Saturday, December 06, 2008

Quintessentials: Charlie Bit My Finger

Charlie Bit My Finger- again!

Look for Amy Bush's original post to get a summary of the film. It would be pointless to redo that, so I am going to look at this film and it's place in our world.

In picking a short for our Quintessentials Celebration, I decided to pick this one because it is probably the quintessential YouTube video of our time. In our class, we have long debated whether or not films like Charlie Bit Me are short films. One side says tat anything recorded on a camcorder can be classified as a short film, whether it be parents filming British kids biting each other or a full budget production like Green Porno. The other side says that the intention defines what the film is. Did someone gather crew members to film something and edit the footage into a short film? Or did the person just happen to have their camera rolling, not knowing they were going to put it on YouTube? The original short films of the late 1800's are similar to many Youtube videos of today: they are based on spectacle - something interesting/cool is happening on a screen in front of you. One thing that should be considered in this debate is the evolution of a definition. Breaking "short film" down, you can define it as "a film that is short." However, in culture, the term "short film" as evolved to mean something else. No one is going to submit something like "Charlie Bit Me" to a film festival - it's inherently understood that a "real" short film is something much more substantial and planned.

So why did I pick "Charlie Bit My Finger" as a quintessential short film if I don't think its a short film? Well, whatever it "is," it's what YouTubers love. I'd say 9 out of 10 YouTube links I get from friends are ridiculous things caught on camera. "He fell off that building!" "She said that live on TV!" YouTubers want something that wows them. Even legitimately made pieces become popular because of how bad they are, for example the Mick Jagger/David Bowie video "Dancing in the Street" has 500,000 views - and it's not because people think it is good. YouTube is basically an unfiltered America's Funniest Home Videos free for all. My own YouTube account reflects this. I have several of my own video projects online. Which one has the most hits by far? The one where I filmed a prank I did on my roommate. While I have scripted films I've made that I personally enjoy way more, the prank video is the one embraced by YouTubers (28,000 hits).

YouTube is a place where short films can thrive, but the ones that thrive the most are people that got lucky with a camera. Charlie Bit Me is the quintessential example of what we want to watch on YouTube.

Pat Benatar- Love is a Battlefield

A semester of short film study, and the format that still leaves me with the most questions is music videos. For some reason, the commercial aspect of the concept of the music video keeps me from fully advocating music videos as short films, in a general sense. Now I know that almost every film, in any manner, is funded and is essentially, product (right Karl Marx? LOLZ).
But a film comes from a creative place (most of the time), while a music video comes from a song, usually a single, and wouldn't exist without that. I choose to use Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield" music video as an example to reflect on this issue, not only because it's featured heavily in the modern classic 13 Going On 30, but because it's an early pioneer in the narrative school of music video-making.

I remember VH1 Pop-Up Video once stating that this was the first music video to feature recorded dialogue (when the father warns Pat Benatar that if she leaves the house, she can never come back.) In its fledgling format, this was actually a very experimental decision, far more innovative than Rod Stewart staring into a camera in a mirrored room and lip-synching his latest fuck jam. "Love is a Battlefield" was one of the first music videos to genuinely try to tell a story separate from the song, and there are moments where the images are arresting enough to make you forget that this is a derivative of a Pat Benatar song. The filmmaker maybe thought that the video could pass as a real film.

But really, they're not fooling anyone. When someone turned on MTV (in the Martha Quinn days when they actually played music videos) and saw a blind girl being stalked by Lionel Richie or the Jackson family sprinkling gold on a town, I would sincerely doubt that anyone thought that these images were from anything but a music video. If for some reason these were viewed on a movie screen before a feature, then wouldn't the music cue people in on what they were watching? Although many films are hyper-soundtracked and often have montages without anything but music supporting the image aurally, there are other facets to the film that surround these brief music video moments, which allows them to be viewed as part of a film. Music videos are still works of art that are undeniably linked to the songs that birthed their creation, and because they are meant to spread word of mouth for something that can be bought.

