2015: Favorite Screen Miscellany

Artwork: K.E.T.

Welcome to Screen Week! Join us as we explore the films and TV shows that kept us staring at screens. More from this series


Despite auteur Adam Sandler’s groundbreaking six-film straight-to-Netflix deal, filmmakers in 2015 made one of the best cases for old school theatrical releases in years. The Weinstein Company spent millions of dollars fitting theaters to show Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight in the mostly-dead 70mm actually-film format; the crisp-yet-textured results looked glorious and offset the ugliness of Tarantino’s story in a way that was not only visually pleasing, but thematically significant. The 70mm project was retro, but other filmmakers used newer technologies to advocate for the big screen, too. On the small, 2D surface of a TV or a laptop — without the spectacle of its theater-sized 3D cumshots — Gaspar Noé’s Love would simply be a clichéd story more flimsy than most pornos.

Speaking of pornos, much of what got our blood pumping in 2015 was not made for the big screen. We watched a ton of TV and just as much random crap on our computers — often at the same time. To better account for our viewing habits, we are pairing our annual list of favorite films with two new screen-centric lists: our favorite TV shows, and this less-defined third list of screen miscellany for everything that doesn’t fit anywhere else.

This list isn’t quite the computer-screen corollary to our upcoming film and TV lists, but it isn’t not that, either. It’s simply us grappling with the many ways we engage with media today aside from traditional theatrical releases and TV series. Here, we include the epic short films, live audiovisual performances, 5-second Vines, single-minded Instagram accounts, mind-bending video art, tasteless ad campaigns, re-releases of outsider filmmaking, and dank memes that caught our interests, that moved us, that revolted us, or, most often, just made us LOL.


Vine

Vic Berger IV

It wasn’t until 2015 that I learned how much time I could waste on Vine, with the discovery of, among others, @VicBergerIV. Once you follow an account you like on Vine, their Vines and re-Vines and related Vines open up an entirely different world from the platform’s reputation as a home for narcissistic teenage “comedians.” (See also: @ToddDracula, @popcorn__10, @Cool3DWorld.) With its short, perpetually looping videos, Vine is an unconventional medium, so it makes sense that it should play host to content as bizarre as Berger’s. And maybe it’s cheating in pursuit of the bizarre to use Ben Carson as material, but the Vine I watched the most in 2015 was this one of Carson pardoning a turkey. The source video is mystifying enough on its own — Carson calling the turkey “Mr. Turkey,” his attempts at what he must consider “official”-sounding speech, the faceless man bent over and holding the bow-tied turkey by the legs, Carson’s Jedi-like gesturing — but with Berger’s editing and sound design, and with the repetition and time limit of Vine, it goes beyond political curiosity and becomes a dreamlike incantation.

“I pronounce you pardoned. Turkey, I now pardon you. Mr. Turkey.”

Tribute

One Way or De Palma (Dir. Joe Ahearne)

Live Film Performance

LEGENDS Tour (Dir. Everything Is Terrible)

Have any of y’all been to Portland? This is a weird city. Each quirky™ neighborhood has, in the past few years, become a copy of the other. The levels of xenophobia are, perhaps, unprecedented in a progressive, American city. Nobody dances at shows or uses an umbrella in the rain. It is a city derived from a sketch — what smarter people than I would call, I think, a palimpsest. It’s an overpriced nightmare. Everyday, I wake up glad to live — if only by a hair — outside of the official city limits. That is, everyday except May 28, 2015, when Everything is Terrible: Legends came to town. It was a delightfully sunny, spring day. I was with good company. I was sufficiently buzzed. I felt the pure presence of Duane in my body; I was, for once, inhabited. I sat in the cool dark of the Hollywood Theater, yelling (perhaps for the first time since moving here) in a closed room. Commodore Gilgamesh asked, “DO YOU WANT TO KILL? OR DO YOU WANT TO FUCK?” I felt like the lone killer in a sea of fuckers, but when the next segment rolled, and the next, and the next, I was overjoyed in the presence of these local, noisy, opinionated assholes. It would, unfortunately, be the last time. Thank you nonetheless, Everything is Terrible. You truly are legends.

