I like asking – if your life required narration, who would you want to provide it? No one has ever chosen Tom Waits, which is too bad because he does have a great voice. I like the idea that Tom Waits’s voice is a natural starting point for this micro-portrait of artist John Baldessari. It’s an entertaining short, full of wry humour and clever edits and Looney Tunes momentum thanks to its classical score. This is me enjoying A Brief History of John Baldessari (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, 2012).
Very much in the same vein is Ed Ruscha: Building and Words (Felipe Lima, 2016), another micro-portrait of another California artist narrated by another celebrity. This time it’s Owen Wilson, and while he’s no Tom Waits, he has pretty good voice for this too. I wouldn’t second guess anyone choosing him to narrate their life. Lima’s short takes a similarly machine gun approach to surveying the artist’s vast catalogue, and expands the talking head count along the way. It’s all enough to make you move to California and start exploring the artistic possibilities of label makers, road paint, or portraits of diner specials.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould.
François Girard provides in this unconventional bio-pic a compelling and memorable exploration of Canadian musician Glenn Gould, arguably the 20th Century’s greatest classical pianist. Through thirty-two elegantly constructed vignettes mixing drama, documentary, animation, and avant-garde, Girard reveals glimpses of Gould as performer, recording artist, humorist, outdoorsman, speculator, recluse, and iconoclast. Taken together, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould offers a prismatic understanding of Gould’s complex genius and his personal struggles without dispelling the enigmatic power of his legend.
Charlie Lyne’s wonderful work of montage-documentary Copycat (2015) tells the story of Rolfe Kanefsky’s There’s Nothing Out There (1991), a self-aware horror-comedy made by the 19 year-old filmmaker for $100,000. You may not have seen this pioneering cult classic-neverwas … or maybe you have and you just don’t know it.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Arthur Lipsett: In Between Artist.
Admired by cinema innovators like Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, and Stan Brakage, Canadian filmmaker Arthur Lipsett was an experimental phenomenon within the National Film Board of Canada, creating avant-garde collage films that mapped the alienation of technological advancement and media saturation. These films, assembled from footage shot by Lipsett and collected from trimmings of other NFB productions, convey Lipsett’s view of increasing dehumanization under the pressures of modernity, yet they remains energetic and enthusiastic in their ironic juxtapositions and rapid-fire pace. This collector’s set provides a complete survey of Lipsett’s experimental works and four related films examining the life and art of one of experimental cinema’s most enigmatic filmmakers.
- New 2K digital restorations of all 8 films – Very Nice, Very Nice (1962), Experimental Film (1963), 21-87 (1963), Free Fall (1964), A Trip Down Memory Lane (1965), Fluxes (1968), N-Zone (1970), Strange Codes (1972) – with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays
- Interview with director George Lucas
- Two Films by Lipsett, Donald Rennick’s 1967 documentary discussing Free Fall and A Trip Down Memory Lane with a group of teenagers
- Remembering Arthur, Martin Lavut’s 2006 feature-length documentary on his close friend, Arthur Lipsett
- The Arthur Lipsett Project: A Dot on the Histomap, a 52-minute documentary from 2007 by Eric Gaucher
- Lipsett Diaries, Theodore Ushev’s 2010 animated short featuring narration by Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan
- PLUS: A booklet featuring essays and capsules by Lipsett scholars William Wees and Fred Camper and filmmakers Brett Kashmere, Amelia Does, and Dirk de Bruyn
No celebrity or movie star appearance within the National Film Board of Canada’s library seems to generate more pride by the NFB than Buster Keaton’s appearances in The Railrodder (Gerald Potterton, 1965), a 24-minute comedy short, and Buster Keaton Rides Again (John Spotton, 1965), a 55-minute behind-the-scenes documentary. Buster’s films of the 1920s were undergoing something of a reappraisal at the time, and the NFB took up the opportunity to offer Keaton a chance to return to his roots as a figure of silent comedy riding the rails, this time across panoramic Canadian landscapes. Keaton turned 69 during the shoot and his age shows a bit on The Railrodder, whose more modest gags underwhelm at times. That said, we still love the short film’s ending, and most Keaton fans admire The Railrodder for producing Buster Keaton Rides Again, a fascinating companion piece that offers a portrait of the aging comedian, still insightful about his art and dogged in his work.
As per the NFB:
This short film from director Gerald Potterton (Heavy Metal) stars Buster Keaton in one of the last films of his long career. As “the railrodder”, Keaton crosses Canada from east to west on a railway track speeder. True to Keaton’s genre, the film is full of sight gags as our protagonist putt-putts his way to British Columbia. Not a word is spoken throughout, and Keaton is as spry and ingenious at fetching laughs as he was in the old days of the silent slapsticks.
As per the NFB:
In this film, Keaton rides across Canada on a railway scooter and, between times, rests in a specially appointed passenger coach where he and Mrs. Keaton lived during their Canadian film assignment. This film is about how Buster Keaton made a Canadian travel film, The Railrodder. In this informal study the comedian regales film crew with anecdotes of a lifetime in show business. Excerpts from his silent slapstick films are shown.
When Canadian ambitions toward high culture land on the third art rather than the fourth (sorry Glenn Gould!), attention is frequently given to the Group of Seven, a collection of Canadian landscape painters from the 1920s and ’30s that established a Canadian Modernist style and provided a distinctly Canadian aesthetic by which artists could interpret and interact with their national subject. Allan Wargon’s Varley (1953) provides something of an introduction to Frederick Varley, then 72 years old, two decades removed from the Group of Seven’s disbanding, living an impoverished life, and with his best years as an artist now well behind him. Wargon initially envisioned the film as a celebration of the painter “as a hero and a wise man,” but Varley rejected such a portrayal of himself in favour of a reworking by Wargon that approached the film as a psychological study. Without great interest from the National Film Board for a documentary on Frederick Varley, Wargon lacked the necessary budget for Ektachrome film stock until the Director of the National Gallery took pity on him and offered to make up the shortfall, thereby allowing the film to get made. Varley was the only member of the Group of Seven to specialize in portraiture and Wargon’s film seems to emphasize this work almost ahead of Varley’s more renowned landscapes. Wargon’s camera ruminates on the thick “Hot Mush” of the painted canvas and the rough, etched face of Varley, revealing the artist and his art as distorted and weathered in appearance, yet entirely noble in spirit.
Those looking for more on Allan Wargon and Varley should head to the filmmaker’s highly informative blog.
As per the NFB:
This short documentary is a portrait of Frederick Varley, Canadian painter and member of the Group of Seven. In the film, Varley returns to his studio in Toronto after a sketching trip. The camera moves about the studio selecting examples of his canvases and watches him as he begins a new painting.