Category Archives: Short

Frankenstein (1910, J. Searle Dawley)

In its opening title card, Frankenstein warns it will be a liberal adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel. It’s only going to be sixteen minutes after all.

But Frankenstein hits most of the big events–it opens with Frankenstein (Augustus Phillips) leaving for university, where he becomes obsessed with the insane idea of creating life. And so he does. Charles Ogle is the Monster. One of the film’s adaptation choices is to make the Monster as evil from the start. Sure Phillips is horrified by his deed and locks himself in his room to cry about it, but Ogle’s immediate reaction is to try to kill him.

Eventually Ogle tracks Phillips back home, where Phillips is finally ready to tie the knot with Mary Fuller. He’s gotten the create-life-by-throwing-a-couple-different-powders-in-a-cauldron bug out of his system–wild oats seeded–and he’s ready to settle down. But Ogle’s not letting him get away with it.

Frankenstein has no moving shots. No panning, no scanning. Director Dawley has his one shot and all the action plays out in it. He gets very creative–Ogle getting into the house at the end is particularly effective. Ogle is where Frankenstein comes to life; Phillips is a bit too histrionic. Not if he isn’t supposed to be the hero. If Frankenstein were just a little less forgiving of Phillips and let him get some comeuppance–or just acknowledge he deserves some–Phillips’s histrionics would be fine.

But he gets a pass and so they aren’t.

Ogle’s not the whole show–Searle does good work–but when Ogle arrives, there’s nothing else to Frankenstein. Everything is waiting for the next Monster sighting. Ogle’s demonic looking, with fur and exaggerated extremities. He does come out of a cauldron, after all, in a truly glorious reverse motion effect. Frankenstein has some great editing. Dawley knows how to create tension, both with effects shots and just Ogle shots.

Frankenstein is quite good. Dawley and Ogle create something particular, especially with the slightly weird, slightly technically ambitious finale. It’s one of Dawley’s most liberal adaptation moves but also perfect for the medium.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by J. Searle Dawley; screenplay by Dawley, based on the novel by Mary Shelley; produced by Thomas A. Edison; released by Edison Manufacturing Company.

Starring Augustus Phillips (Frankenstein), Mary Fuller (Elizabeth), and Charles Ogle (The Monster).


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Captain Voyeur (1969, John Carpenter)

Captain Voyeur starts better than it finishes, which is too bad since it gets better as it goes along. Writer and director Carpenter opens the short with a long tracking shot of some boring workplace. Excellent black and white photography from Joanne Willens (save two shots later on) makes the opening an observation on professional life.

The tracking shot is to get us to nerdy Jerry Cox, alone at a desk, doing his work and peeking on a female coworker. He’s a perv but a harmless enough one. Cox and Carpenter do well with the setup and the action moves to Cox’s apartment. Where he changes into a full mask, a cape, and his dress shoes. And some boxers. He’s Captain Voyeur. There are opening credits throughout the opening, with the final card just after the reveal. So it’s a comedy too.

It’s a comedy shot like a scary movie, because most of the shots are Cox running around outside peeking in windows. When it seems like Cox is just peeking to be peeking, the short has fun with the kinks he sees. Until after the second one and it seems like he doesn’t like what he’s seeing. The next two are jokes–the first a bad, cheap joke, the second a cheap, bad joke–before the finale, where Cox finally finds the window he wants.

Voyeur loses its narrative inventiveness after that second window. It’s still technically strong–Carpenter loves figuring out new establishing shots of windows at night in black and white–through Trace Johnston’s editing is never on par with the rest of it. And there are a couple times Johnston just makes the wrong cut and screws up a scene’s pacing.

It also goes out on a undercooked joke. Carpenter’s clearly got a sense of humor and he’s got the short’s sense of humor, he just doesn’t have the joke writing chops to pull it off. Unless he’s going for absurdist, in which case Voyeur’s terrible.

But it’s not terrible. It’s incredibly well-made and constantly inventive. Its jokes are just too broad and too cheap. Though the jokes being problematic covers the problem with Cox’s physical performance. He’s running around this apartment complex (or dorm), peeking in windows, but in between he’s supposed to have character development. But he doesn’t in the running shots. Because student filmmaking realities. So I guess the broadness of the humor covers that hole?

