Friday, December 12, 2008
Original posting by Liz Feuerbach on September 4th.
For summary and video check out her posting.
I was not going to originally post about this short film, but I recently saw the feature and I changed my mind.
When I saw the feature I did not realize that it was a short first, but now after seeing the short, I think the short is much better. All of my favorite parts of the movie were originally from the short. I also think the short captures the spirit of the story better than the feature did. The feature seemed to drag and add plot lines that weren’t really central to the story. See, in the feature Ben takes the night shift at the supermarket because his girlfriend just broke up with him and now he can’t sleep, so he figures might as well get some money for his extra 8 hours. One thing leads to another and he likes Sharon now. They get together. But of course, a misunderstanding occurs, she runs off, and doesn’t accept his apologies. In the end he gets a gallery to show his artwork and he invites Sharon as a one last “I’m sorry” gesture. She shows up and sees all of the drawings are of her. Now this would be creepy in most situations, but here it is somehow endearing, and they get back together…again.
The extra romance of the feature length film I think distracts from the main focus of the film: the stopping of time to deal with boredom and exchanging your time to get money. I mean both films are titled Cashback, and in the short the title fits the story. But in the feature, by the end of the film you forget what the title means.
Like Liz, I thought how Ben would undress the women in the store and draw them was really perverse, but the way he explains himself makes you forgive him… sort of. Also the way he redresses the women with such care, and makes sure their outfits are straight makes it more forgivable. And really, this is only in his head, he can’t really stop time.
I have a friend who works in the deli department of a supermarket at home and once a day he will throw a chunk of meat in the air and scream out “My arm! My arm!” or something to that effect, just to pass the time. Once it backfired though. Apparently this old woman witnessed him do it once before and she verbally flogged him for joking about something as serious as loosing an arm. I still think the joke is pretty funny.
The Heart of the World
Directed by Guy Maddin, Canada, 2000
I became slightly obsessed with this film after having decided that I wanted to post on it during this blog's inaugural "narrative" week, but Lindsay swooped out from under me and snatched it up (DAMN YOU!). You can see her post if you want plot details, because it seems unnecessary to repeat them.
Initially, Lindsay discussed how this film was a commentary on "the inherent brevity of short films," making a frantic, tongue-in-cheek attempt at tackling larger-than-life issues in only six minutes. I think she's right to sense that Maddin is mocking something, but while she thinks he's mocking supposed thematic limitations of the short film genre (i.e. the idea that short films are much too short to meaningfully explore themes like love, greed, and self-sacrifice), I think he's moreso mocking the idea of the homage and his own investment in this concept. His aesthetics are based on early silent cinema, so to what degree can we applaud him as a visionary filmmaker? If Heart of the World borrows from these aesthetics as well as countless other elements, what makes it worth watching?
Heart of the World comprises a dizzying number of shout-outs, many of which flash by too quickly to be perceptible. In the first 15 seconds, we are presented with the image of an eye, and a knife slicing down a woman's torso. The torso, not the eye, is being sliced, but to insert this non sequitur in the opening sequence of the film is an undeniable allusion to Louis Bunuel and Salvador Dali's Un Chien Andalou, with its iconic eye/slicing image. This eye then pops up several times again throughout the movie to solidify the effect of the allusion; but the eye looks like it's peering through a camera lens, an indication that this eye is the embodiment of Maddin himself, watching us watch him. The machinery and gears at work where Anna does her work as a state scientist has the same gigantic cardboard cut-out feel as the set of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), while Anna herself is dressed (helmet-esque hat and all) like Maria. Oh, and Metropolis' tagline also just happens to be, "There can be no understanding between the hands and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator." Sound familiar?
Lindsay touched on the nod to German cinema, but I noticed in my comment on her entry that "kino" is also Russian for "cinema." The characters' names in Heart of the World, Anna, Nikolai, Osip, and Akmatov, are Russian, and the font used looks like Cyrillic characters. Even the music is by Georgy Sviridov, a Russian composer. It seems then that this is also a nod to Soviet cinema, although unfortunately my ignorance prevents me from speaking more specifically about it.
