Saturday, November 15, 2008
ADVANCED LEAPFROG TECHNIQUES
Directed by Leah Nelson and Jay Grandin, United States, 2007, approx. 2 minutes.
Once you sift through all of the handheld videos of skating wipeouts, cute animal footage, and fandom music videos, personal experience has led me to believe that most online short film content falls into one of two categories: comedy or instructional videos. Sometimes, these two pseudo-genres combine, as is the case with "Advanced Leapfrog Techniques."
The video comes from the body of work of Jay Grandin and Leah Nelson, a married couple who have taken a detour from successful art and design careers to make funny shorts for YouTube. Among the most viral of their many videos are 12 Times to Be a German and How to Shower: Men vs. Women, all archived on a YouTube channel has developed a fairly large following. In this particular endeavor, Jay shows us a new set of moves to liven up impromptu games of leapfrog.
I think the most interesting aspect of this video is not necessarily the inspired leapfrog techniques, but the stylistic choices of the directors. They hit the framing jackpot with their choice of set: a faded pink and yellow wall divided by lines that divide the background into a series of boxes, giving the flat surface a multidimensional appearance while focusing the viewer's eye on the smallest framed area, which happens to be the section of the frame in which the "action" occurs. It's probably the most obvious indication that the minds behind the video have a background in design, especially Jay, who has an impressive furniture design portfolio.
The use of music is seamless, and it's impressive that instead of using a popular song, the directors stuck with an obscure instrumental piece. Though it's always nice to avoid copyright issues, it's also impressive when an online short can blend original elements in an original way instead of using a lot of found footage and material. I also really love the use of text, which is what makes the video work without any dialogue: the title of each leapfrog move appears above Jay's head as he performs it, letting the audience make the often humorous associations he intends to call to mind. The aesthetic of the video is like a more polished Jackass, with more whimsy and less gross-out humor, with an American Apparel-hipster sensibility. It's definitely one of my favorites, and also an instructional video that I feel I can actually put to good use. I spent a lot of time trying to learn how to blow smoke rings by watching YouTube instructional videos, and it just never panned out. Somehow I think I may be more successful in executing some of these stunts.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Directed by Jan Svankmajer
Winner of the Australian-Asia Literary Award, Svankmayer's Alice is a haunting, surrealist tale of a little girl who loses herself in a fantastic daydream. The short is obviously a creative spin-off of the Alice in Wonderland tale except Svankmajer sets out to have fun with it by playing with stop-motion animation.
The Czech filmmaker has an international reputation for his stop-motion animation shorts, which include among others Jabberwocky, The Male Game, and Down to the Cellar. A common thread through all of these films which is signature for Svankmayer is using stop-motion to create a visceral, unnerving feel for any type of cinematic enviornment.
In Alice viewers may find it shocking at first to see a stuffed rabbit come to life and break free from its model cage. As this is happening, we directly connect with the little girl, Alice, who is frightened and yet interested to see what the rabbit will do next. The story itself of course requires you to suspend disbelief and allow yourelf to become absorbed in the world and imagination of this girl.
One of Svankmajer's most succcessful techniques at achieving this is through the sound design. In a certain sense, the sound design is ironic in nature because it doesn't rely on music or artificial sound. Instead it attempts to be faithful to what's happening on the screen by maintaining a diegetic sound design. The film starts off with Alice throwing rocks into a cup of coffee with the sound of the splash being the only noise in the room. This places us inside the basement with Alice and means we will be hearing and seeing exactly what she is through a subjective lens. We emotionally connect with this girl like we would with Ofelia from Pan's Labyrinth for instance.
The layering of the sound is also consistent with the intended surrealistic goal of the film. Each action of either the rabbit or the character is represented by a sound. The sound drives the narrative in this sense. For example, as the rabbit begins putting on clothes we hear the sound of his mechanical arms clanking and even the subtle friction sound of the clothes rubbing up against its fur.
In Svankmajer's The Male Game we are immersed into a world which the most important thing in the world happens to be what also is on television: a soccer match. With Alice, Svankmayer intends to achieve a similar atmosphere of an enclosed environment by cutting us off from the rest of the world. Whether or not you like Alice, there's no denying the power of its relentless concept of imagination through the imagination of one girl.
