Ford On Film

Chronicles of a silver screen addict

Sunday Short: Lift (2001)

The best documentary filmmakers can make fascinating film out of anything. Errol Morris made a film about pet cemeteries in Gates of Heaven. A group of backing singers became the focus of an Academy Award-winning documentary in 20 Feet from Stardom. Sacha Gervasi went on tour with a forgotten thrash band and came back with one of the most heartwarming films of the decade, Anvil! The Story of Anvil. As long as we care about the people and the stories, there’s no telling what a documentary can do.

British director Marc Isaacs might have taken this idea to the extreme with his 2001 short documentary Lift, which, as you might have guessed, takes place in a lift. Filming the residents of a London tower block over two months, the film is insightful, touching, and melancholic as it creates a portrait of a unique community. Though some of the residents are lovable, like the man who brings Isaacs food whenever he sees him, Lift shines a spotlight on ‘all the lonely people’, highlighting the stillness and silence most face in their day to day life. “Do people in this lift speak to each other?” Isaacs asks two residents. “Sometimes”, one of them replies, before the conversation trails off into nothing once again.

In a Vice interview some years after, Isaacs spoke of his two months in the lift, where he grew to understand the rhythms and daily lives of the residents. Sadly, not every resident had a happy ending after the film; Peter, the Scottish drinker, remains an alcoholic, while shy John committed suicide not long after Isaacs completed the film. His scenes in the short can be difficult to watch, and knowing he was a struggling schizophrenic is heartbreaking.

A moving portrait of loneliness and connection, Lift is one of the most extraordinary documentaries you’ll ever see. Taking the mundane as a starting point to explore the human condition, it’s often unbearably poignant. 25 minutes is the perfect length; any longer, and it might be too overwhelming.

Watch Lift here:

By Harry J. Ford

 

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In Praise of Douglas Sirk and Melodrama

Recently, I’ve been enjoying MUBI’s fantastic selection of classic Douglas Sirk melodramas. For those who don’t know, Sirk was a German-born director best known for his run of lush romantic dramas in the 1950s. From 1952 to to 1959, he directed over a dozen films, working with screen legends like Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Rock Hudson, and Jane Wyman. At the time, American critics found Sirk’s films unimportant (due to his focus on the romantic lives of women) and unrealistic (due to his heightened sense of reality). These critics were wrong.

All That Heaven Allows

Jane Wyman in All That Heaven Allows (1955)

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Ford On (Making A) Film

Bit of a change of pace for the blog today, as I’d like to very quickly tell you about a short film I’ve recently written and directed, Blood and Water. It’s an incredibly low budget drama about a young man’s devastating revenge against his sister’s abusive boyfriend, told in reverse. So far, I’ve been describing it as ‘Ken Loach’s Irreversible‘ or ‘Fish Tank-meets-Memento‘, although I can only aspire to one day make a film anywhere close to those masterpieces.

It’s rough around the edges and was entirely self-funded by the crew, but it has three great performances, a cool synth score by the incredible Night Letters (check him out on Bandcamp), and an ambitious (i.e. bloody nightmare for script writing and continuity) way of telling the narrative. It’s playing in Newcastle at the Tyneside Cinema on June 18th, so if you’re in the North East area, that’s definitely an event to put down in the calendar. If not, you can check out the website here and watch the trailer below.

Okay, now that the shilling is done, I can get back to the cinema.

By Harry J. Ford

 

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Lean On Pete is a beautiful, bruising journey across the underclass of America

Following Andrea Arnold, Andrew Haigh is the latest British director to take a road trip across the poor, rural regions of the United States. Where Arnold’s American Honey saw freedom and community in the desert landscapes, Haigh’s Lean On Pete sees nothing but dead ends. The thoroughly downbeat story of a teenage boy left to fend for himself and the old racehorse he tries to save, Lean On Pete is a harsh-yet-beautiful look at a side of society rarely depicted in cinema. It’s a powerful, shattering experience that delights and drains in equal measures.

Lean On Pete 1

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If you want blood, entertaining grindhouse thriller Revenge has plenty of it

The rape-revenge film is a tricky one to pull off. Focus too much on the horrific act itself, and you’re likely to create a lurid, repulsive mess (see: I Spit On Your Grave). Skip over the rape entirely, and you risk trivialising a subject that should be taken seriously. There are few truly successful entries in the genre, but Coralie Fargeat’s directorial debut Revenge just about works. Building up an atmosphere of sleazy unease before unleashing a torrent of  gore, Revenge is a fun, empowering take on the genre, even if it’s a little rough around the edges.

