Tag Archives: experimental film

Barbarian at the Gates of Hell

She Is Conann

by Hope Madden

What did I just watch?

It’s called She Is Conann, and it defies simple summarization.

French filmmaking provocateur Bertrand Mandico would like to take you on a strange journey. Conann, played throughout this experimental epic by six different actors (Claire Duburcq, Christa Théret, Sandra Parfait, Agata Buzek, Nathalie Richard and Françoise Brion) is no ordinary barbarian. But is she the most barbaric of all barbarians? At her death, her life is recounted to the Queen of Hell to make that determination.

Who is telling the tale? Rainer, a dog man (played by a woman, Elina Löwensohn) who’d been Conann’s near-constant companion since her earliest days of barbarism. They are, ahem, close.

This weird fever dream is told mostly in black and white with filth and sparkles, which makes the seemingly random pops of giallo-esque color more striking. We meet Conann at 15 in what is closest to the barbarian concept of the Schwarzenegger series that gives Mandico’s film its name. All swords and mud and conquest, the stage is set for vengeance to grip the orphan’s mind and set her on a path to rule all.

But her first real foe turns out to be herself, as she is forever murdered when visited by the version of Conann from one decade hence. This allows Mandico to leapfrog around time, creating bizarre and intoxicatingly staged eras that mix queer iconography with punk and disco, then symbols of conquest from the Roman Empire to Nazi Germany.

Rainer is always there, flashing photos as both witness and artist, one of dozens of ways the film links art with consumerism, artist with consumption. (Indeed, eventually the link is quite literal.)

Easter eggs to Naked Lunch, Blade Runner and many more, while fun, also embellish each era’s aesthetic. The result is morbid and macabre, grotesque and cynical and of course, strangely beautiful.

She Is Conann drags a bit, feeling every second of its 105-minute running time. Some eras grow more tedious than others, but a fresh and entirely bizarre surprise is around every bend. This is not a film you leave thinking, Oh, I saw that coming. The result is more of a bewildering if absolutely entertaining WTF?

Let’s All Go to the Editing Bay

Have You Seen My Movie?

by Matt Weiner

If the phrase “a love-letter to cinema” wasn’t clichéd by now, Paul Anton Smith’s new meta-film Have You Seen My Movie? at least sets the bar impossibly high for future directors.

Have You Seen My Movie? consists entirely of found footage from other movies. From the early silents to the latest blockbusters, Smith pieces together nearly a century of cinematic history to create a distinct and visually stunning movie about movies and moviegoing, all told through these re-cut clips.

Smith served as assistant editor for Christian Marclay’s The Clock, a 24-hour art installation that used film and TV clips featuring the corresponding time of day in their scenes. Marclay’s piece ebbs and flows throughout the day, resulting in a delirious in-person experience that questioned what film, narrative and time itself could be.

All of which is to say that Smith’s own spin on the found footage clip show builds on Marclay’s approach. While it lacks the monumental sweep of The Clock’s 24-hour marathon, Smith’s tight commitment to a feature-length film with all the attendant emotional beats makes for a similarly impressive feature experience.

Without continuity or context to rely on, Smith pieces together a cohesive — and thoroughly engaging — narrative centered on emotion instead of plot (with a big assist from the flashes of recognition that come from picking out iconic scenes and characters).

Over the course of the movie, Smith weaves in every imaginable genre and hundreds of classic films. The technical prowess stands on its own as worth a watch, but it’s clear by the end that all Smith’s clever work is in the service of something grander: yes, there are plenty of hidden delights for cinephiles with a sharp eye. (The Criterion Collection could have a field day with bonus features.)

But there’s also no denying the transformative power of film and the dominant role it enjoyed for so long in shaping the culture. It’s a convincing case from Smith, in all its sentimental and spectacular glory. And in the middle of corporate consolidation, streaming silos and our current blockbuster era, it’s also one that might be less victory lap and more requiem for a dream.


Striking Gold

Dawson City: Frozen Time

by Hope Madden

If art imitates life, then can the discarded art of a period tell us an insightful story of a forgotten time and place? Documentarian Bill Morrison thinks so, or his latest, Dawson City: Frozen Time, suggests as much.

A pastor and part-time backhoe operator in Dawson – a small town in the Yukon – unearthed a trove of nitrate film reels from the silent era while digging up the land behind Diamond Tooth Gertie’s gambling hall in 1978.

Adding a minimum of spoken explanation or context, all of which is quarantined to the opening and closing of his film, Morrison pieces together footage from the find with sometimes startlingly gorgeous photos and other craftily placed film bits, as well as onscreen type, to weave his tale.

His film tells of Dawson’s fascinating history – the romantic, dangerous kind usually reserved for Wild West legends. (Maybe something worthy of the name Diamond Tooth Gertie?)

Dawson was the last stop for a film, a location so remote and far flung, distributors refused to pay the postage to have their movies returned. Theater managers disposed of most of it in the same way the townspeople disposed of everything at the time – down river during the thaw.

But one crafty bank manager – because it was in the bank that many reels were held – decided to use it as landfill beneath the town’s ice rink. The permafrost kept the reels from deteriorating entirely, and their water damage only adds to the odd and dreamy style Morrison uses to sketch out this history.

Immersed in Alex Somers’s often hypnotic score, the film is a meticulously crafted near-silent film itself – a work full of insight on history and art. Perhaps too meticulous. Feeling every minute of its 2-hour run time, Frozen Time is often so bogged down in minutia that the bigger, more fascinating picture can get lost.

Though his documentary does share insights into Dawson’s labor, expansion, culture, science and the displacement of native peoples, Morrison is interested in more than the progression of the town.

His doc is also about film as art, and the ways that art can be manipulated to tell a compelling story. The filmmaker, relying heavily though not exclusively on reels uncovered by Frank Barrett’s backhoe, edits together images from wildly varying movies having nothing to do with Dawson. He uses these to articulate, in clever and sometimes wryly funny fashion, the history unfolding.