I won't keep listing the allusions in the film, partly because I'm not enough of a cinephile to pick up on all the many references I suspect Maddin is making, and partly because I'm more interested in the idea of the homage in general, and how Maddin manipulates it to his advantage. This is an intriguing concept because it must negotiate the threshold between unoriginality and showing admiration, but Maddin doesn't tread carefully: he annihilates that threshold, piling homage upon homage as quickly and in as short a time span as he can. In this way, Heart of the World is kind of a joke. Maddin obviously admires those to whom he has alluded, but he's also aware that allusions must be used sparingly lest one's own work devolves into a mere collage of what others have done first. Nevertheless, film is a cumulative artform, and in making one film, you're necessarily hearkening back to the films that have come before you. Even though by contemporary standards, Maddin may seem like a breath of fresh air, his seeming originality is based on what he's borrowed from past films, and this film shows that he is more than cognizant of that. What makes him original is his use of modern themes (like overt sexuality, e.g. the flashing of the word "ORGY" when the masses find out they have only one day left, and the penis shaped canons), the way in which he creates a pastiche of all these elements and the self-awareness and humor with which he does so.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Directed by Paul Olding, United Kingdom, 2007, approximately 8 minutes.
Source: DC Short Film Festival 2008 - Showcase 3
Grandma's Funeral was originally written by Laura as the review of DC Shorts Film Festival. I wrote a review about Diva at that time, but it was difficult for me to choose between Diva and Grandma's Funeral because I liked both films very much. Therefore, I decided to write about Grandma's Funeral this time for my quintessential and am happy to get a chance to talk about this short film.
Grandma's Funeral was shown in showcase 3. The film takes place in a room, and three women are getting ready to go to their Grandma;s funeral. They do not wear black clothes although it is a funeral, because Grandma never liked black. When one of the women, the mother of two other women, tries to wear her skirt, the zipper is stuck. All three of them try to make it work, but it is completely jammed. Forgetting that they have to hurry up for Grandma’s funeral, they are completely preoccupied with the zipper. Someone outside tells them to be prepared soon, but the women do not care at all. They laugh loudly looking at this hilarious situation before Grandma’s funeral. One of the women even tries to make a new skirt with a sewing machine. Then the mother figures it out. The zipper is finally working again. Hearing the person outside the door shouting at them to hurry up, they suddenly become silent with grief shown on their faces.
The three women in Grandma's Funeral pretend to be cheerful in order to hide the sadness deep inside them. They laugh out loud when the mother's zipper gets stuck and try to concentrate only on the zipper. They want to forget the fact that their beloved Grandma has died. But this attempt to avoid the reality soon ends as the zipper gets unstuck. Even though they were laughing so hard, it seemed to me that they are shedding tears internally and look even sadder than just crying out loud. The moment the women came back to reality was so sudden and unnatural that I could feel their sadness, as well.
Laura mentioned in her previous review that she liked the film's dramatic music, as well as it being like a cinematic snapshot, and I agree with her. Contrary to the sad situation in the film, the music is not gloomy at all; it is rather fast and exciting. According to Laura’s expression, "the music was similar to what would play in a horror film" and "it added levity" to the film. By playing music that does not match the circumstance, it emphasizes the situation. The music also makes the situation urgently, adding a lot of tension in the circumstance and it even made me, a member of the audience, want to do something to help them. While I was watching the movie, I kept thinking 'what happens if the mother cannot get the zipper fixed? Are they even able to go to the funeral?' In addition, Grandma's Funeral successfully captures a moment in our lives like a snapshot. A mother and her two daughters get together before their Grandma's funeral, and as they get prepared, they find things that remind them of the daughters' childhood. They also make a memory that will last in their hearts before the funeral. Even though they have to go to funeral, the family feels happiness from what they have shared together in the past, and will share in the future. Therefore, the scene makes the audience feel warmth.
