Invocation of My Demon Brother: not an essential film to see for Kenneth Anger fans

Kenneth Anger, “Invocation of My Demon Brother” (1969)

If like me, you’ve already seen a considerable number of films by Kenneth Anger, this one won’t add much that’s new to your knowledge: Anger creates what’s basically an extended rock music video with scraps from another film “Lucifer Rising”, shots of bikers, a group of people smoking from a skull and a Satanic funeral ceremony for a cat. Filming techniques such as the layering of images (a constant Anger motif), film speed distortion, placing the camera at odd angles and juxtaposing shots drawn from different sources to suggest a narrative and create unusual connections are combined so as to extract maximum shock and horror, and disturb viewers with intimations of occult evil. Bold red shades are emphasised to invoke Western stereotypes about devil worship. A multi-lens filming approach so as to suggest an insect’s point of view adds an extra sinister impression.

Some viewers will obviously find this film very dark and frightening, especially in scenes where a Satanic high priest flourishes a flag with the swastika symbol: this could very well be Anger in a cheeky mood, knowing that (in 1969) Western audiences were sensitive to the horrors of Nazism and Nazi flirtation with pagan religion and the occult, and so he uses a Nazi symbol in the context of an occult ritual to shock people. The joke is that the ritual is in honour of a dead cat! – in this way, Anger plays with images and their sequencing, and the cultural associations they have for Western viewers, to create a spectacle that makes fun of people’s fears and the things they avoid without understanding why they do so.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is the soundtrack, composed on Moog synthesiser by famous Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger: it ain’t much to hear, to be honest, but it’s probably the most significant work of solo music he’s done in nearly 50 years.

The film is not essential viewing: you’re best directed to Anger’s other works “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome”, “Lucifer Rising” and “Scorpio Rising” if you want a psychedelic experimental film experience with occult themes.

Tolerantia: a plea for religious tolerance and diplomacy over war

Ivan Ramadan, “Tolerantia” (2008)

An animated 3D short made in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2008, “Tolerantia” is a plea for religious tolerance. Set at the end of the last Ice Age (or the next Ice Age perhaps when the planet is done with the ups and downs of global climatic change), the film is completely silent save for necessary sound effects. A Shrek-like character thaws out of a block of ice and immediately sets about finishing off his personal stone ziggurat which he had planned and started to build countless millennia ago before the Deep Freeze set in. Completing the job with a shrine to the sun, he begins his worship but is rudely interrupted by another fellow who has also just completed his solar-focused pyramid and is irate at being overshadowed. In those days, folks couldn’t apply for council development applications that would restrict overshadowing so the two prehistoric (or post-historic if you will) chaps start the mediation and negotiation process their own way, tossing rocks at each other until they achieve a sort of stalemate resolution.

It’s pretty obvious that if the guys had engaged in jaw-jaw rather than war-war, the sun would have proved quite generous in sharing its bounty between the two and viewers are to assume that if people worshipping different religions could just sit down together and talk, a lot of the pain and dislocation caused by religious intolerance leading to war could be overcome. I do not know how much this is true of Bosnia-Hercegovina in recent times if it is; much of the conflict in that country must also be attributed to resurgent nationalism among the Croatians and Serbians spilling across borders after decades of being suppressed or unresolved under Yugoslav Communist rule.

The reality beyond Bosnia-Hercegovina is that more often than we realise religion is used as a cover for other causes leading to a breakdown in communication among two or more different religious communities and a resort to violence. How does one explain the situation in parts of the Middle East where for centuries Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other religious communities co-existed and co-operated more or less peaceably and it is only during the late nineteenth century and onwards that these communities started experiencing inter-faith conflicts? If we take each major conflict and dissect the causes behind each and every one of them, we will find the causes are much more complicated and often (though not always) involve interventions by foreign actors intent on playing one religion off against others. Current conflicts in Iraq and Syria, two countries with long histories of major and minor religions co-existing side by side in the same communities, turn out to have been stoked and encouraged in part by forces outside those two countries, in particular Britain, France, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States.

Apart from all my rambling about its theme, the film is well made with slapstick humour, considering that Ramadan did pretty much everything save for the music, composed and done in traditional Bosnian folk style by Mostar Sevdah Reunion. The message is simple and very straightforward, the story structure builds up steadily and the conclusion is at once devastating and blackly humorous.

