Underground Film Journal

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Short Film: Luster

By Mike Everleth ⋅ January 2, 2011

Faith and shoe shining get severely tested Deco Dawson‘s ode to classic silent movies, Luster, which is a perfect combination of allegories, if you think about it. Jesus wasn’t above washing the feet of his disciples, therefore the shining of shoes becomes an act of great spiritual nobility. Or, something like that. Although, it probably isn’t such a good idea to use pages ripped out of the Bible as polishing rags…

Dawson is a filmmaker based out of Winnipeg and was at least partially inspired to go into the moving arts from play writing thanks to his friend and collaborator Guy Maddin. Like Maddin, Dawson’s early films — and Luster is one of his earliest, it’s his second — is filmed in the style of classic cinema. It has the perfect, ancient timeless look that if one didn’t know it was produced in 1999, one might mistake it for an actual film from the silent era. I’m not sure if there’s anything in it that gives it away, except perhaps a modern editing style.

Distraught looking young man

The real charm of the film comes from that exceptionally grainy Super 8 look with certain areas blasted with light surrounded by harsh blacks. (I’m personally also a sucker for films with splice tape lines visible in them.) The film also builds from quick, abstract shots where it’s not clear what the film is even about that eventually an accumulation of images one starts to piece together the “story,” such as it is. There are scant few wide shots and nothing that really establishes location or time.

Instead, it’s all character, with the camera mostly focusing in on tight on the repetitiveness of the shoe-shining act. It’s about halfway through when the shoe shine boy begins to have a crisis of faith and the religious symbolism starts coming into play. When the character comes across the Bible and begins incorporating it into his work, he performs his job with a renewed fervor. But, is he doing it all out of a strengthening of faith or out of manic fear of the alternatives?

Dawson has uploaded several of his short films to Vimeo to watch, but he also has lots more as Quicktimes on his official website.

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