Short films for short people.
According to the DVD packaging, “SHORT is a collection of short films and interactive content designed exclusively DVD.” The Short series, currently numbering ten volumes, presents a diverse collection of short films, usually unified by a common theme. For this particular volume, that theme is “Vision.”
Short films are not as common as they used to be. Way back when, theaters used to show cartoons, newsreels, and short films before you’d see the main attraction. Now, all they give you prior to the show is a slew of ads and movie trailers, which are merely ads for upcoming movies.
The short film has become the domain of the beginning filmmaker, often used as a calling card for more lucrative feature direction gigs. Their films are often produced while they are in film school, or on shoestring budgets. They are the very definition of independent film. These films cover a broad spectrum of styles and topics, from animation to documentaries, comedy to drama.
I must admit: I do not approach reviewing this disc out of my previously instilled love of short films. It was an assignment, but one that I relish. You see, I live in a smallish city of around 200,000. Eugene, Oregon is a university town, but alas does not have a film school or a developed community of cineastes. We have one converted mausoleum that serves as the arthouse theatre. In the twenty-some years I’ve lived here, I’ve been there once — to see the recent re-release of the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple. The nearest major (or minor) film festival would be in Portland, Oregon or Seattle, Washington. I can sum all of that up by saying: there are no convenient venues for me to view short independent films except on DVD. This is my first taste, and I like it.
Short 8: Visions presents eight short films, ranging in length from two minutes to eighteen minutes, along with supplements for most of the films and DVD-ROM content (not reviewed here). The disc is divided into four sections: Narrative, Documentary, Music, and Spoken Word. As each short film has its own set of supplements and presentation specs, I shall examine each one separately.
The Cinema Ticket
The Cinema Ticket is a fifteen-minute film heralding from Norway. Never fear being able to understand it, for the film is dialogue-less. It follows the adventures of a lad in soggy Norway trying to earn enough money to attend a movie. It is a delightful movie, one that left a smile on my face. It is presented in widescreen, with a ratio of approximately 1.85:1. It obviously was shot on a lower-grade medium, such as 16mm. The image is a bit grainy, and shadow detail is almost nonexistent. Audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The bright score is well-used throughout the channels, and the LFE channels is lightly used. Fidelity is excellent. The only extra is production notes.
If I can sum up my feelings about true. (yes, it’s lowercase, and yes, it includes the period) in one sentence, they would be expressed thusly: I’m glad I’ve seen it, and now I never want to see it again. You know those annoying Budweiser commercials wherein hip twentysomethings intone “Wasssuupp!” at each other? Well, it all started with true. The two-minute “film,” according to director Charles Stone III, is “all about these truths inherent in our lives, especially when we’re doing nothing but watching television.” Okaaay, here’s what I saw: a barrage of “Wasssuupp”s punctuated by two guys asking each other “what’s up with you.” If there’s a truth to be found, it’s that college students with too much time on their hands should not be given access to film and cameras. One or the other would be fine, but not both at the same time. Anyway, true. is presented full-frame. It was filmed on video, and it shows — video noise abounds. Once again, audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Credit must be given to the engineers at Quickband (who produces the series) for creating unique and interesting surround mixes. All channels are used appropriately. Production notes are provided.
My complaints about it can be considered sour grapes, considering that Charles Stone III made tons of money off of it with an advertising contract, and I have, well, nothing.
Sky Above, Heaven Below
I hate to dog two films in a row, but…I found Sky Above, Heaven Below to be unwatchable. The story is set in 1910 China, filmed by a Chinese director with an Asian cast, but is acted in English. That’s what I found most annoying. The story is entirely authentic, but the acting is not. These characters should not speak English, particularly when they sound like Americans trying not to sound like Americans. This misstep impairs their acting — I’ve seen amateur theater productions that looked like Citizen Kane compared to this film. Still, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. At least the film has lush production values; the sets and costumes are beautiful. Sky Above, Heaven Below tells the story of a girl growing up in the strict culture of pre-Revolution China. In its fourteen minutes, it shows her severe father attempting to betroth the precocious girl to a bratty boy. We know he is a brat, because he tried to kill the girl’s bird and set fire to their yard. Boys will be boys. It is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen. The image is grainy throughout, and skews unnaturally reddish in tone. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is remarkably clear, and provides nice surround effects for the gongs and other musical instruments heard on the soundtrack. Extras are comprised of a commentary track by director Chi Chi Zhang, storyboards for the entire film presented as an alternate angle, and production notes. It was there I learned that it was filmed in a theme park in Orlando, Florida. Sigh. There goes the “lush production values.”
