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Quickband presents
Short 8: Vision (2000)

"I woke up this morning... I wondered if I could rewrite history... I wondered how high I had to be to watch for God."
- Ben Porter Lewis (Himself)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: May 19, 2000

Stars: Ben Porter Lewis
Other Stars: Carty Talkington, Glenn Fitzgeral
Director: Various (see below)

Manufacturer: Laser Pacific Media Corporation
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:40m:00s
Release Date: May 02, 2000
UPC: 085393694425
Genre: compilation


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-B- A

DVD Review

Quickband Entertainment's Short 8: Vision is a collection of short films that takes full advantage of the flexibility and interactivity of DVD. This ongoing disc series realizes the potential of the "video magazine" concept that always failed miserably on linear formats.

Short 8 contains a number of films organized into four sections. Taking the sections one at a time:

NARRATIVE—"conventional" storytelling films

The Cinema Ticket

This 15-minute 1995 Norwegian film was directed by Gunnar Vikene. It's funny and touching as a young boy struggles to earn the money for a Saturday matinee Kinobilleten (the film's native title). His dedication and wonder at seeing his first film (the Norwegian stop-motion-animated feature Flaklypa Grand Prix) are sure to resonate with any movie buff. The film has no English subtitles or dubbing, but dialogue is sparse and occasional onscreen text is made clear by its context.

True

Charles Stone III directed this short 3-minute film in 1998, featuring a group of friends talking to each other via telephone and intercom about nothing at all. The conversation is dominated by "Whasssup?" (it inspired a series of Budweiser commercials, also directed by Stone), and the film becomes an offhandedly insightful commentary about the nature of life, friendship and just chillin'. A brief and entertaining piece.

Sky Above, Heaven Below

University of Miami film student Chi Chi Zhang directed this 14-minute 35mm short film about a young, put-upon Chinese girl and her pet bird. The acting isn't great (the Chinese talent pool in Miami being rather limited), but the story is sweet , with the bird exacting revenge on a nasty young boy set to marry the girl's older sister. The film is set in 1910 China but was actually shot at a Chinese theme park in Florida—the lighting and colorful set dressing succeed in making these artificial sets seem passably realistic.

Chi Chi Zhang provides a twelve-minute director's commentary; it's not screen-specific, and the sound quality is limited by over-the-telephone recording, but her joy and enthusiasm at seeing the project through are palpable. Film school students sometimes seem blasé these days, but she is obviously thrilled at seeing her ideas on screen—she made this film based on instinct, books and film classes, and it's an inspiring track for any budding filmmaker. An alternate video track features the complete pre-production storyboards.

Number One Fan

It may be a cliché to say this, but Columbia University student Amy Talkington's Number One Fan is a short that deserves to be made into a feature. This 18-minute film introduces Sadie, a 16-year-old runaway who joins a seductive photographer (Carty Talkington) and his creepy friends (including The Ice Storm's Glenn Fitzgerald) for a home-invasion party with tragic results. The film works well on its own, but the characters are so vividly drawn and the basic premise so intriguing that I found myself wanting more. The 16mm film is sometimes dark, with occasional print flecks and grain, but it's well written, original and gently disturbing. A full-length screen-specific commentary by Amy Talkington and her brother Carty provides insight into the film's production, though the sound quality is poor with a lot of hiss and echo. The fictional photographer's Polaroids can be viewed up close in a brief video supplement.

MUSIC—short films with music as a key ingredient

Kite

Alina Hiu-Fan Chau made this beautiful three-and-a-half minute animated short at UCLA in 1999. Inspired by William Turner's Impressionist paintings, Chau combines 2-D and 3-D animation seamlessly in this lyrical, plotless short about kites, seagulls, and ships. The imagery is gorgeous in a 2.25:1 aspect ratio, with an effective piano score by Gerard Barbut. A commentary track by Ms. Chau goes into great technical detail about tools and techniques, and two short video production supplements feature Chau's sailing ship 3-D model (in wireframe and painted form) and a composition test of the painterly look applied to the 2-D and 3-D elements.

SPOKEN WORD—short films focusing on the... wait for it...spoken word

Serpent and the Sandman

This five-and-a-half-minute piece was produced by Quickband, featuring spoken word artist and poet Ben Porter Lewis. The short's title is taken from Lewis' poem, which he performs for Gordon Bijelonic's video camera in the desert outside Las Vegas. The video quality is acceptable, but the audio suffers some clicks and glitches (though it does make good use of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for thunder effects in the background.) The poem is densely layered with cultural and metaphorical references—Lewis' delivery is solid and interesting to watch, but it may take a few passes to absorb the meaning.

