The Year in Movies (for one paragraph)

*Tomorrow is the ultra-sexy Best of 2006 spicy review post, which will focus monomaniacally yet appropriately on the books I happened to have read. I guess I feel a little odd not having some sweeping post ready on the trends and hot topics of 2006 in the comics world, but then I tell myself that interview was probably good enough and I manage to get to sleep, provided I have taken my drugs.

*I also wish I could say something about the movies of 2006, but... well... I haven’t seen very many. Like, I can probably count my total visits to the movie theater all year on my fingers, and not all of them were choice. If I was to attempt a Top 5 list of films I saw in theaters, I’d probably wind up including stuff like Superman Returns, which I couldn’t say I hated, but was flawed way past the point of simple enjoyment. Shit, it’s not like I could manage a proper Bottom 5 either. I really did enjoy A Prairie Home Companion a lot, The Departed was bloated in several ways but still quite successful on the whole, and I’m really going to have to see Children of Men whenever it shows up around me.

At least I have dvd. I’ve noticed that becoming a common refrain among a number of people. Thank heavens there’s enough material out there for me to indulge myself on all my pet interests, like, say, silent comedy. Man, how did time pass you by, Snub Pollard? Neither popular nor uniquely obscure enough to warrant your own dvd set, but you’re always a welcome sight. I watched this new package of slapstick miscellany earlier this week, American Slapstick, and I’ll be damned if Pollard didn’t knock ‘em all off the screen. One of these days, Snub. You and Ben Turpin...

Another thing I just recently managed to chop into was my Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941 box set (speaking of my getting to things late - this sucker came out in 2005), and there are many awesome things within. It’s a supremely eclectic set of work, arguably stretching the term ‘avant-garde’ a bit far, but I’m generally willing to play it fast and loose with what is and is not ‘experimental’ or ‘vanguard’ work in the birth thralls and adolescence of an art form. It’s very holistic, willing to spotlight the visual innovations of questionable items like 1936's Melody on Parade, a sing-along short subject stuffed to bursting with reverence-bordering-on-awe for military pageantry, pandering appeals to the innocence and beauty of American youth, old-fashioned picaninny imagery, and a hearty appeal to unquestioning acceptance of The Leader, specifically Franklin Roosevelt, but really every US president who ever was. Hey, if they’re in charge, they’ve gotta be right! I love a parade!

But even items like this are capable of uniquely progressive visual techniques, visual collage and polished editing rhythm. It’s a convincing set of discs, more than anything, and it’s generally very good with finding new stuff.

For example, lots of Joseph Cornell, whose cinema excursions tend to be elusive, even when they’re available for viewing. Cornell is probably best known for other projects (like his famous treasure cabinets of carefully arranged items and fragments), but his short films are intriguing, albeit largely in spite of themselves. Often they’re strange mixes of ‘found’ stock footage edited together into narratively suggestive stretches, accompanied by sometimes-discursive, sometimes-complimentary soundtracks. You can see some of his most famous work, 1936's Rose Hobart, on YouTube, but Unseen Cinema unearths some real obscure material, including stuff that people don’t seem to be sure actually came from Cornell but bears many of his signatures, plus some of the slapstick stock footage comedy newsreels that inspired him. One of his works is titled Thimble Theatre, which gave me a momentary heart murmur, but I couldn’t see much E.C. Segar influence, even in the grand slow-motion kangaroo boxing finale. We do, however, also get Edwin S. Porter’s 1906 film Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, which has shown up elsewhere, but why not see it again (and in a nicer print)?

There’s lots of other stuff too, like the often dazzling early works of Robert Florey, who later moved on to Hollywood features like 1932's Murders in the Rue Morgue (not to mention The Coconuts, the Marx Brothers’ first feature), and episodes of television’s The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. His experimental films were made quite cheaply -- his famed satire The Life and Death of 9413 - A Hollywood Extra (co-directed with Slavko Vorkapich) supposedly cost under $100 in 1927 money to make -- and veer from expressionistic paper sets right out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to extensive use of elaborate miniatures and mirror effects of actors standing against black screens. His work is very ‘pop,’ clearly aimed toward quick accessibility and amusing storytelling, but he’s no less fascinating. It’s also much more successful then the liked of Orson Welles’ and William Vance’s 1934 The Hearts of Age, which looks precisely like what it is - a bunch of young people fucking around without a great deal of purpose. It’s no Citizen Kane, but fans might find some interest (and both it and 9413 are also available in Kino’s much smaller Avant-Garde - Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and ‘30s package).

And I’m still only finished with two out of seven discs. Maybe when I’m old...