There's comics-related stuff in here if you dig!

*But I'll make it easy at first by offering


Happiness and Happiness Scene 02 - A Room of Clouds (newest works by Usamaru Furuya, both exciting and dull)

The Winter Men #1 (of 8) (not a bad slab of covert gun-jinx, not bad at all)

Iron Man #4, The Punisher MAX #24

Seven Soldiers - Zatanna #3 (of 4)

OK, now get out yer pickaxes...

*In the way that it was surely meant to be taken in, I viewed one quarter of the 24 filmic selections provided by Kino’s Avant-Garde – Experimental Cinema of the 1920’s and 1930’s dvd release late at night, though not quite on the cusp of slumber. Kino’s materials are culled from the (in)famous Raymond Rohauer Collection, which once fueled the experimental programming of Los Angeles’ Coronet Theater starting in the 1950’s (an environment from which future experimental filmmakers like Stan Brakhage drew invigoration), and later revived the works of Buster Keaton for a new generation. The Collection also drew fire for its distinctive copyrighting practices, sometimes toying with intertitles in order to secure protection of seemingly public domain works; but that is neither here nor there today.

What is here is what Kino itself places before us: an opening message informs (warns?) the viewer that the Rohauer Collection is, as one might surmise from its name, indicative of Rohauer’s personal tastes and perhaps not a (forgive me lord) ‘fair and balanced’ survey of the avant-garde/experimental scene of the ‘20s and ‘30s (for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use the terms ‘avant-garde’ and ‘experimental’ interchangeably, though I do appreciate the semantic niceties that affect them). Moreover, Kino even bothers to concede that Rohauer’s personal tastes, merely by virtue of belonging to one of the foremost distributors/exhibiters of this sort of film, have likely shaped what we today recognize as ‘great’ experimental film. Nothing succeeds like revival in the world of cinema, after all, as revival leads to reevaluation, which oft begets a greater valuation. Let’s not forget that.

In similarity to their earlier Thomas Edison release (marvel before my burbling here), Kino does not bother to provide a printed set of liner notes, which is a common pet peeve of mine. Fortunately, the set-up of the on-screen historical information outlay is particularly intuitive, allowing immediate access to each film directly from its information page; alternately, you can also access the films from pages organized by filmmaker, or the particularly foolhardy can simply Play All, which I’m not sure I can recommend, as rest and contemplation is needed to prevent all of those shimmering visuals and editing burps from congealing into optical art sludge. Luckily, nothing included in this 2 disc set is more than 40 minutes long, affording the tuckered viewer plenty of options for retreat.

Seized by local pride, I decided to begin my viewing with the works of Pennsylvania native Man Ray (nee Emmanuel Radnitzky), founding father of the US wing of the Dada movement, and later an acclaimed surrealist-and-otherwise photographer. Considering that his films make up no less than 1/6 of this set’s total contents, I will, with luck, perhaps not make an ass out of you and me by assuming him to be a personal favorite of Mr. Rohauer. Man Ray’s first enclosed selection is, aptly enough, a joke, an assemblage of image and light quite literally thrown together the night before a big Dada exhibition in Paris (where Man Ray had already relocated to by 1923, the year of production). According to Kino’s notes, Man Ray was literally teaching himself to shoot and edit in the process of making Le Retour à la raison (A Return to Reason), the finished product, which he later dubbed more a catalog of useful visuals than a workable film. It’s only 3 minutes long, but it’s plain to me that Man Ray’s visual sense, especially his use of images burnt directly onto photographic paper, skipping the use of exposure entirely, provided supple influence to the likes of Brakhage. There’s also some lovely shots of swirling carnival lights, and a sensible concluding sequence of light designs swirling across a woman’s nude breasts and belly, which doubtlessly provided much intellectual stimulation to the assembled Dada nation. It seems that many viewers take the title ‘A Return to Reason’ as an ironic comment on the patent irrationality of the piece’s make-up, but I have to wonder if Man Ray’s final image intends to signal the beauty and enticement of the flesh as the ‘reason’ to which all contemplation returns.

The unveiled torso in question belonged to Man Ray’s then-lover/muse, Alice Prin (aka: Kiki de Montparnasse), who would also appear in Man Ray’s next two films. 1926’s Emak-Bakia (Leave Me Alone) is longer (18 min.), but in much the same vein as the creator’s earlier work; indeed, it recycles much of the footage of Le Retour à la raison, leading The Onion A.V. Club’s Noel Murray to dub it an “extended mix” in his review (hey, being Dada doesn’t mean you can’t be cost-effective). There’s quite a lot of shimmering crystal and glass being twirled around in front of the camera, patterns of ultra-rapid b&w light rotations forming bizarre involuntary hues when gazed upon with any force; the effect can be headache-inducing, to be honest, and probably even dangerous to the seizure-prone. There’s concrete images included as punctuation too. Indeed, the ‘big’ image in this one involves Kiki again, this time with eyeballs painted on her eyelids, resulting in the disconcerting illusion of optical membrane being stripped away from the woman’s eyes, and then flipped back. The same idea was later used in an Aerosmith video; I cannot image further proof of Man Ray’s cultural impact is necessary at this point, but I must soldier forth regardless.

