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Quickband presents
Short 1: Invention (1992-97)

"Some folks call it a sling blade, I called it a Kaiser blade..."
- Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: April 27, 2000

Stars: Henry Rollins, Billy Bob Thornton
Other Stars: Frank Gorshin, J.T. Walsh
Director: Various (see below)

Manufacturer: Laser Pacific
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, adult themes)
Run Time: 02h:00m:00s
Release Date: November 23, 1999
UPC: 085393684525
Genre: compilation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Quickband Entertainment's Short 1: Invention 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 formats intrinsic linearity.

Short 1 contains a number of films organized into six sections. Taking the sections one at a time:

Marquee—the "big name" attractions on the disc

Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade

This 25-minute short film (the longest single piece on this DVD) was directed by George Hickenlooper and stars Billy Bob Thornton, Molly Ringwald and J.T. Walsh. This short film (written by Thornton) was later expanded into the feature film Sling Blade, and many elements of the feature are already well established here. J.T. Walsh appears as a sex-obsessed asylum inmate (a role he reprised in the feature) and Molly Ringwald plays a newspaper reporter sent to interview Karl Childers (Thornton) on the eve of his return to the outside world.

If you've seen Sling Blade, there aren't many surprises here—the short feels like a pilot version of the feature, but it works well on its own, focused and vivid in black-and-white. Molly Ringwald still seems like a teenager and has a bit of a "deer-in-the-headlights" look, but all of the performances are solid and the character of Childers is very well developed.

The Big Story

This two-minute black-and-white stop-motion animated film was directed by Tim Watts and David Stoten, with voices provided by impressionist Frank Gorshin. It depicts a 1940's newsroom, where the cub reporter, the editor-in-chief and the star reporter are all caricatures of Kirk Douglas.

The dialogue is well written, though the final punchline is a little weak. What makes this film worth watching (several times) is the brilliant stop-motion animation; it's much more fluid and expressive than most puppet-style work I've seen. An alternate video track reveals the filmmakers' secret—a complete 2-D hand-drawn pencil test was prepared, then transposed frame-by-frame into the 3-D stop-motion environment, where rich lighting and dimensionality enhance the excellent character animation. Like all great techniques, this one seems obvious in retrospect—it works really, REALLY well here.

Black Rider (Schwarzfahrer)

This is a great Academy Award®-winning short film by Pepe Danquart, commenting on racism in Germany with humor and style. A black man boards a city bus and sits next to an elderly woman, who launches into a diatribe against immigrants, all of whom are rude, aloof and on welfare in her book. She manages to offend just about everyone on the bus, and gets her comeuppance at the film's ending (I won't give away the means of her undoing, but it's funny and entirely appropriate.) The film is shot in black-and-white and is in German with English subtitles (translation provided by Paul Outlaw, who plays the title role.)

Hello, Dali—surreal, bizarre works

Shape Without Form

Stephen E. Berkman's film presents some great El Greco-inspired visuals but doesn't gel into a comprehensible whole. It almost feels like a parody of an "art" film, with the images purposely disconnected and incoherent, but it takes itself far too seriously to be entertaining on that level. Some insight is provided by Berkman's auxiliary commentary track, in which the filmmaker seems unsure of his own intent—he claims the film is an "exploration of visual memory" and states that he strove to "back off of the metaphors" and "juxtapose ideas and images very loosely." I guess he succeeded in not spelling anything out too clearly, since although the visuals are certainly striking, I found the film hard to appreciate.

Mr. Resistor

Mark Gustafson directed this 1993 Will Vinton Studios production, a wild stop-motion short about an electrically powered creature set loose in a world of junk, where he ventures forth in a car with a mousetrap chassis and encounters an irritated group of trophy figures. It's a kinetic film that moves fast enough to avoid explaining itself—the story works in part because it never stops to catch its breath. The animation is nicely done, with detailed models and some great special effects, and the occasional "vibration" and stiffness in the motion fits the electrically charged hero well. Stereo sound is well utilized with effective pans and inventive audio effects.


