Your Short Film of the Day
We’re stuck at home, obsessing about the news, worrying about our families, worrying about our job situation. We need a break! So every day, our writers will share a short film, a scene, an inexplicable clip that they love. We hope you’ll enjoy it, too.
In a video essay that’s part film criticism, part interview and pure cinephile pleasure, the filmmaker Kogonada distills the director Richard Linklater’s cinema into eight minutes of internet bliss. You may have grown wistful through “Boyhood” or loved the beguiling pairing of Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke across the “Before” trilogy as much as I did, but in this elegantly composed analysis, Kogonada manages to visualize the philosophical question at the heart of Linklater’s films: How do we change over time?
Kogonada, himself the director of the acclaimed film “Columbus” (2017), has become a low-key icon among cinephile crowds for his exquisitely edited video essays for Sight & Sound magazine and the Criterion Collection. But DVD extras, these are not. Instead, they are accessible explanations of complicated film theory that thread ideas, animation and text into lyrical works of video art. “Linklater: On Cinema and Time” can easily lead to a binge down the long list of filmmakers that have received the Kogonada treatment — Wes Anderson, Alfonso Cuarón, Ingmar Bergman and Yasujiro Ozu, among others.
But it’s this essay about Richard Linklater’s films, and the “Before” series in particular, that remains my favorite. The narration is driven by a scratchy phone recording of Linklater pondering the vulnerability of life and cinema’s relationship with time. Those excerpts are intercut with onscreen conversations between Delpy and Hawke across the years of making “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight.” The vulnerability, tenderness and beauty of that trilogy is edited into miniature form — and as the music swells to its conclusion, there are offscreen life lessons, too. It’s honestly kind of perfect.
Imagine launching yourself into space in a homemade rocket, patched together with pieces of tin. Achieving great feats with nothing but scraps, fumes and pure gumption.
Nuotama Bodomo’s “Afronauts” breathes cinematic life into one such fantasy. While the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in the space race in the 1960s, a Zambian activist, Edward Mukuka Nkoloso, gathered a dozen teenagers to try to beat the superpowers to the moon. Bodomo takes the true story of the Zambian Space Program and passes it through the looking glass, creating a strange film that’s more fever dream than narrative.
“Afronauts” begins with the training regimen of a 17-year-old astronaut, Matha. In a barren desert that looks a lot like the lunar surface, her work is improvised using everyday objects, as if in a child’s game, but executed with somber gravity. In buoyancy training Matha is tossed up and down on a sheet of plastic. For weightlessness, she’s rolled down a hill in a trash can. Archival audio from Apollo 11 is overlaid on these scenes, lending an ironic seriousness to them.
These routines seem absurd, but they’re based in reality. Bodomo was inspired by a British newsreel of Nkoloso and his recruits engaged in similar exercises. But while the British reporter surveys them with an air of condescension, Bodomo invests their efforts with genuine pathos, underlining their political motivations.
In 1969, Zambia had recently achieved independence from colonial rule and was struggling to build a self-sufficient economy. The imperialist impulses of space travel don’t elude the characters of “Afronauts” — they’re Afrofuturists who dream of a radical new existence, free of the oppressions of the past. “Tell them we’re all coming,” Nkoloso says to Matha before her flight. “Do not impose Christianity on them, Matha. Do not impose the nation-states on them.”
“Afronauts” ends inconclusively, on the brink of possibility. The greatest leap man can make, the film seems to suggest, is to imagine a better way of life.
Jazz was born in New Orleans, but it gestated in Elkhart, Ind., where, in 1888, the foreman of a cornet factory was handed a funny-looking instrument designed by the Belgian musician Adolphe Sax. For nearly a century, that small town produced saxophones that set the high note for rich sound and nimble dexterity.
While Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Kenny G got the standing ovations, let’s herald the agility of the smooth operators who punched, welded and polished sheets of brass until they’re thinner than a dime and louder than a jackhammer. In 1980, “Sesame Street” wrangled an invitation to a production line on the border between the United States and Mexico, where the Elkhart factory had temporarily relocated, to applaud the 5,000 steps of making a saxophone.
Set to an avant-garde soundtrack of trills and blarps, it’s a two-minute ode to the human ingenuity that gives life to every product in our homes from crayons to peanut butter. (“Sesame Street” visited those workers, too.) Though today’s saxes are more often spawned in Sidangkou, China, and Markneukirchen, Germany, American saxophone production did eventually return to Elkhart.
Without its gifted craftsmakers, the entire history of American music would be muted. “Born to Run” would have limped, and “Careless Whisper” wouldn’t have made a peep. Not to blow its own horn, but this factory line might even be the heart of rock ’n’ roll — at least, its saxophones helped Huey Lewis keep it beating.
Stryka and Callen are charming, roguish bandits with a cozy partnership: “I’m Han and he’s my Chewbacca,” she says.
But here the white guy is relegated to doofus-sidekick status while the hero is a spiky-headed, reptilian female alien with second thoughts about her work husband: Stryka (Aimee Mullins) is two-timing Callen (Rupert Friend, who played Peter Quinn on “Homeland”) with another thief, George Peterson (John Behlmann).
Some short films are self-contained miniatures that stand on their own. Others, like Emily Carmichael’s “Stryka,” feel like pieces of a larger puzzle and leave you wanting more. This teaser approach can be a little frustrating; then again, this short, from 2015, was probably instrumental in helping its writer-director land writing gigs on “Pacific Rim: Uprising” and the forthcoming “Jurassic World: Dominion.”
In less than 10 minutes, Carmichael brings to life a Brooklyn from “the near-ish future,” where futuristic doodads are superimposed over a familiar reality (Stryka confides her ambivalence to a “therabot” that looks like a vending machine). She also manages to create characters who have the coherence found in rom-coms 10 times as long.
Carmichael has a light touch, too. The film is full of low-key jokes that have to do either with Stryka feeling beleaguered — like her grimace when she tries to upload schematics and gets a “153 minutes remaining” message — or with the discrepancy between her looks and her situation. This is basically a spin on a love triangle with a heroine who resembles a goofy version of the creature from the Black Lagoon. (New Yorkers may assume Stryka emerged from the Gowanus Canal rather than a galaxy far, far away.)
It’s this juxtaposition of banal and extraordinary that sets the short apart. Now let’s hope Carmichael can pull off a similar trick with dinosaurs.
