Monday, June 26, 2006

A Handy Guide to Blog Postings

Here are individual links to all the films discussed within this blog, arranged here alphabetically:

Week One: Narrative Shorts
Week Two: Experimental Shorts
Week Three: Selections from Omnibus Films
Week Four: Non-American Shorts
Week Five: Documentary or Animated Shorts

This Way Out

Director Jill Burnett, Toronto, Canada, 32 minutes 2004
VHS 7736

Before the opening credits or titles screens are even presented, the audience is bombarded with a montage of shocking stock footage and disturbing newspaper clippings. The first sequence features men yelling in a foreign language, "Come on, you people! Kill kill kill kill the faggot." In another sequence, men are handcuffed together and led toward a certain doom as they try desperately to cover their faces. Another shot shows a young man beaten to the ground by a mob as cops casually tell the mob "that's enough." At the end of this montage is a soundless black and white image of a young woman with short hair and a sign that reads "CAN'T LIVE IN THE CLOSET."

The filmmaker then cuts to a black screen with the words "this way out" written in a simple white font. The title then appears to grow on the screen foreshadowing the expansion of this topic within the next 32 minutes and symbolizing the movement of these people out of these harsh situations.

"People say that Brazil is an open country, but I have a different idea," states the first subject of this documentary, a lesbian and former reporter from Brazil who recounts her story directly to the camera in segments throughout the documentary. She reveals her rise to fame and success as a closeted reporter in her native country, her rape by a chauvinist news director, her disownment by her family, and her move and acceptance in the United States. Her story ultimately ends with her riding off with her roommate on a motorcycle to city hall to receive her citizenship papers.

This documentary also features the stories of a gay man from Pakistan and a gay man from Kenya. Like the Brazilian woman, they explain how they came out and then escaped out of homophobic societies and found comfort in America. In their countries, they explain how gay men are prosecuted and disowned. The Kenyan man's story is further complicated by his father's profession as a minister.

During all of their stories, the filmmaker intermixes shots of them sitting and talking to the camera with sequences of them walking around San Francisco (separately). These shots feature the subjects (no names were used) avoiding eye contact with the camera, interacting with friends, and looking introspective. Their voiceovers plague the sequences with dialogue that often has nothing to do with the visual we are getting. It appears that these scenes were inserted to keep the documentary from being too stale or seeming like a mere interview. However, this is not effective. These sequences were obviously shot for this purpose alone, adds very little to the short film, and simply seems heavy-handed. Further, there are no recreation of events, so sometimes we are given shots of similar scenes. For example, as the Brazilian speaks of her motorcycle ride to city hall with her roommate we get the image of a person driving away from the camera on a motorcycle alone. Though this initially appears to be appropriate, the image we see is actually only one person on a bike and I am not even certain it is a woman. Thus the image is not truly "documenting" the actual event. It would have been better to actually witness a gay refugee going to city hall to get citizenship. However, this was probably not possible as it appears the filming of the interviews happened first and then the filmmaker found matching images.

This Way Out is important because it features many hot button issues that our society is currently addressing such as issues of identity, illegal aliens in the U.S., and "don't ask, don't tell" policies. This film not only brings up class issues of the documentary as a genre but also our class discussion of film as national identity. This film is a documentary in that it educates and captures real people's true life stories. It utilizes talking heads and stock footage to get at its core concerns. It affirms America as an open and gay-friendly nation as a whole, one that ironically has - at least in three instances - granted asylum to those in desperate need. This film appears to contradict what many people would feel America's policies are concerning gay rights and immigration. However, it is interesting that this film was funded through Toronto, therefore making it a Canadian film which ironically praises America. It also portrays the subject's native countries in a negative light. It is interesting that throughout the film we do get shots of these other countries, however they are always general and probably obtained indirectly.

The best part of this documentary are the stories themselves, they are gripping and eye-opening. However, as a short film, there is a lot left to be desired.


Name of film: “DAS RAD” (“Rocks”)
Director/Writer: Chris Stenner, Arvid Uibel, Heidi Wittlinger
Country: Germany
Year of production: 2003
Length: 8 minutes
Source: DVD 878 (75th Annual Academy Awards: Short Films)

The primitive beats of a bongo and the Spanish thrum of a guitar bridges a black screen and its opening credits with an establishing shot that dollies right to reveal a mountain peak and the valley it overlooks. This non-diegetic music stops with the first words of dialogue, which come from a pile of rocks named Yule. He addresses the pile of rocks to his right. “Look at this, Kew. I think there’s another one back there,” he says, pointing at some new growth on his back. Kew, absent-minded, swings his pile over to Yule and begins to peel lichen from the dorsal side of Yule’s shoulder when his attention shifts to growing activity in the valley.

The pair sits next to a dead tree that has cast its branches like tentacles or the spines of an umbrella over the two of them. The tree remains static while everything else seems involved in a frenzy of change: clouds rush across the sky with an insistence that turns the ubiquitous color of sky from blue to mottled gray; pine trees make split-second progress from seedling to full-grown specimen; lichen and moss scuttle across the landscape and Yule’s broad abdominal section as if working against a deadline to carpet the whole mountain before the end of the world.

It becomes apparent, however, that the film takes place closer to the beginning of the world or, rather, of human history. By the time Kew notices activity in the valley and asks, “What are they up to down there?” it is clear that he refers to a village in its infant and primitive stages. A much closer shot of the valley depicts simple A-frame wooden houses that jump like the pine trees into immediate existence, confirming the sensation that all this activity is frenetic because time itself is in fast-forward. How fast one is not sure, but fast enough to reveal a world in which anything that does not have the longevity of a tree or a rock or a wooden A-frame, or the patience to stand very still for a long time, will make no appearance.

Just as, in fact, rock people move too slowly to exist on a human plane, humans move much too quickly to register with the rocks. But the film makes clear the fact that despite appearances both these worlds very much exist, and at that not independently one of another. After Kew makes his discovery of the valley’s activity, the timing of the world slows to normal and reveals a blue sky and a Neanderthal man in the background taking whacks with a primitive axe at a pine tree. The thump of stone against trunk provides the soundtrack for another man’s discovery, in the foreground, of Kew, now a static pile of rocks, and the enigma of a free-standing stone that, in fast-forward, Kew was busy spinning for fun.

This stone—this plaything that helps Kew pass a few minutes—becomes a source of epiphany for Kew and a segue into the main conflict: the threat to the earth of rapid and rabid human development. As time regains its initial velocity, and Kew continues to spin his round, flat stone, the valley’s activity increases and expands. A church or castle appears on a neighboring hill, more houses sprout, and a dirt road rips across the mountain pass just next to the dead tree and our two protagonists. Kew notices the road after a bit, but not the movement that flashes along it, and moves to its edge to roll his stone back and forth without comprehending the purpose of the trail. That comprehension comes only after time slows and the frame catches the broad-brimmed hat of a man struggling with his handcart to attain the peak of the pass, just before which one of the wooden wheels catches a rock at a fatal angle and breaks. The man exchanges the damaged wheel for a spare, with a requisite string of colloquial complaints that contemporizes the film for today’s tire-changing audience, and moves on. Kew exchanges his stone for the comparably shaped castaway cartwheel just after time speeds back up and begins his back-and-forth play with it. Call this play research, because it precedes Kew’s epiphany: “This is brilliant! They’re building the paths for these things!” says Kew as he displays the broken wheel. Yule looks confused. Kew attempts to explain: “That is . . . that is locomotion, . . . that is transport. Here the path, the town, invention, . . . development!”

Kew has put into abstract terms and a celebratory tone the philosophy of modern progress and the achievements of industrial society, which we now celebrate. But development as an end in itself soon, in terms of rock-time, proves disastrous for the earth. As the rate of development increases the spread of human lichen becomes almost tangible, like fog. Once pavement replaces the dirt path vehicular traffic becomes so persistent that it hovers in blurred view to the left of Yule and Kew. The messages on a billboard flash like a high-speed music-video montage, and the once-wooden village mutates into a metropolis of rising skyscrapers that rush across the valley and up toward Yule and Kew, now shocked and unprotected near the spot where the ancient tree was uprooted to make way for an elevated highway. The rush of high-rise construction, set to the accompaniment of those same opening primitive bongo beats, all allegro, rolls toward the mountain under a darkening sky—a visual trope for the threat that development poses the earth.

The medium of this film is key to the success of its message: to depict the end of the world in a fantastical and humorous form like animation, in addition to making the depiction more feasible, is to sweeten the polarizing subject matter just enough to make it palatable to a wide audience. This film presents a magical world for those of us who come and go so quickly (the impermanent human), but not a fictional one. It is our world in high speed, and this Claymation depiction of it reveals at once our own meaningless temporality and the hefty impact of human life in aggregate upon the earth, that big, round, living rock. Even the anthropomorphized rock piles, as fantastical as they of course are, represent a perspective consistent with a world familiar and real: Kew and Yule represent the earth’s perspective. And humans, they’re like lichen, that annoying and unsympathetic growth that spreads across the broad abdomen of the earth as if working against a deadline to carpet the whole landscape before the end of the world.

