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From Tugboats to Polar Bears: Short Films by Matt McCormick (2006)

Director: Matt McCormick
    see all cast/crew...
Genre: Independent, Short Films

With a sharp eye for the odd, the aesthetic, the whimsical, and the absurd, Oregon-based filmmaker Matt McCormick makes experimental short films (found-footage montages, documentaries, and music videos) that deal with an eclectic mix of topics: rampaging rodents, tugboats, and "The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal." This release contains eight of McCormick's short films, each made using different formal and stylistic techniques, and each capturing a strange and unexpected sliver of American culture.


  • Sincerely, Joe P. Bear (4 min., 1999). Appropriated news clips from the 1960s tackle the momentous issue of how polar bears cope with heartbreak and rejection.
  • The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal (16 min., 2001). "It is no coincidence that funding for anti-graffiti campaigns often outweighs funding for the arts." Narrated by Miranda July.
  • Grounded (5 min., 2004). Heavy industry and urban wildlife.
  • Towlines (22 min., 2004). An experimental documentary about tugboats (or perhaps a children's movie made for adults). Original music by James Mercer of the Shins.
  • The Vyrotonin Decision (7 min., 1999). A postmodern disaster epic featuring appropriated segments of 36 television commercials from 1971.
  • Going to the Ocean (8 min., 2001). Night vision video and found Kodachrome-improvised soundtrack: trains/static/melodeon.
  • American Nutria (11 min., 2003). Nutria are a large, odd-looking rodent from Argentina that appear to be on track to eating the entire North American continent. Narrated by Calvin Johnson, original music by the Postal Service.
  • Past and Pending (5 min., 2003). A music video for the Shins (co-directed by Greg Brown).

GreenCine Member Reviews

Hieroglyphic Deployment of Paint by JPielaszczyk August 27, 2005 - 2:43 PM PDT
0 out of 1 members found this review helpful
My rating of nine is specifically for "The Unconscious Art of Graffiti Removal," and my review's title comes from a passage by Guy Davenport, as follows:

"We will always come back around to the hieroglyphic deployment of paint. Claude Monet was getting wonderfully close to Pollock in the last lily-pond canvases at Giverney, and Paul Cezanne was as desirous of painting a landscape in which nothing could be discerned but the brush-strokes as H.D. Thoreau was of writing '. . . a sentence which no intellect can understand.'"

". . . Graffiti Removal" also resonates with the photography of Martin Schweitzer in his book Stopping the World, an autographed and annotated copy of which serendipitously came my way. Some hand-written notes: "bubbles locked in ice-frozen lake . . . faded painting on a safe . . . top of old wrecked car, by side of dirt trail . . . acetate, collapsed & fallen behind screen. . . ."

Matt McCormick and crew have a fine time showing us around the two-square-mile section of Portland, OR, which had been designated a no-graffiti zone. Inadvertent resonances to the work of Soviet Suprematist ("White on White") Casimir Malevitch, and of the Abstract Expressionists (particularly Mark Rothko) emerge from the painted cover-ups of tags. Delicious ironies emerge, such as the fact that "It is no coincidence that funding for anti-graffiti campaigns often outweighs funding for the arts."

Beauty is where we find it. McCormick finds plenty. As Thoreau wrote, in nearly the last journal entry before his death (in specific reference to a minute observation on the effect of a storm on gravel), "All this is perfectly distinct to an observant eye, and yet could easily pass unnoticed by most."

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.00)
14 Votes
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