“Is Mr. Music OK?” asks one of the cheerful moppets watching a manic Jake Gyllenhaal, as the harried troubadour Mr. Music, struggle through his song and dance number. “No, Mr. Music’s not OK. He’s having a lot of trouble,” replies John Mulaney, the creator and star of “John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch,” a musical-comedy special he made last year for Netflix. Nevertheless, Mr. Music intrepidly carries on, flailing and bumbling with irrepressible verve.
Like the rest of “Sack Lunch Bunch,” the silly, frantically exuberant segment “Music, Music Everywhere!” is a parody of children’s entertainment that’s played unusually straight. Mulaney has said he was inspired by old PBS shows for kids, such as “3-2-1 Contact” and “The Electric Company,” and what shines through is his abiding affection for the medium — though “Sack Lunch Bunch” is very funny, it’s sincere rather than ironic or mocking. Gyllenhaal’s Mr. Music gets the tone exactly right: buoyant, jaunty, and so upbeat he’s almost hysterical.
“Music, Music Everywhere!” is a riff on the cliché that the mundane cacophony of everyday life is its own private soundtrack. The gag is that Mr. Music keeps finding examples that are really, really quiet — from tapping a pen on a paperback book (“not too loud, but you get the point,” he sings) to tossing a shirt in a laundry hamper (“subtle sound / let me find something else!”). As his efforts to exact a tune from nonmusical bric-a-brac continue to founder, his frustration mounts, to hilarious, agonizing effect. “I stayed up late trying on clothes I already own and I didn’t prepare and I failed,” he finally admits to Mulaney and the kids. But failure’s rarely been so funny.
The long take — a shot of some duration, often but not always featuring some tricky camera moves — is an object of endless cinephile fascination. Take the opening scene of Robert Altman’s “The Player,” itself a long take in which Hollywooders yammer on about virtuoso shots in films like Orson Welles’s “Touch of Evil.”
The scene is of a benefit, held in the garden of rich Long Islanders. As is customary in Berkeley movies, the stage is huge, well-appointed. Benny Goodman’s clarinet begins an overture to the song “Paducah.”
The shot starts on an Art Deco sculpture of the huntress Diana that adorns a fountain. A curtain of water rises behind her, lit by blue and purple filters; it then falls, revealing Goodman and his big band. on a pair of narrow diagonal ascending platforms. The camera cranes in and follows the first one up to the left, and then the second one up to the right, ascending above a shimmering chandelier. The symmetry, the color, the mini-portraits of the musicians are thrilling. The camera descends to resolve in a medium close-up of Goodman, now crooning of “a pretty little city in Kentucky.” The aggregate effect is to sweep you off your feet.
After the cut, Carmen Miranda struts out and does her thing with the song, and she’s delightful as always. But after the crane shot, it’s almost anticlimactic.
Cooking is beginning to exhaust me. I’m not alone. Confess: Are you as acutely aware of how many eggs you have in the refrigerator, how many sticks of butter or slices of bread? Restaurant deprivation is hitting this self-admitted lazybones and hedonist especially hard. I will single-handedly revive Brooklyn’s dining industry when it becomes safe to do so.
Until then, I’m enjoying this charming 1986 clip of Julia Child mixing it up with David Letterman back when he did “Late Night” on NBC. In the process of their banter — sarcastic in both directions — they manage to cook up something that looks absolutely disgusting: a ground-beef hamburger that, sans a working hot plate, becomes a condiment-heavy “beef tartare.”
“Have you ever cooked something, Julia, that just turned out awful?” Letterman asks, mid-patty-shaping. “Yeah, lots of times,” Child says, not missing a beat. “I give it to my husband.” The crowd is hers.
In six swift minutes, you can detect a fascinating dynamic, Letterman’s gentle mockery yielding to a kind of game-recognize-game respect for a master improviser. Child, a veteran of TV mishaps, doesn’t give a second thought to the malfunctioning hot plate. Instead, she pulls out a blow torch and Letterman’s cringe is exquisite.
There’s a sound effect of a mooing cow later (“OK, Howard, take the day off,” Letterman says to his rascally backstage technician, the one responsible for all those breaking-glass sounds). And there’s a taste test. Through Dave’s grimace, you can hear his generosity.
“You’re very inventive and very quick on your feet,” he says to Child. It’s a vibe that every good kitchen runs on — that and a little extra mayo.
The past several weeks at home have forced many cooks to get crafty with their meal plans. Maybe there’s a new bean recipe in the mix, a revamped pasta favorite or a newly discovered ingredient that can substitute for another. My latest culinary experiments, both failed and successful, reminded me of the Oscar-nominated animated short “Fresh Guacamole” (2012), from the filmmaker known as PES, Adam Pesapane.
“Fresh Guacamole” is not your average cooking tutorial. Instead, this playful piece uses game-board staples, craft supplies, household objects and children’s toys to create the title dish. The cooking instruments are real, but the ingredients are imaginative stand-ins or puns. For instance, a pair of hands wielding a knife cuts a toy hand grenade in half, its dark green husk a replacement for an avocado shell.
Beyond its tasty appeal, “Fresh Guacamole” holds the record for the shortest film to earn an Oscar nomination. It was ahead of its time, too, showing the wide appeal of neatly edited food videos years ahead of its trending heyday around 2015.
If “Fresh Guacamole” leaves you hungry for more food-centric stop-motion, it’s part of a trilogy, alongside “Western Spaghetti” (2008) and “Submarine Sandwich” (2014). They’re bite-sized delectable distractions from the pressures of Instagram-perfect dinner displays, reconnecting home chefs of all skills with the fun and creative possibilities of cooking.
Basketball season has been suspended indefinitely, and ESPN tried to fill the void with the “NBA HORSE Challenge,” in which eight slick players compete in a trick-shot contest. But if you want to see some truly entertaining horseplay on the court, check out this seven-minute clip from a 1965 episode of the variety show “The Hollywood Palace.”
The comedic actress and singer Edie Adams introduces a delightfully chaotic mini-game. On one side are the Harlem Globetrotters, including the “Clown Prince of Basketball,” Meadowlark Lemon, and the Brooklyn-born playground legend (and later N.B.A. star) Connie Hawkins. On the other side are the Palace Dribblers: the comics Tim Conway, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks; the crooner Vic Damone; and the actor David Janssen.
The Globetrotters’ ebullient theme song, Brother Bones’s whistled version of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” plays as Conway gets away with an uproariously blatant traveling violation and gives the Dribblers an early lead. The advantage quickly slips away as their opponents trot out such timeless crowd-pleasers as the hide-the-ball-under-your-jersey gag. It doesn’t help the Dribblers that Brooks can’t score, even after two Globetrotters lift him up to slam-dunk level.
