Shorts #23

Today’s short: The Pearl (1929), The Mask of Zorro (1998), Valentin de las Sierras (1968), My Neighbour Totoro (1988), A Song Of Love (1950), It Happened One Night (1934), Now! (1965)

The Pearl is a magnificent surrealist short, one which projects the structure of the dream quite seamlessly and without much spectacle and distraction (which is not a judgement, for better or for worse, but the approach works very well as this is a very coherent narrative). In such, this follows a man who wants to buy a pearl necklace for his wife, but keeps getting lost on the way to delivering it to her.

Much like Un Chien Andalou and The Seashell And The Clergyman, The Pearl concerns itself with sexuality and the conflict that can arise between men and women. The result of this is a highly affecting and immersive narrative that feels precariously balanced between chaos and haphazardness. Through association, watching The Pearl can then have you doubt your, or become accusative in, recognising the apparent themes of materialism, hope, infidelity and weakness that clash throughout this story.

For this, The Peal is a film I certainly recommend.

The Mask Of Zorro is a pretty harmless film and quite a good time.

I must have seen this about a dozen times so far – and for no particular reason. In such, there’s nothing truly spectacular or even notable about this film; the performances are good, but they can be stiff at times (especially Hopkins); the action is exciting, though nothing awe-inspiring; the story is unremarkable beyond the fact that it can sustain your attention; the direction is competent, though the cinematography is a sometimes romantic to the point of contrivance; and the characters are all fairly well drawn out, but heavily rely on the charisma of the actors playing the roles (Zeta-Jones and Banderas steal the show).

All in all, The Mask Of Zorro is quite an inconsequential film and nothing to write home about, but, far from insufferable.

Valentin de las Sierras is seemingly an impressionistic short film, one that portrays its world through extreme close-ups that imply minute and intricate sensory details. This is layered over an old Mexican corrido (a narrative song), played and sung by a blind man.

The image, in many ways, becomes subservient to the sound design in this narrative, as shots only add visual context (and little of it) to the complex, multi-layered soundscape. In turn, this is a story told primarily through sound with, somewhat ironically, the aid of moving pictures – cinema – that imply what it may be like to be a blind man.

Considered by some to be Bruce Baillie’s masterpiece, Valentin de las Sierras is certainly a film worth watching–and listening to.

A truly magnificence film and one of Studio Ghibli’s best, yet most simple.

Despite the simplicity of its story and its setting, My Neighbour Totoro has wonderfully intricate animation that manages to embed so much personality into its characters, and a story that, without melodrama or sentimentality, captivates an abundance of emotion. As a film about a fear of loss, My Neighbour Totoro explores friendship and imagination in a capacity that merges the bitterness of life with a naive beauty. The result of this is something that can be described no better than magical.

As much as I appreciate Disney as a company that, for almost a century, have produced some of the best animated movies in the world, it is films like My Neighbour Totoro that make it overwhelmingly clear that there is a lot more to the world of narrative animation than Disney.

If you’ve not seen it, you’re in for a treat.

**The English dubbed version is good, but the original Japanese version is better.

This is a short film I’ve seen twice now. On the first watch, I didn’t know what to say; this is a film about gay men in prison who communicate in strange ways (masturbation seems to be one of them) and dream of escaping whilst being spied upon and abused by a guard.

On the second watch, I’m still a bit lost for words. There is certainly a commentary on love and communication, and this is clearly centred around the suppression of homosexuality, but the abstract elements of this narrative didn’t strike me with much more than implications of desperation. This is shot very well and the sound design is quite immersive, but the significance of A Song Of Love seems to be implied by its censorship and graphic depictions of homosexuality in 1950.

If any of this interests you, this may be worth watching.

It Happened One Night is just one of those films I can watch time and time again. A quintessential 30s film, Frank Capra film and romantic comedy, one that was doused in legend and acclaim from its release, It Happened One Night has influenced countless films and has been subject to multiple remakes, rip-offs and parodies (there are even many Indian adaptations of this). But, despite all the noise, It Happened One Night is simply a great film.

Without being too overt of a pre-code picture, It Happened One Night is a perfect example of a film that giddily leaves you running between emotions as the narrative plays you like a musical instrument. Smart, touching, hilarious, suspenseful, adorable and cheeky, this is the height of Old Hollywood escapism and fantasy, and, without cynicism, this is a masterpiece of sorts; it’s not an Ingmar Bergman picture, but a masterpiece of entertainment that seemingly set the blue-print for the rom-com genre. An absolute must-watch.

Now! is a short political film made by famous Cuban filmmaker Santiago Álvarez. This is an assemblage of various images and news reel clips depicting racial discrimination and violence during civil rights protests, put to a song by Lena Horne. Embodying quite the opposite of ‘subtle filmmaking’, Now! is then a call for action and revolt.

Álvarez’s approach to filmmaking has been coined, and Now! is a perfect example of this, “nervous montage”. This implies that his frenetic and fervent messaging is, in itself, seemingly hysterical, but it is only so for the purpose of rousing the audience in the same respect. What Álvarez then does with this film is unabashedly embrace the propagandistic nature of his cinema and his approach to montage, alienating those who could not be affected by it and invigorating those who are.

An interesting piece of film history from one of the founding filmmakers of Cuban cinema, Now! is worth a watch:

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Every Year In Film #24 – The Great Train Robbery

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