Thursday, September 04, 2008


Directed by Sean Ellis
17 minutes

Sean Ellis’ Cashback, a 2006 Academy Award nominee for Best Live Action Short Film, is not unlike some feature films we’ve seen before. The film is seen through the eyes of Ben Willis, an art student who works graveyard shifts at a grocery store. The film, which was eventually turned into a feature-length film but received very mixed reviews, explores the ways Ben and his fellow employees cope with their ridiculously mundane jobs. These coping mechanisms happen to involve phallic deli meats and nudity. These small details made me think of movies like Clerks and Waiting, two feature-length films that feature characters battling the boredom that comes along with service and retail jobs. This short film is just as effective and entertaining as any feature-length film like it.

The film’s charm and story and character development all come out through these coping mechanisms. For instance, Sharon passes the time by ignoring it. While scanning a customer’s items, we are shown a close up of her watch, which has a small patch of paper taped over it. Ben narrates while she scans. He explains that the more you look at the clock, the slower time goes and the more you torture mind with ideas of everything else you could be doing besides scanning a box of Cornflakes or a French baguette. She then takes a box of Ritz crackers and places it atop the cash register monitor. Anything to avoid time. Barry and Matt use anything they can get their hands on to distract themselves from their real work, including the aforementioned deli meat. The products of the grocery store are used cleverly throughout the film. Whether it be the jug of milk Barry and Matt foolishly toss around or the perfectly aligned cartons of juice in the background, the store is as much a part of the film as anything else. There are a number of memorable scenes that are products of the products.

To Ben, all of this is art. Ben sees his 8-hour shifts in the way he views his school work and life. As he speaks of his studies in the fundamentals of still life, it cuts to a bag of spilled, frozen peas in the aisle. The shot lingers, meaning more than it should to the viewer. We later learn that Ben deals by freezing time. The music builds faster and faster as snapshots of the employees interacting with customers and each other flash by. Then it stops. Ben walks down the aisle, undressing the customers as he reveals his fascination with the female body. It could almost seem perverse? One might even judge Ben for this. But really, what would does anyone think about while they’re trying to pass the time? Usually it is nothing remarkable or important. Ben is a true artist, using his time to find the beauty in even the most dreadful supermarket in England. To me, that is what is most impressive.


Middento said...

It's the fault of the blog template, so I would encourage anyone wanting to view this one to click on it to go over to Virb, where you can view the whole thing in its original aspect ratio, which is much wider than allowed here. (Sorry, folks!)

Benjamin said...

I liked the pacing and writing here, and the way the characters approach the slow and painful clicking of the clock (and the exploration of art through the main character). I thought it worked so well as a short film, that I wouldn't want to see it as a longer feature.

K. Eng said...

I really enjoyed the visual style of this film. The lighting has all the coldness of a fluorescent-soaked supermarket, which adds so much to the mood of the film. The way this film visually deals with time manipulation was well-executed, and the final sequence was a bit perverse but really struck the heart of the film's message, which is that the best way to get through a night of work is by not working, at least in your mind.

Unknown said...

Being a fan of movies such as Clerks & Waiting, this short really appealed to me. I can see however, how it probably would not have worked as a feature. Visually, it had that distinctly "British" look, like you see in shows like the original version of The Office.

Anonymous said...

I just recently saw the feature film. I didn't realize it was a short first. I think it is better as a short too. In fact the scenes that where in the short were my favorites in the movie. The rest of the movie didn't really seem like the original point of the film, being titled "Cash Back" and all.

Franceline said...

having had experience in the service department at a deli, i sympathize with cashback's characters. when describing my job to anyone who asked i always make sure to include that working there, in addition to providing free bagels, would kill a little bit of my soul each day.

there is pride in every job, but sometimes pride isn't enough when customers treat you as if anybody physically able could do your job. this short illuminates how it is only natural to cope through different mechanisms or else one would lose one's mind.