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Movie Review: 2001 CUFF: “Spells for All Your Troubles” (shorts)

The next batch of films I saw, collectively entitled “Spells for All Your Troubles” by the Chicago Underground Film Festival, were all experimental in nature, a genre of film that frustrates me but which I find interesting to watch.

First up was Kerry Laitala‘s Awake, But Dreaming, a black & red film, the red possibly created by the film being hand-processed, of a stroll down an endless corridor. I did find the movie very dreamlike as I frequently have dreams walking, or running, in a repetitive environment.

Next was Film(Lode) by Deco Dawson, another film about a confined environment. Two miners work all day, share a brief meal then fantasize about killing each other to end the monotony of their existence. Beautifully shot in a grainy black & white that recreated the look of old silent movies, Film(Lode) gives a creepy, claustrophobic feel to slapstick action. Plus, with the addition of some desert shots, I got the impression that the movie could have been a “re-imagining” of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Huston.

Against Filial Piety was a film after my own heart. Its maker, Wenhwa Ts’ao, used a style of animation I used in a project way back in film school: using photocopy enlargements to zoom in and out of images. But Against is also a meditation on language, life and religion, zooming into different languages’ definitions of “barren,” intercut with pictures of fetuses and such. Since I love this animating technique, I loved this film!

I have to preface my review of the next short by saying that I’m not a terribly big fan of film/music performances, which is what Ray Harmon’s Six Ways Sideways was. In it, an old educational film about insects was projected while Ray manipulated white transparent masks over the images and an electronic score beat to the rhythm of the movie.

However, the music cut out completely in the middle of the performance, which I have no idea if that was on purpose or not, but it seemed like a bad mistake. I also didn’t find the transparent masks very interesting. The only part I did like was a brief clip of a caterpillar standing up and dancing.

The last film in this collection was actually a group of shorts, and was what I was really here to see: James FotopoulosConsumed 1-5. I’m a big fan, along with many other people, of James’ feature films, Migrating Forms and Back Against the Wall. However, while I haven’t been too impressed with other experimental shorts I’ve seen by James, I wanted to give Consumed 1-5 a try.

Consumed 1-5 are five short, separate meditations on beauty – both in the female form and in nature. The first two shorts were almost the same film with one crucial difference: Consumed 1 was in B&W and Consumed 2 was in color. Both consisted of almost exactly the same shots of a nude woman, with the camera moving over her flesh in extreme close-up or exposing her whole body or superimposing an old china doll over her figure.

As the films progressed, they began including other women, scenes of trees and rivers as well as abstract shots, e.g. the screen being filled with one solid color. As much as I like looking at naked chicks, and even pastoral nature scenes, what I was most attracted to was the machine-like soundtrack, which had a very David Lynch-ian feel to it. And Consumed 5 had the most irritating high-pitched squeal that you’re ever going to hear.

I liked Consumed 1-5, engaging me to make connections between images, giving the impression that these beauteous images were being stamped out of a factory. Collectively, Consumed 1-5 was more ambitious and fulfilling than James’ previous shorts, tho’ I’d still rather see one of his features.

Continue on to 2001 CUFF: We Sold Our Souls For Rock ‘n’ Roll

Go back to 2001 CUFF: “Present Tense” (shorts)


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