Saturday, November 08, 2008

Schwarzfahrer (The Black Rider)

By Pepe Donquart, Germany, 1993, 9 minutes 59 seconds
Won the 1993 Academy Award for Live Action Short Film
Source: You Tube

A fact you should know before watching the short, schwarzfahrer in German means literally “fare-dodger”, but also means “black rider”.

This subtlety in the German language comes into play at the end of the film. Schwarzfahrer is about a black man, or schwarzfahrer, who sits down next to an old woman on the tram. The old woman turns out to be a raging bigot who especially dislikes black people and immigrants. She says that black people are lazy, they smell, and are carriers for AIDS. She goes on like this for quite a sometime, all the while the black man ignores her, looks out the window, and eats his snack.

When the time comes for the tram controller to check everyone’s tickets, both the black man and old woman produce theirs. The black man grabs the old woman’s ticket and pops it into his mouth. He chews nonchalantly and then swallows it. The old woman is left with a dumbfounded look on her face, and when the tram controller asks for her ticket she says that the man ate it. The tram controlled swiftly kicks her off of the tram because she is now a schwarzfahrer as well.

I really enjoyed this short film because of the unexpected actions of the black man. I would have expected him to engage the old woman in a verbal debate, or to just ignore her. I did not expect him to eat her ticket, which turns out to be the most effective method to getting rid of her.

Some of the comments after the video on you tube were arguing about the moral of the story. The two conflicts (both in the film and about the film) are basically the same situation. In the film the black man chooses not to engage the woman in an argument but instead eats her ticket so she is thrown off the tram, and solving his problem. The people commenting on the film don’t seem to understand this. These people choose to argue with each other and call each other names, instead of taking a page out of the black man’s book of dealing with difficult people. Though it would be kind of hard to swallow someone’s computer and/or Internet connection. After watching this film I no longer see the point in arguing with someone so set in their ways that they will never change their minds. Save your breath and take action instead.

It would have been pointless and ineffectual for the black man to verbally defend himself against the old woman, just like it is ineffective to call people names across the Internet. Action needs to be taken, but as I said earlier, in the latter case it would be hard.

Le ballon rouge

Le ballon rougue (The Red Balloon)
dir. Albert Lamorisse

While Le ballon rougue (The Red Balloon), was officially a foreign film, because it was made in France and all of the dialogue is in French, there was so little dialogue it may as well have been a silent film. Words were not necessary to advance the plot. Pascal, a young French child finds a red balloon. He immediately bonds with the inanimate object. Pascal gave the balloon to someone to hold while he was at school, and retrieved it at the end of the day. At home, his mother released the balloon, but it hovered by a window, which allowed Pascal the opportunity to go onto the porch to retrieve it.

The viewer realized it is no ordinary balloon when it obeyed his command to come down from the porch, when Pascal was near the door to his building. The balloon, which clearly had a mind of its own, followed him to school, but did not let him hold onto the string, until the balloon relented. At school, all of the boys tried to grab the balloon, but it escaped capture.

The balloon demonstrated its loyalty to Pascal when it tormented the school official who locked him in a room as punishment. When the man let Pascal out of the room and exclaimed, “Get out of here you little pest,” the viewer was not sure whether he was referring to Pascal or the balloon. Later, a group of boys ambushed Pascal, who escaped unharmed with his balloon. However, when he left the balloon alone for a moment to buy a pastry, the other boys stole the balloon. Pascal rescued the balloon, and a chase ensued, ending with the capture of Pascal and the balloon. The boys destroyed the balloon by stepping on it. However, as if by magic, balloons from all over the city flew out of people’s hands, out of windows, and out of stores. The balloons flew to Pascal, who grabbed all of the strings and in the final shot of the movie flew over the city.

While the story was incredibly simple, it was one that many people can relate to. It is clear that Pascal is an outsider, and that the balloon was his only friend. As someone with few close friends growing up, I spent many hours playing with my stuffed animals, pretending they were real, and having adventures with them.