It is not clear how this world ends, but that it ends is clear. Most striking, however, is that for our two protagonists the end of the world is instantaneous and incidental. When every looming skyscraper, which, to the rocks, only just made a rapid and threatening appearance, disappears in a bold and fleeting rumble (of earthquake? of A-bomb?) awe-faced Kew looks at awe-faced Yule, ponders for a moment what might have just happened and its possible significance (Yule says, “That was lucky”), and says as green reclaims the valley and the mountain pass, “I hate to say it but your head is covered in moss again.”

This exchange between Yule (“That was lucky”) and Kew (“your head is covered in moss”) contains the paradox of the film. Yule’s statement expresses the earth’s vulnerability, while Kew’s expresses its relative indifference in the grand scheme of its life cycle to human presence. These views are not mutually exclusive, but they are conflicting, and they seem to represent a political conflict extant in human society today. Some believe that the world is too big for humans to have any lasting effect, and others believe the earth to be a living organism as sensitive to human exponential growth and industrial action as any one of its constitutive parts. Some see the earth as impervious rock; others as a softer constituent, like clay.

The literal translation of the title of this student film, “Das Rad,” is “The Wheel.” The official U.S. title, “Rocks,” is appropriate for several reasons. It cooperates with the medium of the film and also invokes the protagonists and the perspective they represent. It misses, however, a major theme that “The Wheel” captures, namely the consequences of an industrial and technological trajectory that justifies development for its own sake alone. The wheel, that symbolic celebrity (along with fire) of human advancement, expresses that theme and the spin of the earth that enacts a cycle so nascent to life and sometimes so anesthetized, at least in modern society, as to fade into obscurity behind the blurry ribbon of cars on a road.

The Rest is Silence

The Rest is Silence, Andrew Henderson, 2005, Scotland, 10 minutes

This film traces an unclaimed body from a police station to the grave. In the opening scene, the camera moves across a dark room lit by a suspended light bulb above a metal table. An extreme close-up reveals a police form for the “sudden death” of a male. A police officer and two men in lab coats move a covered corpse from stretcher to morgue refrigerator (I actually googled this because the term “refrigerator” didn’t seem appropriate, but appears legitimate on a few websites). The only sounds are those of the metal stretcher moving into the fridge. The camera then cuts to a close-up of metal instruments. We see an empty scale before the camera moves down to the corpse’s feet. A pathologist examines a hand, while speaking (indiscernible) into a tape recorder. He appears almost cheery, digging away at the body and speaking with others over a disconcerting drilling noise. He removes an organ and weighs it. After the autopsy, a woman hoses down the body’s feet and later, the head before they move the body into a body bag and placed in the back of black hearse.

In the next frame, we see a dark, empty church. Lights suspended from the ceiling flicker on one by one, somewhat reminiscent of the opening shot of the dark room. A priest leads the funeral procession; men in black suits rest the wooden coffin at the altar, while a woman places white flowers next to it. The camera quickly cuts to the priest’s eulogy. His words are the only discernable words in the entire film. He mentions that though we don’t know the particulars of the death, “we trust that God knows all there is to know.” As the camera backs away slowly, it reveals the completely vacant pews and also literally distances the viewer from the coffin. This emptiness adds a feeling of loneliness and the anonymity almost makes you feel as though you are watching your own funeral.

The coffin is then wheeled to a crematorium. Two people shove the coffin into a red-hot oven and monitor the cremation on computers. Later, a woman shakes the metal container of bones into a sort of grinder and we hear the (again, disconcerting) sound of the machine grinding away. She collects the ashes and places them in a plain metal box, then a paper bag and finally, they are placed in a cardboard box.

The body’s travels through the red-hot oven are juxtaposed with its arrival at a snow-covered cemetery. A cross stands on a small hill near the lone visible tomb. A cemetery worker slides the tomb lid off and places the box of ashes inside the vacant hole. The only sounds are the crunching of snow and the alignment of the stone cover. After the worker secures the lid and completes the burial, the white snow fades into a white screen with 1:45 seconds left. The text “The Rest is Silence” appears and then disappears. The credits then play in silence.

I picked this film because it is an unusual documentary in many ways, especially since there is no real dialogue. It answers a question (what happens to an unclaimed corpse?) through observation, rather than explanation. A typical documentary might involve interviews with the police officers involved or a step-by-step explanation of the autopsy from the pathologist. Through the silence and few sounds we hear, one almost has the feeling of “hearing” the last earthly sounds associated with death. This approach gives the film a more artistic than scientific feel throughout and fits in with Paul Giametti's assertion that, “Documentarists believe that they're not creating a world so much as reporting on the one that already exists…Many documentaries deliberately keep the structure of their films simple and unobtrusive. They want their version of the facts to suggest the same apparent randomness of life itself”(356). We see how the anonymous body passes through the hands of equally anonymous people, without a sense that the camera's presence is interfering with the people and their work. Regardless of whether one dies alone like this man, or surrounded by family, the fact is that a body will usually pass through many or all of these environments. While this has universal appeal, we also get a glimpse into the unique lives of the people who work in this world, one that most people find mysterious or morbid. There seems to be a mix of reverence (the woman gently washing the man’s head, the priest’s words) and a feeling of “just doing my job”( the shoving of the coffin, the pathologist’s smile) in this environment.

This film could be comforting in the sense that no one really dies alone, and that everyone deserves a respectful burial, the detachment from both the body (and the other people in this film), as well as the cold, bare, quiet resting place also creates
a palpable sense of loneliness.

Awards: Winner of Frank Copplestone Award for Best First Time Director
at the Celtic Film & Television Festival 2006


D: Bill Plympton, 1990, 6:45 minutes
Source: VHS tape called “The Complete Works of Bill Plympton

After considerable searching, I used a tape the Professor brought to class and used a selection as an example. The selection from the tape that I have used is called “Plymptoons.” The look of these shorts that are line drawings filled in with color pencils are avant garde in that they are a departure from the animation of such standards as Disney. Of the twenty or so different works in the complete set I choose Plymptoons, which gives the impression that there are funny like cartoons from which their name has evolved. Some are funny, some are bizarre but they are all thought provoking.

For instance, there is a short called evolution. In the first frame there is a crouching ape leaning over his knuckles. He slowly rises into an erect man. But he is only as such for an instant. Immediately, he slowly morphs into a football player bending down to a crouching positiowhich is the exact image of the initial frame that we saw. The irony of a wild ape changing into an athlete is effective, and one that is very funny to women. If one is criticized with humor and can recognize themselves, any criticism will not be hurtful

The early mob sketch is just bizarre. A lone cowboy is sitting on a horse in the middle of the range. We assume that he could be casing the joint, namely sizing up a herd of someone else’s cattle or hiding from other bad guys. In a scene that has been seen in every gangster films, such as The Godfather or Casino,the getaway car is blown up. In the twisted mind of Plympton, the lone cowboy and his faithful horse explode. The sheer visceral aspect of the act is gruesome if in reality, but a Plymptoon would be acceptably hilarious.

In 1968, when Bill Plympton started his career as a cartoonist, his visions were avant garde. They are very effective because they could show impossible situations like someone raising their eye glasses with the cartoon eye imbedded in the lenses in order to scratch their nose. Anyone who has ever tried to scratch their nose with their glasses on, sees the advantage of raising their glasses to scratch their nose. Impossible scenario? I do believe that people love to do just that.