By Juan Solanas, France, 18 Minutes
The Man Without a Head is a film about one fellow who is unlucky enough not to have a head (although he does have a nice tux). He lives in an ugly industrial landscape seen through dirty windows. We see him open an envelope with two tickets to the ball. He calls his date and then starts dancing for joy with even a little bit of tap-dancing thrown in. He seems to realize that he might need a head for this date to be successful and walks to the appropriate store. He tries on a couple of heads that don't quite work, but we don't see his final selection. He buys some flowers, and it off to his date. He sneaks into the bathroom to try the head on. It is quite the beautiful head, but the color of the head (black) does not match the rest of the (white) body so he goes to the date headless. The date ends up going well and the pair have a wonderful time.
The most striking aspect of the film the first time viewing it is the visuals. It apparently took four years to make and it is beautiful. The industrialized city the man lives in is suitably grimy. Many of the shot selections show off this setting, like a shot from the outside of the apartment looking in which highlights the years of buildup on the side of his apartment. The opening credits are a view from high above slowly coming closer to the ground, finishing with a cityscape view, which is also extremely well done. Everything has a tinge of yellow, adding to the effect.
However, the story is not quite as well done. The idea of people without heads is interesting but is a little confusing in the context of the story. Even though there is a store for heads, we see no other people in the movie lacking a head at any time. Some people even give the protagonist funny looks during the movie, even though it is clear that buying heads is something not uncommon.
One reason I chose this film is because of a quote from the director. "We're living is a period where cinema is a product; movies are becoming more and more commercialized. Short films are one of the last places for artistic freedom - they're important to celebrate just for that." While I disagree with the first half of the quote (cinema has always been a product and movies are essentially commercial), I will agree with the last half of the statement. Short films have certainly proved to be one of the best avenues for artistic adventure and film and hopefully they will continue to do so.
Fight to the Finish (2007)
Directors: Steve Erdman, Zac Kind, and Daniel Wolfberg
Czech Republic, 9 minutes
My Wednesday class is Fiction Writing. When I read a short story by one of my classmates that does more "telling" than "showing," I feel like I want to shoot myself by the end of the second page. To put it simply, explicit and ham-handed exposition is boring and trite; subtext is beautiful.
Fight to the Finish is all about the subtext. Virtually all of Jan's lines are part of his attempt to remember and celebrate his glory years. He was a boxer, a husband, and an independent human being. He never says any of that explicitly. It comes out naturally in the mise-en-scene, in Jan's mannerisms and eccentricities, and in his monologue. Try it yourself: Start ticking off a few things you know about Jan before he states it, if at all.
He is a former boxer.
He currently lives in an assisted-living facility (or something like an asylum). He is no longer independent.
He is a local.
He has lost someone precious and is having trouble letting go.
He has a pretty darn good memory of that someone.
He has no friends.
Just as in short stories, the amount of "telling" in a movie can be an effective bellwether of how enjoyable the movie is. With some exceptions, as verbal exposition decreases, the movie's quality increases. Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino are two notables who arguably live outside this rule. I would contend that Tarantino is as good as anyone at showing exposition through on-screen action. His dialogue is highly stylized, less about exposition and more about character development. Kevin Smith is closer to the true exception, but his exposition comes out in naturally-delivered dialogue.
The exposition in Fight to the Finish comes out as he walks in large, empty spaces, a clear indication that he is lonely in the world (and logically consistent with his advanced age and residence in an assisted-living facility). It comes out as he reminisces about the good times he had with his late significant other. I'll also point out that the story never stops cold. That would be an inevitable symptom of a failure in natural exposition. The audience begins to zone out as the filmmaker tries to explain something direct to our ears. Film is a visual medium. The audience wants to see the story unfold naturally and contemplate it in context. That can't happen when you've stopped the story cold.
Fight to the Finish never fails that test. It is quiet reflection on film. It forces the audience to understand the subtext.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Candy and Brandy
Directed by Ander Duque
Spain, 2008 - approx. 8 min.
“Candy and Brandy” documents a couple’s breakup. However, the man and woman turn into children when they have their argument. The very adult nature of the fight is juxtaposed with these innocent looking children. The result is somewhat interesting.
When I watched this short for the first time, I felt the concept was somewhat tired. It is an interesting idea to put children in adult roles. I think it points out the somewhat ridiculous nature of seriousness that we so easily fall into in out adult lives. It reminded me of a short I saw a few years ago where children played the roles of a couple getting married. That however was a comedy.
This role reversal I feel may only work in the short format. The irony may not work in a feature film. While these children are actually very convincing actors, I as a viewer cannot suspend my disbelief. I am constantly analyzing what is happening on the screen to figure out the intent of the piece. The short does not take me into a world, or suspend my disbelief for a period of time; rather I have to work with the piece to draw meaning.
