Saturday, September 13, 2008

DC Short Film Festival: # 5262

English Language (With English Subtitles)Directed by Tim Plester, United Kingdom,2008, 19minutesSource: DC Short Film Festival, showcase 3

The movie begins with a couple having communication issues and for this reason they have subtitles of what they should really be saying to each other. They have a disagreement regarding issues that don’t really exist; and that women sometimes fight about with men, and then she leaves. The man in the film goes to his best friend for advice, the subtitles continue; but in this case they detect the sarcasm in his friends voice. The man goes for a walk in a park where apparently he had gone with his girl (the one who seems to have left him). However, the interesting part is that in the park there is a band playing a ballad and the subtitles change to making fun of the situation; “you can download this song from the internet. For a limited time only so don’t hesitate to obtain it”. Then, the man goes back to the house to try to get over his sadness. He tries to take a shower but is interrupted by a phone call. He then decides he can not distract himself from missing her. He attempts to reach her but is unable to finish dialing due to the fact that the door bell rings. While all of this is going on, the subtitles describe everything that one can see. But for example, when the door bell rings, what the subtitles express become the thoughts of the main character. And finally, when he opens the door, his girl is there and as she enters the flat, the automated response of when you leave a phone line open becomes the main sound but with the subtitles changing languages from Chinese, to French to even Spanish and Arabic. And the short ends.

Although it has been my first experience at a movie festival, I have to admit that I enjoyed the environment of people clapping after each film and some laughing at certain moments in certain shorts while others did not. In other words, it was like enjoying thirteen moments with strangers. Moreover, I went with one of my best friends and enjoyed the fact that we could share comments. Also, we had a really interesting discussion of what makes a short, a short, and what are the differences when compared to feature films. This discussion ended when we faced the reality that it was a Short Film Festival.

However, my choice to discuss represents what a short film is to me: a quick dosage of entertainment with a unique message about an issue, in this case communication between a couple, or “lack thereof” (City Paper, 6). The film took the idea how people sometimes speak the same language and are not able to understand each other. It seems that the Director (who plays the main character in the short) is trying to make the audience understand that we should stop talking in subtitles because it is as if we tried to speak to each other in another language which to me is the explanation I have given to the change in language at the end of the short.

Le Voyage Dans la Lune (A Trip To The Moon)

A Trip to The Moon(1902) France
Directed by Georges Méliès

Georges Méliès's "A Trip to The Moon" is an epic sci-fi fantasy condensed into eight flickering minutes. The film depicts a team of scientists led by Méliès himself who take a rocket ship to the moon and encounter surprises, danger, and malevolent moonmen called Selenites. The short was Méliès's 400th film, by far his most expensive and popular, and the best example of his combined strengths as a writer, director, actor, editor, and special effects man who drew heavily from his background as a magician. Méliès is largely creating and defining film language as he goes along and intuitively grasps many of the fundamentals that would remain staples of cinematic grammar for the following century.

Motion is ever-present despite the static camera set-ups necessitated by the technology of the day. The scientist adventurers scurry throughout, the rocket makes two explosive voyages, and
Méliès hired French acrobats and circus performers to play the Selenites who move like they're spring-loaded. The frame (all of them wide shots) is filled with dynamic movement throughout that keeps our attention. Inventive editing is utilized in early examples of things as simple as fades to masking special effects via double exposure and quick cutting that makes moonmen appear to vanish into puffs of smoke or, in the film's most memorable and iconic moment, the rocket to crash into the eyeball of the grimacing face of the moon.

The fantastic voyage and its strange and captivating sights was a big hit in its day and has become one of the staples of early silent cinema. Many of the moments have been aped and homaged over the years, perhaps most memorably by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris whose Tonight, Tonight video for the Smashing Pumpkins is a beautiful, direct remake. The ambition and scope of
Méliès's film, the story could hardly be called small, ignored the constraints many would assume of short films and ventured to use the film medium to tell the kind of sweeping story typical of a Jules Verne novel with great economy and strong visuals. The work influenced a generation of filmmakers and is a precursor to every director who has tried to cram a feature's worth of ideas and plot into a short, though few are as successful as Méliès. With such an abundance of style, dense plotting, and over-written characters resulting in thousands of shorts that amount to a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, it's refreshing to be able to return to a short that uses nothing but carefully arranged images to tap directly into our imagination, entertain and delight us even a century later.

The Confession

The Confession
Ireland, running time: 3:40.

