NOTE: Short Fridays will be a regular feature from now on. Every Friday around mid-afternoon I’ll post a great short film for you to watch, perhaps over your lunch-break. Or perhaps over dinner, I don’t know. Maybe even next day’s breakfast. It’s not for me to say what meal you should accompany it with, really. Just watch it.
As much as I love feature films (and it should be fairly plain how much I do) I’ve always been a big fan of the short-form, which underwent something of a recession in the latter half of the 20th century as cinema screenings of shorter stuff became increasingly rare; only to recently undergo a resurgence thanks to the unstoppable rise of web video hosters such as Vimeo, DailyMotion, and the omniscient, fire-breathing colossus that is YouTube.
I think most people get their introduction to short film-making through animation, and I was no different. I grew up as a huge fan of Looney Tunes and animation in general, as every child should, really. If you are a parent and you’re not exposing your child to a steady stream of stuff by Disney, Warner Bros, Cosgrove Hall, Hanna Barbera, and Aardman, you are neglecting your duty as a parent and may as well be thrashing them to sleep every night with a slipper for all the long-term psychological damage you are inflicting.
Aardman Animations, of course, is the Bristol-based studio behind Wallace and Gromit, along with inumerate other cartoons, title sequences, commercials and short films. When I was about nine or ten years old I was the world’s biggest fan of Wallace and Gromit - I remember spending hours making my own horrifically misshapen Wallace out of a plasticine kit, and spending hours making the indentations on Wallace’s pullover just right. I still maintain that The Wrong Trousers is one of finest British films ever made, with Curse of The Were-Rabbit not being far behind.
It was because of The Wrong Trousers that I attended the first ever Brief Encounters short film festival in Bristol (my hometown), some point in the mid-nineties. It was part of a children’s screening, and I remember being completely enchanted by every film they showed.
As the years went on, Brief Encounters expanded to the point that it has now been split into two festivals, one for live action and one for animation. As I haven’t lived in Bristol for nearly a decade now, I haven’t had the chance to go as often as I would have liked to, but I attended several more Brief Encounters as I got older and was lucky enough to see some amazing films there.
One film that I first saw at Brief Encounters was Forklift Driver Klaus – The First Day on the Job, which totally blew me away and really made me re-think my preconceptions of live-action short films, which I’d always thought were more often than not inferior to their animated counterparts.
You may already be aware of Klaus as it’s become a bit of a classic on the short film festival circuit – it brought the house down when I saw it at Brief Encounters. Brilliantly it has also been screened seemingly at random by Channel 4 in the graveyard slots between 2.30 and 4.30, something they were doing as recently as a couple of years ago.
I could go on and on about why Klaus is such a masterpiece, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s best to go into it knowing as little as possible, so I’ll keep this intro brief.
Here’s a few things you should know:
1) The voiceover is by Egon Hoegen, an actor very well known in Germany as the voice for instructional videos and autobahn safety videos.
2) It may seem slow to start with, but trust me: it’s paced perfectly.
3) It is often actually shown on forklift safety training courses.
4) It is possibly NSFW.
Enjoy! See you back here next Friday.
I wrote far too many words on 50 Cent’s latest straight to DVD film Gun for Den of Geek. You can check it out here.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The final line of this review stated that ultimately Gun was “80 minutes of shameless self-aggrandizing from a boring dickhead’, but the Den of Geek editors saw fit to snip off the ‘boring dickhead’ part, possibly due to fear of reprisals from angry G-Units. BUT I’M NOT SCARED OF YOU.
I'll go out on a limb here: Abel Ferrera's Ms 45 is the most enjoyable rape-revenge film ever made.
I understand that as compliments go it's up there in the redundancy stakes with 'loudest silent film' or 'funniest holocaust drama', but I'll be damned if it isn't true.
Screened by the wonderful and vital Cigarette Burns collective at the Rio cinema in Dalston last Saturday, Ms. 45 was their best screening yet and a fantastic way to spend a Saturday evening.
Not only was it an inspired pick, but a brave one, because as Josh Cigarette Burns mentioned to me after the film, it's one thing to watch a rape scene in the confines of your home where you can properly contextualise it, and it's another to screen it for a pleasantly liberal yet ultimately judgemental East London audience who just want to see a fun midnight movie and could do without the lengthy scenes of graphic sexual violence thank you very much.
He needn't have worried, but it did strike me what a risky game exploitation films play with depicting rape: make it too sexualised or violent and you're trivialising or possibly even glorifying sexual assault, which is clearly unacceptable to just about everyone make it too ascetic and punishing, though, and you're moving away from the amoral thrills that personify the best exploitation and into something approaching cinematic penance (Oh hai Irreversible).
You need to be a really good film-maker to achieve the right balance, and Abel Ferrera is so good that he starts Ms. 45 with not one but two rape sequences, both uncomfortable and horrifying, yet essential in setting up the roaring rampage of revenge that follows.
