Day five of Leamington Underground Cinema’s 2013 festival saw a return to the arts and music venue, LAMP, the place where it all began. As with the first night of the festival, this space was close to capacity, meaning that the air was alive with the excited hum and chatter of an audience eager to see some top quality cinema. The feature on show was Anyone Can Play Guitar, a documentary with a simple but admirable aim; to tell the overlooked role Oxford has played in producing some of Britain’s most well known and influential bands. There then followed a Q and A with the film’s creator, Jon Spira, and if that wasn’t enough, there was then live music from Not Right, who covered songs from some of the bands shown in the film. And of course, before all of this, there were a stunning set of shorts to start the night off. Going from strength to strength, LUC’s curators have maintained the high standards established on previous nights, and it is a shame that I can’t review all of the short films from day five. But in any case, below I share my thoughts on those films that stood out for me as a little bit special.
Beginning by drenching its main character in a smokey orange light, The Fifth sets a pensive tone from the very start. Coupled with Angus MacRae’s heart wrenching score (the beauty of which lies in its slight and melodic dissonance), The Fifth builds emotion before we even understand what it is that we are watching. Indeed, James Lloyd’s film continues in this direction, as a young man records a series of everyday sounds, from a metal bridge resonating from the pressures of a passing train, to people drinking in a pub, without explanation. In an inspired piece of sound design, these noises are transposed without any loss of continuity, to a hi-fi that plays back the recordings as the protagonist looks on in pain. For a film that draws so much attention to sound, this touching short makes its lasting impact with a surprising finish, achieved through a careful use of silence in its final moments. Made all the more impressive by the fact that it was made in two days as part of Raindance and Collobr8e’s ’48 Hour Film Challange’, The Fifth is a truly remarkable film.
The first moments of Decapoda Shock are likely to induce scepticism: As an astronaut traipses across a martian landscape, we cannot escape the fact that his spacesuit doesn’t look real, that the crash zoom which introduces him into the film is tacky, and that rather than a martian red, the film reeks of dull beige and browns lifted straight out of the 70s. But when the astronaut is transformed into a cosmic crustacean/human hybrid after being attacked by a martian crab, we realise that Decapoda Shock has cynical viewers exactly where it wants them. Having passed itself of as a badly made, but serious film, the whole thing quickly descends into farce, bashing the audience over the head with their own expectations, and thoroughly enjoying itself in the process. As the short progresses, we come to see that its cheap feel is actually the result of a precise and perfectly executed set of technical considerations. Quite simply, you’ve got to be pretty good at what you do to make something look this bad. Although it makes little sense, Javier Chillion’s Decapoda Shock is very well put together, and achieves exactly what it sets out to do – to confuse, shock, surprise, and most importantly, to make fun of itself. In parts of the film, the edit runs through narrative like there’s no tomorrow, and there is an animated sequence outlining the evil intentions of a multinational Satanist corporation. As such, Decapoda Shock feels a little like a trailer for a shellfish-meets-kill-bill fan film (indeed, a trio of martial artists are hunted down inexplicably, and there is a scene in which our half-crab-hero rides a galloping horse, which would blow Tarantino’s mind). Crappy Brown or Pulp Science Fiction would have been equally good names for this masterclass in parody, but just don’t take it too seriously – the creative powers behind it obviously didn’t.
Coming Alive documents the life of a marionette puppet. From its creation to an inaugural performance, we listen to puppet maker, Sian Kidd, talk about the philosophy that underpins her craft – but even though she acts as narrator, it is the puppet who takes centre stage. Shot predominantly with macroscopic lenses, we never see the Kidd’s face, but are consistently treated to close ups of the puppet – even the artist’s tools get a cameo as we are shown around her workshop. A contemplation on the illusion of bestowing autonomy upon an inanimate object, Coming Alive plays with the ideas surrounding life and creation. In one shot, Kidd compares a wooden hand to her own as she carves it, and there’s a beautiful irony in the fact that her creation is a zombie, meaning that she is bringing the undead to life. At one point she tells us that ‘the very nature of marionette is that you forget about the fact that there’s someone operating it’. And indeed, the film ends with tightly shot scene of her zombie raising itself up from the dead, accompanied by a B-Horror Movie soundtrack, which whilst humourous, is also totally engrossing. Its not until we cut to a shot from the perspective of Kidd, looking down on the puppet that she operates, that we remember her essential role in bringing this creature to life. A simple story told well, Jaha Browne’s Coming Alive is a short documentary that pulls all the right strings.
With its crisp images, slow motion sequences, and a number of smooth tracking shots, 82 is a slick but twisted film about a nasty individual. Nick Moran plays the postman who keeps a note of what comes through your letterbox and abuses this knowledge for his own gain. A hushed voice-over lays his thoughts bare, and reveals a moral compass that’s gone awry. Alexi Slater’s script strikes a careful balance between comedy and malevolence, so that in one moment Moran has us laughing, and in the next, we are recoiling in horror at the utterly terrible things that he has said. With a host of awards under its belt already, 82 is also in the running for the LUC Shorts Prize and I wouldn’t be surprised if it won. A beautiful short about an ugly man, Calum Macdiarmid’s 82 will leave a shiver down your spine.
Last up is Lost Every Day, a documentary about Sharon Roseman, sufferer of the rare neurological condition known as Developmental Topographical Disorientation – or DTD for short. Unable to orientate herself, and subject to sudden episodes in which even the most familiar of environments becomes completely unknown to her, Roseman struggles with a daily battle just to get from A to B. ‘Kind of like smell but not’, it also appears to be a challenge for her to even communicate her experiences, because she is almost completely alone in her experiences. Dispersed with home footage, this is an intimate story about an extremely testing condition, but the film concentrates on showing how the attitudes of others are alienating, not the disorder (‘Don’t ever tell anybody because they’ll say you’re a witch and they’ll burn you’, were the words spoken to Roseman by her mother, after her first ever experience of DTD). In a way then, Michelle Coomber’s documentary turns the camera back around on the audience and forces us to consider our prejudices towards experiences we do not fully understand. An excercise in the difference between sympathy and empathy, Lost Every Day is a thought provoking and sincere exposition of the human mind.
That brings me to the end of my review for the fifth day of festivities. Come along to day six, at the Arts Trail Studios for an evening of animated fun, all at the bargain price of no pounds – that’s right, the event is absolutely free, but at 5 p.m, LUC’s festival starts a little earlier than usual tonight, so make sure you come in time to get a seat! As ever, keep your eyes on this space for more reviews of the shorts as and when they are shown.