Let me start by saying all of the films in Showcase 1 (with the exception of one) were brilliant. I could easily write about any of these films but The Confession left a lingering impression. A young man sheepishly enters a gloom and doom type cathedral, and nervously begins confessing his sins. The priest recognizing the young man asks him how he is and what he has done. He admits to having slept with a “loose woman.” The priest instead of granting absolution tries to get the juicy details and the name of the girl. The young man refuses to answer as the priest throws out specific names, but he refuses to admit or give any clues to his woman. The priest upset with both the man’s sin and the denial of gossip gives him a few prayers to say and tells him he can not come to church for three months. He leaves the confessional and kneels down to another young man who asks “What did you get?” He responds “Well…I got three months vacation and five good leads.”

This film shows the power of a twist and a joke. They do very well establishing and playing up the doom and gloom aspect of the Catholic Church. This gets the audience expecting one thing, and then the priest digs for personal information which is humorous in its own right, but the twist of the young man trying to figure out who are indeed “loose women” in the area and trying to get out of attending church. On the surface it was really simple, a build up to a punch line, but they blew everyone away with the “how” they did it. It was shot and produced beautifully. In talking to everyone at the after-party, this short film (under four minutes) remained in everyone’s head and was one of the first screenings big hits. No one saw it coming and this, pound for pound, is a dynamite short film.

A Land Called Paradise

A Land Called Paradise (2008)
Director: Lena Khan
USA, 4 minutes

A Land Called Paradise put a big fat smile on my face. It isn't that it's adorable (it is) or beautifully shot. It's a simple music video, shot primarily in a studio with a plain red background, featuring several individuals or groups of Muslims with messages written on cards and posters.

It is humanity on display.

One could ask, "What's so great about writing something down on a sign? I can see that at a baseball game, a protest, or next to some panhandler on the street and I'll forget it in two minutes or less." That's okay. I forget those too. These cards had a lot more thought and care put into them than "J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS." They all stick out to me. They display the best of every individual in the video. If you challenged me, I could probably remember every single one without seeing the video again. I don't want to fill space with a list, so just take my word for it.

The film makes a great effort to encourage viewers to see themselves in those featured. The director could have gone super simple and just slotted in one message after another. It still would have been a very moving film. Instead, she created a quasi-narrative for some of the characters, revealing them in bits and pieces and bringing them back later in the film so you can see them again and feel attached. Two examples stand out: 1) The kid who is sitting at a desk staring at a Rubik's Cube comes back a few seconds later holding his sign ("I am a total idiot") upside-down. He comes back at least three more times. 2) The man who sort of flips his hair near the beginning... then isn't seen until the last third or so of the film, when his message is revealed: "I am not ashamed of my virginity." Quick pivot! The director wanted the ladies in the audience to see a hot guy, but then turned it on them and showed how much Islam means to him.

I'm glad I just chose that word: showed. That's another huge reason that the messages stuck out to me. Each person showed us their thoughts in their own handwriting, and the director helped out with that quasi-narrative. They showed us that the messages were genuine. Had each message been spoken, they would have been telling us something instead of showing it.

Everyone who has ever made a generalization should see this film. It should play in every house of worship in the world. This is the kind of film that crushes stereotypes and humanizes abstract concepts, and it does it in four minutes.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Vincent By Tim Burton and Rick Heinrichs 5:53

Narrated by Vincent Price

“Vincent” is about a seven-year-old boy, Vincent Malloy who wants to be Vincent Price. Throughout the film, Vincent leads a sort of double life. One where he is a normal little boy, and a second one (in his imagination) where he is Vincent Price.

Vincent turns into a very macabre version of the little boy between versions of his imagined life and his real life. He imagines this fantastical world and is constantly interrupted by his mother or his aunt. This makes for a funny story because the little boy wants to be dark and scary and the mother is always encouraging him “to go out and play because it is a beautiful day.” At one point, Vincent has sentenced himself to a lifetime of imprisonment in the tower of doom, a.k.a. his room. While serving this sentence, his mother comes in and says, “If you want to, you can go out and play. It is sunny outside and a beautiful day.”

One of his fantasies includes dipping his aunt in wax for his wax museum. Another fantasy is turning his dog into a type of Frankenstein so they can lurk through the London streets at night searching for victims in inclement weather. The short film ends by him quoting “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe while dying on the floor (he doesn’t really die).

The rhyme and meter of the narration counteracts the dark material of the short film by adding a children’s book quality to it. Also the fact that it is an animated short makes the subject material a little more PG.

I really enjoyed the simulacrum in the film because Vincent Price narrated the short film and the little boy wants to be Vincent Price.