The surprise M.V.P. is Janssen, who was an all-state hoops player at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles and shows off some fancy ball-handling skills. Still, the journeyman actor, who was halfway through his stint on “The Fugitive,” soon needs to stop and catch his breath and admits, “I haven’t run this much in two years on television!”
As if that weren’t amusing enough, stick around to see the promo for the next episode of “The Hollywood Palace,” featuring “The Wizard of Oz” veteran Bert Lahr, the singer Julius La Rosa, the Borscht Belt comic Jan Murray and “your hostess” … Bette Davis! An impressive lineup, but could any of them sink a jump shot?
The filmmaker John Wilson looks at New York the way few other filmmakers do. In “How To Walk To Manhattan” (2013), one of a series of short, no-budget instructional videos Wilson made over the last decade, we follow him along the five-mile excursion by foot from his apartment in Bushwick through Williamsburg into Manhattan, and we see the city through his perceptive, highly idiosyncratic eyes. A kind of ironic anti-travelogue, the film drolly marvels at the banal, and it so fizzes with ordinary life that it will make you nostalgic for a time when we could all still effortlessly go outside.
Wilson’s New York is a menagerie of urban miscellanea: cute dogs and busy bodegas, construction workers loafing around roadwork sites and hung over 20-somethings waiting for brunch, odd men lounging on discarded La-Z-Boys and others hawking cheap athletic socks on the sidewalk. And his playful narration observes it all with wry wit and affected innocence, cheerfully commenting on fixtures of the city that wouldn’t make it into a tourism brochure as he stutters, coughs, and clears his throat exaggeratedly. “The B.Q.E., it’s a great place for cars if you have one,” goes a typical Wilsonism. The tone is guileless and endearing, and very, very funny.
This feigned naïveté leads Wilson to some incisive commentary. His remarks on sanitation and affordable housing have a mordant edge, and he is keenly observant about the city’s various disappointments, such as when he notes of a garbage-strewn lawn that “there don’t seem to be many trash cans here,” or when, finding a man sitting on the sidewalk, he wisely reflects that “there used to be a bench here, but a bunch of people told them to get rid of it, so they did.” These are the grievances of someone with a lot of affection for New York, and what’s charming about the film is seeing his love shine through.
Hello there and welcome aboard! You’re just in time for the hippest trip to cardioland with the “Soul Train” host Don Cornelius and 32 of the grooviest dudes and dudettes to ever dominate the floor. Gauging by the diameter of Cornelius’s afro and the spanking new O’Jays track on the speakers, this clip dates to 1972-1973, shortly after the longest running dance show in America made the leap from Chicago to Los Angeles and upgraded from black-and-white to vibrant color.
Cornelius could be stingy about sharing the microphone with his young, limber dancers, many of whom were becoming fan favorites with giddy write-ups in “Right On!” magazine. This dance contest, however, lets burgeoning legends Damita Jo Freeman, Patricia Davis and Jimmy “Scoo B Doo” Foster introduce themselves before expressing their individuality with each slide, lunge, clap and shimmy.
If you want to know which of the 16 couples will reign supreme, here’s a follow-up clip where James Brown announces the competition’s winners. But it’s simply fun to join the party. Pick a person and perfect their move. (I’m enamored with a second Patricia’s T-Rex wiggle that evolves into a robot waltz.) Once that hip-dip, knee-knock or ankle-slap is mastered, rewind to keep the train a-chugging, or boogie to the closet to spelunk for suspenders and argyle socks. As ever, Don Cornelius wishes you love, peace … and soul!
Cooler than cool, the 10-minute dazzler “Jammin’ the Blues” (1944) opens with some piano tinkling and the rhythmic sweeping of a wire brush on a cymbal. “This” — an unseen man says with a dramatic pause — “is a jam session.” The darkened image doesn’t yet reveal much, just some ethereal tendrils of smoke and two nesting circles. These are soon revealed as the top of a porkpie hat worn by the legendary Lester Young, who first raises his head and then his saxophone to play “Midnight Symphony,” the smoke drifting from a cigarette parked in his left hand.
At once austere and lush, “Jammin’ the Blues” is loosely structured in three sections, each for a different song. Young is soon joined by the other musicians, who are crisply shot against a black backdrop separately and together, seated and standing, in close-up and in longer shot. They look as if they’re floating in space, an abstraction that focuses your attention on them and the music, on their skittering fingers, bobbing heads and jumping notes. At one point, Marie Bryant enters to sing “On the Sunny Side of the Street” against a light backdrop. For the third part, she dances the Lindy with Archie Savage while the musicians blast off with the song that gives the film its title.
“Jammin’ the Blues” was directed by Gjon Mili, a Life photographer whom Warner Bros. thought had potential, and overseen by Norman Granz, who later founded Verve Records. The studio was anxious about the project or maybe just jazz and insisted the filmmakers include a singer-dancer. So Granz brought in Bryant, whom he was dating and who had toured with Duke Ellington. Warners was also concerned that Southern theaters would reject the short because the lineup included the white guitarist Barney Kessel. To appease the studio, the filmmakers wreathed him in shadow and darkened his hands with berry juice, a deranged, laughable attempt to preserve the color line, which the film, by its very existence, refuted.
The Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray is best known for his feature-length masterpieces — the Apu Trilogy, “Mahanagar” and others — but in 1964, he made a 12-minute short for American television. Titled “Two,” it was commissioned for the “Esso World Theater” series on PBS, a showcase for cinema, music and the arts from around the globe. Not wanting to make an Indian film in the English language, Ray decided to forgo dialogue altogether, and “Two” becomes a homage to silent cinema.
The story is straightforward and schematic: Two kids on either side of the class divide try to upstage each other with their toys. One lives in a big house full of expensive mechanical playthings, while the other lives in a nearby shack and amuses himself with handmade instruments — a flute, a drum, a bow and arrow.
Ray’s exquisitely detailed mise en scène — and the evocative soundtrack, composed by the director himself — expands the fable-like premise into poignant ruminations about consumerism and modernity. As the wealthy kid wanders from one toy-filled room in his house to the next, chugging a Coca-Cola and fidgeting with his Mickey Mouse hat, the director captures the dull excess of bourgeois life: its unfulfilling luxuries; its ornate yet empty-seeming spaces.
