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by Michael Barrett

20 Oct 2015

There’s something here to confuse, astound, bore and dazzle any viewer, although it’s impossible to guess which will have what effect on whom. Curator/annotator Bruce Posner and producer David Shepherd have gathered 37 short movies, with new soundtracks for most of the silent films, 10 of which were previously gathered in Unseen Cinema, their essential DVD box of a decade ago. This combo pack, two Blu-rays and two DVD’s, sensibly arranges the films in chronological order and divides them by decade. We’ll divide them into thematic categories for the purposes of cogitation, and the results of our analysis will be that these are arbitrary overlapping categories.

1. Cinema as City Documentary: The city film is a genre invented by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand’s elegant Manhatta  (1921), here in stunning 2K digital restoration with two score options (one on each disc). These views of Manhattan, with quotations by Walt Whitman, emphasize the monumental to unite the concepts of “city” and “cinema” in modernity. People are distant masses of rushing ants, a point that marks a tension between celebration and discomfort.

by Michael Barrett

16 Oct 2015

John Garfield’s noir films got darker as he went along. After The Postman Always Rings Twice and Nobody Lives Forever, Garfield formed his own production company with Bob Roberts. They promptly made the classic Body and Soul  and then one of the noirest of the noirs, the corrosive Force of Evil. Their final film, He Ran All the Way, made not long before Garfield’s death by heart attack at age 39, isn’t far behind that one. It’s a sad, disturbing look at lonely, frightened, desperate, even vicious humanity.

Nick (Garfield) is a worthless punk living with his slattern mom (Gladys George). While he lies in bed, she comes in harping that if he were a man, he’d be out looking for work. His response is: “If you were a man, I’d kick your teeth in.” Their charming rapport is clearly a long ongoing siege, and thus the movie introduces its major theme: “being a man” vs. what kind of man “ought to be wearing skirts”.

by Michael Barrett

13 Oct 2015

Now on Blu-ray are three American International Pictures starring Vincent Price, all with jolly commentaries to sweeten the appeal for the actor’s fans.

The earliest film on offer, Tales of Terror, features three Prices for the price. He stars in three stories, all elaborated by screenwriter Richard Matheson from tales by Edgar Allan Poe. The movie is one of several Poe/Price pictures made in the early ‘60s by producer-director Roger Corman and, like the previous ones, benefits immeasurably from Daniel Haller’s Gothic designs, Floyd Crosby’s expressionist widescreen photography (complete with a squashed and woozy dream sequence), and Marjorie Corso’s lush costumes, all in Pathe color, and scored with Les Baxter’s rich spookery.

by Michael Barrett

7 Oct 2015

Let’s say you wanted to make a living by playing music for silent movies. In terms of employment prospects, that might put you somewhere between a lamplighter and the drummer on a Viking ship.
Or so you’d think. Ben Model has been making a living at it for several years, and between regular gigs at the Museum of Modern Art and the Library of Congress’ Packard Preservation Campus, plus traveling to various festivals, he averages 15 shows a month.

by Michael Barrett

1 Oct 2015

This three-DVD set conveniently gathers six hard-to-find films that French filmmaker Agnès Varda made on California visits in 1967-1968 and in 1980. Beautifully restored, they look sunny and gorgeous, and bear her distinctive sense of curiosity, intelligence, color, and craft.

In 1967, Varda arrived in America with her husband, Jacques Demy, who was making the film Model Shop  for Columbia. The first disc has two short documentaries she made in Northern California. Saturated with color, light, and whimsy, Uncle Yanco  (1967) is an impromptu profile of her father’s cousin, an artist in a houseboat colony of young bohemians in Anaheim. By re-creating and filming their “first meeting” several times, Varda calls attention to the artificial aspect of the project. We have the option of hearing a largely French soundtrack or an English one narrated by Yanco and Varda.

//Mixed media

In Motion: On the Emptiness of Progress

// Moving Pixels

"Nils Pihl calls it, "Newtonian engagement", that is, when "an engaged player will remain engaged until acted upon by an outside force". That's "progress".

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