Saturday, June 10, 2006


FACES (Part Two of Before the Rain: A Love Story in Three Parts)
D: Milcho Manchevski, Macedonia/France/UK, 1994, approx. 25 minutes.
Source: Before the Rain [VHS 5038]

A young woman is showering – naked, weeping: a title, “2. FACES.” She is Anne, an editor for some photography agency in London. We watch her leaf through photographs oriented around both fashion and war. She gets a phone call and learns that she is pregnant. She meets up with her mother, chats while walking along the street with her before she is interrupted by a man who kisses her; she is embarrassed, but introduces Alex as a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer from the agency who has just returned from Bosnia. Anne and Alex get in a taxi where he tells her that he is quitting photography, to come with him now as he returns to Macedonia, his home. She says that she can’t, that she has to be in London. They grope in the taxi, but in the end, he says goodbye.

We then see Anne in a posh restaurant, obviously waiting for someone and dressed very nicely. A man, Nick, meets her; he is nervous, apologizes profusely, said her mother said she had some news for him. Anne tells him she is pregnant; he first asks if it is his, to which she replies yes. He is thrilled and asks for champagne – but as he tries to celebrate, she tells him that she actually wants a divorce. He is confused and it appears that she is as well. Meanwhile, in the background of this entire sequence in the restaurant, a man has slowly escalated a confrontation with one of the waiters; by now, the two men – obviously foreign – have become too much of a nuisance, start to throw punches and are asked to leave. The maitre d’ asks the patrons to relax. As Anne tries to comfort Nick, the man who started the altercation comes back in the restaurant, pulls out a gun and begins to shoot all around the restaurant. Bodies fly, glass breaks, and the waiter from the altercation falls dead on top of Anne. As the firing ceases, Anne looks for Nick, finds him a ways from her face down. She turns him over, to find him dead with half of his face literally blown off.

On the one hand, this pretty much functions as a stand-alone film. The late, great Katrin Cartlidge is fantastic in teasing out the nuance necessary to bring characterization to Anne in such a short period of time, making us sympathize with her even as she throws away two men who are both clearly in love with her. The film needs to provide the contortions to make us as viewers work to get to her story across in a very short period of time. Much of what is included in this film, however, seems extraneous if discussed just within the context of this section – the fight that goes on in the background at the restaurant and the subsequent shooting that kills Nick, for example. As I describe it above, Anne’s husband dies in an random uprising in London, making Anne’s desire for a divorce both empty and unnecessary for the sake of the story. That we don’t actually return to a shot of Anne after seeing Nick’s destroyed face would also seem as if this short film were not about Anne.

In truth, that is the problem with seriously considering the subtitle of Before the Rain – “a love story in three parts” – to mean that these are three separate films. By the time we get to the altercation in the restaurant, we have already seem one segment taking place between Catholics and Albanian Muslims in Montenegro; hence, we are also aware just by looking at the actors that the altercation in the background has to do with the ethnic unrest taking place in the Balkans in the 1990s. Within the film are two elements that connect it to the other two sections: at her job, Anne looks at a photograph taken of a defrocked priest sitting next to an Albanian girl who has been shot, the key action of the first section, “Words”; the photographer Alex (actually Aleksander) will be the protagonist of the third section, “Pictures,” as we follow him back to his village in Montenegro – the same as the first section – as he witnesses the tense changes that have occurred in his 16-year absence. We may also recognize Anne – primarily because she speaks the only words in English in the first segment of the film – from a very brief moment in the first segment, where she is seen approaching a funeral from afar.

Although I am not entirely sure of this, in 1994, the notion of the “triptych film,” as it were, was still a novelty; indeed, the release of Before the Rain coincided with the release of the more famous triptych film, Pulp Fiction, which were made independently and concurrently (hence, we should assume no influence of one on the other). While the piece as a whole depends on many narrative and/or stylistic constructs of short films that we have already mentioned – a sketched “moment in the life” representing a whole life, the necessity for us to become familiar with a character right away, narrative or stylistic innovation to jolt the viewer’s attention, etc. – the three parts are still very much intertwined. The focus and plot of the film as a whole is deficient without considering all of the parts together. This is as opposed to a true omnibus film like 11’09”01 where, although the arranging of the films produces a prescribed set of emotions and impressions, viewing one film essentially has little bearing on the plot of the remaining films.