The climactic scene drives home this reality in haunting fashion. Despite the rich boy’s best efforts, which include shooting down his rival’s kite with a rifle, the poor boy’s flute-playing resumes at the end — sparse yet piercingly beautiful. It’s a classic victory-of-the-underdog moment, but the parallels to the Vietnam War, which Ray implicitly critiqued in several of his films, are unmistakable. As with much of the director’s work, “Two” is deceptively simple, articulating profound cultural and political ideas with its gentle, lyrical humanism.
A glass airship floats through a dreamy, star-spangled space, surfing over the sound waves, and broadcasting music into the cosmos … courtesy of the Philips radio company.
A commercial populated by a cast of ingeniously fashioned dolls and filmed in delicate Gasparcolor, “The Ship of the Ether” (1935) was among the first “puppet-toons” made by George Pal, who, having been chased out of Nazi Germany and then based in the Netherlands, was considered Europe’s answer to Walt Disney.
In Germany, Pal pioneered the image of cigarettes parading in military formation like a squadron of Busby Berkeley chorines, but he is best remembered today as the producer of special-effects heavy Cold War science-fiction classics like “Destination Moon,” “When Worlds Collide” and “The War of the Worlds.” A good deal less cataclysmic in its treatment of interplanetary relations, “The Ship of the Ether” is more like the Music of the Spheres as it celebrates the magic of sound traveling through the air.
With music setting the tempo, “Ether” is basically a variety show that includes a husky-voiced, bell-like French chanteuse, a macaroni-shaped Hungarian violinist, and a hirsute maestro conducting a Viennese waltz that gets the ship’s Gumby-esque crew gyrating in unison. Cameos by an Italian mandolin player, a Dutch accordionist, a Wagnerian baritone and German clog dancer contribute to the amiable cacophony. The concert, humorously interrupted by a squat little tuba who might be the ancestor of R2-D2, and a demented looking Morse code operator, ends with a pitch for Philips radio sets: “The world under every roof.”
Such universalism would soon become dangerous in Europe. A few years later the puppet-toon master went looking for a job in Hollywood. Having checked out his work, the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther gave him an enthusiastic endorsement: “Pal has what it takes.”
The ghostly images of empty New York City streets and sidewalks that have filled my Twitter timeline over the past few weeks, real-life still frames from “I Am Legend” and “Vanilla Sky,” have been especially haunting for me — and not just as a New Yorker. The first weekend of quarantine, I handed in the manuscript for my forthcoming book about the history of New York movies, a 100-year chronicle of the city on film, and thus the conclusion of a two-plus year process of watching films in which those very same streets were stuffed with people, cars and ephemera.
And so, even though the project is complete, I find myself revisiting those films, reminding myself of what the city looks like in its natural state. Which leads me to “Manhatta,” the 1921 short directed by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand, which perches on the fence between “actualities” — the very first short films that captured nothing more than fleeting glimpses of life on city streets — and avant-garde.
Beginning with a look at the island from the water (along with a passenger-packed ferry; social distancing, folks), the film quickly moves past pedestrians to its primary focus: the skyscrapers of the city. Framing the construction of these “marble and iron beauties” as the true measure of a city facing forward, the filmmakers photograph the buildings with a combination of romance and awe. They accord similar respect to the ships, trains and bridges that keep the city moving at what must have seemed an impossible pace. By focusing on the mechanics of the city, but placing those mechanics inside meticulously composed frames and bracketing them with poetic interstitial titles, “Manhatta” presents New York as a machine, and, simultaneously, as a miracle.
On Day 30 of quarantine, I found myself vaguely recreating the dance sequence from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 film “Band of Outsiders” with our cat, Gabriel. I was wearing a plaid skirt and a sweater that hung below my waistline, just like Anna Karina in that movie; Gabe trailed my footsteps in the kitchen, seduced by my can of tuna.
Our little kitchen tango reminded me of another Godardian homage, from the American independent filmmaker Hal Hartley (whose recent retrospective at Metrograph remains possibly one of my final moviegoing experiences of the year). In a 1996 profile of the director, The New York Times called Hartley “the Jean-Luc Godard of Long Island”; in a review of Hartley’s 1992 film “Simple Men,” the Times critic Vincent Canby pointed out Godardian references throughout, citing in particular “A Woman Is a Woman.” But the scene above, from that movie, is totally “Band of Outsiders” — if it were set to Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing.”
In “Simple Men,” two brothers (Robert John Burke and Bill Sage) search for their long-lost anarchist father. They find themselves stranded in a strange and sleepy town, which would be Lynchian if its mysterious aura weren’t so quotidian. They meet an eccentric group of locals (including Hartley’s muse, Martin Donovan) and become enamored with the women (Elina Löwensohn and Karen Sillas). In a complete non sequitur of a scene that begins with Donovan yelling, “I can’t stand the quiet!” Löwensohn, wearing a striped shirt that feels oh-so French new wave, leads him and Sage in a reinterpretation of the “Band of Outsiders” dance. The obtuse stomping, the cigarette passing and the slow dancers cutting in front of the ménage à trois perfectly encapsulate Hartley’s sense of romance and ennui. Especially amusing is the line sung by Kim Gordon, “Are you gonna liberate us girls from male white corporate oppression?,” in a film brimming with such masculine energy.
The short film “Pauline” unspools in a single long take: A young woman (Anaïs Demoustier) reclines on her side, pulling at the skin over her collarbone. Alone in the frame, she recounts the story of leaving her insular town as a teen after a spiteful boy outed her as gay.
“Pauline” is an early film from Céline Sciamma, whose feature “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is now streaming on Hulu. “Portrait” was celebrated for its warming depiction of an 18th-century romance between two women, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) and Marianne (Noémie Merlant), who are able to explore their desire in the sequestered safety of a remote seaside chateau.
In “Pauline,” the young lead is less lucky. When Pauline was 15, she says, she began to notice her liking for girls, which she describes as a sensation in her guts: “a bit like feeling nauseous.” She started dating Aurélian, a sympathetic male friend, but things went sour when she confided in him about her attraction, culminating in a scene of public humiliation.
When describing this experience, Pauline’s language is notable. Again and again, she repeats the word “normal,” apparently wrestling with its meaning. She didn’t love Aurélian, but it felt normal to date her best friend. Losing her virginity to him wasn’t enjoyable, but it’s normal to dislike your first time. Her desire made her feel deviant, and the ridicule she later faced in her village seemed to confirm her fears.