Tim Burton always freaked me out when I was a child, but now that I am older his films don’t scare me (as much) any more. "Vincent" is one of Tim Burton's earlier works. It was completed in 1982. The "Tim Burton" style is throughout this entire short which you may know from some of his other works such as "Edward Scissorhands," "Sleepy Hollow," "Beetle Juice," "The Corpse Bride," and most recently "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." All of these films sincerely freaked me out (that isn't to say that I didn't enjoy them, they are just creepy). Even though "Vincent" is done in the same style it is just more playful. Overall I enjoyed the film because of the humorous writing and rhyme scheme and the playful subject material.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Irish Twins 19:46

Maybe I just enjoy films about revenge and drinking whiskey and Rider Strong, but this short really stood out for me, beyond all that. This film the strong brothers made together. Their first time behind the camera, with about 40 years of film experience combined. And they excelled.
This is a type of film I could see becoming a feature. The film had character development as well, it had all the facets of a feature film, excluding 40 minutes or so. It captured me unlike any of the other films, it had me wanting to know more and more about what was going on. Why was he narrating the story in a forest with leather gloves on and a coffee cup? Everything fell together so well it all made sense at the end. What was also very interesting about this film was that it derived from a family story and they just elaborated on it. I didn't find out about that until the Q&A section of the festival. It would have been nice to known that information before hand, I think I would have had a different view point of the film.

She and Her Cat - Their Standing Points

She and Her Cat - Their Standing Points
Directed by Makoto Shinkai, Japan, 1999
Total Running Time: 4:49
Source: You Tube
English Subtitled

She and Her Cat - Their Standing Points is a story about a cat and his owner. This less-than-five-minute-long animation is divided into five sections - 'Introduction,' 'Her Ordinary Life,' 'His Ordinary Life,' 'Her Loneliness,' and 'She and Her Cat.' Through out these five sections, the season changes from early spring to winter, and a cat named Chobi observes the girl’s ordinary life. He watches her tying up her long hair neatly and putting make up every day. Chobi says that he is not that interested in her job or what she is doing outside the house, but he just loves the girl for the way she is because she is kind as a mother and beautiful as a lover.

Makoto Shinkai, the Director of She and Her Cat - Their Standing Points, is one of the most famous animation makers in Japan. He was a literature major, and used to work for a game company. He did not have any education on the computer or animation before. While working in the game company, he started to learn the basics of software and make animations alone after work. In the end, Shinkai quit his job in 1999 in order to make animation seriously. This animation, She and Her Cat - Their Standing Points, was made in 1999, right after he left the company. He did everything by himself but music and the girl’s voice, which means the voice of cat, Chobi, is actually the voice of Shinkai himself. He tried to shorten the production period and the cost of production, therefore the animation was made in black-and-white.

The narrator of the animation is a cat, not a person. With the animation’s unusual point of view, the film shows something that people do not pay attention. The cat narrator sees trifles that ordinary people just ignore. For example, the girl's unintended action like humming. Also, the cat says that he is not interested in his owner’s job, and I guess the film tries to tell the viewers that it doesn’t matter what kind of job a person has, it is the person that matters. Although he said he does not care about her job, he still concerns about her when he sees the girl opening heavy metal door and going outside alone. Furthermore, he is in love with the girl, instead of viewing them as different species especially when he describes her with her coat on.

I first saw this animation two years ago. Whenever I see it, it leaves an impression on me that last long. The film starts quietly and ends quietly, like someone has thrown a pebble into a pond and disappeared. The calm wave in the pond remains for a while. The animation effectively depicts loneliness and sadness that people feel in everyday life, and warm feeling that the girl and the cat are sharing. Although life can be sometimes harsh and painful, you will be able to enjoy your life if there is someone who can share your heart. We always say "I am screwed," or "my life sucks," and so on. But we wake up in the morning, have meals, meet friends, and feel happy. It means we still like the world, like Chobi and the girl say at the end of the animation.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Madame Tutli-Putli

Click here for Part 2

Madame Tutli-Putli
Written & directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, Canada, 2007. Approx. 17 minutes.

Madame Tutli-Putli opens on an image that recurs twice more later in the film: moths drawn to a bright light. We are then introduced to Madame Tutli-Putli herself, a thin women with big eyes who appears to be crushed by the weight of her luggage. She boards a train, and for the first few minutes of the film she is subject to the sort of uncomfortable train ride that everyone dreads – old men playing chess glare at her, a young child is unfriendly, and the lecherous man across from her makes unwelcome sexual advances.

