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Short Experimental Film: Charade

Hollywood is a place where one can completely reinvent oneself for fame and fortune. Experimental filmmaker Salise Hughes plays with the entire notion of shifting one’s identity with another entry in her “erased film” entries: Her brilliant reworking of the classic screwball mystery romance Charade.

Little of the original film exists in Hughes’s piece, but she focuses her attention squarely on lead actor Cary Grant. Born as Archibald Leach, Grant changed his name and transformed himself into one of history’s most memorable leading men. In the original Charade, Grant’s character constantly changes his name and identity while helping — or possibly double-crossing — romantic co-star Audrey Hepburn evade a trio of assassins.

In Hughes’s Charade, Grant is transformed quite literally as a blank slate: His features frequently are completely replaced by a slate of sidewalk. But then upon that image, Hughes then further layers on images of pickaxes patiently chipping away at the cement to reveal… nothing but an empty hole, sometimes with non-detailed figures clambering out.

Was there ever really a creature named Archibald Leach that ever existed? Or was Leach just an empty shell that was plastered over with whomever and whatever we wanted to think Cary Grant might be?

Man whose face has been replaced by the image of a sidewalk

Hughes has made “erased” films before, but Charade is a major leap forward for her, both conceptually and in execution. Frames of the film consist of erasures existing with image layering, but in other scenes she employs other types of optical effects and even sometimes breaks the film down into text with a freeze-framed image to express her ideas more directly.

It’s abstract. It’s concrete. (Pun intended.) It’s a terrifically complex little film.