Monday, June 05, 2006

Jane Lloyd, Experimental

Jane Lloyd
Directed by Happy, UK, 2005, 6 min
Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/filmnetwork/A7226282

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.

3 comments:

Rhead said...

I agree, "Jane Lloyd" seems cut for E! or government sponsored anti-drug propaganda, and in that I'm not surprised David Grey's people picked it up for background to his patent slow-boiling misery-lyrics and subdued piano accompaniment. All constructed to elicit an emotional response, but not one predicated on character development or, to be polemical, the human experience or, for that matter, cinematographic experimentation (though I quite liked the cinematography).

In the film as in the song all things bad and all things good are distinct and exclusive. The experiences of childhood and adolescence are properly innocent, the move through the education system colorlessly unproblematic, and even the tattoo (especially the tattoo?) is endearingly faux-rebelious and an obvious indication of a nascent penchant for more disturbing forms of debauchery: Hooters (a gateway drug), sex in a pool (that one's okay because she then marries the man), questionable career choices (nudity = questionable), drug experimentation that boils into full-blown abuse after Jane hits it big in the city of lights (LA, the world revolves around it), and of course a tragic conclusion via prison and hopelessness that ends in such a way that any other ending, say, a happy one, or a mediocre one, or one in which dear Jane continues on for decades of on-and-off drug use that wrinkles her beautiful face and flouts her potential martyrdom, would be a let-down.

This is not to say such things don't happen, but simply that in such films such things often happen just like this. "Cliche" seems to indicate the genre of this film exactly, and since it is so predictable it hardly needs dialogue or narrative or even clearer shots or longer shots or slower cuts. Even the editing seems prescribed for the genre (Mastercard "priceless" ad meets after-school special).

Insofar as Jane is as much a product as the morality and the lingerie she is selling and the status quo she is reinforcing, the film bored me. But at least I learned that to be Happy I should avoid Hooters, and tattoos, and Hollywood.

But who doesn't already know that?

ltpalm said...

I believe this film was about a young girl that grows up, does a little nudie pick to get into the business, goes legitimate and becomes famous just to have her demons come back to haunt her and send her to an early grave- so typical!

What I liked about this film was the way we can follow a person's life through his/her paper trail (and nowadays, our electronic trails?). I also felt that seeing the name constantly reminds us that this is the same person from start to finish. Thus, we are allowed to contemplate how much she has changed and wonder as the David Gray songs asks, "Where d’it all go wrong?" Key to this emotional response is the starting point of this "narrative." Since we are given Jane Lloyd's cute baby pictures and normal childhood, we are given a chance to care about her and root for her. However, unlike Christine, I knew very quickly what the ending would be. Once I figured out the device that was being employed (repetition of name) I knew that the natural ending would be her name on a gravestone. Also, maybe I'm just cynical, but I figured that any good experimental filmmaker would not show a happy ending. So I figured that the sweet childhood would have to be juxtaposed against a rough adulthood.

Like Christine and Rhead I saw this film as the typical True Hollywood story, which I suggest is why it works. As we've argued in class, we tend to think of a feature film or a novel as telling the whole story but the short film and story as only being able to get at a small moment. However, this film covers a lifetime successfully mainly because we can assume the stuff in between. In essence, we are given an entire life through milestones. This is something we are used to seeing in history book timelines, in encyclopedia breakdowns of historical figures, and now through sensationalized biographies on E! Unfortunately, however, the ending was not only predictable, but a bit didactic. Like Rhead said, it was sort of a warning: get tattoos, work at Hooters, and the next thing you know you're a heroine addicted promiscuous prisoner headed towards an early grave. David Gray's music video was quite enjoyable and perhaps more so since the Jane storyline was simply a backdrop to his music. Therefore, the question of whether the film is high or low art isn't as important. By itself, however, I naturally wonder how clever of a short this truly is.

Btw, I love the Hooters as a gateway drug notion. Brilliant observation Rhead!

Jessica said...

I really loved the continuous repetition of Jane's name throughout this short. If we want to break this filmn down into form--the repetition is where it's at. I think it's beautiful how this girl's name tells her story--there's very little else to go on besides her image and really it's her name that pushes the story along.

But alas, as also noted before me, that's where Jane stops being interesting. The repetition of the name was intriguing, but there was little else in the sense of style or experimentation. The cuts were too repetitive and predictable after a while. Even Jane's image just blurred in with the background.

Perhaps if this had been only a couple of minutes long, it would have stopped short of boredom and had something to day about how fleeting life--innocence, adolecense, porn star fame--truly is.

And anyone says that you can't find happiness in Hooters, tattoos and Hollywood is a liar! ; )