Movie Review: 2008 Austin Underground Film Festival: Shorts Review (Part Two)
This is the second half of my reviews of the short films that played at the third Austin Underground Film Festival. You can read the first half of reviews and an intro here. Otherwise, let’s get to it:
The Discipline of DE, dir. Gus Van Sant. This early short film from Van Sant is an adaptation of a short story by William S. Burroughs about the benefits of living a zen-like existence called “Do Easy” where every action is a purposeful and measured one. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to, but I think the film is filled with great advice that’s very Buddhist in nature, although one of the key examples used to illustrate “Do Easy” is Wyatt Earp’s gunslinging tips given to a young man about to enter a duel. Most of the “Do Easy” philosophy is given via a mannered voice-over and the film is shot very directly and matter-of-factly, in keeping with the “Do Easy” theme. That flatness of tone reminds me the most of Van Sant’s equally measured and mannered Elephant.
White Taxi, dir. Ian Schranz. This was a very funny Spanish animated film about a taxi driver who rushes a pregnant prostitute to the hospital so she can give birth. Once there, she tries to claim he’s the father, which he then has to try to explain to his wife who is a little too forgiving. Great, fast-paced story with a terrific punchline. But what also stands out here is the unique animation, in which all the characters and objects are made up of text describing what they are, e.g. the taxi driver is a block of little lines that say “TAXI DRIVER.” So, rather than move fluidly across the screening, the little text characters frantically bounce around against loud swatches of neon colors for a background. The bouncy animation gives an extra bouncy movement to the plot.
Un Dia De Anibal, dir. Sergio Carvajal. This is an extremely well-shot film with a real visual richness although set in pedestrian locations: Mainly a parking lot and a tiny apartment. A man exits a toy store with two small stuffed animals and walks deep in thought across the mostly empty lot. Suddenly, a car carreens out of nowhere and the man flashes back to what brought him to this life-and-death moment. The story is told a little bit more eliptically than my straight-forward description and the spiraling of the plot adds a depth to the proceedings rather than just coming across as a gimmick. It’s not difficult to figure out what’s going on here, but when the pivotal scene where all is finally revealed, it’s a sad and relatable moment when the mouth reacts before the heart. Touching little film.
Sk8boardin’, dir. Jeff Rubin. What looks like a traditional skateboarding video is quickly revealed to be a parody of said videos. The jabs at skateboarders goes on a little long and just seems mean-spirited than having any kind of real point or POV. Some of it is kind of funny, but I guess I didn’t get the overall appeal.
Baby Doll, dir. Tessa Hughes-Freeland. This is a classic film from the NY underground of ’82 and a part of the Cinema of Transgression movement. In 16mm B&W, two strippers prepare for a night of work and talk about their profession via voiceover. The girls defend their choice of work with circuitous arguments while complaining about some of the hardships of dancing for money. We rarely get good looks at their faces, but lots of shots of their feet dancing. It’s an infinitely fascinating portrait of these girls although the film runs just about three minutes. Also, from a historical perspective, it’s funny seeing how tamely the girls are dressed and how much more primitive the profession was just over twenty years ago.
One-Eyed Don, dir. Byron Brown. The titular character here actually has two functioning eyes, but a lot of missing brain cells as he goes all over town telling inappropriate sexual stories about his ex-girlfriend. I got tired of the routine after about four or five scenes. Again, not much of a real point or POV here.
The Cat Inside, dir. Andre Perkowski. Adapted from the novella, William S. Burroughs drawls about cats on the soundtrack while Perkowski cuts together quick and superimposed shots of various felines. Not sure if Perkowski is specifically using a Burroughsian “cut up” technique for the visuals, but parts of the film definitely have that feel. I’m a major cat lover personally, so I totally dug this film. I never read the original source and didn’t know about Burroughs prediliction towards cats beforehand, so it was really interesting to listen to this, especially parts in which the author seems fearful of the power cats wield, and try to figure out if he was praising or damning them or possibly both at the same time.
Entracte, dir. Yann Gonzalez. This is a very French short film in which a man and a woman, who are both extremely bored, lean against a wall and wonder what they should do. After pulling her pants down for the camera to linger on her vagina, they dance to crappy pop songs and wish a dead lover back for a visit. This is a very dry, static film that perfectly captures French ennui, in which even a bare vagina can’t generate any excitement. Then when the ghost appears there’s no joy or sadness, and although both the living man and woman make out with him it’s a rote, passionless, mechanical exercise. Who’s dead? Who’s living? Does it even matter? We learn that the dead can’t get erections, but the living don’t seem to be able to get it up either.
Mulched Midnight Memories of Don Knotts, dir. Andre Perkowski. Don’t be fooled by the title, Don Knotts doesn’t appear anywhere near this quasi-music video for Perkowski’s Farmingdale Sound Machine. A one-man band wanders the palm-tree lined streets of California like an odd mashup of Bob Dylan and Jose Mojica Marins’ Coffin Joe character. The noise rock is extremely catchy and the visuals are the usual mix of found footage, washed out B&W 16mm, and image manipulation that are Perkowski’s trademark. Nice hit-and-run piece.
I Am So Proud of You, dir. Don Hertzfeldt. The put-upon Bill from Hertzfeldt’s Everything Will Be Okay returns for another foray into surreal existentialism. Yet, this time we learn where Bill’s negative, fearful outlook on life stems from. First, he comes from a family that has a bizarre history of being run over by trains. But, what really shapes his life is the tragic death of his aluminum-armed, deformed brother who drowns in the ocean during a school field trip. After the drowning, Bill’s mother smothers her remaining son in an excessively over-protective cocoon that drives away any man who tries to have a relationship with her. Although a sequel to the earlier film, the two movies feel like a longer film that was simply snipped in half. I Am So Proud of You is as masterful a piece as Everything Will Be Okay.