Paris Qui Dort (Paris Which Sleeps, aka At 3:25), an early short film by René Clair: a mad scientist uses a time-freezing ray on Paris, pausing everyone in their day-to-day life throughout the city. Everyone except for a random handful of people who happen to be up in the air at the time, who decide to take advantage of the perfectly still city. Proto-surrealist sci-fi with a dash of percolating social commentary.
I learned about this one from The Invention of Hugo Cabret, an excellent children’s historical fiction novel about early cinema, magic, automata, and Georges Méliès. Worth reading if you’re into any of those things.
Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (夢,Yume): a mostly quiet, artful film with eight short vignettes (five dreams and three nightmares) reflecting the remembered dreams of the director throughout his lifetime. Despite the segments being separate, discontinuous stories, I enjoyed their shared abstract sense of looking for something, a great dream motif. Unfortunately the quality of the pieces vary, but the ones that are good border on the sublime. In some ways they remind me of animated versions of Jeff Wall’s artifically-constructed photographs (but maybe I’m just conflating this film’s first nightmare with Wall’s Dead Troops Talk).
Like many of his other later movies, Kurosawa had difficulty getting this film financed by the Japanese studios, but a script sent to Steven Spielberg helped secure money from Warner Bros. Interestingly, the visual effects in the movie (including a walking-through-an-oil-painting sequence later echoed in What Dreams May Come) were supervised by Ken Ralston of Industrial Light and Magic (of Star Wars and Back to the Future fame), and there’s a cameo by Martin Scorsese as Vincent van Gogh, so despite the traditional Japanese cultural elements, there’s definitely a Western tinge to this one.