Saturday, January 20, 2007

Nocturne (1980) & Image of Relief (1982)

When an experimental short starts like an A-Ha video, it leaves a bittersweet aftertaste.

Genre: Experimental Drama Shorts (Denmark)

Starring: Yvette, Edward Fleming, Kirsten Olesen

Directed By: Lars Von Trier (Dogville; Breaking The Waves)

Overview: Easter Eggs on a compilation of Lars Von Trier's Apocalyptic Trilogy include his first made in film school, as well as his graduating production.

I'll tell you that even my budding filmmaking knowledge began with experimental film, and for as much as you might think it easier to do, as they need not have a narrative, a plot or even sometimes a purpose, they are certainly a deep trek into the learning process, and can teach more things more quickly, as long as we're willing to spend the money and risk failure. Art students have the great benefit of being guided through the learning process of more technical aspects of a medium, while using it to take us to a personal place limited only by the artist's ideas, creativity and their wallet. For this reason, watching the introductory independent works of established filmmakers makes a lot of sense. You learn applications of ingenuity, of artistic manipulation over the technical all while, hopefully grasping the technical challenges that those new to the field have faced. Call it a tutorial.
Tutorials tend to be rather bland. Be it online guides for Windows XP and Excel, or David Lynch's early shorts, they tend to be more about the learning process than the entertainment of the medium. If you go into these Lars Von Trier pieces with this perspective you won't be disappointed.
As for the films themselves, Nocturne (1980) is an 8-minute short about a woman having trouble with her eyes, to the degree that she is only comfortable in dim light. Ultimately this film is slow in pace and has no real story elements, though insight is gleaned when described by Lars himself in the commentary track. The experiment of Nocturne is in the 'Geometric Storyboarding' style they used to film it. Each shot was meticulously planned so that the geometry of one shot flows into the next one. A shot of blinds, slightly askew fade into the grill of a birdcage, shot at the same angle. A woman on the phone lowers her arm. Once it reaches a horizontal angle, we cut to a cityscape horizon. Lars seemed most proud of the round church shot (above right) that cuts perfectly into a close-up of the woman's wristwatch. All told, you know when a film is more enjoyable with director's commentary, it's less about the film than the learning.
Image of Relief (1982) is technically a better film, which stands to reason given the two years of film school, however it is far less entertaining. A 57-minute short with about 20 lines of dialogue makes for a film full of montage pieces: slow, droning shots of orange, green and blue-filtered images, very reminiscent of The Element of Crime, though more nonsensical. As far as I could infer, this is a story set in World War II, and a German Officer's mistress up and blinds him with a stake.
In both films, the influence of Tarkovsky is very obvious (I've read), and above all things I've learned that Tarkovsky is a boring kind of director, unless Lars' early works just failed in being as entertaining.

Some nice composure for someone who just had stakes driven into his eyes.

Overall Rating: 53% (For Trier Completists And Students Only)
Aftertaste: It's fun to watch someone's early works, especially if you like the technical side of film, or have a love of a person's art so much that you'll go suffer to 'not so good', just to be able to say you've seen it, but I have the added bonus of being able to write about it after, to mull over the finer points and explain to you some minor insights about obscure short film. You know, that doesn't bother me at all. I'll be sure to do it again, too.