As in “Portrait,” Sciamma invites us to behold an intimate moment. But while the painful story and loneliness of the frame suggest distress, the shot’s creamy shallow focus and soft hues — periwinkle with pops of red — are comforting. Most beautifully, the final seconds of the short offer a familiar face (Haenel) in a surprising reveal. Pauline isn’t so alone after all.
“We’re going to have a little fun with this … to let you know that … they all work together … when you put ’em together … and as long as you … groooove.”
That is Bernard Purdie demonstrating his drumming technique. If all instructors could be as inspirational, remote leaning would go down a lot easier.
Purdie is among the single most influential session players of the past half-century. He helped make “Rock Steady” one of Aretha Franklin’s funkiest songs; he’s in her “Amazing Grace” concert, too. He has played on recordings by Steely Dan and James Brown, Hall & Oates and Nina Simone, Miles Davis and Joe Cocker; you may have heard him without knowing it, since many of his contributions have been uncredited.
His signature is the so-called Purdie Shuffle, which he dissects in this delightful video. “I’m going to explain it to you by playing it all,” he says. It’s tell-and-show of the highest order.
There are quite a few Purdie videos on YouTube, some with better production values, but this one is the most inspirational: Purdie, sitting contentedly behind his kit, sounds part-teacher, part-preacher. You may get the urge to engage in call and response at regular intervals.
In between chuckles — wouldn’t you be pleased, too, if you could do what he does? — he spits out rhythmic onomatopoeia and drags out his incantatory revelations. He grins contentedly, eyes half-shut.
And the entire time he keeps a metronomic heartbeat on the hi-hat — this guy has established permanent residence in the pocket — that makes the video hypnotic.
“Now! The big, big, big, big, big, big question: the triplet.” I have no clue about musical technique but I understand exactly what he means on a gut level because what he is letting us hear is the birth of the groove.
“Yeah!” he roars at the end, wriggling on his seat. “I liked that.”
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to know that a new wave of horror films is going to emerge from this awful time in an attempt — as horror does — to make sense of the unexplainable. Filmmakers will channel their own living-room solitude into movies about fears that evolved from our collective cabin fever. This will be especially true of at-home horror.
A sterling example of this kind of film — made before our present self-isolation — is the slyly sinister and very entertaining “Attic Panic.” Directed and shot by David F. Sandberg inside his own darkly-lit garret, it’s a ghost story about a woman (played by Sandberg’s wife and frequent collaborator, Lotta Losten) who has a chilling encounter with a sheet-covered entity. The setting is claustrophobic, and there’s an eerie stillness throughout, a great combination for a gem-sized horror story. The sounds of a turning light bulb and a woman’s gasp are the film’s macabre soundtrack. A spine-tingling twist at the end gives me the heebie-jeebies every time I watch it.
The film is an unnerving slow-burn in three minutes that’s best watched, as I have, with the lights off. Entirely gore-free, this one is especially worth a look if you’re drawn to it’s-coming-from-inside-the-house scares. (You can dive deeper with Sandberg’s fascinating making-of video.)
In childhood, those of us with delicate sensibilities may have fantasized about a line of toys that could cater to our tender souls, our vulnerable dreams and our will-o’-the-wisp personalities. These toys would have been especially meaningful instruments in confronting traditional gender norms. Thankfully, the folks at “Saturday Night Live” were able to make that dainty dream come true with Julio Torres and Jeremy Beiler’s “Wells for Boys” sketch, which imagines a Fisher-Price diversion for the most sensitive and contemplative boys on the playground.
The 2016 sketch, directed by Dave McCary, has a sense of humor that’s as perceptive and nonaggressive as the tone of its narrator’s voice, provided by Cecily Strong. There is charm in the identification with the boy, who is seen looking into a pool of water, his “heart full of questions”: “Some kids like to play; others just sort of … wait for adulthood.” The queer coding is clear, with its lead little boy an outsider by nature of his unconventional masculinity; but crucially, the sketch is never cruel toward him. The jokes are precise (Emma Stone as the mother whispers to her artistic son, “Do you want to go watch ‘Y Tu Mamá También’?”), but they are gentle, as if they come from a place of experience.
“Wells for Boys” also manages to satirize toy companies and their good-intentioned but misguided attempts at public displays of progressiveness. The last punchline cleverly indicates that it’s not the toys themselves that matter, but the space to express oneself. As some of us examine our current tools of expression, we may find ourselves looking deep into a basin, considering the complexity and meaning of being alive.
“I Love Alaska” is a letter to the void, a memoir cast into — and salvaged from — the depths of the internet.
In 2006, AOL published the search histories of more than 650, 000 users, spanning three months. “I Love Alaska,” a 13-part series by the Dutch artists Lernert Engelberts and Sander Plug, pieces together the search queries of one such user, No. 711391, into a haunting portrait of a life. In each brief episode, a Siri-like voice reads the user’s queries out loud, its cold and monotonous cadence complemented by long, static shots of barren landscapes.
I thought of “I Love Alaska” recently when I was struck by how much of myself I’d been pouring into my phone during the COVID-19 quarantine. I type constantly and unthinkingly into Google every day, my queries ranging from recipes to intimate health, political and existential anxieties. A snapshot of these casual searches would offer a comprehensive tour of both the banalities of my daily life and the deepest corners of my subconscious.
In “I Love Alaska,” seemingly random, tossed-off searches soon cohere into shapes and patterns. User No. 711391 emerges as a middle-aged woman in Texas, dealing with wrenching insecurities, a fraying marriage and a fraught online affair. “How to kill annoying birds in your yards” she asks one day; a few days later, she’s wondering, “How many online romances lead to sex?” (Some queries are even more adult-themed.)
Being privy to these thoughts feels uncomfortable, a sensation compounded by the sound that opens each episode — the buzz of a camera zoom, evoking surveillance. It’s a good reminder that the internet is an abyss that does, indeed, gaze back at you.
The most unsettling thing about “I Love Alaska” is how User No. 711391’s queries take the form of both questions and fragmented, diaristic statements. “Did anyone ever tell you how proud of you they are?” she asks, followed by, “I am so proud of you.” I wonder if she was seeking answers, or whether all she desired was the algorithmic talkback of the search engine — the list of instant, echoed entries reassuring us that we’re not alone.
Being a parent is never easy, but as Gottfried Mentor’s goats will tell you, wordlessly, in “Head Up,” it doesn’t hurt to keep an open mind. That wisdom is especially true today, when the living room has become both workplace and schoolhouse, and the options for escape are limited.