Blancanieves: silent Gothic melodrama of a brief summer of shining innocence before a long winter of fascism

Pablo Berger, “Blancanieves” (2012)

In the style of old 1920s expressionist silent films, Berger’s “Blancanieves” is a witty, layered and lavish Gothic retelling of the fairy-tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Set in southern Spain in the 1920s, the innocent beauty becomes Carmencita, the daughter of famed matador Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho) and his beautiful flamenco-dancing wife Carmen (Inma Cuesta). The child’s birth is attended by tragedy: Villalta becomes a quadriplegic after a goring by a bull (because he was forced to look away by a thoughtless news reporter flashing his camera) and Carmen dies during childbirth. Enter the gold-digging nurse Encarna (Maribel Verdu) who marries Villalta and banishes Carmencita (Sofia Oria), who is brought up by her aunt (Angela Molina). Unfortunately Aunty dies while the child is still young so she is sent to the Villalta household where Encarna promptly banishes her to the servants’ quarters. Carmencita manages to find her father in his room and learns basic bull-fighting techniques from him. After his death, she (Macarena Garcia) is banished from her rightful inheritance and is nearly killed by Encarna’s chauffeur lover; traumatised, she suffers from amnesia when found by a troupe of bull-fighting dwarves(!) who welcome her into their nomadic way of life and christen her Blancanieves. Freudian psychology and nature-over-nurture racially based inheritance will out: Blancanieves finds her calling as Spain’s first female toreador, culminating in acclaim and recognition as Villalta’s heir in the prestigious Seville corrida. However, the wicked Encarna has found out about Blancanieves from a fashion magazine and plots the girl’s demise.

The film uses a maximalist expressionist style to tell its nuanced story: the excellent and camera-friendly Verdu camps up her role as the evil stepmother and several wonderful scenes in the film highlight Encarna’s depraved nature and fashion sense. The only thing lacking is evil cackling, as this is a silent movie. Berger employs several experimental filming techniques typical of a number of arthouse films from the early 20th century: Dziga Vertov (“Man with a Movie Camera”), Jean Vigo and Luis Bunuel are obvious inspirations. Alfred Hitchcock is also an influence in many scenes of voyeurism and the Villalta mansion, complete with Hitchcockian staircase which also becomes a murder weapon, might be a nightmare labyrinth from one of Jorge Luis Borges’s short stories.

Scenes are shot from different angles and the corrida becomes a microcosm of gladiatorial battles between life and death, youth and old age, and innocence and the kind of sophistication that knows the price of everything but the value of nothing, embodied by both Encarna and the bull-fighting agent who cunningly takes advantage of Blancanieves’s naivety by tricking her into signing a contract that allows him to exploit her bull-fighting talents and eventually everything else she has. Berger brings a self-reflexive dimension to the reworked fairy-tale: the news media and the cult of celebrity are always present in some way, whether through the reporter’s gaffe that sets the train of tragedy, the fashion magazine as the substitute for the mirror on the wall or the freak-show exploitation of Blancanieves as she lies comatose in her glass coffin while the ghoulish queues of Prince Charming hopefuls line up to pay for the privilege of kissing her; and there are motifs of the eye-as-camera and voyeurism. The dwarves know the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and with Blancanieves bill themselves as such: the fact that they’re missing a seventh dwarf bothers only one of their number but no-one else, least of all the public.

At times, the film trembles under the weight of the plot and the multi-layered symbolism and the narrative denouement does not hold up too well under the high tragedy of Blancanieves’s downfall and the creepy freak-show fade-out.

The film’s highlight is its rousing and passionate music soundtrack which includes heavy yet glorious doses of flamenco and militaristic music appropriate to a bull-fighting ritual. Something of the pagan nature of bull-fighting and its probable origins as a fertility rite and test of masculinity makes an appearance.

The subtext is perhaps obvious and banal: the character of Blancanieves represents a life-giving force that is continually thwarted by forces of evil in capitalism: the cult of celebrity, materialism and selfishness, exploitation and competition expressed through various support characters. It seems appropriate that Blancanieves should fall victim to Encarna’s wiles just before the Spanish Civil War breaks out; one presumes that she will have to sleep through General Franco’s rule to 1975 at the very least before she will finally find her Prince Charming.

