Chizfilm Movie Reviews
February 18, 2008
Enter the World of Shorts through the Magic of YouTube
by Jonathan Chisdes
On several occasions, both on this Chizfilm site and in my personal blog, I’ve made it known how much I enjoy shorts. Good shorts are, in my opinion, the poems of the film world. But outside of festivals and DVD compilations, where else does one have the opportunity to see shorts? Well, as it turns out, you really don’t have to go that far away. The internet site, YouTube, hosts a number of good shorts.
In my spare time, I often enjoy surfing through that site looking for video gems and I thought, for something different, I would devote one of my Chizfilm columns to a few great shorts that you can watch right in your own home, for free, on YouTube.
So instead of a feature film review, today I will highlight a dozen of my favorite YouTube shorts. The following list is not meant to be an all-inclusive, comprehensive compilation of the best work out there. Rather it is just a sampling to whet your appetite and get you started, as you do your own searches and find the shorts that you love the best.
- George Lucas in Love: Topping off the list is one of my all time favorite shorts, which was inspired by the movie “Shakespeare in Love,” where Shakespeare comes up with the ideas for “Romeo and Juliet” by observing the things happening around him. So this short imagines a young George Lucas in film school in the late 1960s trying to write a student screenplay which will eventually become “Star Wars.” However, he’s having writers block—his ideas for a story about a space farmer aren’t going anywhere, until he meets a girl reminiscent of Princess Leia, who inspires him to write from the heart and take advantage of the things around him. For example, as he struggles with his writing, George notices a long-haired mechanic reminiscent of Chewbacca, a shirtless fat man reminiscent of Jabba the Hutt, a fencing match in which a student injures his hand. George’s roommate Ben gets high and talks existential philosophy, his film professor talks in mysterious backwards riddles, and his chief rival who dreams of industry dominance has asthma. There’s plenty more to see; even if you’re not a fan of “Star Wars,” you’ll laugh hard at what might have been the origin of these cultural icons. (10 minutes)
- One Rat Short: This touching little movie has extremely realistic computer animation and gives an amazing attention to detail. But what really makes it is the tender story. It’s about a rat that finds himself trapped in scientific laboratory filled with many other rats, and falls in love with one of them. When the computer running the lab breaks down, the rats have a chance to escape, but will they be able to make it before it’s too late? Some of the detailed quality of the animation is lost in its transfer to YouTube—it looks better on DVD—but it’s still pretty damn good on line. (10 minutes)
- Non-Abductees Anonymous: Sometimes it seems there is an anonymous support group for any problem—those suffering from drug addiction or bad relationships or post traumatic stress. Here’s a short mock doc about a group of people who have not been abducted by aliens but wish they were. They find creative outlets to express their feelings of rejection and also try to attract aliens. Naturally, there are some pretty quirky characters in this group. This short satirizes society’s obsession with aliens and with support groups in a very funny way. (5 minutes)
- Rebel Studz: The Uncensored Documentary: This mocumentary about the Rebel Studz, a Hispanic Redneck band which rises, falls, and rises again, satirizes VH1’s “Behind the Music” and some of Country Music’s biggest stars. Lee and Durango, played by filmmakers D. S. Flores and G. R. Claveria, are not very good musicians, but they have sex appeal, a good manager, plenty of roadies, and a curse that follows them around. In the documentary style, this movie, very humorously, blends background file footage (such as music videos, tapes of wild parties, a TV show they made, etc.) with interviews of the band’s manager, girlfriends, costars, and another band that is jealous of them. Two of the funniest moments in the movie come in these interviews. In one, a girlfriend says how disgusting, chauvinist pigs they are, but then admits she falls for their sexual appeal; in another, a woman talks to the interviewer completely oblivious that her baby girl, in the background, is playing with kitchen knives. The TV show within the movie doesn’t seem to work very well (it’s not easy to create the look and feel of a professional TV show when you have a tiny budget and amateur actors), and it was also a little disappointing that Lee and Durango weren’t developed as separate, unique characters. Yet overall this movie is clearly a labor of love: it demonstrates a huge commitment and amount of effort, it is a good example of the quality work that independent filmmakers with a low budget can do, and most importantly it gives you a number of good laughs as it mocks what many famous musicians are forced to do, or choose to do. (10 minutes)