Grandma's Funeral deals with grief in a very unique way. Generally, a film that deals with a funeral tends to be gloomy and sad, making the audience even sadder. However, by showing the hilarious situation and the three women laughing out loud, Grandma's Funeral effectively emphasizes the sadness inside them.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
This short stands out to me for a variety of reasons, and Justin did a good job highlighting some. This short's distribution is only on the internet, and yet the production of the short is quite good. This doesn't surprise me because collegehumor.com is dedicated to maintaining a healthy level of satire, and in doing so is well funded for these videos that bring so much attention. Shorts like this one give legitimacy to the concept of the internet as a valid means to distribute short film.
What also represents itself well in this short is the role nostalgia plays in it. Technology that was cutting edge in 1994 is laughable only seven years later. With today's technology, a person can seem detached from society just by misplacing their cell phone or not changing their facebook status. The juxtaposition of technology that this short compares to today's technology expectations is a reality check, for a lack of better terms. Our lives are completely different. It is so much more convenient that is difficult to even imagine a time when the simple amenities like a cell phone or T1 didn't exist.
I want to highlight it again for the sake of this blog because this short represents a wide range of elements that come with short film. For example, this short is efficient with time, is funny in that it works with implicit notions of current technology, well produced, satirical, and self contained in its story. Lets not forget - it is entertaining! That is what this blog as a whole seems to suggest - that no matter what kind of bum wrap short films get for being short, they are addictive. We search for a spectacle, but more often than not we find something that makes an impression.
This film was originally posted by Paul Klein. I agree with his assessment that this clip represented classic Muppets at their best. The short features the traditional Muppet ending of an explosion. It features one of the principles of comedy; faster is funnier. The song speeds up as the short progresses. Also, I appreciated that Beaker was center stage. Too often in sketches he was in the background, while Bunson Honeydew was center stage, receiving most of the attention.
One of the questions raised by the original post was, are Muppets animation. This is an issue I struggled with. The fundamental issue is whether puppets can be considered animation. The main similarity is that no motion will occur without human action, however I came to the conclusion that puppets are a separate category from animation.
Muppets and claymation are both forms of puppetry. In both an object exists in the physical world, and there are physical restrictions on what the puppet can and cannot do. In animation, be it computer or hand-drawn, there are no physical limitations on what a character is capable of. Also, puppets exist in the physical world, whereas animated characters do not. A human can touch a claymation character or a Muppet, but no one can actually touch an animated Bugs Bunny or Wall-E.
Another interesting point raised by the original post was online distribution via YouTube. Disney posting Muppet clips on YouTube is a way to interest new audiences in the Muppets, as well reconnect with older fans. People in college may remember the Muppets, but only as a childhood memory in the back of the mind. Rediscovering a clip on YouTube may remind a viewer of how much he or she enjoyed the Muppets at an earlier age, and may encourage a rekindled interest in the Muppets, eventually leading to the desire to purchase a CD, DVD, or other Muppet product.
A Girl Like Me
Dir. Kiri Davis, USA, 2005, approx. 7 minutes
When I started considering what film I wanted to post about for the Quintessentials, I originally thought I’d pick an experimental film. In a way, I consider experimentals to actually be the “quintessential” short films – they are the films that fit the short form best, and the ones that grow the most tedious and unwatchable when drawn out into feature-length films (Inland Empire, I’m looking at you.)
On the other hand, I always considered documentaries to be the exact opposite of this. When I watch a short documentary, I generally have either one of two thoughts: 1. If a subject isn’t complex enough to explore in a feature-length film, it’s not really worth exploring at all. 2. If a subject is complex enough to explore in a feature length film, anything shorter is unsatisfying because there is not enough time to look at the topic carefully. All of the short docs we watched in class fit into one of these categories – I either wanted to know a lot more, or felt the film was a waste of time on a dull topic.
