Friday, December 02, 2011

School Portrait (2011)

School Portrait (2011) from Michael Berliner on Vimeo.

England, 2:25

An ironic juxtaposition of contexts makes for the main conceit of this little short film. We see painfully adorable faces of British schoolchildren smiling for school pictures while the photographer berates them about the unpleasant realities of adult life (what he calls a "reality check"). The grumpy photographer makes the children repeat phrases like "the banking crisis means I'll never afford a home," and asking them if they've filled out their tax returns. Each time the photographer succeeds in wiping the smile of the children's faces, which appears to be his main objective. He meets his match in a girl with curly red hair who refuses to stop smiling. The photographer becomes visibly annoyed, shaking his head head and telling her, "Look, I'll go on all day," before explaining the painfulness of a divorce. But the girl eventually wins the little stand-off, and continues to smile. The photographer finally concedes defeat and takes the little girl's picture.

The film is adorable and memorable because it takes advantage of the specific pleasures allowed to short film: that a small, obvious conceit can become the subject of the entire film, and function as an effective punch line because of the short film's conciseness. It's impossible to imagine a feature that plays entirely on the tension between the innocent beaming faces of children and the cynicism of an adult with a chip on their shoulder, but here, in the span of two and a half minutes, the joke works. The way the children are shot too, where they are framed by the camera as if in a school photo, adds to the preciousness of their responses to the grouchy photographer.

Nuit Blanche

Nuit Blanche from Spy Films on Vimeo.

Directed by Arev Manoukian, Canada, 2010, 4 Minutes
Source: Vimeo

This film is about a man walking down the street and what happens to him when he sees a woman and instantly feels a connection. Also, this film is about a woman sitting in a cafe drinking wine when she glimpses a man outside and instantly feels a connection. We witness these two lovers as they charge obstacles to reach one another--the woman breaking through glass and reaching the sidewalk unscathed, and the man damaging a car and meeting the woman in the street in one piece. At the end of the film, we learn that the man and woman do not actually push cars or break glass, respectively, but we witness their emotion. We are left to wonder if they act on their promising future.

Once they get past staring at each other, the man and woman have a promising future, due to the events we witness. Both of them overcome obstacles of the same material. Time slows when the man steps into a puddle on the street the minute he decides to walk towards the cafe window where the woman is seated. Similarly, when the woman views the man's actions, she stands and drops her glass of wine, where it shatters elegantly on the pristine white table cloth. Both of them suffer with liquid. The second similar material is glass. The man experiences the shattering of glass when the car explodes around his form, and the woman walks through glass to meet him. These two material elements alert to the viewer that the man and woman have a chance--that they can overcome the same obstacles and come out unharmed.

The technique of this film is both interesting and detrimental to its viewing. Positives first. The formation of the puddle around the man's foot, the wine glass shattering on the table, the window glass shattering around the woman's face, and the car reacting to the man, are well done and enjoyable to watch. That said, the construction of this film is all fake and the man and woman are acting in front of green screens. Because it is more interesting to see then for me to explain, please click here to watch the 'Making Of' video (only requires a few seconds of your time to get the idea). This copy-and-pasting element to the film is what harms the film. When we are introduced to the woman, she is sitting in the cafe minding her own business until she looks up and sees the man. She is a bit too large for the window frame, and it becomes obvious that she does not belong there--that she is separate from her location. Viewing the 'Making of' video, we can see that in fact, she does not belong in the cafe because the cafe is completely constructed from cutouts. This leads to some confusion. If the location is pieced together around her, shouldn't the proportions be better? It is true that she is the dominant character of the shot and we need to see her and only her, because that is what he sees, but, just by sitting front row and center in the window, she is the main focus.

Arguably, this film is not a short, but a portion of a film, a scene more or less. That said, this film cannot be made into a feature, but instead, included in a number of feature film plots. For example, one story can be about a man consistently looking for love and constantly going on unfortunate dates throughout the film. This can be the last scene of the film--the man finally finding the right one. Or, this film can be an additive scene to a film about a woman who is constantly coping with men falling in love with her at first sight. There are a number of possibilities. This film is more of emotion and reaction, than a story. Short films can be emotional, but can they be emotions? This film is about a man and woman meeting and falling in love at first sight and their feelings. If this film had a brief clip of either the man or the woman having bad luck with love, then it would be a short film.