The viewer completely believed that the balloon has feelings, desires, and loyalty. When the balloon was following Pascal down the street, it ducked into a doorway, and proceeded to play a quick game of hide and seek with him before school. Towards the end of the film, when one of the boys had a slingshot aimed at the balloon, the balloon went down, as if begging for mercy. This sense of impending doom was heightened by the gray wall behind the balloon, which gave it the ambiance of a prisoner about to be executed by a firing squad.

One of my favorite moments in the film contained a hint of romance. Pascal and his balloon walked by a girl holding a blue balloon. The red balloon began to follow the blue balloon. I was worried, due to my knowledge of the conventions of film noir, and buddy movies in general. Women present a threat to strong male relationships. In film noir, the protagonist’s downfall is often the result of his involvement with the femme fatale. Pascal grabbed his balloon, only to be followed by the blue balloon. The blue balloon was grabbed her owner, and the character was never seen again. It was not until the end of the film, I realized how important the love scene was. The interaction between the red balloon and the blue balloon demonstrated that the red balloon was not the only one with feelings, thus setting up the mass balloon migration at the end of the film.

Friday, November 07, 2008

"Holy Ghost People" (1967)

"Holy Ghost People" (1967)
Directed by Peter Adair
U.S., 53 minutes (view the whole film, it's in the public domain)

"And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."
-Mark 16:17-18

Peter Adair's Holy Ghost People chronicles life in the tiny mining town of Scrabble Creek, West Virginia for a pentecostal congregation that takes that passage as the basis of their faith. Members of the Holiness Church convulse, speak in foreign tongues, treat disease and sickness by touch rather than medicine, handle live snakes, and drink poison all as testaments to their faith.

As an agnostic who finds religious fervor hard to relate to and often even scary, what struck me most powerfully about the film is how decent these people seem. Plain-spoken, hard-working, honest, without the bigotry, ignorance, and malice I associate with fundamentalists, Adair's subjects' beliefs may seem extreme but they are no extremists. Holy Ghost People achieves this sympathetic portrait of the congregation by utilizing a cinema verité approach that does not judge or comment, merely observes. A brief opening narration establishes the town, church, and congregation, and then Adair lets the people speak for themselves and their actions speak even louder.

An element of what makes the documentary subjects seem sympathetic rather than loony is that they avoid the hypocrisy of most religious followers. The Bible instructs its readers to accept it whole as the direct word of God, so if one truly believes in its divine origin, they must live their lives in accordance with its tenets. Most religious individuals I've encountered seem to pick and choose the elements they want to follow based on convenience, members of the Holiness Church must not find it convenient or easy to handle poisonous snakes and attend frequent 6-hour services, but they do it because of their unwavering conviction. I also found one man's explanation of why the church has no leader or pastor, "because one God's children just as good and close to the Lord as any other" poignant and more in line with the teachings of Jesus than the hierarchical pronouncements of more organized religion. Seeing a child speak to the crowd and command as much attention and respect as the elderly man who preceded him or the woman who followed him is a nice change of pace from the patriarchy often promoted in fundamentalist churches.

This spirit of equality is further illustrated by the sermon that ends "Every individual soul is a creation of God. Makes no difference where they're from, who they are, what color they are, they're God's creation because by one blood he made all nations." The de facto head of the church, or at least the character Adair shows us speaking to the followers more than any other , echoes this by saying "It's the same God right here in Scrabble Creek as it is in Africa and Vietnam today, makes no difference where you are cause we're all brethren." While not exactly radical today, this evangelized message eschews the expectations one would have about an all-white congregation in rural West Virginia in the 1960s and demonstrates that religion can be used as much as an agent of peace as it can be misused to promote intolerance. It's also a reminder that a substantial majority of activists in the Civil Rights Movement were deeply religious and protested out of their moral conviction that all men were equal in the eyes of God and should be treated as such.