This Unfamiliar Place

Eva Ilona Brzeski directed this 1992 documentary about her father and his reluctance to discuss his life in Warsaw, Poland during the Nazi occupation. Brzeski mixes documentary film and video footage of her father and mother with blurry, semi-abstract emotional images. She attempts to talk to her father (who refuses to remember these "missing years") and visits Poland searching for her father's cultural past (and her own). Oddly compelling despite its unresolved nature, this short film touches on matters of memory, history and human nature.

Baraka (excerpts)

This selection presents 12 minutes culled from Baraka, Ron Fricke's beautiful 70mm documentary feature consisting of images shot around the world, set to new age/world music by Michael Stearns. Snow monkeys, Buddhist temples, calm lakes and cities appear in this series of gently paced, contemplative images. There is no plot or definite ideology here, just a series of great-looking images emphasizing the diversity and beauty of life on this planet. A four-minute commentary by producer Mark Magidson discusses some of the difficulties and technical innovations necessitated by the filming.

Sound Bit—music-related short films

Henry Rollins—Easter Sunday in NYC

Photographer Albert Watson directed this unusual documentary/performance film starring punk rocker/spoken word artist Henry Rollins. Watson's well composed images frame Rollins' discussion of his life and work, interwoven with bits of his performances. Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is used to great effect here, with multiple sound "threads" competing and blending—Rollins' monologues often come out of one area while his music plays subtly or loudly from another region. The sound and imagery complement each other well, preserving the "meat" of the documentary while enriching it with Rollins' art. Rollins himself comes off as a serious artist who has his head on straight. Two supplementary audio tracks feature Rollins performing The End of Something and Starve.

Minutes—films about film

Michael Apted

Daniel Peacock directed this short featuring Michael Apted, director of films like Nell and Extreme Measures as well as the acclaimed 7-Up documentary series. Peacock appears to have set up a camera and let Apted talk, editing it afterwards into a semi-coherent presentation. The visual monotony is broken up with different zoom levels and video effects, though they seem a bit random. Apted discusses filmmaking in general, touching on many subjects without spending much time on any one—he's interesting to listen to here, but I found myself wanting a more substantial interview.

Junk Drawer—odds and ends

Opening Movie—replays the disc's opening sequence

The Wood Shed—neat little gag film

Intermission—two-minute Intermission screen with music

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes

Image Transfer Review: The transfers on Short 1: Invention are generally very good, allowing for variations in the source material. Black Rider has quite a few specks and splices, and the shot-on-video portions of This Unfamiliar Place bleed a bit, but all the films look fine on DVD (especially Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade and the excerpts from Baraka). The quality of this disc is especially valuable when one considers that most short-form entertainment available today is delivered via low-bandwidth Internet video.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Germanyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Short 1 manages solid digital transfers from sometimes less-than-perfect sources. Every short is mastered in Dolby Surround 2.0 or Dolby Digital 5.1, though several pieces are clearly in mono and have just been mastered in DS2.0 form (routed to the center speaker after decoding). Mr. Resistor and Henry Rollins—Easter Sunday in NYC use sound most effectively and fare best here—some of the other films exhibit minor hiss and compromised frequency ranges, but everything—on the whole— sounds pretty good.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 0 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, German with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s)1 Multiple Angles
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1-director of Shape Without Form and 2-director of Baraka
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. PC Friendly access, web links
Extras Review: Short 1 contains a number of films organized into six sections. The 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 DVD remote. The "magazine" presentation is nicely handled—menu screens feature stylish full-motion video/animation and Dolby 2.0 surround sound, and the design is solid all around.

Incidental content includes cool inventions like wind-up teeth and the lava lamp (displayed during menu transitions) and a mini-movie during the discs end credits. All of the other content is accessible through the menus.

Short 1 makes good use of the DVD format, providing an alternate camera angle video track for The Big Story, commentaries on Shape Without Form and Baraka (Excerpts), and two alternate music audio tracks on Henry Rollins—Easter Sunday in NYC. Quickband is to be commended for including such appropriate extras—all enhance the films, and none seems like "fluff".

Warner Bros. (Quickband's distributor) provides a couple of theatrical trailers—they seem a bit out of place in this context, and somewhat intrusive, tacked unexpectedly onto the ends of two shorts. I would have preferred standard menu access for these.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

I can heartily recommend Short 1: Invention—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 high-quality "pop-in-and-browse" discs—Quickband has selected these short films with care and packaged them with class.

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