Category Archives: Short

Nikita Kino (2002)

Nikita Kino (2002)

In 1960, the father of experimental film maker, Vivian Ostrovsky, discovered that his siblings were still alive and living in Moscow. It had been forty years since they had last met. Although one died soon after the initial visit, a routine of annual travel was put in place where he would take his family from “carnival-crazy Brazil” to Russia to visit the extended family. It could only have been that way as the Russians were forbidden to leave the Soviet Union. Nikita Kino (2002, 40 mins) gathers together Ostrovsky’s collection of 8mm film footage of those visits and mixes it with other film media to create a video collage that’s somewhere between a memoir and a travelogue.

Her old footage is not that interesting. People sit on benches and chat; take food from the oven; or sit about on grass, smiling at the camera. We never know who is who, and it doesn’t really matter as Ostrovsky instead elects to provide a voiceover narrating what was going on at the time. Early on, as she describes how the relatives’ warmth helped extinguish the sense of claustrophobia and paranoia the situation created, we see the first instance of other footage enhancing the narrative. Tape reels recording and a room of women listening in on headphones and scribbling away. And Ostrovsky’s recollection of “a raincoat man” tailing them shows that, though not entirely noticeable, surveillance was happening.

The breadth of surplus footage used is impressive. Films, news reels, documentary, music, propaganda, and other found footage. The extensive use hides that there likely wasn’t much family footage, but it is cleverly used to either riff on a theme from Ostrovsky’s narrative or to slyly undercut it with contradictions. In a country sans advertising but replete with propaganda, we see what we are meant to see. In a clip from a Soviet movie, we are allowed to see its players dressed up to echo western cinema, albeit showing off how Soviet ideals make the more utopian society. But this propaganda is swept away (“The outside was never like the inside. What you saw in the shop window could never be found inside.”) to show us what lay underneath the falsehoods.

Beginning with ramshackle Soviet housing, Nikita Kino continues lifting the veil on Soviet society — restaurants, dance halls, and industry — with supplementary footage and recollections. The contemporary space race is seen, and it’s sometimes a wonder how they got a man into space with all the parading that had to be done, both military and athletics. And while there are positives about the society — women being able to work any career; to divorce and have abortions — there are darker elements too, most notably that Ostrovsky’s family passports carried ‘Jewish’ as a nationality and, two decades on from the Holocaust, segregation was still a way of life:

Jews had to be smart to get into kindergarten. Bright to get into the best schools. Brilliant to get into the right universities. And supermen to be allowed a military career.

Throughout the short film, the accompanying music flirts with various styles, with gypsy music blending into the martial. While sometimes comical it can turn the mood to solemn in a beat, and this, in the same way the found footage does, helps enhance the experience and the storytelling. For all its linearity — the narrative spans 1960 to Ostrovsky’s father’s death twenty years later — the delivery is nicely abstract and plays with the arrow of time so as not to be episodic. Ostrovsky jumps around, from one theme to the next, meandering into the paradoxes of Soviet life where everyone is individually unhappy but happy as a whole. At one point a young man in Yerevan waves to the camera; footage of Nikita Krushchev smiles and waves back.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Where The Boys Are (2010)

Where The Boys Are (2010)

Not to be confused with the 1960 film of the same name, Bertrand Bonello‘s short film Where The Boys Are (2010, 22 mins.) features four girls sitting around in a Parisian apartment dreaming of boys while, across the street, a group of Arab and African men are putting the finishing touches to the Gennevilliers mosque.

As it opens one of the girls, Pauline (Pauline Etienne), is translating the lyrics of the eponymous song by Connie Francis for her friends and they look on dreamily, no doubt imagining the man they will one day meet (“a smilin’ face, a warm embrace, two arms to hold me tenderly”). Having the mosque with its many men at work acts as a physical realisation of where the boys are. However, if the distance to these men is easily spannable, the distance presented is more abstract. Religion, race, or maybe something else — Bonello is deliberately opaque.

In one scene the screen is quartered, each quadrant showing one of the girls at home, bored and restless (“Till he holds me I’ll wait impatiently”). They listen to music, send dull text messages to each other, or browse photos on their social networks. The implied impatience is the girls’ waiting to mature from their current fantasies. However, what they don’t see in their naïvete is that the adult world, as portrayed by the workers, is just as humdrum.

During a party, where too much alcohol is drunk, the Francis song plays once more, as the girls pair off and dance arm in arm they appear vulnerable and in need of reassurance. In the background the mosque can be seen, its minaret reaching into the air — a subtle phallic symbol, perhaps. It’s debatable given the girls’ actions whether it’s a symbol of longing for their imaginary boys or one of rejection as they find solace in each other. As the film follows the song, it perhaps exploits an ambiguity in the lyrics. For all the song’s mention of a mythical he, it notes only that “someone waits for me”.

Tagged , , , , ,

Glass (1958)

Glass (1958)

In the Academy Award-winning Glass (1958, 10 mins.) Dutch director Bert Haanstra introduces us to his country’s glass industry by way of the Royal Leerdam glass factory. There’s no talking heads, no explanations of what’s going on, and no industry jargon to learn. Instead, he borrows the old writers’ adage of show, don’t tell, the result of which is an entertaining shot-by-shot glimpse of the skills involved and a paean to the craft.

The documentary opens with a range of men, young and old, blowing the malleable glass, their cheeks inflated like puffer fish. One gent is so adept as to not bother removing his pipe while blowing. There’s no goggles, gloves, overalls, or anything else that contemporary health and safety zealots would endorse. And with the furnaces all around them, they don’t appear to even be breaking sweat. They blow the glass, they roll it, and they shape it both in moulds and by hand, all in sync to an upbeat jazzy soundtrack that gives the impression of being trapped in an elevator.

When technology gets involved, the music changes. It’s much more restrained, applying sound effects to the machinery. Clinks, whizzes, and clockwork winding punctuate a bottling line as it produces identical bottle after bottle, all with a robotic voice incrementing a count. It makes sense to show this side of the industry since it poses a potential threat that could ultimately downsize the workforce and nullify the skill involved. However, since the product is uniform and in high quantities it leaves the glass blowers to focus on the more complicated designs. As the film shows, when a bottle gets stuck on the line, causing breakages, people can never truly be ruled out as someone has to watch over the machines.

When the focus returns to the men of Royal Leerdam — and a jazzy piano accompaniment —  we no longer see their faces. Instead Haanstra turns his camera to their hands. In every swivel of the blowpipe or roll of the molten glass, the men are likened to musicians. Artists, certainly, with a very unique skill. As the climax builds all elements that have gone before come together, showing that the craftsmanship and the automation, as an industry, are ultimately tied.

The real joy of the film is experiencing what is most likely a mystery to most — the shaping of glass. To see it twisted, moulded, and worked into a recognisable everyday object is a pleasure, especially as it dawns on you what is being produced. The complementary soundtrack simply adds to and enhances the positive experience the film provides. Put succinctly, Glass is as immaculately crafted as the items it portrays.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,