The first half of the short has no dialogue. We are shown a man and a woman, separately, getting ready for a date. The man is getting dressed and the woman, already ready, is reading a magazine. It isn’t until the two then children come together that we get any dialogue. This adds a somewhat universal aspect to the piece. The Spanish is introduced when the couple begins to argue. At this point, even without the subtitles or any knowledge of the language, you could understand what was going on.
I think the way the Spanish language is dealt with in this short says a bit about the intended audience. The English subtitles are in the film itself; they were not added afterwards. Also, the title, “Candy and Brandy,” only rhymes in English. When I looked up the film, there is an alternate title, “Sugus y Brandy.” However, the title that appears in the film itself is “Candy and Brandy.” Besides the fact that it rhymes, I have to wonder if this film is meant for an English-speaking audience primarily. If that is the case, what does that say about foreign language films being created specifically for viewing outside of the nation?Christine Barndt
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Directed by Santosh Sivan
Written by Rajesh Devraj
13 minutes, 50 seconds
Part of the AIDS Jaago (AIDS Awake) Series
Initially, I was set to find what I think is the impossible: a Bollywood short film. Instead, I came across these series of short films that acclaimed Indian directors worked together on. Mira Nair, Farhan Ahtar, Vishal Bhardwaj, and Santosh Sivan all made short films in order to make people aware of AIDS and HIV.
The film is straightforward and simple in its approach. Famous Indian dancer and choreographer Prabhu Deva leads as a truck driver who harbors an unknown stow-away in his cargo: a young child named Kittu who is in search of his mother. When they arrive in Mysore, they discover she is in the hospital in her final stages of AIDS. Kittu then reveals he cannot go back to school, because he has contracted HIV like his mother and father, and the school doesn't want him to return. The driver sets forth in making the school take Kittu back, and in the end, Kittu returns and is no longer shunned.
The common thread I heard with people who do not like foreign films is this: I don't like reading while I am watching. I personally don't understand why it's so difficult to read what is being said while watching something, but I can see how people who don't like text on their screen all the time are annoyed by subtitles.
So it benefits that this short film has a simple story to tell. With a short film and a straightforward plot, the need to make people ware of AIDS is done affective and comes across the screen well. This is because with a simple plotline like this, there really isn't much need to focus on the dialogue. The sentences are short, not dramatic, and not long. It's easier to follow along.
What also benefits is that the film is short. I think those who are not a fan of foreign feature lengths will like foreign short films better, because there isn't a lot of time in the film. It's short, to the point, and gets a plot told in a short amount of time, between a minute to fifteen minutes.
The only thing I find sad about the short film is that I feel like the plot is cliche and overdone. A boy going for his mother and finds out that she has AIDS -- and then we discover he himself is HIV positive -- hits the melodramatic cheese factor really high. It's still a cute short film, and it's effective demonstrating AIDS awareness is essential. However it's still predictable in its plotline.
2008 Sundance Film Festival
Japan Duration: 8:00
Director: Ryousuke Ogawa
In the 28th year of the Meiji period (1895), at a Susukino brothel, there was a beautiful Oiran named Kiyomi. Oiran Lyrics is a historic musical about Kiyomi's glamorous, but plaintive life.
That's the synopsis I found online of this magical, whimsical and tragic short film that featured in the sundance film festival this past year.
It begins with musicians wearing bunny masks in a field lit at night by a full moon and what appears to be pollen rising from the grass towards the sky. Suddenly the camera pans over to a woman under a tree, the oiran, who lays seemingly dead and bloody. It is at this point that the music begins and the audience becomes aware that the story begins at the end and the dead Kiyomi comes back to life to tell her sad tale and the musical session officially begins.
What I found the most interesting about this short was the fact that it is a musical about prostitution. This young woman's horrifying tale begins with the death of her father, leading to her mother selling her to a brothel for money. After a few years, Kiyomi falls in love with a man, gets pregnant and her pimp gets furious when he finds out. Kiyomi is poisoned to kill her baby and then is sold to another brothel, never to see her love again. She convinces herself that tears have no value and love is just a job. She suddenly tries to escape from the brothel and runs into the field from the beginning of the film. She sings into the microphone, "Love is, after all, what I earn, money" and then falls to her death.