This is not to say the church's beliefs are reasonable or its practices all admirable, rather many are more positive and progressive than anyone would likely assume and even their most fanatical elements are understandable given the circumstances of the congregates. Advocating drinking poison or handling deadly snakes is irresponsibly dangerous, and basically unforgivable when done in the presence of children. Seeing the church shake and convulse en masse and babble in "foreign tongues" is also bizarre to say the least and the presence of kids as young as five makes it rather unsettling. When explained as an ultimate proof of their faith by true believers whose life outside the church is the unbearable bleakness of rural poverty, unemployment, and a complete disconnect from the outside world, their actions are given a context that makes them seem almost reasonable. The ecstacy achieved during zealous demonstrations they believe to be direct connections with God is the one respite many of the congregates have from their otherwise dreary lives. It is no coincidence that many of the church's followers are perpetually sick and have turned to pentecostalism after years of suffering unaided by conventional medicine.

Two ironies of the film are revealed only upon researching its background. For all the people in the film who handle snakes, the only one bitten is apparently the owner of the church, its most monied congregate and the only interview subject whose piousness seems disingenuous. Adair ends his film there and regardless of how one feels about divine intervention, it certainly recalls the famous pronouncement "If I'm lying, may God strike me dead." The other unexpected, somewhat humorous fact of the film is that its director is a rather flamboyant homosexual who was forced to leave his New York City home because of constant harassment from his neighbors but revealed he never felt so comfortable and welcome as he did when he spent several months filming the members of the tiny West Virginia church. As a sociological document, Holy Ghost People is endlessly fascinating and raises many questions about religious freedom and extremism and as a short documentary it's a compelling testament to the direct and focused power of cinema verité.
My Name Is Yu Ming

Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom (My Name is Yu Ming)
Directed by Daniel O’Hara, Ireland, 2003, 13 minutes

The short commences with a young Chinese man who seems obviously detached from the life he lives in his homeland of China. Yu Ming (which is the name of the young Chinese man as we find out later in the short) one day enters his local library; he decides to use the librarian’s globe as his instrument to escape his current life. He spins the globe and it lands in Ireland. Thus, Yu decides to investigate the country and even decides to learn Ireland’s mother tongue Gaelic.
As he is learning Gaelic the audience starts getting involved with the narrative by wishing that one was able to let him know that Ireland has become an English speaking country and Gaelic has become more of a dialect than anything else. Upon arriving in Ireland, Yu notices that the signs are written in Gaelic which as a viewer makes you take even more pity on Yu since he is going to believe that the language he learned is actually the one spoken.
In the scene when Yu tries to ask for a bed at a hostel the short’s narrative takes an interesting twist with regards as to how culture is viewed. This is because when the concierge does not understand Yu, he asks a co-worker to translate for him just because he looks Asian and automatically all Asian’s come from China. But as we find out the co-worker happens to be from Mongolia. Once they both figure out that Yu wants a bed, the narrative continues with Yu entering a bar in order to ask for work. Yu asks again in Gaelic that he is looking for work and the bar attendant replies that he does not understand Chinese. But while Yu is apologizing to the attendant for his Gaelic not being better since he has just arrived in Ireland, an elderly man sitting at the bar is struck with awe that Yu is speaking Gaelic fluently.
The old man takes pity on Yu and buys him a beer and explains to him that Ireland mostly speaks English because of the British and that Gaelic is only spoken in certain areas of the country. As the elderly man is explaining all this to Yu in Gaelic, the bar attendant is staring at them in amazement because he, like the concierge at the hostel, assumes that they are speaking Chinese. In the last scene of the film, a van is seen driving to the country side and reaches a bar. When the couple who are driving the van go into the establishment they have stopped in for a rest, the camera pans a little to the left and Yu appears as the bar attendant.
The film seems to suggest that Gaelic as a cultural aspect has been lost. However, it is with this lost aspect of Irish culture that Yu Ming is able to find himself. This can be seen in the short when he is smiling at the couple that has just walked in to the bar in which he works and speaks Gaelic. I would even dare to say that Yu has become the tourist attraction of the town. In this context I believe the director is trying to brutally show that cultural aspects like language have now become tourist attractions instead of being something of pride like it is for Yu Ming and the old man in the bar. The film also, seems to deal with cultural identity and how it is regarded by the majority of people (i.e. that all Asian’s are Chinese) and how it is regarded by an individual (i.e. when Yu does the famous lines of Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver).
I believe this is an ironic film to place in the non-English category because the language that seems to be suggested to be out of place here is English. In other words, it’s as if the director is saying Ireland should be non-English or non-British.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Millionaire

