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Palm Pictures presents
The Best of Resfest: Resfest Shorts, Volume 1 (1996-2000)

"Man, that tongue is a jerk."
- Doctor (Jesse Schmol) in Tongues and Taxis

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: March 25, 2002

Stars: Fred Adler, Edie Maples, Karen Simons, Ryan Power
Other Stars: Jesse Schmol, Aglaia Mortcheva, Martha Lambert, Robert Prosky
Director: Rodney Ascher, Michael Overbeck, Dean Mermell, Zach Schlappi, Mike Mills, Bob Sabiston, Max Kisman, José Javier Martinez, Thomas Trail, Koji Yamamato, Herman Weeb, James Kenney, Adam Gravois, Stephen X. Arthur, AWOL, Stefan Nadelman

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for nudity, adult subject matter, profanity
Run Time: 01h:28m:30s
Release Date: April 30, 2002
UPC: 660200304126
Genre: compilation


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

DVD Review

Okay, the first and most obvious question: Just what is Resfest? It's a festival of short films, some of them under 90 seconds; Resfest goes out annually and travels the land, bringing cutting-edge filmmaking to a theater near you. The mix is an eclectic one; though there are some live-action films, and some documentaries, the roster is heavy with animation and computer graphics, demonstrating a fascination not just with storytelling but with the accelerating technologies at filmmakers' disposal. This DVD collects 16 shorts that appeared in the festival between 1997 and 2000. AlfredDirector: Rodney AscherUSA, 1997Runtime: 01m:17sMade as a promo for the band Alfred, this short features the band members variously daydreaming, walking into traffic, imagining alternative lives for themselves and their fellow band members. The stop-motion animation technique is especially appealing here. Tongues and TaxisDirector: Michael OverbeckUSA, 2000Runtime: 07m:36sThe director's degree project at RISD, Tongues and Taxis is an animated shaggy dog story, about a man who becomes so angry he literally bites off his own tongue. (His cat helpfully staples it back on.) The stray bit of tongue is exposed to radiation and morphs into a Godzilla-style monster; as the man watches his tongue wage war with the city, the cat is chasing after its prey, in a sort of Crouching Kitty, Hidden Squirrel. Silly fun. Modern LifeDirector: Dean MermellUSA, 1997Runtime: 05m:55sA pair of workaholic dotcommers are too tired for anything but the office; as they sleep and gear up for the next day at the virtual office, their alter egos or spirits rise up out of their bodies and dance around in their underwear, having the fun that the real folks won't allow themselves. Inspired in part by Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr., it has its charm, but feels sometimes as if it's going over the same ground. (This disc inevitably shortens your attention span; it's a lesson, too, in how difficult it is to make a small thing, because there's no time to waste.) Pasta For WarDirector: Zach SchlappiUSA, 2000Runtime: 03m:31sPerhaps my favorite on the disc, it's a Leni Riefenstahl film reimagined with rigatoni instead of Nazis. (Farfalle airplanes fly overhead for good measure.) Schlappi has the Triumph Of The Will aesthetic down perfectly, and the deadpan humor works perfectly with the painstaking animation. DeformerDirector: Mike MillsUSA, 2000Runtime: 16m:27sFar and away the longest piece here—in context, it's like The Decalogue, or something—this is a documentary about Ed Templeton, an artist and champion skateboarder who lives in Huntington Beach, CA. The director seems much more impressed with Templeton than I was, and seems to spend rather too much time orienting his audience to the place, with shots of Burger Kings. But Templeton seems to be something of a deity in skateboarding circles (I cop to total ignorance on this one), and the film is as much about suburban angst as anything else. Snack And DrinkDirector: Bob SabistonUSA, 2000Runtime: 03m:40sAutistic animation. (You read that correctly.) It's a trip to the 7-11 with Ryan, a thirteen-year-old autistic boy with autism, obsessed with cartoons; now he's become a cartoon himself. The documentary footage was subsequently animated, and the filmmaker went on to work on Richard Linklater's Waking Life; there's a substantial resemblance between the two. It's kind of cool, technically speaking, but I'm not really sure I understand the connection between this kid and the animation used to amplify on the footage. 