As such, I might argue that Before the Rain is something different from an “omnibus film” per se. Borrowing from art history I like the term “triptych film” which implies that each segment is a separate “panel” that still must be considered together as a whole piece. The problem with such terminology is that this would seem to apply only to those with three sections (meaning we might use “diptych film” for something like Todd Solondz’s Storytelling and “polyptych film” for something like Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her [please comment on what you think about this, Christine!]). As such, however, I would also venture to say that all of these films are not omnibus films per se, since the individual sections do not seem to be able to stand on their own. Their dependence on each other changes the purpose of the short film to serve the function of a true feature.

Then again, I’m sure you will have comments about this.

Ferrara's Love on the A Train

Abel Ferrara, U.S.A., 1997, 8 minutes

The premise of the collection entitled SUBWAY STORIES is that in 1995, HBO invited New Yorkers to send in stories of their experiences on the New York City Subway for a contest. The winning stories inspired the 10 shorts that comprise this film, with each short taking place on and around the N.Y. subway. Each short is titled separately and one short flows directly into the next, as if from one scene to another. There are no interconnected characters or storylines, and the shorts vary widely in tone and content (each having a different director), with each one depicting an out-of-the-ordinary subway experience. The short that I chose is “Love on the A Train,” since it is the most memorable short out of the 10. I first viewed the larger work when it aired on HBO in 1997, and this is the only short that stayed in my memory.

Every morning, a married man and his wife enter the subway, buying a newspaper and coffee together before taking separate lines (the man takes the A Train of the title). One day, as the man is standing in the aisle of his train, leaning against the support pole while reading his newspaper, a strange woman touches his hand. She slides his hand down the pole and begins to discreetly pleasure herself with it. The man looks over, only to see that the woman is nonchalantly reading the newspaper, as she continues to pleasure herself with his hand. No words are spoken between them. The next day, the same encounter takes place, with the woman boarding the train and hovering over toward the pole by which the man is standing. This time, his hand is already waiting lower on the pole. These daily, wordless encounters between the man and woman continue over a nine month period. One day, the man tries to break the silence with the woman, but she refuses to reply and leaves the train. The next day, they return to their previous “relationship,” with the man content to be silent. Finally, the man realizes the potential cost of these encounters to his marriage, and decides to abandon the A Train for an alternate route (the F Train). Months later, as the man is walking with his wife into the station, he crosses paths with the woman once again. They exchange knowing looks, and then continue on their separate ways.

One of the most effective things the short does is compress a period of more than a year into an eight-minute format, showing the evolution of these characters over time in a way that is believable and concise. In particular, we are shown the progression of the man and wife’s marriage as this side “affair” is taking place. This progression is shown through a series of “snapshots,” whereby we see the man and his wife as they interact before the train arrives on four different occasions. On the first occasion, we see the man and his wife with happy expressions, engaged with one another in dialogue; the wife puts her arm around the man, and they kiss before parting. This is on the day the man’s first encounter with the strange woman will take place. On the second occasion (the next day), we see the same medium close-up shot of the man and his wife through a kiosk window, but this time, the man is shown looking at his watch, preoccuppied; his wife talks to him, but he is oblivious, only interested in making the train in time for his next encounter with the woman. On the third occasion, which happens months deep into the encounters, the man and his wife stand with distance and silence between them, a sorrowful expression on the wife’s face; they do not even touch as they part ways. The fourth and final time we see the man and his wife, which occurs after the man has abandoned the A train and its extra-marital encounters, the wife is now noticeably pregnant; the couple is once more physically close and engaged in lively conversation, smiling as they talk. We thus experience the complete narrative arc of the couple within what amounts to a few carefully-selected shots. In terms of the man’s illicit train encounters, a similar passage of time is depicted through a series of long shots that dissolve into one another, showing the man and woman by the pole on various days and in various outfits, appearing as they might appear to unsuspecting passengers on the train.