But as night falls, the slightly comic atmosphere completely fades away in favor of a dark, foreboding one. Madame Tutli-Putli is the only passenger left awake when the train stops for the night, and therefore the only one to notice when a band of mysterious creatures boards the train and releases a mysterious green gas. She awakes later to find that all of her possessions, and all of the other passengers, have gone missing. Madame Tutli-Putli runs through the empty, now fast-moving train, breathless and terrified, until she comes upon the moth that she saw earlier. The moth flies into a bright light and transforms into a human-esque figure; then the film ends on a shot of a silent forest.

What I loved about Madame Tutli-Putli is that it manages to be completely engrossing for 17 minutes without a single word of dialogue. This can be attributed to several factors, but the most important one is the quality of the animation. The film is beautiful and intricately detailed, from the corridors of the train down to the dainty gloves on Madame Tutli-Putli’s hands. It’s also very atmospheric, beginning with warm, dusty colors that evoke the title character’s melancholy and ending with cooler colors that better reflect her uncertainty and fear. Although the film was actually made with stop-motion animation, the movement is usually so seamless it almost looks computer-animated.

Interestingly, some of the film is computer-animated. All of the human eyes on the puppets are real human eyes, filmed and then digitally-inserted onto the puppets. Madame Tutli-Putli’s eyes are essential to the character; she does not express herself in words, so the subtleties of her face must be able to convey everything she’s feeling. The eyes humanize Madame Tutli-Putli and allow us to empathize with her in a way that animated eyes cannot.

Madame Tutli-Putli was nominated for the Best Animated Short at the 2008 Academy Awards, but did not win, which is unfortunate for the filmmakers considering it took them over 2 years just to shoot the film, and even more time to build the sets and then do the editing and special effects.

As for the story itself, I’m not sure exactly what to think. The final image of the moth-human in the light indicates to me that Madame Tutli-Putli has died, in which case I guess the train would symbolize her life. But what are the creatures that invade the train, and what happened to all the other passengers? What exactly happened after the green gas was released? Somebody help me out here please!

La Lettre

La Lettre (The Letter)
Directed by Michel Gondry, France, 1998. 10:19 minutes.

La Lettre, which marked Gondry's first attempt at dialogue, was commissioned by Canal +, a French television program, as a part of short film series broadly titled "En attendant l'an 2000" (Waiting for the Year 2000).

The film is, for the most part, very simple. Two brothers have a conversation in hushed voices, during which they discuss the imminent New Year, photography, and the younger brother’s love for his classmate, Aurélie. The dynamic between the brothers is typically...well...brotherly. The older brother (who I thought was strikingly reminiscent of Buzz McAllister in Home Alone) is gangly and appears to have just begun to develop a smear of a mustache. He makes Stéphane feel insecure for not yet having kissed a girl, pressuring him to make his move on Aurélie before the year 2000 and dramatically making out with the air to demonstrate the proper kissing technique.

The interesting part of the film (which is also where Gondry’s style really peeks through) begins when Stéphane’s brother goes to bed, and Stéphane, waiting for his photo to finish developing, begins to drift off. He then has a vivid surrealist dream in which he is at a New Year’s party and everyone is chanting for him to kiss Aurélie. But a giant camera is where his head should be, and as the two get closer to each other, he bumps heads (cameras?) with her and knocks her to the ground. To add insult to injury, then the Eiffel Tower falls on him. It’s every kid’s biggest fear, a fear so consuming that even viewers well beyond pre-adolescence cringe with embarrassment of the I’m-so-glad-that-wasn’t-me variety. And as for the symbolism, it’s obvious: Stéphane has been distancing himself from social situations by passively taking pictures of people and events (e.g. Aurélie) instead of actively participating (e.g. kissing her).

The next day, Stéphane races over to Aurélie’s house to pick up a letter she’s written for him, certain that in it she’s confessed her mutual love for him. Tragically, however, Aurélie has written that it’s Stéphane’s brother she “fancies,” and the film ends with Stéphane sadly removing the pictures of her from his wall.

This film piqued my interest partly because of the dream sequence, but also because of the photography theme—specifically, the use of negatives. Aurélie’s image projected on the wall of Stéphane’s hallway is obviously a negative, but she appears to him in his dream as a negative image—the only negative image in the entire dream--as well. And finally, at the end as Aurélie’s voice reads the letter addressed to Stéphane, there is a sweeping view of houses, which appear as negatives until just before the last line of the letter, “Enjoy your vacation.” I’m coming at this as a Lit major, so I can only come up with a nauseatingly corny interpretation: that Stéphane’s image of and love for Aurélie is, visually and literally, undeveloped. But what do you all think it means? Does it mean anything or is the use of negative images a purely aesthetic addition to the film? Or better yet, does it have to mean anything?

