Rein Raamat’s Hell (1983) adapts the engravings of Estonian graphic artist Eduard Wiiralt into a surreal, grotesque, and heavily sexual animated short. Wiiralt’s three source works, “The Preacher,” “Cabaret,” and “Hell,” date back to the early 1930s and portray a cacophony of bacchanalia, hysteria, and violence in the final years of Estonian independence amid the unrest of the Great Depression and European instability. Raamat’s Hell (Põrgu) was created in the comparably uncertain time of Soviet dismantling and collapse. The short is unsettling in its physical fluidity, like an Eastern European, art film prediction of the climax to Brian Yuzna’s Society (1989).
MMC! keeps our creepy October rolling with Dave Fleischer’s spook-errific animation classic, Snow-White (1933). This Betty Boop masterpiece was animated almost single-handed by Roland Crandall over six months, his reward for loyal service to Fleischer Studios. The short features an array of creepy gags and set-pieces, the highlight of which is the Mystery Cave portion where a rotoscoped Cab Calloway performs “St. James Infirmary Blues” as a ghostly Koko the Clown. I first saw Snow-White in a class on the Disney Company where the very knowledgeable professor cited the rotoscoped appearance of Cab Calloway as an introduction of realism into the film, something I never understood given the very fantastic animation applied to the phantom Koko transforms into and the almost unnatural, counter-intuitive physics of Calloway’s glides and moonwalks. Snow-White has been preserved by the National Film Registry and can be found on Blu-ray in Volume 4 of Olive Films’ Betty Boop: The Essential Collections.
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!
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
On the Santa Monica Pier, in the shabby La Monica Ballroom, a bizarre Depression-era fad unfolds – the dance marathon. A worn out collection of hopefuls (Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Susannah York, Bonnie Bedelia, Red Buttons, and Bruce Dern) compete in hopes that a Hollywood casting agent spots them or that they at least win the contest’s $1,500 cash prize. But the competition is a grueling public spectacle, lasting thousands of hours and taking weeks to proceed, leaving dignity and salvation farther and farther away. Based on Horace McCoy’s brutally poetic novel and featuring stand-out performances including Gig Young’s award-winning role as the marathon’s huckstering emcee, Sydney Pollack’s seminal film puts a cap on 1960s idealism and paints a bleak portrait of the American Dream that still resonates today.
- New 2K digital transfer, presented with uncompressed stereo on the Blu-ray edition
- Audio commentary by director and producer Sydney Pollack
- Audio commentary with Jane Fonda, producer Irwin Winkler, former president of ABC Pictures and talent agent Martin Baum, Bonnie Bedelia, Michael Sarrazin, Red Buttons, and legendary hair stylist Sydney Guilaroff
- New interviews with actors Jane Fonda, Bruce Dern, and Bonnie Bedelia
- New interview with film critic Kim Morgan
- New interview with filmmaker Sarah Gertrude Shapiro discussing They Shoot Horses and introducing her 2013 short film Sequin Raze
- Original featurette on the making of the film
- PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Scott MacDonald, composer John Green’s musical continuity notes, Pollack’s forward to the screenplay, and notes, pictures, and diagrams taken from Pollack’s shooting script; a new paperback edition of McCoy’s original novel
The best dancing zombie video since John Landis’ Thriller (1983), Henry Kaplan’s We Together (2016) offers some interesting ideas as to why the undead might partake of some extended krumping. Featuring the music of Kerron Hurd, this short manages to do something surprising and intelligent with an over-played and often uninspired monster. For more on the making of We Together, check out Henry Kaplan’s interview at Directors Notes.
In 1974, the International Women’s Year, the NFB established Studio D, a film studio dedicated to female filmmakers that became one of the Board’s most successful units. Studio D became the victim of budget cuts in 1996, but the NFB’s commitment to feminist films continued, announcing in 2016 a gender-parity initiative dedicating half of the Board’s productions and half of its funding to female filmmakers (a balance the NFB was close to achieving without the formal pledge anyways). Included here are two of Studio D’s most appreciated works – If You Love This Planet (1982), Terre Nash’s powerful depiction of Dr. Helen Caldicott cut against medical footage of Hiroshima survivors, nuclear test stock footage, and Cold War Hollywood movies (starring Ronald Reagan); and Flamenco at 5:15 (Cynthia Scott, 1983), an observational rumination on youth, tutelage, physicality, and flamenco’s theatrical impact.
As per the NFB:
This Oscar®-winning short film is comprised of a lecture given to students by outspoken nuclear critic Dr. Helen Caldicott, president of Physicians for Social Responsibility in the USA. Her message is clear: disarmament cannot be postponed. Archival footage of the bombing of Hiroshima and images of its survivors seven months after the attack heighten the urgency of her message.
As per the NFB:
This Oscar®-winning short film is an impressionistic record of a flamenco dance class given to senior students of the National Ballet School of Canada by two great teachers from Spain, Susana and Antonio Robledo. The film shows the beautiful young North American dancers—inspired by the flamenco rhythms and mesmerized by Susana’s extraordinary energy—joyously merging with an ancient gypsy culture.