Oftentimes the medium of short film is overlooked, ignored in favor of the bigger budget full-length spectacle. How and why this is the case remains a mystery to me, particularly since most creative teams are forced due to budget constraints to start small, oftentimes turning to inventive crowd funding arenas, to garner a budget that they might transform their vision into more expansive avenues. Tragically many short films never see the light of day, lost to ignorance and festival circuit (which not everyone frequents), never falling upon the excitable senses of those who could well help it on its way ‘upstream’.
Below are a couple of films I consider deserve more attention, although there are millions more out there that need promotion.
Smile (2017) UK
Edited/Produced and Directed by Geoff Harmer
Story by Peter Hearn and Geoff Harmer
Synopsis – Lisa suffers from day dreams, very violent day dreams.
Smile is a short film from Fraught Productions, based out of North Hampshire in the UK. It’s promotional poster gives off a Gemini atmosphere in displaying the main characters face split in twain. One side splattered in crimson, the other serene. Although both sides bear a smirk/smile the motif across the image proclaims a slightly different story.
In the opening scene Lisa, portrayed by Lucy Scammel, is seen in a therapist’s office. She quickly admits to hating her smile after being told she shouldn’t hide it. Visibly frustrated, fidgeting and nervous Lisa runs at the mouth (a lengthy diatribe on all manner of subjects that vex her, including Christmas, why turkey and wishbone pulling) all symptoms one would imagine arising from her ailment. The reason she initially came in for, apparently, it’s only getting worse. Lisa has vivid daydreams, boasting shocking imagery to the point where her everyday life is becoming tainted by her acts and displayed emotions, or lack thereof, within the shocking intensity of the visions themselves.
Andrew Coppin plays Lisa’s counsellor, Dr. Williams, with a calm and collected exterior. He doesn’t appear perturbed at the severity of his patient’s situation in the slightest. He consoles Lisa telling her “…once we’ve worked out all your triggers we’ll be able to help you”. And then proceeds to ask if a smiling coffee mug helps in any way. Although his demeanor is serene he hints at being a tad bored with life and his family commenting that they’re “…deathly dull when it comes to their choices.”
Within the ‘films’ twelve-minute running time several of Lisa’s stunning visions are exhibited. Scenes that are vividly shot, blunt and precise depicting the realization of Lisa’s inner stream of dialogue, that no one (usually) dares utter, devoid of filter. The ‘visions’ range from pandering to her mother’s attitude with a “cuppa”, frustrations with her partner, adjusting the leash on the family pet and dealing with a boss who expects nothing less than miracles.
The transition to and from these ‘dream states’ are fluid, complemented by an effective score that sets the mood though doesn’t predict. These scenes aren’t at all overdone or made more vexing by blatantly creative camera angles and/or trickery, kudos to the producer and director.
Attention to detail is exemplary, in one instance even cleverly utilizing a rather unassuming everyday item as an inventive sedgway, then later as a very vital item in the scene itself. oftentimes leaving the viewer dazed, wondering when the on-screen images portrays reality (this brings to mind several Cronenberg films, Videodrome and more recently Existenze). Stunning passages of dialogue especially a comment from her Father in a very vivid instance, Smile Lisa, it’s not the end of the world, suggest ‘something else’ behind the scenes. “Remember none of this is real” comments Dr. Williams to leave Lisa even more confused especially when in one occurrence Lisa is witnessed exhibiting zero emotion as she terminates her co-workers leaving larger than life arcade style splatter effects across the entire office setting.
Lucy Scammel portrays Lisa convincingly. A character awash in confusion, at her wits end at what to do with her situation and frustrated at those around her, her smug mother, cheerful-for-no-reason co-workers, a demanding boss (maybe the clients would buy more if you weren’t such a sourpuss). With subtle nuance and rarely a smile Lucy knocks the performance out of the park up until the final scene, a fitting finale, a final twist which I won’t spoil. All of which combine to make the viewer ponder upon the importance/usefulness of a therapist and the likelihood of an enigma behind the most everyday innocence, appearance of facial muscle construct, a smile.
SHE (2014) UK
SHEshortfilm on Facebook
Directed by – Chelsey Burdon and Mark Vessey
Written by – Chelsey Burdon and Mark Vessey
Final Grrrl Productions
Synopsis – Stuck in a domineering and controlling relationship, She is backed into a corner and plans the ultimate revenge.
From the opening scene and the way in which the two players interact with each other, backs turned toward each other you can feel the tension. Fiona Dourif (known simply as SHE in the credits) awakened by her spouse’s movements, shudders and reflects sheer terror in her eyes, like a caged animal with nowhere to turn, a look bearing burning intensity so vivid, and expertly executed, that the viewer can instantly feel her pain.
The next scene is a leisurely pan through the household displaying an interior that’s minimalist at best, a little more than pale pastels, bare bones, ‘monkish’, boasting little to no personality or excitement one might comment a reflection of the relationship itself. The dialogue is minimal, no greetings, no hello honey, how’s your day? No consideration of emotion, only shared contempt, loathing and in the case of Phillip James (known simply as HE in the credits) studying of the other’s movements as if to imply severe trust issues, dominance and control. Powerful imagery and this is merely two minutes in!
Very early on the viewer is also subjected to a scene which also implies there’s little love in the relationship. Philip encroaches upon Fiona in the kitchen subsequent to a sly smile. She balks at his touch then gazes lovingly at the butcher knife in her hand as he proceeds to force himself upon her. In a fantastic touch, the camera lazily pulls away back through the house itself as if to attest to the inner thoughts of Fiona herself shutting down/removing herself from the situation, to another more peaceful plane entirely.
The film’s final stanza commences with a lavish dinner. Strangely Fiona is in a much better mood, unperturbed by her spouses rapid feasting without a simple thank you or an acknowledgement of any kind. Fiona utters the only dialogue within the film Happy Anniversary Darling, three words sparking a languid scene that will echo throughout the halls of the medium of short celluloid forevermore. A minute or so that is utterly unflinching in its entirety and content that viewers will either look away in disgust or be unable to batter an eyelid transfixed by its unapologetic brutality.
SHE, although brilliantly composed, is most certainly not a short for the faint of heart. It depicts a relationship blanketed by mental and physical abuse and the mental state, acts to which the subjected might plummet if over a prolonged period of time madness transpires to wrestle with reason and is ultimately victorious.
Both performances are powerful, although Fiona really pulls the viewer in with her portrayal of a beaten down spouse, driven to the depths of apathy, precariously balanced on the edge of lunacy. The music is an applaudable touch. Gay tunes of the thirties variety weave a melodic backdrop of love and longing whereas the on-screen acts tells of something much different. The whole package is complemented by expert camera work and various fades designed to have the viewer ponder upon the future importance of items, such as the knife in the kitchen scene and the viciousness in which HE carves into the meat in the final stanza.
Truthfully, many forays into short cinema will fade over time but SHE is destined to live on based on its effective portrayal of the abuse, the power in which it tells of SHE’s descent of mental state and the stunning imagery found throughout but especially in its unforgettable climax that will haunt the viewer for months to come.
Bravo to all those involved. Chelsey’s future work includes a short entitled Dead Bitch. Which, if you’re reading this, I would also love to introduce to this sites readership.