On a basic level, the film is engaging for its intriguing narrative setup. The premise of these wordless encounters taking place between the man and woman on the train is enticing, and the fact that the man is married adds an element of suspense. In technical terms, these wordless encounters are depicted in part through suggestive close-up. We often start with a close-up of the man’s hand as it grips the support pole (his wedding band looming large upon his hand), then see the woman’s hand enter the frame, touching his hand on the pole and guiding it downward. We also often see the woman’s face, with its expression of ecstacy, in close-up. Much of the narrative relies on the body language of these two actors (Mike McGlone and Rosie Perez) – meaning much of the story relies on what is “shown.” But the narrative also has an element of “telling,” in its engaging use of a voiceover track. It is the only short in the collection to attempt such a feat. We hear the man narrate the story retrospectively in the voiceover track. His observations provide exposition that helps condense the narrative, in addition to adding humorous insight. For instance, when the woman refuses the man’s attempt to verbally communicate, exiting the train, he calls it “our first fight.” He also comments on the unspoken rules of the encounters: “Expressions of greeting and farewell were unthinkable – not even a shared glance or smile.” The short therefore combines “showing” and “telling” in a seamless and entertaining way.

In terms of how this short fits into the larger work, there are several other tales of “romance” in the larger work. For instance, in one of the shorts, a couple has an argument on the train, and the girlfriend boards another train car, only to reconcile with her boyfriend at the end. In another short, a boy who has just been dumped by his girlfriend encounters a mysterious older woman who begins to make out with him. But the latter shorts, like many of the other shorts in this collection, are anecdotal and vignette-like, with little ultimately at stake in their respective narratives. “Love on the A Train,” however, has a strong premise (a wordless carnal relationship between two strangers), shows an evolution of several characters over a pronounced narrative timespan, and contains a complete, self-contained narrative arc. It takes risks with the fullness of the story it ventures to tell and the manner in which it “shows” as well as “tells” it, and ultimately stays in the memory as a result.

Addendum to post: SUBWAY STORIES is what I would consider a "textbook" omnibus, in the sense that each short is self-contained in terms of characters and plot, and the collection is arranged around a unitizing theme (the N.Y. subway).

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Directed by David Lynch, USA, 1968, 4 minutes.
Source: The Short Films of David Lynch [D 1751]

Lynch’s early short begins with the sound of children chanting “A-B-C, A-B-C, A-B-C.” An animated sequence of letters appears sequentially on the screen to create an abstract form on the screen while the accompanying soundtrack combines what sounds like wind with a man singing scales with lyrics that imply learning how to read. Another sequence then interjecting the sound of a crying baby with a large letter “a” stylistically depicted. The chanting returns for a moment and then we have a series of still shots of a horrified young woman in the bottom right corner of what is otherwise a black screen being tormented by individual letters as someone intones an eerie version of the Alphabet Song; after “Z,” the image holds on the image of the young girl tied elaborately to the bed (as seen above). The last image unfolds in slow motion as the girl on the bed vomits red liquid all over the bed.

Apparently inspired by hearing of a niece’s nightmare about the alphabet, Lynch uses horrific audio and imagery to suggest the tyrannic nature of letters. The letters are introduced visually in a manner that does not suggest the next step – that is, the organization of letters into words and therefore meaning. Rather, the letters are first arranged in repeated fashion to create an elaborate, if ultimately unidentifiable, shape. The chanting children seem to me to be more insistent than innocent, demanding a response much in the same way as children might circle around and taunt a weaker specimen. Indeed at the end, the jump cuts to each image of the terrified girl toward the end of the piece is accompanied by the a breathy, timid voice reciting the alphabet song. The effect is not pleasing, nor cohesive; rather, each letter seems distinct yet cumulatively oppressive. It is no wonder that following this melee of horrific images – these letters without comprehension or meaning – that the girl wakens to a bloody mass, having been forced into this state by the onslaught.

It is not a stretch to imagine that Lynch is breaking apart one of the most basic structures – the arrangement of letters into the alphabet – in order to demonstrate the power of these signs as images. At a point where we use language to unite, the film forces us to consider the destructive nature of letters,


Directed by Daniel Reeves. USA, 1978, 23mins.
Source: Smothering Dreams and Thousands Watch [VHS 684]

The film is about the director’s experiences is Viet Nam. His memories are crosscut with similar childhood games making the connection so vividly. In a natural progression from childhood to manhood, he sees how he has been trained to kill and be killed however inadvertently.

