Friday, May 8, 2009

Shorts Program #1 - Battle Scars: New Experimental Documentaries

Apologies are due for not getting my morning coffee before attending this screening. Skipping that coffee prevented me from staying attentive during what may have been one of the strongest pieces in this program, Adaptation Fever. Hopefully someone else will comment on this piece or I will get a chance to see it again on a screener copy so I can do the work justice.

There were several pieces in this program I liked a lot. Poor Audrey and Still Life with Ho Chi Minh were the standouts, though I also liked The Sixtus Project quite a bit. A Film Far Beyond God was, for me, completely impenetrable and, in certain assumed conventions (the references to masculine bravado/machismo, Che Guevara, Jim Morrison and Arthur Rimbaud), came across as utterly pretentious. I did not care for this film at all, even on a technical level, as its use of cinematography and superimposition seemed no more than arbitrary. As for the topic of pre-Islamic gods, how that subject relates to anything in this film is beyond me.

Poor Audrey, in contrast, is a beautiful, concise, carefully constructed and emotionally resonant portrait piece. At first it appears to be about the tragedy of Hank Williams life and the superficially possessive reactions after his death. But the real tragedy revealed is Audrey's, Williams wife, who suffered much the same fate and disparagements as Yoko Ono (and, I'm sure, a number of other "wives of famous men"). Great use of minimal imagery for maximum impact. I also really like that this film only hints at the story behind the story. The film makes you wonder rather than causing you to feel like you "know."

Still Life with Ho Chi Minh is another excellent short film. Using untranslated conversations with Minh's personal photographer, the film applies superimposed dirt and filmic debris quite effectively as a metaphor for difficult times and the fragments of history which manage to be passed along in place of the "whole" story. I found the decision to not provide subtitles to be an excellent one as it forced me to concentrate on the footage and the emotional tenor of the voice of the photographer. Like Poor Audrey, a beautiful film I'd like to see again.

The Sixtus Project is quite minimal in its construction. Consisting solely of long takes of docking and unloading ships and a diaristic voiceover, the film manages to quite successfully evoke an attempt at communication between the filmmaker and a man nearing and reaching the end of his life. There are successes and failures within these attempts, but ultimately the film reminds us that we all die alone and that the experience of death is, in many ways, only about the survivor's attempts to find solace by projecting their own desires upon the person who has passed.

If I get an opportunity to watch Adaptation Fever while fully attentive and not nodding off–which I hope I do before the festival is over–I will add to this post.

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