Some cinephiles tend to overlook the incredible artistry of shorts simply because they are not as readily available or prominent as feature-length films in American popular culture. I would like to help remedy that situation, if I can have any small part in the matter, by highlighting some shorts on my site, from time to time. I’ve written about some before, earlier this year. Time now, I think, to highlight a few more.
I’ve picked out three radically different, yet all very interesting shorts, for today’s column. If you would like to recommend shorts for me to review in the future, feel free to send me an e-mail to make suggestions.
The Beekeeper: Written and directed by student Sean J. S. Jourdan, “The Beekeeper” tells the story of a dysfunctional family in rural Illinois. The father (Michael Joseph Thomas Ward) is the keeper of bees, and this is the perfect metaphor for the danger with which he surrounds his family by carrying on an affair with his son’s girlfriend (Michelle Mueller). He finally breaks it off, but it may be too late.
This is a family which doesn’t say much with words, but can speak volumes with silence. It’s not easy to pull off something like this, but Jourdan manages to evoke powerful performances from his actors. The father, the mother (Oksana Fedunsyzn), the son (Joseph Biccichi), and the girlfriend all carefully navigate a complex set of family dynamics, leading up to the ultimate scene in which the mother takes drastic action.
There is also a cute girl (the girlfriend’s five-year old daughter, played by Sophie Joseph) and a dog. The two share a funny moment.
This short is actually the first chapter of what will eventually be a feature film. For the most part, it stands on its own, although a few things are ambiguous; the ambiguity will be cleared up when the feature comes out. I’m certainly looking forward to that.
For a student film, it is very well shot. Great angles, bright colors, interesting images. Kudos to cinematographer Kuba Zelazek, whose close-up shots help to highlight the dramatic tension.
I guess my one minor criticism is that it moves a little too slowly; I think the same story could be told in less time. Often the camera lingers too long, or an actor pauses a few more seconds than he or she should. A little tightening up in the editing room, perhaps chopping off 4 to 5 minutes of unnecessary pauses, could work wonders.
“The Beekeeper” is 26 minutes long. It is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit (check the website, www.thebeekeepermovie.com, for screenings) and will soon be available on itunes. It will also play on television in France and the UK. You can also contact the director at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a free copy.
Good Night Valentino: This very moving short recreates an actual meeting between famous writer H. L. Mencken (John Rothman) and extremely famous silent movie star Rudolph Valentino (Edoardo Ballerini) in 1926, only days before Valentino’s untimely death at age 31. Rothman and Ballerini co-wrote the screenplay based on an essay Mencken published shortly thereafter describing the events of that evening. Ballerini also directed.
At the height of his fame, Valentino had been offhandedly and anonymously accused of being gay. Instead of blowing it off, he responded with wild protests which only exasperated the problem. He admired Mencken’s writing, took him to be a man of honor like him, and sought his advice. Mencken agreed to meet him and the two dined together in his hotel room that evening.
Mencken had an aversion to almost everyone and thought very little of celebrity, yet he genuinely liked Valentino (as a human, not as an actor, for he hadn’t actually seen any of his films), and felt much sympathy for his predicament; he regretted that he had little help to offer. Only a few days after this meeting, Valentino lay dead as the result of a ruptured appendix brought on by a perforated ulcer.
Rothman narrates the film, in a voice-over, quoting Mencken’s touching essay. He not only addresses the complexities of the immediate issue, but goes to the deeper heart of the matter, discussing the problems of fame, honor, culture, and finding meaning in life.
The film is shot beautifully in an attractive, colorful, art deco setting, though it opens and closes in a black-and-white silent film style; an appropriate tribute to Valentino’s career.
“Good Night Valentino” is 15 minutes long. It can be purchased at Amazon as a single DVD, or as part of a collection of shorts entitled “shorts! volume 2.”
The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello: The world of this animated short, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2005, is the world of Victorian Science Fiction pioneer Jules Verne. Though much of what Verne imagined in the late 19th Century eventually turned out to be bad science, he managed to touch greater truths about society and humanity. This film is an ode to him, his vision, and his ideas.
The unique animation of “The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello” depicts a strange future as Victorians might imagine it: metallic airships, inspired by 19th Century steamships, float through the sky exploring uncharted regions of air and encounter all manner of strange things. Images are in stark contrast, characters are in silhouette, and colors are drained. This style of animation seems so out of place in the 21st Century—perhaps that is why it is so fascinating.
Jasper Morello, the ship’s navigator, narrates the voyage in ornate prose. He tells how his airship gets blown off course and discovers, floating in the air, a mysterious island which is home to strange and savage beasts. It is discovered these beasts hold the cure to a plague which is ravaging their home city and even threatens the life of Jasper’s wife. But when it is further discovered that these beasts need human blood to survive, the crew is taken to a very dark moral place that threatens to expose the depravity of the human soul.
The story dwells on themes which were of great importance to Victorians such as the fear of the unknown, the lack of humanity in science, and how man’s attempt to best nature can often backfire. At first, this film may seem to be more than a century out-of-date; but upon further reflection, you’ll see that it does indeed speak to us today.
“The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello” is 28 minutes long. It can be found on YouTube and also as part of “A Collection of 2005 Academy Award Nominated Short Films” DVD. It can also be purchased as a single film directly from Madman.com.