Shorts #24

Today’s Shorts: The Adorable Cheat (1928), George Carlin: On Location At Phoenix (1978), Bill Burr: Why Do I Do This? (2008), Black Girl (1966), Harakiri (1962), Heavy Metal (1981), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Constant Husband (1955)

This is a fine silent picture, one that aptly describes its characters and self as adorable. A predictable and classical romance depicting a relationship between a lower class man and an upper class woman, The Adorable Cheat utilises some of the main tropes of the 20s romantic film in an industrialised age of unseen heights, and was made by a low-budget, B-picture independent studio (of which there were many that, in the mid-30s, would be aggregated into Republic Pictures), Chesterfield Pictures, most likely, to mimic the escapist fantasies the big studios would produce that would follow pictures like this as the main feature of a programme.

As a film about a romantic lie that eventually gives way to a more heroic or virtuous truth, The Adorable Cheat is concerned with depicting a ‘true gentlemen’ and the kind of woman that could both make and recognise one. Creating such a narrative, this conjures some really nice moments of chemistry and a story that I cannot fault. Maybe not a masterpiece, but, to my eyes, faultless, The Adorable Cheat is a brilliant silent gem well worth the watch.

With two of the most brilliantly written, and incredibly long, bits ever performed, this is my favourite Carlin special. (At least, my favourite of those that I’ve seen). Those bits are his deconstruction of Seven Dirty Words, which is one of his most famous bits, and his analysis of Time. These are incredible monologues that capture elements of Carlin’s anarchistic and nihilistic leanings, but also his more playful side – which got lost and seemingly died a slow death as his career went on and the specials kept being pumped out. Moreover, these bits play to Carlin’s approach, which is recognisably very manufactured and meticulously practised. In such, these monologues could only function if they’d been worked out all the way down to the syllable, letter and punctuation level. Added to this, his circuitous and rant-like delivery really works wonders when his subject matter is complex–profound even, though in a layman way. And, of course, Carlin doesn’t seem to take himself so seriously and treat the world so gruffly in this short.

All of these elements combine to create a symphony of comedy that no one else could have ever performed. I can only sit in awe of Carlin’s abilities with this special. Pure gold.

I can watch and listen to Burr endlessly. It’s absurd when I think of the idea, but as long as he’s not going on ceaselessly about sports, he seems to just spew endless nonsense worth listening to.

That said, with his specials, Burr isn’t just spewing nonsense. Within Why Do I Do This? there are some classic bits such as the whole muffin routine and everything that leads up to it which includes the ‘driving by a packed sidewalk’ bit. Here he seems to project something between subconscious thought and complete rationality in an entirely irrational way. This is the brilliance of his comedy; it has shades of truth, but, as the truth comes out, it seems so absurd that, from dissonance, just spurts fourth laughter.

So, whilst this is not his best hour, in my view, it’s still brilliant.

Black Girl, or, The Black Girl Of (implying she belongs to someone), is a film that explores the post-colonialist culture in both France and Senegal through a young Senegalese woman who naively abandons her country and culture to move to France with her mistress’ family as a maid to quickly discover that she has made a grave mistake.

Through its depiction of alienation and exploitation, Black Girl becomes a tragedy in which our maid steps into a de facto prison. Freedom and independence from other cultures (wealthier or not) then seems to be the sentiment of this film. Its commentary is on both the false, empty promises and the naive acceptance that creates such a bitter meeting of cultures, one that is entirely predicated on the uneven perception of others that denotes racism.

A significant film in regards to African cinema and film history as this is considered the first Sub-Saharan African movie, Black Girl is worth the watch.

Harakiri is an absolutely stunning masterpiece, laced and structured with thick atmosphere, perfect pacing, faultless performances, beautiful fight choreography, pin-point mise en scène, profound drama and eloquent cinematic language.

Through its deconstruction of one samurai’s seppuku, or, harakiri ( suicide by disembowelment), this narrative comments on the mid 17th century Japanese feudal system. In such, it puts into conflict concepts of tradition, family, honour and compassion through a series of episodic flashbacks. The assertion made by this thematic clash is that honour is mere a facade that the most noble of people retain to house compassion and a heart of greater depth than any ideology or way of life. For the way in which this intricate concept is brought to life and executed, it is undeniable that Harakiri is one of the all-time-great films and a picture that every cinephile needs to see.

With shades of awesomeness and shades of stupidity, Heavy Metal is a film that has seemingly been created and written by a group of very talented fifteen-year-olds who’ve had some elaborate and crazy wet dreams.

On the positive side, there is some impressive rotoscoping and manipulation of the frame to create some highly creative, even stunning, sequences. What’s more, the fantastical and absurd nature of this film that pulls no punches is, in itself, pretty cool. On the negative side, this is plain dumb in a plethora of respects.

All in all, this is good fun that could have had 10 minutes cut from it. Many won’t like it. Others will. It’s not a masterpiece.

The Incredible Shrinking Man is a brilliant late-50s action-adventure sci-fi picture, and, in many senses, a profound commentary on the nuclear age.

Following a man who continually shrinks after being showered by an ambiguous nuclear mist, this not only captures the anxiety and horror of a man who is diminishing before his wife, physically and existentially, but it constructs a story of re-adaptation. In such, there is a direct commentary on the fall of man from what could easily be perceived as a near-perfect situation into times of great unknown that simply dwarf him. However, despite his size, the man is still a man, and the world has only been blown up and intensified; maybe he can survive. After all, man has always been a tiny creature, and in a world where the universe, God, has no true conception of 0 thanks to the concept of the infinite, what could possibly stop the future human race whose world, thanks to technology, will only ever continue to make them seem smaller?

A fairly entertaining British comedy, one that plays on the old “amnesia” trope to see a rich man wake up one day and discover that he has seven fairly unhappy, though certainly not as infuriated as you’d expect, wives.

Playing out primarily as a comedy, this narrative doesn’t take itself very serious at all. However, there are rather striking allusions to ideas of our amnesiac becoming a different person once he wakes up; which suggests his sly, corrupt and plain wicked behaviour were the actions of a different human being. As this is argued in court, this stance becomes ever more ludicrous until the amnesiac cannot retain it, and thus admits that he is the same man, even though he has changed, that cheated and lied to so many people. This plays out in a Nuremberg Trial-esque manner, and begins to suggests that this film is about monsters living inside seemingly normal people who, though they can adapt to civility, should not be freed of their past doings.

Alas, this commentary is a loose side-note in an otherwise ok, somewhat anarchistic and sometimes flippant, film.

 

 

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