So when I was looking at the various experimental shorts posted to the blog, I actually came across one of the documentary shorts, “A Girl Like Me,” that intrigued me a lot more than any of the experimentals. I’m not writing about “A Girl Like Me” because it totally changed my mind on this, but because it is a perfect example of why I feel short documentaries fall short of their longer counterparts. You can read the original post for a summary of the film, which looks at the effects of skin color on perceptions of beauty. The original post author gave the film a lot of praise, and while I think the footage captured by student filmmaker Kiri Davis is fascinating, I don’t think it accomplishes any of the things that it could accomplish if it were longer.
What “A Girl Like Me” lacks – and what a lot of short documentaries lack – is context. The most interesting – and heartbreaking – sequence occurs when a young black girl identifies a white doll as “good” and a black doll as “bad,” and then hesitates when asked to point to the doll that looks like her. In the film’s experiment, 15 of 21 children chose the white doll as the “good” doll. But what do we do with this information? Davis doesn’t come to any conclusion – and how could she in just 7 minutes? The behavior of the children (and the talking-head interviews with young black women) provoke an endless number of questions, especially in a time when we’ve just elected our first biracial president and L’Oreal is using Photoshop to lighten Beyonce Knowles’ skin for cosmetic ads. “A Girl Like Me” also has a muddled focus – is it about the social pressures that black girls face for being “too dark” or “too light,” or is it about the much more subtle process of racial stereotyping that reveals itself in both genders of children in the experiment?
We’ve discussed how short films are often seen as “calling cards” for directors who wish to produce feature-length films. While I’ve just criticized “A Girl Like Me” for failing to do much other than raise a lot of questions, I think it is a wonderful calling card. The film clearly displays Davis’ sensitivity for the subject matter, and with more time and money she could produce a film that explores race in a much more thorough and meaningful manner. I guess it's kind of strange that the gist of my "quintessentials" post is that documentaries fail as short films, but I think it's a question worth considering.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Directed by Don Hertzfeldt, United States, 2000, 9:21
Source: Bitter Films
Steve's choice of Rejected well represented the types of shorts we analyzed throughout the class. There are shorts within a short (Don's thirty second rejected cartoons), experimental (the lack of narrative structure in the rejected cartoons), commercials (Don's cartoons advertised companies), political (Don's tongue-in-cheek response to advertising Johnson & Mills: "I'm a consumer whore!" written over the child, "And how!" for father), and animation (the short is completely hand drawn on pencil and paper). On top of that, this was an award-winning short that swept the film festivals and received the Oscar for best animated short.
What I love about Rejected is how creative it is. As Steve said in his post, "the animation techniques at the end of the film, when the creator begins to go crazy, are very edgy and incredibly well executed." The style of animation reminds me of another short film, that is Oscar-nominated for this year: I Met The Walrus. Like Rejected, I Met The Walrus uses beautiful, eye-popping animation to tell the unique story of a 14-year-old interviewing John Lennon in an interactive, creative way. However, Rejected does not feature the massive amounts of After Effects and Photoshop that I Met The Walrus does.
The main point is that these two shorts are creative. Walrus heavily relies on out-of-the-box animation while Rejected relies on simplistic, paper-and-pencil animation. But if either style was made into a feature length, it would degrade the uniqueness of the short.
When it comes to short films in regards to features, I feel like filmmakers can do a lot with a short amount of time. They focus more on what to create rather than what to fill. With a shorter time, the quality is higher. With a longer time, the quality is harder to create; quantity is the key of the game when it comes to features.
So if Rejected was made into a feature, about rejected cartoons, the uniqueness of the short would be trying on the viewer by the twenty minute mark or so. I feel it would also be trying on the creator as well, having to animate for a longer, more complicated story for a longer amount of time. The uniqueness of Rejected stems from its simple plotline with outrageous, non-sequiter cartoons.
This is a testament again to how in a short amount of time, directors/animators have the freedom to be as creative as possible. Quality is emphasized, rather than the quantity. And in this short amount of time, different aspects of shorts can be referenced.
