Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

2012 was a big year for this blog…

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… even though I haven’t added any content to it since May of 2011. This blog was a semester-long project for a class I never wanted to take, taught by an instructor who didn’t respect his students’ time or work ethic. Though I asked for guidelines on this project many times during the course of the semester, I never received any information on what we would be graded on. Still, my classmates and myself created pretty exceptional blogs with very little guidance.

I got a B in the class. Posted before grades were due, never changed once the end of the semester rolled around, and then that professor went on a year-long sabbatical. Hope you enjoyed your year off, sir.

Because in that year you were taking a teaching breather, this B-grade blog saw over 17,000 hits from all over the world, and I haven’t added a lick of new content to it in a year and a half.

I still watch short films (and feature-length ones, mostly) but I rarely feel the need to write about them. I have another blog that I DO update, and am hoping to contribute more content to in this brand new year, and I hope you lovely blog visitors will consider giving that a read.

Now that I’m graduated, fully employed, and still a cinema lover, the sting of this terrible class has faded, and it’s just nice to see my research and effort to make an informative, critical blog didn’t go unnoticed on the interwebs. For instance, a nice linkback from a decent blog:

http://adferoafferro.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/film-theory-francois-truffaut-auteur-theory/

So forgive the humble brag, and here’s to a cinema-filled, collectively intelligent 2013. 🙂

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 17,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

January 2, 2013 at 11:47 am

Auteur Spotlight: David Lynch

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David Lynch, like many burgeoning directors, started his career making short films. From 1966-1974, he created four of film history’s most memorable shorts, leading up to his breakout, oft-critiqued feature, Eraserhead (1977). His style is defined by the dark, the grotesquely physical, and the bizarre. Many of his shorts included animation. Sound and music for films was also of utmost importance to the paranoia-filled atmosphere of his works. The dark and the bizarre were aspects he would carry over to his television show, Twin Peaks, which aired for two seasons in 1990 and 1991.

Previously, I have analyzed his short The Grandmother (1970) for your reading pleasure.

His other shorts, including Six Figures Getting Sick (Six Times) (1966), The Alphabet (1968), The Amputee (1974), and The Cowboy and the Frenchmen (1988) (a special case, originally aired on TV) all follow his particular brand of anti-Hollywood cinematic dread. Lynch chooses to subvery normal Hollywood narrative structure. Six… and The Amputee could be gallery installations, with their cyclical narrative structure. The soundtracks in those as well as The Alphabet are meant to put the audience on edge, seeking comfort in a tidy ending and receiving none. David Lynch’s unique brand of filmmaking – his Lynchness, if you will – has had a profound impact on film and television today, and I hope he continues to make films that both inspire and creep us out.

I want to leave you with The Cowboy and the Frenchman, my favorite off The Short Films of David Lynch anthology, for its lighthearted bizarro and marked contrast to The Grandmother. I hope you enjoy!

You can find information on David Lynch’s shorts and features here!

Auteur Spotlight: Roman Polanski

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Roman Polanski made short films from 1957-1962, during his time at Poland’s prestigious National Film School in Lodz. He technically never graduated from the film school, but from the lasting mark his work has made on the film industry, I’d say he’s doing all right. Polanski’s style is defined by voyeurism and violence, two things that many critics hypothesize Polanski himself struggles with. Crew members that have previously worked with the director have marked him as notoriously hard to work with; many stories have arose wherein if Polanski could not achieve the shot he wanted while making a film, he would take out his frustration on his crew verbally or physically. Even the props suffered.

The very first short he released, though it is barely over a minute long and entirely silent, tells us much about his work and the controversy that would later surround his career. Here is 1957’s Morderstwo, or “Murder.”

Simple, yet the cinematography and mise-en-scene are brilliant for a student director. Here is another of his shorts, Lampa (1959).

Personally, my favorite film of his is the feature The Pianist (2002), a story of the survival of a Polish Jewish pianist during the Holocaust played by Adrien Brody. More information on his body of work is available here.

A complete list of his short films can be found here.

And as always, everything you could ever want to know resides here.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

May 7, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Auteur Spotlight: Jean-Luc Godard

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Jean-Luc Godard, champion of the French New Wave and peer to Truffaut

 Jean-Luc Godard emerged with post-war cinema and the French New Wave, right when Truffaut was defining what we now recognize as auteur films. Godard had weighty political and social influences that cropped up in all of his works, as subtle flavors in earlier shorts and later as major plotpoints. He began, as most auteurs have, by making short films. His very first short work was Une Femme Coquette (1955), in which he was credited as Hans Lucas. He began with this pseudonym when he was writing for several film periodicals as a critic, along with his friend, Francois Truffaut. He dropped the false name soon after.