And that line of thinking seems to work, until one looks at the world of fan-made videos. Although in past one could take their dad's video camera and shoot their own music video of a song (like a young Drew Rosensweig did for Miami Sound Machine's "Conga"), that idea has gained a new forum with the advent of Youtube. Tying into our discussion of web videos, even if something is filmed only for personal reasons, if and once it ends up on the internet in some sort of viewing venue, I would argue that it becomes a new, separate entity. Whether done in a somewhat professional, ironic way by a comedian or in a low-budget, more abstract way, these music videos seem to be a celebration of the song, without any interest in selling records. Although a video directed by Mark Romanek or Jonathan Glazer may have more creative expression and cinematic traits than these fan-made videos, they are still inherently funded by someone in an effort to sell something.

There's also an aesthetic issue about music videos, and that's the music inherent to them. Christine's point that the idea of characters in a music video breaking into song is no different than a musical is well-made, and undoubtedly truthful. However, I do have to respectfully disagree with her argument that "the song supports the message, but the film does not rely on the song to exist." It exists wholly as music video, and although the song falls to the background at points, there is no point where the song is not played in some respect. If the video was stripped of its music throughout, there would be a story there: woman leaves family for big city, finds it tough there, liberates her fellow coworkers, and then leaves town. But it's not presented that way, so why even speak in hypotheticals? Maybe it's a structural understanding we, as an audience, have picked up in the past thirty years, and if so, perhaps it is tough to see outside of the box on an entity so well-defined.

Now could someone explain where the underworld of Sims music videos fits in?

Antoine and Colette

directed by Francois Truffaut
30 minutes

Antoine et Colette is the second of five films Francois Truffaut made about Antoine Doinel, a semi-autobiographical and perpetually hapless character played by Jean Pierre Leaud. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who's seen all five films and wouldn't name The 400 Blows as their favorite by a mile, but Antoine et Colette -- the only short in the bunch -- gets its fair share of love too. As Kylos mentioned, the film was originally included as a part of the 1962 omnibus film Love at Twenty, but Criterion recently extracted Truffaut's segment and released it as a stand-alone piece in their Adventures of Antoine Doinel box set. That's how I first came across it, and I still haven't seen the rest of Love at Twenty. I think this goes to show the peculiar way in which context is at once seen as integral and dispensable with an omnibus film: Love at Twenty as a whole seems to be about the message we get when putting all these separate shorts together, but the segments are each able to have lives of their own outside the film and be perhaps even more popular out of context.

Antoine and Colette gives Truffaut fans the ultimate wish fulfillment -- wouldn't we all love the opportunity to glimpse into the lives of the characters from our favorite films a few years after they are where we've left them when the credits rolled? The short comes three years after the tremendous international success of The 400 Blows, which was Truffaut's debut feature. That film has a huge emotional impact on me whenever I watch it, and I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. The ending is iconic for its ambiguity; after the film takes us on such an emotional journey, we don't even get unequivocal proof in the end that Antoine is going to be "OK." The whole purpose of Antoine and Colette (and continuing on the Antoine character in general) seems to be Truffaut's way of telling us (and perhaps himself) that we don't need to worry, Antoine's life will continue on in its same haphazard way, and he will always be able to make it through whatever situation he finds himself in. I'm reminded of a quote from Felini that has always stuck with me, about the titular character in his film Nights of Cabiria, "This film doesn't have a resolution in the sense that there is a final scene in which the story reaches a conclusion so definitive that you no longer have to worry about Cabiria. I myself have worried about her fate ever since." Antoine and Colette seems to be Truffaut's way of telling us not to worry about Antoine.

Of the Antoine Doinel films I've seen, I would rank this one just behind The 400 Blows. What I like about it is that it there is no narrative gimmick of any kind, it's just a slice of Antoine's life at age 17. Truffaut has admitted that the later films were just excuses for him to work with Leaud again and to continue to character on. As a result, some of the features rely on some pretty unnecessary plot contrivances. In Stolen Kisses, Antoine tries his hand at being a detective. In Bed and Board, he works for a Japanese businessman and attempts to woo his daughter. They're good films, though I don't like them as much as Antoine and Colette, and I think their length has something to do with it. I'm not sure that Truffaut would be able to make a feature out of the plot of this short. It's so much a slice of life, a fleeting glimpse into the day-to-day of Antoine as a young adult. Aside from his ill-fated romance with Colette, the film is much more about creating an overall atmosphere than focusing on a gripping plot. Since it's hard to sustain a the slice-of-life atmosphere over a 90 minute feature, the latter three films in the series don't have the same effect as this short. For this reason, perhaps the series as a whole would have been stronger if Truffaut had kept the last four films as shorts rather than features. All we really want is a glimpse into Antoine's life to know that he's staying out of trouble (though that's rarely the case with him), and that is all Antoine and Colette grants us.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Luxo,Jr: A Pixar Quintessential

