This presentation by the nonprofit Media Arts Project is a collection of 17 short films made using motion graphics, computer animation and digital video. Few entries run more than four minutes, with some clocking in at scarcely a minute. All are related only in that they were created using modern technologies and steer away from anything like a traditional narrative style.
The BBC has gone so far as to declare that “one day, feature films will be passe, outmoded by motion pictures as brief and compelling” as those included in the first batch onedotzero shorts. The MTV generation’s idea of short attention spans to one side, I nonetheless have doubts as to whether abstract film is going to take over the world of narrative film — any more than it did back in the 1920s, when Rene Clair made Entracte. By and large, audiences still want stories and characters they can care about, no matter how savvy those viewers might be. Which doesn’t mean there’s no room for the experimental film, which is a more accurate description of the entries in the onedotzero collection.
It also doesn’t mean that such experimental films aren’t worth our time — several in this collection most certainly are. The onedotzero showing is, of course, a mixed bag overall, but that’s to be expected when a group of unrelated films are jumbled together. And here lies another downside to mass commercial acceptance of such movies — and an inherent problem with the short-film format. Or as Richard Lester learned back in 1959 with his acclaimed Running, Jumping, Standing Still Film — studios loved the playfulness and quirkiness, but then told him that just as soon as they wanted a feature like it, they’d be in touch.
All puffery about changing the face of film to one side, it’s a rare treat — and an opportunity that should not be taken lightly — to even be able to see a collection of films like this. Some of them are purely abstract in nature: Come for Brazil, River, London Details and, to some degree, Is a Woman. The short Arrive, for example, is a trippy impression of passing through the neon lights of Tokyo.
In all honesty, I find most of this sort of thing about on par with watching an After Dark screen saver. However, there’s more than that at hand here: the strangely disconcerting Future of Gaming; the playful pseudo-trailer for a bad martial-arts movie called Ultraninja; a clever cartoon on bigotry, Parasite; an odd horror “spoof” titled The Wolfman; a really smart animation based on skiing holiday adverts called Disco Rout.
Best of all, there’s the ambitious British entry, Dad’s Dead, hands down the best and most creative of these films. Made by writer/director Chris Shepherd for Britain’s Channel Four, it’s an unsettling picture of urban blight and a thoroughly disconcerting portrait of a sociopath. Mixing traditional film, animation and post-production manipulation, Dad’s Dead is by turns funny, disturbing, haunting and even disgusting. And that’s no small feat for something that runs only a few minutes. Narrated by Ian Hart (still probably best known for his portrayals of the young John Lennon in The Hours and the Times and Backbeat), this sort of work takes you out of the film experience, it just seeps into your bones. And that’s exactly what makes collections like these so fascinating.
I suspect the day will come, as it did for Lester, when a studio will be in touch with Shepherd because they’ve decided they want a feature based on this short. That said, if you see the collection only for this one film, it will be worth your time.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke
[The Fine Arts Theatre will show onedotzero_select II Thursday, Aug. 26, 2004 at 9:45 p.m.]