Saturday, October 04, 2008

George Lucas in Love

George Lucas in Love (1999)
Director: Joe Nussbaum
USA, 8:45

Awards won:
2000 Deauville Film Festival: Canal+ Short Film Award
2000 Florida Film Festival: Audience Award
2000 San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival: Audience Award
2000 U.S. Comedy Arts Film Festival: Best Short Film
2004 Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards: Pioneer Award

We already watched George Lucas in Love in class, but here's a quick summary: Young George Lucas, senior film student at USC, hits writer's block on his script about a farmer and his bad crop of space wheat (or space corn or space wheats). In a parody of both Star Wars and Shakespeare in Love, he overcomes his writer's block as several recognizable characters and events happen to make appearances on his campus.

George Lucas in Love has five awards (that I know of). The two Audience Awards are a good hint that it's a fan favorite and has mass appeal. That brings me right to my main point: What is the ceiling for a short film? It's an especially important question for those of us who aspire to be filmmakers.

Joe Nussbaum could hardly have made out better. The film was released stand-alone on VHS in 2000 and hit #1 on's sales list. It also came out on DVD with a couple of bonus features in 2001. A short film getting its own major release - not in anthologies or collections - is virtually unheard of.

The film became his calling card in Hollywood - George Lucas is a confirmed fan - and eventually led Nussbaum to direct the poorly received Sleepover. Don't worry. That wasn't the end of his career. He has also directed American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile, Sydney White, and is prepping to direct a film called B.F.F.

That path to success was viable in 1999, before video on the internet was a reality. Is it still open today? Considering we spent a week discussing the consistently large DC Shorts Film Festival, the festival route is still the best way to get your name out. Instead of competing with all the noise on the internet and being forced to promote yourself instead of your work, your film already has a guaranteed audience: people who want to see films good enough to get into the festival.

In other words, it's easy for agents, producers, and talent scouts to go to film festivals that have pre-selected the films most likely to impress them. They have better things to do than trawl across YouTube hoping to find something they can sell.

And what of the stand-alone DVD release? Maybe a different kind of DVD release. Now that anyone can make their own DVDs, it's easier than ever to distribute your calling card to agents and producers in Hollywood. But it's not being released to the general public. There won't be another George Lucas in Love. Not when there's all that noise on the internet to distract them. People are probably not going to pay money for a ten minute film.

That allows me to change the subject once more: If the ceiling for the films themselves is to win awards and accolades for the filmmakers, what is the ceiling for the filmmakers? Is it the ability to gain financing for more short films in the future? To make short films for a living? If that's the filmmaker's choice. Just remember: You'll be making commercials and music videos for hire. The general public is not going to rush to the theaters to see or pay money to buy a DVD of the latest Guy Maddin niche genre film. Name recognition and mass appeal will not necessarily follow. And if it does, guess what? Some Hollywood producer will offer you so much money that you'll have no choice but to take the Hollywood plunge.

And then what about the career in features? The glamorous Hollywood life? The big explosions? The chance to punch Michael Bay for popularizing those big explosions? Maybe you won't like it. Maybe Los Angeles just isn't your style and you want to go back to directing commercials and making art school films or movies that cause audiences at Telluride to erupt in anger.

Whatever your preference, I argue that Hollywood will always remain the ceiling - and the dream - for every filmmaker. No baseball player signs a professional contract with the intention of topping out at Triple-A. Everyone has the same dream: Make it to the majors. Filmmakers will always have new stories to tell, and only Hollywood offers them enough support to make their narrative dreams come true.

June the Pillow

Directed by Kim, Hyun-Joo
Total Running Time: 8 minutes

Video Link (English Subtitled):
(If you wait for a few second, the video will be played.)

2003 Women Digital Contents Competition President Award

2004 Brazil Anima Mundi
2004 Holland Animation Film Festival
2004 Shinchon Art Festival International Student Film Festival
2004 New York International Children's Film Festival

June the Pillow shows a child's attachment for an object and a happening caused by the attachment. Julie has an imaginary pillow friend named June. She draws a smile on the pillow and takes it with her wherever she goes and for whatever she does. The day before Julie's camping, it rains heavily and her mother tells her not to go to the camp. So disappointed, Julie cries in her room and dreams about her playing with June. On the camping day, she sneaks out from her mother and goes camping with her pillow friend. When her teacher, Miss Baker, sees Julie with her pillow, she tells her that she should not bring it to the camp because it is not adequate. But nothing can separate Julie from staying with June. The next day, Julie goes out to draw pictures with her friends but comes back to her camp to get her crayon. And there she sees her teacher resting her head on Julie's pillow. Seeing her June with Miss Baker, Julie first frowns, but soon feels happy to see the teacher liking her pillow.

