The second day of LUC’s 2013 Festival took place in Altoria, with the evening’s films projected onto a screen surrounded by a gold leaf frame – a rather fitting feature for the many masterpieces the evening had to offer. Again, the venue was packed – many punters returning from the previous night, as well as some inquisitive newcomers. With no feature film, the main attraction was an unholy number of short films, filling the evening with a variety of stories and ensuring there was something for everyone. I wish I could mention all of the films screened, but with an hour-and-a-half of shorts, I’ll have to be selective with my reviews. For your entertainment and education only then, I present my musings from Day Two of the Leamington Underground Cinema Festival.
Early on in the evening came Jack Van Spall and Archie Short‘s Lament, a sinister, slow-motion epic set to Phaeleh’s song of the same name. The music’s dull thuds, as well as its sporadic and treble-heavy break, create an unsettling backdrop as we watch a taxi driver deal with a variety of sins, ferrying the inebriated and lustful through the night. Amber and sulphuric glows of Leeds’ city lights saturate the film as we watch our hero slowly and inevitably moving towards a tragic future event – one we have glimpsed once before, at the very beginning of the film. In many ways this is a silent film, not merely in the sense that there is no dialogue, but because this short takes care to show rather than to tell, even establishing a relationship sub-plot through its slow and tiring movements. Mesmerising and futile, this is a slow-motion story that passes all too quickly.
Crosswords followed, providing some light comic relief, but continued in the trend of silent cinema where Martin Freeman look-a-like Keith Hill plays a man wedged into one end of a park bench attempting to complete a lunchtime crossword. The whole thing resembles a Mr Bean skit, not least because of the setting, but also because of Hill’s grimaces, which threaten to push his eyebrows to the very back of his head. A delightfully anthropomorphic score uses a simple but effective method of story telling, which has its roots in the earliest of cinema – a tinkling piano describes Hill’s actions for example, whilst a harp accompanies an attractive lady who joins him on the bench, and even his attempts at solving a crossword clue are expressed musically, with a series of ascending whistles from a flute. As the film progresses, the main character finds inspiration for solving various crossword clues in the events that unfold around him, and an ingenious use of on-screen text forms the modern day equivalent of the intertitle, allowing us to peek in on Hill’s inner thoughts. The whole affair unravels into a surreal chaos though, as his life ceases to provide the clues for his crossword, and instead his crossword dictates how he should proceed with the events of his life. A fresh take on some classic film tropes, Crosswords is a thoroughly entertaining little short.
Another excellent piece of comedy the evening had to offer was Jazzball: An Urban Odyssey. This short mockumentary follows a pioneer of the fictional urban sport ‘jazzball’, a cross between parkour, breakdancing, and street football, in which a red ball is carried throughout. Fit with a provincial narrator, time-lapses of various public monuments and busy shoppers, as well as a set of contrived and overtly symbolic images shot in a television studio somewhere, Jazzball emulates the BBC’s documentary series, Panorama to an uncanny degree. Joe Meehan, Aaron Sandhu and Tom Chilcott’s music plays an important part as well, capturing the sweeping electronic tones so often used by this kind of programme to inspire awe in its audience. Culminating in a cutting parody, Jazzball pokes fun at the self-asserted high brow documentary, and its tendency to stretch out insubstantial subject matter by showcasing the ridiculous through sophisticated and experimental cinematography: At one point we watch a topless man in a blacked out studio attempting to fry bacon on his forearms (jazzball being such a demanding sport, its practice generates substantial heat from muscle activity). Other jokes include the fact that jazzballs are carried in ‘ball bags’, and naming Sue Barker as the sport’s high profile patron. In this comedy of imitation, precision and adherence to the original form is everything – something this film has by the (ball)bag.
Shifting the comedic tone from absurd to quirky, Chloe Massey and Alexander Thomas’ ChatRoulette tells the story of a masked and naked woman who offers a series of men a tantalising choice over her webcam; either they can see her naked body whilst she keeps her mask on, or they can choose for her to take the mask off but never see her naked body. Told through soft focus and a barbed monologue, the fact that Massey’s voice-over narration speaks the words we watch the male characters’ utter, makes this a particularly personal story told on the main character’s terms. But far from self-preserving, no-one is innocent in ChatRoulette, with Massey’s wold-weary tone implicating its female protagonist in as much cynicism as it does the men in shallow perversion. Although adult in its content, the most grown up thing about this wry short is its refusal to characterise the sexual politics between heterosexual men and women as a straightforward binary. Sex comes in many colours, it seem to say – not just the black and red of the roulette wheel.
Finally, my last comments go to Overload, a strange and wonderful minute-and-a-half of whimsical fun, in which a commuter finds an unusual way to let off steam. A vast depth of field places the film’s hero in a flat city-scape of blue and grey, whilst Waylon Thornton and the Heavy Hands provide stabbing guitar chords which emphasise an irritable state of affairs. Confident in its simplicity, the final image in Charley Packham’s frantic short showcases some well choreographed on-screen text, labeling the commuter’s actions as a calming ritual, and bringing the film into a strange sort of coherence. Overload may be jagged round the edges, but it’s so purposefully crafted that this is surely part of its design, and is undoubtedly part of its charm.
It is with a tear in my eye that I end my review of day two of Leamington Underground Cinema’s 2013 Festival – there were so many great shorts, it’s a shame I can’t share them all with you here. But to ensure you don’t miss out on anymore fantastic short films (as well as some superb features), come along to LUC’s other events, all of which are taking place throughout the week across Leamington Spa – click here for more details. And be sure to come back to this space for continued coverage of the festival’s highlights.