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Case Number 00892

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Short 10: Chaos

Warner Bros. // 2000 // 140 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // December 4th, 2000

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All Rise...

The Charge

"Jacques Derrida who?" "Precisely."

Opening Statement

Warner's theme this time out is "Chaos." A few of the entries on this latest volume of Short qualify as strange attractors. A few are merely random noise.

The Evidence

As always, we will examine each section of this showcase of short films in turn:
Chaos: Ostensibly the main attempt to articulate the theme of the disc, this first section, which contains three shorts, does not clearly elaborate on "chaos" from any solid perspective. All three shorts here are entitled "Chaos." The first, by skateboarding enthusiast Preston Maigetter, consists of one minute of skateboarding bloopers. That's it. A twenty-second animation from Eileen O'Meara is an exercise in fractal scaling, but seems to be missing weight. It stops just as it is getting interesting. David Birdsell's "brief film about bad animals" is a five-minute "why did the chicken cross the road" joke. A puzzled man is pursued by a costumed chicken, mouse, and bear. They kidnap him and throw him in the trunk of a car. It is funny, and a bit cryptic, but again, I am unsure how this is meant to develop the theme of the disc.
Classic: A real find this time out: George Lucas' student film from USC, the notorious "THX 1138 4EB," here retitled "Electronic Labyrinth" (to avoid confusion with Lucas' later feature-length version THX 1138). Although the surviving film (made in 1967) is a bit scratchy and grainy, it turns out to be a winner. Shot mostly without sound (overlapping radio traffic provides most of the exposition), the film weaves together overlaid text, "security camera" footage, and bits of stock footage to give a choppy, documentary feel, as if we are watching through surveillance cameras indirectly. The depersonalized atmosphere distances us from the hero, on the run for some vague crime against a technocratic society. The oblique narrative style is quite inventive, and even after 33 years, this is still a smartly made film. What happened to this George Lucas, the one willing to experiment? Hints of today's Lucas are evident in the end of "Electronic Labyrinth," which gets a bit corny. Included with the short: production notes and two somewhat pointless supplements. The first, "George Lucas at USC," interviews an old teacher, the actor who played Lucas in "George Lucas in Love" (is this just a plug to download that film off the internet?), and a cute female Star Wars geek. All three tend to worship Lucas (and they point out how many buildings at USC are named after him too). Also included is a two-minute blurb on the THX sound system, featuring brief interviews with Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. The most interesting thing about this is the revelation that the system is not named for THX 1138, but for sound designer Tom Holman. THX = Tom Holman Crossover!
Narrative: "Five Feet High and Rising" is a marvelous verité-style story of a brash street kid (Victor Rasuk) trying to summon up the courage to ask out a cute neighborhood girl (Judy Marte). Shot with handheld cameras and non-professional actors, the film explores how young people in the city (with no visible adults) form relationships. Director Peter Sollett lets improvised conversations wander in a seemingly aimless fashion, subtly teasing out a sense of how boys talk to boys and girls talk to girls when the other gender is not around—but most of all, how the two genders communicate (or miscommunicate in most cases) with each other. Three extra scenes are included, as is an interview segment with the two leads, who both show keen intelligence off-camera, giving the audience more respect for their performances.
Two animated shorts round out this section of the disc. "The Fly" also appears on Short: IR. It comes from Hungary and shows the point-of-view of a fly (drawn as brown ink-sketches) buzzing through a house. "Bebabaluba" is an entertaining animated pitch by a Turkish doner kebab (we know them as "gyros") salesman, who pushes his "very successful" kebabs on passersby. Also included on the disc is a recipe for the "world's best doner kebab," just in case you have a craving for shaved lamb.
Student: Sienna McLean presents an excellent documentary on two women's experiences with the Black Panther Party on the 1960s in "Still Revolutionaries." I am reminded of feminist critic Donna Haraway's comments on the multiple perspective provided by what Haraway calls "women of color:" traditionally double-marginalized (by gender and race), these women have the potential to provide a more complex perspective on critical social issues. Indeed, "Still Revolutionaries" provides a critical look at the Black Panthers from their idealistic origins in the mid-'60s (when they were formed to protest police brutality and initiate social programs in the inner city) to their collapse by the start of the next decade (pressure by Hoover's FBI and increasing paranoia and demagoguery among the Panthers' leadership blew the organization apart). While most documentaries on the Panthers overstress their militancy, McClean shows other sides, from their community service to a disturbing sexual double-standard among its leadership, through two female members of the Panthers who "recovered" from their rough experiences and went on to teach the next generation to try and live up to the promise of the organization. A director's commentary track is included, but while fairly solid, it is less illuminating than I had hoped for.
There are two other shorts in this section. "deleriouspink" consists of black and white xerox animation of trapped faces. Cute, but way too long even at four minutes. "The Bottomless Cup" is a fifteen-minute ode to the Twilight Zone (with a bit of David Lynch thrown in): a tired driver gets trapped in a diner drinking a "bottomless cup" of coffee. Yes, it plays out exactly as you think it does. The highlight is a performance by Aysha Quinn as the world-weary waitress. An interview with Quinn and director's commentary track for the film itself are included, as well as about a dozen production photos.
Experimental: "Po Mo Knock Knock" is not really "experimental," but it is a very funny satire on postmodernism. I'm not sure how many people will get the jokes though (scroll back up to "The Charge" for an example). I teach and publish "postmodern" theory, and I have read nearly all of Derrida's work in English (and I even think I understand it!), so I thought it was hysterical (and my guess is that Derrida, who has a wonderful sense of humor, would too). Performed by the improv group "The Pollyannas," this short is, in the words of the director, "a joke that became so invested with meaning [that it became] a post-modern parable." Adding to the layers of the joke are three commentary tracks: one by the director alone, one by the writer, lead actor, and director commenting on the film (like a good improv team, they have great chemistry and laugh a lot), and a third by the same three analyzing The Matrix! Yes, the third track is an anti-commentary track of sorts, a complete non-sequitur. Get it? It is very postmodern. Also included is a mockumentary made exclusively for the DVD called "Po Mo Love Doc," which treats the characters in the film as real people (named "Knock Knock" and "Who's There" of course) and follows up on the status of their triangle with Vin Knight (played by Vin Knight).
Music: Once again, the Australian short "Burnout," which I have already reviewed twice (on Circuit 7 and Short: IR). Forgive me if I am, no pun intended, a little burned out on it.
Rounding out the disc: two trailers (for The Perfect Storm and The In Crowd), a trailer for the next installment in the Short series (on the theme of "Ecstasy"), which looks like it will include Varda's "Du Côté de la Côte" (reviewed on Short: IR), and a "Random" feature which…well, randomly plays one of a half-dozen or so short cartoons (about seven seconds a piece).

