SHORT 10: Chaos
Warner Home Video
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Review by Dawn Taylor
The 10th installment of Warner Brothers' quarterly SHORT DVD series offers an array of short films from the U.S., Hungary, Australia and Turkey. Each volume's films are tied together by a common theme (like vision, utopia, authority, or invention) but this volume's theme, "chaos," is a tenuous connection at best one is hard-pressed to discern chaos as having much to do with any of the films presented here. No matter.
The big hairy deal about SHORT 10 is the world DVD premiere of George Lucas' student film Electronic Labyrinth, the 15-minute short that eventually became his first feature-length film, THX 1138. Both the box and production notes herald this as "the first film George Lucas has allowed to be issued on DVD", which kind of makes one wonder if he's decided to disown American Graffiti (on DVD for some time as a Universal "Collector's Edition," complete with a new documentary featuring Lucas himself). At any rate, each volume in the SHORT series divides the films into categories, and on this disc we have Classic, Chaos, Narrative, Student, Experimental and Music. Let's begin:
- Electronic Labyrinth: Lucas made this short as a film student at USC in 1967. Originally titled Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, to avoid confusion with THX 1138 it's now known as just Electronic Labyrinth. It is undoubtedly a very, very good student film for 1967 Lucas exhibits confidence in his demonstration of various film techniques (lap dissolve, split screen, superimposed text, tight close-ups of brightly flashing buttons), which is pretty much the whole point of a student film. The 15-minute short is really just that, Lucas showing off what he's learned about film and editing: a guy in white pajamas, with the number 1138 written on his forehead in black ink, runs down white corridors and through empty parking garages while he's monitored by people sitting in circa-1967 computer labs with wastebaskets on their heads. That's the entire plot, and it's as tedious as you'd imagine. Which is not to say, once again, that it's not a pretty good student film, especially considering that Lucas made it 33 years ago. The sound in Electronic Labyrinth is fairly sophisticated for a student film layers of beeps and recorded voices, alarms and echoes creating an effective claustrophobic atmosphere. Hardcore Lucas fans will doubtless enjoy seeing the early genesis of various shots, sounds and motifs used throughout Star Wars. Following Electronic Labyrinth is George Lucas at USC (which offers a chat with one of Lucas's teachers, one of the principals involved with the short George Lucas in Love, and a Star Wars junkie rhapsodizing over Lucas's student film). Another short feature offers interview snippets with Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, who discuss the origination and growth of the THX theatrical standard. These few minutes would play like an infomercial were it not for the fact that, um, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola are soft-peddling the product. Also on board are some production notes.
- A Short Film About Bad Animals: There are actually three shorts in the Chaos category, each titled Chaos. Cute, eh? The first is a 1-minute behind-the-scenes look at an interactive skateboard documentary which will appear on SHORT 11: Ecstasy and the second is a pointless 20-second snippet of animation. The third short, however, is a small gem. David Birdsell offers a funny and disturbing depiction of a man harassed by, well, bad animals. Especially effective for those of us who are creeped out by sports mascots or anyone in a big animal suit.
- Five Feet High and Rising: Shot in New York's Upper East Side with non-professional actors, this is an effective cinema verite look at a boy on the brink of adulthood as he observes and yearns to join the adolescent mating dance. While the film itself doesn't break any new ground, Victor Rasuk the boy who stars in the film is amazing. Five Feet High was a big winner on the festival circuit in 2000, garnering awards at Cannes, the Aspen Shortsfest, SXSW and Sundance probably because anything involving New York street life is as alien and exotic to the wealthy, white, West Coast movie folk who populate film festivals as are documentaries on African pygmy tribesmen. Oh, and it's about sex, which is always a plus. Attached is the "Five Feet High companion", which consists of interviews with the two stars of the film; three deleted scenes; and production notes.
- The Fly: Winner of the Oscar for Best Animated Short in 1980, this amazing film chronicles the point-of-view of a housefly as it travels outdoors, then indoors, then flees a persistent human. All hand-drawn, beautifully rendered, and worthy of the Oscar it received. Production notes follow.