Ichthys: a caustic commentary on institutional religion

Marek Skrobecki, “Ichthys” (2005)

For once I didn’t need to look up an English translation for the title of this Polish animation short which uses animated puppets. A man rows a boat to a distant shore, gets out and enters a cathedral. A waiter shows him to his table and the man orders the fish of the day. What follows is an amusing exercise in patience and frustration as the man waits a life-time to be served. Reward does eventually come but it carries consequences that can be interpreted on different levels relating to the nature of Roman Catholicism, spirituality and the search for meaning to life.

That the castle resembles a cathedral and the waiter a priest is no accident: the restaurant represents institutional religion which promises a great deal if people think and act in certain ways but which ultimately delivers either very little or delivers with even more conditions incumbent on individuals that they can’t refuse or avoid, or which condemn them to even more existential anguish and torment. The hungry man’s wait is torturous: as his clothes wear out and holes develop in his elbows and knees, the man’s face and body waste away and he literally falls apart: he tears off his face and his arms drop out of his sockets. He looks hungrily at the fish in the fish-tank but the creature ends up dying a natural death. When eventually the waiter returns, the customer is practically dead. The fish of the day revives the poor man but he does not realise that by taking the dish, he will be the butt of a malicious cosmic joke.

In spite of the often gorgeous colours that appear during the film’s duration and the promise of light and all’s-well-that-ends-well, the feeling that a huge con is being played out is never far away. Anyone who is familiar with Polish animation (and the animation of some other eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic) will know that Polish animation often carries a very sly black funereal humour and just when you think everything will turn out well and everybody will be happy, darkness and melancholy are never far away at all. So it is with “Ichthys”.

The animation is very well done with good pace and timing; the man’s facial contortions and comic if pathetic behaviour capture his anguish and torment. His actions are all the more pitiable when the reward is revealed and he receives it gratefully. Some viewers will anticipate what happens to him next and suspect that the waiter has known all along where the man ends up as he takes the customer’s hat and throws it into a room full of … other customers’ hats.

An excellent if very biting and sarcastic comment on the nature of institutional religion, what it demands of and extracts from people, and how it traps people in a never-ending cycle of debasement and purgatory, “Ichthys” is highly recommended viewing.

The Red and the Black / The Horse: two little oil paintings in continuous motion

Witold Giersz, “The Red and the Black / Czorwane i Czarne” (1963) / “The Horse / Kon” (1967)

I was held spellbound by these two very visually beautiful short animations which use animation of oil paintings done on cardboard or glass, and that exploit the possibilities that the characteristics of oil painting can offer. In the first cartoon, “The Red and the Black”, whose tongue-twisting Polish name offers opportunity for word play, a red matador and a black bull duel within the corrida and outside it – and even outside the painting, to the consternation of the “painter” who did the picture! The second cartoon is also a duel, this time between a wild horse and the young warrior who wants to tame it and ride it into war – but this is a much tamer affair that experiments more with colour than with breaking boundaries: one can only toy around with viewers’ expectations and spring surprises on people once.

The two shorts might be portraying the eternal tug-of-war between Human and Nature, and all that is symbolised by those two concepts: Human as symbol for a rationalist view of the universe and Nature as synecdoche for the organic, non-logical and unstructured forces of the universe. During the Communist period (for Poland, this was from 1945 to 1989) the conventional interpretation of “The Red and the Black” was that one side represented the forces of freedom and democracy and the other, those of Communism and authoritarian dictatorship, but my opinion is that the short is a light-hearted playful one and should not be assumed to symbolise two political polarities and their conflict.

The  visual style resembles the bright colourful Fauvist painting style that was briefly popular in France in the first decade of the 20th century, and there may have been influences from Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and the French Impressionist school as well in the preference for broad painterly brush-strokes in the movement of the figures. The animation in “Horse” is particularly good: the portrayal of the animal’s movements, in particular its galloping and the way it turns and flicks its tail, shows how closely Giersz must have observed the movements of horses as the animation is accurate and captures the rhythms of its flowing gait.

There is much humour in the narratives of both shorts: both matador and warrior are outwitted by the animals throughout. Even when matador and bull are literally bottled up, their essences still animate their prisons which threaten to upset the painter’s studio. The warrior appears to lose hope of ever capturing his steed as he fades into the black background.

If I were showing a group of animation students a series of cartoons to watch, I would definitely include these two little masterpieces of breath-taking originality.

