When I was a pre-teen, I was given a Super 8mm camera and editing machine for Christmas one year. I was already deeply into filmmaking and wasted no time in beginning my oeuvre--which turned out to be loose remakes of Three Stooges shorts starring friends of mine from school. The Columbia two-reeler format was my bedrock of film education (for some reason). But sometimes, in between films, I'd restlessly piece together some scraps of footage just for fun--no actors, no scripts! Just me and the editing machine. I'd shoot footage of 'I Love Lucy' off the TV. I'd shoot strange, arty shots of my cat Rusty. Once I shot a piano roll playing--the slits on the paper that represent the notes being played were quite mesmerizing. I'd also grab some outtakes from my latest Three Stooges remake and jumble it all together. It was weird and stupid fun. Like I said I was thirteen.

What I didn't realize at the time was that I was actually participating in the movement known as Avant-Garde Cinema and that I could very likely have been discovered as the worlds youngest protege of the AGC's Crown Prince filmmaker Stan Brakhage. If you read my previous post (scroll down, you brainiac) you'll see how I finally was introduced to the infuriating world of AGC  and my extremely averse reaction to it. While the previously posted Michael Snow film 'Back And Forth' is an outrage, the above posted Brakhage film "Murder Psalm" is a mystery not worth solving.

Some of the questions you'll be asking yourself as you watch the fifteen minute film are: Why is their no sound? What's with all grey stuff? Why does a boy wandering in a forest occasionally appear? Whats with the gory shot of what appears to be a human heart being fondled? Is it funny to show shots of old TV commercials or is it a solemn comment on something that eludes me? Who paid for this crap? Who watched it and who posted it on Youtube? Why is it called "Murder Psalm"? Why a psalm to begin with? Why is it fifteen minutes instead of four seconds or nine hours, either which would have made equal sense? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

Ladies and Gentleman, it's no use. I hate this Avant Garde stuff. Always have, always will. So why am I posting it? I dunno. A trip down memory lane I guess. An experiment in nerve-testing and will. Think of me as Gordon Liddy sticking his hand in the fire--I feel stronger as a result of revisiting these things. This is art spelled with a capital F and I dare you to challenge me on this. Nonetheless, it is cinema and its existence must be respected on some level. On that note, I advise you to roll a fatty and stare at your computer for a few minutes, taking in one of Brakhage's numerous exercises in filmmaking-as-torture-delivery-system. I wish I still had my versions of 'Murder Psalm..."At least they had Lucy Ricardo in them...

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When I was a young man going to Bard College I took a course in the history of avant-garde
cinema, about which I knew nothing. Having come from a Hollywood family that thrived on classic movies, and having already become a certified movie-geek myself, I was curious to see what this other side of the cinematic universe had to offer.

At first the films confused me. Maya Deren, Sidney Petersen and others of their ilk were making their strange little films in the 1940s. A little esoteric, a little boring but worth puzzling through. Then as the work progressed I grew steadily more annoyed--Stan Brakhage, the AG cinema's saint, threw me completely with his stuff--painting on film? Really?

But it was Michael Snow's 'Back And Forth' (posted above) that finally unleashed the torrents of hatred and contempt that I felt for the whole Avant-Garde cinema movement. And I wasn't alone. I recall sitting in the unheated barn of a theater that we watched these films in (the 16mm prints were always  execrable) and, as a group, the audience began to revolt. Watch 'Back and Forth' (or at least as much of it as you can bare) and you will experience the true cinematic equivalent of nails scraping a chalkboard. It runs fifty minutes and I won't tell you what the gimmick of the movie is--I'll let you experience it yourself.  I remember the gradual astonishment that came over the audience as we began to realize what it was we were going to be subjected to for almost an hour. People started yelling at the screen. Or walking out, cursing loudly. I didn't make it through the whole thing then and I didn't now...but with age comes a modicum of wisdom and perhaps our reactions to the film were precisely what Michael Snow wanted them to be. Pretty frigging avant-garde. What a load of crap.

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Welcome back to 'lite music' month at MTD. Today I've posted the stunningly tastelessly titled 'MUSIC TO CHANGE HER MIND', a Jackie Gleason orchestral outing. Gleason was very clever about creating and marketing these 'mood music' albums and he had about as much to do with their making as most Executive Producers have to do with the movies they get their names on. But without the Great One, we wouldn't have the albums that allow us to do a Cosby/Trump/Weinstein on women who presumably look like the above model.

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Carmen Cavallero was, along with Eddy Duchin, the ultimate antecedent and role model for Liberace, an arpeggio-spinning, glissando-wielding, sustaining-pedal obsessed 'light' pianist. As part of my continuing education in the world of 'society pianists'--which is my planned next career--I offer this faintly absurd 45RPM recording of Cavallero doing selections from the immortal 'Guys and Dolls' score by Frank Loesser. I can only imagine Loesser's reaction to the record--though he may well have liked it as it doesn't jazz things up and thus impinge on his vaunted melodies. The Latin playboy Cavallero, by the way, was in fact born in Brooklyn as Max Calvinsky and was the son of a singing waiter on Delancey Street named Baruch Calvinsky. His mother was a seamstress named Sadie Calvinsky (nee Porchnik). And Bob' Cavallero's your uncle.

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Ha. Got you with that tweet, didn't I? Yeah, I'm posting a Ferrante and Teichner album of the 'greatest movie love themes ever'. You want to make something of it? In searching for a new artistic venture to pour my exhausted self into, I've been enjoying 'easy listening' piano albums of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Why shouldn't they make a comeback? I don't mean in some snarky hipper-than-thou 'aren't-we-having-fun-doing-retro-art' kind of way. I mean good old-fashioned two-piano albums (must be on vinyl, natch) accompanied by lush strings, exotic horns, harps, peculiar percussion etc. I see it as a natural extension of the odd popularity now enjoyed by Michael Buble and Jamie Cullum, the latter of whom was/is a straight up jazz guy who seems to have grabbed onto a wave of populist musical enjoyment. Art is all about cycles and why shouldn't this once-popular style be revived? And if so, who better to revive it than a burnt out filmmaker who owns multiple pianos and doesn't really have any other marketable skills? Why not me? Huh? Why why why why why not me, dammit?!

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