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.

MeTube: August Sings Carmen ‘Habanera’ (Daniel Moshel, 2013) and MeTube 2: August Sings Carmina Burana (Daniel Moshel, 2016)

Thoughts of the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal (just underway) and various other fantastic film festivals still to come has me reflecting on cinematic weirdness and my attendance to the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival back in October. Among my favourites were Daniel Moshel’s two bizarre shorts, MeTube: August Sings Carmen ‘Habanera’ (2013) and MeTube 2: August Sings Carmina Burana (2016). The former is a hallucinatory tribute to awkward YouTube performances. Featuring Swiss tenor August Schram as a nerdy opera wanna-be and Elfie Wunsch as his grimly attentive mother, the short transforms a reserved and amateurish rendition George Bizet’s Habanera from Carmen into an EDM-infused, pan-sexual bacchanal, and it’s weirdo-glorious. Moshel’s crowd-funded sequel takes MeTube‘s classical mindfuck to the streets with a flash-mobbed carnival of “Opera on Acid.” For more by Moshel and a peek into the making of the films, check out his YouTube and Vimeo pages!

I’m working on our next proposal (an underappreciated comedy for the Shout Select label) so hopefully that will arrive soon. TCB, baby!

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).

Logorama (Ludovic Houplain, Herve de Crecy, and Francois Alaux, 2009)

Back in January, the Criterion Collection paired the Oscar-winning short film Logorama (Ludovic Houplain, Hervé de Crécy, and François Alaux, 2009) with Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin féminin (1966). Created by the French collective H5, the short constructs Los Angeles entirely from (3,000 or so) trademarked logos and then presents these sanitized images of friendly consumerism in the sun-drenched violence typical to films like To Live and Die in L.A. (William Friedkin, 1985) and Heat (Michael Mann, 1995). The result is a clever statement on the ubiquity of capitalist commodification in our daily life and a somewhat nasty dismantling of the corporate messaging shorthanded into these capitalist symbols. Those interested in the legality of Logorama (or at least the American legality of a French film) should read Rose Lawrence’s “LOGORAMA: The Great Trademark Heist.” Lawrence’s unpacking of the legal tests for parody, satire, infringement, and dilution are particularly useful in considering the artistic aims, popular interactions, and social commentaries at work in the short film. As a bonus, Lawrence also touches upon important legal texts like George of the Jungle 2 (David Grossman, 2003) and Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.”