The main reason why I chose to join this short film class was because the only knowledge of short films I had came from Pixar’s short films. I truly enjoyed watching these short narratives before the film; to me they were like a bonus Pixar film. As they animation style has evolved, I have become more and more a fan of both their shorts and their feature films. Thus it should be no surprise that as Pixar’s biggest fan I chose a Pixar short to be placed in the category of quintessential.
Pixar is a unique company not only for their brilliance in animation but also because it is the only company I know off to screen shorts commercially as part of the feature experience. Their most recent example of this is called Presto which accompanied the feature film Wall-e. Although I understand the point that Laura was trying to make about the narrative power that the characters of Wall-e and EVE have in the movie without dialogue, Presto equally satisfies, if not more, the idea behind the effectiveness of Pixar narration through facial details and no dialogue. Personally I believe that the features have a completely different style than the shorts do. I even believe that the company has separate teams for both mediums.
But it is true that the company’s distinctive calling to bring narrative via animation by usually humanizing its subject can be traced to its signature film Luxo, Jr. This film put Pixar on the map of animation. For this reason Luxo, the lamp, became Pixar’s mascot and signature as can be seen in the more recent displays of the Animation studio logo. When the name of the company is presented at the begging of the feature Luxo, jumps in to take the place of the I in Pixar.
The short has an incredible simple yet captivating narrative of Luxo Sr. (as it was noted in a previous post) and his interaction with the naïveté of Luxo Jr. who is completely captivated by playing with a small ball. Luxo Sr. joins in on Luxo Jr.’s fun with the ball but once the ball deflates Sr. reacts by shedding light to the fact that the ball is gone. Sr. believing to have done the correct thing as a parent of teaching his child to be more careful is completely taken by surprise that in fact the message that Jr. obtained in all of this was to simply get a bigger ball which he probably won’t be able to deflate. The most interesting part of the short is that Sr. interacts with the audience at the end. As if curious that maybe the feeling of confusion as to what just happened is one and the same. Sr. then simply shakes his head in a similar manner as parents would do when uttering the words “aww kids”.
Sounds are a key aspect to note in this short because the sounds are what compliment almost inseparably the details of humanization given to the lamps. Without the other, the audience would not get as much as it does from the short because the animation wouldn’t feel as believable as it does. The same can be said about sound during the logo presentation; Luxo barely shows any facial expression but the sound explains both what he is trying to do and the frustration behind him not being able to sink the I.
Thus the short belongs in the category of quintessentials because it is a great example of how shorts illustrate narrative in a completely different style than features. The boxer knockout analogy that Julio Cortazar provided for the short story can be used here to exemplify this short film as a unique narration that stands out on its own.
To finalize I believe the short not only is dear to the animation studio because it gave them the ticket to claim success but also because it seems to be based on the studio’s philosophy for film making. If one idea deflates then eventually an even bigger and more fun idea will be found. This is what happened with Wall-e. The first idea for a feature was about robots but the idea simply did not bounce and they came up with Toy Story. But eventually, the robot came back and it has been one of the biggest Pixar hits to date.

PS This short was nominated for the Academy Award in 1986


1958, 10:03
Directed by Bert Haanstra
Academy Award: Best Documentary, Short Subject (1960)
Silver Bear - Special Jury Prize for Short Documentary - 1958 Berlin International Film Festival

I am a huge fan of How It's Made. It engages my endless craving for gadgetry. In How It's Made, the stuff being manufactured is rarely anything special - highlighters, bicycles, sometimes candy - because those are things that won't distract us from the real stars: the industrial machinery that churns through incredible masses of raw materials and turns out something we can use.

