Monday, May 29, 2006

Hess's "Peluca"

Name of film: PELUCA
Director/Writer: Jared Hess & Jerusha Hess
Country: USA
Year of production: 2002
Length: 9 minutes
Source: NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (DVD Special Features)

This short film is about Seth on one of his better days. Beleaguered Seth offers his high school bullies a lot of ammunition, all owing to an unawareness that endears him to the film’s audience. Errant hair, ungainly glasses, a slack jaw and sleepy eyes compound Seth’s lack of fashion and his interest in the nerdier aspects of teenage life, like numchucks.

Seth’s reputation precedes him, giving the viewer a greater sense of sympathy and interest in Seth and the day-to-day life of a misfit. The film opens onto grainy Idaho flatland and Seth, looming over a low-angle shot, waiting for a rural school bus to make its stop. He takes the rear-most seat next to two primary school boys who ask him what he’s going to do today. “Whatever I want to, gosh!” is Seth’s reply, made famous in the cult-hit NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, which is based on PELUCA. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE takes more than the idea of telling a rural misfit’s story from the short. Along with the premise it takes Seth, with a name change, elements of the plot, and even the director/writer, Jared Hess, and a couple of actors from the short, including Jon Heder, who lived next door to me our sophomore year at BYU. (There it is, only one degree from Kevin Bacon.) Both the short and the feature were shot on location in Preston Idaho using local actors (cashier, high schoolers), props (the same manikin) and locations (the same thrift shop).

But not the same budget. After seeing the student film PELUCA at the Slamdance Film Festival in Utah, Fox Searchlight Pictures retained Jared Hess to make the feature film, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. That in itself was one moment to celebrate for the writer/producer, who made the short for a college class on a $500 budget in two days. The second celebratory moment can be tallied in dollar signs after the feature grossed millions in ticket and DVD sales (not to mention sales of action figures, t-shirts—“Vote for Pedro”—and other paraphernalia). If all of this were not enough, the Idaho State legislature drafted and accepted a resolution “to recognize and commend Jared and Jerusha Hess for their cinematic talents by which they have increased the nation’s awareness of Idaho.”

They should also receive praise for increasing the nation’s awareness in general of the geek in all of us. After seeing this film for the first time I kept my date waiting in the lobby as I screened myself for chinks in my exterior that might betray the chinks of my interior. I wrote above that Seth’s vulnerability to bullying derived from a nascent unawareness of what’s cool, and that our sympathy originates from that very unselfconscious carriage, but I amend that statement to suggest that it’s not Seth’s unawareness that makes him interesting to us as a character but rather the kind of hyperconsciousness that kept my date waiting in the lobby while I struggled to make the thin line between cool and uncool darker, thicker, impervious.


Jay said...

The relationship of "Peluca" to "Napoleon Dynamite" reminds me a lot of the relationship of "Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade" to "Sling Blade." Here are 2 reasons why:
1) The protagonist in each short - Seth from "Peluca" and Karl from "Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade" - are, in terms of character makeup, essentially already complete in the short, if we think of the characters' manifestations in their respective features (i.e. "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Sling Blade") as the final product of each respective character. This is to say, the primary characteristics of the protagonist from each short (in terms of personality, mannerisms, etc.) essentially matches the same in their feature films. While Seth's name changes to Napoleon in the feature, his appearance (i.e. 'fro hair, nerdy clothes, etc.) and mannerisms (especially verbal - i.e. "Gosh!" and "Dang!," as well as the character's catatonic facial expression) are essentially intact in the short. Another way of viewing this is in terms of acting; we can assert that Heder had already worked out the fine points of the character performance by the time of the short, and simply carried this performance into the feature. Similarly, Karl's personality and mannerisms (i.e. hunched posture, grunting, etc.) remain intact from the short to the feature film, which is to say that Thornton had similarly worked out his character performance by the time of the short, carrying it relatively unchanged into the feature performance.
2) The total storyline of each short serves as a starting, or "launchpad," storyline, if you will, into the larger storyline of the feature film. In "Sling Blade," the storyline of the short (i.e. Karl in the asylum) becomes embedded in the feature, serving as its beginning plotline, while Seth's bus ride and low-key encounters at the school grounds (i.e., a bully in the classroom, a classmate who has shaved off his hair and needs a wig) becomes embedded in the feature, as narrative events appearing in the first part of the film. (It's interesting to compare Seth's initial bus ride to Napoleon's - in Seth's, we find only one other kid in the bus, while in Napoleon's, it's a bus full of kids - surely the result of a larger, feature budget.)

dolovatti said...


I love Peluca and I am subtitling it in spanish, but there are some dialogues or lines I just simply can´t work out. Would you mind helping me with this? I can´t find english subtitles anywhere. I would be very grateful if you send me a message with the transcription (´s not the whole short, just a little part of it:

-Randy scene

-What Pedro says when Seth asks him for his reflexes?

-The second line of Seth in the gas station: Those ???? are looking really good

-What Seth says after comparing Giel with a medieval warrior?

Just that!It´s in Youtube. Thanks in advance!!!