Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Directed by Spike Jonze, United States, 1997, 2 minutes and 26 seconds
Source: youtube

Spike Jonze's early short How They Get There is a narrative boiled down to it's simplest definition. It's completely epitomized by the titles of both the film and the song Jonze chose for his score: "Sentimental Journey" by Les Brown and Ben Homer. The film is just a story of how something happened, more specifically it's describing how shoes end up in the gutter.

The goings on are simple. Boy starts his day with a fresh carton of milk, and ends up flirting with the girl walking across the street by copycatting each other's movements. Boy gets hit by car and all hell breaks lose; his shoes land in the gutter with the other lost, lonesome sneakers.

Before getting into the meat of this analysis, I must expound upon my one issue: every time I watch this short I am disturbed by that dude's nails as he opens the carton of milk! Jonze composes such gorgeous shots. He choreographs a huge car crash. He quickly draws us into the cuteness of these strangers flirting in a way that's oddly charming, he crafts beautiful symmetry and a simple story... But these nails are long, gross and dirty, ragged and jagged, and just distracting! They haunt me, to be bluntly dramatic about it. They pull me out of the film for a brief moment when the short film really has no time to lose the audience. Or is it just me? This film taught me an important lesson in filmmaking: Even the small details count; if something is going appear on screen, particularly in an extreme close-up, whatever "it" is better have a purpose or it can't be distracting or out of the ordinary.

My disgust at nails aside, this film is pretty dang brilliant. It's disarming, charming, and I'll say it again, simple. Jonze has this uncanny ability to shoot very smooth pieces. The camera movements are never jerky; even his characters stroll smoothly through the streets and the camera seems to float with them. Even at the shocking point of the car hitting the man, those shots are beautiful. That car is lofted into the air in a surprisingly dramatic turn of events, but man, does it fly gracefully to it's sudden dusty death.

The film boils the fat off of the typical narrative, taking the viewer quickly through it's classic three-act narrative structure. In the first act we meet our main man, and scraggly finger nails aside we are intrigued by him as well as the sweet girl he falls for as she walks by. In the second act we follow the flirting couple as they mimic movements. It's silly and simple and the kind of odd manner you never expect to see in real life but always think would work because it's absurdly cute in the context of a romantic comedy on the screen. And we are slammed into the third act by the crash. So far the short has been light and cute, the car crash not only amplifies the production value, but it takes the whole story to a new place, revealing a story we didn't initially expect. It's jarring but shot gracefully. It's a damn brilliant twist. The film is bookended by the familiar image of a lost shoe.

Jonze tells us with that last shot that his film is an explanation for a common phenomenon of lost shoes. It all helps to tell the tale of how lonely shoes end up in the gutter. This wasn't the first time this kind a crash like this had happened, and it surely wouldn't be the last. Thanks for the life lesson, Mr. Jonze. I'm never going to flirt on the streets again!


haley schattner said...

I agree, this film is both simple, charming, and unfortunate. His nails do bother me and I noticed them immediately. I think that the male character's nails are intentionally unkempt because it shows how he is either easily distracted or unaware of himself and his surroundings. This reasoning makes sense because he does have those characteristics when he is paying attention to the pretty girl instead of the street, leading to the disaster at the end and his sneaker in the gutter.

Anonymous said...

That's a very good point... especially when you consider what Fia mentioned, that Jonze carefully constructs everything else in the film. You just can't assume that he happened to overlook this one important aspect of the film.

Carolina said...

"The film boils the fat off the typical narrative..." is a brilliant way to describe a (very) short film.
It is astonishing how a skilled filmmaker can tell a life's story in two and a half minutes. Well done Mr. Jonze.

Fia said...

I super love what you point out about the nails, Haley. From there I wish to point at the man's examination of the milk. He's opened and bought this milk, yet he's unsure if it's expired or not. He drinks it anyway

Brilliant little moments alluding to his [deathly] ability not to notice important things. From letting his nails grow too long, to his milk maybe going bad, to not noticing the car coming. From that perspective, yes the nails have a point. So yes, the nails do serve a purpose, but does that distraction counterbalance that purpose?

Jeff Liao said...


I found this film very humorous. First thing I thought was grandpa shoes, and that made me laugh. I like the twists in the story. When I first clicked this short I was like " ok mildly funny guy trying to pickup a girl using tactics from GREASE " but then when he got hit by a car I knew it was wrong to laugh but couldn't help it! I love the explanation at the end of how " they " get there.