Happy Christmas Eve! And what better way for MMC! to extend its season’s greetings than by sharing Chowboys: An American Folktale (2018), the final work of Winnipeg’s irreverent Astron-6. Here, three stupid cowboys struggle to survive in the frigid mountains on the coldest night of the year. Beautiful hands, sheet cakes, St. Nicholas, and cannibalism make for a wacky and gory holiday short set on Christmas Eve. God bless us, everyone (although maybe not Wendigo Santa).
Seeing as how it’s snowing and blowing hard today, what better way to celebrate this chilly Halloween than with some spookerrific shorts from the National Film Board of Canada. We’ve got surrealist worlds, honking monsters, devilish visitors, chicken leg houses, and anti-smoking PSAs.
Batmilk (Brandon Blommaert, 2009)
“In this animated short, an oafish ghoul and his soft exposed brain are met with ruin when the brain is unexpectedly killed. Though paralyzed, the ghoul attains a fresh brain and is fed with new life. ” (NFB)
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).
A cult classic to knowing G-fans everywhere, Godzilla vs. Mito Kōmon was made by Shinya Takeshita around 1991 while a student at Osaka Art University. The short is loaded with DIY charm and cheeky ingenuity thanks to Takeshita playing a one-man show as a news reporter (with pop bottle microphone), various classic kaiju and tokusatsu characters (with cardboard fins and helmets), and even multiple utility poles. Takeshita also plays various roles from the iconic Japanese television series Mito Kōmon, including the title character and his various followers. The short is memorable in part for bringing two together two Japanese icons: Godzilla and his giant monster ilk and the characters of Japan’s longest-running period drama, Mito Kōmon (1,227 episodes from 1969 to 2011), which featured a feudal lord traveling in disguise with his samurai retainers and redressing some local injustice in each episode. In these socially distanced days where scores of people are taking their creativity to webcams and video-sharing in even greater abundance, Takeshita’s film is a reminder that wacky, enthusiastic, brilliant entertainment was always just one person and one camera away.
MMC! concludes its short film preview of our next Criterion Collection proposal with Joseph Strick’s Oscar-winning documentary short, Interviews with My Lai Veterans (1970). With Haskell Wexler and Richard Pearce behind the camera, Strick interviews five former American soldiers involved in the My Lai Massacre of March 16, 1968, a search and destroy mission by the US military that killed hundreds of defenceless Vietnam civilians. Notwithstanding orders that barred them from speaking about the event, these veterans candidly describe the orders provided, the expectations that were held, and the brutality that proceeded. These accounts resisted the misinformation about the massacre circulating officially and offered chilling insights on some unimaginably outrageous acts.
MMC! returns to the work of Ben Maddow, this time with him in the role of writer/director and working in collaboration with Helen Levitt as producer and Sidney Meyers as editor. Maddow’s short film The Steps of Age (also known as The Stairs, 1950) was sponsored by the National Association of Mental Health, produced by the Department of Mental Health for the State of South Carolina, and organized by the Mental Health Film Board, and it focuses on the strain of aging and retirement through the figure of Mrs. Potter (Rose Spencer), a 62 year-old woman challenged with a listless husband forced into retirement and then the difficulty of moving in with her daughter’s family. The short ultimately promotes the need for empathy, respect, and appreciation by Mrs. Potter and her daughter (played by James Agee’s younger sister Emma), along with an acceptance of old-age and the changing roles that accompany it. The Steps of Age garnered a Documentary Short Oscar nomination, losing to Edmund Reek’s Why Korea? (1950).