Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Archive for the ‘DVD Magazine’ Category

La Perra (2004)

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This 17-minute Chilean film directed by Hugo Maza and included on the World According to Shorts DVD was, in a nutshell, not my kind of satire. There are great lengths taken to assure the audiences these are appalling, grotesque people, and while it sometimes comes off funny it mostly strikes me as horrific. It invokes some of the spirit of David Cronenburg’s Crash (1996) with an exploration into the psychology of transgressive sex. The effect? Mostly it makes the audience feel dirty, and we feel for the innocent maid hired to clean the house and be the object of the upperclass couple’s erotic derision. The title, La Perra, is an insult turned into a fetish idol by this story; it may also point to the bored, manipulative female half of the skeazy couple as the true namesake. This film could have been effective if the director had chosen horrific over uncomfortably funny or vice versa, but the juxtaposition of both leave the audience baffled.

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Written by Alisa Hathaway

April 7, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Boy and Bicycle (1965)

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Well-known director Ridley Scott of Alien (1979) and Bladerunner (1982) began his career with this short film while he studied at London’s Royal College of Art. Starring his brother, Tony Scott, and employing the musical proficiency of John Barry (celebrated composer of the James Bond theme), this film includes visions of the industrial landscape that he would later include in his famous feature films. Slant magazine blogger Rob Humanick says this of the film in a review of the Cinema 16 DVD:

The style-over-substance director’s first work is indicative of the heavy-handedness exhibited in many of his feature films, here following the adventures of a young boy who decides to play hooky as a respite from both overbearing parents and the educational system. The director’s younger sibling, Tony, plays the nameless title character and also provides the full-length narration. While the film’s meandering approach doesn’t lack for a sense of adolescent earnestness or spirit, its perpetual sense of self-satisfaction makes for an alienating experience.

While the reviewer doesn’t seem to love Scott’s work, he has a point. Indeed, the stream-of-consciousness voice-over, without any sort of narrative focus, is difficult to follow and leaves the viewer to write the protagonist off as, simply, a teenage boy. This is almost the unsuccessful version of J.D. Salinger’s immortal Holden Cauffield. You can find more information on Boy and Bicycle on blogs like Flickering Myth and the British Film Institute Online.

Before Dawn (2005)

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This 12-minute film by Hungarian filmmaker Balint Kenyeres shows us how impressive cinematography can heighten the impact of a film. The entire film is one continuous shot, no cuts, tracking a truck transporting refugees through a wheatfield in the wee hours of the morning. Suite101.com writer Rhett Murphy summarizes the filmmaking techniques employed here:

Shot by Matyas Erdely, the look is muted in grey tones. Color is primarily used with the truck (hope) and the lone refugee (hope destroyed). Sound is used purely for story and suspense – from birds taking flight (freedom), to the truck (hope), to the chaotic captures (hope destroyed). Everything here is laser-focused on the story.

The economy of filmmaking used here – from the lack of cuts to the single setting to the sparse color to the lone close-up – serve to make this film a complete and unique experience. The film racked up plenty of awards and film festival screenings.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

April 6, 2011 at 11:00 am

Doodlebug (1997)

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Director Christopher Nolan is known for pushing the boundaries of narrative form. (Need I mention Memento (2000)?) His recent, high-grossing, accomplished films – Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and Inception (2010), to name a few – are no exception. But before all that, there was this 3-minute short, shot on black and white 16-mm film while Nolan was studying English Literature in London. (The film was produced by Emma Thomas.) There are some notes on the production of the film at christophernolan.net.

Kristopher Tapley of InContention.com writes of the short:

You could pull out themes of identity, or reality vs. perception, maybe.  There’s certainly an undercurrent of paranoia in his films that has roots here, too.

Rather than a message of identity, I see a message of violence and imperialism. I see Mr. Nolan saying, “Look, it’s no use dominating those who are smaller and weaker simply because you’re bigger and stronger and more impressive, because that weaker guy? You are him. We’re all the same. The only person you’re hurting with that violence and domination is yourself.” Sound a little political?