The Millionaire
Soviet Union, 1963
dir. V. Bordzilovski
approx. 10 minutes

“The Millionaire” is an animated anti-capitalist film produced by the Soviet Union in 1963. Set in the United States, the cartoon tells the story of a bulldog who inherits millions of dollars from his rich owner when she dies. The narrator asks, what can a dog possibly do with all that money? The answer: in America, pretty much anything. The bulldog lives a life of obscene luxury, partying all night, smoking cigars and eventually using his wealth to “win” himself a seat in the U.S. Senate.

The America portrayed in “The Millionaire” is, unsurprisingly, seedy and corrupt. When the bulldog gets drunk at an expensive nightclub, he reverts to his animal-self and begins doing a dance on all four legs; his dance catches on, and soon the entire club is on their hands and knees doing the dance, revealing themselves, too, as animals. The bulldog and his rich friends sit around enjoying cigars in their high-rise offices, but when confronted by the lower classes advocating peace in the streets, the rich become enraged and their faces transform to look like demons. The final line of the film says, “Yes, now he’s been elected a member of the Senate; Now that’s what crooked money does – if only you can get it!”

And just to be sure that the audience doesn’t mistakenly interpret this cautionary tale as a story about how awesome money is, the dog’s pile of money abruptly disappears at the end, along with his human suit and top hat – showing that in the end, he (and the greedy Americans he represents) is really nothing but a dog without all the trappings of wealth.

The style and music of “The Millionaire” seem to be very typical of the era (the 1960s), although sometimes the animation is inexplicably jerky. The cartoon is an example of why animated films are perfect for use as political propaganda. The rhyming narration and animal protagonist make it palatable for children as well as adults. Perhaps more importantly, the animation means the film would have been suitable for use practically anywhere in the Soviet Union, where there were a great number of languages spoken other than Russian. The story is very easy to follow based on its exaggerated visuals alone, meaning that non-Russian speakers could watch this and still get the message about the evils of capitalism.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Singapore Rebel

Martyn See, Singapore, 2004. 27 Minutes.
Google Video.

Since our election is finally over, I decided to write about a political short that has nothing to do with the United States. Instead, I chose something that many people (including myself) don't know too much about. Before I talk about Singapore Rebel and its subject, Chee Soon Juan, it is important to mention a few items. This film was originally part of the Singapore Film Festival until censors ordered it removed. The filmmaker, Martyn See, was put under investigation for the movie. He was also threatened with prosecution under the Films Act, which forbids any political party movies (meaning movies with any political slant). The official exception to this rule are foreign films. Despite this occurring 3 years ago, he still faces the threat of prosecution.

The film starts with some narration about Singapore. The national government thinks of Singapore as the "paragon of modern Asia" and as a generally modern society. However, it has been ruled by one party, the People's Action Party (PAP), since 1959. One tactic the PAP uses is to harass, jail, exile and literally bankrupt opposition members to keep it on top.

Enter Chee Soon Juan. He got his start in politics in the early '90s when public policy began to interest him. He ended up joining the opposition party and became the Secretary-General, but he was soon fired from his job, a teaching post. He went on a hunger strike to protest the general political conditions as well as his job loss and was sued for defamation when it was over. He was fined almost $300,000 for insulting his former employer during the strike. After a run for office, he was sued again for defamation by the Prime Minister for a comment he made. Chee was not allowed a lawyer and the case was decided behind closed doors against him. In another incident, he brought up the issue of headscarves in school. Since it is illegal to talk about religion in public policy in Singapore, he was again prosecuted and fined.