Easy on the Eyes

Written and Directed by Nick Wenger
Photographed and Edited by Manny Knowles
Total running time: 5:55

Easy on the Eyes is a story about a man who just can't seem to help looking at other women. Finally, his partner is fed up with it and removes his eyes. In searching for the hospital the next day (his eyes in his hands to help him navigate the route) he continues to look at other women. He again learns his lesson by losing his eyes completely. The short ends with his return home, defeated, and his lovely partner takes him inside.

I like this short because it takes a very common set up to any normal narrative and puts a twist on it. The overall message is similar to the normal narrative - that you should appreciate what you have. However the journey taken to make this realization a reality is unique because the metaphor isn't needed in this presentation. Once his eyes were taken out, his eyes were actively and literally distracting him from what he really wanted (and as he wanders the street, what he really wanted was obviously a hospital).

Whats important to note is that, aside from the occasional grumble, this short has no dialogue. The narrative is executed through other means such as body language or facial expression. Music in this film plays a large role, as it represents a growing curiosity, for example, when the man looked down the waitress's blouse. The scene where the woman is about to scoop out his eyes is made even creepier with the music to accompany it. This curious tone is maintained in his journey, as a flute or some wind instrument continues to deter him from keeping on the straight path.

And at the end, when the flute is the indicator of all his wanderings throughout the film, the music almost turns on itself to demonstrate that what he was really looking for all along was the one he was already with - the one who scooped out his eyes...

Three in the Afternoon

Three in the Afternoon
dir: Travis Boles
posted on youtube: April 07, 2006

Three in the Afternoon begins with Corey and John playing a Star Wars based video game. Travis, their friend, mocks the game. They accuse of him hating Star Wars, which he denies. A mysterious package arrives on their front door. The case is opened, and contains three light-sabers. John comments, “they look just like the toys.” Much to their surprise, when they turn them on, they are real. They go outside to an empty tennis court, to try out their new toys. Trouble occurs when they threatened by three young women with red lightsabers. However, they are not actually villains, they were just displeased that their lightsabers were red. One of the young men discovers that there is a way to change the color of the lightsaber blade, and all is well.

What impressed me about the film was its level of production quality. Instead of just using the plastic blades the lightsabers came with, through special effects, they created a blade that actually looks like a beam of light. The fight scenes took time and effort to choreograph. While the fight scene is not incredibly intense, the characters are in their twenties and only received the lightsabers moments before, so they would not have had time to train and learn complex moves. The simple choreography worked for the type of the characters depicted.

Another element of the film I appreciated was that the characters did not show off their knowledge of Star Wars. While there were a few quotes from the movie, no one gave a detailed history of the lightsaber, nor did anyone give a comprehensive lecture on the construction and inner workings of the lightsaber. This demonstrates that they were aiming for the film to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

The film is entertaining because it taps into wish fulfillment. Almost every Star Wars fan, at one point or another has wanted to use a lightsaber. In watching the protagonists play with their lightsabers, the audience is able to vicariously act out their collective fantasy through the characters on screen. The story also sets up a sequel in the tradition of Buck Rodgers and the Saturday morning serials that Star Wars was inspired by. Overall, it is an amusing, captivating story; one in which the special effects serve the story and further the plot, unlike many big-budget action films, which appear to be a large number of special effects action scenes strung together.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Metallica, ... And Justice For All (1988)
Directed by Bill Pope and Michael Salomon
Debut on January 20th, 1989, 7:45 minutes.
Based on the film & novel Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
Taken from Metallica - The Videos: 1988 - 2004 DVD.

After seeing La Jetee and 12 Monkeys, I decided to further explore the relationship between shorts and features. From what I've seen, shorts usually develop into feature films. In the case of 12 Monkeys, Terry Gilliam took elements of La Jetee -- time travel, dreams of a woman, inevitable death -- and incorporated them into a longer interpretation of the short. But with this music video, the short condenses a feature film into a seven and a half minutes without (miraculously) losing the depth and poignancy of the original film.

Dalton Trumbo wrote an anti-war novel named Johnny Got His Gun in 1938, and was published a year later in 1939. Yes, an anti-war novel written during a pro-war period of World War II. He received some criticism for his work (and hate mail), but still received a National Book Award later that year. Consequently, in 1947, he was blacklisted along with other writers, directors, and screenwriters that created the infamous Hollywood Ten.