Julie's strong attachment to the pillow reminds me of Linus Van Pelt's blanket in Snoopy by Charles M. Schulz. Linus always keeps his blanket with him, and if the blanket is not around him, he becomes extremely uneasy. I once had a doll and I had to have the doll with me in order to go to bed. I even took the doll in my bag to my family trip no matter what my mom and dad said.

As I was watching June the Pillow, I had a question: what is a grown-up? And I came up with an answer: losing subjectivity. In childhood, children cross the boundary between reality and imagination, and they can be friends with whatever is around them. With their new friends, children develop imagination. And the process of being adult means not only learning social convention that society requires, but also losing subjectivity of childhood. Usually, mothers and teachers are the ones who require their children to choose objectivity over subjectivity from childhood and become socialized with others.

To children, everything around them becomes their friends. Especially things that exist near them in the darkness become more special, like a pillow for they make children feel protective. However, grown-ups consider it immature or peculiar to be attached to a thing, as you can see the way the mother and the teacher treat Julie in June the Pillow. Adults, presented as Julie's mother and Miss Baker, the teacher, all had similar memories in their childhood like Julie, but they just do not remember them and see children’s act as strange.

Julie could have been separated from her June because of the camping. And her teacher makes her feel ashamed of bringing the pillow with her to the camp. Miss Baker views Julie and her pillow through the eye of a socialized adult, and tries to fit Julie to the law of adults. However, Julie and the teacher come to understand each other at the end of the film. Resting her head on Julie's pillow reminds Miss Baker of her childhood and makes her to realize how much she has changed since her childhood. She also remembers her childhood attachment, a blanket, through Julie, and they finally have a connection. We always think children should learn from adult, but in this case, Julie, a child, teaches Miss Baker, a grown-up, to bring back memories of her childhood. After all, what we need in this world is not objectivity filled with complicated theories or regulations, but subjectivity of childhood.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Matt Damon Rips Sarah Palin

This recent CBS exclusive interview of Matt Damon which caught fire several weeks ago in light of Presidential nominee John McCain’s appointment of Sarah Palin as the Vice Presidential candidate has permanently found its place in American popular culture. Over 2 million people saw this interview on YouTube. The piece works as a standalone short film because of its mass appeal and the candid testimony of a hailed Hollywood celebrity.

The actual content of Damon’s spiel is not the issue of concern. To the average viewer, Damon’s fighting words should be considered of no greater value as compared to the already unreliable voices of the liberal institution of loud-mouth Hollywood which includes the likes of Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Angelina Jolie.

But the reality of the culture established by YouTube proves that popularity is often a prerequisite to getting one’s video noticed. Sometimes this notion of popularity is earned by the filmmakers themselves after they have generated a fan base. For instance, the “Leave Britney Alone” girl and the “What’s Next” guy have secured a large fan base and even managed to establish cyber-celebrity status. But Damon is already a brand name. And while he may lack credibility, he is far more interesting than your average Jane Smith voicing her opinion.

The most compelling aspect of the film is that it occurs in one single take. The camera never moves once. For a medium that was established for the purpose of motion pictures, is it feasible to even label Damon’s interview a successful short film? Or should we just remember the piece for its interesting sound bytes (i.e. Damon considering McCain’s VP selection as from a ‘bad Disney movie’)?

In the future, when people do a web-search for Matt Damon’s interview concerning his views on Sarah Palin they won’t be looking for radio clips or press releases because it’s the video that they will remember. It can be discussed and argued that maybe such videos devalue the short film form by diluting the art form to merely a static source of celebrity gossip. But look for these videos to increase in volume and popularity over the web as many celebrities are finding the ease with which they can channel such opinions to an infinite number of people.