Although this a truly unfortunate story about the common practice of prostitution in Japan and mistreatment of women, the story is told along with very upbeat and even happy music. The visual effects are also quite pleasant with bright, colorful flowers in almost every scene. The singing is suprisingly impressive. It may be absurd to associate happiness with such an awful truth, but that's what makes this short film so interesting and amusing.
** Purchased video on Itunes. Check it out!
Foutaises (Things I like, Things I Hate)
Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France, 1989, 6:53min.
For those of you, who like me, can’t stand yet another rendition of “My Favorite Things” and are already dreading the holiday season because you know soon you’ll be unwillingly humming the song here is Jeunet’s first version of “Things I like, Things I Hate” which doesn’t have the same sugar coated, Splenda excess of the Sound of Music lyrics. I’ll just say that Maria would never sing about peeing in the shower.
The plot is simple, a list of likes and hates; but the opening credits are what set forth the list. They are presented by replacing the prices in a butcher’s window with the titles and names for the production crew. They fade to black and we hear a man (Dominique Pinon) say “I hate butcher’s shop windows!” from there he goes on to list things that to us are insignificancies.
Usually, I try not to pay much attention to how film titles and their dialogue has been translated into English. But, I find it necessary to get into semantics with Foutaises, just because I believe it adds to the film itself. The English title of the short “Things I like, Things I Hate” is just fine; it literally tells us what the film is. But Foutaises can also be translated as rubbish or if you feel like doing the whole French-to-Spanish-to-English you arrive at insignificancies. To me, knowing that the film is about insignificancies adds to the film’s subtext. How else would you classify the fact that Pinon enjoys the words like “trans-europ-express, trans-orient-express, trans-siberian-express,” or how he hates leaving one lonely pea on his plate. They are really insignificant to us, even to him, but pointing them out gives them significance. It helps us come to terms with our own capricious likes and dislikes.
What helps in liking Pinon’s list is the slightly sarcastic tone that Jeunet inscribed to the film that and the thousand ways Pinon can contort his face (you might also remember his face from some film about some Amélie girl). Pinon has a grumpy guy type face which makes him seem sarcastic at time. But it is Jeunet’s visual style that adds those layers of sarcasm that make you chuckle and agree to yourself with some of the things in the film. The best example is when he says he likes the innocence of kids, just to reveal a girl bouncing a ball in wall with the graffiti of a penis but is not until later when Pinon admits to liking street graffiti. The film is also very graphic in very literal way, Jeunet makes a great use of illustration but he also shows literal actions. The literal actions and the editing makes the audience react and almost feel the pain, especially, when he pluck his nose hair on camera.
Jeunet likes fantastic cinema and Foutaises is the first film where he started to play with it. He later used the same technique of close-ups and things your like to introduce the characters in Amélie. But Jeunet’s choice to mix film with animation, illustration, newsreel, and the piano soundtrack add up to an almost palpable experience. I would aregue that his list of the likes and hates feel far more real than “My favorite things”. This is partly because Pinon’s narration is filled with pauses and it feels more like things he thought of over time and were edited later. Jeunet made an excellent mix of the fantastic and the realistic, with just enough not so insignificant lines to leaving thinking about what you watched and makes this quirky little short actually significant.
“I hate to think we sleep a third of our life, but I like to think that after death can't be worse than before birth."
Fait d'Hiver (Gridlock)
Directed by Dirk Belien, Written by Johan Verschueren
7:28 min; 2003
Academy Award Nominee 2003: Best Live Action Short Film
Some of the most successful short comedy films act as single joke. The best short comedies stay within a ten-minute running time and work as a build up to a solid punch line. Fait d’Hiver (Gridlock) works in that it could be a joke told in a bar and the attention to detail and changing tone levels make it worthy of an Academy Award Nomination.
Starting on a funny note with a frustrated man stuck in traffic in a blizzard works perfectly as a set-up for learning about the cheating wife. But Dirk Belien’s choice to swing the film to a more serious tone throws the audience into a confused state. It’s unclear exactly where the film is going and a seemingly funny film quickly turns sinister. The dark and ominous score along with the serious approach to the wife’s reaction and her death could have easily been done in a lighter context but would have watered down the punch line.
Fait d’Hiver is an effective short in that it engages the viewer to speculate about all of the possible outcomes in only seven minutes. Despite its dark tone throughout the middle, the epiphany by the main character works as an uneasy yet amusing relief to situation. Although the ending ties the film together well, it still remains ambiguous enough to remain in the viewer’s mind to continue putting the pieces together (even though the English song at the end provides more than enough exposition for the entire film).
