I must say that the most exciting thing about today’s National Board of Review announcement for me was the Best Actress honor for Tilda Swinton. Firstly, it’s refreshing when these groups shake things up a bit and keep the competition going. But more than that, I think Swinton is one of those actresses who enrich just about every conversation, Oscar season or otherwise. Her strength isn’t simply that she’s an extraordinarily talented actress, but that she chooses projects and collaborations that dare to enrich and extend art and cinema as a whole. Too many of the leading female performances raved about this awards cycle are in safe and uninteresting movies, which is never a problem for a Swinton picture.
But enough general gushing. Let’s go back to an early point in Swinton’s career, one of her very first film roles. A year after appearing in Caravaggio, her first collaboration with Derek Jarman, the director asked her to star in his contribution to 1987’s Aria (which I covered earlier this week, as a tribute to Ken Russell). The music is the famous Depuis le jour from Gustave Charpentier’s Louise, a sweet ode to young love. It’s a gorgeously simple short from the often provocative director, as earnest in its beauty as the music itself. Continue reading
I’m not exactly stoked about the New York Film Critics Circle awards, given that I thought The Artist was kinda slight. No matter! One thing the NYFCC did right was extend a special award to Raoul Ruiz, who passed away in August. His last film, the epic Mysteries of Lisbon, is one of my favorite features of the year. Magnificent in scope and sporting some of the most stunning cinematography I have seen in ages, the near-6-hour epic is everything I love about ambitious narrative cinema. There are few directors as deserving of this sort of special recognition as Ruiz, and it gives us a great excuse to take a look at one of his early shorts.
From one angle, Colloque de chiens seems like a perfect example of the French New Wave’s influence on a younger generation of filmmakers. Ruiz arrived in Paris in 1973, after Augusto Pinochet’s US-backed coup in his native Chile, and by 1977 had made a number of films in France. This particular short is almost entirely made up of narration and still photographs, evocative of La jetée and other similarly experimental French films of the 1960s. Bourgeois characters find themselves in doomed relationships and meaningless affairs, the sort of characteristic malaise you’d find in Godard’s work. Yet by the late 1970s all of that was getting a bit old, and Ruiz is most certainly doing something new with this complex little film. Continue reading
I love stop motion animation. For whatever reason, despite having seen countless shorts and features using the technique, it blows me away almost on principle. Everything, from the Brothers Quay and Terry Gilliam to Wallace and Gromit and that episode of Community, sends me into awe as I think about the process. These little movements, each artfully choreographed down to the slightest detail, are suddenly stacked together for kinetic experiences that often feel much more alive than regular live-action filmmaking. It takes you back to the very basics of cinema.
And of course new technology has only sent creativity through the roof. People can now make shorts with their phones, like that Aardman video set on the beach that was released this summer. Shorts are being made everywhere, inspired by our new world of technology in unexpected and delightful ways. Address Is Approximate is a shining example of this exciting trend. Put on the web just a few days ago by The Theory films, this delightful distraction uses Google Maps to show just how small the world can be these days. Continue reading
There’s a bittersweet awkwardness that happens when you discover someone’s work only as a result of their passing. I’ve never been familiar with Ken Russell‘s extraordinary and controversial filmography, despite the many times friends have recommended him. I adore Women in Love but I haven’t seen any of his other features, and from what I hear that’s hardly a representative work. I’ve seen clips of The Devils on YouTube, but have never gotten around to watching the full film. And so, as the film community mourns, I spent some time this morning reading some wonderful obituaries and poking around the web to see if he’d ever directed shorts. I found something entirely unexpected, enigmatic, and hermetical.
Aria, released in 1987, is one of those anthology flicks that opens to great excitement at Cannes and then goes absolutely nowhere. There isn’t much of a market for these things, at least not since the ‘ 60s, and it’s a shame. This particular film tasked 10 celebrated directors to each make a short film around a single opera, giving us a unique opportunity to see how artists like Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman and Robert Altman relate to specific pieces of music. Russell’s contribution is Nessun Dorma, a haunting seven minutes wrapped around one of the most darkly powerful arias in the operatic canon. Continue reading
It is really easy to make fun of bad poetry, especially the kind of spoken-word stuff that can fill up an urban café with loudly terrible metaphors and confrontational redundancy. If you’re only interested in the jab, the jokes write themselves. On the other hand, it is much harder to poke fun at artists and other character types while simultaneously creating something new. YouTube is full of parodies that do nothing more than point and laugh. Samantha Chanse and Yasmine Gomez are interested in something more. Asian American Jesus is not just a funny satire of awful poetry, but also manages to combine laughter with genuinely witty social commentary.
Based on characters from Chanse’s one woman show, the short takes the form of student Suzette Law’s final project for an Ethnic Studies class on Asian American artists. She follows around Truth Is Real, a local poet whose work is almost impossibly awful. We get to see bits of performances, as well as interviews with everyone from the local artistic establishment to a barista at the cafe where Truth Is Real drives away customers. Everyone is played by Chanse herself, who plays around with voices and mannerisms to really bring these characters to life. It’s like a miniature “A Mighty Wind” set in the Bay Area. Continue reading
It is a muggy, chilly, wet day here in New York City. The rain and wind have mostly finished their assault on our windowpanes, leaving them with little to do but mope around the tops of trees and the little rivulets in the street. It’s the perfect scenario to curl up inside and watch something replete with atmospheric tranquility.
5:46am fits the bill. Directors Olivier Campagne and Vivien Balzi of ArtefactoryLab have crafted an eerie three minute tour through Paris. Everything is partially submerged in a surprisingly still layer of water, presumably the reason that the city is completely devoid of people. Yet that sort of narrative logic is far off from what this short is trying to accomplish. On the one hand, there is definitely a post-apocalyptic feel to this bizarre trip around Paris-as-Venice. However, the feel of dread is matched by the profound stillness of the water. Even if something terrible happened here, it’s all over – now it’s time to reflect. Continue reading
I cannot tell you how many times I have looked dreamily at the shorts line-up of some faraway film festival, desperately wishing someone would fly me to Austin, Venice, or even Cleveland. That rarely ends up happening. However, as is often the case, we have the Internet to thank for a consolation prize of sorts. The Short Rounds: Fantastic Fest piece I put together for Movies.com last week is a good example of what I’ll try accomplishing here. The experience of attending a film festival in person is irreplaceable, but here at ShortStack we’ll do the best we can remotely. To kick things off: Tucson Film and Music Festival, running now through Monday.
Now, there are a number of cool things on the TFMF program I could talk about. There’s Guru, a documentary short I saw at Tribeca this year. It’s fantastic, an unsettling psychological tour de force that looks at a motivational speaker spiraling out of control. There’s a new fiction short by Chad Hartigan, which looks interesting and which I’m sure I’ll have cause to write about once I’ve seen it. Neil LaBute even pops up, having written the screenplay of an inevitably bold short called After-School Special. Yet in spite of all that, the one aspect of the fest that draws me in the most is their Music Video-Rama. Music videos are easily seen on the web but almost never on the big screen, and the very idea of having a festival program of music videos is pretty cool.
Of course, if you’re not in Tucson you don’t have much chance to actually catch the event. Thankfully, most of the videos are available online. Here are a few favorites: Continue reading