Son (dir. Ryszard Czekala): a solid, powerful short about rural-urban and generational division

Ryszard Czekala, “Son / Syn” (1970)

This short silent animation piece is one that Polish animator Ryszard Czekala is best known for and it’s easy to see why: its themes of rural-urban divide, generational separation, isolation and abandonment are universal. A rich businessman from the Big Smoke visits his parents on their remote farm: the elderly folk are glad to see him come back and serve him the best meal they can offer but the son spurns their humble lifestyle, reads his newspaper at the dinner table and races back to the city as soon as he is done with visiting. The parents are puzzled at his behaviour but resume their tilling and other work.

The animation looks dark and heavy but carries a sure solid power especially in scenes in which the farmer and his bullock are dragging a plough through heavy soil. The farmer and his wife have tired, worn faces and hands and fingers used to heavy labour over many years. I have the impression they have waited for a long time, years stretching into decades perhaps, for their son to return. Return he does but the long-awaited reunion is a disappointment. The film briefly touches on the couple’s bemused expressions and for a moment I think they are perhaps glad to see him leave, having observed his shallow and supercilious behaviour, before they pick up the rhythm of their lives again.

No dialogue is needed to convey the psychological and cultural chasm between the parents and their son as all that we need to know happens in their actions and in a small scene in which the son knocks a piece of bread off the table but fails to pick it up, expecting his parents to do so as if they were servants. They do so but not because they are his servants; every bit of food is precious sustenance.

It’s a paradox that sometimes the most powerful messages are delivered by short silent films such as this little work. Makes me wonder why I still bother to watch feature-length films sometimes.

Montparnasse: an affectionate survey of a famous artistic and intellectual Parisian district in the 1920s

Eugène Deslaw, “Montparnasse” (1929)

Come take a tour of Montparnasse as it was in 1929 with Eugène Deslaw to guide you. At the time, this district in Paris was the centre of French artistic and intellectual life and Deslaw captures this aspect of Montparnasse very well, emphasising a number of famous cafés, clubs and streets frequented by famous writers, painters and philosophers from around the world, particularly the United States.

The film begins with unusual bird’s-eye views of traffic  in Montparnasse from some distance: the camera is often held on the side as well as from above and at one point in the introduction, it shyly peeks from behind a vehicle. The camera takes in a number of streets by their street-signs and quickly settles on landmarks that would have been known to artists, intellectuals and the general public alike. Soon our gaze is lavished on street life: people walking in the streets, children playing with toy boats in the ponds and fountains, women traders in street markets, and gentlemen studying pictures in a flea market on the street. Close-ups of pedestrians, including some famous artists of the time like the Japanese painter Fujita, the Spanish film-maker Luis Buñuel and three Italian futurist painters Russolo, Prampolini and Marinetti, are included. Deslaw prefers to hone in on the unusual, like a flock of goats being herded through traffic and pedestrians, or a display of five wistful-looking dolls on a table, or a machine claimed by its advertisers to read fortunes in people’s hands. He has an eye for street art, African tribal art, visual pornography of a tasteful kind and city architecture in which geometric patterns or exuberant baroque swirls might be found. The last couple of minutes in the film focus on people at an outdoor café and their activities: people-watching, writing, conversing with friends, playing finger-shadow games.

In the space of 15 minutes, we probably see much more of Montparnasse than many modern tourists might of the district in one day: the film flits very quickly with quick editing from one spot to another. Certain motifs such as nude art or particular architectural patterns become the basis for a collage of images that’s quickly replaced by another collage based on another theme. The camera rarely lingers for long on any one particular shot. Some unusual filming techniques such as a pan-around that turns dizzy might be used but on the whole the film relies on linked linear sequences of shots done fairly quickly.

It’s an affectionate survey of a particular part of Paris as it appeared to Deslaw in the 1920s and for that reason has historical value for students of Parisian culture and intellectual life. The film does not linger on particular landmarks or streets so any distinctive Montparnasse atmosphere is not obvious to viewers. There is little shown about the less glamorous and perhaps seedier, more rundown parts of Montparnasse; no suggestion that there might be the odd gangster or two, or a political dissident trying to flog Marxist texts to impassive passers-by, lurking in the district. Such inclusions would have made the area much more interesting, complex and historically important as viewers would be left to ponder how the vibrancy of a district or city is influenced as much by its underbelly as its artistic, intellectual and cultural life, and the tensions between these sub-cultures and the mainstream culture of Paris.