Submitted by Debbie Zukas

Shynola's Pyramid Song (Animated Music Video)

PYRAMID SONG (Animated Music Video to a Radiohead Song)
Directed by Shynola, U.S.A., 2001, 5 minutes

Source: (Gateway site is in Spanish; click "Aqui" at the bottom of page)

We open to a moving, aqua-green canvas speckled in white. Light piano chords play on the soundtrack, followed by a wailing human voice in song. As the canvas continues its fluid movements, the frame shifts upward and we gain perspective: it is the surface of an ocean that we are tracking across. As we continue our journey across the ocean, an elongated structure – what looks to be a large ship – becomes visible in the distance. Nearing the shape, and tracking over it, we see that it is a square structure – a building top, protruding from the ocean. In the next shot, a figure on the building top enters the frame – he is a light gray silhouette, with no specific features. He walks to the edge of the building top and places his hands on the ledge. He looks behind him, and sees an oxygen tank on the ground. In the next shot, framed from beneath the ocean’s surface, we see the figure penetrate the water, swimming downward; an oxygen line is attached to his back, and a beam of light, a searchlight, shines from the area of his face. He descends the structure of the skyscraper and reaches the ocean floor, which is comprised of a modern city’s ruins. We track forward, viewing the figure from behind, as he swims past street lights and other urban structures, as well as strange glowing configurations of light, his white oxygen line bending and zigzagging with his movements as bubbles ascend from his (implied) breathing apparatus. Tracking past the figure, but with his searchlight still visible, we pass submerged plants and see cars below. In a series of moving shots, with the figure’s searchlight guiding what we see, we track past an abandoned car; a two-laned street below; a wooden fence; a book and various scattered papers; and, most intriguingly, a cluster of human skeletons floating in front of a brick structure. We then see the figure’s flashlight beam shine across a row of suburban houses, as he swims alongside of them. His beam shines on the doorway of a house. From the perspective of the house’s front yard, we see the figure standing outside of the perimeter’s wooden fence. In the next shot, we see him enter the front door of the house from the perspective of the house’s interior; the door swings open and he flashes his light to and fro. He shines his searchlight across a table, then enters another room of the house, where a chair is floating upside down. We see him place the chair into place in its slot under a dining table, which is set with plates. In an ensuing shot, the figure, shown in side profile, slowly takes a seat in a recliner, his oxygen line still visible, his searchlight still shining from his facial apparatus; we track backward, away from him, as he settles into the chair. Next, we see the house’s exterior from above, the figure’s oxygen line visible from outside; as we track upward and away from the house, we see the figure’s oxygen line ascend, apparently cut free. In the final shot, a long take, we tilt upward from the surface of the water, where the top of the skycraper is still visible, to a view of the sky, which is now a dark orange-ish hue. A yellow dot of light circles the sky, followed by a red dot; the two dots circle one other, illuminating the clouds, before three other luminous dots join them. The dots form a diagonal line, and then extinguish, one by one, as the music dies down and we gradually fade out.

The animation here, namely, 3-D computer animation, is striking. The animators, a creative collective named Shynola, managed to capture the look and texture of ocean water – how it appears on, and beneath, the surface. The water is very much alive here, from the movement of the waves above the surface, to the bubbling of water below. Also remarkable is the play of light and shadows within the water, as in the shot before the protagonist dives in. In this shot, our perspective is from beneath the ocean’s surface, looking up; in a composition similar to the final image of “A Movie,” the animators manage to capture the appearance of sunlight penetrating the water, with its exquisite sparkling effect. Similarly, the rendering of the protagonist’s searchlight casting its water-drenched halo upon the dimly-lit submerged world has a remarkably authentic feel. While the latter elements are rendered in as photo-realistic a fashion as possible, the protagonist remains a somewhat “blocky” silhouette, with unconnected spaces between his head, torso, arms, and legs. Something about his design, I found appealing – there is something ethereal about him, as if his covering is just a shell (i.e., for a soul, etc., if you will, which will ultimately find its escape). The figure’s feature-less design also lends itself to a certain universality of human form. In all, there is a certain quality to the protagonist and his epic, otherworldly surroundings which I feel a live action rendition would struggle, both budget-wise and execution-wise, to capture equally well. The use of animation here is thus a conscious, rather than gratuitous, choice. The form has an element of exaggeration, a way of conveying the wondrous and the abstract, that is well-tailored to the depiction of this entirely different world.

Beyond the quality of the animation itself, the “shots” in the video are framed and designed in highly cinematic ways. We are constantly tracking along with the figure, following him from behind, or following his point of view in tracking shots across various objects when he is not in the frame, making for an active and adventurous, highly cinematic visual voyage. Even when the protagonist is out of the frame, we see his searchlight shining across the objects in our view, which is an extremely clever motif. The overall sense is one of mystery and wonder, as we shine a light along side of him upon the dark corners of a submerged world as if uncovering its ancient mysteries and memories. I also liked the transitions in the video between “shots,” primarily through the use of dissolves. The dissolves themselves suggest a “passing,” almost, a ghostly transition, if you will, from one shot to another, much in the same vein as the protagonist’s “passing” from life into another state, perhaps from his silhouette form into the form of one of those glowing dots swirling the sky (if you choose to interpret the end of the video in such a way).

Of course, beyond its classification as animation, the short is a music video in form, and succeeds extremely well as such. The lyrics of Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” (which you can find at narrate a surreal journey into the afterlife, whereby the speaker jumps into a river (perhaps the River Styx, according to some interpretations), where he sees “all the things [he] used to see” and is accompanied by those he used to know on a journey to “heaven in a little row boat.” Instead of fear, the speaker experiences a sense of comfort in death: “There was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt.” The narrative motif of the video conveys the essence of the song extremely well, while straying from a literal enactment of the lyrics (and, thankfully, straying from any depiction, animated or otherwise, of the band, which would prove intrusive to the narrative). In the video’s narrative, the figure is seemingly the last remaining person after a great catastrophe (i.e. a Flood), and dives into the submerged world to survey the wreckage while seeking out his home, which he straightens up a bit (i.e. the chair) before settling into a chair and letting go of his oxygen cord, thereby making his own peaceful end. While there is not a one-on-one correlation between the visuals of the video and the imagery of the lyrics, there are well-timed matches in many places. For instance, the motif of the lyric “Jumped in the river, what did I see?” is well-conveyed and well-timed with the figure’s entry into the ocean. Similarly, the lyric “All the things I used to see” is well-conveyed and well-timed with the figure’s exploration of all the things in the submerged world (i.e. streetlights, cars, etc.) he would have presumably seen before the catastrophe. Particularly well-timed and -conveyed is the final lyric, “There was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt,” which appears on the soundtrack a final time as the figure settles into the chair and releases the oxygen cord at the end; the sense of acceptance and peace in death is conveyed brilliantly through the figure’s gesture, resulting in a particularly poignant climax. The song’s swelling, instrumental finale kicks in after this point, and is matched particularly well to the image of the glowing, swirling dots in the sky, perhaps representative of spirits of the living that have been released. All in all, there is a wonderful catering of the visual to the rhythms and spirit of the song, resulting in a sublime and moving fusion of animation and music.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Super Squatter (from the show Aqua Teen Hunger Force)

SUPER SQUATTER (episode 208)
Created and Written by Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis, USA, 2003, 11 minutes
Source: Aqua Teen Hunger Force Volume 2, Disc 1
(for viewing pleasure, Myspace and YouTube)

This animated short film is so hilarious and difficult to analyze that I decided to embed the short, so below is the short minus the Dr. Weird piece and theme song. Also I added another Dr. Weird piece to show how much comedy can be placed in such a small area.

It is quite difficult to say what this short film is about, but here are the basics. There are three food products, a giant milkshake, box of fries, and wad of meat named Shake, Frylock, and Meatwad who live in New Jersey next to their neighbor Carl. In this short film you first see a dark castle and a mad doctor named Dr. Weird who apparently has invented something, the thermostat (his assistant however says, that has been there). Dr. Weird begins to push the temp. to 300 degrees. There is a pause as the assistant asks if it is on, then the doctor bursts into flames, right there the film cuts to the intro to the short film. In the intro, with a rap theme song, there is an introduction to the three food products seen as crime fighters who save the world. As the short film goes on we find out that this is definitely not true, just like how important the Dr. Weird piece is throughout the film.

We see that Shake forgot to pay the bills for the cable, the phone, and the electricity. So Shake, being the shake that is does what needs to be done.....go over to Carl's house and watch TV there. The subplot is that Meatwad is trying to make do without power in the house, by trying to make himself a weenie smoothie. While Shake keeps watching TV, Carl accidentally shoots himself in the foot, and only until Frylock comes in does Carl get the help he needs....but due to a bad HMO Carl's foot goes in the wrong place. In the meantime, Shake siphoned Carl's electricity to power his own house, while Carl's house burns down. Carl doesn't mind however because he took some horse pills. As Shake lets Carl sleep near a pile of ants that begin to cover him, in come the credits.

I selected this film for an animated short because a) Looney Tunes cartoons are too easy to select, and b) this sort of animation is done by a computer program (I think Macromedia Flash). Lots of moving around is done by guided paths. Why I chose this certain episode over all the other episodes in the series, is because instead of fighting crime and saving the world, the only thing important in this world is paying the bills. With all the things that animated shorts can do that normal films can't do, the only things that seem impossible are the three food products. This constitutes the short film as an experimental film as well. All of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episodes seem to reject a story, or more to the point, reject any real direction, even the title has nothing to do with what they do. There is actually proof of this because in the credits, there is no "directed by". We just seem to watch these characters as they go about their lives, and when there is something interesting like alien invasion, even the aliens seem to have no direction. It is much like the a reality TV show in the realm of animation, with all the explosions and destruction that is found in the animation world (and even if there is a little direction spooned in, it is destroyed near the end.)

The characters themselves seems to show this sense of no direction. (Master) Shake is cocky and cares about nothing around except himself, he certainly wants to be the main character. His sense of "my way or the highway" is even invoked in the way he speaks, where nobody gets what he is saying but himself.