The centerpiece of the film is held on May Day, 2002. Chee is talking to a media crowd about a rally he is going to hold later to support worker's rights. A group of police come to arrest him in full view of the media without explaining what he is charged with. He is eventually charged with speaking without a permit and since he cannot pay the fine, he is sentenced to five weeks in jail. The film ends with a quote by Singapore's PM. "We should recognize many paths of success, and many ways to be Singaporean. We must give people a seconf chance. Ours must be an open and inclusive Singapore."

This documentary is a great exhibition of film as political protest. Chee is a person that is easily sympathized with. We see him first playing with his children in his office as See comes in to interview him. He is always very calm and collected. Even when he is arrested, it is other people that are making a big fuss while he is much more calm. We learn very little about his actual political views since they are not important if it is impossible to voice them. We do learn that he is committed to a democracy with actual dialogue, which the ruling party is not. An interesting aspect of this film is that the only way Singaporeans can see it is on the internet. Maybe this will help to open up Singapore's (and other oppressive regime's) government, but it is difficult to see that happening soon.

John McCain vs. John McCain

directed by Robert Greenwald, Brave New Films

In the realm of political shorts, filmmaker Robert Greenwald is one of Youtube's biggest success stories. After directing a number of documentaries including the 2004 film Outfoxed, he jumped on the viral video bandwagon just at the right moment. Two years ago, he started the online film production company Brave New Films. The company began producing films with a heavy liberal slant critiquing conservative outlets like Fox News. However, Brave New Films's popularity skyrocketed when they shifted their focus to John McCain.

Their series "The Real McCain" has garnered millions of views on Youtube and attracted the attention of many major media outlets (I actually first heard about it after seeing Greenwald on The Colbert Report). After the initial success of this video, Brave New Films produced a number of other anti-McCain films, including one that featured a clip of McCain's now infamous admission that he didn't know how many houses he owned. Some credit Greenwald's film for propelling this particular issue into the eyes of the mainstream media.

"John McCain vs. John McCain" isn't a very flashy production. It employs some of the simplest and cheesiest effects that Final Cut has to offer and the music, though probably intended to be ironic, is quite over the top. What is on display here is the editing job, which is pointed and effective. The premise of the film is to derail the "Straighttalk Express" by juxtaposing clips of McCain rescinding his words and contradicting himself. By the end, the film renames his campaign the "Doubletalk Express"; to drive his point across, Greenwald inserts numerous clips of McCain saying "straighttalk" in between his contradictions.

While the film provides an effective critique, I find its enormous success kind of surprising, given the fact that The Daily Show has been doing editing jobs like this for years. But perhaps its success can be attributed to the inherent accessibility of viral videos. Greenwald has said that the strength of the video is that when people watch it, they tend to send it to their friends or family members (there's even a feature on The Real McCain website that encourages viewers to share the films). I think the film's length also adds to its effectiveness. In the world of viral videos, the idea of "short films" becomes even more important, since online viewers tend to have short attention spans given all the other distractions the internet has to offer. A video must make its point clearly and quickly, and "John McCain vs. John McCain" does just that. Greenwald's Brave New Films is an interesting example of the way that political filmmakers are utilizing both the viral explosion and the short film form to reach a very large audience.


