In a dark, dark town there was a dark, dark bar. And in that dark, dark bar there were some dark, dark shorts… Day Three of Leamington Underground Cinema’s 2013 Festival was not for the faint hearted: In honour of the evening’s feature, Jerkbeast, a bizarre film about ‘The worst band in the world’ (members of which include a necrophiliac and a profanity-spewing monster), the night kicked off with 12 twisted shorts. Although tucked up in soft leather sofas at the Zephyr Lounge, these strange films induced anything but comfort in viewers. Never the less, the event was thoroughly enjoyable, and yet again the night proved a success, drawing a considerable crowd. Given the evening’s predisposition with all things black, I’ve come to think of these short films as partaking in different shades, tones and manifestations of darkness, and I review a small selection of them as such, below, for your consideration.
My first review is of the particularly poignant Leonard. The standard of production found throughout the evening’s films was particularly high, which is why it is all the more meaningful to say that Leonard, a gripping tale about a man in the throws of addiction, stood out as one of the most professional shorts on show. Ged Hunter and Dave Hart’s film begins with the eponymous drug-addled Leonard, breathing deeply from a bag of urine coloured solvents. The excruciatingly persistent noise of a plane flying overhead accompanies, teasing out the discomfort and squeamishness we might feel towards this fiendish behaviour, but also tells of the escapism and elevated bliss Leonard receives in exchange for his degrading act. From the very start then, Leonard is about what it feels like to be caught in the middle of a tug of war. Rhys Smart’s performance elaborates on this theme, providing a young boy’s voice-over narration, the words of which are wise beyond his pre-adolescent years: ‘Even though I’m not leading my country to war’, he says, ‘I fight a battle every day’, sounding out like a thought from the war time poet, Wilfred Owen. But the youthful texture and tone of his voice shrouds these words in an eerie oxymoron, and tells of a lost innocence buried somewhere inside the darkness within. This narration adds to the confusion created by an array of seemingly disparate, aggressive and self-destructive acts (in one moment we watch the main character create and consume a potentially lethal mix of drugs and alcohol, and in the next we see him urinate into a washing machine). But these separate threads are brought together in a simple and shocking conclusion, and Stuart Nicholson’s cinematography leaves us with Leonard in a telephone booth, tightly framed and back-lit by an unnaturally yellow light. With this haunting image we realise that the battle may be over, but the war is far from over.
The Dark Depths of Revenge
One of the more sinister films on offer was Antisocial, a tale of revenge, with an ironic dose of justice worthy of Roald Dahl. Dealing with an obnoxious set of neighbours who choose to play dubstep loudly, all day and all night, a female artist wrestles with insomnia (a struggle which is felt throughout the whole film by infusing it with dream-like phosphorescent blur). The Beat Kidz, B Major, RuMoR and Analog By Nature, all provide suitably filthy music, and in a clever piece of sound design, a single song plays without interruption over a week-long montage of uncreative days and sleepless nights, drawing us into the lead character’s relentless and insufferable routine. Eventually, jumpcuts become more sporadic, and the music becomes the film’s score, with drums increasing in intensity and frequency as we are lined up for a bass-heavy drop. As the tempo rises, so does the action, and by the end of Antisocial (without giving away its superb ending), the silence is deafening. One of my favourite shorts so far, if you missed out on Sam Wildman’s short film don’t worry – its been shortlisted for the LUC Short Film Prize, so you can catch it again at the Spa Centre, on the 29th of September at 8 p.m.
The Dark Side of Comedy
Not all of the films on offer were so macabre as Leonard and Antisocial, with Brides of Desire providing some unconventional comic relief. Writer and director Ben Gutteridge creates a grey and cream world which is explored by inoffensively smooth tracking shots. With no dialogue, the scene is set at the beginning of the film via a single bar of Stuart Earl’s reverb heavy staccato xylophone, as well as through the bulbous eyes and nervous gulps of an overweight and sweaty protagonist, played by Peter Moreton. The clean camera movement and washed out palette might lead us to think that this is a world much like our own, but this is shown to be not so, as our lonely hero attempts to conjure a bride through postal-delivered technology and over the counter witch-craft: Following the instructions of a ‘Magic Mail Order Bride’ package, Moreton’s character wraps a mirror in lights, mutters some inaudible magical words, and covers his head in nondescript slime, before waving a magic wand. Thus, Brides of Desire finds its humour precisely in how plausably absurd it is – magic might not be real, but if it were, it would look a lot like this. Like Nick Whitfeild’s superb 2010 feature Skeletons, Gutteridge manages to create a universe just off tilt; a place where the mystical and the mundane go hand in hand, and although unthreatening, the slight with which this film offers its supernatural features puts viewers in a distinctly uneasy position. Less of a black comedy, Brides of Desire finds darkness in the greys of a boring life, and sprinkles it with a tiny flakes of silver.
Darkness as Light
My final review is of Semilunar, the only animated short to grace the screens during the evening. Less is more in this brief meditation on the-urban-as-a-life-force, and this spectacular visual piece speaks volumes for a short that only just manages to last longer than a minute. As Chemo Castronovo’s stirring and ambient tones gradually pull us out of darkness, Daniel Spence’s elegant animation takes over, simulating live-action time-lapses through a beautifully simple use of colour and shape. But just as the film has duped us into thinking that it is a faithful adherent of realism, it takes a surreal turn, presenting a busy tangle of roads as the pulsating ventricles of a heart. Like the initial flare of a match being struck, Semilunar manages to shine brightly and briefly, leaving a glowing imprint on those who stare directly at it.
The theme of the night may have been darkness, but the wonderful array of films on offer left members of the audience with a sunny disposition. All in all, a great night was had by everyone, and the strength of the shorts – as well as the crowd there to enjoy them – show that Leamington Underground Cinema’ 2013 Festival is still going strong. The week isn’t even half-over yet though, so why not come along to LUC’s other events? Click here for more details. And as ever, be sure to come back to this space for continued coverage of the festival’s highlights.