Short Starts for Big Names
One question that gets raised time and time again is whether short films are a valuable medium in their own right or simply a stepping stone to making feature length films. Looking at the impressive array of revered filmmakers who paved their way by making a combination of both short films and feature length films, I’d argue that short films have the potential to be both. They’re a golden opportunity to develop the skills and ideas for a feature film, but can just as equally be appreciated as an art form in their own right. In this edition of the Screening Room, I’ll be looking at some short films and music videos made by three renowned filmmakers; Sofia Coppola, Christopher Nolan, and Spike Jonze.
Lick the Star
Released in 1998, a year before the release of Sofia Coppola’s debut feature length film The Virgin Suicides, Lick the Star is a 16mm black and white film about four teenage girls who plot to poison a group of boys with arsenic. Lick the Star captures the magic, mischief, and melodrama of high school in true Coppola style; with a killer soundtrack, an aesthetic sensibility, and a keen awareness of the suburban high school experience. My favourite thing about Lick the Star is being able to see the kinds of themes and imagery that characterise Coppola’s films now: bathtubs, bleachers, isolated car rides, and the intimate conversations between young girls on the brink of adulthood.
Christopher Nolan’s 1997 short Doodlebug reminds me of the worst kind of nightmare; the kind that’s simple but eerie enough to crawl under your skin and leave you feeling unsettled for the rest of the day. A black and white psychological thriller, Doodlebug contains no dialogue but has a surrealist sensibility that foretells the style of filmmaking that Nolan went on to explore in his feature films. Doodlebug tells the story of a paranoid protagonist who is driven to insanity through his struggle to kill a small bug-like creature that keeps running away. The plot twist at the end of the short is the ultimate icing on the cake.
Elektrobank by The Chemical Brothers
Academy Award winning filmmaker Spike Jonze cut his teeth making music videos before releasing his first feature length film, Being John Malkovich. In Jonze’s 1997 music video for The Chemical Brothers’ song Elektrobank, Sofia Coppola stars as a gymnast competing in a high school gymnastics competition. Aside from Coppola’s kickass ribbon dancing and Jonze’s beautiful bird’s-eye-view shots, Elektrobank showcases so many elements that are characteristic of a Spike Jonze story: an underdog, a hyper-real setting, and underlying themes about family and social isolation. I love the dynamism of the sports and electronic music combo – definitely one to watch when you’re in need of a mid-week pick-me-up!
As much as short films offer the chance for filmmakers to hone their craft, short films can often be evidence of great filmmaking in themselves. Short films give filmmakers the unique opportunity to explore edgier themes and test out more progressive techniques right throughout their careers. It’ll be exciting to see where the filmmakers in the 2014 Show Me Shorts programme will take the medium next!