Directed by Happy, UK, 2005, 6 min
This experimental film, which took first place in the TCM Classic Shorts competition 2005, follows the life of a girl named Jane Lloyd. The first image we see is a blurred shot of an infant followed by a clear close-up of the baby. The camera then focuses on the baby’s hospital name bracelet: Jane Lloyd. There is a slow piano playing over an echo of some other faint technoish sound. The camera starts to zoom in on a birth announcement, but just as the text becomes clear, it blurs and fades back into a shot of the baby. We see quick cuts of Jane’s childhood: Jane writes her name in big print and finger paint. Jane poses with birthday cakes. Jane runs around outside. Jane stands against the wall and her mom marks her growth, writing her name and age.
Jane grows into an average-looking adolescent with blond hair and glasses. We see her handwriting evolve into a more sophisticated script. Her name appears on the back of her field hockey jersey, her university application, her diploma and her passport. The film has the feel of flipping through a family photo album: the grainy images, the shakey camera and the relatively simple piano playing (over a more electric sound) give it the feel of home video splicing. Meanwhile, the pulse of the music quickens as Jane ages, and more sounds start to enter, possibly reflecting the increasing complexity of her life.
Suddenly there is a shot of the familiar Hollywood Hills sign, and the music seems to climax in a happy, hopeful way. We see shots of the now mature, attractive, ecstatic Jane (who reminds me of a soft Tonya Harding), but suspicions of a good girl-gone-wild emerge as we see Jane getting her name tattooed across her upper arm, the close-up of her Hooter’s nametag, and her name across the bottom of a screen test video. The music gets faster during these parts. Jane gets married. Jane appears in some questionable videos. Jane’s name is all over the magazine covers. Jane sits on a director's chair with her mostly bare back to the camera, her name splashed across the chair. Jane closes a dressing room door with her name on it.
Jane is a star. An "adult movie" star?
Jane signs a check. Jane picks up some medication. The music changes at this point, sounding almost like an interrupted heartbeat set against a weird echo. The music speeds up again as the images cut to quick shots of her downward spiral (at E! True Hollywod Story speed): Jane's name on divorce papers, on a billboard above a picture of her in lingerie and on a credit card sweeping cocaine. Jane swallows pills when driving. Jane’s face appears on an “Entertainment Tonight” type show. Jane is pulled over. Jane is fingerprinted. Jane is in prison. Jane’s name now appears on her prison jumpsuit. The film's pace is very quick here and flashes back to repeated images of Jane with different men, the cocaine, needles, etc. Finally, there is a long pause as Jane tugs a piece of rubber with her teeth (presumably tied around her arm so she can shoot up). The usually blurry images are interrupted with this clear close-up of her teeth sinking into the rubber. The juxtaposition of the quick cuts with this relatively long pause, highlights the madness leading up the moment of desperation. Jane leaves jail and is soon swigging some alcohol while driving. The screen goes black for a second and the music almost stops. We then see an arm with a name tage as the camera traces her body in a hospital gown and we hear an unsettling grating sound as the image is interrupted a few times (perhaps reflecting the body fighting death, flashbacks of life, etc.) before focusing on the nearby monitor. We then both hear the warning sound and see it flat-line. There is a close up of the flat line, Jane's death, that blurs into an image of her grave and finally a roadside shrine, with her name above a framed picture and flowers. The last shot is a blurred image of Jane as a baby.
I had watched several experimental films on different websites, but chose this one because it wasn’t explicitly experimental and also because I learned that David Gray adapted this film into a music video for his song “Alibi.” (The video and lyrics can be found at
http://www.davidgray.com/music.php). I thought it would be interesting to view both since we’ve been discussing music videos as more commercial, lucrative and familiar shorts.
Although the film doesn’t resist narrative as much some other experimentals, and even though the basic story arc seems clear, if not cliched, (ordinary girl leaves for Hollywood, becomes star aka tabloid fodder, crumbles under pressures of fame and digs herself an early grave with drugs and alcohol), I still found that these quick cuts in both the original film and the music video throughout her life, buoyed by an alternately hopeful and haunting background music, elicited an emotional response at the end. At times it felt like I was watching one of those drunk driving commercials where they show clips of home videos. In other moments it felt like watching an E! True Hollywood Story commercial without the narrative. This combination of homey and sensational rolled into one captures the humanity in both realms.
The repetition of images such as name bracelets (at birth and death), height markings on the wall (in childhood home and later, prison), Jane’s name (homework, marriage certificate, divorce papers), closing doors (childhood bedroom, dorm room, dressing room, prison), and birthday cakes both echoed her childhood and marked the different transitions in her life. Though there was an implied narrative to hang on to, the film did resist a straightforward approach. For instance, almost all of the image cuts are quick, and usually blurry. In most of the shots, the only clear tangible image is that of the name "Jane Lloyd" that flashes incessantly throughout the film. At the end I wondered if the entire film was supposed to be a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel flashback she is experiencing in the hospital. I think this film can also be classified as experimental because for all the things we can infer, there is still a great deal of ambiguity at work. We don’t know anything about Jane’s family life, where she grows up, why she moves to California, who her husband is, what she actually dies from (car accident, mixing drinks and drugs, suicide, a combination?)…and yet I felt like I knew her on some simultaneously sincere and artificial level. The use of the truly familiar (home videos, etc.) and the familiarity of celebrity downfall (flashes of Hollywood) worked together well.
Though I thought the music video adaptation, which is about a minute shorter, worked pretty well, I liked the original film better. A minute of cut time seems like alot, but it seemed like most of the cuts were from some of the images of older Jane with men, etc. “Alibi” sets a more ominous tone early on; I knew something bad was going to happen to Jane from the first few seconds (granted, I had watched the original many times already). The lyrics certainly work well with the latter part of the video (“ I will eat the lie/Find the word/ Could break any spell that binds you… How I long to/ Bite every hand that feeds you more/Where d’it all go wrong/My friday night enfant/Where d’it all go wrong fit in with the drug addiction especially well), but they didn’t seem to fit at the beginning. Also, the tempo was relatively consistent throughout the music video and therefore the scene with Jane biting into the rubber fell really flat. Whereas there was the dramatic pause and the nice break from so many quick cuts in the film, for me, this scene of desperation didn’t work as well in the video. One other noticeable change is that the death scene is much quicker, and we do not hear the monitor. It also did not have the same impact as it did in the film. Finally, the last shot is of the grave, and does not return to the baby image. I was happy to see that the music video doesn't offer any easy distractions of David Gray at the piano.
I don't know if Happy was involved with the music video adaptation, but I suspect he/ she is content with the video since it preserves most of the film's elements and will now reach a larger audience.