- Kebabaluba: A cute two minutes of animation featuring a Turkish doner kebab (gyro) vendor. The alternate track is quite funny, offering a recipe for doner kebab and some statistics about Turkey (meat consumption per capita, in pounds: 35.2). Production notes.
- Still Revolutionaries: Created for the Masters program at Stanford University, Sienna McLean's documentary on two women members of the Black Panther Party premiered at Sundance in 1998. The film looks at not only the role of women in the Panthers, but the community service programs that were instituted by the Panthers and some of the reasons why the Party fell apart. McLean's film is a fascinating look at an important (and widely misunderstood) part of American civil rights history, but it leaves one hungry for more this subject deserves a far more in-depth exploration than a 15-minute short can provide. An alternate track with director's commentary is provided, along with production notes.
- deliriouspink: Another student film, this time from the University of Texas at Austin, deliriouspink is an experiment in using black-and-white Xeroxes of hands and faces pressed against the glass to create an animated film. The technique at first seems kind of dumb and then, combined with the electronic soundtrack, becomes mesmerizing, then finally reaches the point of "okay, okay I get it already". At four minutes long, it just misses overstaying its welcome. A director's commentary track is provided, but the sound is so poorly recorded that it's unintelligible. Production notes confirm that, yes, this was made with black-and-white Xerox copies.
- The Bottomless Cup: A fellow on a road trip, falling asleep at the wheel, stops into a diner for some coffee. He orders the "bottomless cup of coffee" and guess what? the waitress won't stop filling it and he can't leave! Yeah, that's what it's about. This 15-minute short, a second-year student film for Columbia University's M.F.A. program, is so slickly shot and well-acted that it's a shame that it's so damn lame. It's like an episode of "Night Gallery", only they forgot to add the creepy stuff. A director's commentary track, an interview with actress Alysha Quinn (who plays the waitress) and behind-the-scenes photos do nothing to make it more than a very well-produced bit of fluff.
- Po Mo Knock Knock: This is a piece that definitely benefits from the alternate tracks. Produced and performed by members of the New York City improv group The Pollyannas, the short parodies the film styles of Bergman and Godard, as three black-clad gentlemen emote around the construct of knock knock jokes. On first viewing, Po Mo Knock Knock (the title is short for "post-modern knock-knock jokes") is clever but less than brilliant this ground has been well-trod before, by Woody Allen, Mike Myers and his "Sprockets" sketches, even Calvin Klein ads. But the director's commentary track gives the viewer some information on the creation of the film, as does the second commentary track featuring the director, the writer and one of the actors. The third commentary track the "Matrix special edition track" features the same three guys ignoring the film entirely as they discuss The Matrix, William Gibson and sci-fi movies. All of which leads to Po Mo Love Doc, a sequel of sorts, which examines the lives of the characters in Po Mo Knock Knock after the fact. As a package, it's all highly entertaining.
- Burnout: The box describes it thusly: "A dilapidated Australian truck stop diner is the setting for a whisky-voiced rumination on life and love". "Whisky-voiced" is apparently a euphemism for "kind of like Tom Waits, only Australian and lacking talent". In the director's commentary, Gav Barbey (could his name be any more Australian?) explains that this blather was all based on a poem he wrote. Of course it was. An example of Gav's poetry: "Until the spiritual life hits the Zen/and draws your heart out screaming/like a thousand hands holding it back". Now imagine it being recited by Crocodile Dundee after he smokes about a hundred Camels, while you look at endless shots of the inside of a truck stop. Watching this film is like having one's head squeezed in an industrial vise. If that isn't enough, you can listen to the director's commentary track, or read the text of the thing while gazing at photos of the principal players.
Picture quality depends on the film in question some of the films' features were shot on 8mm or 16mm, while others are highly professional in quality. Electronic Labyrinth undoubtedly could have been cleaned up quite a bit, but it looks like no one bothered. The audio on all of the films is in Dolby Digital, either 2.0 or 5.1 Surround and, again, the sound wasn't that great on some of these to begin with. But (aside from the commentary track on deliriouspink) it's all pretty clean.
- Color and black-and-white
- Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0 Surround (English)
- Various aspect ratios
- Single-sided, single-layered disc (SS-SL)
- Additional video tracks
- Additional audio tracks
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