Hints of narrative began to creep into Man Ray’s next outing, L’ Étoile de mer (The Starfish), from 1928, 28 min., based on a poem by Robert Desnos, from whence the copious intertitles likely originate. According to Kino’s notes, this was intended as Man Ray’s first surrealist film, though other surrealists contested the film’s stylistic validity, leading to the guaranteed hilarity of leading surrealists arguing amongst themselves as to exactly what the fuck ‘surrealism’ is, a war that rages on across the Internet today. Also, just to further muddle things, Man Ray adopts a visual style that many would dub ‘impressionistic,’ shooting much of his footage through panes of glass (it looks more to me like heaping gobs of Vaseline smeared across the camera lens). Kiki stars yet again, with fragments of Desnos’ poem juxtaposed with bleary sequences of Kiki embracing a man, stalking up a flight of stairs with a knife, stripping, drinking, placing her bare feet atop the morning news, and so much more, whilst her would-be paramour contemplates a starfish in a jar and chases loose newspapers around a field, the camera's focus occasionally becoming clear, and doors suggestively opening and closing. At risk of applying any meaning to an avowed surrealist work, I detected a distinct tone of erotic distress, a palpable insecurity on the part of the male lead (the male gaze, if you will), with extreme close-ups of the titular asexual organism’s twisting feelers setting off the male lead’s uncertainty. The film neatly begins and ends with a glass window opening and closing, the sort of storybook-tinged motif that Cocteau (a mover in the same circles as Man Ray and later a subject of his photography) probably appreciated.

The final Man Ray epic included in the set, 1929’s Les Mystères du château de Dé (The Mystery of the Chateau de De), is probably my favorite. Created on a lark, an excuse to horse around with friends at the titular chateau (belonging to the Vicompte de Noialles, a terribly rich cinema art patron), a sense of fun pervades the whole proceeding, which is fortunate considering the sheer bleakness of the subject matter. The 'story' concerns a pair of fine young types, dressed in their best, with opaque white stockings covering their faces at all times. My fanboy fires were duly stoked upon realizing that, once clad in his hat and overcoat, the male of the pair looked exactly like Steve Ditko’s The Question, only minus the hair. Monsieur and Mademoiselle Question roll a pair of dice, and decide to go on a drive to the chateau, some excellent shaky camerawork following on the ride down. Arriving at their destination ahead of them, the camera creeps around in paranoia, intertitles warning us of intruders everywhere. Then, a whole family of stocking-headed people (the stockings more porous this time) go for a swim and play delightful games, rolling gigantic dice all the while, until the magic of the dissolve causes them to fade away. Then the Questions arrive, strip down to their bathing suits, stockings still on their heads, and wrestle until they freeze (is this how that Rick Veitch miniseries ended?), then the film switches to negative. Bookending images of marionettes bearing dice and the repeated refrain of “A throw of dice can never abolish chance” reinforce the futility of individuality and pleasure itself. Just ducky. This lil’ pup debuted on a double bill with Un Chien Andalou.

Moving not entirely away from Man Ray, I next arrived at an even more tantalizing selection: 1926’s Anemic Cinema, the only film ever directed by the legendary Marcel Duchamp, though Man Ray aided in the shooting. Probably Dada’s most visible figure (though he never quite 'belonged' to any one movement), even those not versed in 20th century art history have likely heard of Duchamp’s escapades, demolishing societal boundaries between the aesthetic and the mundane by attempting to submit as artwork the likes of an inverted urinal signed to R. Mutt (“Fountain”) and a scrupulously (though not identically) reproduced postcard-sized version of the Mona Lisa, with a mustache and goatee added (“L.H.O.O.Q.”). Duchamp was already in semi-retirement when the film was shot; it basically served as an excuse to translate his faux-3D spiral designs (previously made mobile through his self-developed Rotary Demisphere contraption) to the screen, all while indulging in his love for complicated multilingual wordplay. ‘R. Mutt,’ for example, is a play on ‘A. Mutt’ of the classic newspaper comic strip Mutt and Jeff; the connotations inherent in calling someone a mutt are obvious, but Duchamp’s signature also sounds much like ‘armut,’ the German term for ‘poverty,’ adding a separate layer of meaningful foolery. ‘L.H.O.O.Q.’ forms a phonetic pronunciation of the French phrase ‘elle a chaud au cul,’ which translates roughly to ‘she is hot in the ass.’ As many of my readers who’ve actually trudged this far down the post might have puzzled out by now, ‘anemic’ is an anagram for ‘cinema,’ hence the work’s title, Duchamp’s seeming self-depreciation actually revealed as inherent in the medium itself. The resultant 6 minute film resembles an extended montage of ‘50s-style hypno-discs (the type of things a horror host might pull out to mesmerize the audience with prior to the feature), with whirling intertitles providing a French-language heading for each new display. Kino’s notes merrily point out that a successful English translation of these intertitles is impossible, since 99% of their impact relies on specific French-language puns; opting to cover all fronts, the disc’s subtitles provide direct translations (“Let us dodge the bruises of Eskimos in exquisite words.”) while the notes attempt to explain the jokes, such as the bit where Duchamp linguistically analogizes the city of Paris to his penis. It’s that kind of experiment.

Finally, there’s Ballet Mécanique, a 1924 film from noted Cubist painter Fernand Léger, 19 minutes long. As with Duchamp, Léger made only one foray into filmmaking, and there’s yet again a Man Ray connection, this time through the presence of Kiki de Montparnasse herself as the female lead (but then, the number of Studio des Ursulines style venues willing to exhibit these films was quite limited, even in Paris, so it makes some sense that everybody seemed to know one another). Not a lot of Cubism here as it's popularly understood, save for brief sequence animating one of Léger’s portraits of Charlie Chaplin, but lots of throbbing pistons and cracking ball-bearings, perhaps embodying the influence of Léger’s ‘mechanical’ period in a more concrete than usual visual idiom, turbo-charged with multiple exposures and plenty of visual collage. It’s all visual rhythm, your mileage may vary.

I know that after six of these things, I was starting to wear down, so I turned the television off and considered popping in Lady Death: The Motion Picture to cleanse my palate, but then I decided to go to sleep instead.