For those who have never had the pleasure (or horror) of reading the novel, it is about a man named Joe Bonham who becomes completely paralyzed after losing all his limbs and face when he steps into a landmine during World War I. Told in a jarring, disjointed first-person POV, we learn about Joe's past, his current situation, and how he tries to contact the outside world without any use of his mouth or arms: by bashing his head on his pillow in the rhythmic notations of Morse Code. And Metallica's music video conveys this story brilliantly well in a short amount of time.

The music video to Metallica's "One" from their critically acclaimed album ...And Justice For All (1998) tells the story of Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun in two ways: lyrically and visually. Penned by James Hetfield, lead singer and rhythm guitarist, the lyrics parallel Joe's thoughts from the novel, written in first-person and describe his feelings and thoughts of the situation. At times the songs blatantly take repeated phrases from Trumbo's 1938 novel, such as "I can't remember anything" and "nothing is real but pain now." To further connect the song with the story, the music video utilizes clips from the 1971 film adaptation that Trumbo directed himself.

Mixing band clips with film clips create a high risk of detracting from the power of the story itself. But with Metallica's One, this is not the case. The setting of an undisclosed warehouse does not distract from the film's images of a hospital, warfare, and soldiers. In addition, the band's black-and-white shots correlate well with the film's own B&W clips. When the band's shots either overlay or fade in/out of film clips, they work well together, like they are from the same movie. In addition, because the band is in black-and-white, the viewer pays much more attention to the color film clips, which consequently contain galvanizing lines of dialogue. What works so well with the movie clips are the shots made of the band's performance. Tight close-ups of them playing with precision and their expressions during their performance add to the intensity and depth of the story itself: the menacing growl James makes as he sings, the sorrowful look on Kirk's face, the wincing Lars does as he drums, the pursed lips Jason sports.

If anything, the main aspect that adds to this music video is, of course, the song itself. The machine-gun intro with the melodic rhythm opener followed by lead guitar's sorrowful overlay, twin harmonizing guitars, the power chords, the progression of tempo from slow to fast, the hold of an E chord while the drums double-kick foreshadowing what is to come-- and then the switch into the ratta-ta-ta later half, with chug-chug of the guitars in time with the double-bass drum kicks, the cry-whine of the guitar solo and the harmonized guitars into it's ungodly fast ending. Already from the novel and the movie I'm left speechless by the image of Joe slamming his head repeatedly into the pillow in the rhythm of Morse Code. But add onto that the song's chug-chug riff and double bass drums, the image of James' face screaming "darkness, imprisoning me" over Joe's bashing head while the nurse looks on -- and I'm pretty much beyond galvanized.

This music video I feel is a successful adaptation of a feature made into a short film. Even with music and band shots, they didn't detract from the story, but mixed well with it. Personally, this music video actually conveys Trumbo's novel much better than his own film adaptation did. The film itself is long and trying at times, with scenes that could have been cut to reduce filler. The video not only reflects the story Trumbo wrote but the messages and themes he conveyed. It actually leaves me more speechless at the end than the movie itself does.

But go see the movie once you're done watching the music video -- and read the book if you haven't! Best to try them out, then come back to this music video, and see what your thoughts are. Until then, I'm going to go watch this short film one more time... then go play it on my guitar. And Guitar Hero 3.


Directed by Ben Dodd, UK, 2008, running time: 1:34.

This single shot, Hitchcockian film, tells a tragic story in from end to beginning. We see what appears to be a vengeful romantic murder, but as time rewinds we slowly see it started with best intentions and was simply a tragic accident. The woman tried to surprise her lover on his birthday and accidentally knocks him through the glass of the shower, killing him.

This film proves that you don’t need a lot of screen time to tell a story or impact an audience. There were several things about this film that caught my attention. First and foremost, the ability to tell a full story in a single (and beautiful) shot is riveting. The camera dives, swoops, pans, tilts, and seems to have no limit to what it can do. The ability to succeed with such ambitious camera work, while ultimately playing in reverse is truly a technical feat.