After reading Huw Roberts’ review of Brokeback to the Future, strange thoughts of the film’s purpose and appeal lingered in my mind. Being that the short trailer itself represented an extension of the preverbal “life of “ the films beyond their theatrical release I became fascinated by the possibilities such experimental spoofs have to offer. It comes as no surprise that one of the briefs in response to Huw’s review admits that an imagined feature-length version of Brokeback to the Future would be an interesting watch.
The trailer toys with genre expectations and form. It is perfectly reasonable to consider that if the trailer were designed as such when Back to the Future originally came out that the appeal of the film would not be half as broad. It might even still be the same film. But expectations are all about getting what you want out of a film.
In an industry where pilots and the filming of individual scenes determine whether or not a production continues, it seems necessary to consider the trailer (even as spoof) a legitimate means for attracting theatrical consumers. Today’s marketing is highly targeted to consumers in a particular niche. With tangible (i.e. theater, DVD) and intangible (i.e. YouTube) venues for showcasing films it is increasingly possible and affordable for successful projects to spawn newer projects which are in some way related. Supporting this notion buys into the methodology of successful television series which stem new seasons, characters, and even more challenging situations for the show’s protagonist.
In the film Tropic Thunder it seems there is this kind of curious experimentation with spoof trailers. Without explicitly mentioning that the preview trailers at the beginning of the film are indeed a part of the film itself, viewers are at first blindly fascinated with the prospect of seeing some of these preposterous trailers on the big screen as features. The titles include anything ranging from Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown to The Fatties: Fart 2. What’s most noteworthy is that some of these so-called "faux-trailers" are alluded to in the movie itself as the film portrays the lives of its characters who happen to be actors in these movies.
Don’t be surprised if this kind of ahead-of-time, conglomerate style of marketing for future projects becomes more common. It seems that it is increasingly impossible to sell an individual product without selling manifestations of the film’s inside jokes for future projects.
Fight to the Finish (2007)
Directors: Steve Erdman, Zac Kind, and Daniel Wolfberg
Czech Republic, 9 minutes
This quintessential posting gives me a unique opportunity as a filmmaker to respond to a post about one of my own short films. Fight to the Finish was a film that Dan Wolfberg, Zac Kind, and myself made while studying abroad at FAMU in Prague during the fall of 2007. We spent the entire semester building this film up from the ground up. Interestingly enough, our original intentions were to make a comedy, but as our idea evolved the film became a powerful (hopefully) introspective drama. We were in charge of everything. After we finished the script, we spent a great deal of time location scouting, locating props (surprisingly hard to find boxing gear in Prague), and casting. We shot the film in three days (two in the park and one at an insane asylum (the film Hostile was shot there as well)Overall I am pleased with how the film turned out and what it turned into, but as Jose Goenaga pointed out with his short films; I see little things I would change. This is because I have spent so much time with the film and am looking at it with a different set of eyes than a first time viewer.
First and foremost, the Jeremy’s initial post about the film was very flattering and rewarding. Seeing someone else write academic praise about something we spent so much time on has been a really cool experience. Jeremy’s observations about subtext were quite accurate. Our advisors urged us to keep dialogue to a minimum and really “show” the audience everything. As a result we were forced to think of how to communicate almost everything visually. The wide spaces are indicative of his loneliness, the blue of his clothing communicate a coldness or sadness, asking the man to move to another bench (when there are many open ones) suggests his tradition of coming to the same place every year.
The list goes on and on, but it all adds up to the telling of the whole story. Jan and his wife loved each other but as time wore on he took her for granted and slightly neglected her. One day they got into a fight, and she died in a tragic accident. The last time they spoke to each other there was a lot of anger and blame. This sour ending, paired with his aging have worn old Jan down. He has almost no one, and approaching the end of his days. As a result Jan honors his anniversary by doing what they traditionally would when she was alive (this is why the nurse knows where he will be). This could be old Jan’s last trip to the park, and in a cathartic release with the boxing mitts, he lets out all of the frustration/sadness/loneliness/aging/etc, and comes to terms with things as they are, not as they were.