Revenge 1

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Sunday Short: The films of Jim Cummings

Rather than focus on just one short, today I’d like to look at one of the most prolific and original short filmmakers currently working: Jim Cummings. Known for character studies of crumbling people filmed in unbroken takes, Cummings has found success at festivals and online, attracting funding and reaching wider audiences since his first short in 2016. His feature debut, Thunder Road, recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, but the film first started life as his breakthrough short back in 2016.

Thunder Road

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Charlize Theron gives an outstanding performance in the otherwise-predictable Tully

After directing two critically-reviled dramas in 2013’s Labor Day and 2014’s Men, Women and Children, Jason Reitman has reunited with Diablo Cody and Charlize Theron, respective writer and star of his 2011 black comedy Young Adult, for another bruising comedy drama. Focusing on the pressures and struggles of motherhood, Tully is another fantastic showcase for Theron’s acting talent, but the predictable narrative prevents the film from reaching the heights of their previous collaboration.

Tully 1

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Sunday Short: 7:35 de la Mañana (2003)

If animations are responsible for the most innovative and unique short films, surely no short film is more intriguing and gripping than a good mystery. Some of the best short films I’ve ever seen establish a strange ritual, then slowly reveal its meaning. In such a short space of time, there’s no chance for the audience to grow bored or restless; the mystery can as dense and confusing as possible, just as long as you pay it off in a satisfying way.

Today’s short is one of my favourite examples of establishing a weird scenario with an ingenious hidden meaning. Nacho Vigalondo is now best known for the Anne Hathaway monster drama Colossal, but back in 2003, he made a name for himself with this Oscar-nominated short, 7:35 de la Mañana. The first time I saw this film in a Screenwriting class, it took me longer than I’d like to admit to figure out what was going on. A unique mix of eerie mystery, against-the-clock thriller, and heartfelt musical, Vigalondo’s film takes its time adding more and more inexplicable details before building to an explosive climax. It’s hilarious and more than a little disturbing. You can watch it here:

By Harry J. Ford

 

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Modern Masterpieces #8: Dogtooth

Imagine misanthrope Michael Haneke directing a twisted, perverse edition of the Twilight Zone written by the nightmare of suburbia, David Lynch. You’ve just imagined the films of Yorgos Lanthimos. Since his directorial debut Kinetta in 2006, Lanthimos has risen to arthouse fame as the director of bleak, extremely-weird dark comedies. While his two English language collaborations with Colin Farrell, 2015’s The Lobster and 2017’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer, might be his best-known work, it’s his 2009 breakthrough that remains his greatest film to date. For unique ideas, despairing humour, grisly violence and uncomfortable performances, Lanthimos has yet to top the Oscar-nominated Dogtooth.

Dogtooth 1

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Sunday Short: Edmond (2015)

In this new feature, I’m going to be recommending a different short film every week. Whether debut films from now-legendary filmmakers or bold new works from emerging voices in cinema, I hope to shine a spotlight on some shorts you not have seen.

I don’t watch enough short films. I occasionally watch an award-winning film out of Sundance or Cannes, or early works from great filmmakers, but otherwise, I don’t go out of my way nearly enough to find great short films and filmmakers. 

That’s going to change.

Recently, I’ve been forcing myself to seek out more short films, and it has taught me that shorts are home to some of the most creative, ingenious filmmakers and stories out there. Freed from the shackles of long form cinema, short films are a wonderful way to tackle noncommercial narratives, experiment with new means of storytelling, and create a uniquely personal vision. There’s a reason great directors like Christopher Nolan, Lynne Ramsay, Andrea Arnold and Ruben Ostlund started out making award-winning shorts before leaping to features. 

In particular, animated shorts have been home to some extraordinarily creative and clever filmmakers in recent years. As the first ever Sunday Short, I chose to focus on critically-acclaimed animation that absolutely knocked me out when I first saw it. Winner of Best Animated Short at the 2015 BAFTAS, Nina Gantz’s dark drama Edmond is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The moving stop-motion tale ofa depressed cannibal and his traumatic life, Edmond uses gorgeously-rendered puppets and dazzling match-cut editing to transport us over decades of time. In just 9 minutes, Gantz crafts a genuinely-moving, original take on a horror trope that ends on a truly transcendent note. 

A stunning achievement and a deserving award-winner, Edmond offers poignancy, creativity, and stunning animation, all in under ten minutes. You can’t ask for much more from a short film. Watch Edmond here:

By Harry J. Ford

 

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