This also establishes a dangerous precedent. It proves that even though the internet may seem a level playing field of exposure for one’s opinions or art, a person’s popularity in the physical world is inherently far more likely to carry them far into cyberspace. Can you say Paris Hilton?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

BMW: The Ultimate Campaign Machine

BMW Series: Star
Directed by Guy Richie, USA , 2002, 9 minutes

Star is one of the eight short films that composed the ad campaign called The Hire by BMW (USA) in 2002 (more about this later). The film tells the story of a manager who has decided to get revenge on his employer, the Superstar (played by Madonna), for treating him badly. The manager has hired a driver (played by Clive Owen) for the Superstar to be driven to the venue that she has scheduled for that particular day. Star does fall for the trap that the manager has placed; Madonna (thinking that Clive Owen is one of her many drivers) asks the driver to lose the car carrying her manager and body guards. To this order, Clive Owen shows off all the features and capabilities of the M5 (the BMW model used in this particular film) The result of his driving skills allows for them to not only loose the car carrying the body guards, to get to the venue on time, but also to carry out the manager’s revenge plan due to the fact that Star has pissed herself during Clive Owen’s driving. In the end the paparazzi have a field day.
Star appears in the first season of BMW short film series called the Hire. The collection of eight shorts was distributed via internet only (on the BMW website) starting with John Frankenheimer's Ambush and continued with the rest of the series including Star in 2001-2002. These “commercial vignettes” were so highly praised by Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, the New York Times and especially the viewers, that the films ended up in a DVD distributed at only certain dealerships. Unfortunately, BWM had to pull the plug on the DVD since the actor Forrest Whitaker disputed that the films had been made for internet view only as stated in his contract. However, the demand for the films was so great that BMW decided to release another DVD which gave viewers the links to go see the films online and even released a second season. (If you would like to read more about this campaign please visit these websites
The Hire is a campaign with a groundbreaking style of advertising: the creation of short films that does not mention the brand name. In the case of Star, the car stands out by itself in the parking, and the car becomes the catalyst for the plot, but bold letters indicating BMW: the Ultimate Driving Machine never show up on the screen. The same can be said of Madonna. The film doesn’t introduce her in the credits in the same way that Clive Owen is introduced. The point that I’m getting at is that this particular campaign (and especially this short) plays around with the idea of star driven power. What makes a star a star? Is it performance? Is it quality? All these questions can be answered for both the car and Madonna. And as a result of this play on perceptions/ meaning of words such as star, I believe that this short fits this category of short with stars very well.
The ironic factor of the film being directed by Madonna’s husband Guy Ritchie is one of the reasons why I like this short a lot. The other reasons are Clive Owen and the punchy story line. The main punch is delivered at the end when the audience’s curiosity is answered as to how the manager got his revenge. However, there are other miny punches throughout the whole film that make it highly entertaining; the music adds to the viewer enjoying the ride, Owen’s changes in tone of voice and facial expression allow for the flow of the narrative to continue and finally the way that Madonna ends up being a pinball in the car enhance this simple story of revenge.
Finally, the film allows through its punchy story to not only have the manager get his revenge but it also brings a reality check for the star. It is as if she crash landed (literally) back into being a human. This is because the technique, in which star is portrayed, of having the narrator saying something like “her million dollar voice” and having the star cough, would not have been as effective in a short story for example. The film in this way makes what the narrator is saying of the star having blue eyes and strong hands and not being able to see them makes star as if she were something that humans (as the viewers) are not able to see. That is, not until she lands abruptly at the venue. Once she has been put in a position where star shows that she is human, then the ride is over.
I have seen most of the short films in the BMW series and personally believe that I enjoy this one the most because as a viewer you can take the ride over and over and it will always be really good. It’s like a Pixar short film but just with a really nice car and a really hot driver.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Antoine et Colette

Dir: François Truffaut
30 minutes, 1962

Source: The Adventures of Antoine Doinel (Criterion Box Set)
Original Source: L'amour a vingt ans

This sequel to Truffaut's classic 400 Blows originally appeared in an anthology of shorts titled Love at Twenty, which also included works by Shintao Ishihara, Marcel Ophuls, Renzo Rossellini, and Andrzej Wajda.