It’s disappointing. Especially given the excellent opening shot and the nimble changes in mood and tone. It’s like Carpenter gave up trying to show off in the second half and went for cheap witty. Well, except this one composite but it’s not enough to save the *Captain*.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Carpenter; director of photography, Joanne Willens; edited by Trace Johnston; produced for the University of Southern California.

Starring Jerry Cox (The Captain).


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This Unfamiliar Place (1994, Eva Ilona Brzeski)

This Unfamiliar Place is content in search of presentation. Director Brzeski’s father survived the Nazi attack and occupation of Poland. He never talked about it. Then there’s an unspecified earthquake (maybe the San Francisco-Oakland one of 1989, but it’s sort of immaterial because Brzeski’s not living there at the time). She thinks somehow this place she once lived having an earthquake means she can now understand her father’s experience in Poland.

Her father, who answers unheard interview questions both on camera and in voiceover, doesn’t think she can ever understand. Sadly Brzeski’s wordy, obtuse narration never reflects enough on those statements.

Then there’s a bunch of footage from Poland when Brzeski goes with her father; just people living in Poland in the early nineties. Kids staring at the camera, a cow, all sorts of stuff. It’s like a travelogue with way too much context.

But instead of just ending when it’s only a misfire, Brzeski keeps going–with a lot of that meandering narration–before getting to her father and he’s got so much, both as a visual presence and as a interviewee, well, it becomes clear there’s definitely enough material for This Unfamiliar Place to be something… only Brzeski doesn’t know what. It’s not what she thought it would be, so it’s therefor nothing. Only it’s not nothing.

Brzeski’s technical filmmaking–she directed, edited, photographed–is all good. The short’s not wanting in those regards. Scott Starrett’s music is decent too. Its thesis and the exploration of that thesis… not successful. Way too narrow, way too constrained, way too closed.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited, photographed, produced, and directed by Eva Ilona Brzeski; music by Scott Starrett.

Starring Andrzej Brzeski.


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Black Rider (1993, Pepe Danquart)

Black Rider is almost desperate in its lack of great. There’s a single great moment–sort of, it’s a funny twist but entirely problematic–amid a bunch of other not great moments. And the resolution to the twist is pat and a joke… only one at the expense of writer and director Danquart and the short itself.

The film starts with a bustling Berlin train station. Black Rider runs twelve minutes. The bustling train station montage takes about three. The action then cuts to Stefan Merki trying to get his motorcycle started. He can’t, so he has to get on the streetcar. Good thing he’s at a streetcar stop where Danquart introduces some of the supporting “cast.” Teenagers, business people. Everyone’s white except two Turkish teenage boys. They’re busy making eyes at two teenage girls. And then one African guy (Paul Outlaw)–he’s waiting for the tram with his friend, a white German guy with dreadlocks… but I mean, it’s 1993 so maybe the dreadlocks on the white guy aren’t a bad sign.

(Spoiler, they are, but for Danquart’s… philosophy seems a stretch but his take).

Everyone boards, Outlaw sits down next to a rude old white lady (Senta Moira). She proceeds to complain about rude immigrants, getting more and more overtly racist as she goes along. Danquart cuts from her rants to the other passengers, who mostly sit expressionless. Some appear to react, just not vocally. They’re not going to get involved (it’s never clear if they’re actually hearing her or the audio is looped in; Black Rider is so slickly produced it comes off artificial).

Eventually there’s a short tram montage before the ticket taker arrives and then there’s the big twist. It’s a funny twist because it’s a sight gag. Danquart’s fallout from it is reassuring and patronizing–racism can’t succeed because good people, who are silently allowing social injustice, will also silently allow social justice. Black Rider isn’t naive so much as absurd. It’s not really condescending because Danquart is a philosophical punchline.

Good acting from Outlaw, who’s mostly expression, and Moira, who’s appropriately hideous. Danquart’s way too eager to write her off as a “crazy old racist lady,” because then there’s zero responsibility in Black Rider.

It’s professionally produced–though Michel Seigner’s jazz score is a little much and Ciro Cappellari’s photography deserves better direction–and it’s got a good laugh, but it’s passively gross.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Pepe Danquart; director of photography, Ciro Cappellari; edited by Mona Bräuer; music by Michel Seigner; produced by Albert Kitzler.

Starring Senta Moira (Old Woman), Paul Outlaw (Black Man), and Stefan Merki (Biker).


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