Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Short #6: Intensity, Warner, widescreen & full frame, languages: English DD 5.1 & Dolby Stereo, subtitles: English, single side-dual layer, rated NR, 140 min., $14.98, street date 10/26/99.
The Insanity issue. Franky Goes to Hollywood and gets advice from the likes of Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Steve Buscemi. Follow Franky on the set of the blockbuster hit Armageddon. Did we mention that Franky's a dog? 11-time award winner Blue City shows us a boy, his ball, a suicidal man and two thieves. Straight from the Cannes Film Festival, Billy's Balloon will have you laughing or crying or wishing you lived on another planet. Midnight Dance mixes gorgeous charcoal sketch animation with the potent music of Dans Macabre. Plus The Bad Plant; The Angel; Bovine Vendetta and much more
In my recent review of the music-oriented videomagazine Circuit, I whined about the difficulty of adequately critiquing a project such as that due to the wildly varying quality in it. It offered disparate kinds of material with very different levels of image and sound quality, and it was quite tough to sum that up and give it overall grades.
Ditto those sentiments for Short, another videomagazine from the same folks who make Circuit. Whereas the latter focussed on new music, Short features a variety of short films. All of the programs included range from two and a half to nineteen and a half minutes, and they come from a number of different countries, though most seem to be American in origin.
Actually, Short seems much more coherent as a program than did Circuit. That's not a slam on the music production; it's just recognition that it included more disparate styles of production and music than we see on Short.
This is apparently the sixth issue of Short. While the films of Short present a wide variety of subjects, they seem vaguely homogenous in that are pretty much in the clever-clever semi-avant garde school of strangeness. (Did that sentence make any sense? Probably not - oh well!) Most of the clips tend towards a form of somewhat harsh, gritty comedy, though - as is typical of the genre - that aspect may sometimes not be apparent until the end of the film.
Most of them are actually pretty good, too, though I must admit I think Short would probably be better taken in small doses instead of straight-through, which is how I watched it. When you see all these films back to back, it tends to blunt the individual impact, so you may benefit more from it by watching a couple of them a day until you work your way through it.
My favorite of the bunch was probably Franky Goes to Hollywood, a short shot on video that depicts the semi-fictionalized treatment of Franky, the dog who played Little Richard in Armageddon. Maybe I'm just a shameless Hollywood lover, but I thought this piece was a lot of fun as it shows Franky interacting with the bigwigs on that movie. As such, we also get to see little bits with Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi, Billy Bob Thornton, director Michael Bay, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. It's not wildly clever and lacks the ambition of the other pieces - to be frank, any one of us could have made this film if our dog was in Armageddon - but it's very entertaining nonetheless, and is the one film in Short that I'm most likely to rewatch. Too bad Criterion didn't include it in their edition of Armageddon!
Also very good - though much odder - are The Bad Plant, a computer animated film about a hateful house plant, and Black Coffee, a Belgian piece that shows the events experienced by a couple who meet on a TV dating show. Both of these are interesting and entertaining. Billy's Balloon, a crudely animated but nastily funny film, is also pretty good.
The other films were less compelling to me. Blue City tried a little too hard to be different and ended up being somewhat interesting, but not terribly, and Bovine Vendetta, a piece that matched animated speech from a cow with audio quotes from Charles Manson, was just too odd to work. Another animated work, Midnight Dance, offered some evocative imagery but didn't captivate my interest, and El Banquete just lost me totally. 60 Channels, a semi-documentary about musician The Angel, also evoked no interest in me; it was competently produced but not very stimulating.
Though it's not listed on the DVD's case, one other piece appears: Me and Will, a brief documentary that discusses the making of a 1998 film of the same name. Never heard of that movie, though I was familiar with actress/writer/director Sherrie Rose from her appearance in Playboy about a decade ago. It sounds like this movie's a departure from that type of appearance for her, though it's not completely clear what Me and Will is about; indication from this piece make it out to resemble Easy Rider, really. Anyway, this program is watchable but not terribly compelling.
As with Circuit, Short also contains a number of commercials. The same lame faux-Fifties Timex ads are here, as well as a trailer for The Shawshank Redemption and a piece that tells us how great DVD is. That last one's kind of odd, since one would assume we already like DVD. More sensibly, it also boasts about The Matrix on DVD, so maybe it's more of an ad for that disc. Anyway, I found these commercials to be vaguely annoying, but they're easily skipped.
Overall, I found the programs on Short to be fairly entertaining but nothing ridiculously terrific; it was a nice diversion for a while. I do really like the concept of a videomagazine devoted to films that most of us would never see otherwise, though, so I think the DVD has some real merits.
Now for the tough part: trying to grade the quality of this mishmash of programs. Short comes with varying aspect ratios - though usually fullscreen - on this single-sided, dual-layered disc. Because it's mainly fullscreen, the DVD has not been enhanced for 16X9 TVs. Actually, that's not completely true: the trailer for The Shawshank Redemption is 16X9 enhanced, but it doesn't appear that anything else is. Odd!
I actually had an easier time rating Short than I did Circuit because this piece lacked much of the intentionally poor-looking shots that so frequently are found in music productions. Overall, the picture quality is really quite good. When it doesn't look so hot, that's usually intentional. For the most part, sharpness seems good, colors look accurate, and I saw no source problems. Black levels seem strong and no digital artifacts are apparent. Because of the inconsistency in source material, I didn't feel comfortable giving Short a picture rating above "B+", but I nonetheless found it to be a well-mastered, good-looking DVD.
In regard to sound, the program fluctuates between Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Pro Logic 2.0 soundtracks. Actually, the vast majority of it is 2.0; only Bovine Vendetta and Midnight Dance are 5.1, and it's not very active 5.1 at that.
The sound on the films of Short is generally clear and clean but it lacks ambition. I can't say that's a surprise since I'd guess most of these films had small budgets - I don't expect bigtime Hollywood sound from them - so while there's not much audio activity, at least the sound is fairly true and natural and lacks problems. None of the films had audio that stood out in any way; overall, they tended to fall into the same realm of being decent but unspectacular.
As with Circuit, I declined to give Short a rating for supplements because of the nature of the project: as a videomagazine, there's nothing that really falls into that category. Nonetheless, there are a number of features that often come under the "supplements" umbrella.
First of all - as was the case with Circuit - every film included in Short features some brief but useful production notes. Inevitably, we see three screens of text per film. These pieces are especially helpful since I knew so little about the pictures.
Many of the shorts also include audio commentaries. The Bad Plant, Blue City, and Bovine Vendetta each feature narration from their directors, while 60 Channels provides comments from KCRW DJ Garth Trinidad, and Billy's Balloon offers a discussion from Frank Chindamo, an independent filmmaker who does not appear otherwise connected to this project. None of these are terribly compelling. The directors have little to say, and Trinidad's comments are pretty dull as well. Chindamo's monologue is livelier though obnoxious; he tries a little too hard to be nutty and comes across as grating.
Finally, The Bad Plant also includes some hand-drawn storyboards. These are actually kind of interesting, but nothing terribly terrific.
As with Circuit, I find myself more enthusiastic about the idea behind Short than I am about the actual production, at least in regard to issue six. It's a cool concept and it's well executed; I just wasn't all that interested in the actual films. Of course, that could change from issue to issue, which is one of the nice things about the videomagazine concept. If you're a fan of independent films or if you just want to check out something new and different, Short may be a good place to see some different material.
Current as of 12/18/99
Quickband Networks--"Quickband Networks acquires short-subject independent film, music video, interviews with actors, directors and music artists, as well as live footage of concerts and events, and packages them for broadband distribution."
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