New Favorite DVD: Avant Garde: Experimental Shorts, 1922-1954 (vol. 3)

We can be thankful for Kino on Video; for years, they have been a faithful distributor of silent, neglected, provincial (but broadly interesting), and plain peculiar films. In the Snell DVD stacks sits a collection of experimental short films that Kino released a few years ago. It is volume three of a trilogy. Considering the subject matter, the DVD is handsomely packaged with a sleek blue cover, enticing bonus features, and not one but two discs. And what of the subject matter? Thirty or so films from off the beaten path of film history, culled from all over the world, made by various propagandists, intellectuals, artists and outright novices, all conforming in some way to the broad styles of surrealism and/or absurdism. The title of the collection is “Experimental” shorts. Of the films I was able watch, that title is apt. On disc one, one film called Rien Que Heures (Nothing but Time) stands out. It is a forty-six minute collage of images shot on the streets of Paris, from sunrise to sundown. There is something nostalgic about the way it is presented, in a plotless, wordless form; it gives the film the feel of a deeply recalled memory. Also on the first disc, I have to  recommend Tomatoes Another Day, a film made in 1930, at the advent of “talkies.” Apparently, the film– dealing with two lovers who encounter the woman’s husband when he unexpectedly returns home– was intended to be a parody of the obvious, unintentionally hilarious style of  early talkies. Thus, the acting style is incredibly bizarre; a deliberately non-expressive blend of dialogue and gestures. What it brought to my mind were the films of David Lynch, especially Eraserhead. Anybody familiar with his work is encouraged to see this film. Disc one also contains an early example of color animation, called Tarantella, while disc two starts with a piece of (deliberately?) amateur animation called Plague Summer. The film references “The Journal of Albion Moonlight” as the work it is based on. At first I thought that was a non-existent book, but when I looked it up on, I found that it does exist. It was an anti-war novel written by the poet and pacifist Kenneth Patchen. If nothing else, Avant Garde is a collection to be seen for the sake of its far-flung oddities rather than for great filmmaking. It could also be interesting to watch the film knowing that many of the people who made them were not professional filmmakers; Tomatoes Another Day director James Sibley Watson, for instance, was a publisher who made only three short films. It is worth mentioning that this DVD is only the third in a series. Snell does not own volumes 1 or 2. While inherently for an adventurous niche audience, I think it’s worth ordering