Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Posts Tagged ‘animated

9 (2005)

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I originally saw this film, directed by Shane Acker as his thesis project upon graduation from UCLA, before the feature film version picked up by Tim Burton came into existence. I figured now that I’m a bit wiser to the conventions of short film, it would be worth another look.

The short film was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Animated Short Film category in 2006, leading to a greater development of the project as a feature film released in 2009, including the voices of actors like Elijah Wood and John C. Reilly. The animation in the film is incomparable. The design in utterly unique, taking on a post-apocalyptic landscape from the perspective of an sentient object. (Which doesn’t at all sound like a robot-centric Disney film that came out in 2008, does it?) Still, Acker imbues his rag doll, simply named “9” with all sorts of personal qualities: friendship, sorrow, courage. Adding to his mastery of emotion, he lends all these qualities to 9 without employing any dialogue. The diagetic sounds as well as the soundtrack to the film add all the audible emotion the audience needs. Overall, I love this film more now under the influence of short film study.

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Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 30, 2011 at 12:01 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

The Grandmother (1970)

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If there’s any one filmmaker that could define auteur cinema for me, it would have to be David Lynch. I saw Eraserhead (1976) of course, a few years back, and now after having seen its predecessor in this film, perhaps I’m making a bit of progress as a film student. The similarities abound in theme, Spartan imagery, and most notably, that “creeping dread, that beautiful paranoia” (Coilhouse) that his films build slowly. The aesthetics of The Grandmother and Eraserhead are quite different, but the Lynchness of tone persists.

The story of how this movie was made is pretty incredible. Given $5000 to fund the project by the American Film Institute, Lynch painted the third floor of his Philadelphia house entirely black and used his friends as actors. He collaborated with Alan Splet, who would also work with him on Eraserhead and Blue Velvet (1986) for the sound effects, which take the place of any dialogue. His original allowance ran out before he had time to finish the film, but after screening what he had so far, the AFI agreed to fund its completion. The total cost was $7200. The Coilhouse blog writes this of the soundtrack:

The lack of dialogue, with everything conveyed through guttural noises, barking, and a score from a local group, Tractor, compliments the stylized, stripped down atmosphere that’s since become the Lynch standard.

For me, analyzing his style and themes felt like a recitation of various bodily fluids. The child’s parents abuse him for his incontinence, in response he uses his own ejaculation to grow a grandmother. While a grandmother’s love may be the only source of unconditional love and support the boy could come up with, for the audience I think the idea of that love and its birth on the boy’s bed is an intensely uncomfortable experience. From the Lynchnet.com write-up:

There’s something about a grandmother…It came from this particular character’s need – a need that that prototype can provide. Grandmothers get playful. And they relax a little, and they have unconditional love. And that’s what this kid, you know, conjured up.

All in all, I can appreciate David Lynch. Enjoyment is a separate issue.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 13, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Academy Awards Nominations – Animated

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Day & Night – Teddy Newton

The Gruffalo – Jacob Shuh & Max Lang

Let’s Pollute – Geefwee Boedoe

The Lost Thing – Shaun Tan & Andrew Ruhemann

Madagascar, carnet de voyage – Bastien Dubois

These are the short films nominated this year for the Animated Short Film category. We’ll get to see the winner announced a week from today, but after viewing all of them last night, I have two favorites and not a single prediction. Here is the trailer for Australian film The Lost Thing.

With its future-wasteland, Steampunk animation, it definitely gives a bleak view of where we’re headed. When the main character finds “the lost thing” and eventually leads it to where it can coexist with other special objects, we get a sense of a world where there is still some magic left. But the end of the film, where the narrator tells us he doesn’t see any lost objects or at least doesn’t take the time to notice them anymore, is where the message lies. It seems to be a comment on keeping the magic and innocence of childhood, of remembering how special something different can be. We’re told to appreciate the unusual and not get lost in the drab day-to-day. Even despite the relevant message, the gorgeous, intricate animation is what endeared me to this film.

And here we have the first 30 seconds of my other favorite, The Gruffalo. With a German animation team and a host of celebrated British voices (including Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Wilkinson, and John Hurt), this classic story was originally shown on the BBC. Simply put, this film charmed me. It possesses the same timelessness as stories like the Tortoise and the Hare, the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and many other Aesop’s Fables we remember from childhood. It’s also the longest film nominated in this category at 27 minutes.

I chose these films for their beautiful animation and subtle messages. The Madagascar Travel Diary was also beautifully animated, with a mix of watercolors, pastels, and sketches so real you could see eraser marks and creases in the paper. Let’s Pollute hit you over the head with its sarcastic message and overly-simple animation – just not as impressive as its fellow nominees. Pixar’s Day and Night is cute and definitely an interesting idea, but the animation doesn’t have the same special quality as my two favorites.

Though much more opinion than analysis, there’s my Academy Award Animated Shorts Round-up!

You can find another round-up with summaries and clips on IndieWire.

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