When the titular Ms 45 is subjected to her first assault, it's too quick and shocking for her to fight back or even really register what is happening -during the second, lengthier attack however, she finds it within herself to fight back and murder her assailant right at the moment off climax. As a result, the previously milquetoast mute is newly empowered by this seizing of power from the aggressively primal men she is persued by persistently , but conversely the Pavlovian connection between sex and murder established by her first kill soon drives her completely insane, most memorably demonstrated in a Repulsion-echoing scene where she attempts to look at her naked body in the mirror, but hallucinates a masked attacker's arm grabbing her before she can fully disrobe. She quickly transforms from feminist avenger targeting violent chauvinists, into a psychopathic angel of death out to murder anyone with the balls to have, erm, balls.
There's a level of characterization and psychological complexity to Ms 45 that is unusual and some might argue unnecessary in a nasty little genre piece like this, but it's also what raises it to a level of quality and (II would imagine) rewatchability that distances it from other rape-revenge flicks and instead invites comparisons with psycho thrillers like Repulsion and recently, Black Swan; two films that also explore the link between repressed sexuality and insanity to chilling effect.
Fans of films like I Spit On Your Grave and Last House on the Left would argue that when placed in an allegorical or feminist context that they have an intellectual rigour that demands they be taken equally seriously, but I’m not as convinced. I found the psychodrama of Ms 45 to be a much more satisfying experience, and ultimately it’s a film with something I don’t think anyone would argue you could describe those other rape-revenge films as: fun. Just because the filmmaking and storytelling is a little bit more sophisticated than your standard grindhouse fare it's not to say that it loses any of its pulpy enjoyment.
There's a wonderful stream of jet black humour running through it - every scene with the dog is gold, and there is a neat pre-credits coda that acts as a funny punchline after the intensity of the end sequence. Zoe Lund looks fabulously iconic throughout, and the setpieces are uniformly fantastic - highlights include a confrontation with some Warriors-esque thugs in Central Park, and of course the unforgettable final showdown at a packed Halloween party.
Much like The Warriors, Ms 45 uses the amoral backdrop of 80s New York to underscore the dangerous, almost Western like atmosphere - every dingy alley and corner is a potential hiding place for a thug, murderer, or rapist, and everybody else is either a deadbeat, a yuppie or a potential victim.
80s New York may have been a violent, crime-ridden hellhole, but at least it provided the inspiration for some great cinema: Ms 45 sits alongside The Warriors, Street Trash, After Hours, Escape from New York, and the Death Wish and Bronx Warriors films as movies that take the seedy atmosphere of the period and heighten it to a level of apocalyptic scuzz that borders on the fantastical.
Overall it's just a great, great film, and thanks again go to Cigarette Burns for turning me on to a new favourite that is inexplicably and tragically not currently available on DVD in the UK. I see that the whole film is on YouTube if you look for it, however, and it really is worth tracking down if you're a fan of exploitation, psychological thrillers, or just awesome cinema in general. Just don't expect the infamous 'Halloween party sax riff' to leave your head for the next hundred years or so.
I've been terrible updating this blog recently - I've been very busy and much to my chagrin I've had to concentrate on doing actual work and stuff. From the 'Site stats' feature on WordPress I can tell that my lack of activity has had a dramatic effect on both of my readers, so I'm going to endeavour to stop neglecting you and hit you with some sweet content over the next few days.
First up, here are some quick reviews of some great, recently-released films I've seen over the past few weeks:
A beautiful looking film structured and composed with flair and imagination, Blue Valentine only falters occasionally - where Williams's character is extraordinarily plausible and well-realised, Gosling's occasionally lapses into caricature (his alcoholism is an easy and obvious narrative crutch), and the faint whiff of misery porn (stale bedding and ramen noodles, if you're interested) abounds in its heavier moments - Blue Valentine is ultimately rendered into something special by the humanity and generosity that filters down into the whole project from the two spectacular lead performances.
Unexpectedly, this is an austere, understated and powerful masterpiece from a country that has built an impressive cinematic legacy on shlockly exploitation (definitively *not* a slam, Mad Max 2 is one of the best films ever made, yadda yadda let's move on) - this is a serious piece of work, both tense and intense throughout with a uniformly phenomenal cast. In the pantheon of recent neo-realist gangster thrillers, this is way, way better than the stuffy Gomorrah and not that far behind the magnificence of Le Prophet. See it, see it, see it, go see it.
NOTE: Animal Kingdom has a terrible trailer - avoid it at all costs. Embedded above is a quick spoiler-free clip instead.
It's not easy to make a raging narcissist likeable and interesting but Submarine absolutely nails the suffocating solipsism of adolescence, while doing so with a refreshing lack of sentimentality and no shortage of humour and charm. It loses momentum in its closing moments, but overall it's a total joy - wonderfully observed, stunningly shot, and with an abundance of excellent performances (Noah Taylor was my personal standout). Submarine isn't just a film people will enjoy - it's one that people are going to want to revisit and live in for a very long time to come.
I still haven't seen True Grit, The Fighter, or 127 Hours, to my intense shame. Will try to rectify at least one of those before they disappear completely from cinemas.
Coming up, I'll try and do a retro round-up of all the old films I've been catching up with lately (of which there have been quite a few). In the meantime, I'll be back shortly with a special post on a GREAT cult film I had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen this weekend...