In the seventeen years since it first premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, very few films have been able to match Memento in complexity, ingenuity, or sheer disorienting thrills. A simple revenge film twisted and warped into a riddle wrapped inside an enigma, the film loses none of its charm or audacity after the multiple watches it requires to be fully appreciated. Christopher Nolan may be the biggest director in the world today, but despite the blockbuster budgets and all-star casts, he’s never reached these heights since (not even in Interstellar). A dark, downbeat study of false memories and manipulation, suffused with violent gunplay and hazy California sunshine, Memento continues to be a near-perfect cinematic puzzle. Confused? Maybe it’s time for another screening…
So far, I’ve used this feature to highlight some of my favourite short films of all time, from eerie animations to poignant documentaries to bizarre one-offs. Today, I’d like to do something a bit different. The film I’ve selected as today’s Sunday Short is not one of my favourites, or even a film I particularly like. However, it’s still an interesting watch, as it happens to be the directorial debut of one of my favourite living filmmakers: Andrea Arnold.
1998’s Milk is very different to what we think of as an Andrea Arnold film. It’s not shot in 4:3. It doesn’t follow a young female protagonist. It isn’t handheld or documentary-like. It even features an emotional string score. However, you can just about see elements of Arnold’s future output here; the emotionally-battered protagonist reminds me of Jackie from Arnold’s feature debut Red Road, while the focus on ordinary people in difficult circumstances is a regular thematic obsession for the director.
Milk is by no means perfect, and it’s an odd experience to see a director who hasn’t yet found their true voice. Nevertheless, it’s always encouraging to be reminded that even the greatest living filmmakers weren’t auteurs overnight. Watch Milk here:
By Harry J. Ford
After an uneven Season 5, Orange Is The New Black fans must have been hoping for consistency. The Litchfield Riot provided genuine tension and danger (Who would use the loaded gun? Would the inmates go too far?), but it also gave us some terrible storylines (Piscatello turning into an 80’s-slasher villain, everything involving the meth heads). Ending with the inmates separated and heading to max, there was hope that Season 6 would get us back on track.
Unfortunately, Orange Is The New Black continues to be frustratingly messy in its sixth season. Though invigorated by the location shift, the writers struggle with juggling so many storylines and characters, despite having side-lined or entirely removing many of your favourite supporting characters (if you’re a fan of Soso, Alison, Boo, Chang, or many others, you’re in for a disappointment). The series works best when focused around a big bad, like Season 2’s Vee or the Piscatello of Season 4. Here, there are too many villains, and few of them are interesting enough to justify their screen time.
If there’s one genre that stands out among all others as being better in short does, it’s the experimental film. Avant-garde editing and filming techniques can be exhausting, but an experimental short can spend a few minutes showing you something you’ve never seen before. It can bend time and reality, change the rules of filmmaking, and challenge your ideas of what a film can be. One of the best examples of this is Peter Tscherkassky’s Outer Space, a 1999 short that ranks among the most startling bits of film in the last hundred years.
Tscherkassky’s style involves essentially ‘destroying’ film reels – taking found footage and manipulating it, editing, feeding it through machinery and turning it into a living, breathing horror-scape. Using a Barbara Hershey horror film, Outer Space turns a scene of a young woman walking through an old house and distorts it, stuttering and looping and slowly degrading until it becomes a wall of noise and overlaying imagery. It’s an astounding, bewildering experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and it’s influence can be seen in Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio and the outstanding Twin Peaks: The Return. Watch Outer Space here:
By Harry J. Ford
Over forty years since he wrote Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver in an insomnia-and-pornography-fuelled haze, writer-director Paul Schrader has returned to the world of anguish and despair with First Reformed, an unflinching study of Catholic guilt and wavering faith. Starring Ethan Hawke as a tormented priest who vows to keep a diary for one year, First Reformed is a frequently intense and powerful drama, even if it ultimately ends in frustration.
Many great feature films have started out as shorts. Damien Chazelle gained funding to make the Oscar-winning Whiplash through his short of the same name. Jennifer Kent’s Monster would grow in length and turn into the film we now know as The Babadook. Jim Cummings’ Thunder Road, which I highlighted here a few weeks ago, was released as a feature earlier this year, where it received rave reviews at Sundance.
A few months ago, you may have noticed a new film called Cargo appear on Netflix. Starring Martin Freeman, Cargo tells the story of a father trying to escort his infant son across Australia whilst fighting off a zombie infection. The film has earned solid reviews so far, but not many people realise the film is an adaptation of Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling’s outstanding 2013 short of the same name.
Zombies are perhaps the most overdone horror sub-genre of the last decade, but Cargo does something truly special with its depiction of the undead. Focusing on the emotional journey of a dying father over gore and special effects, Cargo is a beautiful, simple short film that packs a powerful punch. I’ve yet to see the feature adaptation, but I can’t imagine anything as perfect as this. Watch Cargo here:
By Harry J. Ford
It’s a crime that in the eight years since her magnificent Winter’s Bone – an Ozarks-set crime thriller that introduced Jennifer Lawrence and earned a Best Picture nomination – Debra Granik has only been able to produce one other feature film (little-seen documentary Stray Dog). A talented writer-director with an eye for real locations and unknown actors, Granik has finally returned to fiction with Leave No Trace, a powerful depiction of a father and daughter living at the fringe of American society.
Having highlighted well-known and popular short films so far with this feature, I’d now like to turn my attention to a future classic released just a few months ago. Premiering at the South By Southwest Film Festival in March 2018 (where it won a Special Jury Recognition prize), Danny Madden’s Krista is a powerful, provocative experience.
Shot in gorgeous handheld 4:3 and featuring an intense, drum-laden score, Krista focuses on the titular character as she takes to the stage in a high school drama class, intercut with a violent encounter in the street. A revenge drama told through improv theatre and an unnerving, surprisingly tense mystery, Krista establishes Madden as a talented director, and you have to hope teenage star Shirley Chen has a glittering future ahead of her. Great short films are being made and released every day – it’s up to us to seek them out and champion them. Watch Krista here:
By Harry J. Ford
At what point do you stop watching a television show? Sometimes it’s within one or two episodes, as you realise that the quality is poor and unlikely to get better. Other times, it’s after multiple seasons and dozens of episodes when the writers have begun to spin their wheels and drag out their stories as much as possible (please don’t go this way Orange Is The New Black).
In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, however, neither of these reasons apply. It’s only on its second season, and seemed to be setting up plenty of interesting story arcs by the end of season one. The direction, cinematography and art design is outstanding, offering some of the most haunting shots and images in television history. Star Elizabeth Moss is incredible, an actress so talented she rarely needs more than a look or a movement to convey the terror and anger of her character Offred. All signs point to The Handmaid’s Tale being one of the definitive shows of 2018.
So why did I stop watching after the first episode of season two?
In sad news, cinematographer Robby Müller passed away on Wednesday 4th July. For those who don’t know, Müller was perhaps the defining cinematographer of 80s and 90s independent cinema. Initially known for his work with Wim Wenders, including perhaps the most gorgeous film of all time Paris, Texas, Müller would go on to frequently collaborate with Jim Jarmusch and Lars Von Trier among many others.
Whether working with neon colours or stark black and white, crisp film stock or emerging digital cameras, Müller was among the greatest cinematographers of all time. What better way to remember him and his work then selecting just ten of his finest shots:
Repo Man (1994)
Paris, Texas (1984)