The park scenes get progressively higher in elevation until the end, and the wine scene take place at the top of a mountain with Prague castle in the background. The castle proved to be an interesting theme as the audience sees it several times throughout. This self inclusion of Fight to the Finish as “quintessential” is not an ego booster but an interesting opportunity for one of the film’s creators to shed some light on the creative process, our intentions, and our final thoughts on the film. I hope everyone enjoyed the film.
Monday, December 08, 2008
I have to take a moment to acknowledge what I never thought I’d do before. When I was browsing through all the blog posts written this semester and came across “Austinpussy,” I plowed my way to blackboard, convinced that someone would have beaten me to this gem. Alas, I found that I did indeed have the chance to address it, and am eternally grateful to Drew for making it a part of the equation.
For now, I will skip over the complete absurdity of the sequence, as I think it was illustrated well in the original post. What I do want to talk about is a broader question about short films that I think this clip addresses in some ways, or at least serves as a catalyst for questioning.
I am wondering what to do with sequences within film. By this I mean, stretches of video that could stand on their own, which have a narrative structure within them and, most importantly, are somewhat isolated in the film. I will not go into an argument here that all features are composed of linked short films; however, I do not completely disagree with that idea either.
Where I feel we tend to see these types of sequences are during title/credit sequences. I chose Austinpussy because it has a very exaggerated opening sequence, which, while it happens to be a farce, is a good illustration of what we have become used to seeing. Especially in action films, there is this standard for extremely intense, action-packed opening sequences, which rarely ever have a direct connection to what will pursue in the film forward.
We have talked about short films as a means by which directors can take risks. The idea of the opening sequence being extremely ridiculous, as in “Austinpussy,” is interesting. Now while this entire movie is equally ridiculous, the opening sequence is a great avenue to be extra-creative without worrying too much about overall risk. It seems to work like short films here. In this case, just because the title sequence is bizarre, I have come to expect that this part of the film may not be completely representative of the whole. Again, because it may stand on its own, it need not fit into the narrative structure of the rest.
To take this concept a bit broader, what do we do with title sequences for television shows? Immediately I think of “Arrested Development,” where the opening credit sequence gives you the back-story of the family. The style is very different from the style that the show is shot in. The director here was able to take a risk in format, because it is in short format. While I wouldn’t want to necessarily watch an entire half hour or hour of a show in an opening sequence format (which tend to be fast-paced and non-formulaic), these pieces do seem to have a entirety to their format; that they are independent creatures from the film/television show that they are attached to.
Obviously, “Austinpussy” is playing with the action-film norm of the intense, action-packed opening sequence. However, in doing so, it brings up the question, are these unrelated beginnings short films within themselves? If they are, it explains why they can take so many risks here, and why the viewer forgives so easily. I’m still not sure if I can forgive anything about “Austinpussy,” but that’s a discussion for another day.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
By Pepe Donquart, Germany, 1993, 9 minutes 59 seconds
Won the 1993 Academy Award for Live Action Short Film
Source: You Tube
Original Blog Posted By Caren Jensen
Schwarzfahrer is a quintessential short film in its ability to confront an uncomfortable topic in a humorous way that is clever with a subtext. Every time I watch this film, I feel awkward for the other passengers as the elderly woman sits on the trolley spewing her bigoted thoughts. While they might disagree, not a single person is willing to disagree aloud except for a few punk kids but their immaturity in responding does nothing to reach the woman. It is not until the “Black Rider” eats her ticket, forcing her off the trolley, does anyone make an impact.
Upon first viewing, I expected the old woman to have a change of heart after the man did something incredibly gracious or respectable, but this is not a film about changing a person’s heart. Instead, Schwarzfahrer is about a changing time where the prejudiced mentalities of old are being replaced with more tolerant mindsets. Old woman and young black man are clear symbols of two generations, at least once removed. He does not have to protest out loud and make a statement through words. Above all, it is a film about silence.