Godard’s filmography is extensive, and his name is universally recognized among cinephiles. Though he was born in December of 1930, he continues to make films today, at the ripe old age of 80. What defines Godard’s style as an auteur? That would be quite a long discussion, but an article from the New York Times movie website sums it up nicely:

Crafted with a rough-and-tumble, home-movie-like quality, it dodged all accepted notions of narrative and visual storytelling, adopting a freeform hipness unlike anything before it and sparking a revolution in low-budget, on-the-fly independent filmmaking. Seemingly overnight, Godard was revered as the most important cinematic talent of his generation. Quickly, however, Godard’s refusal to be pigeonholed became apparent, and despite a few works of lesser quality, his work over the course of the upcoming decade was a remarkable period of innovation, experimentation, and sustained genius.

The author is speaking specifically of A Bout de Souffle, one of his later features, but I think its applicable to much of his work. The same style and themes are present in a short of his that I analyzed earlier in the semester, De l-origine du XXIe siecle (2000). Undoubtedly, Godard has made a lasting impression on the film industry by simply attempting to subvert it in every way.

Below is an interview with Godard where he discusses his themes and his goals as a director, describing specifically a film he released in 1972. Enjoy!

Critique and Development of Auteur Theory

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Astruc, Bazin, Truffaut, and Sarris.

The overarching theme of Francois Truffaut’s article was that film should be analyzed as its own artform, with its own set of techniques, themes, and discoveries. Filmmaking before the French New Wave (again, I refer back to post-war cinema and the anti-Hollywood, independent film movement) was defined by adaptations of classic literature and other stories that were already familiar to the popular culture machine. Indeed, we still see films made of these same beloved stories today. I’m thinking specifically of Grimm’s fairytales, classic stories originating from books like Robin Hood and Tarzan, and costume dramas based on historical legend such as Arabian Nights or King Arthur. Truffaut was writing from the perspective of the avante-garde, the surreal, and the simply unique: every movement that was just beginning to blossom in film that stemmed from the art world and not from literature.

Truffaut wanted film to push the audience’s boundaries rather than cater to their norms.

Harry Tuttle wrote a fabulous article that supplies a historical context for Truffaut’s thoughts as well as analyzes them for their value. He says:

 “The accomplishments pre-war French cinema was praised for (‘talented adaptation’ and the ‘faithfulness to the spirit of the novel’) are seriously questioned here to highlight the absence of filmic expression which must differentiate Cinema from Literature.”

The whole basis of auteur film is that filmmakers took what Truffaut wrote (and produced in his body of work) and created their own form of filmic expression. It is their consistency of expression and exploration of film as a medium that defines great filmmakers as “auteurs.”

 Polish scholar Andrew Sarris wrote a much-studied article in reaction to Truffaut’s work on the auteur theory titled “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962.” He defined the three essential aspects of auteur work: technique, personal style, and interior meaning. To clarify:

 “[The] three premises to ‘auteur’ theory: the technical competence of the director, the director’s distinguishable personality and interior meaning. He says that three concentric circles can represent the three premises, of which the outer one represents technique, the middle one – individual style and the inner one – interior meaning. The director’s interrelated roles can be designated as the roles of the technician, stylist (metteur en scene) and the ‘auteur’ respectively.” (Sarris)

 As I continue to highlight the work of great auteurs, it will become clearer how specific techniques and personal styles of filmmakers enhance their films. For instance, think of David Lynch and his feature films like Eraserhead or his 1990 television series Twin Peaks. If we refer back to some of his short films, from the late 1960s into the 1970s, it is obvious how his personal style informs every project he has had a hand in. But more on the Lynchness of David Lynch later.

Andrew Sarris continues his analysis by making some bold statements on how the work of auteurs has affected the film industry. He hypothesizes that auteur theory makes it impossible to think of a bad director making a good film or a good director making a bad film. And in a statement that I feel makes a perfect summary of auteur film:

 “The way a film looks and moves should have some relationship to the way a director thinks and feels.” (Sarris)

 Therefore, I want to explore the work of a few distinct, celebrated auteurs and discuss how their work is indicative of how they think and feel.

 Also, as we transition into looking specifically at auteurs of short film, I would like to leave off with a comment on the beauty of short film from director Guillermo Del Toro, behind the popular movies Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth:

 “I think that a short film is a perfect nugget of a film. A seed. The perfect pitch that a producer can promote and push for people to ‘get a glimpse’ of the film that lies there.”

 

References

Truffaut’s manifesto: La Politique des Auteurs by Harry Tuttle

“Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962” by Andrew Sarris

Additional Sources (not referenced, but helpful!)

Auteur Theory in Film Criticism from the BBC

Short Film, ‘An art form in themselves,’ by Suchandrika Chakrabarti

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