Future Shorts, the film label behind Rock’n’ Roll Cinema and Secret Cinema , as well as global distributor of short films, has released its first DVD, a bit of a greatest hits called Adventures in Short Film – Volume 1. They chose well for their inaugural compilation.
As with a short story, short films can do great things with a hint of strangeness. It works for Henry James in The Turn of the Screw and John Wyndham in Consider Her Ways (please do click on the links and read them when you can, especially the second one), and it works for a number of shorts on this DVD.
Short films don’t necessarily need to have an iron-clad story arc or a decisive conclusion, but must create an atmosphere that, briefly, transports you to another world.
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The standout film in this collection, which achieves just that atmosphere, is La Vie d’Un Chien, an affectionate parody of Chris Marker ‘s 1962 short, La jetée. The latter is the sort of film you [ought to] tell people you’ve seen even when you haven’t, it’s such an unusual, beautiful and seminal work (for one thing, it was the inspiration for Twelve Monkeys ). Never fear, though, all 20-something minutes of it can be found on YouTube: right here.
Chien uses the same methods of black and white still photography, silent characters and sombre voiceover that La jetée does, but there is a greater disjunction between form and content here. Whereas La jetée gives us a tragic, time-travelling tale set before and after the devastating Third World War, Chien takes a lonely scientist’s love for his dog Sylvie to absurd extremes. Happily, in this version, our somewhat strange protagonist gets away with it.
Some of the weaker shorts on the disc show that celeb involvement is no barrier to missing your target. I Just Want to Kiss You, starring Martin Freeman, and La Barbichette, with Vincent Cassel on his usual scary form, fail to engage, and probably made it in based on star quality. Freeman and Cassel don’t do bad jobs in these two shorts, but they’re given precious little work with, unfortunately.
The two British music videos included on the DVD are complete contrasts. Dougal Wilson’s video for Bat For Lashes‘ What’s a Girl to Do, captures perfectly the spookiness of the song’s beat, which is at odds with the fragility of Natasha Khan’s voice and the sad lyrics. She was fairly new on the scene when this video was made last year, and it does a good job of introducing her to the listening public, with her singing directly at us. The riders in animal costumes, hopping about on their bikes in time to the music, add just the right note of comedy. It’s all a bit eerie, like most of the Mercury Prize-nominated debut album, Fur and Gold .
The Faithless video for I Want More , on the other hand, is made on an epic scale, showcasing some incredible choreography, involving huge groups of people. Director Dan Gordon’s task here was more one of editing than shooting, as the footage comes from his 2004 documentary, A State of Mind. The film follows young gymnasts training for the 2003 Pyongyang mass games, which emphasise “group dynamics rather than individual prowess.” It is impossible not to take the film as an indictment of the involvement of children in events of political proganda. Who knew a mere music video could say so much?
The sheer amount of animation in this collection shows that budding filmmakers are happy to take on greater challenges and work on something a little different. Six of the 16 films involve animation in some way, with Procrastination showing the artist’s pencil at work, Park Football imbuing pixels with character in less than three minutes, and Jojo in the Stars playing out a tragic tale with what look like cute robot bunnies.
The most complex use of animation, though, is undoubtedly in the Swedish Never like the first time!, the winner of the 2006 Golden Bear for Best Short Film at the Berlinale. Using a mixture of action and animation, director Jonas Odell lets four brave people talk us through their first sexual experiences,with their words illustrated onscreen by cartoon figures. Each segment uses very different animation, with the best seen in the fourth part, where an elderly man recalls losing his virginity in 1927 Stockholm. He and the lady in question are drawn like old newspaper cartoons in 20’s fashions, and, in a lovely touch, their clothes are shown as newspaper cut-outs drifting to the floor.
Is it telling or just a shame that the stories of the two men are triumphant, and focus much more on their happiness afterwards, whereas the stories of the two women end in disappointment and even – horribly – fear and violence? Nevertheless, Odell’s film extracts some very candid story-telling from the narrators, well-matched with the various animation styles, to give us an insight into things people don’t talk about openly.
This motley selection of shorts should keep you entertained for a fair while. The DVD is on sale from 22nd September.
For more information, please see the Future Shorts site.
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