Nah.

Hotel Chevalier (2007)

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This 13-minute film directed by Wes Anderson, with big-name stars Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman playing the only two speaking roles, was shot well before its feature-length sequel, The Darjeeling Limited (2007). Anderson intended for them to be released together, with the short airing before the feature film. Though many critics sang the praises of the short film while Darjeeling received lukewarm reviews, most viewers weren’t able to experience the short until it was released on the DVD for its longer counterpart. The short film was, however, screened at festivals and released on iTunes for free. Many people unfamiliar with the short film genre have seen this film, if only to catch Portman’s nude scene. Sadly, there are about a thousand more important reasons to watch this short.

PopWatch’s Gary Susman discusses how the short prologue enriches the experience of watching the feature film:

 “Chevalier” is an exquisite short story where we learn not much but exactly enough about these two characters;  plus, there are several allusions in Darjeeling to elements of “Chevalier” that you won’t catch if you haven’t already seen the short.

I couldn’t agree with his review more. The details are cloaked in mystery, but the charged relationship between these two characters is exciting and uncomfortable to watch. The viewer wants to know why Portman’s body is bruised, why Schwartzman’s running from her, escaping to a swanky Parisian hotel, and why the decision not to have sex seems to place them in an uneasy truce. The mise-en-scene (mostly items from Anderson’s own apartment) give the film an exotic, quirky look at odds with the characters’ grave solemnity. Absolutely see this film, if only to wonder, “Why?”

This article from The Hindu cites this film and several others we’ve discussed in class and begs the question why these films are still so hard to market and distribute, when critical and viewer acclaim garner most of the attention for these films (a word-of-mouth situation) and traditional movie theaters need a miracle to bring back their customers? Short films could certainly be the answer to, as this article puts it, “rejuvenate the specialness of going to the movies.” Still, I wonder if marketing short films for the mainstream would mean a loss in the artistic credibility of the medium. Would they lose their own brand of specialness? Would the “I-liked-it-first” hipster generation ensure that if everyone has access to short films, no one will want to?

Important questions.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 31, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Das Rad (2003)

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This Academy-Award nominated Animated Short, translated from German as “The Rocks”, is directed by Chris Stenner. It is a short, sweet, humorous view of the transcience of humanity from the perspective of something much more permanent and slow-moving: rocks. Using an animation combination of stop-motion, puppetry, and CGI, this film is another example of exactly what I like short films to do: make a simple point, use a bit of humor, and tell the story in a way that is completely unique. Das Rad is certainly that. Stenner manages to give the rocks personalities, qualities fitting of their ancient, unmoving nature, to get us to see the phase that is humanity from a perspective other than our own. The film confirms its point with the inclusion of the deteriorating billboard proclaiming “Built to last.” Obviously, the filmmaker wants to make the case that humans do not live as if our society is built to last. The rocks mention the Ice Age, natural causes that have eliminated living things in the past and began nature anew. Ultimately, the only thing permanent about the world is nature; in the end, the only thing that remains are “das rad.”

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Inja (2002)

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This Australian film is directed by Steven Pavolsky and is also featured on a Film Movement DVD magazine. At its core, it’s a thinly veiled moralizing tale on where the evils of racism will lead; the setting of the movie informs the tone and the content more than any of the characters do. I think people often get distracted by pathos when animals are hurt in films and literature, but shouldn’t it shock and anger us more when people are hurt or killed by other people? Just as the titled dog in Inja is taught to hate based on skin color, so are people living in South Africa – and many other places throughout the world. And in accordance with the point the film makes, it hurts those willing to hate the most. It is destructive for communities, nations, and small family homes. Pavolsky makes a fantastic point, I just wish it wasn’t lost on audiences who are more willing to feel for a defenseless dog than for thousands of (equally defenseless?) fellow human beings.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 29, 2011 at 7:13 pm

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