I choose thus film for my experimental film for several reasons. After watching one of the AVANT-GARDE anthologies from 1920’s and 30’s, I realized I wanted something with which I could identify. Since my father was there from 1968 – 1973, I thought SMOTHERING DREAMS might be a cathartic choice.

I think that the startling nature of an innocent child waking in bloodied water where bodies are lying is appalling. The muddling of the actual war-time killing juxtaposioned with schoolchildren learning the same exact skill in a nonlethal venue is a point very well taken,. Second, the antiwar activist music of Judy Collins as a backdrop of the director’s voice over by the director punctuated the pacifist sentiment. And finally, the director could only take twenty three minutes of these memories. It was only later when two well regarded movies, THE DEER HUNTER in 1978 and PLATOON in’86 set in Viet Nam with accolades for the actors, directors and scene play that such atrocities happened. Reeves showed a very poignant way what he saw as the wrong way to play. Every child has a war. Mine was Viet Nam.
submitted for Debbie Zukas

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.

Precursor's QUIETUS

Directed by Precursor, London, 2004, 3 minutes
Source: BBC Shorts

A tangle of chords, cables, and tubes. Flowers bloom from a few of the chords while other cables lead to hunks of organic material. Blood runs through some of the "veins." Butterflies dance through the web of wires. Blood begins to trickle from leaks in the tubes. A butterfly stops and rests on the table. The camera dollies pass the mumble of bleeding wires into darkness.

This twisted vision of production studio Precursor supposedly depicts “a biotech experiment gone awry” and is a natural follow up to their 2003 short film entitled Anomaly. Like Anomaly, Quietus seems to be a commentary on the fallacies of futuristic technology, but ironically uses computer and cinematic technology to deliver this message. The synopsis the BBC provides for Quietus speaks of order vs. chaos and life vs. death. These themes are visible through the easily recognizable symbols of blood, butterflies, and the jumble of cables and chords. So, in this regard, this visual medium is perfect for expressing the filmmakers’ intents. Without dialogue or subtitles their motifs are expressed perhaps even more clearly than words could convey. In addition, this short form delivers the message powerfully, yet with brevity that does not bore the viewer. Our attention is kept throughout and we are forced to reckon with the key images. In a longer piece the filmmaker would have to overstate the message and perhaps add images or even dialogue to more or less fill time. However, in this short film dialogue is not used or needed. Instead sound is employed to create the mood. The music by Si Begg complements the images beautifully without using overtly stereotypical computer sound effects. Instead the music is cacophonous, dark, eerie, and yet at the same time retains a semblance of a beat (drum and bass) that is enchanting and connects the images. This combination of futuristic images coupled with unique music reminds me of Bjork videos, especially her Chris Cunningham directed video “All is Full of Love.”

However, despite the recognizable themes and appropriate music, Quietus is a true experimental film that hints at yet ultimately rejects a true narrative. This disorientation is achieved through quick cuts, extreme close-ups, and three-dimensional figures resembling triangles and coils that flash onto the screen occasionally for a few seconds. These shapes serve more to distract the viewer than offer any additional insight into any possible storyline. In addition, words that we clearly cannot read or comprehend are flashed or appear on the screen in order to tempt us to find meaning where there might not be any. All of these computer graphics and camera tricks help seal the work’s place in the experimental category.

Though there is a tone of ultimate gloom and pessimism, the meaning of this work is still open to interpretation. However, it is hard not to see this piece as art. This is what impressed me most about the film. Like a memorable photograph, each shot of this short stays with you. Each image is effective since each is beautiful, celestial, and yet monstrous. Each object is both itself and a perverted futuristic possibility of itself. With this in mind, it is possible to enjoy this art for both its possible message as well as for its mere creation and existence.

FYI: According to the filmmaker, no butterflies were hurt in the filming of this short. They were already dead when filming began.

Bartlett's OFFON

Directed by Scott Bartlett, U.S.A., 1968, 9 minutes
Source: Treasures From American Film Archives - Program 1, DVD
1793 pt. 1

OFFON has no story whatsoever. Rather, it is a series of constantly changing images, colors, and optical effects. The images interplay with one another and are often superimposed upon one another, creating dazzling optical symbioses and transformations. The mis-en-scĂ©ne of the film is in constant flux, and it is this state of constant flux which defines the character of this unique experimental film. In terms of production background, the film, according to its brochure, is the “first to fully merge video with film.”