In this 30 minute examination of young, awkward, unrequited love, we catch up with Antoine Doinel 3 years after The 400 Blows. He is now 17 and completely separated from his parents. He lives alone in an apt in Paris and works at a record production factory. Nothing glamorous, Antoine lives a simple yet oddly romantic life. He's still only 17 though, and playing adult isn't as easy as he might want it to be.

The opening suckers me in, regardless of my affection for Tuffaut's work. If I could be anywhere it'd likely be Paris and if I could be anywhen, I'd probably pick Paris in the 60s. It's the morning and Antoine rolls out of bed and in true French New Wave fashion fishes a half smoked cigarette out of an ashtray and stands on his balcony overlooking a busy Parisian street. Bring on the romantic troubles of our 1960s anti-hero.

He falls for a girl he sees at a concert and immediately begins trying to run into her constantly. They become friends. Her parents like Antoine. She treats him like a friend. Antoine grows a little impulsive brought on by her 'mixed signals' and even takes up residence in the hotel across the street from her family's residence. While at first this seems a little much, it occurs to me that with enough freedom, my 17 yr old crushes could have taken me to such levels. Awkward homeroom exchanges and half assed phone calls made under the auspices of missing homework assignments come from the same place that Antoine's decisions come from.
I'll leave you with these essential pieces of the plot and not ruin the end. Though I'm sure you can infer whether or not boy gets girl.

From a filmmaking point of view, Truffaut constructed this film in his usual Nouvelle Vague fashion... fast and loose and vibrant and full of affection for the characters and the medium.
The editing is logical, but sometimes rough around the edges, the sound goes away and allows the soundtrack to let us get the 'feel' of a conversation. We really don't need to hear what is being said, we get the point without words. A song at a concert informs the editing of Antoine and Colette stealing glances at each other. A newsreel of a downhill skiier taking a header while racing is juxtaposed against Antoine's sexual advances.

My favorite filmmaking choice is during scenes with the couple in concerts - the frame shrinks to isolate them. Almost like irising in, but not quite. The frame itself reduces and encompasses Antoine and Colette. There is no practical reason for this, as closer shots are in the same sequence. Seems to this viewer that it's to make us aware of the large negative space around them. They are alone in a crowd, they are the most important people in their little world, in our little world, in the 30 minutes of excitement, frustration and disappointment we live through with Antoine.

Sometimes I miss being a teenager. Thanks to Antoine, this week I don't.

Though this was originally intended to be my Classic post, i'd argue that Jean Pierre Leaud is a star, portraying Antoine in 4 features and this short (talk about sequels and franchises), not to mention appearing in about 30 films with directors such as Godard, Bertolucci, Breillat, and Assayas.

James Dean/Paul Newman Screen Test

Screen Test with James Dean and Paul Newman for "East of Eden"

When I woke up on Saturday, my roommate informed me that Paul Newman had died. The news rattled me quite a bit. My room is decorated with pictures of Steve McQueen, James Dean, and Paul Newman. While James Dean is my favorite actor, Paul Newman comes in a close second. I first saw Cool Hand Luke when I was in eighth grade, and was mesmerized by those blue eyes and that attitude, like millions of women before me. I saw many of his other films over the years.

In this rare screen test from East of Eden James Dean had already been cast as Cal Trask, but Warner Brothers was still searching for someone to play Aaron (Cal’s brother) opposite Dean. Dean and Newman are asked to look at the camera, as well in other directions, in order for the casting director to obtain a better sense of how they look together. The most notable moment in the screen test is when Dean asks Newman to kiss him. Newman’s response can be interpreted in two ways. One is “can’t here,” as in Newman would be willing to kiss Dean, but not in front of studio executives, or “can’t hear,” as in Newman could not understand what Dean was asking.

Dean and Newman had known each other at the Actor’s Studio in New York, and when both of them were at Warner Brothers, they resumed their friendship. The situation became a bit complicated when Dean, who was bisexual, indicated that he wanted his relationship with Newman to be more than a friendship, at which point Newman, who was heterosexual and hated the idea that anyone would think he was homosexual, put on the brakes. I do not know at one point during the relationship the screen test was conducted.

To me, the screen test represents a classic James Dean moment. He was always pushing people, and trying to get a reaction. Dean delighted in shocking people, and in 1954 there was few things more shocking then the idea of a homosexual couple. Even the slightest hint of a same-sex relationship in scripts made studios nervous, and openly gay actors did not exist.