- The Danish Poet: In this winner of the 2006 Academy Award for Best Animated Short, a woman tells the story of how her parents met, by chance, due to a chain of events which began in Copenhagen, many years ago. It’s a beautiful little love story about a Danish poet suffering from writers block and his trip to Norway to meet a famous author for inspiration. Along the way, he gets sidetracked when he meets a beautiful farmer’s daughter with whom he falls in love, but she is engaged to an oaf. A number of unexpected events change the course of the story. I’m not going to give away the ending, but when it’s over, you’ll realize that it’s a far deeper, multi-layered, and textured story than you first thought. The animation is a bit old school, but I found it charming, especially reactions of the animals in the background. (A note on watching this: YouTube won’t allow videos longer than ten minutes, and since this short is longer than that, it is broken up into two sections. When the first ends, in the middle, you’ll need to click on “part 2.”) (15 mins)
- Pretty Dead Girl: This is my second favorite musical short (after “West Bank Story,” of course, which unfortunately is not currently available on YouTube). Told entirely in song, here’s a love story that’s radically different from the previous one. Mortie and Viola have a serious obstacle to their love—Mortie is a necrophiliac who prefers dead women to live ones. To help overcome this problem, his shrink sings the song “You have to love your woman when she’s alive” in an awe-inspiring production number. Viola, meanwhile, has a different plan—to get the attention of the man she loves, she’ll have to commit suicide. Although the theme of this short is a bit on the squeamish side, I find its black humor very enjoyable and ultimately uplifting. (Like the previous short, this is too long for a single video, so you’ll need to click on “part 2” and then “part 3.”) (22 mins)
- The War Prayer: The text of this animated short is taken from my favorite short story by Mark Twain. It’s a brief but extremely potent sketch that describes a church service honoring young men about to go off to war. When the minister prays to God for a victory, a messenger from the Most High is sent to explain to the congregation what it is they are really praying for. This short illustrates this powerful tale with emotionally drawn sketches and is excellently narrated by Peter Coyote. Although written over 100 years ago, the message, unfortunately, still rings very much true today. (Again, this short is in two parts.) (14 minutes)
- Chad Vader: What if Darth Vader, instead of being the Dark Lord of the Galaxy, were the assistant manager of an independent supermarket? This absolutely hilarious premise is executed extremely well by a pair of amateur filmmakers named Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda. It is so funny to watch Darth Vader’s alter ego, Chad Vader, dealing with petty employee issues, filling time slots, waxing the floor, fighting off shoplifters, chasing after a dog, being called to clean up vomit. Technically, this is not a single short; rather it is a series of eight (when you finish one there is a link to click for the next). Over the eight episodes, Chad attempts to woo one of the cashiers and deals with the ambitions of his arch nemesis, Clint, who is the night shift manager. Eventually Clint triumphs, reducing Chad to the position of night manager, but that is a disaster. Soon Chad finds himself unemployed. References to “Star Wars” abound in this side-splitting spoof which is well acted and very impressive. (Each of the 8 episode is between 5 to 7 minutes; 45 minutes total.)
- I’ll Wait for the Next One: In Paris, a lonely woman on the Metro encounters a panhandler who begs not for money but for love. Very brief, but says a lot. It’s in French, but it’s subtitled in English. (5 minutes)
- Clay Pride: Steve has a problem—he’s clay. This is an absolutely wonderful claymation short which satirizes documentaries about persecution of gays and their attempts to come to terms with their own homosexuality. Through interviews and flashbacks, we learn how difficult it was for Steve, and others like him, to grow up clay in America. This short is very clever and well done—a perfect topic for claymation filmmakers to explore. (4 minutes)
- Colorforms: A really cute little film about a very messy girl. When her parents feel they can do nothing with her, they ask her grandfather try to teach her some lessons. To broaden her cultural horizons, the grandfather takes the girl to a strict religious ceremony: the Indo-Caribbean community festival of Pagwa. I’m not telling what happens there. (7 minutes)
- Imago: We’ll conclude this list with the short that I find most touching. It’s a well animated piece about a boy who finds a crashed biplane and imagines he’s flying it. Eventually other things happen, too. Not a word of dialogue is spoken, but it’s not needed at all. This is about a mood. The brown pallet and emotional music help create the bittersweet aura. (10 minutes)
I hope you find these shorts fun, interesting, entertaining, and/or inspiring. Ideally, the best place to see them is in a theatre or on DVD, but failing that, YouTube is a fairly decent substitute. Have fun exploring, and if you find any great shorts that you think I might enjoy, be sure to drop me a line.
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