We understand how they are reacting, not necessarily why they are reacting.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

West Coast Report: Fraternity Rush

West Coast Report: Fraternity Rush
Written by: Jimmy Tatro
Filmed by: Jake Broido
Directed by: Jimmy Tatro and Jake Broido
USA 2011 4:49

Essentially, this film is a satire on the entire Fraternity rush process. It is narrated by the brother of one of the fraternities and outlines the various processes of Fraternity Rush such as talking to kids at Rush events and evaluating them afterwards in a closed meeting. It is perhaps one of the most hysterical videos I've ever watched simply because of its accuracy. I cannot speak for other fraternities but in terms of my own, this video closely resembles much of what the rush process is like for my fraternity. From the ridiculous questions asked to what happens behind "closed doors" this video is incredibly accurate in terms of what my fraternity looks for when looking for potential new members. Many of the personalities in the video are very close to those in my own fraternity. There are those who take things far to serious and highlight the fraternities philanthropic endeavors while there are many who view the fraternity as a means to get drunk and "pull" females.

Please watch this video, if not for its comedic value but for its authenticity. If you ever wondered what exactly happens during the fraternity rush process, this is a very accurate depiction. I'm not sure that that is a compliment to my fraternity, but it certainly supports the "frat boy" stereotype.

Heartless Potpourri

HEARTLESS (Cover) by The Fray Official Music Video
Located on Youtube:
Uploaded September 28, 2009

This music video is an excellent one for potpourri week, I think, because it so effectively blends multiple themes from this class. In a cover of Heartless, originally by Kanye West, this music video provides a glimpse into the life of a young boy in class (algebra, from the look of his notebook) who does not appear very pleased with the course of his love life, particularly as it pertains to one brunette student who looks way too old for him.

The reason I selected this video, besides being such an eclectic blend of animation, online-based media and music videos, is the way animation itself is used. The story line depicted in the animation contains one of the boys' drawings, a little anatomically-accurate heart, trudging along having terrible thing after terrible thing happen to him. I love the effect of what is essentially a short film within a short film, illustrating the sort of corny cliches that we would never accept if they were in live action. If, for instance, the boy were to walk under a cloud and have it rain only on him, we as the audience might be inclined to yell at the screen "OKAY, we get it, he's sad!" However, by using a child's doodles, it seems only fitting.

This also allows for other things that would be difficult on film, such as the 2 cameos by Kanye West where he is shown wearing those ridiculous glasses and bobbing his head, which add to the overall entertainment value of the film. They also, (although perhaps this just reflects how much I am the daughter of an English professor who never let me watch Barney because he plagiarized people's songs), seem to use those cameos as further acknowledgement of the songs' original artist. I appreciated the gesture, whether it was actually meant that way or not.

Ultimately, it's impressive that the secondary character line (the heart) is integrated it so fully that it never strikes a viewer as odd. I think it's important to note that whether for practical reasons, optimal entertainment value, the ability to provide animated in-text citations or just to provide variation and visual interest, the use of a short within a short is just plain cool.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Umbrellas Amuse Me: Observations from One Day in Munich

United States/Germany, 2010, John Green, 3 minutes and 44 seconds

Given that the theme of the previous blog posts and the next several blog posts is potpourri which allows us to talk about any kind of short film, I decided to stretch the definition a little bit. This is a vlog by John Green (yes, that John Green). He and his brother Hank have a YouTube channel called VlogBrothers where they each film a vlog a couple times a week (alternating turns) and start off each vlog by saying "Good Morning ______, it's ______" and then talk about whatever they want to for that day. They're also some of the leaders of the NerdFighter community (DFTBA!).

In this particular vlog, they've created a playlist for certain vlogs they do that are about them being out of the house to film the vlog and giving thoughts/commentary on where they are. This playlist is called Thoughts From Places and in this particular episode, John's greeting us from Munich! In Munich John gets gifts for his wife and son, muses about church bells, and goes to a Children's Literature Festival (which is why he was there in the first place).

We've only vaguely touched upon vidoes such as these, better known as vlogs (and this one can perhaps be categorized under our discussion of home videos) and whether or not they can be considered short films (the dreaded topic). I myself think they can be. They're not particularly stylistic or have a narrative plot or 'characters' but they are short in length and a visual film that is available to all. Not to mention both John and Hank are incredibly hilarious and intelligent. I subscribe to a handful of vloggers on YouTube (VlogBrothers, Nerimon, Charlieissocoollike, etc.) and I find their videos to be a great source of entertainment and relaxation for a period of time out of the day. I'm not sure we want to get into the discussion of whether or not these are short films but given it's potpourri, I wanted to bring something mildly different to the blog and see how people might respond.


