Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Red Balloon

The Red Balloon
1956 - 35 minutes
Albert Lamorisse

Available on Netflix insta-watch.

This 1956 French short by Albert Lamorisse takes us through the adventures of a red balloon in Paris. A young boy, Pascal, encounters the balloon and it soon becomes his best friend. The balloon appears to have a life of its own and follows Pascal as he goes through his daily routine. Although Pascal has a close relationship with the balloon, many others around him resent the balloon and want to separate the two. Pascal's mother won't let the balloon in the house and the school principal won't allow it in the classroom. Eventually, some local bullies destroy the balloon, killing Pascal's best friend. The short ends with a cluster of other balloons picking up Pascal and taking him on a ride across the city of Paris.

I think that the balloon serves as a life lesson for Pascal. It signifies Pascal's innocence and how he has to grow up and mature through his young adolescence. When the other boys destroy his balloon it serves as just another hurdle that Pascal must overcome. Lessons like this help Pascal to grow as a young boy into a man.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Spandy - Andy: Tight Bright & Fearless

Spandy Andy
Directed by Courtney Barton; Vancouver Film School; 2010

Spandy Andy is a dance performer that "promotes positivity and acceptance through dance." Simple as that. I'd equate Spandy Andy to the purple childhood icon, Barney. The same concept goes, man in suit, man with a message, man acting out message through song and dance. Andy is a Canadian born actor- performer with quite an interesting story:

His background in computer programming ("I followed that career because that's what I should do"), working at IBM ("suppressing my Spandy - Andy"), and then leaving his career for the spandex. Andy makes an interesting statement at about 3:15 about, hiding. It goes on, "there's a reason I take the lenses out of my glasses and that's because it's scary when you look at somebody in a mask because they don't have an identity and they're hiding behind something." I ask, isn't Spandy - Andy also hiding behind something? He may not be wearing a mask, but the glasses themselves could be argued as mask- like, but he's in costume. Like Clark Kent and Superman. In addition, he describes Spandy - Andy as a character. Andy and Spandy are two very different people and that's what I think we see in this pair of documentaries: the duplicitous nature of living the life of a caped (spandexed--not a word) crusader.

The few documentary shorts that I have seen (Spandy - Andy, Bye Bye Now, a Banksy short called, "Printing Banksy") are interesting in that they are more like public profiles. Along the lines of record- keeping, these documentaries are records of the lives of interesting (debatable) individuals. Why is it even important for us to know about this guy, who dances around in public, in spandex? Who cares? Yet, there is also something terribly interesting, psychologically, about a man who gives up a career (a good one, at that) for the freedom to live out his days in spandex. I can't say if I believe that Spandy - Andy is truly happy or if that behind the outfit there's an untold story-- he talks about being bullied in the first one-- that might reveal to the audience the exact reasons behind the act. I wonder if a longer documentary, more research and more funding, might give us a better idea about who Spandy - Andy really is. Or maybe, he's just a guy who prefers spandex.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Ray: A Life Underwater

Ray: A Life Underwater
Amanda Bluglass and Danny Cooke
United Kingdom, 2011

In Ray: A Life Underwater, the filmmakers stumbled upon a fascinating subject. They found a man consumed by diving and collecting the things he found. And for the most part, they let him tell his story. It is the short of documentary that would praised by saying that the filmmakers, "did not put themselves into the story."

Many people complain about documentary filmmakers who insert themselves into their movies. The primary targets of these complaints are Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock. And while a documentary like Ray does not feature any of the filmmakers on screen like the films of these directors, does that make it any less driven by them.

Film is a medium controlled by those off-screen, in the case of a documentary, the director and editors. We have no idea how Ray would choose to talk about his life, or what in the interviews or footage collected of him got cut out. We are presented with a narrative that is only slightly less dominated by the filmmaker than a fictional product.

Look at the way this film chooses to spend so much time without Ray speaking, simply showing us the equipment he uses or the places he visits with no sound but music. Who is speaking to us in these shots? Why are they there? They exist to create a mood or atmosphere that does not seem to actually be in line with Ray's statements.

I think that documentary is a worthy enterprise and can reveal interesting and important things. But I do not think that any documentary can be separated from its maker. I do not think that we can praise them or criticize them based on how much presence they have in the story. I think we need to acknowledge that all documentaries are dominated by directors.