An example is in episode 240, "THE", Shake is asked by Frylock why the house stinks, he says
"Well you know how the flies have been a problem?"
Frylock, knowing there hasn't been a fly problem, says, "No I don't"
"And remember when I left all the meat out because I saw Mr. David Lynch 'I'm on TV' do it and he got on TV doing it and I did it and I didn't get on TV for doing it?"
"No I don't remember that!"
"Well I did, and because of this of course, you get rats."

Frylock is the intelligent one and the only character in this animated TV show that has the most, but not much, human in him. He even tries to give this show some direction. But of course Shake doesn't listen. Meatwad is like a retarded child, who doesn't know everything and tries to understand but can't, an easy target for Shake to beat up and do bad things to.

Overall this short may not be funny to some because of its absence of directed humor, but it still makes a mark in animation films and short films.

ATHF-Super Squatter

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Luxo, Jr

Directed by John Lasseter, US, 1986, 2:23 minutes
for a sneak peak:
to see the entire short, download from itunes (there's a link on the pixar site)

Luxo Jr., who, as Jeff mentioned in class, later became the icon for Pixar, is a young lamp who just wants to have a little fun with a ball. The short starts out with an adult lamp, who is presumably Luxo Sr., watching a ball that bounces off of him and rolls back off of the frame. Then the ball rolls right passed him. Out hops Luxo Jr. With his cord waving behind him, Luxo Jr. chases the ball, he plays with the ball, he jumps on the ball, he breaks the ball. Sad and chastised for his carelessness, Luxo Jr whimpers off only to return with a much bigger ball!

Though extremely short in length, Luxo Jr. is rich in detail--both visual and audio. The pixar website notes that John Lassester was playing around with movement and picked the first thing he saw on his desk--a lamp. Luxo jr. though made of metal and screws, is incredibly fluid in motion while never betraying his lamp-ness. He manages to achieve animalistic attributes in a playful puppy sort of way. He hops and bounces and "runs" around, he even wiggles his "butt" with joy and anticipation, his cord ripples after him, following the flow of his motion.

Luxo Jr. has no paucity of emotion. When the first ball deflates, he quickly goes from gleeful to regretful, his lamp shade hung in remorse and shame, his back "hunched." Luxo Sr. reprimands his son with a nod of his own lamp shade and Luxo Jr. heartbreakingly hops out of the frame. It's incredible how much feeling is conveyed through two lamps and no dialogue. In this respect, I think it's incredibly indicative of why this short was made as an animation instead of live-action. Thought I'm sure that there are many things you can do with a real lamp using computers, I don't think they could come close to what is achieved in Luxo Jr.

As I mentioned above, there is also an incredible attention paid to sound. While there is music in the background, the real "dialogue" of the short are the squeaks of the lamps when they bend over or shake their "heads." The sounds take on a conversational tone; just as a puppy would whine or whimper if it were bad, Luxo Jr. gives out a shy squeal of rusty joints as he hunches over in despair.

Monday, June 19, 2006

"Fait D'Hiver," Belgium

Name of film: “FAIT D’HIVER” (“Gridlock”)
Director: Dirk Belien
Writer: Johan Verschueren
Country: Belgium
Language: Dutch
Year of production: 2001
Length: 7 minutes
Source: DVD 878 (nominee, 2003 75th annual Academy Awards for short film)

The payoff of this short film is huge, saturated as it is in its half-dozen minutes with sensational events set off by a trajectory that moves quickly from the mundane to the incredible. Events along this trajectory prove to be a progressive complication of the protagonist’s problems and a macabre, but somehow humorous, lesson in contrasts: By the end of “Fait d’Hiver” gridlock doesn’t seem so very unbearable.

The first scene opens with an appropriate but banal contrast of a snow-covered car and Beach Boys music, the one flouting the other. The music comes from the driver’s radio, which, once the camera cuts from an exterior shot of the car, wipers working, to an interior shot, updates the driver on the traffic situation. The update of the obvious only heightens the driver’s agitation, and he curses, and curses at the driver behind him who urges him with his horn to inch forward into the space that’s just opened up, and curses at the emergency vehicle that blares by in a flash of blue. This frustration and the driver’s popping of pills take up the first two minutes of the film and set the point of reference for the escalation of the protagonist’s problems from quotidian to incredible.

To remedy his boredom the driver grabs his cell phone from a newly opened package to test it. The camera cuts to a shot of a telephone sitting atop a chest of drawers. From behind the chest rises a little girl in response to the ring of the telephone. She hugs her doll and looks shyly at the phone, which induces her on the third ring to answer. “Hey, honey, it’s Daddy,” says the driver, and the relationship is set between the only two speaking actors in the film. A smile spreads across the girl’s face, and she moves to put her doll in its stroller as her father asks, “Is Mommy there?” Before she can answer the question the phone, which the six-year-old has been unknowingly pulling toward the edge of the chest of drawers, crashes to the floor, as if to signal the upcoming domestic crisis.

The driver, concerned from the noise of the phone’s fall, repeats his question in the flustered tone he’s used to curse gridlock. “Mommy’s upstairs in the bedroom with Uncle Wim,” she says. Cut to the driver’s gaping mouth which, in incredulity, turns into a stuttered laugh and then into the work of forming the words, “Uncle Wim? But we don’t have an Uncle Wim, sweetie.” The little girl confirms Uncle Wim’s existence and the fact that he is upstairs with Mommy. The driver’s shocked silence prompts the little girl to query, “Daddy?” The camera cuts to an extreme close-up of the driver’s mouth, just open as if preparing for breath to return. Instead of a breath, a gulp, and a favor: “Honey, I want you to do something for me . . .”

The little girl listens, and we see her listen though we hear nothing except, after a pause and a slow dolly back, “Yes, Daddy,” then she sets the phone on the table and starts her ascent of the stairs. Her steps are deliberate, even difficult, without hurry or alarm. This carriage will characterize the little girl throughout the remainder of the film, despite events, and will set the incredibility of the events in contrast to the calm of the girl’s reportage. Alarm and agitation we get from the driver, the adult, who ostensibly understands the weight of his daughter’s innocent report. He looks far into the distance, unaware of the traffic jam; he pops more pills; he rubs his head. His curse in response to more honking is half-hearted, perfunctory. The camera cuts from a shot of the concerned driver to another shot of the concerned driver to mark the passage of time.

Time has passed. We are about to find out how much. The next shot shows the little girl clumping down the last of the stairs, unhurried. She picks up the phone. The angle of the camera has not changed on either of these actors. Their individual expressions have also remained constant: his concern, her oblivion. “What happened,” the driver rushes to ask as soon as the little girl says, “Hello, Daddy.” Cut to a dolly toward the bedroom door. The little girl’s conversation with the driver is overlaid and the motion of the frames is slowed, perhaps to signal events that have already occurred, perhaps to underscore the drama. The first hint—and it is only a hint—of nondiegetic music drones in at a bass range of whole notes that match the slowed motion. “I went upstairs to the bedroom,” she begins, and the camera shows her leaning her ear into the door. Over her explanation comes the gasps and soprano of sexual climax. “. . . and knocked on the door like you asked me to.” The camera speed has not actually slowed, but instead has mirrored the little girl’s measured approach of the bedroom door. “Mommy,” she says after knocking. “I heard Daddy’s car. He’s home.”

Truncated orgasm follows this announcement and the door flies open to expose a naked woman holding an orange towel. As the little girl continues her retelling of the story the camera does slow to show a flustered woman look at her daughter and move past her into a room down the hall. The little girl reports the scene: “She came out of the bedroom, all naked.” And after the husband pushes her for more information (“And? And?”) a slow-motion shot of Uncle Wim rushing to put his blubber back under the cover of clothes comes into both our view and the girl’s view. She looks on unperturbed until she hears her mother’s scream and the thud of her body. Her figure struggles in slow motion to run toward the sound while her voice in the present calmly tells her father the story: “And she ran into the bathroom and fell on the floor.” Nondiegetic tympanis prepare the viewer for a dolly up to the image of a naked woman supine upon the bathroom tile. Her eyes are shock-open, unblinking. A stream of blood exits her mouth. The little girl kneels and looks upon her mother with nothing if not pity, and twirls a lock of her hair, as if in consolation if not understanding..

“And I think she’s dead,” says the little girl first about her mother and then, with a pronoun change, about Uncle Wim, who’s shock at the sight of the little girl next to her lifeless mother sends him careening out the second floor window and, spread eagle, into the swimming pool below, touched by a blanketing of big snowflakes in the leisure of fairy-tale falling. “Swimming pool? What swimming pool,” says the driver, whose look of agitation turns to one of horrified disbelief when he checks the number that he dialed with his new cell phone. “Holy shit.”

Cut to black, cue little girl’s voiceover: “Daddy?” Roll music for the credits: “You gave me the wrong telephone number . . .”

