The 5th Short Film Hall of Fame

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Life as a shorty shouldn't be so rough
Brats

Going in, I wasn't the biggest Laurel and Hardy fan around. As someone who likes Buster Keaton and some of the other silent clowns, I couldn't really put my finger on wasn't working for me with this duo. It had to be something other than sound. It was probably just that I didn't give them enough chances. There is no reinvention of the wheel in this short, and some of the setup-punches are predictable, but the best thing a comedy can be is funny. This film is pretty funny. Having the duo represented two different ways in the same film probably helps with the freshness of the group, I can't say as it has been a long while since I've seen any of their work, and it's not like I've a comprehensive knowledge of it anyway. This is good, this is funny. I can't imagine doing well against such a stiff set of competition though.



The House is Black

At the most basic level, I'm thankful that this short exists. I had never seen a leper colony and neither knew what life is like for their residents nor much about the condition before watching this and it answers all these questions. That the short is so unflinching in its depiction of even the worst cases of the condition is a bonus. Besides, to not do this would belie the movie's themes of beauty versus ugliness and why God allows some to thrive and some to suffer. Forugh Farrokhzad deserves credit for exploring these themes in the most simple and elegant of ways, i.e., with images, scripture, poetry, and minimal dialogue - none of which seem redundant - especially since this is her first and sadly only movie. I especially like each time there are rapid edits that show a different person in each cut for how it made me wonder why so many had to suffer this ailment as well as whenever the residents try their best to add joy to their difficult circumstances by playing games and sports. The moments when the victims give thanks to God also struck a chord and make me want to find out if Ingmar Bergman ever watched this and what he thought about it. With that said, the short's simplicity and elegance make it difficult to come up with much else to write about. Writing about it is like writing about a song without words or an abstract painting. That's hardly a fault of the movie, though, and with that, I'll conclude by saying I'm grateful that a movie about leprosy exists that manages to be so uncompromising while maintaining the victims' dignity at the same time. Oh, and if you don't at least get teary-eyed during the classroom finale, check your pulse.



Long story short, that was fun. I enjoyed all the shorts and believe it will be hard to rank them. I would be down for another one of these.
I'll submit my ballot very soon.



11 Foreign Language movies to go


The Heart of the World - (2000)

Directed by Guy Maddin

I first saw The Heart of the World not more than a year ago, and it was the beginning of my Guy Maddin adventure - one I haven't got very far into yet, but one which I've enjoyed very much so far, having seen Brand Upon the Brain (thank you @Takoma11) and numerous other short films of his. The Heart of the World drew me in straight away, with it's silent film era visual quality and editing. Adding to that, was a spiritually soul-lifting musical score that wouldn't feel out of place in an old patriotic Soviet march. Those aren't usually found in anyone's films in the modern era, but wedded to that was a sense of humour that was quite ridiculous, but which didn't diminish the impact the film had as a whole. That's such a delicate calculation, and yet Guy Maddin seems to pull it off effortlessly over 6 eventful minutes.

The short is about two brothers who compete for the love of state scientist Anna, a woman who is studying the literal Heart of the World (which actually resembles a human heart.) By miraculous coincidence, Anna is studying it at a time when it's very nearly about to stop beating, which would mean the end of the world. In the meantime, a wealthy industrialist seduces Anna, and she marries him rather than either brother - but as the world nears it's end she can yet be depended upon to save mankind, with an invention which will change history. It's an ode to cinema that still gets me every time, and is quirky fun in many ways. Take the repetative, teasing introduction, which, during multiple takes, introduces the two brothers as a mortician and actor "...who love...." - "who love" - "the same...." - "brothers love the same..." - "the same" - "WomaN"! - a tantalising tease of an introduction to Anna, which is as funny as it is anticipatory.

I've watched this many times, and even though this is only 6 minutes long I still notice new and different things. Great montage work, and loving attention towards early Soviet cinema. Make-up and production design. Even the mini-performances. The bobbing up and down of the expectant masses. Nikolai (the mortician) and his strange invention. Osip (the actor) and the performance of a lifetime to win Anna's love. As far as short films go, I've hardly ever seen anything better than The Heart of the World.

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11 Foreign Language movies to go
That's it for me, a great Hall of Fame. I count 4 short films that got the full 5 popcorn boxes from me, and even the others provide great competition. I can't see anything beating Night and Fog though.



