Movie Review: Three Short Films By Michael Peterson
Michael Peterson is a Canadian filmmaker out of Calgary who makes lyrical and romantic short films. Or, at least the three shorts he sent the Underground Film Journal for review share that common thread.
There’s a similar tone to the films in that all the characters who fall madly in love never need to say a word to each other — literally, none of them speak a word of dialogue, even though characters on the periphery may speak a little. The romance then consists mostly of each couple coming together via music, to which they then share “the look” that lets them and the audience know that enduring love is in the air.
This may all sound like Peterson is simply just treading the same ground, but these are really three unique and interesting films. Despite sharing some commonalities, each one feels fresh and original through Peterson coming up with three very interesting settings and approaching each film with it’s own individual visual style. Watched together in one sitting, as I did with them, rather than becoming repetitive and potentially tedious, each film felt exciting and new.
Here’s my take on the films individually:
The Song (2006): If these films can be considered a trilogy — and I don’t know if they should, it’s just that Peterson sent me three movies — then this is where it starts. For this piece, Peterson quickly introduces a rather large cast for a short film, 7 people, and starts putting them into place like chess pieces. However, instead of a chessboard, Peterson arranges them around a public library, a place where there should be no sound. Then, the song of the title is introduced in a clever way. It spills out of the headphones of one of the patrons and suddenly, like an airborne virus, almost everyone is infected with heady passion. There’s no dialogue to the film, so there’s a slight music video feel to the proceedings, but like one of those old ’80s music videos that had stories and long prologues. Peterson also keeps his camera moving through the entire film, so the whole piece flows visually like a song. At the end, an 8th character is introduced to provide a wistful and sad little coda.
Curse of the Piano (2008): Music + love = tragedy. That’s Peterson’s message in this pastoral period piece. An old crow of a father maniacally makes his beautiful young daughter practice the piano while a simple farmhand is forced to admire her from afar. When dear old heads out, the farmhand makes his move and a blossoming romance is undone by raw, debauched passion. However, that debauchery occurs by a tinkling of the ivories, not the bouncing of bedsprings, but we get the idea what’s on the farmhand’s mind. Although it’s always said that music soothes the savage beast, in this case it’s the melody that creates one. Beautifully shot at a remote farmhouse and featuring great costuming and makeup effects, Peterson manages to cram an epic old-fashioned period romance into just nine minutes.
The Secret Lives of Robots (2008): This film is like a No-Wave remake of the classic Sins of the Fleshapoids. Peterson makes a major stylish turn with this piece, shooting in a grainy black & white and while The Song and Curse of the Piano show off their high-end production values, Robots is intentionally gritty and low rent looking, which really adds to the film’s charm. The “robots” of the title are simply people dressed in cardboard boxes and ventilation tubing and in Peterson’s world here, everybody has a metallic companion. Two punks meet on a disastrous blind date, but their two robots share a spark of passion while on the dance floor. They briefly fantasize about a human-like existence of romance before they are torn apart. Robots aren’t meant to be together. The film’s final payoff, which Peterson delivers via title card, is a great one. If I want to consider this film the final part of the trilogy, then it’s appropriate that it ends with the message that love can change the world, not just individuals.