By mixing elements of the sensational (wife’s infidelity, husband’s coincidental phone call home, mother’s fall) with elements of the incredible (little girl’s calm retelling of events, Mother’s and Uncle’s unexpected deaths, the banal misdialing that starts it all off) the director has managed not only to provide a little perspective on life’s little problems but also to create a textbook perfect short film without the aid of the technical cutting edge (a la the animated winner, “The ChubbChubbs”) or overdetermined narrative development (cf. the winner of the live action short). In seven short minutes the director sets up the pattern of contrasts that leads to the shocking twist, while managing to keep the twist shocking by making it mundane. The “reveal” is big and satisfying because it takes the viewer simultaneously toward the climax of the incredible and back to the quotidian, while contrasting the protagonist’s (and our own) shock at the unquantifiable prospects of his misdialing with his relative relief that he in fact misdialed.

Venice Beach

Director: Jung-Ho Kim, South Korea, 2003 4:30min

The film opens in a workout room that we quickly realize is for crabs only. Even though a small twig dumbbell is in focus in the front of the frame, our attention shifts to a crab emerging from the shadows in the back of stage left ready to workout. The shot opens up to reveal another crab on a punching bag and the first crab now running on a red treadmill. A third crab scurries in and surveys the room and goes over near the punching bag and starts imitating the crab's punching movements. Here we find a recurring theme of imitation and adoration and the next three minutes of the film this crab tries to fit in despite being a newcomer. His biggest challenge is trying to keep up the pace on the treadmill, which he attempts after the first crab by imitating his movements as he runs on the treadmill. However, just when you think the story is about Crab #3, a fourth crab enters and he too is out of place and awkwardly tries his luck at the treadmill. Soon he masters a good treadmill technique and leaves Crabs 2 and 3 in awe who then imitate him by emulating his successful treadmill technique.

Not surprisingly, yet interesting to note, is how cinematic this animated short is. The computer animator has captured great detail including the tile mosaic on the floor and every bump on the crab's claws. In addition, there is a variety of camera shots including the standard closeup and reaction shots featuring eyeline matches. Though this is an animation and the non-diegetic music is light-hearted, the film is still serious in tone. This could be my own interpretation due to the lighting. Each frame is dimly lit; only the focused objects (crab, treadmill, etc.) are bright and lit. Everything else is in shadows. This short features many dark browns and tans and shadows which add to a very non-Disney feel, which is in contrast to what is expected of animation. Because of this the gym appears ominous and threatening initially. This, to me, is very interesting; however, I am not sure if this is indicative of Asian animation. This short film won the Digital Art Award at the Grand Prix in Tokyo and I believe it was well-deserved. What really impressed me were the details! This appears to be a calling card film, I could see these characters being used again and their stories expanded upon. This short is humorous, cute, and yet at the same time, has serious undertones reflecting human behavior and the need to keep up with the "Joneses."

O Branco, Brazil

O Branco (The Color White)
Directed by: Angela Pires, Liliana Sulzbach, Brazil, 2000, 22 mins.

The film opens with a shot of a burning sun. The shadowed figures of a man and boy walk through a field while a guitar plays in the background.The son asks, “Daddy, what color is the sun?” to which the father replies, “It depends on the hour.” He takes Fredi’s hand and traces a big circle in the air, explaining that the sun changes color during the day. Fredi says, “I prefer it white,” before adding, “I don’t like it when it gets dark” as his father places a stone in his hand. As they throw rocks towards the sun, his father says he understands this fear and replies, “It’s symbolic.” He then describes symbolism. They hug as Fredi’s father explains,“When I hug you really tight, which means I will be with you forever.”

Suddenly the sky darkens and we cut to an older Fredi getting dressed in a white bathroom. A narrator’s voice informs us that it is Saturday and that Fredi, who lives with his seamstress mother, always knows the days by “color.” Fredi is blind and spends almost all of his time inside, with the exception of trips to the market and Saturday afternoons at a park.

This Saturday, his mother leaves him on a park bench while she makes a phone call to “Alice.” She warns Fredi,Don’t talk to anyone, they’ll steal everything, even your glasses.” A girl asks him to hold her ice cream cone while she ties her shoe. He drops it; she gets mad, wondering aloud, “there are some really bad people in this world.” Fredi stares straight ahead and mumbles, “sorry.” Claudia suddenly realizes he’s blind (signaled by the background sound of a few individual piano notes) and apologizes, but is soon called away. Fredi is left alone, swallowing away his nervousness.

Back at home, life is the same. Fredi continues his lonely routine and somber music plays as scenes virtually identical to the earlier weekday scenes fade into one another.

The next Saturday Caludia brings Fredi to swings on the river-side of the park and asks, “If you could see, what would you want to see the most?” He replies, “Branco” and explains, “It’s symbolic.” Fredi’s mother is angry when she finds him and drags him away.

On the following Saturday, Fredi adds a spray of cologne to his dressing routine, but is dismayed when his mother informs him, “No park for some time.” It is unclear whether this is because of some falling out with “Alice” or if she wants to shield him from Claudia and the outside world. Fredi leaves the house by himself, for presumably the first time ever. With his cane ,he makes his way to the bus, but he gets off at the wrong stop. Fredi gets lost and bumps into people. He is overwhelmed by cars beeping at him and visibly frustrated when he walks into side of building. He even walks down a thin road island that divides a very high-traffic urban road. Suddenly, he begins to take the arms of strangers and they help him cross streets until he finally reaches the park and meets Claudia. They spend the afternoon together and while they sit on a bench at sunset and cast stones into the air, Fredi reveals, “I feel as if I could see it.” He then asks what color the sun is and Claudia echoes his father’s words from the opening scene, describing the changing sun. The last image is a shot from behind. They sit with their backs to the cameras, in shadows under a red sun.

I was interested in this movie because it won a slew of awards including: Best Short Film, Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival 2000; Best Latin American and Caribbean Film - Divercine, Uruguay, 2001; Best Short Film, Biarritz Latin American Film Festival, France, 2001. This film works on a universal level because it explores the cyclical nature of life (implied loss of father), literal and figurative blindness and reliance on other people. The opening and ending scenes are both artistically beautiful and offer simple, but sweet insights, such as the idea of feeling (emotions like love in the present/love in the past) vs. seeing. There is great use of light vs. dark motifs throughout and the music relfects the emotional changes throughout the film well. One of the best understated moments was watching Fredi let strangers help him walk through the city.The actor who plays Fredi really does an excellent job.

Die Zwoelfte Stunde(Eine Nacht des Grauens) (The Twelfth Hour or Night of Horror)

DIE ZWOELFTE STUNDE (Eine Nacht des Grauens)
Keri Collins
Wales, 2004, 7:00

Despite the title, Die Zwoelfte Stunde is actually a British film. It begins as a typical black and white silent film reminiscent of the early years of film making. Raymond is an adolescent boy who has made up his mind, despite warnings, to go to the haunted castle and confront whatever he may find there. It is soon evident that this is not your ordinary silent film, but rather a twist on a classic form done completely with British humor. The dialogue screen goes back and forth between Raymond and one of the towns people arguing whether or not there exists true evil in castle. Raymond's repeated argument is "Not!"

Finally Raymond sets off for the castle only to be immediately confronted by a creepy vampire with extremely long fingers who stalks down the hall in true horror-movie fashion. When Raymond confronts him, the vampire, Nosferatu, offers Raymond a cup of tea. The dialogue screen tells us that Nosferatu is adding poison to... poison him, but Nosferatu is upset when Raymond asks for milk in his tea, and the poison is not imbibed.

Cut to the angry villagers who declare that they must save Raymond by killing the vampire! One villager points out that perhaps they could resolve the argument peacefully, there's a moment of contemplation, followed by shouts of "Kill him!"

Nosferatu shows Raymond out of the castle since it's getting dark and he'll be going out soon. When they leave, the angry villagers run up the hill and stab at Nosferatu with pitchforks and other agrarian tools, except to no avail, since Nosferatu creeps out of the pile and makes himself disappear. The villagers think they have saved the day and retreat back down to the village. Raymond shrugs, somewhat satisfied with his day.

I chose this film because of how typical the humor is to the dry British humor that is so well known. There was definitely a Monty Python feel to this short and I found myself laughing out loud, despite the fact that I was watching a b/w silent film.

Collins plays with the form and uses it in the comedy. It's unexpected and quite funny to have the boy and the older man arguing back and forth on dialogue screens and what they're saying is very much modern language. Also, there is a part when Raymond asks Nosferatu a question and Nosferatu is seen giving a long and quite animated response, only to have the dialogue screen pop up with "Na." I also felt the play on the "angry villagers" was incredibly funny, especially when the on man asks if they can resolve things peacefully--hysterical!