At less than three minutes long, this 3-D computer-animated short, with its cutely subverted video-game landscape, will engage — and distract — even the youngest person in your household.
Mentor, a German filmmaker, wrote in an email that “Head Up” is “a bit for adults but mainly for kids.” He said, “I wanted to tell a story about little heroes to encourage the younger generation; they are great.” The key, he said, is the empathy the goats demonstrate, “learning from each other, or helping each other,” even though they have little in common.
In “Head Up,” the older goat tries to teach the bouncing kid some basics of safe locomotion, meeting the little one’s joyful disregard with patience. When obstacles appear, the older goat gently corrects the younger, until a barrier arises that baffles the grown-up. Challenges like these call for multigenerational solutions, and that’s where the kid steps in to try some new tricks. Like us, once they put their heads together, these two can leap over the rocks and stumps and sail over the abyss without fear.
If a mini-festival is in order, there is another very short family film online by Mentor, “Lambs,” which celebrates individualism over just being part of the herd. So, make some popcorn (separate bowls, if that makes you feel better) and indulge.
I’ve been craving some Warholian mischief during this ultra-serious moment, and this four-and-a-half-minute clip of the artist eating a hamburger at the Factory in 1981 does the trick. It comes from a short documentary made by the filmmaker Jorgen Leth titled “66 Scenes From America.” While watching it, you can almost pretend that Warhol is Zooming with you, alongside the rest of your co-workers.
The shot, captured in Warhol’s flat, uninflected style, was repurposed last year for a Burger King Super Bowl ad that kind of missed the point. The real behind-the-scenes story is more interesting (and more Andy): Leth’s assistant brought back three burger options, but nothing from McDonald’s, which Warhol told them he would have preferred, for the packaging design alone. Still, rather than waste time, he made do with the Whopper. This is functional eating, not eating for pleasure.
Is it pure pop disposability? Maybe not. I love hearing the sounds of Union Square just outside the window offscreen. (The Factory was in its third location by then, on the third floor of a Broadway building.) Watching how Warhol eats — wait for his finicky de-bunning and foldover — is to appreciate his behavior in a fairly specific way. The elbows on the table convey something childlike and insouciant at the same time. And his uncomfortable pause at the end, just before the self-identification, couldn’t be more perfect.
Visitors to the Whitney’s Warhol show last winter were confronted by this footage, projected on a wall. Many of us lingered at the sight, taking in the potent combination of familiarity, banality, celebrity and intimacy. When I dream about the city’s art life (even a city wracked by anxiety), it’s pretty much this.
Missing the ability to explore New York City? Let the White Stripes, the director Michel Gondry and 32 drum kits take you on an amplified journey around town.
The clip for the 2003 single “The Hardest Button to Button,” from the duo Jack and Meg White, is a masterful merging of the analog and the whimsical. It takes what we’ve seen a thousand times in music videos, a band lip-syncing with instruments, and explodes it with an inventive concept that could only seem to have come from Gondry’s playful imagination.
The song and the video start with the syncopated sound of the kick drum. But each time Meg hits the drum, a new one appears and she moves, via pixilation, a jump-cut, stop-motion look, down the row of drums with each beat. Jack sings and plays electric guitar as his amplifiers multiply. And as the song adds more elements from the drum kit (the snare first appears at the 1:08 mark), those items multiply each time they’re played as well.
This isn’t digital trickery with just one drum kit manipulated by visual effects in postproduction. Gondry and his crew actually acquired 32 identical drum kits and placed them on the sidewalks of New York, in city parks and in a PATH station weaving them in and out of empty train cars.
If you’re new to this video, the DIY approach may seem like a very elaborate TikTok, but you can feel the painstaking process in each new beat of the bass. The final result so intensely and succinctly matches music with image, that it’s impossible for me to hear this song without drum kits multiplying in my head.
Before pressing play, make your pet a promise. Jumpy the dog isn’t a critique of the tricks your beast can’t do. He’s an example of what they could, if their dormant genius was watered with attention and time, of which perhaps you currently have a surplus. (Though if your creature would rather zone out to a movie, no shame.)
Nearly 90 years ago when movie audiences were captivated by Rin Tin Tin and Asta, Henry R. East’s manual “How to Train Dogs for the Home, Stage and Moving Pictures” wrote, “We have, as yet, only tapped the dog’s intelligence.” Behavioral scientists and linguists have proven East right, supreme among them psychologist John W. Pilley who taught his Border collie Chaser more than 1000 nouns. But could Chaser water ski, razor scooter, back flip, walk on her hands or skateboard a 12-foot pipe?
Yet, in editing Jumpy’s highlight reel, the trainer Omar von Muller also seems most awed by his dog’s verbal fluency. “Go pee on mommy” might be a verboten command in your home, but it’s no wonder Jumpy was embraced by Hollywood, holding his own against Ethan Hawke and John Travolta in the western “In a Valley of Violence.” In one scene, a gust of wind knocked off Hawke’s hat, and Jumpy fetched it without breaking character. Improv!
One of the most thrilling moments of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 breakthrough feature “Boogie Nights” is a triumphant musical montage that culminates in a big disco-dancing break. On the film’s audio commentary track, Anderson explains that, in blocking and shooting that scene, he set out to “obey the laws of good old-fashioned filming-a-dance-number musicals, which is see them from head to foot, most of the time.”
That commitment to the classics — the Busby Berkeley, Fred-and-Ginger, TCM-rotation black-and-white musical aesthetic — is part of what makes his videos for the power-pop trio Haim such a treat. Aside from the joy of the number and the charisma of the performers (all three sisters engage with the camera like full-on movie stars), his clip for “Little of Your Love” is noteworthy for the loosey-goosey freedom of the filmmaking.
In sharp contrast to music video norms, which use tight framing and hyper-caffeinated editing to cut the movements of even the most graceful and precise dancers into ribbons, Anderson leans heavily on wide shots and long takes, floating across the dance floor, shifting focus as the sisters trade vocals. When his stars and their backup dancers — perhaps too formal a term for what looks more like a bunch of friends hanging out in a dive bar on a sunny afternoon — move into a high-spirited line-dance, we’re given a clear view of the whole dance floor, so we can better appreciate not only how they move, but how they move together.
Over the course of his career, Anderson has directed intimate dramas, period pieces and stoner comedies. It’s probably too much to hope that one day he’ll direct a musical. But until he does, a YouTube playlist of his Haim videos will do just fine.
