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"For starters, you can keep your F------ hands away from that piece."
DVD ReviewQuickband Entertainment's Short 2: Dreams is a collection of short films that takes full advantage of the flexibility and interactivity of DVD. This disc truly realizes the potential of the "video magazine" concept, a great idea that always failed miserably on VHS due to the format's intrinsic linearity.
Short 2 contains a number of films organized into six sections. Taking the sections one at a time:
MARQUEE—the "big name" attractions on the disc
This 27-minute French short film from 1962 was directed by Chris Marker and served as the inspiration for the 1996 Terry Gilliam feature Twelve Monkeys. The film (whose title translates as The Pier) is made up of beautiful, moody black-and-white still photos, carefully composed and lit, edited into a science-fiction narrative about a reluctant time-traveler in a post-World War III underground society. One brief moving shot is breathtaking in this context, and the film bears repeated viewings even after you've absorbed the plot. It's presented here dubbed with English narration, no subtitles.
Supplements include an 11-minute phone interview with Terry Gilliam, who had not seen La Jetee prior to making Twelve Monkeys but saw it at the film's premiere in France. He discusses La Jetee at some length, with a few comments about its relation to his own film. A second 7-minute commentary features Twelve Monkeys screenwriters David and Janet Peoples on the process of extrapolating and expanding an idea inspired by La Jetee into a feature film. Both commentaries were recorded over the telephone, limiting their quality, but contain valuable information and insights. As with most of the films on this disc, brief Production Notes screens provide additional information about the making of the film.
Alison de Vere directed this wonderful 6-minute color animated short in 1974. It's a stream-of-consciousness piece exploring archetypal thoughts and images about male-female relationships that go through the heads of two people meeting at a café. The animation is inventive and bold (de Vere also worked on the classic Beatles animated feature Yellow Submarine) and de Vere's film comments on socio-sexual issues with humor and insight. Production Notes provide some information on the film's history.
This bizarre, fascinating 7-minute film shows us the world of a pool cleaner, who seems to live at the bottom of a large swimming pool where he toils away in a deep-sea diving suit and ruminates on human nature. When a beautiful woman swimmer enters his world from above, he resolves to "declare his love" with dire consequences. A knowing, disturbing film, beautifully photographed, with great music and sound effects matched with excellent narration by Max Von Sydow. Production Notes discuss the film's complex underwater production, and alternate language tracks in French and Norwegian are provided.
A Guy Walks Into a Bar
Fred Savage redeems himself from any excessive cuteness in his past life as a child actor in this witty, fast-moving 28-minute film directed by Carmen Elly. As Josh Cohen, a naïve college student heading West, he encounters a beautiful hitchhiker (Allison Moir) who relieves him of his cash, car and trailer. His attempt to track her down leads him into trouble with a local crime boss, and the film's conclusion is funny and satisfying. Nicely shot and edited, with good performances all around. Production Notes and a full-length commentary track by Elly, Roderick Plummer (producer) and Gene Swift (writer) provide insight into the films genesis and production. Good stuff.
HELLO, DALI—surreal, bizarre works
Bride of ResistorMark Gustafson directed this Will Vinton Studios production, a sequel to his earlier Mr. Resistor, a wild stop-motion short about an electrically powered creature set loose in a world of junk. The animation in Bride of Resistor is nicely done, with detailed models and better character animation than the first film, but the story isn't as strong this time. The film starts with an appealingly sympathetic portrayal of its hero's desire for a plastic wedding cake bride, but ultimately turns into a series of gags without the kinetic energy and plot of the first film. Surround sound is well utilized with effective stereo pans and inventive audio effects.
Eye Like a Strange Balloon
This surreal short was a very pleasant surprise. Director Guy Maddin produced this 4-minute short for the BBC as a project inspired by Odilon Redon's surreal painting "Eye Like A Strange Balloon," inspired in turn by the works of Poe. The film has a Georges Melies feel about it, with black-and-white silent-movie-style photography, effective use of obvious models and miniatures, and striking double-exposure compositions. Consciously "surreal" filmmaking often doesn't work this well, but Maddin's film has enough humor and strong thematic/visual consistency to deserve several viewings. Production Notes and original storyboard drawings (alternate video track) provide further insight into the making of this visually fascinating little film.
