Don't have time to read my blathering about something I'm underqualified to discuss? That's fine! But please skip to the end and watch one of the most awesome things you have ever seen.

The problem with paying tribute to the films of my birth year is my birth year: 1981 was one of the low ebbs for world cinema, or a least world cinema as far as I have seen it. As recently as a week ago, I was still totally lost as to what was going to fill this week's entry, wondering if the world genuinely needed another review of Mad Max 2, or if I could really live with the phrases "Personal Favorites: Body Heat" or "Personal Favorites: Das Boot", as much as I enjoy those movies. Briefly, I flirted with just reposting my 2010 review of The Beyond and throwing myself on the mercy of my readership.

My solution was a combination of luck and just a hair of intellectual chicanery. By accident, I discovered that IMDb had a 1981 date for the short film Tango, directed by Zbigniew Rybczyński, though in a good 30 minutes of research, I was never able to determine for certain whether it actually premiered in that year. It was completed in 1980, and it won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short for 1982, and there doesn't seem to be any definite proof of screening prior to May, 1981. The last of these was enough for me to feel like I could live with myself if I went ahead and gave it a berth in this series. Anyway, if the point is to celebrate my favorite films of what is more or less 1981, and not to analyse the film culture of 1981 as strictly defined by the best scholarship... look, if I can expose people to one of my absolute favorite shorts in the century-plus history of cinema, then I take it that I am doing the Lord's work.

This is not turning into much of a review, I know, because Tango isn't very easy to discuss. In fact, I'm writing this mostly in the interest of convincing you to spend eight and a half minutes watching the YouTube video at the end of this post (which, just to muddy things further, locates it in 1983; it was the cleanest copy I could find), and I think if you do, you will find that Tango rather speaks for itself more than I ever could. The film was the result of seven months of intense solo labor by Rybczyński, who identified about 100 errors in the roughly 16,000 separately composited frames of imagery. Errors not being the same, in this case, as flaws: there are certain places where the joins are obvious, but for me his gives the film a certain tangibility that might violate the illusion of something that clearly doesn't exist anyway, but by reminding us of the piece's physicality actually deepens its impact, to my eyes anyway.

Admittedly, I'm not trained in the avant-garde or experimental film, and I'm much likelier to humiliate myself by trying to read Tango than I am to explicate anything about the film worth explicating. It strikes me that the film is chiefly about the physical space occupied by the human body - it consists of 36 people moving through repetitive cycles, performing a fairly exhaustive cross-section of all the things that people do over the course of their lives in a tiny room that can't comfortably hold a fraction of that number, and what we are chiefly aware of are three things: the rhythmic movement of each individual to the music (maybe the best miracle of the film is that one soundtrack seems to score each one of the loops equally well), the total disregard each figure has for all the rest (it doesn't take very long before characters start to move right through one another like ghosts), and the fact that all of them are entering and exiting, constantly. If, in fact, Tango has a plot, it is "trying to get in and out of a room as fast and efficiently as possible". I have seen the film has been described as the (futile?) attempt to break out of routine; it has been described as well as a statement about the difficulty of people living in a crowded society with other people, everyone trying to go through life in their own, sometimes mutually incompatible way.

I like both of those interpretations just fine; I will freely confess that what I adore about the film is its choreography and the visual spectacle - I love it, in fact, for the same reason that I love some Michel Gondry music videos, which is that it is showing off the filmmaker's unholy precision and love of clockwork intricacy, the sheer "wow ohmigod that was amazing" quality of it. For me, Tango is wonderful for exactly the reason that Michael Bay films make so much money: it dazzles. The difference is that Bay's films are shiny, soulless product, where Rybczyński's film is a true labor of love, and it shows his fingerprints everywhere (maybe even literally, in a sharp enough print).

I'm going to shut up now. I give you Tango. And for God's sake, click over to watch it at YouTube, where it hasn't been shrunk all to hell.

2013 Addendum Revisiting this post mostly to watch the short, I found that the version I linked to is gone, and some of the things I said up above are no longer true. Watch it on Vimeo instead.