The screen test represents two young actors, at their physical prime. It is a feast for the eyes, and provides a host of what-ifs. What if Dean and Newman had co-stared in East of Eden? What if Dean had survived the car crash and Newman had not received his big break replacing Dean in Somebody Up There Likes Me? However when all of the speculation about what might have been is done, what we are left with is the history. One young man was a shooting star, seen only briefly but talked about for decades after. The other was a steady presence, a star that was always visible in the night sky, and then suddenly disappeared. Newman left behind a body of work that will be remembered for decades, and a legacy of charity work that will provide an inspiration for many.

RIP: Paul Leonard Newman 1925-2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

House Hunting

House Hunting: 18 minutes
directed by Amy Lippman
based on a short story by Michael Chabon

House Hunting is a fusion of this week’s topics: short stories and star-driven shorts. The comedy is based on a Michael Chabon short story by the same name and stars Paul Rudd (a total Baldwin!) and Zooey Deschanel as a newlywed couple looking for their first home with the assistance of an oddball real estate agent (played by Terry Kinney).

As they inspect the first home, the viewers learn about the two. The husband is less interested in hardwood floors and room dimensions and more into the personalities of the people moving out. He reads the labels of medicine bottles and opens nightstand drawers, at the same time completely embarrassing his wife. She is even more annoyed by his inability to focus and take house hunting seriously, and finds his actions signal a lack of commitment. The agent is a little whacky and isn’t your typical pushy, enthusiastic agent. He moves on to show them another home, where the two notice he is acting irrationally and pocketing random, worthless items from around the house. After realizing the agent is unstable and that they shouldn’t be in this particular home, they argue over what to do. The end result? They have make-up sex in the master bedroom while the agent is downstairs depleting this house’s supplies of TV remotes and paperweights. Afterwards, they hear yelling from the kitchen. It is here that the viewer’s suspicions are realized: the house is the agent’s soon-to-be ex-wife (a tiny but fun role played by Felicity Huffman). After brief consideration, the husband deems the house “perfect.”

Just yesterday we dissected short stories and how they relate to short and feature-length films. Professor Middents suggested that short stories are to features as novels are to television series. I happen to think that analogy works well. Trying to pack in all the components of a novel into a two-hour film is hard, often times resulting in mediocre films and outraged book loyalists. Short stories don’t have to rely on chapters and on-going story, making them a better fit for films. But what about short films? Do they come with too many limits for even a short story?

Here, that is not the case. Lippman does a great job in developing each character and builds a considerable amount of tension and mystery in such a short amount of time. The acting helps with this, too. Even before the dialogue reveals certain problems in their relationship, the viewer already can sense what is wrong with the relationship. The short story translates perfectly into a short film. Whether that is something that is universal, I’m not quite sure.

Laud Weiner

Starring David Hyde Pierce
Duration 4:08
Directed and Written by Philip Euling

This mockumentary pokes fun at the stress and chaotic lifestyle of a hollywood manager. It touches on a number of stereotypes - for example, a hollywood manager is ALWAYS too busy to take your calls. Pierce shows what managers are really doing when they say they are too busy. Also, the film touches on the idea that managers are nothing but ass kissers. Pierce pretends to have read a script and labels it shit, but when his associate/client shows interest, his opinion - which was artificial to begin with - changes to meet the other's interest. With such a hectic lifestyle, Pierce only finds time to sleep on set.

Part of it feels really disconcerting, though. For example, Pierce turns down a script marked "consider," but with no money attached, the manager doesn't even read it. Furthermore, he tells others that he did read it, he fought for it, but it just couldn't go to the next level. Its distressing that someone's blood, sweat and tears that went into creating a script gets literally tossed aside.

Like most everything else in this mockumentary, however, its important to remember that each example is exaggerated to make fun of these stereotypes of hollywood's cutthroat business. David Hyde Pierce is a great actor to play this role because it is so similar to his character on Frasier. His humor is more about timing than it is about content and so this role works well.

I also like to think that, as an actor himself with a manager to boot, it must have been fun to switch the roles for a day and mock the trials and tribulations of his manager.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Time Piece

Time Piece
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.