11:11Director: Max KismanUSA, 2000Runtime: 02m:50sA road trip, about the one minute of clarity, between 11:10 and 11:12. A computer-generated voice narrates. Another one that has some beautiful images, but doesn't make much narrative sense, and the director's commentary continues in the same vein, providing no particular illumination. Groovy to look at, though. LuzDirector: José Javier MartinezSpain/USA 1999Runtime: 08m:10sLucy's mother calls her in for dinner, but the little girl is more keen on exploring the dark, Oz-like world around her. Some very accomplished animation, a bit reminiscent of things like The Nightmare Before Christmas. A Portrait of HarryDirector: Thomas TrailUSA, 2000Runtime: 01m:47sA brief, cheery portrait of Harry Feinbeck, 88, and his omnipresent ukulele. It's a nice contrast with Deformer, and you'll especially enjoy Harry's rendition of It All Depends on You. (The commentary track reveals that Harry is the director's girlfriend's grandfather.) SyokyoanDirector: Koji YamamotoJapan, 2000Runtime: 01m:20sThe final showdown between two fierce samurai warriors, animated and played straight, but for the fact that the samurais look pretty much like chipmunks. It's the contrast between the straight-ahead style and the cute little critters that provides the fun here. CirkusDirector: Herman WeebCanada, 1999Runtime: 06m:39sLots of messed-up images of abandoned circuses, writhing farm animals, and blindfolded, topless women. Some serious eye candy and some accomplished image making, but the story does have its baffling aspects. GroundDirector: James KenneyUSA, 1999Runtime: 07m:44sA tale, we're told, about "the unreliability of naming." It's very Lacanian, about the gap between words and the things they're supposed to signify. For instance: a woman lies on a beach, and superimposed is the word "Sandy." Is that her name, or a description of the beach? Some intriguing ideas, well executed, marred by the use of words like "expulsed." Golden ShoesDirector: Adam GravoisUSA, 1996Runtime: 02m:40sInfluenced by the Brothers Quay, this is the director's response to the too-clean, too-pretty animation of the mid-'90s. A nice little old-style story, though his response to the state of the art already seems almost antiquated. Vision PointDirector: Stephen X. ArthurCanada, 1999Runtime: 01m:28sA heartbeat thumps on the soundtrack as images of a road trip flash across; the pictures are manipulated to make the Canadian mountains loom larger and seem more dangerous, or to make them spin and dance. Nice exercise in point of view. MaxDirector: AWOLUSA, 1997Runtime: 07m:37sA serious military operation and commando raid that uses G.I. Joes instead of actors. The last G.I. Joe makes a Hemingwayesque escape down river. AWOL seems to be two directors, both of whom are on the commentary track. A painstaking exercise and well done, but beyond the central joke lacking in the kind of resonance you find in Todd Haynes's banned Superstar, in which Barbie and Ken re-enact the Karen Carpenter story. Latin AliveDirector: Stefan NadelmanUSA, 2000Runtime: 02m:48sSchoolhouse Rock goes MENSA: a peppy animated look at all the words from Latin that we use all the time in English, ranging from "terra firma" to "nonsequitur." The tune is infectious.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Most of the filmmaking was digital, so things have transferred very well to DVD. Variances between shorts are probably due to source materials; color levels and blacks are rich and consistent.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanish, Japaneseno


Audio Transfer Review: More attention seems to have been lavished on the picture than on the sound, but still, the audio is more than reasonable. Many of the directors composed their own music, and the care given to these projects shows up in the sound mixes especially.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues
Cast and Crew Biographies
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sound & Motion, Volume 1; Blood: The Last Vampire; Dark Days; Resfest trailers, 1997-2000
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by each of the respective directors
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: All but one of the 16 shorts here have commentary tracks from their directors; some of them, as the reviews above indicate, are especially illuminating, while others only add to the confusion. All are in English, but for Syokyoan, whose director speaks in Japanese, which is subtitled with a few typos. (The one that doesn't have a commentary track, Cirkus, offers instead a documentary about the making of the short.) Each short also has a few panels of information, About the Film, that offer a sentence or two on the story (with the non-narrative ones, these can be surprisingly helpful), equipment and software used on the film, and brief background on the filmmakers. All four Resfest trailers are fun, though my favorite is probably the one for the 1999 festival, a riff on 2001.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

The shorts here are sufficiently varied that you're sure to find something to your taste, and are of course likely to care for some more than others. If you've been fed a steady diet of lousy animation and tired, by-the-numbers storytelling, you'll savor the films on this disc.

 


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