Shorts #7.3

Today’s Shorts: 10 Ave Maria (2011), The Matrix (1999), Footlight Parade (1933), Ménilmontant (1926)

An interesting short film by Aruban writer and director, Juan Francisco Pardo, 10 Ave Maria ambiguously explores themes of isolation and meaning with hints of surrealism.

As with another one of Pardo’s shorts, Awa Brak, there is a strong reliance on pure cinema and visual storytelling that builds towards a multi-faceted exploration of our protagonist. So, despite not having a heavy punch and enduring a few technical problems with focus (that are redeemed by the beautiful landscape shots), 10 Ave Maria is an expressive and immersive cinematic experience.

Every time I return to this film, and I’ve seen it dozens of times, I assume I’ve seen it all. But… nope. There’s always more to be said about, and found within, The Matrix. In such, whilst I find new faults, there’s always an affirmation that this is nonetheless a masterpiece.

What really struck me today was a core problem with the script. In the simplest terms, the Wachowskis have seemingly written a film called the Matrix, and then decided to write a script about it. So, whilst it’s nice to see two directors in complete control of their story and its message, for them to constantly remind us of this fact with overt symbolism, references, metaphors and exposition is quite trying.

With more ambiguity and indirect storytelling, The Matrix would probably be one of my all time favourite films. But, as is, The Matrix is a compelling film that I can’t stop returning to for the insane world building and complex, far-stretching narrative.

Footlight Parade is a fun picture of two parts; there’s the narrative and then there are the musical set-pieces – and they have absolutely nothing to do with one another. In such, this film builds towards theatrical performances that a group of dancers struggle to put on under the management of Jimmy Cagney’s Chester Kent. With the finale, in which we see three performances put on in one night, we jump into sequences that are never mentioned, practised or even hinted at at any point during the narrative. This is a monolithic plot hole, one that is formally projected as a movie sequence, not even nearly a theatrical performance.

Does this really matter though? Nah.

The three musical sequences are a dazzling spectacle of choreography and movement – especially the water sequence, which is truly phenomenal. And the narrative that precedes this is light-hearted and enjoyable with well-constructed characters – though, not the strongest plot.

So, whilst I wouldn’t say this is a masterpiece (maybe the water sequence is), Footlight Parade is a pretty good movie and lots of fun.

Absolutely astounding.

Ménilmontant is, in certain respects, one of the most modern silent films you’ll probably ever see, but also one that’s aesthetics capture the most awe-inspiring elements of silent cinema. With some of the best performances ever put to screen that easily outshine a lot of what is put out today and given awards, this narrative has an immensely powerful emotional punch as it skillfully explores themes of love, loss, brutality, family and sisterhood. Added to this is the masterful camerawork, direction and editing that impressionistically emphasise these brilliant performances at a vigorous pace – all of which come together to produce one of the most visceral and impactful filmic experiences I’ve ever had.

If you need any more convincing to see this film, look no further than the opening sequence.

 

 

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Shorts #7.2

Today’s Shorts: The Oyster Princess (1919), Gulliver’s Travels Among The Lilliputians and The Giants (1902), Rescued By Rover (1905), The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912), Life (1993), In The Blue Sea, In The White Foam (1984). The Seashell And The Clergyman (1928), The Abyss (1910)

The Oyster Princess is a flawlessly directed silent film with spectacular editing. The absolute scale of the mise en scene itself is enough to sustain this narrative as strong piece of entertainment. And unfortunately, it does.

Despite the great technical achievement that is the form of this picture, the script provides very little in the way of characterisation. Admittedly, the plot and scenario have much potential, but every single character is either bland or unlikable. This is a huge let down as with a little more of a spark, this could have been a comedic masterpiece. But, nonetheless, The Oyster Princess is a pretty remarkable movie.

A good example of Méliès application of double exposure and matte painting, this 1902 adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels is an interesting watch. Pre-dating his more complex narrative films, this is only a few scenes used as a showcase of special effects and spectacle. So, with a unique aesthetic that’s been long lost, there is still a lasting touch of magic in this short.

Rescued By Rover is an intriguing example of a paradigm of seeming anxiety in early narrative films. With immediate and unmotivated conflicts – such as a baby being stolen, just because – we see a depiction of meaningless chaos within society that is fancifully confronted and quashed that is present within many other films. Further examples of this would be the very similar Rescued From An Eagle’s Nest (1908), Suspense (1913) and the numerous fantasy/horror films – examples of those coming from Chomón and Méliès.

This is probably just a result of snappy plotting with very little characterisation and an idea that I’d need to explore further, but is an interesting paradigm nonetheless.

The Cameraman’s Revenge is a brilliant animated comedy and bitter-sweet romance about the chaos of cheating and debauchery from the early pioneer of stop motion, Ladislas Starevich. Often using dead insects, he was the first to make puppet-animated films with stop motion from 1912 onward. In this short, he combines this realist form with personification to conjure an astounding aesthetic that perfectly supports this subtly ingenious narrative.

With some scenes somewhat reminiscent of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life (in terms of the sensibilities in the approach to world building and personification) this is a pretty timeless film and a must see.

This is a beautiful cinematic poem by Artavazd Peleshian that explores the pain and labour associated with birth, life and its propagation. Wonderfully shot with intricate cinematography this short has a rich atmosphere that perfectly puts you in a reflective mood. However, the true substance of this film certainly lies in the experience of the narrative rather than the aphorisms it motivates. In such, without words, just imagery, this short is an articulate enough exploration of the given themes that simply requires viewing.

In The Blue Sea, In The White Foam is basically a surreal blend of Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Aladdin (to a pretty alarming degree) based on Armenian folk and fairy tales. With some dizzying creativity, a good musical tone and a compelling – though transparent – plot, this is was a good watch that should definitely be checked out for the links to the Disney films.

An ambiguously profound masterpiece, The Seashell And The Clergyman is widely considered the first surrealist film. Entirely captivated by the aesthetic, the astounding edit, lighting and cinematography, I’m left entirely awe-struck by this short. In such, and without having a linear and concrete understanding of the narrative, I’ve been profoundly affected by the apparent themes of struggle, frustration, desire, yearning, control and confusion. And so, without much more of an ability to articulate exactly why, The Seashell And The Clergyman has deeply resonated with me.

The Abyss is a surprisingly sexual take on a classical tale of fatal mishaps and misfortunes thematically reminiscent of works such as Jane Eyre and Tess of the d’Urbervilles that condemns female naivety and impulsivity, yet also sheds some sense of sympathy for the fatally unfortunate.

In such, this a somewhat complex film that showcases an evolution of narrative and structure in early silent films, though not any formal, directorial or aesthetic development. All in all, without a particularly expressive or interesting story, nor formal approach, The Abyss is relatively ok, but not something I’d be compelled to view again.

 

 

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