New Hive

My Afterlife Is So Boring II (Tara Sinn + Blues Control)

Short Film

World Of Tomorrow (Dir. Don Hertzfeldt)

If ever we needed to present the human condition as a short film, there are few better candidates than Don Hertzfeldt’s World Of Tomorrow (for rent on Vimeo, and also streaming on Netflix). The tale of a little girl having a conversation with her future self (well, a clone of her future self — turns out the future is a weird place) is only 17 minutes long, but it packs in hilarity and poignancy as it covers love, longing, and loss amongst the wide variety of emotions that people can experience in a lifetime or two. At times absurd, at other times painfully grounded in real-world problems, and still at other times using that absurdity to explore those problems, Hertzfeldt’s short is a ridiculously entertaining one that explores the fragile yet powerful connections we form with art, our memories, random items, and each other. It’s done in his standard “simplistic” stick figure manner, but it never seems slapdashed or half-assed; instead, that simplicity belies the profundity that Hertzfeldt is able to sneak into his heartbreaking, and heart-enriching, tale. Viewers will be delighted at the jokes and puzzled by the oddness (a woman falls in love with a rock at one point, for example), but overall, they’ll be swept up in a propulsive narrative that truly explores what it means to be human in the face of our always impending demise. To be able to pull off just one of these tones would be a triumph, but the fact that Hertzfeldt can juggle so many and do them all justice proves he is truly a master filmmaker.

Dank Memes

Vaporwave / A E S T H E T I C

Runners up:
HNW Memes
Bernie “The Patrician” Sanders

Re-Release

Dangerous Men (Dir. John S. Rad)

For joyous inscrutability in 2015, nothing could beat the belated wide release of John S. Rad’s 2005 not-so-magnum opus, an outsider action/revenge mess 26 years in the making at the time of its original release (total number of theaters to screen it prior to Drafthouse Films picking it up for distribution: four). More than any film that might attempt the same effect intentionally, Dangerous Men played out like a fever dream: this was a film that dropped plots and actors like stray popcorn crumbs, creating a series of disjointed scenes bound only by the numbing repetition of Rad’s home-brewed synth-funk theme (an insidious earworm dropped into almost every scene, regardless of intended tone). Its abrupt ending even felt like being jarred awake. The film’s nebulous quality, of course, poses a problem when trying to think back on it; it’s hard to remember what really happened or why, or to suss out any given character’s motivation. Like the best weird dreams, however, we walked away from Dangerous Men with a vague satisfaction, a lot of confusion, and maybe a boner.

Grand Theft Auto

A Clockwork Orange (Dir. GTA Series Videos)


Instagram

Bread Face Blog (by @breadfaceblog)

A video posted by Bread Face (@breadfaceblog) on

It is highly unlikely that “Bread Face Blog — the Instagram of a woman who records herself smushing her face into various breadstuffs in a studied, ritualistic fashion — will accrue any substantial cultural relevance outside of the realm of year-end lists and internet flotsam. Categorized by The New York Times into the lineage of “physicality” fads like #planking” or #owling, #breadfacing is the genuine, kooky invented hobby of an anonymous 27-year-old copywriter living in Brooklyn, who has amassed nearly 42,000 followers through 25 postings in about half a year, at the time of this writing. Yes, she knows people are likely to read it as a sex thing, and she’s fine with that, but it’s not her intention — it’s simply an acceptance of the rules of the internet’s homecourt. Her bread smushing is harmless and, frankly, pleasant-looking for some of the softer goods. The consistent form of the videos (same camera angle, new outfit, new music, new breadstuff) lends them a calming, elegant tone. Before rolling her face in tortillas, injera, a pretzel or a panettone, she puts the breadstuff in front of the camera, squeezing and turning it around, like a magician letting the audience inspect the card deck before a trick. She also has a Tumblr, presumably for rating the face-feel or a few choice breads. Read it as part of a beauty routine, a comment on the gluten-free lifestyle, or one woman’s flirtation with disciplined strangeness — it doesn’t matter, just enjoy. That’s clearly what she’s doing.

