Thoughts On: End Of The Week Shorts #46


End Of The Week Shorts #46

Today's shorts: Bicycle Thieves (1948), To Sir, With Love (1967), Last Men Of Aleppo (2017), Stop Making Sense (1984), Richard Jeni: A Big Steaming Pile Of Me (2005), If.... (1968), Time Clock Piece (1980-81), Man With A Movie Camera (1973)

A true, undeniable masterpiece. No matter how many times I see this, the ending still punches hard and there is still more discovered. 
Just as much a film depicting the dishevelled state of society in post-war Italy as this is an allegorical journey towards reason, Bicycle Thieves is all about faith (fides, the make of Antonio's bike), or rather, its illusory nature. This then proposes a vast set of questions. How does one go on in a world of inertia and disrepair? What is suppose to motivate the hopeless? Who is to hear one man's cries in a sea of woe? Where is one supposed to set ones sights when tomorrow, the next few hours, the next few minutes, cannot be predicted? 
Feeling all of these questions at once, and dared to feel hopeful, to think we have a solution, we then watch our main characters enter the screen and fade off of it. The pain sets in, however, when we realise that this may as well be a real story, and though we know it, we are helpless to change it as it goes on without us.

To Sir, With Love is pretty brilliant. We've seen this re-worked many times, but looking past that fact, this holds some weight as a film about the education system and how it so often fails to teach children that they can be adults, that they should have self-respect and that they can be self-aware. Articulating these ideas quite well - certainly better than most 'teacher changes student's lives' stories - the strengths of To Sir, With Love lie in its ability to project and manage group and individual psychology with some direct and poignant cinematic language. 
If I were to point to faults, I'd have to say that this is a little contrived and, less timeless, very much so a product of the late 60s. On top of this, the emotional intensity of the third act did cause this rather brittle viewer to cringe quite a bit. Nonetheless, I believe that this is a genuine film, one worth watching.

As harrowing as some of the images in this documentary are, as shocking and confounding as the facts of this documentary are, Last Men In Aleppo feels... off. 
I don't really want to criticise this, but it is contrived to the point that I had to remind myself I was watching a documentary at many points. With the vast majority of the film so clearly staged - or at least written up - this feels more like reality T.V than it does a documentary. The camera work, the cinematography, the conversations, the editing, all seem to want to capture Hollywood spectacle. The most truthful moment of the film comes when someone questions themselves, thinking that they were showing off. The rest feels like a half truth. There is indeed undeniable truth captured by Last Men In Aleppo, but it is entirely overshadowed by contrivance. Unfortunate, but true.

I'm not a Talking Heads fan (to be honest, I've never heard of them, but some songs seemed familiar). This is, however, often said to be one of the best 'concert films' ever made - and it's quite apparent why. 
Directed brilliantly, with clear thought and intention, Stop Making Sense isn't merely comprised of a selection of wide shots and close-ups. With so much of the choreography designed around the camera, and the camera work designed around all else, the image means something and isn't entirely subservient to the sound. As cinematic as it is musical, this is then significant for a couple of reasons. Not only is this one of the few documentations of a concert that draws the eye, but it was also one of the first films to utilise digital audio. If you're in the mood for some nutty rocky and a touch of horrible dancing from an awkward guitarist, why not give this a go.

A few degrees above lukewarm. 
A Big Steaming Pile of Me has a few ingenious jokes within (I really liked the loan shark bit), and there are many laughs to be had. However, whilst there are touches of brilliant comedy within, much of this - especially the first half - is quite drab and unimaginative. The four or five hilarious bits in the back end unfortunately do not manage to completely reverse this. Beyond the jokes themselves, I found Jeni's stage persona to be, again, lukewarm. For the first 40 minutes, I enjoyed this more when I wasn't looking at the screen as he projects a seemingly contrived energy and carries himself in a way that you can very clearly see is calculated, and in quite a hackneyed and trite way. Having said that, I'm walking away thinking of the best jokes and having had an all right time.

Wow... what can be said about this? 
If.... is a blurry and surreal (more Buñuel than Vigo in my view) montage film, one that blasts through insanely provocative sequences and images without a care for understanding and one clear aim: impact. I went in without a clue, initially thinking this was just a film about an English boarding school. As it devolves into chaos and anarchy, I started to get the sense that maybe I was wrong. 
I can't say I gathered anything particularly coherent from this first watch, but the enraged rebellion and dissension maybe doesn't need to be made sense of. Tradition, decency, religion, education, morality, life, none of it is safe, and nor does it seem to matter. 1960s counterculture screams out at you without pretence, just nihilism, and the spectacle is certainly impressive. Recommended.

Welcome to the 'cinema' of a deranged artist. 
Tehching Hsieh, in 1980, decided to punch a clock every hour, on the hour, for one entire year. This means that he went to his studio at every single hour of the day - he woke up all through the night - to expose a frame of him standing next to a clock in the same overalls with the exact same blank expression. All that we see happen is his patchy head sprout a full head of hair. You can also see him shrink ever so slightly as each second passes due to his spine compressing over the course of a day. Beyond this, nothing but time is wasted. And such seems to be Hsieh's philosophy of art. You watch him waste away, and he appreciates you for joining in I suppose. Whilst this isn't the most insane thing Hsieh has done (he stayed outside for a whole entire year once), I'd certainly recommend giving this a watch if you can find a copy.

Crosswaite's Man With A Movie Camera is a Structuralist film that questions the function of focus and reflection in cinema. 
By racking focusing before and beyond a mirror that reflects the camera recording, this bears a strange illusion, one that has you ponder upon the role that depth-of-field plays in manipulating a three-dimensional space. The mirror itself extends the basic space of a room and the focus shortens it. Looking into the mirror through shallow focus has the reflection feel like a visual worm-hole of sorts. Maybe this is a study in mise-en-abyme too? 
If this peaks your interest it's currently available for free on the BFI player.

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