The Rebuttal Witnesses

As always, the quality of these shorts varies wildly. And again, the commentary tracks tend to be inconsistent, even with the better films. In the case of this particular volume of Short, I am disappointed that the theme (which is one I am particularly fond of—just ask my students) was not handled better. And while I am thrilled to see "Electronic Labyrinth" on this disc, I wish the supplemental material was more substantive. One last bone to pick: this time around, the menus are grating, consisting of static and layered noise, like someone in the art department has listened to too much Trent Reznor. It works in small doses, but it gets really irritating after a while.

Closing Statement

Short 10: Chaos has a lot of chaff. But when it is good, it is damn good. "Electronic Labyrinth," "Five Feet High and Rising," "Still Revolutionaries," and "Po Mo Knock Knock" are the standouts this time around (have you noticed that these discs tend to have one really good short per section?) and that certainly makes the purchase price worthwhile.

The Verdict

All charges are dismissed against Warner Brothers for another solid anthology disc. But the producers are admonished to provide more focus toward their chosen theme in the future.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 85
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Various:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Various
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 140 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Independent
• Short Films

Distinguishing Marks

• Production Notes
• Alternate Audio Tracks (for some shorts)
• Movie Trailers
• "George Lucas in Love" (plugged on the disc) is available at http://www.mediatrip.com

Accomplices

• None








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