The film has a definite Hitchcock feel to it, but also plays with the assumptions we associate with film noir (crime, sexual motivation, etc). The look of the film creates that film noir feel se we assume we have already solved a murder, but the twist comes at the beginning of the story. The music also adds a great dramatic element to the piece. Ultimately the film is ambitious, successful, and entertaining because there is a lot going on in a condensed space. We see traces of a great filmmaker, and unmistakable genre, brilliant camera work, and a flipping of traditional chronological storytelling.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Lunch Date

The Lunch Date
Adam Davidson (1989)

This Oscar-winning short film tells the story of a woman whose goal is to catch a train. The story is simple and is done with little dialogue. It starts off with a wealthy white woman, hurrying through a train station. The audience sees that she has tickets, and therefore understands that the character’s goal will be to board a train. In the first minute of the film, much about her character is revealed. The opening sequence shows many homeless people in the station. The director makes a point of highlighting the homeless. One man is looking for change in the ticket machines, and one walks in front of the woman, almost eerily close to the lens. The viewer is now forced to recognize these people, while the woman herself noticeably ignores them. Next, a hurried man bumps into the woman, causing her purse to fall to the ground. He attempts to help her gather the strewn items, but she snaps at him, shoves her items into her purse, and runs to her train. Of course, she misses it.

This beginning is extremely telling of the woman’s character. Because it is a short film, there is no time for extensive character building. However, it is unnecessary. We as the audience learn everything we need to know in the first minute and 30 seconds of the film. We understand that she is a wealthy woman, obviously nervous to be in the station alone. She also is very suspicious of people around her. Finally, there are underlying racial issues. The man who bumps into her in the station and causes her bag to drop is black. He is dressed in a business suit and clearly wants to help her. She reacts as if her were trying to steal from her.

Knowing that her goal is to catch a train, we must now wait with the character for the next one to arrive. Standing on the platform, the woman realizes that her wallet is missing. This is important for what is to follow. Everything in this story happens for a reason. If she were to have a wallet, she could catch a cab, or figure out some other way to get where she wants to go. But now she must stay in the station. Her next decision is to go get some lunch to bide her time. She picks up a salad and pays for it with some spare change she is carrying. She finds a table, puts her shopping bags down, and goes back for a fork. When she returns, a homeless man is sitting at what she believes is her booth. He is eating her salad. Again, this is where the story builds itself well. She had to have lost her wallet in order for this to make sense. She cannot go buy another salad now so she begins to eat off the homeless man’s plate. He shows her hospitality by buying her a cup of coffee. Of course, the end twist is that her booth was the next one down and that she in fact was eating the homeless man’s food.

When she realizes her mistake, she laughs for the first time in the film. However, the key to the story is after she leaves the restaurant. The director puts a homeless man again in the frame and she walks right past like she did in the beginning. There is no change in the way she treats them. This is what makes this story so interesting. Usually in a situation like this, we would see her acknowledge the homeless man in the end, like she had some big change of heart over the way people should be treated. However, even after a man much less fortunate than she, shared his meal with her and bought her a cup of coffee, she is unable to return any gesture of kindness or learn anything in the end.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


Directed by Derrick Comedy, United States, 2006. 3:36

Derrick Comedy is a New York based group of professional comedians Dominic Dierkes, Donald Glober, and DC Pierson, and filmmakers Dan Eckman and Meggie McFadden. They have produced 38 short films and are currently working on their first full length feature. Their 2006 short Daughters is about Special Agent Tom Rogers and his quest to save all his daughters.

The film is a send up of suspense thrillers with convoluted plots. It starts out normally: a special agent is reunited with his kidnapped daughter, but his job is not over yet as he must still defeat the terrorists who plan to bomb New York City. However, just as he makes a plan with his fellow agent, he receives a phone call telling him that the terrorists have his...other daughter. From there, Rogers unveils the complicated web of thousands of daughters he has planted all over the world.

The first thing that impressed me about this short film is its smart writing. It's well thought out and tight. It builds from a simple cliche plot into pure comic confusion. There are lots of clever lines along the way.

"That was my wife."
"She has my daughter."
"Terrorists have my wife!"

Rogers even reveals that his partner is his daughter.
"I can't shoot you. You're my daugther."
"I'm older than you."
"I was in a mission that involved time travel."
"I'm a man."
"The mission went horribly wrong.

And the film comes to a quick finish with Rogers' revelation of why he has so many daughters.

The film creatively uses non-diegetic music to build a pattern. Whenever Rogers explains the current situation, there is a grand, high energy score. However, when he reveals he has another daughter, the music becomes slow and dramatic. The film switches off between the two styles frequently, using the abruptness of the switches along with their repetition to create humor.

Shot-wise, the film perfectly apes the style of spy thrillers. There are frequent cuts and dramatic zooms. At the emotional moments, close ups are used. If you watch the film on mute, you would not know the film is a goofy send up. At a couple of points, the screen breaks in half with one square depicting one part of the action and the other square depicting another part. Films usually only show action from one angle, which is a challenge for most directors as they must decide what is the best possible angle for every single line of dialogue.