Hotel Chevalier

Hotel Chevalier
Dir. Wes Anderson
13 minutes

Hotel Chevalier is a 13 minute "prologue" to the 2007 film The Darjeeling Limited. First I should probably point out that I haven't actually seen the longer film. Chevalier was released as a free download on iTunes before Darjeeling was released in theaters, presumably to drum up interest in the film as a whole, but since I find Wes Anderson to be kind of hit-or-miss I never got motivated enough to want to see it. So basically, this is my evaluation of the short film as a standalone short film, although you could probably argue that the short is really meant to be viewed in the context of the entire longer film. (Although in that case, is it really a "short film" unto itself?)

Anyway: Hotel Chevalier features Jason Schwartzman as an American living in a hotel in France. He's laying around watching television when he receives a phone call from a woman (Natalie Portman) announcing her arrival at the hotel. She shows up and starts to look around the room. It becomes evident that the couple hasn't spoken in months, and that things did not end well between them. They begin to have sex, but then walk out onto the room's balcony for a moment instead, and the film ends.

Hotel Chevalier works as a star-driven short on two levels. The first is the director, Wes Anderson. Anderson's films are very stylized and immediately recognizable, usually taking place in settings that are hard to characterize as belonging to a certain era. Chevalier is no different. The feel of the French hotel is timeless, and the only clue to the film's setting in terms of time is the presence of an iPod, which nonetheless feels somewhat anachronistic compared to the rest of the set.

The color palette in Hotel Chevalier is totally centered around yellow, which gives the film an interesting look. When Schwartzman changes from his yellow bathrobe into a dark suit, the effect is jarring. He looks out of place and uncomfortable in the room, reflecting the awkwardness in the encounter between he and Portman. The concentration on yellow also creates a nice contrast at the end, when the characters step outside onto their balcony to see the city evening - everything now is dark blue, including Schwartzman's suit, with the only splashes of yellow being lights on distant buildings and Portman's bathrobe.

Obviously, Hotel Chevalier is also star-driven because it features movie stars. Jason Schwartzman is a reasonably well-known actor, and Natalie Portman is an extremely well-known one. The short generated additional interest when it was released because Portman does her first nude scene in it, which she had previously stated she would not do, and of course everyone wants to see a famous person naked. (But sorry boys, you don't actually see anything too risqué.)

Overall I don't know if I'd say Hotel Chevalier really "works" as a standalone. There is no self-contained storyline: both the past and present of the film are left totally open to interpretation. In that sense it is kind of disappointing because there's no emotional payoff for anything that happens. However, I like it because it gives me a chance to enjoy Wes Anderson's unique aesthetic in 13 minutes, rather than sitting through 2 awful hours of The Life Aquatic.

(I couldn't find the entire film online, but about 8 minutes of it can be viewed here.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Day of the Fight

Day of the Fight
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Released: April 26, 1951
Running Time: 16 minutes.
RKO-Pathe Pictures.

I love Stanley Kubrick. From 2001: A Space Odyssey to Full Metal Jacket to Dr. Strangelove, I admire his work as a future filmmaker and screenwriter. (Yes, I even stomached Eyes Wide Shut, which I do not like whatsoever.) His emphasis on the theme of the duality of man and his strong, dark comedic dialogue strikes a chord in me and draws me to his style, his way of working the camera in his favor.

So it's because of my undying admiration and love for Kubrick that I chose a short film of his to analyze. With this week's theme of "star-driven" short films, either in front of or behind the camera, I figured Kubrick would be an entertaining, intriguing choice. But this film is not Kubrick-styled. For those who are fans of Kubrick or die-hard followers of him, this short will frankly be a disappointment, if you tried to be like me and find his trademark shots, dialogue, wit and style.

Day of the Fight was a short documentary Kubrick made in 1951. It tells the story about a boxer's life getting ready for his fight in the evening. Kubrick follows this man named Walter Cartier throughout the day as he prepares for the bout. He goes to Mass with him, his meals, and his grooming.

Kubrick had done a photo feature of Walter earlier for Look Magazine in 1949, and he asked the boxer if he could document his life. Financing it himself, Kubrick learned how to operate the camera by the man who was loaning the cameras to him. He eventually sold the film to RKO Pictures, and it was released in theaters in the "This is America" series (you can see the RKO slide right in the beginning of the short). CBS Anchor Douglas Edwards provides the news-like narration used throughout the movie.

