Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - SHORT FILMS!!

Written as part of the series hosted by Nathaniel R. of The Film Experience, a great website where I contribute occasionally, and which you should really read, if you aren't already.

I'm not quite sure how Don Hertzfeld's World of Tomorrow came to be, and frankly, I'd rather not know. Because it is a glorious, glorious thing - totally juvenile yet utterly adult on every level in a way that is simply miraculous. And miracles are really better left unexplained, aren't they?

The film touches on so many things in its fifteen-minute length that it's astonishing. However, that means they all fly by at a relatively quick pace, which makes choosing a best shot potentially impossible. But shockingly, for me, it wasn't. I knew my best shot the moment I saw it, no thinking necessary.

Generally speaking, World of Tomorrow is an incredibly colorful film. The "background" images which float over, under, around, and through Hertzfeld's inimitable stick figures are pieces of pure technical wizardry (again, I don't want to know through what magic they came to be - they're better off that way), adding a strange sense of place (and no-place) to each scene. But here, there's nothing. Just darkness. A pure expression of the loneliness and sadness of the future. This is how Future Emily felt when her husband died, and still feels: "I do not have the mental or emotional capacity to deal with his loss. But sometimes I sit in a chair late at night and quietly feel very bad. When the night is at its most quiet, I can hear death."


That may be the most accurate description I've ever heard of mourning, especially when paired with that image. Future Emily introduces the future to Emily Prime as "The Outernet", a neural network that connects everyone, but for most of the film it's not clear whether that's a construct which they eventually leave or not. Emily Prime can change the colors just by thinking of them, and is able to interact with Future Emily's memories when she wants to, and Hertzfeld is purposefully vague about what exactly all this means. But in this short scene of pure blackness, we only ever see Future Emily. It's her despair made manifest in the most stark, striking way imaginable, instantly recognizable even to our "primitive" eyes, and utterly unique from the entire rest of the film.

I read some article a while back which said that when we experience loss - whether through death or a breakup or some other means -  our mind actually does not know how to handle it, so the mental "pain" we feel lights up the same parts of the brain that respond to physical pain, resulting in the feeling we call "heartbreak". Now, apply that to Future Emily here. She's a third generation clone of Emily Prime, and in her own words, only some slight signs of "mentool detarioration" have started to set in. It makes perfect sense that her brain's response to this kind of pain would have issues. But then, too, this is how many people in the present deal with loss. In a strange way, as desolate and isolating as this image is, it's also kind of comforting, showing us that even hundreds of years into the future, when people upload their "digital consciousness" to boxes which apparently cause a lot of pain that other future people apparently don't have the emotional capacity to understand, loss still affects us deeply, and we still don't have an easy way to deal with it.

And then, there's also hope in Future Emily's next sentence: "I am very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive."

There's nothing more human than that.
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Stephan Zlotescu's True Skin isn't so much a short film as it is a VFX reel that basically serves as a trailer for itself (apparently Amazon has picked it up to develop into a series, which is a smart move on their part). It's the complete opposite of World of Tomorrow - a wicked case of style over substance. And by "wicked", I mean... DAMN, what WICKED style. There's nothing else out there that really looks like this (it's basically the future of Minority Report coated with the neon rush of Enter the Void), making it totally arresting visually even as it follows a basic, bare-bones noir "plot": In the future, people are tricking themselves out with synthetic parts, partially in order to live longer. Our protagonist, Kaye, has stolen a classified prototype chip of some sort, and the authorities are after him in Bangkok. Zlotescu (who also stars) and director of photography H1 (and, it must be said, the VFX team) cram an unbelievable amount of visual data into practically every frame, and in ways that make me crave to see it in 3D. Which is, I guess, why I ended up picking this as my best shot:

It kinda needs to be in motion to really do it justice, but pretty much everything that is unique to the film - the visual style, the android accoutrements, the overall almost-assault on the senses - is in this one frame, which is literally SCREAMING AT YOU to LOOK AT IT! Yes, that really is an advertisement for "EYES" hanging in the air in front of a guy actually selling synthetic eyes. It's doubling down a bit, but hey, it's neon-future Bangkok. That's probably exactly what it would look like.


  1. Thanks for putting into words what I punted on with that World of Tomorrow shot. It's such a sucker punch, isn't it? A great testament to the power of jet blackness on screen, and such a beautiful commentary on what feelings feel like. God I love that movie so much.

    1. Under probably ANY other circumstances, it would make me laugh. And the first time I watched it, I think I actually may have given a short "HA" kinda laugh. But what she's saying is so profound, and so profoundly sad, that it takes the wind right out of the laugh sails, so to speak.

      It really is a fucking wonderful movie.

  2. Oh man, I love everything you said about World of Tomorrow. That film is just flat out hard to describe for me. I always tell people just to watch it because it's so bizarre. I love it.

    1. I feel like I need to see it at least twenty more times to get everything out of it, and for a piece of animation that's only fifteen minutes long, that's really saying something.