Glas also puts the focus on the means of production: the expert glass craftsmen. Sure, they're making cool and unique works of art, but glass-blowing is a quirky job that lets each individual glass-blower put his or her personality into the process. My personal favorite is the guy with the coke-bottle glasses.

The jazzy soundtrack fills in this feeling of "quirky" and "personality." The jazz genre revolves around improvisation. No two sessions sound alike. Likewise, no two hand-made glass pieces ever come out identical. But then we leave the world of expert craftsmen and enter one of mass production. The music changes to one defined by samples, which are used over and over again. Each sound is identical, just like each piece produced by the machine is identical. The men tending to the machines are relatively uninteresting to look at. Of course, the moment the machine trips up and starts doing something out of the ordinary, the monotonous voice counting out how many bottles have been produced gains some human urgency. Drew brought up this theme in his original post: "Men no longer are behind each piece of craftsmanship, only kept around to make sure that the machines work properly." The monotonous voice changed to reflect the moment when the machine started producing unique pieces of glass: broken bottles.

Glas is ten minutes long. One 22-minute episode of How It's Made consists of four separate segments that clock in at about five minutes apiece. A short film about the production of goods will probably never run more than 15 minutes in length. Who would pay attention? How It's Made appeals to me because it requires virtually no attention span. If it were any longer, it would turn into an industrial training video.

p.s. How It's Made has also documented glass-making in a segment about marbles. Beautiful.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes

Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes
Directed by Byron Hurt, 2006

While scrolling through the blog to find my favorite entries from the semester, I stumbled across an entry I hadn’t read before. It was Michael’s entry on Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a 2006 documentary film directed by Byron Hurt. I was glad to see it posted here because it is one of my favorite documentaries. However, I was also a bit surprised for one important reason: it is not a short. The entry says it is 4 minutes 53 seconds long but it is actually 56 minutes long. Additionally, it was posted during the “online only” week but it actually debuted at Sundance Film Festival, was shown on PBS, and is available to buy on DVD.

I should point out that I’m not saying this to be condescending or to prove Michael wrong. My intention is to examine how a feature length film could so easily turn into a short and what that says about short films.

After I read Michael’s entry, I went to Youtube and searched for the version of the film he reviewed. I’m pretty sure I found it here and it is misleading. It’s misleading because it is a convincing short. All of the scenes shown here are part of the full-length version and explore the four issues plaguing hip-hop today: masculinity, homophobia, sexism, and violence. This condensed version of the film makes all the same arguments and features a lot of the most effective scenes from the film. It works. I can see how it would seem complete and powerful on its own. Compared with the real version of the film, though, it leaves me wanting more. All of main ideas and arguments are there but it is missing some great interviews. We get snippets, like when Hurt tries to ask Busta Rhymes about homophobia in hip-hop and Busta basically freaks out and refuses to even “go there,” only further proving Hurt’s argument. However, one of the greatest aspects of the film is that Hurt doesn’t talk at the hip-hop community, he engages them and pulls them into the debate. He allows some of the biggest names in the game (both old and new) a chance to contribute to the discourse. That great component to the film is lost in the short version of the film.

It was that loss of depth that made me feel like I was watching an extended trailer of the film (which is basically what it is since it doesn’t seem like Hurt had anything to do with this edited version). I’m not saying that disqualifies it from being a short film. (I’m not completely sold on the idea that a trailer is a short film but I can’t push it aside, either). Instead, I’d maybe compare the short version to Foxhole. It could have included more interviews and found footage to tell a broader story but it didn’t need to to be successful.

In my paper, I argued that length does not limit a short film from telling a story as complex as a feature. When I began writing this entry, I questioned whether I still believed that to be true. The shortened version was good but it lacked certain elements that made the real version great. Would it be the same if we curtail all other features? And then I thought back to some of the great films we watched this past semester (The Replacement Child and La Jetee, being two of my favorites) and I couldn’t help but stick by my original argument.

To check out Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, watch it here.

English Language (with English Subtitles)

This film was originally brought up on the blog in the context of the DC shorts film festival. This was my favorite film of that showcase, and I wanted go back to it to look at it a bit more closely. As we worked through the semester, I kept coming back to this film because I kept seeing new ways to look at it.