What's interesting about this short film is that it's not particularly "star-driven." This was made when Kubrick was not a household name. Before the major malfunctions and war rooms, before the drill sergeants and the space odysseys, Kubrick was a man trying to make his first film ever. It's a movie documenting a man's life. The only reason this short is "star-driven" is because of the work Kubrick did after this film. It's because of his name now that people go back to see how he was then, when he was first starting out. It's why I chose this film in the first place. (Consequently, his film Killer's Kiss, which came out four years later, references this film.)

But what is interesting is watching this film and seeing the potential Kubrick had when he was first starting out. The familiar theme of the duality of man is seen here in this short, quite obviously too. The five minute introduction to the history of boxing, how some men make a good living and some men don't ("one out of ten men" as the narrator grimly puts it) provides a dark, grim outlook onto the boxing world -- that those who are good enough succeed. This segues into our introduction of Walter. Through Kubrick's lens we watch Walter's actions through the day -- going to Mass, playing with his dog, hanging out with his twin brother. He shows Walter as a decent, loving human being that has compassion. But in a dramatic turn, through the usage of the narrator, Kubrick demonstrates this duality of man, how Walter, the compassionate person, will turn into a killing machine, "slowly becoming another man." A man "who cannot lose, who must not lose."

Transformation of man and the duality of man, how he can be so loving and so destructive, trickles down through Kubrick's films for the rest of his career. In addition we can see through the shots of the bout itself Kubrick's beginnings as a director. There are dramatic shots done at a low straight-on angle of the boxers coming together, medium shots of the men punching each other straight in the face. These are shots that Kubrick will favor later on down the line when he creates war-films like Full Metal Jacket.

Day of the Fight still isn't the classic Kubrick film that fans like myself would go crazy over. But it is still fascinating to watch this short and see where Kubrick was when he was just starting out, and how his style transformed from that to what we see in Path of Glory, or Dr. Strangelove, or Full Metal Jacket.

The Office Party

By Chiara Edmands

The Office Party was filmed in the year 2000 and features a stellar cast of both has-beens as well as current stars still gracing us with their presence on the big or small screen today. Taking place in 1984 New York City, the short revolves around a crazy office party in which every employee showed a side of them they would never reveal on any normal Monday through Friday in the office. The small-voiced secretary, Grace ( Clea Lewis--Audrey from Ellen) used the Robertson file her boss urgently requests the morning after to roll a huge blunt with her co-workers at the party. The infamous Carol Kane (Scrooged with Bill Murray and the broadway hit Wicked) plays Linda who secretly has a disturbing relationship with her 'special buddy' Rodney who she is sponsoring in a walk to raise money ' for special people with special needs'. Don ( Dave Attell--SNL 1993-994), who is the character everyone coincidentally wants to find the morning after the party, supposedly died while taking shots with the karate kid himself, Ralph Macchio who was last seen ( by me at least) as a mistaken identity NYC cousin of Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny. The other guy who witnessed Don 'die' in the copy room was Tate Donovan, who some may have seen in last year's FX show Damages or maybe for some of you Sandra Bullock fans out there ( don't deny it) you probably saw him in Love Potion No. 9. Both Tate and Ralph also known as Bill and Sean decide to dispose of the body by burying him near the Hudson River, well, after they were caught pushing his face into the copy machine by the pizza guy aka the one, the only Jon Stewart! In the end, Don shows up to work covered in dirt the next day, after he gets blamed for losing the Robertson file, leaving a rotting pizza in the copy room and not donating any money towards the 'special people' walk. Bill and Sean are shocked, to say the least.

I found this short to be 100% hilarious, not only because of the unique cast, but also because the premise of the entire short is to almost prove to viewers that CPA's DO know how to have a great time! The fact most of the cast consisted of actors who haven't been in anything 'big' in years also caught my attention. They aren't ashamed of their lack of 'star' status and still take the time to participate in something, like this short, that they obviously believe is worthwhile. The only actor who was in the short who became famous after was Jon Stewart, who is the star of the popular TV show, The Daily Show. It's pretty amusing that he had the smallest role in the short and is probably the most famous cast member to this day.

** there was no picture of this short or website that I can find containing a video of it. I bought it on itunes though, so if you have a good feeling about it, check it out!!