Also in the form of silent films is the music--it's reminiscent of the music we heard in the silent film we watched the first week of class. The music follows the action and adds to the mood, also indicates urgency, stunts, etc, very well.

Collins is also playing on horror films, both with the title and the stereotypical vampire. When Nosferatu and Raymond are leaving the castle, Nosferatu is still wiggling his super-long fingers behind Raymond. When Raymond turns around, Nosferatu apologizes and says it was a force of habit. Nosferatu is also noted as being born from Hell, also son of colon and Janet Davis--hysterical!

The self-relexiveness of the film was what really drew me in, Collins made fun of both the silent film and the horror film but creating a silent horror film. He used all of the aspects attributed to both films, right down to the shadows of the castle, the innocent insistence of the boy, and the thematic styles. The comedy isn't just found in jokes, but rather it's embedded in the way the film is made.


The Decalogue, Part Six
, Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1988, 58 minutes.
Source: The Decalogue [DVD 86]

The film opens with a woman going into a post office to pick up a money order that she received a notice in the mail was to be picked up. The young man behind the counter says there isn’t an order. She asks him to check again; there is nothing. She seems slightly perturbed, but she walks away.

This is how we are introduced to our main characters in the sixth segment of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s epic 10-part series of short films called The Decalogue. Originally produced for Polish television, the ten films together are meant to have been inspired by the Ten Commandments; hence, this film responds to the sixth, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” This particular segment is one of the more well-known of the ten, as it was shortly thereafter expanded into an 86-minute version ironically titled A Short Film About Love. (Of note, the fifth segment is the only other to be expanded this way; called A Short Film About Killing, it has often been exhibited and sold together with A Short Film About Love.) Some have mistakenly written that the televised version was cut from the longer copy; the films are significantly different, hence my choice reflects the original televised version.

From the opening, we follow the postal worker as two intercut activities play out over the credits: in one, he steals a small telescope from what appears to be a school science area; in the other, we simply watch from afar as the camera follows the woman in long shot throughout her apartment as she comes home. We quickly learn that his name is Tomek – which is appropriate, given that we quickly learn that the observation described above comes from his voyeuristic activities as he watches her across the apartment courtyard where he lives. (He is a “peeping Tom,” get it?) With shades of a more innocent Rear Window, we watch as he quietly observes her, then calls the gas company to make a visit when she brings a man home. He is naturally obsessed with her, going so far as to become a milkman when he hears her complain at the market that her milk did not arrive. We also learn that he is giving her these false claims for money orders just so that she can talk to him at the post office.

The second time this happens, however, she asks to see a supervisor and, rather than letting things go, the person in charge accuses the woman of trying to cheat the system. Tomek runs after her and confesses what he has done, even that he spies on her. That night, now knowing that he looks at her, she moves her bed, motions for him to call her and tells him to enjoy the show. There is no show, however, as her entering boyfriend is not amused and challenges Tomek to come down, only to give him a black eye. When Tomek delivers the milk the next morning, the woman comes out and asks why he is doing all of this. Tomek responds, “Because I love you.” “What do you want?” she asks, thinking sex, a kiss, something. He says no, none of that. He asks her out for coffee; his exhilarated reaction indicates that she says yes.

At the cafĂ©, she asks why Tomek loves her. He says he doesn’t know, but it isn’t a sexual thing, as he no longer even masturbates while looking at her. She learns that he lives with an older woman whose own son is abroad. She asks him to hold her hand, but he trembles as he does so. They go back to her apartment, where she changes and asks him if he has been with a women before; he says no. She straddles across from him, tells him that she is wet and that means she is aroused. She slowly brings his hands closer to her body, up her legs – but before he gets his hands all the way up, he comes in his pants. She says, “Already?” He nods. She replies, coldly, “That’s what love is. Go wash up.” He runs away.

At this point, we realize that Kieslowski has really only given us Tomek’s point-of-view throughout all of this – that the woman in question remains a mystery to us as well as to Tomek. We only see her from a distance – in long shot, notably with ellipses as she goes from room to room – until he sees her in person; even when they talk on the phone, her voice is mediated trough the phone lines. She is kept at a distance up until now. As viewers, we realize this really only now because at this point – relatively late in the film – our perspective shifts: when Tomek runs from the woman’s apartment, we stay there with her, watch him run back to his own apartment, see her observe which apartment he goes into, and watch her grab her own set of opera glasses to now observe him. Although we are still sketching within the confines of the short film narrative – albeit here in a much longer form – we are now given a new point of view, forcing us as viewers to shift out own perspective about these two characters and, indeed, about love itself.

This becomes important as we head to the conclusion. The woman feels bad and motions for Tomek to call her again, but he does not. She puts up a sign in her window that says, “I was wrong, come back.” But meanwhile, in a moment back to our old point-of-view, we see Tomek has not gone back to his room, but rather to the bathroom, where he slits his wrists. She is therefore startled when she sees an ambulance take someone away and she goes over to enquire of the old woman what happened. The old woman tells her the whole story, shows her the set-up. We then watch her over the next few weeks, frantically searching for more information about Tomek, hoping he has returned – but the old woman says he has not, and he does not yet appear back at his old job. She dismisses her boyfriend, and her appearance starts to become slightly more disheveled. Finally, one day, she goes by the post office and sees him at his window. Relieved, genuinely happy, she steps forward – and before she can say anything, he smiles at her and says, as cold as she was to him, “I no longer look at you from my window.” Cut to black.

The film plays on many standard conventions of love and love stories, while tweaking them in inventful and jarring ways. The shift in perspective has a clear effect on the viewer as, by the end, Tomek’s last comment is as much of a sucker-punch as her comment had been to him earlier. There are certain Polish elements that make this work – most notably, the presence of Soviet-bloc era apartment complexes which exist all over Poland and therefore make Tomek’s spying on the woman both believable and rampant – and yet the themes reflected here are universal. Kieslowski would go from this project to directing his Three Colors films (Blue, White and Red), meant to be even more useful in theme. Here, however, the viewer is the person who commits the sin referenced by the sixth commandment: we make certain assumptions based on our knowledge and desire around love stories, and are punished for wanting the happy ending that we want, even if we know this “romance” isn’t right.

Wade's Picc Mi (Little Bird)

PICC MI (Little Bird)
Directed by Mansour Sora Wade, Senegal, 1992, 16 minutes
Source: Three Tales From Senegal (VHS 4339)

In a Senegalese village, a group of destitute children are gathered in the dirt around a seated priest, reading prayers from their tablets as the priest eats greedily from a bowl of food. One of the children, Madou, eyes the priest suspiciously, and turns his gaze to a bird’s nest perched in a tree above. The priest instructs the children, “Go and beg,” and they disperse. Madou wanders the village with a collection cup, asking for “Charity in the name of God.” One kind woman in the village offers him food. Madou next ventures to the marketplace, where a woman pays him to carry her groceries to her car. As Madou is looking in a storefront window, an apparently handicapped boy, who wears rags and pushes himself along while kneeling on a skateboard, rolls up to the curb and asks Madou for help crossing the street. After Madou has pushed him across, the boy stands up, exposing the artifice of his begging ploy (i.e., he’s not really crippled), and laughs at Madou. He introduces himself as Ablaye and the two boys make fast friends, wandering around together. As they pass a gated establishment – what looks to be a school – a boy in regal attire sits inside the gate, casually chewing food. Madou and Ablaye make eye contact with the boy, before continuing on their way. Next, they play a trick by filling a wallet with money and placing it in a suited man’s path. As the man reaches for the wallet, the boys cry out, “Thief! Thief!,” startling the man into leaving the wallet and moving on. In another scene, the boys watch from a distance as a birdseller sells a man one of his caged birds. Later, the boys exchange their respective stories: Ablaye’s father has lost his herd during a drought, while Madou’s mother has given him to a priest, for whom he must spend his days begging. Ablaye leads Madou to the garbage dump where he and his father live, and gives his father the money he has earned that day from begging. His father gives him permission to “go and play.” As the two boys walk off into the distance, Madou asks Ablaye if they will meet again tomorrow. “Maybe,” Ablaye replies. Madou walks home at night, in the rain. On his homecoming, he gives the priest the money he has earned. He lies down to sleep in the dirt beside the other destitute children. On closing his eyes, he has a dream that he is running freely along a beachfront. He stops at the edge of the shore, kneels, and holds out his arms to fly like a bird. He is replaced by the image of a bird flying upward toward the sky. End short.

While this is the “surface” narrative of the short, a second, metaphorical narrative is simultaneously told through the short’s innovative soundtrack. Madou’s sporadic voiceover narration is coupled with narrative lyrics sung by a child’s choir, to present the tale of a bird whose mother has left him alone in the nest, while a crocodile lies in wait down below. The crocodile lies to the bird and tells him that his mother will soon return, in an attempt to lure the bird down from the nest. The bird, however, knows the crocodile is a lying predator, and also knows his mother is not coming back.