Most of the music soundtrack consists of songs or instrumental pieces popular during the 1920s and I think I recognise a few tunes from old Warner Bros Bugs Bunny cartoons of my distant childhood. Apart from this and some early traffic noises, the film is silent. For some modern viewers, that will be a problem as the film carries no title cards to indicate which parts of Montparnasse are being visited and why they and not others are the subject of the film’s interest.

Un monsieur qui a mangé du taureau: slapstick comedy film short with a possible ulterior message

Eugène Deslaw, “Un monsieur qui a mangé du taureau” (1935)

We all know of people who spout a lot of BULL but what happens to people who accidentally or deliberately swallow some of that BULL? This is the premise to a silent film made in 1907 by a film-maker unknown, to whose film Deslaw added some introductory titles and a voice-over commentary by French comic artist Bétove. The film I saw did not have the commentary. The film demonstrates what happens when you eat the flesh of some exotic animal whose nature you know nothing of.

With a total running time of seven minutes, the plot is simple: a lady serves her guests the flesh of a bull. While relaxing after dinner with some cognac, cigars and a few jokes, one of the guests takes down some bull horns from his hostess’s wall, puts them over his head and instantly transforms into a raging taureau. After headbutting the other guests who scramble for safety onto furniture which then promptly falls over or off the walls, the maddened guest terrorises the neighbours and runs out into the streets attacking passers-by and the local gendarmes. The panicking authorities place a call with Paris Central Police HQ who transfer it to Madrid Central Police HQ who in turn promptly despatch a team of matadors and toreadors the same day. (Ah, how efficient French and Spanish police were in those pre-EU days! Ah, how wonderful and speedy was Samuel Morse’s telegraph technology, faster than the Internet!) Meanwhile our Raging Bull takes on a man dressed as a donkey and the two, erm, monkey around quite a bit before going on their separate ways. When los señores de la corrida arrive by walking into town (as you do: the Pyrenees obviously were no trouble crossing over) from Madrid, they promptly do battle with the gentleman. They successfully “subdue” him – for once, I won’t spoil the ending by giving it away – and the police promptly march him off into the sunset. Olé!

It’s a wonderful piece of pure slapstick comedy based on the notion that you literally are or become what you eat. Maybe there is an ulterior, perhaps rather racist premise insinuated here: don’t absorb yourself too much in other people’s culture (especially if it’s a Third World culture) in case you become like them and go savage. The original film is self-explanatory and hardly needed an additional commentary or titles from Deslaw and Bétove. I imagine the commentary as a sarcastic send-up and criticism of the racism that might be implied in the film’s premise: that French people should beware of adopting aspects of other people’s cultures lest the exotic values of such cultures degrade French culture itself and turn French people into savages. Considerable acrobatics are involved with people, ladies especially, somersaulting over cupboards and street furniture. The bull horns end up quite bloody and one shudders to think of the carnage and the blood trail left along the way. I didn’t see anyone actually being poked or prodded or pin-pricked to death by the horns but the agility of the actors to avoid such a fate is nothing short of dazzling. The action is quick, the editing sharp and no-nonsense, and the whole story is wrapped up in five minutes.

I’ve heard the voiceover commentary actually demeans the original film so it’s just as well I didn’t experience Deslaw’s superfluous additions. Usually with silents, there would be piano accompaniment so viewers can add their own musical or voice-over accompaniment if they wish! Perhaps this would be an amusing film to show as part of a film festival with a vegan or vegetarian theme.

La Marche des Machines / Les Nuits Électriques: experimental shorts suggest technology has a life of its own

Eugène Deslaw, “La Marche des Machines” (1927) / Les Nuits Électriques” (1928)

The Ukrainian film-maker Eugène Deslaw made a number of fairly short experimental films in the late 1920s before his career was swept away by the advent of sound. Little seems to be known of his activities since then; he died in 1966 apparently unremembered. Two such films are “La Marche des Machines” and “Les Nuits Électriques”. The first of the two is a 5-minute documentary that might be commenting on the relentless progress of technology and how it’s acquiring a pulsing life of its own beyond human control. It’s basically a linear collage of little series of shots, each series dominated by a little theme: wheels in one series, a crossways grid in another, weaving in a third, caterpillar tracks in a fourth, conveyor belts in a fifth. Near the end the film becomes more abstract with scenes where two shots are superimposed on one another or placed side by side to suggest that a kind of convergent evolution in two different strands of technology has taken place. In the last minute of the film, carefully selected shots sequenced together suggest that some machines or their levers at least might achieve the ability to reproduce and the very last couple of shots, done almost entirely in contrasts of light and shadow, insinuate sexual intercourse.

