SHORT 7: Utopia
Warner Home Video
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Is the short film a dying art form? Is there any practicality to it? Many people find them pointless. Studios have a tough time selling them to an audience. You can't see them at major movie theaters, since few people will pay money to watch something that's less than half an hour long. Rarely do we see them on television either, as they're either too short or too long to fit in the allotted time given. The people who make the short films seldom get recognition for their work either. It's too bad. While there are many shorts out there that are undeserving of notice, there are many that are. It's nice then to see DVDs like Short Cinema Journal showcase this mistreated art form.
Short Cinema Journal (or just SHORT for short) is a DVD series distributed by Warner Brothers every few months or so that spotlight notable examples of short films from a wide variety of genres and styles. Past issues of the series have had classic shorts like "La Jetee", the inspiration for the film "12 Monkeys", the Holocaust portrait "Night and Fog", and "Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade", Billy Bob Thornton's short work that was expanded into the feature-length Sling Blade. Each issue compiles films with a particular theme to it, be it "Seduction," "Diversity," or "Insanity." SHORT 7, deals with Utopia and how various filmmakers tackle ideal perfection in its many guises.
This disc, as with most in the SHORT series, is set up in five sections: Narrative, Experimental, Documentary, Interview, and Music. Within each lies the films that relate to each category. Here's a look at what's in SHORT 7: Utopia:
- More: The first animated short shot in the 70mm film format, it's a beautifully done stop-motion tale of a worker who tries to find happiness by inventing one of an endless number of substitutes to the real thing. Director Mark Osborne was nominated for an Academy Award for this, and deservedly so. The film includes an alternate video track and an interview with the director.
- Zoltar From Zoran: Not all short films are winners, and this is an example of a loser. It deals with a twelve-year-old boy who alienates himself from family and friends by insisting that he's from another planet. At 15 minutes, this short is anything but, and the director wants to turn it into a feature. Hear what he has to say on a separate commentary track. An alternate ending is included as well.
- Bar Channel: Shot on digital video as one of five shorts by director Frank Chindamo, this piece stars comedian Richard Belzer trying to pick up performance artist Phoebe Legere at a bar from the comfort of his home via remote control TV. A failed attempt at humor, and Belzer's funnier in his role on NBC-TV's Homicide. A second short by Chindamo, "The Remote," is also included in case his first won you over.
- Images of Korea: A very short claymation piece by Young Man Kang, detailing a year in the life of the people in the filmmaker's homeland. It has a director's commentary track, but at two minutes long the film's over before he really has a chance to say anything.
- The Lion and the Lamb: A costly experimental piece from Montreal by director Luc Beauchamp that asks the question, "What happens when society reaches a point of dysfunction so intense that it has no choice but to stop and rethink its current course of evolution?" Of course, being an experimental film, one person's idea of what the film's all about may differ greatly than what another sees it as. In a separate audio track, the director explains his interpretation of the short, as well as how he got a lion and a lamb to run together in the middle of Montreal without harming anyone.
- Amplified Man: A series of interviews dealing with the future of robotics and mankind and the eventual meshing of both man and machine. Intriguing yet disheartening. Also included is footage of a robot builder demonstrating his pride and joy.
- Superstition: A surreal avant-garde music video with a strong crocodile fetish attached to it. Along with "Zoltar From Zoran," this is another example of a dud on the disc.
- Sam L. Grogg on Utopia: A talking-head piece with the dean of the American Film Institute. Not good, not bad. Not original either.
- Lars from 1-10: A portrait of film director Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves), where he discusses "Dogme 95," a style of filmmaking that incorporates a strict set of rules that limits what a filmmaker can and can't do to make a movie. The director also discusses his other work, including The Idiots and The Kingdom II. Directed by Sophie Fiennes (sister of Ralph), it's a decent introduction to the filmmaker and his work aesthetic. Two commentaries are included, one by Fiennes, the other by producer Shari Roman.
The picture quality on SHORT 7: Utopia varies from film to film. Several of the shorts are shot on video, and in these the picture isn't as sharp as the ones on celluloid. However, none of the selections suffer from any major defects. Audio for all of the films is Dolby Digital 5.1, with the alternate tracks in standard 2.0 stereo. Included along with the films is the "Junk Drawer," extra tidbits that run from trailers (Eyes Wide Shut) to juvenile jokes ("See Food") to the classic video fireplace.
The SHORT series of DVDs are great discs to have, as they're affordable and offer viewers a wide array of films to choose from. There's always at least two or three that are worth the price. Unfortunately, SHORT 7: Utopia is the weakest of the series to date, but it's still worth picking up if you're a fan and/or completist. For people interested in shorts who are hankering for a fix of mini-flicks, the Short Cinema Journal series is one of the few places where you can find quality stuff on DVD, although you should start with an earlier issue and work up to this one. As for an answer to whether or not the short film is a dying art form, it most definitely will thrive as long as DVDs like the SHORT series continue to spark interest in the format, small as it may be.
- Dolby Digital 5.1
- Additional 2.0 audio tracks (director's commentary)
- Additional video track ("More")
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