Reading this analogy into the world of the film, the bird is representative of Madou, Ablaye, and the other fragile, motherless children who must make their own way in a world filled with predatory crocodiles – the adults (or, more specifically, adult males, since the females in the film are those who provide temporary, “surrogate mother” aid to the impoverished children), such as the priest, who, instead of offering protection, shelter, and sustenance, exploit the children for the sympathies of society, forcing them into a worldly wisdom beyond their years. The secondary narrative of the soundtrack intersects in moving ways with the primary narrative at opportune points. For instance, after Madou and Ablaye’s brief encounter with the boy they could have been – the well cared-for boy beyond the schoolyard gate – the child’s choir sings, “Mother help me! Oh! Mother. Help.” Similarly, as Madou lies down in the dirt at the end of the day, closing his eyes before his dream, the child’s choir sings, “Mother come and get me,” suggesting a desperate plea for escape, cried in vain. Later, there is direct dialoguic reference to the bird-crocodile symbology. After a stick-wielding street vendor chases Madou and Ablaye away from his premises simply because they are playing, Ablaye advises Madou: “The crocodiles are everywhere. Don’t let them eat you.”

To further the bird-crocodile symbology, there is bird imagery planted throughout the film. For instance, there is a beautiful composition as Madou first enters the marketplace, where we see him backgrounded against various cages of birds. The bird-seller scene is also quite striking. As the bird-seller reaches into his cage to pull out a bird for the customer, the first bird he pulls out is dead; he gives it no regard, throwing it onto the dirt, as we cut to Madou and Ablaye’s petrified reaction. (Another striking detail of this scene: Madou peers from behind a yellow sheet hanging on a line, while Ablaye, from a red sheet, to Madou’s right, thereby forming the rightmost two colors of the Senegalese flag.) There are also seemingly non-diagetic chirping bird sounds added to the soundtrack in various places, as when Ablaye and Madou exit the marketplace to venture into the desolate territory where Ablaye lives amidst disposable waste. The execution of this animal symbology is masterful throughout, culminating in the final, haunting image of Madou stretching his arms out like a bird by the shoreline.

What is distinctly non-American about this short are obviously the settings (a Senegalese village and marketplace), dress (robes, bare feet), and customs (eating without utensils, for instance) on display. On a more narrative level, the incorporation of the secondary, fable-like storyline, is distinct. The use of (especially animal-based) fable is an ancient African narrative tradition that is here synthesized and modernized, resulting in a hybrid narrative form where the secondary and primary storylines talk to one other and add to each other’s punch. The film has an agenda, advancing the cause of impoverished, exploited children in Senegal, but its reliance on metaphor allows it to avoid heavy-handedness, and instead present its subject matter in a subtle, affecting way. All in all, this will probably turn out to be one of my favorite shorts that I’ve seen. The kinship between the two boys is endearing, the film’s narrative structure is exquisite and complex, and its sequences are carefully composed and expertly shot. In sum, this is one of those short films that truly flies.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Alma do Negocio (The Soul of Business)

Directed by Jose Roberto Torero, Brazil, 1996, 8 minutes
Source: hurluberu films (pause and skip the trailer)

A soothing musical score starts as a married couple are waking up and begin to advertise about everything they use to each other, the bed sheets, the shower, the towel, the coffee, the milk, etc. But when the wife cuts her husbands finger, she advertises about the knife. Then the husband advertises about the silverware and stabs the wife in the hand. The wife then advertises about the dishes and smashes it on the husband's head. Then the husband advertises about the meatmincer and.........yep, sticks the wife's fingers in them. Then the wife advertises about the skewer and stabs the husband in the chest. Then the husband advertises about the handheld blender and stabs it into the wife's chest. Then the wife advertises about the drill and drills the husband in the chest. Then the husband advertises about the new chainsaw and makes a huge cut on the wife's neck. Then the husband collapses on the chair as they are both dead, and then avoiceoverr advertises about band-aid.

This short film is supposed to be a graphic horror film but because the couple are speaking in the same uplifting commercial voice and trying to retain that fake smile while dying, it made me laugh when they were cutting each other up. I really enjoyed this film because with everything so perfect, so white, something this horrifying was bound to happen. This film was making a mock-up of the commercials with products that seem American, like the Michigan mix blender, the White&Becker drill, and Joe's Coffee. They don't actually look at the fourth wall to advertise but they do have an eyeline match to show that they are talking to each other. Quite a satire of American life with the couple being surrounded by name-brand products.

I chose this film because I thought it would be interesting to see what a horror film is like internationally. By watching this film I saw that graphic violence is more explicit. I saw long look at cut up fingers, at a wounded chest, and the full carnage of a chainsaw. Also I am intrigued by people like Jose Roberto Torero who not only directed this short but wrote it as well. JRT has directed and written many shorts but also made feature films like Pele Forever in 2004. Truly this film is very entertaining if not scary.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


A) LIFE LESSONS, Directed By Michael Scorsese
B) LIFE WITHOUT ZOE, Directed by Francis Coppola
C) OEPIDUS WRECKS, Directed by Woody Allen
1983, 119 Minutes
Source: New York Stories ( DVD)

All of the aforementioned films are a part of omnibus entitled New York Stories. The theme is the life and times of very different people living in New York. We will explore the three characters and what makes them unique to New York.

In the first story of this triptych, Nick Nolte plays an establised artist, Lionel Dobie, working on a huge piece of canvas with a bare bones beginning of an idea. He is interrupted by his agent played by Patrick O’Neal, who is encouraging him complete the work. Dobie explains that it will have to wait until he retrieves his incompetent girlfriend from the airport. Now, we have a clue into his state of mind.

His girlfriend (Rosanna Arquette) is furious at him for showing up at the airport after she left a message on his answering machine that she wantd to leave him. By ignoring her request, Dobie is giving Paulette (Arquette's character) a backhanded clue as to his concern, or lack thereof, for her feelings. He continues with this mental abuse by alternately professing his love for her with bursts of insanity, characterizing himself as a lion among men.

His canvas is changing like Dorian Gray’ picture, reflecting his feelings towards Paulette. Unbeknownst to him, she watches him as he unabashedlyt splashies vibrant reds, smiling yellows and serene blues. The canvas is alive with passion, with good cheer and with serenity. It’s the changing faces of Lionel Dobie.

At Lionel’s next show,s we discover that Paulette has left him as though he is a failure. An ardent young woman enthusiastically introduces herself as new to the area, an aspiring artist barely making ends meet He tentatively suggests that could hire her as an assistant. The position doesn't pay much, he explains, just room and board.

I have never seen a short, romantic film directed by Martin Scorsese. I expected to see shooting, gangsters, people lying dead in the street. Figuratively speaking, that is what we saw in this scenario. Egos, dreams, and expectation are instead being shot down and left lying in the streets. Things that life lessens.

In Francis Coppola’s A Life with Zoe, we see another side of New York. When I think of New York I think of fantastically wealthy people inhabiting the city. What one doesn’t realize is that these “people” were actual children at one time, like Zoe. Her father, Carlos Montez, is a famous flautist who serenaded her in her crib. Her mother, Charlotte Montez (played by Talia Shire), is the most beautiful author who jet sets all over the world.

Her dream life has attending an exclusive school with equally wealthy children. One of whom is a rich, friendless boy that Zoe encourages to imagine a similar fantasy life, such as her own. Imagination is available to all, friend will find YOU.

Her father and mother reappear to tell Zoe that they are getting a divorce. In typical Coppoola fashion, however, namely a happy ending, the divorce doesn’t take.

New York Stories’ device is as a dream told to pyscharist by patient, Sheldon Mills shortened from Millsteins, (Woody Allen) after his mother is dead. He introduces Sadie, his mother, to Lisa, his fiance (Mia Farrow) at a magic show that that would be a family-friendly venue. The magician selects Woody’s mom out of the crowd to assist him in a classis box trick. The trick fails and hilarity ensues.

For the next three days, in a frantic effort of searching for his mother by using a private investigator, he is totally distraught. He even employs the services of a medium, Treva Marks (Julie Kravitz) though, unbeknownst to him, she is truly an amateur. However, for every step backwards there is a step forward. His lagging libido has been re-energized by the absence of his mother’s constant carping and criticism. His sex life is back on track.

Instead, she appears three days later as a humongeous cloud in the sky, from which she lectures him in front of traffic, causing a huge jam in the middle of New York City, as if that never happens in New York City. She also talks to people in the street as though she was right there, producing pictures on demand of Woody as a child, whereupon the other pedestrians produce pictures of their children and now the sidewalks are jammed.

When he tells his mother’s face that his girlfriend has left him because she cannot handle the duress of his mother’s absence, his mother miraculously reappears in his living room. Also there is the medium, Treva Marks( Julie Kravitz) who has admitted this she doesn’t know what she is doing as far as the occult is concerned, but she can cook. She’s even offered left-overs to Woody to take home, since she realizes that he cannot do for himself. (His life has been sheltered and provided for by his mother.)