UN OBUS PARTOUT

When it comes to animation I tend to focus more on design and technique than story. Before watching this, the stills I was seeing didn't suggest that I'd be overly fond of the look of it but I was pleased to find that the style really worked. Also, I watched this with headphones and kudos to the sound designer/mixer. The gunfire and car crashes etc were often jarring and made me jump, which helped amp up the tension of the piece. I was most impressed, I think, by the juxtaposition of the race over the bridge with the sportscaster's call of the football match. It was a clever approach and well-executed.

Again, with films of this length I feel bad about not having more to say but I will say that it did a good job of conveying the desperation one must feel to live in situations like this. Is it worth getting killed to just to steal a few moments with your girl? Yeah, I would think that it is and I'm lucky to not know what it feels like to have to make that choice.

(still no bad nominees, y'all)
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Am I the only one that hasn't finished? I feel like I'm dragging my feet here.
If so I'll be extra diligent about watching the rest soon.
You're in good company, with me I haven't finished yet either. Working on it though.



i still got three left. will probably double feature Night and Fog and The House Is Black for the ultimate bad time.
and that time is right now!


Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1956)

I was pretty worried this would be just a dry presentation of the worst images you've ever seen in your life, and it certainly is that, certainly, but I should have trusted Resnais' eye and his sensibilities as a filmmaker more. The man knows what he's doing and I had no real reason to doubt that. This is presented is such a way that its approachable without sacrificing anything for it because f*****ck is this still horrific to look at (to bring back a topic from earlier in the thread, this is a far harder watch than The Act of Seeing with One's On Eyes). It actually weirdly feels like another Resnais doc about a plastics factory Le Chant du Styrene in terms of structure except instead of calmly walking you through the process of making a ladle its calmly walking you through the process of completely destroying people. The split between the new and old footage is handled well too with the modern footage feeling like such a relief with its excellent colour palette and trucking shots being so away far from the awful b&w photos and locked down footage we we're just subjected to, but its only a slight relief as what we're seeing in these parts still f*cking sucks. Expertly handled film I'm absolutely miserable.




The House Is Black (Forough Farrohkzad, 1962)

I am extremely torn on this one. Visually and in terms of presentation its everything I want... from a narrative film at least. The angles, the editing, the voiceover, all completely my jam but it makes me wonder about the intentions of the film. Like is this an honest look at life in a leper colony when every scene is this meticulously staged and directed? I'm just having a hard time shaking the feeling that this is more self-serving than anything else. I'm scared to throw out the word "exploitation" because that is a big accusation but when you're seemingly only using people as a backdrop it kind of feels that way. I'm not very smart so I'm open to being big wrong on this but something here just doesn't sit right with me. I just don't really feel like I gained any insight from this and the last scene in the classroom feels hokey even if it was real. But again, aesthetically? good shit.




The House Is Black (Forough Farrohkzad, 1962)

I am extremely torn on this one. Visually and in terms of presentation its everything I want... from a narrative film at least. The angles, the editing, the voiceover, all completely my jam but it makes me wonder about the intentions of the film. Like is this an honest look at life in a leper colony when every scene is this meticulously staged and directed? I'm just having a hard time shaking the feeling that this is more self-serving than anything else. I'm scared to throw out the word "exploitation" because that is a big accusation but when you're seemingly only using people as a backdrop it kind of feels that way. I'm not very smart so I'm open to being big wrong on this but something here just doesn't sit right with me. I just don't really feel like I gained any insight from this and the last scene in the classroom feels hokey even if it was real. But again, aesthetically? good shit.
I definitely don't think the people in the leper colony are used as backdrop for the film's visuals and aesthetics. In spite of how much it shows the ailments of the people in the leper colony, I think the film remains beautiful from beginning to end. To summarize what I got out of the film, I think it's implied that the government failed the people in the film by herding them into a leper colony instead of attempting to treat their illness (i.e., "Leprosy is not incurable" being repeated twice in the opening) and that the film also explores some of the ironies of the people in the colony since they thank God for various features many of them don't have (e.g., hands, eyes, and ears), as if religion is an abstract concept in their lives. I also found a couple sequences powerful, like some women making an effort to look beautiful in spite of their physical appearances by putting on makeup and brushing their hair and how a scene of several boys playing ball is followed by a shot on an elderly man limping a path, implying that the boys may end up like him if nothing is done. As for the classroom scene, I imagine people will be pretty split on it. I personally found it devastating, but I wouldn't disagree with someone who thinks it doesn't work as it's not my favorite part of the short, tbh.