Looking at foreign language shorts it is easy to come across many that are entertaining but sometimes it feels like a look into an entirely foreign world. Despite the Dutch language spoken in Fait d’Hiver, Belien’s film works in its accessibility beyond the Belgium world. In some respects it makes it more amusing and entertaining to be reminded of the similarities in relationships, marriages, rush hour, and jealousy that transcend any language barrier.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
KINKY HOODOO VOODOO
Directed by Velasco Broca, Spain, 2004, approx. 8 minutes.
Source: Wholphin No. 5
One of the advantages of university library access is watching all of the Wholphin DVDs I've missed out on by not having the cash for a subscription. I found Kinky Hoodoo Voodoo in the fifth issue, and out of all the films on that disc, this is the one I was most confused and intrigued by. The short uses no dialogue, choosing instead to employ intertitles in a homage to the silent era. Oddly enough, the provided text adds little to the viewer's understanding of this strange experimental sci-fi film.
Voodoo begins with a young boy attending summer camp. He is inexplicably drawn towards another area of the camp, where he watches a woman sensuously massage herself with a loofah in an outdoor shower. Shortly aferward, a group of his fellow campers march into the shower tent, where the naked woman and campers have been consumed by and/or have morphed into a giant, throbbing alien blob. He is then abducted by two aliens from Saturn and carried into the woods, where he is encased in a white web on a tree. Then, in a flashback sequence, one of the Saturnians emerges from a lake, implying that the aliens had been watching the camp all along.
It's a convoluted narrative that invokes early fetish films, 1920s experimentals, and the 1950s extraterrestrial robots a la Forbidden Planet all at once. Though I'm probably alone in this, the scene where the campers are wrapped in webs reminds me of the cotton candy cocoons in Killers Klowns from Outer Space. It's a weird combination that has made the director, Velasco Barco, something of an underground cult phenomenon in Spain.
I'm completely perplexed by the title. Voodoo's from Haiti and Hoodoo is from Africa. The only part that almost makes sense is "Kinky," since the film includes the one scene of voyeurism. I'm not sure what any of these elements have to do with an alien invasion in 1990s Spain, but perhaps that's why the film is described as experimental.
Even if Barco's ideas are a bit obtuse, the director has created something strangely compelling. The short feels like a metaphor for male adolescence, a frenzied mix of naked girls, aliens, and outdoor adventures. Like most experimental films, however, the tendency to extrapolate symbols and concepts is stronger than actual evidence of a deeper meaning. Luckily, I don't think an underlying metaphor would affect my enjoyment of the film; it's still terrifying, surreal, and frustratingly abstract.
3 Jours (3 Days)
Directed by Jean-Marc Rousseau, France, Unknown year, 6:47
3 Jours is about a man that finds out his ex-girlfriend is HIV positive. He has to wait 3 days to find out his own personal HIV test results, and he cannot bring himself to discuss the situation with his current girlfriend. At the end of the film, he finds out he is HIV positive. As he cries, his girlfriend calls his phone, but he does not answer.
What impressed me about this film is it's ability to let the audience fill in the blanks, but not in a way that is too challenging for the audience or in a way that is too cliche to remain entertaining. For example, when the protagonist talks to his friend on the phone, we are not exactly what sure what the bad news is. The suspense builds in the next scene when he won't tell his girlfriend what is wrong. However, in the next scene, the doctor asks him if he's had unprotected sex in the last 3 months, and the audience can begin filling in the blanks that a serious sexually transmitted disease like HIV is involved (later, HIV is directly referenced to extinguish any further mystery).
The film builds drama nicely between the lines. The main character never says, "Oh no! I have HIV and I am afraid to tell my girlfriend whom I've been sleeping with!" However, the man's private moments of despair and his interactions with his girlfriend reveal how intense the situation is.
The film also contains one of those always-dependable "now the beginning makes sense!" endings. In the beginning, the protagonist is sitting and crying while his phone rings. We have no idea what is happening. By the end of the film, we know he has HIV and that he has to tell his girlfriend. The same shot of him crying while the phone is ringing is replayed, this time to greater effect as we know the drama of the phone call.
Overall, this is a fairly strong short. While the plot is a bit "been there done that," the filmmaker handles it in a fresh manner that is intelligent and simple at once. The open ending leaves the audience wanting more, which is good for a filmmaker attempting to market himself.