Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
As a teenager, I worked at the Westhampton Theater, which was a two-screen movie theater in Richmond, Virginia. I served popcorn, and during the show I would go into the theater and watch some of the movie. Because it was an art-house theater in the late ’90s, a hit movie might play for months. I must’ve watched the middle section of All About My Mother hundreds of times. It burned into my brain. When I started diving into Almodóvar’s earlier films, Tie Me Up! stood out. I like to think of the word animation as meaning “full of life,” so according to that definition his movies feel like animated movies. While the worlds depicted in his films feel comic-book-y, the people moving in them feel real. His characters aren’t being told to sit and stand in particular boxes to fill out the frame. His films remind me of alternative comics that depict extreme subject matter. Just like a cartoonist can draw anything that’s in their head without anyone actually getting hurt, he can touch on very painful things, but they’re still very clearly projections of one person’s consciousness.
Céline and Julie Go Boating
Jacques Rivette’s movies have real magic in them. I also love when filmmakers show characters meeting for the first time, and here the first meeting is amazing. I once did a comic partly inspired by Céline and Julie and the fascinating way it shows stories replacing consciousness.
Godzilla vs. Hedorah
I love all the original Godzilla movies, but this is the best one. I love its swinging ’60s vibe. Then there’s the smog monster, which pops up in a lot of Gary Panter paintings. I got the chance to see a version of this movie with live music at Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn, which was perfect.
Every Man for Himself
There’s so much to love about Godard, but what particularly sticks out to me about his work is the idea that less is more. His films have all the existential power of something like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but what we’re watching can simply be, for instance, the camera following one person into a room. The fact that Every Man for Himself was done by such lo-fi means amplifies its meaning and makes it more touching and personal. Slow motion is a technique that every filmmaker has access to, but Godard uses it here to show us that an entire universe can be revealed by slowing things down. And it’s not just a matter of slowing things down: he reduces the frame rate. There’s a sequence of stills in the movie that feels like figure drawing, as if the same person were being drawn for half an hour and we’re seeing all the different sides of them.
I recently read the book and found it really fun to think about Godard in the ’60s reading and deciding to adapt it. I also do this a lot with David Cronenberg movies; that is, I read the source novel and the screenplay and think through the translation. Everything that’s in Contempt the movie is also in the book, and though we often think of Godard as being bratty and authoritarian, he’s quite caring and faithful to the source. What I also love about Godard is that as a graphic designer he’s on the same level as Saul Bass, for me. I’ve never heard people talk about him in this way, but his title designs as well as the torn posters you see in his movies are so bold and stylish. John Baldessari once said that Godard was more influential to artists than Warhol.
I love these impossible adaptations that Cronenberg did in which the book is a total masterpiece and the best you could hope for is failure. How to do these incredible, unadaptable books justice? Cronenberg doesn’t build on top of the book, he creates something that sits parallel to it. J. G. Ballard’s Crash is non-narrative and filled with long descriptions of car crashes, yet Cronenberg’s Crash is filled with these fantastic characters you’re inexplicably drawn to.
I remember watching this when I was thirteen; my dad had a VHS copy. The Cryptozoo creatures are modeled after how the creatures were executed here. They’re technically stop-motion animation, but because they’re painted pieces, it doesn’t look like stop motion. When Cryptozoo played at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France, we went to the animation museum there and saw two Fantastic Planet originals. Usually animation figures are incredibly tiny, but these figures were twelve inches tall or so, which was striking.
Eclipse Series 19: Chantal Akerman in the Seventies
Of all the films in the box set, Les rendez-vous d’Anna sticks out to me. I’m really attracted to films and books that show artists touring their work, traveling, and playing the cards they’ve been dealt in a masterful way. Over the past year, during lockdown, I found Les rendez-vous d’Anna and News from Home particularly interesting to watch in light of the coronavirus and travel restrictions. News from Home could be a phone call to your mother while you’re in lockdown. The characters in Akerman’s movies seem already conscious of how far they’re standing apart from each other.
The Complete Jacques Tati
This is what I think of when I hear the words “art film.” These movies are incredibly knowledgeable about art history and design, and they know what it means for imagery to be charged with multiple meanings. I saw them for the first time when I was eighteen and working at the School of Visual Arts film library. Those were perfect cinematic experiences. And the films hold up today! They’re perfect comedies. My favorite is probably PlayTime, though I think a lot about Parade, its Picassolike imagery, and this idea that pop culture itself is a kind of circus.
Brand upon the Brain!
I’m really only interested in limited animation or animation made before 1990. I feel like Guy Maddin films gave me permission to build from previous eras without being nostalgic or needing to make excuses about it. The fact that his movies are like silent movies is maybe the least interesting thing about them to me; he’s also employing incredibly strange editing techniques, creating new characters, and inserting autobiographical components. His movies feel epic, but they’re done on a DIY scale, which is appealing to me. Plus, his sense of humor is incredible.
John Lurie’s Top 10
John Lurie, whose band, the Lounge Lizards, was one of the most acclaimed jazz groups of the eighties and nineties, has recorded twenty-two albums and has acted in several films, including Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law, and The Last Temptation…