Video Games

Final Fantasy VII Remake & Shenmue III Reveal Full Reaction

Ad Campaign

Tony is Back! (Dir. Jani Leinonen)

In 2015, a report conducted by Action on Sugar found that there were “worryingly high” amounts of sugar in 50 breakfast cereals available in the UK. And that ain’t the worst of it; according to the data, many of the highest sugar content cereals are aimed squarely at children. I mean, I love a mid-morning bowl of Milch Kissen as much as the next person, but there’s something decidedly sinister about dressing up potentially serious health drawbacks with vibrant colors and advertising mascots. Tony the Tiger is one such character: he’s the face of Britain’s second sugariest cereal, as well as a “beloved icon” of the Kellogg company, who has helped kids with their breakfast hardships for decades. The fake Tony is Back! campaign shattered this relatable façade, emulating the premise of 80s Frosted Flakes adverts with grown-up problems for a different world. Sex work, police brutality, and suicide bombing are all aided by Tony’s vitamin-packed product, a far cry from the horse-riding or skiing of better, simpler times. Naturally, it didn’t take long for the whole campaign to be silenced, with the Twitter and Facebook accounts suspended; it also emerged that this was the work of Jani Leinonen, a Finnish artist who’s certainly no stranger to desecrating cereal mascots. Tony is Back! captured the irresponsibility of our largest corporations in a twisted, bleakly humorous way. The devil was in the detail: continuity between the three adverts, the hilariously slapdash pouring of milk, and the personification of Tony on the campaign’s website were all part of the project’s oblique allure. It’d be doing Leinonen and his team a disservice to call this a mere “prank” — Tony is Back! was culture jamming of the highest order.

Shia LaBeouf

#Introductions (LaBeouf, Rönkkö, & Turner)


 

Documentary Short

Wendell’s Hat Thief (Dir. Normal Bob Smith)

Sometimes I daydream about what would happen if I totally lost it in a public place, but it’s never been half as surreal and compelling as this video.

Science Fiction

All Six Star Wars Films at Once (Dir. Marcus Rosentrater)


 

Home Movies

Memory Hole

In the 2010s, found footage group Everything is Terrible received unprecedented access to the complete archives of one of America’s longest-running prime time television shows. From 1989 to 1997, Bob Saget was the host of TV show America’s Funniest Home Videos. Bob Saget is 6’4” tall. Access to this archive has been an unprecedented coup for the digital art world, and the project, called Memory Hole, makes posts on Vine, YouTube, and its own World Wide Website. Bob Saget is a talented stand-up comedian and actor who has also been the voice of Ted Mosby in the situational comedy How I Met Your Mother. Bob Saget is omnipotent, while Memory Hole likewise combines our nostalgia for lo-fi VHS home movies into something both nightmarish and transcendent. In 2015, Bob Saget confirmed his involvement as an actor in the upcoming series Fuller House, which revisits the themes and characters of the seminal series Full House, in which he starred. Memory Hole asks us, how much death is there embedded in all of the good times of the past? Why does the void of nothingness laugh at us when it has such bad teeth?

Opening Credits

Weird Simpsons (Dir. Yoann Hervo)

 


Trailer

Queen of Earth (Dir. Alex Ross Perry)

Maybe it’s because I’ve dipped into too many Trailers From Hell-holes in 2015, but after binging countless 60s and 70s genre film trailers, Queen of Earth’s promo became addictive. The teaser for Alex Ross Perry’s miserables-heavy comedy, Listen Up Philip, featured all principal cast members (Jason Schwartzmann, Elisabeth Moss, etc.) without including any clips from the film itself, providing a refreshing attention to marketing as an art itself. While Queen of Earth is more conventional in its selling of its most crucial scenes as a hook, the execution recalls various psychological mind-benders of the Polanski/Bergman ilk. Cheesy narration, freeze-frame title screens with frilly typography, moody score — subtlety is willingly spared in packaging Perry’s film as a throwback while remaining a glorious, anxious work of an auteur. The cheesiness and intensity create a nervous comedy, much like the film itself. What’s the film selling itself as? All we know it by is its familiar hook: women at each other’s throats. There’s an arrogance of small-scale prestige filmmaking here, but it has the crawl blurbs and accolades to back it up.

