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Cinema 16 presents
"Break was over fifteen minutes ago, bitch!"
DVD ReviewFunnily enough, in creative endeavors it's easier to do a big thing than a small one. If there's a lag in a feature film, it's probably time to go out for popcorn; if a short lags, you've done something terribly, terribly wrong, and as audience members we can be awfully unforgiving. But this omnibus disc brings together sixteen projects that more or less got it right—some are student projects from directors who went on to greater glory, some are historically significant for their influence, and some are just short little bits sure to make you laugh or think, or both.
Adam Davidson's The Lunch Date was the director's student project at Columbia, and it's a great little short story, about a Westchester lady who just misses her train in Grand Central, and, while waiting for the next, strikes up an uneasy and unexpected relationship with one of the homeless denizens of the station. Peter Sollett's Five Feet High and Rising is a Lower East Side coming-of-age story—Victor, 12, meets a girl, and messes around with his buddies, in a piece at least as strong on atmospherics as on character. Freiheit is billed as "A Film By Lucas"—yes, it's George Lucas's student project from USC, in which a man finds menace in a seemingly pastoral field. It's a piece that plays principally as a somewhat heavy-handed Vietnam metaphor, but the roots of at least THX 1138 can be seen in here, certainly.
Documentarian D.A. Pennebaker has a keen eye for design, has been influenced by the photographs of Charles Sheeler, and seems to have an unabashed love for train travel, all of which come together in Daybreak Express, which swings with a Duke Ellington score. Tim Burton loves Vincent Price, and he shows us as much in Vincent, a stop-motion animation piece featuring a little boy who wants to be just like Price, who narrates. You can certainly see the signature Burton visual sensibility at work here—as with many of the higher-profile directors represented on the disc, hindsight may be more illuminating than these short films themselves. Also, in this context, anything more than five minutes long feels like Berlin Alexanderplatz.
Terminal Bar is Stefan Nadelman's wistful look at a watering hole near Port Authority that's long gone, undone by the Disneyfication of Times Square—the director's father tended bar there, so it's equal parts nostalgia and squalor. Maybe the funniest couple of minutes on the disc come from Terry Tate, Office Linebacker, directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who later favored us with Dodgeball—the bit was also the basis for a series of Reebok ads, so it may be familiar. Standish Lawler's Necrology is kind of a stunt, as it's basically one long panning shot of commuters waiting for their trains; the best thing here may be the insane and arbitrary credit sequence, in which the anonymous faces are given fake character titles, like Man With Ulcer, or Man Whose Wife Doesn't Understand Him.
Gus Van Sant channels William S. Burroughs in The Discipline of D.E., and then things stay grungy with The Wraith of Cobble Hill, Adam Parrish King's moody, noiry stop-motion animation piece, set in Brooklyn, sort of a Wallace and Gromit in the 'hood. Joe Nussbaum pays tribute to another director on the disc with George Lucas in Love, and Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon, made in 1943, is loaded with fantastic imagery clearly influenced by Dalí and Man Ray. Alexander Payne broke away from Omaha long enough to make Carmen while a student at UCLA—it's a bit too jokey and fake, with a mentally challenged gas station attendant called Joey the silent clown at the center, as Bizet plays and Payne pays his respects to the likes of Keaton and Chaplin and Lloyd.
Todd Solondz represents NYU by torturing us with his rendition of the title song of Feelings, as we watch a man crawl along the shore and contemplate suicide. Paperboys is Mike Mills' tribute to a disappearing piece of Americana; and finally, Screen Test: Helmut is characteristic of the work of Andy Warhol at the height of his Factory fabulousness. All in, it's probably not a disc you'll want to watch straight through, and we'll all have our favorites, but it's a provocative and entertaining selection.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Aspect ratios and print quality vary from short to short, though the transfers look pretty fair.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Compromised sound quality is the frequent trademark of student films, and some of the shorts here honor that ignominious tradition.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French with remote access
12 Feature/Episode commentaries by directors, the occasional producer, and a critic
Extras Review: Twelve of the sixteen shorts have commentaries, and some, given the running time of the films, barely give time for those speaking to introduce themselves. Film school is a recurring theme—Davidson talks about Columbia over The Lunch Date, and George Lucas reminisces fondly about USC. There's much talk of influence—Pennebaker points to the Ashcan School, while Mills discusses Salesman as a seminal influence on Paperboys. A couple of the directors are joined by their producers; some, unfortunately, didn't show up at all—this includes Burton and Van Sant, and instead of Solondz, the commentary for his short is provided by Jordi Costa, apparently a scholar on Solondz's work. There's nothing too revelatory, but the directors all seem rightly proud of their work and thankful to be speaking to a receptive audience.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsA necessarily varied lot, and a good overview of American filmmaking on a small scale. The commentary tracks are particularly astute, as well.
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