Category Archives: Short

Doin’ Time in Times Square (1991, Charlie Ahearn)

Doin’ Time in Times Square is forty minutes of footage Ahearn shot out of his Times Square apartment building’s window. Shot over three years, Ahearn cuts the street scenes with home movie footage. Life inside the apartment. Ahearn’s adorable family growing, holidays, parties, sitcoms. Meanwhile, outside is urban blight.

Except it can’t all be urban blight. It’s not all urban blight when it starts. Before Ahearn establishes his editing pattern–adorable White family imprisoned in their apartment building, violent Black criminals outside–he’s got some great shots of just how people coexist in large numbers. Walking commuters flooding the sidewalks as they cross streets, spilling over. It’s amazing.

And then Ahearn starts cutting from his adorable son and lovely wife to Black people fighting. Then he cuts to adorable son and lovely wife and… Black people fighting. Maybe getting arrested. All Ahearn sees outside the window–until he gets to a municipal project and New Year’s Eve–is apparently scary Black people committing crimes.

Though he does catch footage of two cops harassing (and hitting) a Black teen while letting his two white friends off. There’s occasionally sound from the street, but it’s distant and muffled. There’s also occasionally sound from Ahearn as he watches, gasps and sighs. And telling his kid to stay away from the window.

But what Ahearn never shows is people like him. People like his family. There are no white families out on the street, even though someone in Ahearn’s household must have left at some point. I don’t think the second child was born inside the apartment, for example.

Ahearn never sees people. Sure, Doin’ Time is partially objective. What occurs is outside Ahearn’s creative control, but where he points the camera (and he does a great job shooting out his window) and especially how he edits is his control. Three years of footage and no interest in the mundane, only the “terrifying.”

Thousands of people appear in Doin’ Time and Ahearn manages to dehumanize every single one of them who isn’t inside his apartment.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Charlie Ahearn.


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The Lottery (1969, Larry Yust)

The Lottery has a lot of mood. Isidore Mankofsky’s lucid but muted cinematography captures a routine day, not even special with an entire small town gathering in a large field. Director Yust has a few favorite touchstones among the townspeople, though only until the lottery itself starts. Then he concentrates on faces and expressions, as many as possible. Editor Albert Naples cuts quick between them, going faster the less expression the person shows.

Unfortunately, Naples’s editing is only sometimes effective. Yust’s direction of the cast–speaking or not–isn’t good. There are three main performances and only William ‘Billy’ Benedict is any good. Olive Dunbar has problematic writing and there’s only so much she can do at the end, when the “winner” is announced. William Fawcett is bad as the grumpy old man bemoaning young people and their lack of respect for the lottery.

Yust gives a handful of lines to various townspeople to try to show the routine of the events and their lives. He doesn’t give them actual conversations and cut into them, he just gives them lines. Then there’s the soundtrack, silent of background conversation or even breathing. Just the wind picking up. The silence should be effective–and would be if the acting were better or if Naples’s quick cutting built to anything. Maybe the silent background is so Yust could give the non-professionals direction? But if he did give them direction during those shots… well, it’s almost more concerning than if he didn’t.

The Lottery was made to be shown in classrooms (high school but probably younger–I think I saw it in middle) and Yust’s ideas for getting around the difficult parts don’t succeed. He’s too afraid to really characterize the gathered townspeople (and probably couldn’t direct them if their characterizations were better). The Lottery only exists for its eighteen minutes; Yust doesn’t imagine anything beyond it.

But Benedict’s real good.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Larry Yust; screenplay by Yust, based on the story by Shirley Jackson; director of photography, Isidore Mankofsky; edited by Albert Nalpas; released by Encyclopædia Britannica Educational Corporation.

Starring Olive Dunbar (Tessie Hutchinson), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Joe Summers), William Fawcett (Old Man Warner), and Joe Haworth (Bill Hutchinson).