Nu (2003)

That's not quite the image I wanted for my lead-in photo. I wanted the wide shot of Mads standing in a rocky isolated place, alone...with one lone tree. I thought that shot composition said volumes, but I couldn't find it.

The photo I ended up using also says a lot. Mads seems uncomfortable on his wedding day..he's unsure of what to do and during the consummation of his marriage he's mechanical in his moments. Of course later we find out why he's so unsure during his first encounter with his wife.

What intrigued me the most was that this short works like a silent film in that the movements and body language of the actors tells the story. We don't need dialogue. The scene compositions and the way the story ended also works as a pictorial record of a persons life. Nu reminded of a Fellini film in it's use of artsy compositions & editing...and it reminded me of a Bergman film in it's austereness and bleak outlook both visual and emotional. Good film.




Ballot sent it and I really don't know how to rank the short films??? I mean most were excellent and the others still pretty interesting. In fact I'd say they were all well made. So good choices everyone!



THE HEART OF THE WORLD
(2000, Maddin)



"Tragic calculations! Triple-checked! No mistakes! The world is dying of heart failure!"

Set in an alternate reality, The Heart of the World follows Anna (Leslie Lais), a scientist studying the Earth's core (or "heart"). As she is being courted by two brothers: Nikolai (Shaun Balbar) and Osip (Caelum Vatnsdal), a theater actor, she discovers that the "heart" of the world is in danger and she must warn the population to avoid a catastrophe.

This is a very interesting short film, not only for its odd plot but mostly for the way it is constructed. Writer and director Guy Maddin set out to make a film that was as frenetic as possible, at roughly two shots per second, but also constructed in a style that is reminiscent of very early German and Russian silent films, like Metropolis.

The plot doesn't make a lot of sense; there is a fairly evident subtext of science vs. religion vs. capitalism, the latter represented by an industralist that seduces Anna, but everything is presented in such a frantic pace that it doesn't quite let you absorb it. Still, at the end of the day, it all takes a backseat to the interesting execution which is the driving force of this short film.

Grade:
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11 Foreign Language movies to go
Ballot sent it and I really don't know how to rank the short films??? I mean most were excellent and the others still pretty interesting. In fact I'd say they were all well made. So good choices everyone!
A breaks a person's heart when you're having to rank absolute masterpieces in 4th and 5th place because the there is so much quality here.




Nu (Simon Staho, 2003)

Now (lol), y'all know I'm more than okay with surrealism, and don't get me wrong there's some things to like here, but this is such a by-the-numbers take on the genre and it really does not have the visual flair to elevate it. I always like jump cuts and dudes making out, so there's that, but not really feeling it otherwise (not in a dislike way just in a not moving the needle kind of way). Oh, and Mads' haircut is god awful.



Currently writing reviews on The House Is Black, A Gun for George, and Brats. Will try to have them ready by tomorrow.



GOODBYE MOMMY

So this one fully commits to its aesthetic, but that aesthetic happens to go against everything I enjoy looking at. Character design, color scheme, deliberately crude rendering-- none of it was appealing to me. But that's my baggage. Like I said, this film is its own thing and I respect it for that. Unfortunately the story didn't grab me either, so I was left with very little to latch on to here. I liked the aliens.

I've been avoiding everyone's reviews until after I've watched the films, and something funny just happened. At one point during the film I thought to myself, "this Jack Wedge guy must've grown up watching those s--tty Barbie movies". And then afterwards I read Ueno's write-up:

Growing up with shows from Mainframe Entertainment and 64-bit video games, janky 3D just hits right for me
A quick Googling confirms that Mainframe Entertainment was responsible for those s--tty Barbie movies. So I was proud of that little bit of insight I exhibited and as a result I'm relatively confident that I got what they were going for here. I got it, I just didn't want it.
Ueno and I seem to have some similar interests based on what I've read (waiting for the sci-fi thread to get going again), but I think this is where our age difference rears its head.


EDIT, a day later:
I can never gauge if my tone is coming across when I post, so I just want to clarify that the Barbie stuff wasn't meant to be disparaging. What I meant there was that, in trying to appreciate what they were going for, it occurred to me that this aesthetic would probably appeal to the age group that grew up watching those early low-budget attempts at 3D animation, so I was pleased to read Ueno state exactly that in their review.

I was in college when Toy Story came out, so I haven't even fully embraced 3D when it's done to perfection let alone the deliberately unpolished stuff, and therefore I'm going to have less patience with such things. I've no doubt that Ueno was not insulted by my review, but I just wanted to make sure of it anyway. I hate giving bad reviews to things people like.