Chloe, “the queen of seventh grade,” makes her grand entrance. She waltzes into her junior high in slow motion, or perhaps she is magically gliding. Cue the Amps’ rousing “Tipp City” and the film’s credits.
On paper, this isn’t a particularly original start, yet in a minute or so, Sofia Coppola has created a distinctive universe.
Released in 1998 — two years before Coppola’s feature debut, “The Virgin Suicides” — the 14-minute-long “Lick the Star” has aged remarkably well, both on its own terms and as a prologue to a major director’s career.
Chloe (Audrey Heaven) roams the halls like a languid shark, followed by a posse of parasite fish, enthralled by her assured magnetism. She helps herself to a classmate’s tacos, sprays another with ketchup — this is six years before “Mean Girls,” mind you.
Inspired by the V.C. Andrews gothic teen-favorite novel “Flowers in the Attic,” Chloe plots to weaken some boys by giving them arsenic. The girls shop for rat poison to the tune of Free Kitten’s “Bouwerie Boy.” (Coppola’s unerring instinct for pairing rock songs and visuals, just as good as Quentin Tarantino’s, was already firmly in place.)
But when a comment about slavery is misheard through the grapevine, Chloe becomes a pariah.
Written by Coppola and Stephanie Hayman, “Lick the Star” was shot by the cinematographer Lance Acord (who would go on to work on the filmmaker’s “Lost in Translation” and “Marie Antoinette”) in a black and white so luscious, it feels simultaneously arid and moist. Peter Bogdanovich and Zoe Cassavetes pop up in cameos as the principal and P.E. teacher, but mostly we are plunged into an insular world, with rules and aesthetics very much their own. Chloe attempts suicide. Or maybe she’s just taking a very theatrical bath. It is all very matter of fact and very dramatic, like girlhood itself.
Just as the rock star is more or less a thing of the past, so too is the rock-star news conference. Groups or solo artists would fly into cities and be greeted by a throng of reporters; John Lennon would apologize for saying the Beatles were more popular than Jesus; and Mick Jagger would pronounce himself sexually satisfied, financially dissatisfied and philosophically trying.
Lou Reed’s August 1974 summit with members of the Sydney press, distilled into a five-minute laugh riot by an uncredited editor, is a perverse classic of the genre. At that point in his career the quintessential postmodern New York cult rocker was approaching something like mainstream success. Being Lou Reed, he then took every opportunity subvert that.
His hair is close-cropped in a Caesar cut and dyed blonde; he wears large, very dark shades. The footage of Reed’s mostly monosyllabic answers is intercut with snippets of his song “New York Telephone Conversation,” and the salient line may be “Am I even home?” In this period it was indeed often hard to tell.
A very earnest and concerned interviewer asks Reed about the themes of his songs. “Do you want people to take drugs themselves, is this perhaps why you sing about drugs?” “Oh yeah, I want ’em to take drugs,” Reed replies in his outerborough drawl. He really puts the dead in deadpan.
In the late days of Reed’s band the Velvet Underground, he could be cheerfully garrulous onstage. Years after this news conference, he did a tour in which his shows were as much insult comedy gigs as they were musical events.
Here Reed’s performance is sullen, but it’s also droll and enigmatic. It’s like he’s contriving a form of anti-charisma, and it’s funny, fascinating and cringe-inducing.
“You get bored, and you get fed up with looking at the same four walls,” observes a gorilla in Nick Park’s “Creature Comforts.” She’s grumbling about her cramped living space, a concrete cage in which she’s tallied her many days in captivity.
I feel her. The Claymation short, which won an Oscar nearly two decades ago, resonates anew in the social distancing era. As we take the necessary precautions, many of us are feeling cooped up, penned in, beginning to wonder: Has my apartment always been this dark? The ceilings this low?
“Creature Comforts” is a mockumentary of sorts, constructed to imitate a news segment in which an interviewer polls zoo animals about their living conditions. We meet a trio of polar bears, a couple of armadillos, a bale of turtles and, most memorably, a Brazilian puma yearning for the luxurious expanse of his homeland. Park prerecorded the interviews during sessions with ordinary folks in Britain, including residents of a nursing home and the family who ran Park’s corner shop. (The puma’s voice belonged to an expat Brazilian student sick of Bristol.)
The humor lies in the inspired pairings of voice and plasticine animal. A croaky, courteous elderly woman is brought to life in a bespectacled tarsier. A little girl reflecting on the circus becomes a candy-colored bird. Park, who went on to create the Wallace and Gromit films, animates each habitat with clever detail: giant hippo teats, an inexplicable bouncing beach ball. Their lodgings might not be as comfortable as the alternative, but there’s fun to be had.
When I heard on Friday of the passing of Bill Withers, I immediately flashed on the “Notting Hill” montage scored to “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
The 1999 rom-com is a film I return to again and again, even in good times. In part, it’s that the adventurous American movie star Anna (Julia Roberts) and the play-it-safe British bookshop owner William (Hugh Grant) hardly seem destined to get together.
But it’s also that the director, Roger Michell, and screenwriter, Richard Curtis, linger on unnecessary but delightful details. Do we need to see Spike, William’s gross but endearing flatmate, try on a series of highly inappropriate T-shirts for a date? Not really, but it fits with the shaggy storytelling.
By comparison, the montage following Anna’s abrupt departure is free of excess. The scene, less than two minutes long, could be a movie in and of itself. There’s no dialogue, no visible cuts as a bereft William walks through the Portobello Road market and summer turns to fall, winter to spring. As he strolls, other stories play out: his sister is hanging on a boyfriend in good weather and tearfully arguing with him a few seasons later. A customer who’s pregnant at the start has brought her baby to a flower stall at the end.
Through it all, William is largely seen in profile. How do we know he’s heartbroken? Withers, that’s how. “Ain’t No Sunshine” sets the rueful tone, both that feeling of longing and also the sense that there’s nothing to be done. But the song offers a measure of hope. “Any time she goes away,” he croons, suggesting that the woman he yearns for has left before and returned.
William emerges from his walk, if not restored, at least ready to carry on, acknowledging the new baby on his way out. Life goes on, the scene reminds us, and isn’t that reassuring right now?
Remember taking the subway? It’s strangely one of the things I miss most in quarantine, even though as a New Yorker, it is my duty and right to complain about the M.T.A. on the daily. I don’t miss the constant delays, but I do long for the people-watching, the sensation of sitting across from a stranger, locking eyes for a beat too long and letting the mind wander toward fantasies.
