A disappointed Judge Joel Pearce watched nearly 60 minutes of this collection of short films by Jacob Struck before he realized it had nothing to do with Marvel Comics superhero Thor.
Leave your expectations at the door.
Jacob Strunk is an independent filmmaker in the truest sense. This DVD set contains four of his short films, and they prove that he has great passion and potential. Unfortunately, most of these segments fail to live up to expectations.
• A Shadow Before Sunrise
• Sand Country
• A Day Awake
If a narrative film is analogous to a novel, then short films should work like short stories. There is no space to spare in good short fiction. Every word must contribute to the central pont of the story. This is the greatest failure of these short films. Valhalla seems to want to come full circle, but when we finally arrive back at the beginning, we've learned nothing that gives our return meaning. Sand Country's story has nowhere to go, and A Day Awake lacks any real direction. Only A Shadow Before Sunrise has any real narrative movement, and an ending that feels like it has something to say. The title of the anthology calls all of these films "tales of intrigue," but this is quite a stretch. I was intrigued a the beginning of Valhalla, but lost interest by the end. The others have precious little intrigue, let alone anything to ponder. I have to wonder if Valhalla would play better in a theatrical screening, where the audience is completely at the mercy of the filmmaker. At home, we too easily find ourselves reaching for the fast forward button or getting distracted by other things in the room.
I want to be careful how strongly I attack these films. After all, they are obviously very personal works for Strunk, and mean a great deal to him. He has poured much of himself into each of them, and clearly knows how to translate his feelings into visuals. Part of filmmaking, though, is translating personal feelings into something that touches other people as well. Strunk probably knows in his mind what caused the violence in Valhalla, but rather than sharing that with the audience, he gives us little more than long, tedious shots of his protagonist. He is using film as a personal outlet and, though his passion shows, it is not very exciting viewing. That said, he seems to be moving towards more watchable films. If A Shadow Before Sunrise is a sign of where his film career is taking him, he could have a true independent classic on his hands over the next few years. He has achieved technical mastery over his craft already, and as his budgets and running times increase, hopefully he will start to build on his ability to tell a compelling story.
The DVD has been well produced. All four of the films are shown in letterboxed widescreen, and are reproduced as well as can be expected with such a low budget. The sound is excellent as well, a surprisingly crisp stereo track for such a low budget. There are some extras, too, including trailers for three of the films, and a music video that he has assembled from his A Shadow Before Sunrise footage. A short featurette by Nate Eckman examines the films and style of Strunk, and also doubles as a production featurette. After this, there is a question-and-answer session with Strunk that was held after a showing of Valhalla. There isn't much uncovered in his answers, but they do show how naturally the filming comes to Strunk. There is an outtake reel from A Day Awake, which looks a lot more like camera tests to me. Finally, there is a 2002 interview with Strunk as well as a photo gallery.
I have no idea what recommendation to make for this anthology. Although it's fascinating to see filmmaking this raw and personal, few people would want to include this in their DVD collections. Aspiring filmmakers may want to check it out for a couple reasons. First, to see how attractive a film can be made on a miniscule budget. Second, to see how important it is to consider the audience when designing a project. Films shot as catharsis don't necessarily touch an audience with the same intensity as the filmmaker.
Hopefully, we will see more exciting and more accessible works from Jacob Strunk in the future.
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