Number One Fan
To quote The Simpsons, “I can think of at least two things wrong with that title.” Number One Fan is the story of an innocent teenaged girl who runs away from home, meets a photographer, shares a gas station bathroom with him, travels with him and his friends to a house in the country, and overdoses on drugs. What’s the moral of the story, boys and girls? Never share a gas station bathroom with anyone. The director, Amy Talkington, made it while a student in Columbia University’s film school. Her commentary track is filled with the sort of pseudo-intellectual diagnosis of her work that you would expect from someone who matriculated from Columbia. The eighteen-minute film is presented full-frame. The image is grainy throughout. The 5.1 audio was the only one out of the lot that was disappointing. The high end is virtually nonexistent, while the LFE channel is overused, giving it a boomy sound. In addition to the commentary track, you can read the production notes and view a slideshow of Polaroid pictures from the film.
Tag der Freiheit
In any set, inevitably there is one component that makes owning the rest of the set worthwhile. Tag der Freiheit is the most interesting and most important film out of this set. In English, the title is translated “Day Of Freedom.” German director Leni Riefenstahl filmed it in 1935 as a follow-up to her film Triumph des Willens (“Triumph Of The Will”), which documented a Nazi rally in Nuremberg. Female directors were rare even in Hollywood in the 1930s, and rarer yet in Europe. She began her career as a dancer, then turned to film acting when an injury ended her dancing career. She then turned to directing, and was personally asked to film Triumph des Willens by Adolph Hitler. She also filmed a documentary on the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which stands as a landmark in sports coverage and documentary filmmaking. However, her association with the Nazi party (even though she did not share their ideals) hampered her post-World War II career in Hollywood. Now 98, she is still alive and working (though she has not directed a film since the 1950s).
Tag der Freiheit was made because the German armed forces felt they have been excluded from the coverage of the Nuremberg rally in Triumph des Willens, so they were given the chance to exhibit the armed might of the Nazi army. There is no dialogue or ideological speeches — just images of soldiers, tanks, and planes. If the incessant march music gets on your nerves, switch to the alternate audio track, which features Dr. Robert von Dassanowksy, film and cultural historian, discussing the life and works of Riefenstahl. I will make no mention of the video and audio quality, for frankly we are lucky to have this historical film intact.
Why indeed. Why Liberace? is billed as an “interactive” documentary, but the only interactive thing about it is you can select the order in which you view its segments. It is a mix of home videos of the performer, footage from his concerts, interviews with common folk touring the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas, and a discussion with a Liberace impersonator. The interviews with the people at the museum are the most interesting part of the documentary, mostly for the fact that they all express identical incoherent, inarticulate statements with the notable exception of a preteen boy who stands out as the voice of reason. He calls Liberace’s gaudy costumes weird, and expresses veiled doubt of the man’s talents. The documentary is presented full-frame, and the video quality is uniformly acceptable. Production notes are available as an extra.
Personally, I would have labeled this section “Animation” rather than “Music.” Kite is a spectacularly beautiful three-minute animation set to original music. It does not tell a story per se. It shows a kite morphing into a ship that sails from a river to the sea and changes into a magnificent galleon, then back into a kite. It was produced with off-the-shelf professional software such as Photoshop and After Effects. The film image is beautiful and defect-free, and the score sounds splendid. Kite is a real treat.
Serpent And The Sandman
Poet Ben Porter Lewis performs his works in the desert. That’s about it. There’s an audio track in which he “elaborates on the spoken word.”
The Cinema Ticket, Tag der Freiheit, and Kite are definitely the standouts on this short film disc. I may not have enjoyed or appreciated each segment that is a part of Short 8: Visions, but it is a worthy package for your consideration. If it serves any purpose, it will broaden your exposure, and for that reason alone it is worth viewing. I am sure the artists get some sort of recompense or royalties, so support independent cinema.