Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Posts Tagged ‘black and white films

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.

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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.

The Discipline of D.E. (1982)

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My first experience with Gus Van Sant was Elephant (2003) and while this is a vastly different experience, The Discipline of D.E. (1982) makes me consider this filmmaker’s work in a while new way. Offering a stark contrast to cinema verite, this film playfully attempts to remove the truth and imperfections from everyday routines. Where the cinema verite movement wanted the raw feeling of spontaneous human action, Van Sant is instructing viewers how to remove the spontaneity and clumsiness from their lives. It is a comment on the artificiality of filmmaking. In a movie, an actor never trips unless the narrative calls for it. If the actor does trip, the director calls for another take and the action must happen all over again. Why do we allow this to be the case if cinema is meant to capture real life? Maybe because human imperfections would distract viewers from a carefully-crafted message? How much do we need to refine that message in order to transmit to an audience? On his own blog, Jason Kohl says this of Van Sant’s work:

Van Sant understands that filmmaking is the ultimate expression of D.E—you have to keep doing things until you get them right. After Mala Noche (1986), his first feature, he made three more shorts before rejoining Burroughs with Drugstore Cowboy (1989). With films like Elephant (Palme D’or Winner), Milk (Oscar Winner) and Last Days (basically just awesome) he seems to be onto something.

So which is more important in filmmaking, capturing truth or making art? Surely, each filmmaker has a different goal. Another blogger, Patrick Zimmerman, discusses the film and its example of the charade that Van Sant seems to make of human emotion.

Doing Easy yields neither an easy nor relaxed life, but rather an obsessive-compulsive pathology, most clearly manifested in a socially deadly form of isolation of affect.

Both of these are valid analyses, and helped me to better understand the goals of anti-Hollywood short filmmakers.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 2, 2011 at 11:32 pm

The Burglar’s Dilemma (1912)

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I don’t have much to add to the critical retrospective of this film; it’s an early work by D.W. Griffith that shows the promise of some of his greater films to come. Other reviews state that the plot devices Griffith uses seem contrived and unrealistic, but that his messages come across clearly in the end. Considering the sheer number of films he was making at the time – around two or three a week adding up to over 450 total – the quality and detail included in the film is impressive. I was also excited to learn the main character was none other than Lionel Barrymore. Overall, I enjoyed this film but struggled to immerse myself enough in the narrative or production to analyze it adequately.

You can find more information and links about the film on IMDb.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 2, 2011 at 2:36 pm

O Dreamland (1953)

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This short film is an example of the post-war cinema verite movement. A type of documentary filmmaking, cinema verite attempted to capture the truth of everyday life. It freed the content in films; there were no actors, no drama, and no studio to shoot in. These filmmakers hoped to make a point about human existence by selectively showing it happening. This film is set in the Dreamland Amusement Park in England, and the director is out to prove what a twisted and deprave place it is. The noises of the carnival coupled with the images of leering clown faces and unhappy, pleasure-seeking people intentionally makes the audience uncomfortable. A short summary on the film points out the comment the director makes by highlighting the “Torture Through the Ages” exhibit. We as a people are obviously sick if we’ll go to the carnival to see how we’ve tortured others throughout history. You can find more reviews and plenty of unsettling images from the film here.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 1, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Antoine et Colette (1962)

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Similar to Les Mistons (1957), Francois Truffaut once again focuses this short on the pains and miscommunications of young love. Truffaut obviously felt adolescence very intensely. This film is part of an omnibus collection L’Amour à vingt ans (Love at 20), and is also the second of five films the director made starring his alter ego, Antoine Doinel. Culture Cartel describes more of the context of the film.

Colette was of more interest to me. Unlike the typical Hollywood female roles of the time (I’m thinking of Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot), Colette (played by Marie-France Pisier) is an independent, educated girl. She weilds all of the power in her friendship with Antoine, and whether or not she is purposefully toying with his emotions is unclear, though probable. Even though she’s the reason the film does not have a “happy” ending, I can’t help but like her. I also cannot help being reminded of a more recent film with the same themes, 500 Days of Summer (2009), starring Joseph Gorden-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. The female lead in that film, Summer, fosters a relationship with the male lead while spurning his romantic advances, just as Colette does with Antoine. Independent female aside, the trials of young love are obviously a theme filmmakers return to continually and explore in a myriad of personal ways.

Les Mistons (1957)

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This film is interesting for the narrative distance the audience has from all of the characters. We feel for the “brats” as they express immature love for a woman, we feel for the woman as she loses her first love, but we feel all this sympathy in a way so removed that we do not experience any of the usual immersive qualities of a film. It is almost as if we are watching an animal documentary: “See how the native Frenchwoman falls in love in her natural habitat…” An article on Senses of Cinema makes the point that this story was one with deep personal connections for Truffaut, making the distanced narrative all the more curious. The article also discusses many of the film tricks used to play up the story’s innocence sensuality:

Truffaut used every possible device to make the film as sensuous as possible; it is a catalogue of trick effects, from reverse motion (in the scene in which the young boys play cops and robbers) to slow motion (the lover’s final kiss on the balcony; the shot of one of the young boys kissing the seat of Bernadette’s bicycle in innocently sexual adoration).

FilmsdeFrance.com also discusses how this film is a shining example of the French new wave cinema movement.

Les Mistons heralded a much needed return to the age of the free-thinking independent film directors of the past, when film-making had been an art, not just a shallow commercial exercise.

So though I may not appreciate a film where the audience’s sympathies for the characters are only perfunctory, the film still has a timeliness and artfulness that is important to consider.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

February 28, 2011 at 11:41 am

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