My favorite part of the film was the role of the subtitles. At my first viewing, I was so intrigued by the way that they started as conventional subtitles, but then took on new roles like adding inner monologue, interacting directly with the characters, acting as advertising, and then taking on their usual role but with a twist. Recently, this struck me as I was writing my paper about shorts challenging the rules of traditional film. Whoever said the subtitles had to say exactly what the film says? Whoever said the subtitles can't be a character? Subtitles are something film viewers take for granted when another language is being spoken in a film. This film provides subtitles for the silent languages, like the audience's expectations and desires, the subtext, and the musicians that get hired to play in the film. Usually, they are a familiar friend (or foe) that we expect to follow a particular form. This film takes something as obligatory as subtitles and gives them new life as something totally unfamiliar. Shorts allow for this kind of experimentation, and in this case it worked to great effect. It took me by surprise at first, but after a while it didn't seem so strange. The subtitles added a refreshing sense of self-awareness of the frankly overused plot line the film followed. I love films that can make fun of themselves, so I loved when the subtitles mocked the atypical lover's silent argument in bed that I see so often in couple-centric movies lately. I wish more filmmakers could take a step back and make fun of themselves every once in a while.

Another interesting element of the film was the way it morphed in the middle into nothing other than a music video, as seen in the clip above. The song is called "Afterglow" by Barbarossa, as described by the subtitles. The subtitles take on a new role, providing information on the song title and the band and where it can be bought, just like the small blurb at the bottom of music videos at the beginning and end. In class we classified music videos as shorts, so if that's the case, this segment is like a short within a short (which I don't think we talked about). This segment could very easily stand on its own in my opinion, but also enhances the short as well. This brings up the question: Are shorts indivisible or can shorts have other shorts within them?

This film was my favorite because it was clever to my untrained eye at the time, but I like it so much more now because there is even more for me to see after a semester in this class, so in that sense, I consider it my quintessential.


Darren Aronofsky
Montana Meth Project

I agree with Jeremy’s blog about Darren Aronofsky’s anti-drug commericial “Parents.” The films made for the Montana Meth Project are anything but cute. They hit you hard with the truth about meth and how it can destroy your life.

The Montana Meth Project features commercials by three directors including Tony Kaye, Darren Aronofsky and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Kaye directed seven commercials between 2005 and 2006. Aronofsky directed four in 2007 and Iñárritu directed the most recent three in 2008. For a drug campaign of this importance I think these three directors are well suited for the job. Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors and after watching “Parents” I was not surprised to see his name as the director.

“Parents” as Jeremy wrote starts us off feeling sympathy for the teenager. Quickly this changes as we realize that he is violently threatening his parents to allow him back in the home.

I think an important part of this campaign is not only the violence of Meth shown through the teenager kicking the door but the actions of the parents. Their grief is very heart wrenching as any parent does not want to see their child suffer. This commercial makes a strong statement to parents showing them that as much as it hurts to shut off your lights and close your door to a child in suffering, in the end it is what they must do to help this child. Allowing a meth addicted family member to live in your home is dangerous to yourself and the parents of these addicted people need to be reassured that their actions are for their own well-being. I think that message comes across very strong in this film when we see the child kicking the door and then the lights are turned off. There’s nothing more poignant than having the lights turned off and thinking of the heartache this child has caused his parents.

Each director’s films focused on a certain aspect of meth addiction. Aronosfky’s four films focused on the destruction of relationships as seen in “Parents.” Along with showing parents that closing their doors is the best thing, this film speaks to the potential drug users and showing them that their strongest relationships will be broken down by their addiction. This is seen through the visuals but confirmed by the narration as the teenager talks about his relationship with his parents and how they have always been close. The contrast between what we hear and what we see is what makes this commercial successful.

Battle of the Album Covers

Director: Ugly Pictures, Rohitash Rao
When I think of the word quintessential, pertaining to our course, I think of the ultimate video to describe exactly what we were trying to find as "What is a short?" After looking through dozens of shorts on the blog I found The Battle of the Album Covers, which to me falls in the gray area of YouTube footage and a short film.