Vincent: The Junkie ChroniclesMichael Failla presents 9 minutes of excerpts from his work-in-progress based on his close friend Vincent's heroin addiction in Seattle. The first section is more portraiture than documentary, with close shots of Vincent preparing to "shoot up" set to appropriate music by My Erotic Narcotic. This "photo study" is followed by several minutes of Vincent discussing his addiction, its progression to his current state and the necrotic tissue abscesses on his legs caused by an injection. This is quietly intense, teeth-gritting stuff, sometimes hard to watch and listen to due to its sheer reality. Production Notes give some background; it's an important subject, handled candidly and unflinchingly, and I look forward to Failla's finished film.
Where Short 1 featured a music-related film here, this issue just has a promotion for Circuit, Quickband's music DVD magazine, and trailers for two theatrical films, Chill Factor and Three Kings.
MINUTES—films about film
Big Brass RingGeorge Hickenlooper (Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade) directed this 6-minute film in 1997, excerpted from a script co-written by Orson Welles after his directing career had largely ended. The short stars Malcolm McDowell as an aging political mentor, interviewed by a tabloid journalist about his relationship with a rising-star politician years earlier. It's hard to judge this film on its own merits—it was produced with funding from Short Cinema Journal and served as the basis for Hickenlooper's full-length 1999 movie for Showtime. The excerpt shot for this short film is clearly missing its larger context, though it's an interesting character piece in its own right. Production Notes detail the project's history.
Interview with George HickenlooperThis somewhat misnamed 6-minute piece features director Hickenlooper discussing both versions of Big Brass Ring, with some making-of clips from the short and interview footage with Malcolm McDowell. It provides more information about the original Welles script, but is somewhat redundant with the short film itself, repeating much of the footage.
JUNK DRAWER—odds and ends
What Is Sex?—a brief, comical digital animation
Rochambeau—video rock/paper/scissors (appears to repeat indefinitely)
See Food—a little-too-close-up of someone's mouth enjoying 5 different foods (also seen on Quickband's Circuit (5))Opening Movie—replay of the disc's opening sequence
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The transfers on Short 2 are generally very good, allowing for variations in the source material. Big Brass Ring has some noticeable artifacting in one shot, and La Jetee and A Guy Walks Into a Bar have slight side-to-side wobbles (probably from the source). All the films have been nicely mastered and look fine on this DVD. The quality of these transfers is especially valuable when one considers that most short-form entertainment available today is delivered via low-bandwidth Internet video.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Short 2 manages solid digital transfers from sometimes less-than-perfect sources. Everything's mastered in Dolby Surround 2.0 or Dolby Digital 5.1, though several older pieces are in mono and have just been mastered in DS2.0 form (routed to the center speaker after decoding). Bride of Resistor and Depth Solitude use sound very effectively and fare best here—some of the older films exhibit minor hiss, with heavier hiss and some range clipping on La Jetee, but everything sounds quite nice on this DVD. A few introductory and commentary voice-overs are slightly mis-edited, with a few syllables missing at start-up.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 0 cues and remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Chill Factor, Three Kings
1 Multiple Angles with remote access
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by : Terry Gilliam, David and Janet Peoples, Carmen Elly, Roderick Plummer, Gene Swift
Short 2 makes good use of the DVD format, providing commentaries on La Jetee and A Guy Walks Into a Bar, Production Notes on just about every film on the disc, two alternate language tracks for Depth Solitude, and storyboard drawings for Eye Like a Strange Balloon (discussed in more detail in the main review, since they're specific to the short films they complement.) Quickband is to be commended for including such appropriate extras—all enhance the films, and none seems like "fluff".
Warner Brothers (Quickband's distributor) provides a couple of theatrical trailers—they're presented in 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround sound, nicely tucked away and conveniently accessible in the "Sound Bits" section.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsI can heartily recommend Short 2—it's a diverse collection of high-quality work and a nice change of pace from full-length movies. Every DVD collection should have a few good "pop-in-and-browse" discs—Quickband continues to set a standard with Short, selecting short films with care and packaging them with class.
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