Thursday, August 28, 2008


D: Jessica Yu, USA, 1993, approx. 4 minutes.
Source: Wholphin Volume 2
Featured in the Telluride Film Festival 1993.

The premise of this film couldn’t get much simpler: director Yu offers candy to a variety of people and films their reactions – once they quickly discover that she has deceived them into trying the Asian “delicacy” Sour Death Balls. A series of head-shots in sepia-and-white accompanied by a jazzy score, the film seems almost too simple.

Such simplicity highlights each person’s face as the candy’s taste slowly registers – and the piece is just long enough for the viewer to simply break down and laugh along with these poor victims. The looks the kids give are particularly priceless and I love the little girl who spits it out only to put it back in her mouth (because, you know, it’s candy!). The score provides a wonderful guideline for editing as well, which remains brisk and buoyant. Here is a case where if the film had gone one for much longer, the impact would be dimished. Instead, Sour Death Balls remains pure fun.

There is a question as to whether this is a documentary. Certainly, with its lack of any discernable plot, this is a model experimental film – but, given its register of everyday life, could it also be a doc? Yu herself would gain great recognition for prowess in the form, winning the Best Documentary Short Oscar for Breathing Lessons. (She memorably said upon receiving the Award, “It’s a new reality when your dress cost more than your movie.”) I would venture to say that this isn’t a documentary, precisely because of intention: it seems that documentaries have a greater “purpose” behind them than this one intends (a statement which I hope doesn’t slight the movie at all). I open this question up to debate in the comments, however – how do you feel about the possibility of its status as a documentary?

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