Welcome everyone to what I hope can be a marvelous beginning to a new series. I guess you could say that I am a connoisseur of short films and to my dismay…. generally, people don’t care. But that ends today, because I’m going to take you on a journey through the art, the craft, the potential that is found in short films. Short films are where most creative voices find themselves and despite limitations, and constraints of the medium they breathe life it to some rather interesting ideas. As a film critic I am generally the worst enemy to filmmakers, I tell you why I hate your movie with questionable grievances and credentials. However, I’d rather be an ally to aspiring filmmakers and if any of you out there have grand desires than a great place to start is the world of short films.
I hate to break this to you, but your first film is not going to be looking like Avengers: Endgame. To emphasize this point, the first article of the shortcut series is going to be looking at the shorts of some highly esteemed directors that I’m sure you’ve all heard of before. However, I’m not going to tell you right away who the director is so feel free to play along and as you watch the film try and see if you can guess. I’ll be providing my review/examination of each film and then after that I will reveal who’s film it is…. Or you can just read the end credits. Let’s take a look at some of our favorite director’s humble beginnings.
The Big Shave (Warning Graphic Imagery)
The Big Shave shows the greatest strengths and weaknesses when composing a metaphor piece. The film takes full advantage of making up for the lack of characters, dialogue, and plot progression with well though out out production design. The bathroom is an unsettling clean and polished white both setting the scene that something is slightly off and to have a great contrast to what is to come. The film also has a genius use of sound from the silence meant to support the eeriness of the location and the lack of diegetic sound further separating the image from the audience or any sense of reality. The song used also supports the themes of the piece; the song “I Can’t Get Started” is about a guy who is larger than life itself yet can’t gain the attention of the girl he’s in love with. Despite the man in The Big Shave being your handsome, typical America he hacks away slowly bleeding out from his self-destructive behavior.
The thing that makes this film a poor metaphor is how it fails to specifically address the meaning. It does certainly come across making a point about self-destructive behavior and sullying one’s self to embark towards perfection, but this film takes on a different meaning when someone describes the intent of the film. The short has held the alternative title, Viet ’67 because this is a film about opposing the war in Vietnam. I’m not sure that translates into the piece separated from the time period, you can read the script where they abandon format to address the meaning of the short. The imagery is striking and there’s a lot of clever design that went into the film even if you need a briefing to understand exactly what the filmmaker was trying to say.
But what else would you expect from the great Martin Scorsese.
Don’t you just love that early 2000’s grudge look. My Josephine is a microcosm story that it’s not typical of short film to operate in such a “demo” fashion but there is something to applaud in its minimalist storytelling. Little is revealed or spoken about what is going on with this short but there is a lot to unpack at the same time. I was initially confused as I thought the use of the Josephine anecdote was to develop the idea of one of these characters being an immigrant using marriage to gain citizenship… like that Kimmy Schmidt plot line. That’s never a point that is explicitly made but nothing is explicitly stated.
This director is certainly establishing right from the get-go that their identity as a filmmaker is to be a trailblazer. Again, context matters as this was released in 2003. Racism and Islamophobia is certainly an issue today, but you could imagine or remember how unwelcoming an American audience was to the idea of an Arabic-spoken romance plot 2 years after the events of September 11. From the allegories, the experimental twisting shots, and the use of language as clever ways to define character shows a great deal of thought and willingness to explore often un-thought areas of filmmakers.
Obviously, a filmmaker on to challenge our perceptions and give a voice to the most unexpected places. Congrats to Barry Jenkins on growing from this to the spectacular effort that won him the Oscar Best Picture for Moonlight.
I want off the ride. Obviously, a filmmaker that understands how to make your skin crawl with a tension so thick you could cut at it with a butter knife. What could be dismissed as someone wanting to experiment with the old blue screen, the effects work is far from what is impressive about this film. Both diegetic sound (clock ticking, telephone, floorboards) and non-diegetic sounds (atmospheric music) adds to the mood and builds towards the elements of Kafkaesque surrealism. The film offers some simplistic narrative denoting some sense of surviving a sort of cycle and how our efforts might lead to some form of self-destruction. I don’t think this film really denotes being anything spectacular, it’s a visionary concept and a neat execution and that’s why it is so fascinating that it comes from one of the greatest filmmakers currently making movies.
I hope if any of you aspire to be well anything just look at this film and know that this simplistic conceptual piece was created by the guy who would make The Dark Knight, Dunkirk, Memento, and Inception. This short is nothing to sneeze at it shows understanding of craft; let’s face it your first movie even if you are Nolan is not going to be Inception. It’s going to be a Doodlebug. Understand that film making is an art form that requires a process so before expecting rich fat cats to throw “Lods of emone” at you first make short little projects and explore and experiment with different aspects of film making and prove that you are capable of making insightful, engaging, quality stuff.
Okay this one is a high art concept piece that is very unrealistic high production value that you and your basement film shouldn’t compare yourselves too harshly with. Centre Phi prides themselves in making great short film art pieces. There are so many visual motifs that the film is delightfully abstract yet a pleasure to dissect and pick apart. My only nitpick is that with all this high-quality production they really going to go with a cheesy stock sound effect for when the floor collapses.
So, if I were to cut my knife into this one, what do I think it means. While some allusions to the descent of Dante’s Inferno could be drawn, I believe the floors and visuals are much more literal. Personally, I believe them symbolic of tax brackets and the division of wealth. The affluent are well catered to, however they splurge and overindulge in the fine cuisine. Their bottom lines can’t compete with their gluttony and they ultimately fall into a lower status of wealth, but never learn to break their habit of overspending and plunge deeper into despair. Some of the big game food they gorge themselves with is representing just how ludicrous some of the purchases the affluent people make. The metaphor is plenty and vague that you can interpret it to fulfill many contexts and you don’t need someone to explain it to you like the other examples we saw.
What Did We Learn?
Apparently, we should all start learning to craft extended metaphors. I hope through these you can recognize that your favorite director isn’t some film God among men, they all started somewhere small and had to experiment with their ambitions with craft before they grew into the perfected form we see today. Hopefully you stick around as I journey deeper into some short films, as you never know what will become of the creative people behind them. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back next time but with a twist.