(Deface Trailer)

Directed by John Arlotto, USA, 2006, 20 minutes

Deface is the story of Sooyoung, a factory worker in a small town in North Korea. He devotedly follows the rules of the government and attends the union party formed by the government faithfully. There are large propaganda posters with assuring slogans in the town, and one of them has a drawing of two smiling children saying "We are happy." Sooyoung has a loving daughter, but she dies of starvation because the government would not give provisions to the workers as they promised. Her death changes his life completely. After burying his daughter, Sooyoung sees the posters with the chubby and smiling children. Outraged by the reality of his country, Sooyoung refuses to be a loyal worker and starts to deface the propaganda posters in the town, hoping other people see them and feel the need of change. He risks his life to erase the billboards and repaints the slogans with the messages that reflect the reality of North Korea, such as "We are dying of hunger." Sooyoung manages not to be caught by Anti-Graffiti patrol which is newly formed because of his doings. However, he sees his acts lead to the death of innocent people in his town and starts to rethink his rebellion.

When I searched the Internet and found out about Deface, I was surprised to see an American director having interest in North Korea and made a film about North Korea. The director John Arlotto in his interview says that he actually saw a video tape that shows graffiti against the propaganda of North Korean government and that that video inspired him to shoot Deface. Even though I was only able to see the trailer of the movie, I could see that Deface outspokenly shows the situation of North Korea. I was aware of the fact that the North Korean environment is very much different from my country, South Korea, but it was shocking to see contemporary North Korea filmed by a foreign director. Since South and North Korea were actually one country from the same root but divided by the political ideology, it is not easy for people in South Korea to make a film that candidly shows the reality of North Korea. There is also political and diplomatic problems involved. Recently, the relationship between South and North Korea has become vulnerable; therefore South Koreans cannot help but be careful when they depict North Korea. I was even more surprised to know that Deface got nine awards from film festivals such as the Austin Film Festival in 2007.

Not considering the fact that Deface is a film that describes contemporary North Korean situation, it is still enough to evoke sympathy from the audience since it shows a father losing his daughter because of his government. I believe that all parents have the same affection for their children and desperation of Sooyoung adds sincerity to the film.

In addition to that, it is interesting that the film was shot in a Korean Town in Los Angeles. Even though the location is a city in the United States, it is really amazing that the town in the film looks like a city in Korea. Also according to newspaper articles that I read, the actors in the movies have lived in the USA for a long time, and their Korean, especially the North Korean dialect, was not that good as a native Korean. However, even though I am a Korean, I could not feel a difference while watching the film; therefore even more thankful to the actors for practicing hard to speak Korean as perfect as they can.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

God Bless America

First Time Voters in North Carolina (2008) 2:29

This short film is about a North Carolina couple (Dawn Marie Holden Daniels and Niki Daniels) who has cast their ballots for the first time. Apparently, the Daniels - who are, now, registered Democrats - have finally realized after, at least, fifteen years, the importance and power of the vote. Whew! Einstein just flipped in his grave.

To refrain from chaffing these two is near impossible. In the kairos of this film, Dawn says, "It's now more important than ever to vote for a new president." Hmmmm...wonder what that means? Could it mean that Dawn (a Caucasian middle-age woman) is fed up with the white-male dominated presidential seat? Or is Dawn a responsible voter? Her husband, Niki, probably - if not for Barack Obama - would not have even registered. He says, "I'm doing the right for Barack Obama." These first-time voters were so convinced that Barack Obama was the man, they voted early. It seems former President Bush's years in office were not all despairing, but, actually encouraged people like Dawn and her husband Niki to get off the goddamn sofa and let their voices be heard through the power of the vote.

The content of this film, in someways, horrifies me. Since George Washington, presidential nominees have been promising change. There was nothing unique about Obama's campaign with the exception of his skin tone. I agree, socially, President Barack Obama may be the change this country needs, but, I hope my fellow Americans weighed all the options before casting their ballot, if not for proper reasoning, at least, for the dignity of voting. Congratulations President Obama and may God direct your path for the citizens of this wonderful nation are, surely, to follow.

"How Disrespectful"

McCain Ad "How Disrespectful"
30 seconds

An often understated quality of political advertisements is that depending on who is watching them, they can stand on their own as powerful stories. For many people the perception of both Presidential candidates is limited to the framing device approved by the rival candidates themselves. With political ads the assumption on behalf of the party releasing the ad for television is that viewers will remember which politician is the good guy (or girl for that matter) and which is the bad guy.