Music Video

Directed by Dr. Dre, 1994, 4:1

This music video for Gin and Juice is low budget but it helped the song blow up and become known worldwide. The basic story is about a Snoop Dog himself staying home when his parents go out of town. His father in the movie says snoopy doggy doggy, you need to get a jobby job”. His mother then reminds him to not let the dog pound in the house. There is a quick moment where it parodies the feature Home Alone. The text on the screen reads “ Homeboy Alone and snoop dog impersonates Macaulay Culkin by holding his hair and screaming. It is apparent that Snoop will be letting the dog pound in because he calls his friend to get ready for a party. Snoop is pictured riding on the handlebars of his friends bike. This was back in the day before Snoop was an international star. There is another mention of a feature film , as Snoop is rolling down the street smoking indo sippin’ on gin and juice, the camera briefly cuts to a billboard for a drive in theatre and the movie Menace II Society is playing. This was released in 1993 and is a very popular movie in rap culture. As stated in the songs lyrics , Dre brought some “ bitches from the city of Compton”, but as Snoop goes in the bedroom with the ladies it cuts to his parents pulling in the driveway. The videos end is predictable but hilarious. The parents come home and already know there is a party based on the cars lining the street. Everyone runs out because they are scared of the authoritarian parents. The video is very Hip hop, from the liquor, to the baking out of cars, to the rowdy rap house party everything screams rap music. The video reflects how humble Snoop Used to be. This video single helped Snoop dogs first album Doggystyle go quadruple platinum. It is a really funny lighthearted video and reflects the humor that Snoop possesses.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Animal Collective - Peacebone (2007)

Directed by Timothy Saccenti, United States, 2007, 5 minutes 14 seconds

Peacebone is a freak romance about teenage lovers. The music video features a normal(ish) girl who is in love with an alien. He is forced into disguise most of the time, but reveals his true form when his love comes is around. The two run around and cause the typical teenage havoc until they are stopped by the police. If you are really searching for meaning in this video, it can be found. It is a story about being yourself around others and particularly the ones you love.

When I first saw this music video, for the "experimental psychedelic" band, Animal Collective, I hated it. I thought it was disgusting and weird. Even worse than that, I thought it was trying too hard to be disgusting and weird. I was completely turned off. Now, after becoming very well acquainted Animal Collective's music and other video work, I have a different opinion. I find the music video to be very funny, even sweet, but yes, still weird. What is great about this film however, is that it will always provoke a strong opinion, just read the youtube comments.

As a short film, Peacebone has a definite story line, but does not throw it in your face. Between the flashes of images and editing style, the plot does not seem to control the video. The montage of clips, which may appear to be random, serve a clear purpose within the music video. Layering images in this way mirrors the layering of sounds and styles that makes Animal Collective unique. Much of their music is all about energy, which the pacing of a montage flawlessly provides. Peacebone effectively features the strong suit of the artist while still adding another dimension of interpretation through a story line, simultaneously aligning itself as both a music video and a short film.

Lonny Goes Big Time

“Lonny Goes Big Time”

Directed by Lonny

United States, 2011

About 4 minutes

This is an episode of “Next Time on Lonny” which is billed as a reality web series. However, it doesn’t show a whole episode. Instead, we only see the tail end which, in a parody of clich├ęd reality TV show endings, ends in a sweet moment. The turning point comes after the credits where we expect a small teaser of what will happen in the next episode. Instead, we are shown a complete story that is much more comparable to a film than a television show. This episode ends with Lonny making his girlfriend’s friends laugh. After the credits, Lonny completely changes and starts his stand up career in California. Another example includes credits rolling on Lonny on a date, and “next time on Lonny” aliens end up invading the world. The short becomes a comedy once we see this twist in the story.

Much of the humor also comes from the fact that the story after the credits is insanely different from the beginning that the audience can’t even be sure if the second part exists in the same reality as the first part. After all, Lonny becomes famous and kills somebody in order to huff his soul. Yet, we see him by the end of the episode again in front of the confessional camera coming to terms with his actions.

“Next Time On Lonny” begins as any other reality television show and, I know when I first saw an episode, I expected to see a parody of reality TV shows. But, instead what we see is more of a parody of movies.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Volkswagen-"Night Drive"

Volkswagen-"Night Drive"
Noam Murro, United States.  2007.  90 seconds
Formerly available at  Found on
I find commercials to be a rapidly progressing medium, following the lead of TV series in the efforts to being more "filmic" and meeting audience's expectations for emotional response; a bar set by feature-films.  I could point to a variety of extremely well-made commercials (Everything Wieden+Kennedy produces for Nike, for instance) but I've picked this Volkswagen commercial about driving through the empty streets of a Los Angeles night because it is personal to me.

The commercial is simple: A beautiful minimal song, borrowed from Cliff Martinez's lovely score for Solaris, is overlapped with a recording of Richard Burton reading a Dylan Thomas poem.  These sounds are over images of a neon lit LA, in all its vast loneliness and graphically beautiful grime.  There's no apparent narrative; just driving and the experience.  Which is what the tagline is: "When was the last time you just went for a drive?"