The film begins with an extreme close-up of a human eye, with the frame drenced in a light blue hue. As we zoom into the pupil of the eye, flourescent pink blotches rapidly appear and disappear in different places in and around the eye. The blue lighting around the eye darkens, and we begin to see a pattern emerging within the pupil of the eye: a flourescent pink vortex, accompanied by a violent pulsing of the soundtrack. The next optical motif is a Rorschach-like pink circular formation which replaces the eye in the frame. It recedes and advances into view several times. A neon green shape emerges, superimposed against the Rorschach shape. It soon becomes evident that the neon green shape is the outline of two female figures in motion. The two figures stand back-to-back, arms stretched upward as they perform an elegant bowing motion, stretching down, then up again, repeatedly. The two figures are shown in outline, and appear as if joined at the hip; their movements are identical, but in opposite directions, defined by a principle of bilateral symmetry (a “twinning,” mirror, effect, of what is in reality a single figure). These female forms reminded me somewhat of the female figures shown in silhouette during the opening credits of James Bond movies. At one point, the “inside” of the conjoined female figures flashes with TV static. Later, the outline of a soaring bird appears within the “inside” of the figures, followed by the outline of other birds in flight, who change in color from aqua green to flourescent pink. We next shift to the cartoonish outline of a female figure (screen size: medium long shot) with both arms outstretched above her head as if casting a spell. This is followed by the outline of a male figure with arms outstretched, whose outline is “twinned” around him in something of a “shadowing” effect as the background rapidly flashes in different colors. At this point, a film clip of a man riding a bicycle is superimposed into the background of the male figure with his arms outstretched. Next, there are several visual motifs involving human faces moving in a bilaterally symmetrical fashion. Two male faces “bounce” off one another. Then two female faces move “into” and “through” one another, emerging on the other side before returning to their original positions. Another female face, outlined in stark black and white, appears to “split in half” repeatedly (see picture above) as playful blips play on the soundtrack. These faces are replaced by rapidly-morphing, pretzel-like, shapes, which blink and transform rapidly amidst a high-pitched, feverish pulsing of the soundtrack. There is a “countdown”-like feel as the background flashes blue, red, and pink. Finally, the soundtrack fades and the screen goes to black, marking the end of the film.

The way I would pitch this film is as an acid trip for non substance-abusers, because this is what I imagine an acid trip would be like. The film is extremely abstract and psychedelic, to say the least. There is an “alien” feel to the viewing experience, which is only amplified by the fact that there is no narrative point of reference for the optical smorgasbord taking place. Unlike an optically radical experience like The Wall, whose abstract, experimental animated sequences are tied into the themes and events of a larger, more normative, narrative, OFFON exists in a sort of limbo, in and of itself. The film speaks its own language, and doesn’t provide “subtitles,” so to speak, for the viewer. The soundtrack, consisting of humming, grinding, pulsing, and blipping noises, only adds to film’s “alien” feel. One senses (or at least I did) that the role of the viewer is not to interpret what is presented; that the images on display are not cryptic symbols with hidden meanings begging to be unlocked. Rather, this is a light parade of avant-garde spectacle, with the varied optical motifs serving as the “floats” in the parade. That the parade takes place on another “planet” (figuratively speaking) is never in doubt. The role of the viewer is thus to be dazzled, puzzled, and more or less hypnotized by the viewing experience: drawn into the visual vittles of a strange atmosphere, yet held at a distance by the sheer degree of alienness—a reception perhaps typical for experimental shorts. If the film is “about” anything, it is the gift of visual perception and the metamorphic nature of all that we see, whether in the world around us, in our own mind’s eye, or in the projection, as here, of someone else’s creative vision—a vision only possible through decidedly experimental film.