This deliberately crafted antagonist v. protagonist story is often successful at motivating people to vote for their favorite story. In this particular ad, the villain is Obama. He is painted as "the world's biggest celebrity" whose "star is fading." Obama appears a cardboard cutout in the opening introduction. Each time he is framed negatively a one-frame image of him frowning, appearing disoriented, or villainously smiling is shown. These motionlesss, inanimate representations of Obama aim to establish a disconnect between viewers and Obama. The only time McCain and Palin are represented is when they are smiling and in motion.

The story's arc is logical and believable in that it frames fact (or partial fact) into story. The ad wants us to accept that since Obama's lead in national polls was being trimmed once Palin was announced as the VP candidate, that he had a kneejerk reaction of criticizing McCain's choice. The ad associates the change in polls with Obama's subsequent rhetoric. The ad frames the idea that Obama's "fading star" made Obama and Biden upset and " they lashed out at Sarah Palin." There is then a natural progression in the severity of Obama's rhetorical tactics which goes from dismissing Palin as good-looking (which "backfired"), said she was doing what she was told, and then "desperately called Sarah Palin a liar." These criticisms of Obama are summed up with "how disrespectful" as if the filmmakers didactically want to reinforce the ideal of human respect and dignity.

The desired effect of the McCain/Palin logo with the bright shiny star in the middle at the end of the ad can be likened to that of the G.I. Joe public service announcements which warn kids from anything to not petting stray dogs to not judging people.

It was estimated that no more than 5% of campaign financing was spent for both campaigns combined. This statistic is quite telling. It says something about the generational differences between those who rely on television for their news and those who spend most of their time on the internet. It could mean that the younger generation has a more elusive relationship with media advertisements and thus use the internet as a tool to be more selective in what they're exposed to. Television to the elder generation is almost an absolute medium. Campaigns do not discriminate between which channels you watch, but rather the fact that you are watching television. To many, television is the only voice for their candidate. The question is whether or not this voice is being heard.

Monday, November 03, 2008

On the Assassination of the President

On the Assassination of the President
Directed by Adam Keker, United States, 2008, 6 minutes
Source: Wholphin no. 6

"On the Assassination of the President" is a short disguised as a top-secret government document detailing what steps to take in the event of the President's assassination. Narrated by a deep, monotone voice, with a creepy ambient sound in the background, and composed mainly of still shots, this short does a pretty good job of imagining what a top-secret government video might look like. Probing a little deeper into the absurdity of the film, however, its essence becomes nearly impossible to grasp. Actual government document? Produced by conspiracy theorists? A satire of a government document? A satire of conspiracy theory? We're left scratching our heads, maybe imbued with a vague conviction that hovers somewhere around "government is bad!"

Step 1, according to our narrator, is to release to the press footage of the sniper and of the Secret Service agents responding to his attacks. "The sniper is wounded, but escapes," the narrator explains. The first interesting element of "On the Assassination" this brings up is the heavy political commentary. Assuming this short is a reflection of the director's views (which is a loaded topic we probably don't need to bring up now), this is not a person who is trusting of the government, demonstrating that (exaggerated, I'm guessing) mistrust by crafting a conspiracy theory that predates the event it is based on.

Which brings us to the next cool thing about "On the Assassination." As it progresses, the steps become more specific and, consequently, more absurd. Dossiers are drawn up for the three suspects who have been identified for the future potential assassination of the president; one of these, the narrator explains, must be taken into custody immediately following the crime. The incriminating evidence against all three of the suspects is varied and nonsensical (such as Suspect 1's possession of 50 identical cardboard boxes detailing a crime scene??? What??), but the common thread is that each of their photographs on file is in part a composite of a photo of some widely identifiable criminal (e.g. Lee Harvey Oswald and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), which is clearly much better evidence than the cardboard boxes thing. Chronology and rationale become increasingly muddled as footage from past wars and events is openly recycled. Also, the narrator eschews specifics, identifying the present day only as "this year."