The most effective ad campaigns (or the most memorable ones at least) are the one's that don't just show glossy images, but communicate a very specific message that addresses the belief system of its core audience.  "Just Do It" and "Think Different" come to mind.  Simon Sinek's Golden Circle theory illustrates this: His theory shows three circles, one inside the other.  On the outside is "What," the middle circle is "How," and the inner circle, "Why."  Sinek states that most traditional marketing and advertising goes from outside to inside the circle, but the most effective forms go inside to out.  Like a religion, you hit the audience at what matters to them: What makes them anxious, or happy, or nervous, what racks their brain.  Once you have their attention at their core, you then reveal how to meet their needs, and how your product will do just that.

This commercial is operating under Sinek's Golden Circle theory.  Yes, it features the Volkswagen Golf, but that is a secondary feature.  The first focus of this is what the tagline states: Do you just ever go for a drive?  Explore the landscape and just roam, contemplating your thoughts, dreams, hopes, desires.  The Golf is just a tool that will help you do just that.  And by speaking to a core belief, and trying to inspire emotion, is this commercial then allowed to be more artistic.  (The commercial has the added bonus of being shot in LA at night, which is the core of my high school social life once I got a car.)

That's the sort of beauty of advertising that I'm fascinated with: That with artistic effectiveness also comes commercial success.  Win-win.  It is a medium, similar to TV, where quality work almost seems to reap more rewards than quality work within the realm of feature films does.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


22 Short Films About Springfield [episode of The Simpsons]
Jim Reardon, United States, 1996, approximately 22 minutes
(not available online, but can be found in The Simpsons Seventh Season DVD box set)

22 Short Films About Springfield is an episode of The Simpsons that eschews a running-time length plot in favor of a series of 'short films' about minor characters in the Simpsons' universe. As some of the shorts are connected and all the episode is book-ended by a discussion between Bart Simpson and Milhouse Van Houten about what the citizens of Springfield are up to, it could be argued that this is not really a pure short film omnibus. Still, that pseudo-omnibus is 22 minutes long, so the whole episode itself qualifies as a short

I count 13 shorts in the episode, whose title is a reference to the film 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould and is not an actual tally of the short's mini-shorts. Many of these are only shorts because of this episode's specific concept-- a sequence in which Reverend Lovejoy instructs his dog to urinate on Ned Flanders' lawn, for example, would just be a joke in any normal episode of The Simpsons. Still, a few of the shorts could be standalone, self-contained pieces if released in a different context. I have trouble pinning down my favorite segment, but it's usually either Principal Skinner's 'steamed hams' fiasco or the Mexican Bumblebee Man's short, in which his personal life resembles his wacky professional life; these segments have full plot arcs, with conflicts and resolutions that are totally independent of any of the other shorts. (Sidenote: I feel horrible that I can't share this with you on the blog, but I will lend my DVDs to anybody who wants them. You can also find the episode online through illegal video streaming websites, but I don't endorse any of those and, I'm assuming, neither does this blog).

The best part of the short is unique to non-Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons-- in the final minutes of 22 Short Films..., Professor Frink directly addresses the camera and begs the director not to end the episode. As the scene fades to credits, Frink explains that he's late because of an incident with a monkey. He holds a title card and sings a theme song, but the episode ends regardless. I've always loved this moment for its ability to break The Simpsons' rules without doing so in an obnoxious way. Later episodes of the show would re-write character histories and replace heart with jokes about Homer falling on his butt, but this scene manages to break the fourth wall without making the audience groan. I think it's because, in this moment, we really want to see Frink's short, "The Tomfoolery of Professor John Frink." At this point in its life, The Simpsons had made even its smallest characters likeable and this episode, specifically this scene, proved that while also creating as strong a half hour of television as I've seen (and I will seriously lend you the DVDs).

Extreme Sheep LED Art

Extreme Sheep LED Art
Upload by BaaStubs 2009

This video got me thinking about the amount of talent it takes to produce some of the stupid things on the internet. I think that this video had this effect on me, because it must have taken a monumental amount of ability and practice to create this incredibly silly video. I'm sure that must people could not train dogs to herd sheep in that close coordination with only whistle commands. It probably took these men years of working with dogs and sheep to become this skilled at herding.

And with that experience, they produced this. Which is an undeniably silly, but rather winning video. And I can't think of a better use for this ability. I don't think that raising sheep actually requires this level of precision, and there is not much else you could have done with a bunch of sheep.

I'm sure that people who raise sheep have been doing this in Wales for years. Entertaining themselves by making amusing patterns with sheep. But with the magic of the web, and widely available video cameras, we can now all enjoy the fruits of their extremely specialized labor.