The silence of the passengers while the old woman rambles on is their method of rejecting her beliefs. Their silence after the man eats the ticket is a symbol of their acknowledgement of justice. The old woman’s desire to voice her opinions further distanced her from group. The only person to openly acknowledge the ticket eating was the young boy who then looked to his mother for recognition. The mom’s choice to openly ignore the action served as a lesson to the young boy about the despicable nature of the elderly woman.
Some of the best short comedy films typically act as a long joke building to a punchline. Schwardzfahrer is a clear-cut example of this but dares to be more than just a joke but a statement. While the statement might seem superfluous today in light of recent events, this film still holds something true when put in context of 1993 Germany. However, it is still an enjoyable film to watch today and a prime example of how short films can be more than just entertainment.
Yu Ming is Ainm Dom (My Name is Yu Ming)
Directed by Daniel O'Hara, Ireland, 2003, 13 minutes.
Source: Google Video
I'm choosing My Name is Yu Ming as my quintessential film because of its length (a succinct 13 minutes), its intelligence and great sense of story (a bored Chinese student who dreams of a life elsewhere, chooses Ireland after a spin of the globe, and travels to his fate), its poignant music and extremes of color and light (which I think evoke a kind of sense of melancholy or even dream-like state to the proceedings), its twisty ending, and even for the possibilities it represents within the world of short film (an Irish production, mixing with Chinese language, focused on the promotion of Gaelic-toned art). It's one of my favorites of the term.
Raissa was the first to post on this and provided the key plot details, so I'd rather build on what makes this film so compelling. For starters, there's an undertone of magical realism to the film, of a boy on one side of the world opting for a trip through the transnational Looking Glass to search for his Magic Grail (the luck of the Irish?) At first, he only finds a sense of bafflement, and the filmmakers capture this perfectly by aligning two crucial scenes on either end of the planet. In China, Yu Ming practices his Gaelic while eating his lunch with chopsticks and then his "you talking to me?" lines in the mirror (all to some peppy music). Later, in Ireland, he's fumbling with a pair of faux metal chopsticks (his solution for the confounding newness of a fork and spoon) and uttering his Taxi Driver quote to a mute statue (as the music shifts to a sadder register). The effect of all this layering is to build a real sense of empathy with Ming, and a connection from his hopeful past to his gloomy present. Ming is also continually isolated from everyone in the film (his boss, the hostel clerk, the barman, and even the librarian, who expresses annoyance at his tampering with her precious globe) until he finds the sympathetic Paddy at the bar. He's the stranger in the strange land.
But there's also the deeper tones to My Name is Yu Ming, the reverberations of themes that echo beyond its short moment on the screen. There's the fascinating concept of a Chinese boy (an owner of the most spoken language in the world) attempting to learn one of the lesser-spoken languages of Western Europe, because of an assumption from an imperfect library book (a foible of our great, new communications age?) Then there's the film's look at the globalization patterns in the world that push many to seek an escape/a job/romance far away, and that in turn create a confusing amalgamation on the streets of any lonely city. Yu Ming isn't the only expat wandering about Dublin - there's an Aussie working the front desk of the hostel, and a Mongolian "Chinese" kid trying to get his money out of the soda machine. Even Paddy looks a bit lost in the bar, sitting apart with his thoughts - perhaps he's just another melancholic wanderer like Ming? The connection between the two is priceless, and comes at the perfect time in the film, 10 minutes in, when the audience is really starting to wonder what will come of all this.
I think there's also a great sense of hope for shorts when you consider the effect of this film on the young company that made it - Dough Productions, based in Dublin, won 18 awards with My Name is Yu Ming and now specializes in Gaelic-themed stories. The two other films on its website include Fluent Dysphasia, about a father who wakes up one day to find that he can only speak Irish (and thus connects with his daughter, who's studying it in school), and Paddywhackery, an ongoing series about a man, his Irish-language business ventures, and Peig Sayers, a Gaelic-speaking ghost character out of Ireland's schoolbooks. The low expenses, and exploratory possibilities, of short film, are what make this kind of culturally-rich film possible.
Erin Go Bragh, Yu Ming!