Directed by: Various
The Media Arts Project brings us another collection of "cutting edge" short films with The Best of Resfest. As is invariably the case with an assortment like this, the quality of the films is uneven; but here the winners far outdistance the losers in this fascinating set. Of the 11 shorts in the collection, only two -- both of which are quite brief -- came under the heading of "movies I could have done without."
One of those two, Birdbeat, isn't actually bad, it's just that it's nothing more than a clever novelty. However, viewers' mileage on the film may vary, depending on one's fondness for "late-night saxophone" jazz improvisation. The other, Rail Rode, is nothing more than a video variation on the ever-irritating cinematic technique known as pixilation, i.e., stop-frame animation using real people. The effect is no less annoying on video today than it was 40 years ago on film.
The rest of the collection, however, is a corker. How can you not take to a film that begins with the information, "I was born thumbless and this could only lead to evil," as does the claymation Story of the Desert? Even better is the British short Home Road Movies, a fascinating experiment in which photographs and actors are inserted into 3-D settings to tell a wistful story about the passing of childhood perception.
Japanese Tradition (Sushi) is brilliantly satirical (though not in an unfriendly way) in its examination of what's really going on under the surface of forced politeness in a sushi restaurant. The very brief Protest, which concerns the plight of the African elephant in the wild, is stunningly beautiful. Elegant and spare are the terms that come to mind concerning the revenge comedy Starch, which follows the dictates of Roman Polanski in creating a dialogueless short film.
The two most ambitious works in the collection are The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal and Terminal Bar. Both films are documentary in nature, though the former is half mockumentary as it examines the "unconscious art" practiced by civil servants as they cover up graffiti. The narration playfully mocks the pretentious "art speak" often used in such documentaries, while at the same time making far from invalid comparisons between this "art" and the abstract paintings of Mark Rothko. The real question is whether it's the "unconscious art" that's being mocked or the works of artists like Rothko -- and the answer is left to the viewer.
More traditional is Terminal Bar, which uses the 2,500 photos that Terminal Bar bartender Stefan Nadelman took of the habitues at this unlovely establishment. Visually striking and strangely compelling, this 22-minute film is the showpiece of the collection.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke
[The Best of Resfest will show at the Fine Arts Theatre, Wed, Jan 26 at 9:30 p.m.]