Dir. Jim Henson
Starring: Jim Henson
9 min. 1965
Time Piece is an experimental short by Jim Henson (and starring him) that premiered in 1965.
For those who might not know, Jim Henson started his career with a puppet show that appeared after late-night news in Washington, DC. He made Time Piece as a side project between commercial gigs. Time Piece premiered at the Mesuem of Modern Art in 1965 and led to his involvement with Seasme Street in 1969. He went on to be part of the initial Saturday Night Live (1975) group and created The Muppet Show (1976). Features his was involved with include The Dark Crystal (1982), Fraggle Rock (1983), and The Storyteller (1988)
Time Piece is nothing like his puppet shows he is so famous for. However, his experimental short was nominated for best live-action short Oscar. In this film Henson uses the elements of time to explore how humans are restricted by time and time as a philosophical theory. Time not only appears as a visual motif in various clocks throughout but also as a motif in the audio as the audience hears the passing of time.
The soundtrack of this short plays a major role with its rhythmic and time keeping elements. The sounds of footsteps, clocks ticking, people chewing food, fingers tapping, cars driving, and whistles blowing, keep a steady space throughout the 9 minutes. These elements are also used for humor when Henson adds a “cartoonish” sound effect. The entire film relies on timing. Not only because it has rhythm but also for comedic timing. The space quickens in some moments right before a particularly humorous scene.
I found this film intriguing and very enjoyable because of the subject of time. Sometimes I feel time is taken for granted and in this film you see Henson going through a montage of events from eating dinner, walking across the street, doctors visits and nightclubs. In these scenes you see Henson in different attire, usually traveling backward between time periods. And depending on the time period his actions may change from a proper gentleman to a dirty caveman. In a way he is showing the evolution of humanity just in reverse order. As time moves on in this film, he is pulling us back through time.
Henson was very much inspired by surrealism because he takes ordinary events, such as crossing the street or visiting a nightclub, and then adds fantasy like images and references to pop-culture (Tarzan is an example). In a montage of him walking across the street suddenly he is crossing on a pogo stick and then later he is painting an elephant pink. He is also using his film as a way to comment on society and its values. Henson uses the dancer at a nightclub followed by a hungry dog and then a “naked” dancing chicken, as comparisons to the lust men have for the female body. Comparing his (and societies) lust for the dancer to the hungry dog craving the chicken is just one part of his film.
I know Jim Henson is not a “star” in the sense of a famous actor. But I picked this short because (besides my own fascination with experimental films) I think they do not get enough attention. Henson made a name of himself because of this film and I think that makes it worthy of our attention even if only for a few minutes. I found this film in the iTunes Short Film section.