The film also utilizes the classic comedy duo: the clown and the straight man. Rogers' partner is confused and becomes riled up over the ludicrousness of Rogers and his revelations of multiple daughters. One character is the joke and the other is the sane, reality-bound reaction to the joke.

The film is like a lot of other short films: it's expresses only one idea. It is not something that could become a feature length. It's an idea that is best shown in one 5 minute short and would not fit well in another medium. It is smart, entertaining, and to the point, making it a great short film.

Trilogy of Terror

TRILOGY OF TERROR (Amelia Episode)
Directed by Dan Curtis, USA, 1975, approx. 25 minutes (entire movie 72 minutes)

Arguably one of the most famous short horror films to come out of the 1970’s, Trilogy of Terror was powered by the writing of Richard Matheson (a prolific author and screenwriter who penned I am Legend among many other things), the directing of Dan Curtis (probably best known for his work with Dark Shadows), and the on-screen appearance of a murderous, sputtering, demon-possessed doll (some 13 years before “Chucky”).

Trilogy of Terror appeared on ABC for the first time in March 1975, and featured three original stories, all acted by Karen Black. The first two segments, entitled “Julie” and “Millicent and Therese,” while interesting and creepy, never quite generate the sense of explosive power of the final segment, “Amelia,” which features the aforementioned doll, specifically a Zuni hunting fetish doll which comes to life and stalks Black (Amelia) throughout her apartment. In this way, the first two episodes soften the audience up for the final act.

The story begins with Amelia at home with the fetish doll, a gift for her new boyfriend Arthur (an anthropology professor). Amelia calls her mom to break their usual Friday night date which displeases mom. Amelia, who reads out all we need to know about the doll through the phone (including the solemn warning to not let a gold chain about its waist break) then proceeds to set the expected in motion, when she sets the doll down, accidentally loosening the chain, as wanders off to take a shower. She comes back to find the doll missing, heads into the kitchen to discover one of the knives gone, and then eventually comes face to face with the angry demon doll, fully possessed and in full hunting spirit. Amelia tries a variety of methods (beating, drowning, stabbing) to dispatch the little indefatigable gremlin, but only manages to get rid of it when she chucks it into the oven. Problem is, the evil spirit is impervious to fire, which she discovers when she opens things up to check on the damage.

There’s an amazing sense of horror that the filmmakers are able to provoke with their limited ABC budget through the clever use of a claustrophobic set (we’re stuck in that apartment throughout), the aural effect of both Amelia’s screaming and the creature’s incessant growls, and a series of intense images. Among the latter are the dripping-wet doll clambering out of the bathtub with a knife securely tucked into its fangs, its kitchen knife flashing and probing under doorways, and the obligatory camera angles from a doll’s eye perspective chasing Amelia through her apartment. The most effective image, though, apparently suggested by Black herself, is the ending one. Amelia, who has been possessed by the evil hunting spirit, has called mom to come over to the apartment, and is patiently waiting in the middle of the darkened room. The camera slowly closes in on Amelia, who is crouched on the floor, stabbing a much larger kitchen knife into the floor again and again, until her face fills the frame. At this point, her mouth opens and the audience sees a fresh set of sharp, very familiar fangs.

The effect of this film is incalculable but significant - a short cruise through the IMDB or Amazon pages on Trilogy of Terror reveals a host of comments along the lines of “this film scared the bejesus out me as a kid and I’ve never forgotten it.” Amazon even offers a Zuni doll replica (for only $44!) to relive your favorite moments from the movie. While I don’t remember if I specifically saw this when it first came out, I actually remember quite well the school bus ride of the next morning and the bleary eyes of many a fellow student who couldn’t sleep after seeing it.

The 1970’s seemed to be a prime time for horror (both in the theaters and on TV), and there are websites devoted to listing these out and recounting them. There was something about that postwar period, right after Vietnam, when the nation's filmmakers captured a sort of national angst, and it was readily available to a large percentage of the population even on TV. Much of the horror of that time involves possession and the devil, and Trilogy of Terror is very much about that, presenting a dark portrait of a battle fought and lost.

I suspect that I didn’t see Trilogy of Terror when it first came out, because I had already been too badly frightened by another TV horror movie which aired in January of that year, titled Satan’s Triangle, which featured a boat-load of passengers getting bumped off by the devil in the Bermuda Triangle. It also featured a very similar ending, of a smiling face revealing murderous intent. I would have reviewed that if it was available and if I had the courage, but I believe Trilogy of Terror is a great representative of a decade rich in horror shorts.