kent Jones’s visual essay which makes reference to Manhatta (1921), a documentary short made by photographer and Redes-cinematographer Paul Strand and painter Charles Sheeler. The short is not included in the WCP set (although it was included on the now OOP DVD set, Unseen Cinema), and so I thought I would share it here at MMC! The short is inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem “Mannahatta” and is considered the USA’s first experimental film. Strand and Sheeler link their respective art forms (painting and photography) to cinema by preferring dynamic angles and compositions over movement, using editing and intertitles to express a monumental day in Lower Manhattan. The result is a visually engaging and invaluable document of the time.

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American Movie (Chris Smith, 1999)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of classic important and contemporary films presents American Movie.

Menomonee Falls may be a long way from Hollywood, but quick-talking filmmaker Mark Borchardt has a cinematic dream and he aims to finance his magnum opus, Northwestern, through a direct-to-market, no-budget horror short titled Coven. Filmmakers Chris Smith and Sarah Price filmed Borchardt and his team of hometown thespians and semi-willing family members through two years of financial crisis and emotional turmoil. The result was a bizarrely heartfelt and hilariously poignant documentary that became the award-winning hit of the 1999 Sundance Film Festival and a uniquely arresting portrait of Midwestern eccentricity, determination and character.

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The Story of O.J. (Jay-Z and Mark Romanek, 2017)

MMC! readers will know by now my soft spot for classic East Coast animation pastiche, so needless to say I’m currently awestruck by Jay-Z and Mark Romanek’s stunning video for “The Story of O.J.” Sampling Nina Simone’s “Four Women,” “The Story of O.J.” unpacks the unavoidable consequences of blackness’s various shades and the place of capital as a potential countermeasure. It’s a cool and canny track whose video takes as its reference point the racist stereotypes of early animation such as the Censored Eleven. Blogs like Cartoon Brew, Birth. Movies. Death., and Dazed have provided excellent accounts of the works referenced in “The Story of O.J.” and of the transtextual subversions being made by Jay-Z in this retrofitted homage, but I’m particularly struck with how the artistry and creativity of those problematic cartoons are merged with hip hop music video conventions and the issues addressed in conscious rap – the way an MC in direct address is situated with Fleischer-style backgrounds and vanishing points, how chipmunk soul vocals are fittingly located in a cartoon cabaret or how wacky surrealism is used to draw a shortcut connection between historical exploitation and its consequential products, and the way Jaybo’s matter-of-fact, unruffled skepticism reflects on the three-fingered cool of Bugs Bunny. A welcome companion to Beyoncé’s stunning Lemonade from last year, “The Story of O.J.” is a daring and ambitious work, sure to be one of the best of 2017.

Video Camera Demo Tape Fred Meyer (—, 2017)

Video Camera Demo Tape Fred Meyer (—, 2017) is 26-minutes of footage taken by a Washington State Fred Meyer superstore’s floor model VHS camera in the spring of 1992. Discovered by Kellie Rogers among her father’s old camcorder tapes intended for DVD conversion, this footage of early ’90s consumerism is oddly compelling and extremely watchable. Katie Rife of The A.V. Club calls it “2017’s most avant-garde documentary” and Sophia June of Willamette Week cites it as “the greatest time capsule ever.” Hyperbole aside, the footage offers plenty of grist for the theoretical mill – the independent and foregrounded presence of the apparatus (notice those autofocus corrections), the manner of its smart device-less, unconnected subjects, the transient and incidental quality of captured footage with the rising convenience of personal recording, the footage’s online success and the current culture’s thirst for nostalgia. For those disinterested with the philosophical implications of Video Camera Demo Tape Fred Meyer, there are plenty of fascinating period intricacies to take in – the early packaging of CDs in long boxes, the ubiquity of sweatshirts, commercial transactions actually paid with paper money, and the lamentable rise of fanny packs. Good times.

Born Like Stars (Steve Haddock and Brad A. Seibel, 2006)

MMC! is hard at work on our next imagined Criterion Collection set. In the meantime, MMC! offers a kind of thematic preview to our next proposal with Born Like Stars (Steve Haddock and Brad A. Seibel, 2006), a Wholphin classic from Volume 2 and Best of Wholphin Vol. 1. The video, taken by a remotely operated vehicle called Tiburon from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, depicts baby squid hatching from the 3,000 egg cluster of a deep sea squid. The Gonatus onyx is a small, deep sea squid with the rare practice of brooding its eggs between its arms rather than on the ocean floor, something only discovered in 2005. The undulating movement by the mother squid pumps oxygen through the cone of eggs. The short’s plinky-plunky, music box score works in perfect compliment to the subject matter, creating a nursery-like atmosphere around its seemingly alien footage.

Premonitions Following an Evil Deed (David Lynch, 1995)

With the Criterion Collection’s tease of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (David Lynch, 1992) and the screening of the first two parts of Lynch’s new Twin Peaks 18-part feature at the Cannes Film Festival, it seems like much of the CC world is abuzz over David Lynch and the prospects of new spine numbered editions being announced. This has got me thinking about my favourite shorts by Lynch and so today MMC! casts its spotlight on Premonitions Following an Evil Deed (David Lynch, 1995), a 52-second film made for the Lumière and Company anthology film (1995) celebrating the centenary of Auguste and Louis Lumière’s first films. Contributing shorts to the anthology used the original Cinématographe camera, were edited in-camera, could not be longer than 52 seconds, could not have synchronized sound, and were allowed no more than three takes. This eerie and foreboding short was filmed on five sets constructed at the house of Gary D’Amico, Lynch’s special effects co-ordinator. Premonitions is one of six restored short films included on Criterion’s edition of Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977).