Reality Television

The Kardashians Spoof (Dir. SimgmProductions)

ASMR

“Festive Cranberry Face Brushing” (by softsoundwhispers)

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos have been available to watch and enjoy for over five years on YouTube. The tingling sensation that each piece aims to invoke comes from a combination of often delicate, fragile sounds, while the narrator uses whispering as their primary method for communicating actions or signals to their audience. 2015 didn’t exactly make a mark in the way that broadcasters attempted to soothe their viewers, but the ramifications of the sensation seemed to spur more interest than previous years in the way that scientists and journalists examined the affect in detail to better understand what happens to our brains when we engage. From our perspective, this certainly made for an interesting debate, where ideas about the strength of a whisper or a crinkle of material resulted in either deep relaxation or unsavory ridicule — similar feelings are often what spark the most visceral responses to field recordings, tape music, and found sound pieces. But the discussion went beyond the bounds of online commentary, when Emma L. Barratt and Nick J. Davis from Swansea University published the first research paper on the subject; they polled viewers in an attempt to find preference for location, narrative, and indeed the sounds that stimulate the most relaxing reaction so as to explain why the videos have gained such momentum. For us at TMT, the sensation caused by those sounds probably remains the most stimulating, where each affect, style, and suggestion granted virtual tranquility in a harbor of amateur dramatic wilderness. One of the first ASMR contributors we came across returned to the height of her game last year, and although “Festive Cranberry Face Brushing” may not have shifted the direction of this rampant online subculture, or provided insight as to where that tingling sensation comes from, it made for another creative addition to the growing library of soothing online experiences.

Post-Human Condition

Brian’s YouTube (Dir. Brian)


  

Netflix and Kill

Kung Fury (Dir. David Sandberg)

Holy cow this short was crazy. A staggering homage to a mixture of American 80s adventure, 80s cop, and 80s horror movies, Kung Fury played out like it was meant to be more of an artifact than an artwork. Over the top in just about every way, it managed to pack an incredible amount of sheer insanity into its scant 31-minute runtime, featuring plotlines involving policing the dangerous streets of Miami, fighting dinosaurs during the reign of Thor, and subsequently teaming up with Thor and those dinosaurs in a battle with none other than Hitler himself. While the zaniness of its premise was enough to get us to commit to spending a half-hour watching it, what brought us to the conclusion that it belonged on this list was its execution. It’s pretty easy to slap a VHS-tracking-effect on digital video footage, but David Sandberg went all in on creating a piece that was really hard to define with a specific time period. The action sequences were exhilarating as they were absurd, the acting as calculatingly forced and macho as the story warranted, and all-around the film was exactly as long as it needed to be. Sandberg and his Scandinavian team opened the door to exciting new possibilities for short-form filmmakers, proving that with enough passion (or at least with enough adrenaline), half-hour narratives could be just as fulfilling as the lion’s share of feature-length action movies being released these days.

Fan Fiction

Star Trek Axanar (Axanar Productions)

 

Film-Length Music Video

PINHEAD IN FANTASIA (A.R. FAUST)

This weekend, I went to the unveiling of a replica Titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History. Assessing the massive amounts of cultural phenomena that was physically occurring around this spectacle, I wandered into a lot of the indigenous and tribal in-house exhibits that were completely void of population. Not only did I recognize a lot of similarities in the crowds upstairs (especially parents with children), but I started remembering the A.R. FAUST-made PINHEAD IN FANTASIA video. Ironically, the area I was traversing reflected upon the PINHEAD IN FANTASIA video, with the artwork praising a figurehead in society that’s equally praised and feared. Yet, looking back upon Spencer Clark’s expansive discography, fabricating a believable lore makes the experimental musician Pope of the underground. Even the way I listen to music ritually (especially Fourth World Magazine) seemed to mirror these various historical groups of people, with faith-based entertainment excreting endorphins like an insatiable hunger feasting on the burning question: “Why?” The answers are within A.R. FAUST’s PINHEAD IN FANTASIA.

Awkward

Tidal Live Press Conference

 

Welcome to Screen Week! Join us as we explore the films and TV shows that kept us staring at screens. More from this series


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