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🎬 #11 Scorcese in 6 Minutes Sharp
In London we’ve had a spate of warm weather which has been lovely. And in honour of that, I present two very short films that you can enjoy in less than 10 mins so you can maximise your time outside in the sun. But this week’s choices are not just about getting precious vitamin D, they’re to show the very humble beginnings of two very accomplished filmmakers. What’s also really interesting is that compared to many modern short films these are simple single idea ‘moment’ shorts. A lot of short films these days are like micro masterpieces, impeccably made and involved, almost too accomplished, as if they were the work of a established director going back to flex their muscles. In contrast it’s interesting to see such simple ideas conveyed with what I imagine are limited resources. Similar to an earlier newsletter’s subject we can see here, in about 3 minutes and 6 minutes respectively, many of the filmmaker’s hallmarks. Which is kind of incredible - it shows that there’s something inherent - whenever they turn their hand to making any kind of film their fingerprints
are all over it.
Happy choosing, happy viewing,
FILM ONE: DOODLE BUG
1997 Dir Christopher Nolan
One thing I love about this is that there’s no dialogue. It’s almost like a cartoon in many ways. A thought experiment brought to life in the most simple and effective form. Nolan made this with the help of UCL film societies equipment, using his brother Jonathan [of Westworld fame] as a grip. If you look at the credits a lot of the names repeat throughout Nolan’s filmography, like the nesting repetitive visual that is the thrust of the short’s singular idea. The star of the short is Jeremy Theobald who would go on to star in Nolan’s first feature film Following. It also has David Julyan listed as composer who would again score Following but also Memento, Insomnia and The Prestige. And Nolan’s wife Emma is listed as ‘production,’ she would go on to produce everything he would make.
Stylistically and thematically there’s the preoccupation with a ticking clock, that serves as the drumbeat of the story - a recurring motif most prevalent in Dunkirk, the sound of which is only omitted from the film for a few minutes at the start and at the end. Next there is the scene within the scene, the Escher like effect of a man chasing himself around a room. This repeating, layering motif is seen in Inception’s dream world levels, and the literal folding of the city on top of itself. The man imprisoned by his own hand, can be seen in the paranoid and permanent awakeness of Pacino’s detective in Insomia who is trapped by his own machinations. Even the structure of the short can be applied to the rules of magic in The Prestige. The pledge is seeing something relatively normal - a man chasing a bug with a shoe, the turn, the revelation of something extraordinary - he’s chasing a miniature version of himself and finally the prestige, the filmmaker tops that extraordinary act by showing that the action will repeat. As he killed the miniature version of himself, so a bigger version will kill him. I hope you enjoyed the seeds of Nolan’s cinematic preoccupations in less than 3 minutes.
Fact: Just three years after making this short, Nolan would show Memento at the Venice Film Festival for the first time and his life would change forever.
FILM TWO: THE BIG SHAVE
1967 Dir Martin Scorcese
The Big Shave. Exactly what it says it is. A man shaving - indeed the biggest shave of his life. What’s amazing about this short is that it almost doesn’t have a narrative beyond the title itself. In a similar way to Doodlebug it’s a cartoon come to life, albeit a dark one. The enacting of a prosaic everyday scenario - a man shaving, and taking it to the most extreme but logical conclusion. And even in these simple but powerful few minutes we can see a lot of what makes a Martin Scorcese film feel like a Martin Scorcese film.
First, we have a perfect bit of music supervision, totally at odds with what’s going on. A jazz soul number you can imagine playing over the radio on a worry free Sunday. But you can’t help but also imagine the same piece of music being the soundtrack to someone getting their face pounded in, in Goodfellas. Scorcese’s taste for music supervision and cues from his yet unwritten filmography can all can be heard in this short. Next is the editorial repetition of simple actions - here the taking off of a t-shirt - the forefather of Travis Bickle’s repeated menacing turn to look at himself in the mirror in Taxi Driver. Next is the anachronistic violence. The violently unviolent action of a man cutting himself while shaving but seemingly being unaware of it. The every day America with a darkly quiet twist - think the fanatical comic Rupert Pupkin practicing his comedy to a roomful of cutouts while his mum complains about the sound, or the sharply edited, almost quease inducing hand washing scene in The Aviator. A moment that is laden with so much meaning but anchored in something all of us do every day - wash our hands. The double identity of the man - both alive and clearly dying at the same time - humdrum, but also horrific. This is the kind of duplicity of character that is the cornerstone of so much of Scorcese’s filmography. And there you have it - a good chunk of the entire Scorsese style established by one man at a bathroom sink within less than 5 minutes.
Fact: The alternative title of the film is Viet’67. [Sorry facts on these shorts are short in supply].