Roa made a really creative film in this by taking the covers of famous albums and pitting them in a Battle Royale, a fight to the death. Where Weezer gets their heads bit off by the flesh-hungry, deranged cover of Ozzy Osbourne. And the Beatles Abbey Road cover is actually them running away from the violence. Very creative, but a perfect example of a Internet phenom.

According to Tricalee, the Internet already had seen this film long before the intended release date. Luckily Roa intended to put the film online after it's initial screening, but someone already beat him to it. This is exactly the fate of many films, short and feature length, today. For many of these films this is problematic, for others such as this one they have a great deal of success and reap the benefit of the Internet.

I don't want to take anything away from Roa by saying his film falls in the gray area, it is a film, but in my opinion it's one step below an actual short film and a few steps above all of the junk on youtube and the Internet in general. Now you may say "Who are you to judge this person's work and all the others who put stuff on the web?" Simple, the reason why it's put on the Internet is for the public to view it then to judge it accordingly. And believe it or I am this viewing public. The same reason anyone can read this blog, comment and tear me apart.

I am veering away from my point, this video fell to the inevitable fate of many many films, the Internet. Someone can find almost any film on the Internet if they look hard enough and many films can either collapse or strive due to the Internet.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Sabotage, dir. Spike Jonze, 1994, approx. 3 minutes.

In choosing a short to review as a quintessential, I knew I wanted to return to one of my favorite units of the course: music videos. With the exception of certain TV commercials that could arguably fulfill the criteria of short film (IKEA comes to mind), music videos were my first exposure to shorts. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of watching the video for Nine Inch Nails “The Perfect Drug” and being terrified out of my 8-year-old mind.

My memories of Spike Jonze’s video for “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys are certainly more pleasant, which is why I chose to comment on Liz’s posting. As she describes, the video plays with the 1970s TV cop drama by parodying its moustaches, car chases, and melodrama. In this way, “Sabotage” is a particularly interesting case study: it’s a short film, but it’s a short film about television that also happens to be set to music. Jonze makes an effort to blend these three elements and achieves an equilibrium that makes “Sabotage” both brilliant and hilarious.

Stylistically, it is not immediately obvious that despite its faux-credits, “Sabotage” is not an actual television show a la Starsky and Hutch. As Liz mentions, the shots are typical of the genre, focusing on close-ups of sirens, hubcaps, and aviator glasses, all filmed on a handheld that makes the chase sequences reminiscent of an episode of Cops; the viewer feels like they are struggling to keep up with the band member’s exploits as their trigger-happy cop alter-egos. Thus, can “Sabotage” still be considered a short film if it’s so closely aligned with the conventions of television, and in addition, is produced for TV exhibition?

I would argue yes. One of the major debates of this course was whether or not intent and exhibition can alter the classification of a video as short film, television, or commercial. The Twilight Zone, though at first glance could be described as a series of short films, is still formatted for television; in contrast, most students gave a promotional video for Naomi Klein’s new book the privilege of being considered a short, due in large part to the fact that it was directed by Alfonso Cuaron. I don't think that it's constructive to use directors and style to classify a work, but rather the intent of its producers. So, even though "Sabotage" looks, feels, and behaves like an episode of a 70s cop drama on speed, the intent of both the artists and Spike Jonze was to create a music video that functions in the same manner as his other, equally groundbreaking videos.


Posted by: meepmeepmeepow

Although I obviously left this blog to the last minute with no idea as to what short film I was going to choose as a quintessential, with one glance at the label 'muppet', I knew this was the short for me. Growing up solely as a Nickelodeon child, the muppet family was my family. I loved the re-runs of the 1970's variety show and baby muppets definitely was a plus as well. Even better, Beaker was, no lie, my favorite muppet, AND Beethoven's 9th is beautiful, so the combination of the two were more than I could ever ask for.

The idea that puppets/muppets and animation could go hand in hand really fascinates me. The fact remains that animation holds multiple meanings these days with growing technology, so who's to say that puppeteering--arguably easy to maneuver ( in comparison to other forms of entertainment, that is) can't be considered animation? Just as Paul pointed out, Beaker is an extremely animated muppet and shows his true colors very well within the context of this hilarious short. He attempts to be creative and show off his multiple talents (all at once), but, as usual, multiple things go wrong and in the end, Beaker gets hurt in more ways than one. If anyone watched the muppets growing up, they'd understand that it's just how Beaker is and will always be.

