Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Archive for the ‘Short Film Classics’ Category

Paddle to the Sea (1966)

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This Academy-Award winning film directed by Bill Mason, is the ultimate journey story that focuses on the importance of the journey itself rather than its effect on the character taking the journey. The journeyer is an inanimate object, and the audience learns nothing about Paddle simply because there is nothing to learn. We learn very little about the boy who created him, other than he dreams of taking a journey such as this. Paddle’s journey seems dangerous, but rather than feel fear for him, as viewers we are merely curious to see where nature will take him next.

The only real character in this film is Paddle’s surroundings. Mason is obviously pointing out the glorious mountains, the awe-inspiring glaciers, and the untouched forests as he follows Paddle. RB Movie Reviews gives us a bit of insight on the filming; Mason and his camera operator followed Paddle (and his many stunt doubles) through this course mapped out by the original picture book for two years, through every season twice, filming mostly at water level. The audience gains an appreciation for nature that the filmmakers wants to convey. We see the corrosive and destructive affects of man along the way, as well. Many reviews like this one on hails this film as a children’s movie, and while it has some elements of childhood fantasy journeys and its definitely appropriate for kids, I would describe it more as an environmental plea. Mason wants us to see the natural world as plot and character all in one. Just as those that find Paddle are asked to “put me back in the water,” Mason asks us to leave our Earth to its natural course, as well.

Enjoy the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony tonight!

Written by Alisa Hathaway

February 27, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Meshes in the Afternoon (1943)

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The best idea I have found on how to appreciate this film is a quote from the filmmaker herself, Maya Deren, found in a write-up on the film on MoMA’s website:

Deren explained that she wanted “to put on film the feeling which a human being experiences about an incident, rather than to record the incident accurately.”

With this view in mind, its easier to focus on the experience of the protagonist, a woman feeling trapped in her male-dominated world. She doesn’t experience the events of this afternoon in a sequential narrative; she experiences the event in pieces, focusing on objects around her (a key, a knife, a flower, bread on the table). Most of the scenes are interior, because the conflict occurs internally for Deren or because from a feminist standpoint, she is stuck inside a man’s house. Scenes are “meshed” together, whether because she feels them together or because the audience needs to feel the disjointed nature of her emotions is unclear. The music is a huge aspect of why the audience feels so thrown-off and uncomfortable. Because there is no narrative set-up, no real conclusion, we are denied the “pleasure” of watching the film, perhaps because the protagonist herself is denied some sort of pleasure. More information on the film and Maya Deren can be found on Mubi, an online cinema database.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

February 25, 2011 at 11:59 am

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

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Luis Bunuel’s collaborative film with surrealist demigod Salvador Dali is one of the classic examples of short filmmakers subverting Hollywood narrative in every way. The eye-slicing opening sequence communicates that one much watch this film with a different eye, and after that, the film does not try very hard to communicate much else. Narrative sequence is ignored, dialogue is ignored, and Bunuel only includes “images that surprise[d]” the filmmakers themselves. Compared to D.W. Griffith, who wanted to explore everything film could do in the realm of imagination to tell a story, Bunuel and Dali sought the most imaginative of images without the goal of storytelling. Whether they’re expressing an emotion, reveling in turmoil, or simply laughing behind a slew of shocking images is irrelevant. This film is still one of the most studied and discussed short films committed to celluloid, and if you’re looking for a bit of analysis much more insightful and comprehensive than mine, might I suggest John Nesbit’s Old School Reviews or Michael Koller’s article on Senses of Cinema?

Koller quotes Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray to emphasize his point, and I think it’s worth reiterating here.

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”

Written by Alisa Hathaway

February 25, 2011 at 11:23 am

An Occurrance at Owl Creek Bridge (1962)

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Originally a story by Ambrose Bierce, director Robert Enrico’s subtly intensifying, building expectation in each minute scene of this film makes it a prime example of how much more satisfying – or in this case, deliberately unsatisfying – narration in film can be. Enrico plays with an emotional manipulation of time. The intensity the main character feels is what drags each second of his fantasy, fraught with the relief of escape and terror of being caught again. We feel each detail as he swims to safety, runs through the woods, and dreams of the woman waiting for him at home. Enrico’s depiction of nature’s beauty highlights the gratefulness this man feels to be free; his careful use of sounds like war drums and hopeful melodies communicate emotions we can already read on the actor’s face. The elaborateness of the harrowing getaway makes us root for this man whose crimes are unclear. Having not read the original story, I can’t imagine how the author builds this tension with nothing but text in his employ, when Enrico can tease us with sights, sounds, and the defeat of time. Jeff Johnson penned an appreciative review of the film in 2002 – follow the link to read his thoughts.

 The end of the film takes all of our hopes and feeling for this character away and, quite literally, leaves us hanging.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

February 21, 2011 at 8:02 pm

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