“Making Eyes,” the 2014 short from the video editor Sean Dunn, is about that kind of fleeting interaction one might share with a fellow commuter. The film begins at the West 4th Street station. Jay, a man on his way to his office job, takes notice of a bespectacled brunette, who returns his glance with an impish smile. Cut, abruptly, to that night: Jay in bed, wide-awake and lost in thought.
Shot on a dimension-flattening camera, “Making Eyes” makes droll, home video-like observations on awkward interactions. It’s unclear what Jay actually does for a living except perform his single-trick impression of Don Draper from “Mad Men” for his co-workers.
Pulling from a dryly hilarious amalgam of commonplace New York experiences, Dunn uncomfortably zooms into hands and faces, perversely dramatizing these mundane moments. Jay’s misunderstanding of their chemistry is affirmed when after repeated eye-making, he follows his subway crush into a bodega and she fails to register who he is. Surprisingly receptive to his advances, the woman invites Jay to a friend’s house party; there, even more awkwardness, “Mad Men” impressions and unexpected connections arise. In times of isolation, a prosaic N.Y.C. short can feel so achingly nostalgic.
“In order to criticize a movie, you have to make another movie,” Jean-Luc Godard once declared. With “The Spielberg Face,” Kevin B. Lee ups the ante, analyzing an entire oeuvre in less than 10 minutes.
The master of the desktop video essay, Lee samples and annotates close-ups from at least a dozen Spielberg films. His point: Steven Spielberg’s trademark, typically emphasized by a slow dolly-in, is a distinctive reaction shot. It shows what Lee describes as an expression of wide-eyed, wordless wonder, a “childlike surrender to the act of watching” — as though seeing a movie for the first time. The effect of seeing so many of these close-ups cascading one after another is heady and hilarious.
Lee traces the use of expressive close-ups back to D.W. Griffith and Carl Dreyer (whose “Passion of Joan of Arc” consisted mainly of the actress Maria Falconetti’s countenance). In general, reaction shots, like movie music, are designed to cue an audience. The Spielberg Face is not only meant to prompt but also mirror the spectator. Lee notes that Spielberg discovered his signature effect in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” — a “symphony of Spielberg faces” in which it occurs 30 times. “Jurassic Park,” the technological marvel that put C.G.I. cinema on the map, would seem a close second. There, however, wonderment gives way to fear.
As the Face became a cliché, Spielberg varied his strategy. Lee points out that in “War of the Worlds” and “Munich,” the Face was used to convey trauma. Still, the most radical instance of Spielberg Face-ness is “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” Here, the Face is the default expression of an adoring, adorable robot child and, with poignant megalomania, proves eternal — the last legacy of the human race.
I kept myself sane after 9/11 by devouring reruns of the ’80s game show “Press Your Luck” — the mantra “Big bucks, no Whammies!” helped me stay calm. Amid our latest global crisis, I’ve turned to repeats of “Match Game” from the ’70s, and they make me feel like I’m home from elementary school watching TV on a sick day, not self-quarantined during a pandemic.
Everything I adore about “Match Game” can be relished in this five-minute clip from a 1977 episode, including a surreal question about King Kong sitting on a pony, the panelist Brett Somers’s batty digression about how the “Chorus Line” co-author James Kirkwood should be booked as a guest, and comrade Charles Nelson Reilly wearing a wacky cap and puffing on a pipe. But the bizarro climax begins halfway through when another of the show’s regulars, Richard Dawson, loses his cool while trying to convince the judges they should give him credit for what he meant to write as an answer, not what he actually wrote.
Dawson, who explains he was up all night appearing on a telethon and must be “punchy,” cycles through anger, pleading, self-pity and threats. At one point, the “Hogan’s Heroes” veteran grabs host Gene Rayburn’s customary skinny microphone and curses the judges for their unjust ruling.
The show descends into anarchy as the producers taunt Dawson with buzzers and other agitating sound effects, and he starts to walk off the set, declaring himself “obviously all washed up.” Perhaps his apparent willingness to quit can be attributed to the fact that Dawson had already started hosting another, ultimately higher-rated game show, “Family Feud.”
In any case, the clip remains riveting and — in “Match Game” parlance — crazy as a “blank.”
Worst. Satanists. Ever.
That’s the tagline for “Born Again,” a wickedly playful short about incompetent devil worshipers who bumble through a summoning of their dark master. The film hits the trifecta of short form horror-comedy: It’s funny, it’s gory and it’s not even seven minutes.
As the film opens, everything is in place for the arrival of evil incarnate. A pregnant woman groans in labor with a pentagram on the floor before her. She’s surrounded by Satanist disciples — named Zahguhrim, Marduk and Aranunna — decked out in voluminous robes and elaborate masks.
Here’s the problem: Greg, the fourth member of their cabal, is late with the ritual scripture and, well, isn’t great at Satanism. When the group’s wicked messiah finally arrives, let’s just say it comes as a hell of a surprise.
What’s great about “Born Again” is that the director, Jason Tostevin, shows a shrewd sense of comedy and timing, and his sharp ensemble of actors makes it click. To keep horror fans happy, there’s buffoonish blood and guts and a dash of blasphemy. Kudos to the special effects designer Shane Howard for making a mess on a dime. As for the story, I hope actual Satanists have a sense of humor.
The experimental filmmaker Jodie Mack is secretly one of the best directors of musicals working today, with prism-paletted stop-motion animation collages set to the sounds of Skype ringtones or her own original music. One of my favorite professors introduced me to her work in college, including this 2016 short “Curses,” a quasi-music video for the bedroom pop band Roommate.
Rather than jumping immediately into her animation, she moves languidly and dreamlike from falling confetti bits, shot horizontally like a river stream of remnants of a birthday party, to her marble printed paper, snipped and pruned, various shades layered one on top of the other.
Mack’s filmmaking and editing to music and sound aren’t overly presentational, but feel organic, as if her images and audio are inextricably finding natural and symbiotic rhythms in one another. Her relationship to music and picture dazzles without showiness.
In “Curses,” there’s whimsy, frivolity and a simple challenge to the viewer to be carried along by color and sound. Mack’s work is special because it finds a complexity in emotion — ebullience, subtle melancholy, even thrill — in deceptively simple animations (though the work obviously requires a lot of labor on Mack’s part).
In these gorgeous abstractions, you can see or imagine hands touching, bodies flailing, the silhouettes of people dancing, and finally, two people running to one another as if they’re floating on a gentle, multicolored fantasy.
www.nytimes.com 2020-05-15 16:11:25