This section movie is very typical of Woody Allen in the 1980s. He is very self-effacing and self absorbed but he finds the humor in situations, even though somehow I always got the feeling that these were situations he created in his own mind. There is a very dark side to his humor that I like. I hadn’t seen a Woody Allen film in awhile, so this was a refreshing retrospective.

submitted by Debbie Zukas

Monday, June 12, 2006

Twilight Zone: The Movie

Directed by John Landis, USA, 1983, 18 minutes (101 total)
(Other directors: Steven Spielberg- Segment 2, Joe Dante – Segment 3, George Miller – Segment 4)
Source: Twilight Zone: The Movie (VDD 263)

“You wanna see something really scary,” the character played by Dan Akroyd asks his friend.
“You bet . . . scare me!”
This interaction opens Twilight Zone: The Movie and foreshadows the campy, eerie, and psychologically intriguing shorts compiled on this film. This omnibus consists of four shorts (inspired by the television series) directed by four different directors. Segment 1 is the only short of the group that is not a remake, yet it fits into the omnibus perfectly and is the most interesting one because of its political implications.

In segment 1, a womanizing racist walks into a bar. Inside he meets his friends where he rants about how awful his day was since he lost a promotion to a Jewish man. During his diatribe he manages to not only make offensive comments about Jews, but about Asians and Blacks as well. However, the true story begins once the man exits the bar. He walks right out of the bar in 1983 (?) and into Nazi Germany where he is quickly stopped and questioned in German by the Gestapo. Before long he is being shot at and on the run. They believe he is Jewish. He is eventually cornered on a ledge where he is forced to jump right into the Deep South during a Klan meeting. This quick change of setting is flawlessly achieved and an interesting plot maneuver. On the ground before the Klan it becomes apparent that despite his white skin, the Klan members see him as Black. He is tied up and prepared to be hanged. Yet just as dexterously as before, he escapes his captures and dives into the river. There, he emerges in Vietnam where he is the suspected enemy being shot at by American troops. Finally, he is blasted back into Nazi Germany where he is detailed and placed on a rail cart certainly to be shipped to a prison camp. However, as he train pulls away, he sees his friends from the bar exiting that same bar in 1983. Though he yells and pleas, they cannot see or hear him.

Like every other short in this feature, this homage to the classic Twilight Zone television show is supposed to be scary, but ends up being predictable and a bit campy. However, what is interesting about this short is the filmmaker’s topic. This film is overwhelmingly didactic as it serves poetic justice to the racist. There is also a subtle comment here on war. The scenes here of the Vietnam war are grouped along with the Klan meeting and the Nazis. So is the viewer to equate American troops in Vietnam with Klan members and Nazis? Though this filming took place long after the Vietnam War, it is interesting to see this sort of blatant propaganda hidden in such a random place: a scary movie.

The other shorts included in this movie are less politically aware but all do end with a moral or comment on life. In Segment 2, directed by Spielberg, the character of Mr. Bloom brings levity to an otherwise drab retirement home and uses magic to physically transform the elder residents into youth through a game of kick the can. Near the end, however, the transformed individuals realize they want to be their old selves again, though they’ve now learned to remain mentally young. Segment 3 features a manipulative young boy who mentally and physically controls his “family” and an interloper who he lures to his house. The lured woman soon discovers that the people in the house are afraid of the young boy’s powers. Yet in a plot twist that is as irrational as predictable, she sees the boy as a charity case and decides to take him with her where she’ll teach him to be a more rational individual who controls his supernatural powers. The final short, one that has been parodied too often, a plane full of unaware passengers is tormented by a monster. One passenger sees the monster but cannot convince the others about the creatures presence. In the end, an engineer spots the damage caused by the monster and basically validates to the audience the man’s sanity. The lesson: perhaps the importance of trusting people?

As a whole, the most interesting aspect of this omnibus is seeing how each director updates the classic Twilight Zone style. Each teaches a lesson through gloom and/or fantasy and maintains a dark feel throughout by unnatural lighting. Yet the effects are still a bit amatuerish by today's standards and I found myself bored and/or laughing more than scared. However, the shorts did provide for some intellectual contemplation. I noticed that in some cases, these shorts are reminiscent of Greek or Shakespearean tragedies where bad things are happening, yet perhaps at the fault of one of the characters’ hubris. Perhaps this is what the Twilight Zone does for us, it provides a catharthic experience and life lesson similar to the tragedies of long ago.

Robert Altman's SHORT CUTS: "Neighbors"

Name of film: SHORT CUTS
Director/Writer: Robert Altman and Frank Barhydt, based on the short stories of Raymond Carver
Country: USA
Year of production: 1993
Length: 187 minutes
Source: DVD 1402

“I look at all of Carver’s work as just one story, for his stories are all occurrences, all about things that just happen to people and cause their lives to take a turn.”
--Robert Altman

The feature film Short Cuts is Robert Altman’s quilting of disparate short stories by Raymond Carver into one interweaving narrative. Joined by a series of incidental and coincidental ties among the various characters, and bridged by any number of visual, aural and thematic elements—including helicopter flying over LA in the opening sequence, the lounge singing of a mother and the cello music of her daughter—characters from nine of Carver’s short stories fill one world in suburban Los Angeles that shrinks via growing narrative crossover into the idiom, “it’s a small world.”

No one short story translates into one discrete unit on film, but rather each forms a narrative thread in a broader schema, each appearing and disappearing in sometimes cooperative, sometimes competitive interactions. Carver’s story “Neighbors,” in which one couple in an apartment complex agrees to housesit for another couple, translates into the heading for chapter five of the feature. Indeed the chapter features the two neighboring couples, but it doesn’t represent the beginning of that specific narrative thread nor does it represent only that set of neighbors.

The chapter actually begins with a shot of a pool and a pool man who turns to look for the source of cello music coming from, as he discovers, the second story window of a a neighboring house. It is then that the camera cuts to the story of the house sitters, who are in the process of receiving final instructions regarding plant care. The dolly shot that follows Bill Bush, the husband, from his bedroom to the window where he sees his wife at the neighbors’ receiving instructions shows a small, cramped apartment. It becomes more explicitly apparent, though it is already implied in a previous strand of the narrative, that the Bushes do not enjoy the same lifestyle as their neighbors. In later strands the viewer understands how disparate these lifestyles are, despite proximity.

Carver’s story rests not only on the theme of economic inequality and attendant jealousy, but also on the intrigue of seeing from an intimate viewpoint another’s life and the disappointment in one’s own life that a comparison might yield. The chapter cuts back to the pool and the pool man who, though not a literal neighbor of his clients, will come to sense a similar envy or disappointment as he spies in a subsequent narrative strand, undiscovered, the cellist strip off her clothes in perceived solitude and jump into the pool. The owners of the two neighboring pools seem to know so little of each other and seem to care so little for each other’s lives, so wrapped up they are in their own, that the term “neighbor” takes on little more meaning than proximal domiciliary.

In this narrative thread, then, these neighbors can hardly comment on their neighbors’s lives, while in the thread related to the Carver story proper, the house-sitting couple can’t help but imagine the life they might lead if their lot and their neighbor’s were swapped. In both cases, “neighbors” takes on an antithetical meaning to the positive communal connotation it usually carries.

Altman writes that Carver’s stories are “more about what you don’t know rather than what you do know, and the reader fills in the gaps, while recognizing the undercurrents,” suggesting a format commensurate with that of the short film, which in limiting the time frame for the development of a narrative demands economy in the telling of the story. The title “short cuts” embodies this economy (and defines both the narrative structure, which most often cross-cuts among story lines, and the filming technique), but its usage here is nothing if not ironic, because no one chapter comprises any discrete narrative arc, and no one narrative strand can stand alone.

In this sense, too, the film is neither a “compilation” of short films nor a “collection,” and so the definitions we batted about in class fail, in my opinion, to define this feature film, which fits better under the rubric of adaptation of an omnibus of Carver’s short stories. From a Saussurian point of view, however, this failure of Short Cuts to fit the definition of the omnibus short film may do more to help define the term than anything else. It suggests that the capacity to stand alone may be the single defining characteristic of a short film omnibus. Whatever seems to qualify the shorts for compilation in one discrete unit can then be incidental or coincidental or thematic, not unlike that which ties the lives of the characters in Short Cuts together. For Altman there is more than authorship in the relationship among these narratives. “In formulating the mosaic of the film Short Cuts, which is based on these nine stories and the poem “Lemonade,” I’ve tried to do the same thing—to give the audience one look. But the film could go on for ever, because it’s like life.” If we are to call Short Cuts an omnibus anything, it is based on the concept that human experience is, though multiple and varied, so very similar.