Cinema 16 - American Short Films (2006)
Dir. Tim Burton, Peter Sollett, Maya Deren, Andy Warhol, Alexander Payne, Adam Parrish King, Mike Mills, Todd Solondz, Stefan Nadelman, George Lucas, Gus Van Sant, Rawson Marshall Thurber, Adam Davidson, Joe Nussbaum, DA Pennebaker, Standish Lawder
Stars: Various
Genre: Short Films

Pixelsurgeon Verdict

Raoul Sanchez

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Cinema 16 - American Short Films

Following hot on the heels of British Short Films and European Short Films comes the third in the series, Cinema 16: American Short Films: classic and award winning shorts collected on a single volume DVD. The previous collections included early and obscure work by some of the UK and Europe's best known directors, including Ridley Scott, Chris Nolan, Peter Greenaway, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Jan Svankmajer and Lars Von Trier.

The latest collection scoops up an eclectic mix of films from the likes of Tim Burton, Alexander Payne, Andy Warhol, Gus Van Sant and George Lucas. It's precisely this heterogeneous nature that is the key to this series' success: there's an edgy randomness to the films, with no indication at all as to why these particular films have been gathered together to form the collection. Certainly, it's not a complete overview: where are the shorts of Steven Spielberg or George Kuchar, for example, or Kenneth Anger or John Cassavates?

But as the movies move from high brow to high comedy, from documentaries to stop motion animation, colour to black and white and back again, its clear that series producer Luke Morris has attempted to cover all bases and all tastes and has been largely successful.

Some of the shorts I had seen before, such as Tim Burton's Vincent (1982), his homage to Vincent Price created whilst Burton was working as an animator at Disney, and Terry Tate: Office Linebacker (2003), the absurd comedy created for Reebok by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Most of the remaining films are delightful gems I may never have seen had it not been for this collection.

Stand outs include Five Feet High and Rising, Peter Sollett's 1999 study of sexual innocence in New York City's Lower East Side. Shot like a documentary and utilising a cast of inexperienced unknowns, Sollett follows 12-year old Victor as he attempts to track down a feisty girl he met at an outdoor swimming pool. Gorgeously shot by Sollett and flawlessly acted Five Feet High and Rising won the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival as well as clutch of other prizes.

Terminal Bar (2002) by Stefan Nadelman utilises the photographs his father took while tending one of New York's roughest bars to create a stunning and rich tribute to the drunks and barflies of the 70s and early 80s. Mike Mills’ documentary Paperboys (2001) is a paean to a disappearing way of life, and a beautiful snapshot of a more innocent America before 9/11 changed everything forever.

Perhaps the most intriguing film is Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), a surrealist abstract work to rival Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L'Âge D'or (1930). Despite being shot in silent, grainy, 16mm black and white film, Deren’s non-narrative work feels like missing scenes from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001). The beautiful and enigmatic Deren stars in her own film (she died at the tragically young age of 44, a victim of a drug habit she developed in the 1940s).

The only movie in the collection to stand out for the wrong reasons is Freiheit (1966), the first film that George Lucas ever made. And while George Lucas has exerted an undeniable influence on American cinema, this is mostly for his technical advances in CGI, sound and digital moviemaking, rather than his skills as a filmmaker. THX 1138 (1971), American Graffiti (1973) and the first Star Wars (1977) are certainly great films, but Lucas hasn't directed anything of creative value since 1977. Freiheit is a curio, interesting because it was created by George Lucas, not because of any artistic merit it may have.

It's the second reference Lucas gets on the disc, thanks to Joe Nussbaum’s mini biopic of Lucas, George Lucas in Love (1999), which blends his fictional life with the plot of Shakespeare in Love (1998) for comedic effect, and is in many ways the precursor to the Star Wars fan made films and the YouTube mash-ups.

Cinema 16: American Short Films is like a potted history of American Cinema from 1943 to the present and incredibly most of the films have a commentary track from the directors themselves, giving additional insight and historical perspective. Freiheit aside, this an important collection, and an essential must-have item for any film lover. You really have no right to call yourself a cineaste if this DVD isn't gracing your shelves.

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