Short and Sweet

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I love Grindhouse cinemas. London’s Prince Charles, Oxford’s Phoenix, and Leed’s Hyde Park Picture House are venues offering cheap tickets (the Prince Charles boasts prices as low as £1.50), intimate atmosphere (plush seating, theatrical décor, option to purchase alcohol) and, most importantly, great films. These venues are a joy for the true cinema lover and offer a welcoming breath of fresh air from the blockbuster, money-making, and honestly naff, rip-off merchant mainstream cinemas (you know the ones). Grindhouses delight in showing double bills, cult films, presenting themed-evenings, sing-a-longs, Q & As, and many different classics.

This weekend my girlfriend and I visited and enjoyed Hyde Park Picture House’s ‘Best of British UK Short Film Competition’: 100 minutes composed of ten short films from different directors on different topics but, together, forming a collage of British life. We sat in the balcony amongst several of the films’ directors with our voting sheet. Below is a rundown of what was on offer. 

Fixing Luka was a tender and emotional story set in a fairy-tale world with the characters being represented by animated puppets. It dealt with a sister’s attempt to ‘fix’ her autistic younger brother but ends in her eventual acceptance of him as he is. A visual and aural treat that left the viewer captivated and enthralled by the film’s world.

Abuelas masterfully utilised the technique of stop-start camera animation to explore the story of one grandmother awaiting the discovery of her granddaughter who was born in a concentration camp in the 80s and adopted into a military family during a time of loss and identity crisis for the Argentinean population. A delicate portrayal of how a real-life tragedy has affected one woman, it made one remember the stories of one’s own grandmother. The stop-start technique is beautifully taken advantage of to correspond with the story-teller’s old age, adding a shaky elegance to the story. 

Long Distance Information is set on Christmas Day and is a dark comedy that uses the format of a long distance phone call between a father and a son suffering from a strained familial relationship. As the father and son exchange boring and obligatory seasonal small-talk it soon dawns on both that a wrong number has been dialled and each man actually has no connection to the other whatsoever. The film did what a great short film should and built toward an emphatic ending that left the cinema shocked and laughing. 

Into the Garden of Glass and Steel was my personal favourite. It is a documentary slowly and beautifully exposing the modern architecture of Canary Wharf whilst a dramatic reading of words from J. G. Ballard are laid over the top. Shots of crowds of faces mingling amongst the modern constructions are combined with boldly spoken descriptions of them being elements of a failing nervous system. The emptiness of mass-market consumerism is strongly evoked with ample shots of busy escalators as the narrator remarks that moral decisions are not needed to be made any longer. They are built into the system. As the film ends, the speaker states that these buildings are not for humans now but for their eventual absence. 

Falling is supposed to be an abstract exploration of human interaction through movement. A male and female figure perform acrobatics against a black backdrop before colliding and performing with one another. This one left me at a loss and seemed to fade away before it had actually made a significant comment – perhaps that was the point.

The Fox elicited cries of disgust from my girlfriend, as we watched an old woman masturbate to the mating howls of foxes in her garden. After the sexual depravity, she cuts her fur clothing up and constructs a fox outfit. Then she enters her garden to live among the foxes. The film ends with the mating cry once again. Nice. 

Paper Hearts, like Long Distance Information, used the convention of short narratives building towards a shock ending by following the dysfunctional relationship of a father and young boy who makes the upsetting discovery that his father is homeless.

Baby was another personal favourite. It begins with a young Russian woman witnessing a small robbery at a bus stop. After alerting the victim to the crime, the robber begins to follow her. He follows her onto her bus and tries to make friends with her. The longer he follows her, the more the young woman’s, and the audience’s, feelings towards him turn from disgust and fear to warmth. He eventually follows her into her house and an almost-gratuitous sex-scene ensues. The film is clever in that it acts as a microcosm for the build-up and disintegration of a relationship whilst also leaving questions as to sexual and mental health unanswered.

Fifty was a shocking and nerve-wracking exposition of several characters sharing a bus-ride together which explored the different degrees of relationships – both internal (between man and girlfriend) and external (man and world) – which builds to an unsettling climax that uses the technique of CCTV footage to comment on urban violence in Britain. 

Mad Dogs and Englishmen was my girlfriend’s favourite. I thought it looked like a Red Bull advert on crack but could see the exploration of British patriotism it was trying to convey. My girlfriend liked it because of its bizarre and inoffensive humour. 

The Film Festival was a real delight and was a nice break from watching a whole film. You don’t always want a big meal of only one food type. Sometimes a tapas is nourishing and exciting. However, given its small bite-size portions it left me, for one, desiring just a little more.

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