Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Posts Tagged ‘cinema 16

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. 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

Kristopher Tapley of 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?


Wasp (2003)

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This twenty-three minute, Academy-Award winning short film directed by Andrea Arnold is also featured on the Cinema 16 European Short Film Collection. Though bleak and heart-wrenching (watching Winter’s Bone this year gave me the same feeling) it is shot beautifully and the narrative speaks volumes as it says little. Slant magazine blogger Rob Humanick writes of the film’s namesake:

The titular bug is first glimpsed during an understated scene in Zoë’s ramshackle apartment; while the youngest toddler cries after having dropped his pacifier onto the floor, the buzzing insect vainly attempts to pass through a closed window. In this way, the wasp comes to represent the poverty-stricken protagonists in their struggle against invisible social and financial structures. Unfortunately, Wasp ultimately sidesteps such readings.

Viewing the wasp as mirroring Zoe’s will to escape her life makes the scene where the bug endangers her baby’s life much more heartbreaking. Is the director trying to tell us Zoe’s lifestyle is killing her children? That Zoe herself is slowly killing them?

Zoe represents an entire generation of too-young mothers without a partner or parents to rely on for help. We see her children idolizing and emulating their mother as children do, in the scene when they all flip off the neighbors. We even see one of the younger girls playing mother to her doll, we assume copying the style of motherhood Zoe has exhibited. Arnolds does an amazing job of developing these characters in twenty-three minutes. She also establishes the important relationship between the children and food, something they seem to be lacking. Fin de Cinema blogger Joe Bowman wrote a worthy article establishing Zoe and her kids’ relationship to consumerism:

For Zoë, the Beckhams represent the same thing, the false pinnacle of desire: fashionable motherhood, physical perfection in marriage.

I definitely recommend reading his analysis focusing on their fixation with the David and Victoria Beckham.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 6, 2011 at 4:04 pm

The Man Without a Head (2003)

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Released on the Cinema 16 European Shorts DVD Collection, this film by Juan Solaris (son of Fernando Solaris) is a visually stunning piece. My favorite scene occurs at the beginning, when the man without a head is dancing gleefully around his apartment and thinking of his lover. Whatever movie wizardry they used to make the headless protagonist look so unique is one of the many examples of how superior the aesthetics of the film are. Here is the Short Films Blog review of the film, though I must disagree with them about the complexity of the story.

The film is set in an industrial future world, where new technologies and practices are obviously foreign to us if a man can walk the streets without a head and still live and, even more curiously, talk. When the protagonist visits the “head shop” to find himself a topper, we see that this future land commodifies body parts. He can purchase and switch out whatever head that suits him. Another woman at the shop is also trying on a new head, a practice that doesn’t seem new to her. In this society, we can buy our uniqueness or our conformity. In the end, the head the main character likes the most does not match him, and he realizes he need not match a face to love. There is plenty expression and feeling in his body. His love obviously does not mind the lack of head, lips, eyes, and therefore, neither should the protagonist or the viewer. That the director got us to feel for this character with no face on which to read his emotions is proof that this story is more than an excuse for exciting imagery.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Daybreak Express (1953)

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This next example of cinema verite from the Cinema 16 American collection is directed by D.A. Pennebaker. While it includes the same aspects of cinema verite that O Dreamland exemplified, this film highlights a pleasant visual quality in truth rather than a depravity. In summary, the five-minute film is made up of images shot on a New York train at sunrise. It is set to a composition by Duke Ellington. The music starts slow, and because a day starts slowly, the images are slow and lingering. As the trains start to run and the New York City streets become more fast-paced, so do the music and the shooting. The colors Pennebaker captures also reflect the idea of daybreak, with cool blues alighting to warm yellows and intense oranges. Some of the visual effects made me wonder if Pennebaker accomplished this whole film on one handheld camera. The backlit silhouettes were particularly beautiful and, I’d imagine, challenging to shoot. I also thought the kaleidascope and wide-angle effects toward the end of the film must have been ground-breaking in 1953. All in all, one of my favorites so far, and a project so much more finessed than a “music video.” Find more information at

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 1, 2011 at 9:43 pm

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