A video supplement features Lewis in a casual setting, speaking for six minutes on the history and current state of Spoken Word art in the US. He seems intelligent and dedicated to his work, outlining the form's lineage and current cultural importance.

DOCUMENTARY—short documentaries

Tag Der Freiheit

This is a rare 1935 Leni Riefenstahl documentary, 16 minutes long, from a delicate nitrate print discovered in the mid-1970's in the US (apparently a German version was longer, including a speech by Adolf Hitler not seen in this version.) This was a follow-up to Triumph of the Will, another controversial piece of World War II Nazi propaganda; the title translates as "Day of Freedom". There's no denying the beauty of Riefenstahl's photography and composition, but the militaristic Nazi imagery is hard to appreciate it with modern eyes. The nitrate print has deteriorated, with significant scratching and quite a few large "holes" in the image, but is well-presented and preserved here.

An alternate audio track by Riefenstahl scholar Robert Von Dassanowsky, Ph.D. illuminates the controversial filmmaker's life and career. His comments are prepared and read over the phone, making the track a bit dry and academic, but his analysis is informative and solid if you can make it through all 16 minutes.

Why Liberace?

Jonathan Stearns directs this "interactive" 10-minute documentary about the late pianist and pop-culture phenomenon Liberace. Shot on video in the Hollywood area, the documentary relies on film clips, reminiscences by casual fans, and Will Collins, a spooky professional Liberace impersonator.

The documentary itself is shallow—it doesn't examine Liberace's life or career with any visible enthusiasm, and the piece isn't helped by its "interactivity." The viewer's choices are limited to a six-item menu of selections entitled "Mr. Showmanship," "Milestones," "The Price of His Toys," "Tribute Artist," "The Legacy," and "Liberace 2000." The menu is an interesting attempt at exploiting the capabilities of DVD, but ultimately seems like a gimmick—the documentary would work (or not work) just as well in one continuous piece.



Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicnon/a


Image Transfer Review: The non-anamorphic, original-aspect-ratio transfers on Short 8: Vision are quite good, allowing for variations in the source material. The shot-on-video pieces (Serpent and the Sandman and Why Liberace?) exhibit some scanline artifacting, and most of the films have some softness and occasional murkiness attributable to the source material, with serious damage on the 1935 Tag Der Freiheit. The digitally animated short Kite looks terrific, and all the films have been nicely mastered for this DVD. These transfers are especially valuable considering that most short-form entertainment available today is delivered via low-bandwidth Internet video.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Norwegianyes


Audio Transfer Review: Short 8 manages adequate digital audio transfers from less-than-perfect sources. Everything's mastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD, though most pieces are in mono or stereo and have been electronically modified for DD 5.1, routed to multiple speakers for greater envelopment (I'm not sure I agree with this approach). The Cinema Ticket has solid stereo effects, Serpent and the Sandman uses surround for atmosphere, and Sky Above, Heaven Below uses full 5.1 sound very effectively in its musical score. There isn't much LFE bass on this disc at all, and some of the films exhibit moderate hiss, with heavy distortion on the 1935 Tag Der Freiheit. Oddly, some of the weakest audio elements are those created specifically for this disc, with troublesome popping, hiss and frequency-limited over-the-phone commentary tracks.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 0 cues and remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Green Mile, Three to Tango
1 Multiple Angles with remote access
Production Notes
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Alina Hiu-Fan Chau; Chi Chi Zhang; Amy Talkington, Carty Talkington; Robert von Dassanowsky
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. PCFriendly access, web links
  2. Kite—pre-production tests
  3. Number One Fan—Polaroids from the film
  4. Ben Porter Lewis on the Spoken Word
  5. Why Liberace?—interactive features
Extras Review: Short 8's menu system works well for browsing, and there's a handy "play it all" option if you want to watch the entire disc without touching the remote. Menu navigation is much more efficient than in early issues of Short, though I miss the transitional footage between sections. The "magazine" presentation has also been slimmed down—menu screens are basic and functional, with simple options and few graphic doodads. <0br>
Short\8 makes excellent use of the DVD format, providing commentaries on four films, Production Notes on every film on the disc, pre-production tests for Kite, and storyboard drawings for Sky Above, Heaven Below (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 extensive extras—they enhance the films, and with the exception of the "interactive" features for Why Liberace?, none seems like "fluff".

Warner Brothers (Quickband's distributor) provides a couple of theatrical trailers—they're presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, nicely mastered and conveniently accessible from the main menu.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

I can heartily recommend Short 8—it's a diverse collection of high-quality work (much of it from promising film students) 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 maintain high standards with Short 8, selecting and packaging worthwhile short films with care.

 


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