Twin Towers

Twin Towers
United States, 2002, 34 minutes
Dir: Bill Guttentag & Robert David Port

Winner of the 2002 Oscar for Best Short Documentary, this resembles any other feature-length documentary, going to show that the short documentary resembles the short film, just as how the feature-length documentary resembles the feature-length fictional film.  How?  Because documentaries, while dealing with non-fictional material, are still dramas first and foremost.  They present and build characters, they display conflict, they connect audiences emotionally.

The film follows two brothers who each served for the NYPD and NYFD.  The set-up of these brothers and their family takes its time, providing in depth insight to the everyday duties for over half of the film: Family tradition, honor, heroism, duty.  Despite its title, the major conflict of the World Trade Center is only presented past the halfway mark.  On September 11, 2001, which coincided with the filming of this documentary.

Exposition, rising action, climax, conclusion.  We are provided three-acts, condensed into 34 minutes.  Is it a fitting length?  Yes.  The story is brief.  But it still means the requisites of a dramatic story.  It could almost be argued that this doesn't even resemble a short, but a feature-length, in structure.  In class, both students and professor have difficulty pinpointing just what defines a short documentary.  Yet one has to note that a documentary isn't much different from a fictional film, especially structurally.  Each are designed to elicit emotion, even if it is using interview and archival footage.  Short documentaries are just a sub-label for short films; to make the distinction of fiction versus nonfiction, nothing more.

Monday, November 07, 2011

"Glee" Behind the Scenes: Meet the Mini-Me's!

"Glee" Behind the Scenes - Meet the Mini-Me's!
FOX, October 2010, 2 minutes 34 seconds

Every week Youtube releases a behind-the-scenes look at the most recent "Glee" episode, usually titled "Glee Behind the Scenes," followed by the episode name. These videos usually last between two and three minutes, and focus on either a particular character, featured song, dance number, guest star, etc.

The episode "The Substitute" is featured in this particular behind the scenes look. In the episode, the glee club teacher Mr. Schuester gets sick and imagines the other glee club members as toddler versions of themselves. This video introduces the viewer to those mini-versions of the cast, showing interviews with cast members, rough, on-set video footage, and a few short clips from the episode itself.

A disadvantage of this short documentary is that when out of context, this video does not make much sense. That is, viewers would have to know the major plot points and characters of the show "Glee" to understand these short behind the scenes look at the episodes.

While at first glance this video does not seem like a documentary, I chose it because behind the scenes looks at television series and films are very common on video-hosting sites like Youtube. Almost all films nowadays release a featurette, or behind the scenes look at the film alongside the trailer, or at least before the film is released. I think there's something to be said about the fact that these short documentaries, however non-thought-provoking they may be, are so common nowadays.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Beatles: Making of Help!

United Kingdom, 2009, 3 minutes and 22 seconds

In the remastered box set of The Beatles albums, there are mini documentaries for the making of each of the albums. I remember absolutely devouring all of them. I think Help! is particularly interesting because it's not only the making of an album, but the making of their film of the same name as well. Furthermore, there's something rather innocently infectious about their earlier albums, as opposed to their more "genius" later albums. At this point they were well established as a band but still relatively young and excitable.

This short documentary isn't particularly innovative but for any Beatles fan, it's going to be interesting. It's a compilation of still photographs and video footage with voice-overs by all four of the band members, as well as George Martin. In talking about Help!, they discuss what went into making the film such as the Ticket to Ride sequence being a holiday for the band and the silly but lovable nature of the film. They also talk simply about some of the songs on the album such as Yesterday and Paul's original title for it (Scrambled Eggs), as well as Ringo singing the lead for a song.

All of the documentaries of the albums are structured the same way and each one worth the watch. I find this one particularly interesting partly because it's one of my favorite albums by them and also because I find the balancing act of this album standing on its own as well as providing the soundtrack for their film fascinating. Really, though, it's the unheard sound bites that this documentary provides and a nostalgic reflection on the band that shaped many people's childhoods (including my own) which makes this short documentary as enjoyable as it is. It is nothing particularly spectacular in terms of mise-en-scene but it is quite the pleasure to watch.