Second film “Les Nuits Électriques” showcases a city at night through its lights and the eerie life that it takes on through electricity while its human inhabitants sleep. This is a much more abstract and beautiful film than the first and Deslaw shows considerable imagination in using mirror images of shots to set up symmetrical collages that reveal another world within the electrical world first encountered. A remarkable series of shots of a merry-go-round unveils a secret universe of floating lights that suggest fireflies buzzing about during the twilight hours. As the film progresses, it becomes more playful and starts playing tricks on viewers: about the 7th minute, shots of the moon over the sea hint at a mysterious hovering comet and in the 8th minute, shots of telephone lines and poles are cheekily posited as negatives of daytime scenes. Greater levels of abstraction with mirror imaging and film running backwards encourage a blurring between live action and experimental animation particularly in the shots that take place in a foundry. At times the film can be very hypnotic and one’s mind starts to relax and expand …

As silent films, these mini-documentaries appear to have no message but the way in which the shots are arranged, with emphasis on visual rhythms and patterns of motion, an implied narrative that an alien life-force is incipient in modern technology is strong. Clever editing, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, adds to the impression that this vitality has a speed of its own that will surpass human capacity to understand and control it. If humans appear at all, their presence is incidental rather than essential to the technology: they appear as passers-by or passive spectators. The films are at once fascinating and terrifying in the implications of their subject matter.

Deslaw’s use of film looks more sophisticated in the second film than in the first: “Les Nuits …” has a more playful, experimental approach to its subject, especially in later scenes of flying sparks of light in a foundry. At this point the viewer does not know if s/he is watching a live-action film or an animation, and perhaps doesn’t care anyway as the images – all light and dark contrasts – are highly abstract.

The films’ main value lies in their playful use of filming techniques to suggest a narrative where one didn’t exist originally.

Autour de La Fin du Monde: silent film about a sound film hampered by lack of … sound

Abel Gance and Eugène Deslaw, “Autour de La Fin du Monde” (1930)

I had heard that there was a French science fiction film “La Fin du Monde” made by Abel Gance in 1931 and looked for it on Unfortunately I didn’t find it but what I did find was a silent 18-minute documentary made by Eugène Deslaw on the making and shooting of the film. The documentary is notable for the methods Deslaw uses to observe the director and his crew at work and how various scenes were prepared and shot.

Understandably, being silent, the film features no interviews with anyone on or off the set: it’s done almost completely from the viewpoint of an unseen observer who has stumbled in onto the set and might be watching in wonder and astonishment at the comings and goings of people and what they do. The film opens with a spectacular circular panning of the camera focusing on actors facing it that speeds up until the whole shot is a wild whir. The scene abruptly cuts to a camera operator spinning around on his stand. Sometimes the camera comes in very close to scrutinise the equipment: meter readings, switches being turned on and off, pointers on gauges wavering between two extreme points. Are we looking at scenes from the film being made or are we looking at the actual filming? In this way, Deslaw blurs the boundary between the film being made and his own film. The camera also views the film from the height of a child (there is a shot of a pair of legs crossing a floor) and from above people’s heads.

The film was France’s first talking film and there is a scene of a beautiful woman facing the camera and singing or chanting. There is also a shot of a man declaiming loudly in front of the camera against a background of lights and the lights flashing and the camera deliberately shaking and making the image unfocused. Sometimes the camera appears to be participating in the actual film-making itself, as when it pauses on two lovers arguing and making up, and the woman listening in on them; later the camera follows the crew on a crane and looks down on a small crowd looking up at it.

Although the documentary is described as experimental, I don’t find it as experimental or inventive as the work of Gance and Deslaw’s contemporary Jean Vigo. Vigo’s work had real flair and this documentary, though it uses panning, whole-scene shots, close-ups and different points of view, can appear pedestrian in parts. There is one scene in the last minute of the film in which an image of a face appears beneath an image of a machine in close-up.

Until the film in its entirety is found and released on DVD or uploaded to, this documentary is the best source we have of the film. I know nothing more of the film having seen the documentary than I did before but as an exercise in making a film about a film and playing with audience’s expectations, Deslaw’s portrait is good but not very outstanding. The decision not to include a soundtrack is unusual, as the subject itself has one, and certainly doesn’t help me understand “La Fin du Monde”.