SHORT 9: Trust
Warner Home Video
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Thanks to the Internet, short films have been making a bit of a comeback lately. Sites like AtomFilms regularly showcase new original shorts, and abbreviated, much-forwarded parodies like "George Lucas in Love" and "Troopers" are landing their creators big-time development deals. Does this mean short cinema is entering a new golden age? Not really it's still next to impossible to see shorts on the big screen, something that's not likely to change any time soon.
Good thing there are collections like Warner Brothers' Short Cinema Journal DVD series, then. Every few months, Warner picks a particular theme, collects a series of short films from around the world, and releases them on a new DVD. They're up to number nine, now, with this latest group centered around the notion of trust between men and women, siblings, parents and children, citizens and government, and even violin players.
As is the case with the other discs in the SHORT series, the 11 films are divided into five categories: Narrative, International, Documentary, Experimental, and Spoken Word. Here's what you'll find in this collection:
- Clown Car: In this wacky, somewhat existential look at friendship, two clowns are stranded in the desert with only banana cream pies and seltzer water for sustenance when their tire blows and they're caught without a spare. Storyboards and a commentary from writer/director David R. Garrett shed extra light on this award-winning film, which was inspired by an improv workshop.
- Love Bites: Pretty much the only film on the disc to feature a recognizable face indie actor Kevin Corrigan (Steal This Movie!, Slums of Beverly Hills) this dark comedy about love and suspicion, which premiered at Sundance in 1999, has one heck of a meaty twist. A round-table commentary track with actors Jennifer Bransford and Scott Lowell and directors Michael Horowitz and Colburn Tseng doesn't really add much; both it and the behind-the-scenes mini-documentary basically rehash the supplementary notes provided on the disc.
- Sidewalkers: This intriguing film about two pint-sized con artists ends just when it's really getting interesting. Director Tara Veneruso, who also directed the award-winning documentary Janis Joplin Slept Here, based the story on a dream and shot it with a digital betacam before transferring the finished film to 35 mm. An alternate video track offers the original digital version, and Veneruso has a few interesting insights in her audio commentary. A behind-the-scenes photo album completes the package.
- My Beautiful Me: Meet Judy and Joseph, an uber-New Age couple who want to start a family. They need money for artificial insemination, so they turn to Frank, Judy's boorish, incredibly un-P.C. stepfather. This funny-but-somewhat-uneven satire, which was shot on 16 mm film and premiered at the Directors Guild of America, sends up all kinds of stereotypes, some more successfully than others. Extras include a commentary from director Pi Ware and producer Susan Kraker, and a still of the film's poster. (Trivia tidbit: Cliff Bemis, who plays Frank, is best known as a TV spokesperson for the International House of Pancakes.)
- Maestro: Definitely the highlight of the narrative section as far as soundtracks are concerned, this clever film about a violinist who plays for a card shark relies largely on music to tell its story about loyalty and betrayal. It was shot in 16mm in 1997; producer Ben Younger, who provides audio commentary with director Phil Berger, went on to write and direct Boiler Room for New Line Cinema.
- Bloodlock: One of the few films in this collection that's longer than 20 minutes, the Australian story of drugs, violence, and strained family ties was shot over two years by a group of friends with no formal training in filmmaking. (Considering all the intense scenes and frantic car chases, it's obvious that those friends were men.) A little too over-the-top to be entirely convincing, the award-winning film, which was shot on Hi-8 videotape and later transferred to 35mm, is nevertheless entertaining. Outtakes/deleted scenes and an audio commentary track provide more insight into the story from Down Under.
- Tiny Sunbathers: At two minutes long, this is by far the shortest film on the disc. But those 120 seconds prompt a lot of thought. Taken from a 1960s Chinese propaganda newsreel, the images of scores of children sunbathing have been painted and chemically treated by Belgian filmmakers Olivier Boulanger and Martin Koscielniak to appear as if the children are literally burning. The result is a parody that's both funny and frightening.
- The Raven: Definitely one of the highlights of the collection, this animated adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's classic poem is striking and powerful. German voiceover star's Hans Paetsch low, raspy narration perfectly accompanies writer/director/animator Hannes Rall's bold, looming images. German narration is available, as are storyboards and a commentary track from Rall.
- Alternative Head: An interesting look at the relationship of art and government in Albania before and after Communism, this award-winning documentary focuses on sculptor Vladimir Metani, who uses scraps from ruined government-commissioned statues to craft pieces inspired by the strength and beauty of his countrymen. Lacking any running voiceover narration, the film relies on Metani's own words (subtitled in English) and images of the Albanian people to tell its story. The film debuted at the International Film Festival of Montreal in 1997 and won the grand prize at the Fourth Biennial Short Film Festival in Augbagne, France. An alternate audio track on Albanian art provides an analytical, academic look at the subject.
- Vertical Air: Music by Jazz innovator Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith accompanies filmmaker Robert Fenz's images of cities, water, bugs, clouds, destruction, children, shadows, skydivers, and much more in this exploration of the relationship between sound and picture. Shot in 16mm between 1994 and 1996, the film has been shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art and New York City's Museum of Modern Art. Smith's commentary is on an alternate audio track.
- Backstage with Heather Woodbury: Ever wondered what exactly a stand-up novelist might be? Look no further than this film, which showcases the work of Heather Woodbury, a performance artist whose novel/play what ever has become a one-of-its-kind show: a 10-hour epic with more than 100 characters, performed in eight installments. Clips from the show are intercut with scenes of Woodbury explaining her creative process. Also included on an alternate video track is an uninterrupted seven-minute excerpt from the show.
Given that the majority of the films were shot on something other than 35mm film, they look as good as can be expected that is, grainy and a bit washed-out. Only "Clown Car" and "Love Bites" look truly polished. All of the films sound fine in Dolby Digital 5.1, though you may have to crank up the volume to catch all of the moody, guttural narration during "The Raven."
If you're a fan of short films, this disc as well as the others in the SHORT series is definitely worth adding to your collection, if for gems like "The Raven" and "Love Bites" alone. Not only are the included films thought-provoking, the short format means you can fit them in here and there between feature-length movies.
- Color and black-and-white
- Various aspect ratios
- Single-sided, single-layered disc (SS-SL)
- Various audio formats
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