So instead of acting as pointed political commentary on any one specific administration, "On the Assassination" itself becomes a composite (Beckett, Orwell, and Dr. Strangelove all come to mind), but what of, we're still not sure--or else we are sure for a second, and then the next second we've lost it again. The kind of government that would make this kind of tape exist in the past, the present, or the future, and the director's objective is obviously to confuse. But if we want to take some kind of message away from this, we might venture that it serves as a warning against the danger of preemptive profiling--and, perhaps, profiling in general.

America Coming Together - Bush Promo

America Coming together - Bush Promo
Directed by Adam Mckay, United States, 2004, 4:03
Source: America Coming Together

Most political shorts(almost always advertisements) serve as propaganda, and are more concerned with framing the "other" as the wrong choice than explaining why they are the right choice. This short was produced by America Coming Together (ACT), a liberal leaning political group that was dedicated to the "get out and vote" movement. Although not officially affiliated with a party, it is clear they supported democratic candidates. This short still functions as a bit of propaganda (anti-bush) but functions largely as a call to vote. Instead of being malicious they use accessible and popular humor to get a wider message across. VOTE!

This video is mock viewing of all the footage taken of the president at his ranch while attempting to make a political ad. The jumping around in time and showing the take numbers on the slate give the director complete freedom to have a ton of unrelated jokes and one liners. Adam Mckay is the director of Anchorman and was an original member of the upright citizens brigade, an improv comedy group. The unrelated one liners and how unqualified he makes Bush look is simply hilarious. Asking "Hollywood" what looks better "the giant shovel and little tiny thing (a hoe)". The irrational fear of horses that runs through the short keeps coming back to make us laugh.

The piece plays on the perceived stupidity and lack of qualification of the President. They frame him as a common idiot that has led the country in the wrong direction while in office. The incompetence conveyed is supposed to serve as the reason that everyone should vote, we shouldn't let this happen again. They start off funny, simply doing SNL type jokes about the president, which is why people will watch it, remember it, and watch it again. They do a great job of making the piece entertaining and slipping in an important message.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Is McCain Palin's Bitch?

Duration- 3:00
Directed by Lisa Nova

This political short demonstrates the fictitious way that John McCain asked Sarah Palin to be his running mate on the Republican ticket for the presidency. The appearance and tones of each politician is, for lack of a better word, "delectable." Each actor plays off of the pigeon holds that the media has placed on each politician - McCain evokes panic about the campaign and looks to a woman to "sway the political base" while Palin is a polar bear hunting, gun loving, Alaska living, young political baby factory. The relationship between the two also reflects what popular media demonstrates - that while Palin was expected to follow the policies of McCain, she has more of an interest in policy issues than expected.

Now this short truly speaks to the kind of humor that I appreciate. McCain telling Palin off, for example, is especially precious - "You've got about as much experience as my left nut, which by the way I left behind in DeNang." It's brash and to the point. The humor reflects a "What really happened" attitude that I hope really does exist behind the scenes of political decisions. This take on real life decisions and how they came to fruiton makes everything so simple. I would like to live in a world where John McCain would say he is "royally humped."

The short does have a bit of a serious side (but not overly so - just the right amount of serious) when analyzing what role the heartbeat plays. The heartbeat is subtle throughout the beginning, demonstrating McCain's panic, and immediately stops when Palin agrees to be his VP. The stop reflects a relief for McCain, but this relief is short. Within moments he realizes what it means to have Palin as his VP (in this short she is a take charge politician - certainly not the running mate McCain was in search of). The heartbeat flairs up again and continues for the rest of the short. McCain moves in front of a garage with an American flag painted on it.

This final image of a panicked old man in front of an icon of democracy, a symbol of protection, strikes a serious note to the satire. Interpret it how you will, but this political leanings of this short seem fairly obvious.

But with such great material in politics, how could you help but reem them?