Monday, June 05, 2006

Experimental short: CUT

Name of film: CUT
Director/Writer: Tomasz Laczny
Country: UK (?)
Year of production: N/A
Length: 1 minute

“Cut” is a montage of shots cut and spliced into half-second segments and set to a sparse diegetic soundtrack that, as the shots, hardly coalesces into anything intelligible. The title, “Cut,” of course plays with itself, touching at once on its subject matter and on its method of composition, a montage of split-second scenes all spliced together. Each cut shows some element of a haircutting, from shots of the subject to shots of the hairdresser’s hands and implements, all in extreme close-up and all strung together to create a cacophonous abstraction of an otherwise quotidian experience.

The fact of the haircut is made explicit through split-second glimpses of scissors and clippers—split-second sound bites, too, of the clipping and the shaving—and of hair, ear, nose, neck in no discernable order. But little else is clear, including the sex of the pepper-colored hair or the sex of the be-scissored hands or the supposition that the pepper-colored hair and the be-scissored hands belong to two individuals instead of one (or three, fifteen, etc.). In one minute this film throws its viewer into an intimate whirlwind view of this common, often interminable experience, almost as if it were hours of footage condensed into sixty seconds via fastforward to show the subtle intricacies of the process as any nature channel might show the cell-upon-cell growth and bloom of a tulip in the frenetic, wobbly speed of time-elapse cinematography.

This one-minute experimental film is part of a website dedicated to the one-minute short. The format of the short-short seems to lend itself to the creation of experimental films by default because the time constraint makes standard narrative more difficult to achieve. What makes this film experimental, however, is not its time constraints (haven’t we all cried or laughed at the dramatic or humorous conclusion of a thirty-second commercial) but instead its achronological setup, its exclusive usage of extreme close-ups, and its fast-paced cutting rhythm, which belie conclusive statements about genre or narrative, including even the director’s claim that his film is a “self-portrait.”

If indeed a self-portrait, this film suggests not the facial features of the subject but rather the subject’s profession, as some of Rembrandt’s self-portraits show a man at various stages of life holding a palette of colored dabs and a paintbrush. Beyond this interpretation the film avoids succinct definition, and even its expected chronological progression from long to short(er) hair is barely suggested in the fleeting fact that scissors precede clippers.

But despite its frenetic cutting rhythm and its lack of narrative detail (achieved through the compiling of extreme detail), this short film maintains a sense of harmony and order, which it culls from a consistent rhythm and a paucity of peripheral elements such as nondigetic music or subtitles or, as it were, any overt message. It’s almost an etude in filmmaking: in cutting rhythm, in extreme close-up, and in economy of construction. And the harmony it achieves in the process is, especially with its paratactic sound bites, almost musical.


Jay said...

For me, an experimental short has to have some odd or absurd type of beauty to balance against its more unorthodox qualities (i.e. its tendency against narrative, its unresolvable ambiguities, etc.). This one for me didn't have that redemptive beauty. It felt aesthetically amateur-ish overall, especially in its use of sound. I felt there should have been more mastery over the soundtrack, instead of just keeping whatever mixed sounds (i.e. splices of talking, etc.) the "stop motion" effect captured. The only technique I did like was the editing in of shots of tree branches at the beginning of the short, since the branches resemble hair follicles to a certain extent. The double-meaning of the title was also clever, but I didn't find much else to write home about here. Just thought I'd share my honest opinion.

Daniel C Hopkins said...

Having branches in the beginning of the short showed little resemblence to hair. It would have been nice if the short did an elliptical editing where the branches were the last thing to see, maybe pruned.
Also my view on this experimental short is that it does not seem all that special. Sure a play on words and clips are fine but it seems too avant garde for my taste.

ltpalm said...

I agree with Daniel; I believe including the tree branches is a novel idea, however, there needs to be more of it in order to flesh out the idea. That being said, perhaps the fact that this short film does not bring back the branch image makes it experimental. The filmmaker is toying with the viewer's expectation. If we were given more tree shots and a prunned tree an analogy begins to emerge, symbolism, an underlying plot- a narrative! The same argument can be made concerning the sound. If we were given a non-diegetic sound that contained a pleasant or triumphant melody the filmmaker would be playing into expectations and the norm. The real question I believe Jay is raising is that of quality and is a problem I struggle with in experiencing all experimental film and art: how does one tell the amateur from the genius? What makes on experiment better than another if they both are breaking narrative form and purposely trying to thwart expectations?

Jessica said...

So it's someone getting a hair cut. So what.

I'm going bandwagon here and say I didn't find much redemptive value to Cut. I think this short missed an opportunity for symbolism and deeper meaning. How do the branches really relate to the rest of the film? What is the connection? I'm not saying there isn't one, but just showing the two images concecutively does not a connection create. Hair is like nature and if we cut our hair we are destorying nature? What if the film started with a forest being destroyed? Trees cut down, limbs pulled apart, branches sent through shredders. Then we see the hair cut, but it's more obhviously drastic. Long flowing locks visciously riped from the roots until the buzzer (great sound) comes and shaves off the remains. We shall suffer with the trees! Long live the rain forest!

I'm stretching. But so is this film.

Christine said...

The director's idea of self-portrait suggests to me that this one minute is what a day, week, or a lifetime of being a beautician may seem like...a blur of heads, razors, and conversation. For this reason, the clips of sound and images are definitely a little boring, but fitting. I wasn't sure if the branches were real tree branches or some extreme close-ups of damaged hair follicles(Pantene commerical?). I don't know what to make of that either way, maybe just that we can appreciate this a little more by considering the director's context.
I noticed that Rhead got a haircut...who says experimentals can't be inspirational?