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Return to Glennascaul (1953, Hilton Edwards)

Orson Welles stars in Return to Glennascaul as himself. He’s acting as a combination presenter and narrator. Amusing, he says he’s not going to be around for long, he’s busy making Othello after all. But then when star Michael Laurence starts telling Welles his story, Welles can’t let someone else do the narrating, so he takes over.

It’s far from a seamless overlay. Welles has to jabber to keep up with the action.

Welles comes across Laurence on a rainy Irish night. Laurence’s car has broken down, does Laurence want a ride, is Welles “you know who,” where do you live, guess what happened the last time I was at that intersection. Enter the ghost story, Laurence’s short-lived narration, and flashback.

At the same intersection, Laurence picks up a similarly stranded mother and daughter, played by Shelah Richards and Helena Hughes, respectfully. Things aren’t what they seem and Laurence has to figure out what’s going on.

Writer-director Edwards has more strength on the latter. The script starts getting long just after halfway through, as Laurence’s investigation kicks off. Laurence is okay, but he doesn’t command at all. Maybe Welles’s narration throws the emphasis off Laurence; it’s fine since Welles sort of saves the day at the end.

And, really, Edwards directs Laurence as a subject, even when the film’s from his point of view. Edwards uses Laurence’s flashlight beam to reveal just a little bit of each frame, with encroaching, unknown black all around. Hans Gunther Stumpf’s creepy music plays, Georg Fleischmann’s photography is great with the whites and blacks. It’s very effective.

The script isn’t as effective. At least not until Welles gets back and then Glennascaul wraps up fine.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Hilton Edwards; director of photography, Georg Fleischmann; edited by Joseph Sterling; music by Hans Gunther Stumpf; produced by Edwards and Micheál MacLiammóir; released by Arthur Mayer-Edward Kingsley.

Starring Michael Laurence (Sean Merriman), Shelah Richards (Mrs. Campbell), Helena Hughes (Miss Campbell), John Dunne (Daly), and Orson Welles (Orson Welles).


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Vesper (2017, Keyvan Sheikhalishahi)

Vesper has something like six “gotcha” reveals, which is a lot for a killer. Especially since Vesper runs twenty-three minutes. And the first gotcha is in the first five minutes. The experience of watching the film quickly becomes waiting for director Sheikhalishahi to spring another one.

The story has (maybe) agoraphobic Agnès Godey being stalked by ex-husband Götz Otto (or is she?). Her nephew, played by Sheikhalishahi, comes to visit her. He suffers from photophobia (or does he?) and gets involved. Godey is also being haunted by a spectre of Otto (or is… you get the idea), which she fails to reveal to Sheikhalishahi (or… you already got it, sorry).

Sheikhalishahi’s direction is pretty good. He’s a little too obvious in his thriller moods–especially with Gréco Casadesus’s overbearing score–and Jean-Claude Aumont’s photography, while gorgeous, is all wrong for what Sheikhalishahi’s trying to do. Aumont gives luscious reality while the characters exist in Gothic nightmare.

Sheikhalishahi’s script is a mess, though at least consistent, I suppose.

Godey’s okay when the script’s okay, which tends to be when she’s opposite Sheikhalishahi. He’s not good in those scenes, but whatever. It’s just nice to see Godey doing well by then. Otto’s in a similar boat. He’s better when the script’s better; he gets a great villain showdown beach scene with would-be hero Sheikhalishahi. Unfortunately, it doesn’t signal a change in the narrative, which just goes back to being gotcha-happy.

With the strong production values, the technical excellences, and the competent performances, Vesper ought to be a lot better. It’s a shame about the script.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written, directed, and produced by Keyvan Sheikhalishahi; director of photography, Jean-Claude Aumont; edited by Marie-Jo Nenert; music by Gréco Casadesus; production designer, Sheikhalishahi.

Starring Götz Otto (Walter), Agnès Godey (Marge), and Keyvan Sheikhalishahi (Christian).


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