But we love him anyways <3

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

An Insult with a Lesson in Diplomacy

Por que no te callas (Why don't you shut up!)

I've decided to talk about Raissa's post way back at the beginning of the semester about a commercial for Suncom Wireless. Since it is in Spanish, I will repost Raissa's translation of the commercial before I say anything more.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela would not back down during the speaking time of the Spanish delegation. He kept insulting the Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, with regards to his predecessor Jose Maria Aznar. In a response to Chavez's behavior, the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, YELLED at Chavez, "why don't you just shut up!" The video continues by saying "Wanna keep talking? Don't worry, Suncom wireless has all types of plans for you including call waiting."
The exchange of words between King Carlos and President Hugo Chavez took place ON November 10, 2007 at the Ibero- American Summit in Santiago, Chile.

I picked this particular short film because I think that it gets at the essence of the difference between short films and film as a document and shows how our (or at least my) definition of a short film has expanded during the semester. Short film is something I thought of as a generally artsy and exclusive club, but it is no such thing. Music videos clearly belong to the short film club as do commercials. However, what starts to muddle the short film category is when we introduce Youtube and home videos in general into the mix and whether they should be determined as something different than the traditional short film. Youtube videos may be a bit coarser in various ways, but film is a title that suits them well.

This commercial illustrates the line between documentation and film well. The recording of the various diplomats was captured to show people, either in the news or in a live broadcast, what was going on at the meeting and to generally provide information for reporting. However, that documentation was then manipulated by Suncom to create a commercial and, consequently, a short film.

While the commercial turns out relatively fancy, the line between documents and short films is one easily broached without a large budget. The Youtube short, Charlie bit my finger - again!, illustrates my point. That moment of film was presumably caught as part of a larger recording documenting the two brothers. When the filmer saw that moment and decided to share it with the world, he changed that documentation into a film by editing which parts were to be shown. Even if the filmer only caught that particular moment, the mere act of putting it on Youtube transforms it by allowing it to be subject to the public gaze. The idea of the public gaze is one way to transforms a document by making the filmer self-conscious of his or her film as something that now stands on its own independent of the filmmaker. Previous to posting the document on Youtube (or any other film-sharing website), people who would have seen the document from a similar perspective of the filmer since they would be close to the situation. This shows film as a transformation from the private view of the cameraman to the public view of an audience which is free to inteprete the film in many different ways. This is perhaps one way to show how Youtube movies (and home videos) can move beyond documentation into film and documentaries even without the idea of editing.

Monday, December 01, 2008

All Is Full Of Love

All Is Full Of Love
Directed by Chris Cunningham
USA 1999 (4 minutes)

Bjork's visual art has always been just as interesting as her music. Throughout her solo career she has teamed up with some of the more acclaimed music video directors of the time (Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham among others) to deliver arresting short form cinematic expressions like this one. In Jihyun's original posting on this video she stated, "I do not really understand what relationship her music videos have with her song lyrics." I think that's a reasonable reaction, as there often isn't very much explicit thematic or narrative correlation between the two. Instead, I think she's more concerned with creating a mood and visual aesthetic that compliments the music. In such design, she often returns to a common theme regarding the marriage of technology and nature.

In the case of this particular short, Jihyun was apt to discuss the techniques used to create the video as Bjork's visual media work remains some of the most innovative in the industry. It remains difficult to separate the thematic content of the videos from their production. Here, we see Bjork herself being constructed in a sterile industrial facility in the form of an android. The film concerns itself with the sensuality of the human form within the context of a purely mechanical environment. The parallel can be clearly seen in her music as well. Her song writing frequently incorporates Earthy imagery and sexual or anatomical content, while her arrangements and functional music-making have become increasingly digital over the years (with the stark exception of Medulla, a nearly 100% vocal album). Personally, this balance proves refreshing and particularly compelling, in a time where much of the world feels divided between a sort of technological paranoia and environmentally-ignorant industrial mindset.

