Narrated by Gilles Queant
Cultural snapshot of Peking, now Beijing, in 1956 under Mao Zedong’s rule, though the whimsical tone and especially eloquent narration establish the film as an anthropological study rather than a political one. Many of the shots and images captured by the filmmakers are incredible. Candid shots of children passing, school in session, foggy mist covering the fields. Aided by Eastman color, the film looks stunning at every turn. If you’re interested in foreign cultures and different eras, you’ll find much to enjoy in this piece. Marker makes no statement as far as I can tell. This belongs more to the fly on the wall style of documentary filmmaking, though at times we see the filmmakers converse or engage with the natives on the screen. For those less interested in the subject, such as myself, you’ll find yourself, drifting off.
Bizarre, experimental early work by Jim Henson, who’d later soar to incredible heights with his muppet creations. This short film demonstrates his creative brilliance and silly, whimsical sense of humor, but his best was yet to come. With no obvious plot, Time Piece plays with imagery and sound effects to achieve a moderately successful meditation on the passage of time. Henson’s work received an Oscar nomination. You can also see Frank Oz, A.K.A Miss Piggy and Yoda, playing a bartender.
Anthropological short film considered to be the first African film made by a black African. Director Sembène was an acclaimed writer and director, called the “father of African film.” He’d go on to larger heights than this slight study of a wagoner in Senegal being taken advantage of again and again. The first film he had full control over, it’s more interesting as a look at an alien culture than it is a compelling drama.
A 12 minute ballet performance of the German writer Goethe’s story complimented by stunning color and imaginative visuals. The story, which was told most famously by Disney, tells of a witch, perhaps a little too confident in her skills, who creates a storm of magical mischief and chaos while her master is away. The main reason for watching this piece is to see a great director at work, but Powell already took the concept of ballet on film to its peak with The Red Shoes (1948) and Tales of Hoffman (1951).
Narrated by John Huston
John Huston’s gritty war documentary covers a significant battle in the Italian Campaign of World War II. In its day, the film was considered shocking; almost too real for viewers to take in. Now, the film is basically a brief history lesson, and as such will only be truly interesting to history buffs.
A short and relatively conventional piece from avante-garde filmmaker, Kenneth Anger, whose devotion to all that is aberrant and taboo made him a leading figure in the underground experimental film movement. Although made in the 1940s, this short was rereleased in the sixties with a rock soundtrack, and this is the version I saw. The short is highly fetishistic, but never very provocative, as it focuses on one woman in a puce dress staring into the camera for almost the entirety of its six minute running time. While not boring, the film is also not very interesting.
Its reputation as a benchmark of the experimental film movement seems to me an indictment of the genre. How it was included in the otherwise sterling catalogue that is Steven Jay Schneider’s 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, I have no idea. It’s indescribable, which I know, sounds like a compliment, but not when linked with incomprehensible, uninteresting, and ugly, as it must be when discussing this affront to its viewers’ time management skills.