Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Posts Tagged ‘tragedy

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

De l’origine du XXIe siècle (2000)

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“I have tried to cover the memories of the atrocious explosions and crimes with children´s faces and the tears and smiles of women”. The attempt was of course bound to fail, as there is no cure against all the horrors of the last century in this retrospective. Godard scans the 20th Century in reverse; its major trends include armies and refugees, cannon shots and prisoners, freight trains and mountains of corpses, conquests and occupation, humiliations and torture. And when a scene starts a quest for a lost Century, the aim is not to find again the sweetness of remembrance, but an era lost because it was devastated by violence and wars.

That quote from a short write-up about the film through art-action.org. As my first example of post-war cinema, though it was completed well after the post-war era, this film exhibits everything short films of the 1940s and 1950s aimed to do. It is a montage rather than a narrative, with scenes originating from news reels and some Hollywood films like The Shining. Using this found footage, Godard moves us backwards through the twentieth century. He seeks to connect people through events, and the events we seem to all share are usually wars, tragedies, and deaths. Viewing a hundred-year period this way, only through images, makes it feel like humanity keeps repeating history, as if we keep trudging through the same events with the same outcomes. The images of corpses and fallen soldiers sharply contrast with the more innocent images of children and lovers, pitting our breakable bodies against equally breakable souls. Godard’s work focuses on the state as the opposite of love, in this film and others. An analysis of this film compared to a few of his others can be found on another blog, Only the Cinema. I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the film.

“Society makes the body something more than it is, and the soul something less.”

Written by Alisa Hathaway

February 26, 2011 at 11:59 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

The Sealed Room (1909)

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D.W. Griffith, the grandfather of cinema that made one of the most controversial and racist films ever made (The Birth of a Nation), showcases a bit of his own black humor with this film. He was one of the first filmmakers that translated the idea of “connecting space” to the screen, building the concept of continuity that we now see as a necessity in believable film. This film includes examples of eyeline match, where the characters eyes look right and indicate that the next scene takes place to the right of the current scene. A tragic story like this one would have been rare in the early cinematic days, and this one is done with some of the same Vaudevillian melodrama that defined American comedies of the time.

PBS’s American Masters series says of Griffith: “Griffith’s films became part of history in the making—unleashing the power of movies as a catalyst for social change. More than anyone of the silent era, he saw film’s potential as an expressive medium, and exploited that potential.”

You can learn more about his life and work on the PBS website.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

February 21, 2011 at 7:31 pm

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