It stands to be determined exactly how these videos function within the wide realm of short films as a whole. I believe the very basis of this interplay between technology and nature drives the meaning of her videos. They exist as singular non-narrative expressions lauded for their visual inventiveness, supported by her similarly inventive song writing. Given the wide distribution of music videos as a predominantly advertising-focused format, Bjork's shorts probably have the greatest influence as examples of filmmaking innovation. There seem to be two distinct design schools in her work: a hyper-stylized "analog" form, and a sleek sterile digital form. The former, exemplified best by Michel Gondry's work, showcases a nature-rooted in-camera display of visual inventiveness (as seen in "Bachelorette" and "Army of Me"). The latter form often features Bjork herself subject to a variety of cutting-edge digital effects manipulation (such as "Hunter" where she morphs into a polar bear, and "Hidden Place" where a mystical amoebic ooze enters parts of her head).

Even within these two schools of thought that thematic dichotomy remains evident. However, she broke even another barrier recently with her video for "Wanderlust", one of the first internet-based 3D digital stereoscopic film productions. Viewing the movie in its proper 3D required acquisition of anaglyph glasses, or for the viewer to go to a designated music store where viewing stations were set-up upon release of the single. Sure to prove a landmark short once 3D has become a common and familiar format both in movie theaters and in the home, "Wanderlust" signals yet another breakthrough filmmaking experiment and perhaps the perfect amalgamation of modern technology and natural "analog" imagery.

For those interested, I'm going to post links to all the videos I referenced here, because I think they're all worth exploring to really identify this concept I've addressed.

Wanderlust (just the 2D version, but you can find the 3D take with little effort)


7:35 de la Mañana
Dir. Nacho Vigalondo, Spain 2002, 8:02min
Source: and YouTube

Generally, I have a problem with directors who decide to be the main character of their films. I think they can have stronger pieces when they concentrate their energy on writing the script and directing the rest of the cast (cameos are ok). But, Nacho Vigalondo and his 7:35 de la Mañana (7:35 here on) are making me reconsider that, at least for shorts.

In 7:35 El Tipo (the guy) is played by Vigalondo himself, El Tipo decided that the best way to get the attention of La Mujer was to serenade her with an original song. Good idea. As the song moves through the stances, we realize that the people in the café are being held hostage and forced to sing and dance. Not a good idea. At the end, El Tipo stands in front of the door while singing “but like the best things in life this song begins and this song ends”, he walks out to face the cops and blows him self up. Terrible idea.

But Vigalondo’s idea (decision) to be El Tipo is, after all, not so terrible. For a short that relies so much on performance, he took a big risk. El Tipo needed to be different yet similar to the customer-hostages, i.e. a normal guy who buys his coffee every day at 7:35am and who can blend in enough that he can stalk La Mujer. The customer-hostages are all as stiff as can be and while there’s still certain awkwardness or nervousness in El Tipo, his movement flows with the also tongue-tied tune.

When it comes to describing the short some people say that it is funny, hilarious, etc., and others say that while it is funny, there is something that is off, that they can’t quite point at, tongue-tied themselves. I had almost the same feeling and I attribute it to the song, and the short’s ending. 7:35 is a musical and as such we want it to be happy, a full-fledged act but that is denied to us. The hostages are not happy, and it certainly does not end on a happy note. We want to see the color of the confetti as it rains over La Mujer, but the lack of color is just making it more poignant.

In away the intensity of its poignancy, the sweet-and-sour aftertaste will depend on the viewer’s knowledge and how they interpret the film. Personally, knowing that this film is from El Pais Vasco, and that the vasc region has dealt with terrorist attacks and suicide bombers since the late 50s, plus, knowing about the March 11 Madrid attacks adds a political commentary to it. And, while I don’t think it was Vigalondo’s intent to make a political film, he does have the background and the parallelism is undeniable. But, had I seen 7:35 at its release in 2002 I would probably have seen it more as a commentary on the loss of the sense of community in the Spanish culture. The “cafeterias” are common in Spain, kind of your local coffee shop but as El Tipo sings people seems to be “always in hurry, and always alone” moving more towards tall-skim-caramel-macchiato rush out the door style. But aside from the political or social commentary readings of the film, I agree with some of the comments on the first post about the film that it is ingenious thus deserving to be revisited this week.