Guy Maddin's "Eye Like a Strange Balloon"


Directed by Guy Maddin, Canada/UK, 1995, 5 minutes

Source: Track 18_Short 2 - Dreams (DVD 19)
So experimental is a film that either resists or rejects a story. It took me quite a while to understand this experimental film but I believe that this film resists a story. It IS difficult to understand what the story is, but I will say what it is in it. There is a train, some sea shells, a keyboard, a father, a son, a girl, some teeth brushing sounds, a guy from zepplin on fire, some teeth plucking, a cactus man, some eye stabbing, a boy's head dangling on a plant like fruit, a decapitate, and a giant eye floating like a balloon.............confused yet?

The story that I seem to got off of this crazy B/W short film was that there was this train engineer who has been riding with his son since the son was a kid. But years on, they witness a train-on-train collision and the only survivor was a little girl. The father and son bring the child in as part of the family. But once the girl "became of age", the father and son tried to vie for he love. But instead she goes off and marries someone who seems to be from Zepplin or a Zepplin pilot. The father tries to take the girl away or what it seems like kidnapping her but his bad deed goes punished when he puts on the train brake and has his eyes stabbed. The boy seemed to have been punished as well by being decapitated and putting his head and teeth on a platter and sending on the eye-balloon. In the end both the father and son are crippled with their punishment.

Yes this film sounds VERY confusing but there is something that impressed me in this film. First off, this film was actually being inspired. Guy Maddin was given the opportunity to make a film based on a favorite painting. Guy chose the charcoal drawing "The Eye Like A Strange Balloon Mounts Towards Infinity" by Odilon Redon which is the second title of this film. Guy used other paintings of Odilon Redon in his film like "Cactus Man" using a man with a cactus costume. Or the seashell painting which is used in mostly the beginning of Guy's film. This film was mostly used as a form of a dream since it seemed like this whole film was taken place underwater.

Second off, there was a lot of analysis that was literally displayed in the film. Dark dream imagery is the key in this film. Like for example, when the girl (and the boy) had their legs encased in a shell and one day the shell opened up and releasing them, it is the same as maturing, like the phrase, "coming out of his/her shell". Also the scene where the girl has her jaw chattering closer to the father's beard, it is the same as saying the desire for the girl is about to get the best of the father. Also when the boy played with the keyboard the first time, the scene jumped cut to a scene that looked liked a row of teeth and one is pressed down when the note is played, then when the father had his eyes stabbed from a stop of the train, one key/tooth flew out as a sign of physical damage. These portrayal of art are what makes this film difficult to figure out, heck even my interpretations are not definite and true, anyone can interpret the visual scene differently. But with enough time and effort, it is a pretty good film to get lost in a dream.

Jane Lloyd, Experimental

Jane Lloyd
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 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.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Experimental 1

Directed by NoExistance,
I found this short on YouTube and I couldn't find the director info or the country or year! All I can say is I hope this guy doesn't live in my apartment complex...

This film is about a guy who goes digging in the woods and ends up losing his eyes. I think it's supposed to be a warning to children.

I actually don't know what the film is about, as we were warned might happen. The main (and only) character is digging with a shovel in the woods until he finds some small wormy thing that I have yet to identify. (help??) We get several shots of the guys digging and of the wormy thing until we finally see the guy running out of the woods with a bandage around his eyes. In the last section, the guys is tied up at an unrecognizable location with eyeballs on his hands.

I was actually very impressed by the emotional impact of this very short film. It seems very non-linear and certainly non-narrative, but it stills gave me a feeling of desperation and urgency. The man's digging is enhanced by a whistling noise like a tea kettle that gets louder and louder (and consequently more and more annoying.) At one part when you think your head is going to explode from the unbearable screech of the whistle, we get a strange close up of the man's head that is pulsing and lumpy and appears to be ready to explode itself. I had a viceral response to both the visual and audio aspects of the film--I found myself getting very anxious and ants while watching it. This may be in part attributed to the quick flashes and jumping scenes.

I also liked how this film is so open to interpretation, the fact that the man loses is vision and then seems to have lost his way. Fairy tales and myths often involve both children and adults who become lost in the woods and experience a loss of reality; this man has literally lost his sense of direction as well as figuratively lost the direction of his life. (I may be projecting a bit on that last one. It's just all that digging for some unidentified wormy thing seems like this man has gone off the deep end....)

All in all, I thought this short was just plain creepy which isn't easy to do in 4 minutes. Marilyn Manson should hire this guy for his next video....