The Wraith of Cobble Hill (2005)

2009 #4a
Adam Parrish King | 15 mins | DVD

Animation isn’t a genre, it’s a medium, as Brad Bird would be so keen to tell you. As such, there’s no reason that any story shouldn’t be told in animated form… but sometimes, you have to wonder if it’s the best choice for the job.

The Wraith of Cobble HillThe Wraith of Cobble Hill is a perfect example for this debate as its modern, urban story seems to clash with the cartoonish style employed to bring it to the screen. There are no flights of fantasy, few implausible shots, nothing that couldn’t be achieved in live action even on a low budget. Ultimately the only reason for it being animated is, why shouldn’t it be? Personally, I’m not convinced it works; at the very least, it distracted me enough to consider it.

Otherwise, the story is a bit slow paced and perhaps uncertain of what it wants to say. By the end, ignoring the question of if the right form was chosen, I was unsure what it did say — what had actually happened, what had changed. Without giving away the ending, obviously rather a lot changes for one peripheral character, but for the central character it seems to have minimal impact. Well, he acquires a dog…

In short (sorry), The Wraith of Cobble Hill is nicely animated, though you might wonder why. More importantly, you might wonder what it was trying to say.

2 out of 5

This short is available on the Cinema16: American Short Films DVD.

The Lunch Date (1990)

2009 #9a
Adam Davidson | 10 mins | DVD

Short films are paid minimal attention by most people, but a good one can launch a career. Take this, for example, which won the Short Film Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1990 and the Oscar for Best Live Action Short in 1991. Writer/director Davidson may not have had a significant film career since, but he has directed episodes of Dexter, Deadwood, Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order, Lie to Me, Lost, Rome, Shark, Six Feet Under, True Blood, and more. Not all great TV, true, but there are some outstanding series in there and it makes for an impressive CV.

If any short were to kick-start a career it would be The Lunch Date. As with many shorts, to attempt to describe the plot would be to give too much away, which would be a mistake because this is a beautifully shot (in grainy black & white) and performed tale with a distinct, yet subtle, character arc and an important, but not over-egged, moral message. There’s virtually no dialogue, everything conveyed by what Davidson does (and, importantly, doesn’t) show and the performances, particularly that of Scotty Bloch as the central Lady.

Some of the film’s power rests in a neat twist, cunningly obscured by intelligent blocking and timing of other plot elements. Personally I saw it coming, but that didn’t diminish its point. It’s also worth nothing that none of the twenty-or-so others I was watching with spotted the twist ahead of time and they all seemed to find it even more effective.

Why short films are ignored is a discussion for another time, but The Lunch Date is an outstanding example of why they shouldn’t be.

5 out of 5

The Lunch Date is available on the Cinema16: American Short Films DVD.

In 2013 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Gasman (1997)

2008 #76a
Lynne Ramsay | 15 mins | DVD | 15

“Gritty”, “realist” and “indie” are just some of the stock terms that immediately jump to mind when watching this short, which directly enabled Ramsay to make her first feature, Ratcatcher.

Films with such words attached are not automatically to my liking, but Gasman succeeds in using the associated techniques to tell a simple story of complex emotions and meaning for the characters involved. There are times when its documentary-like style is indulgent — the opening goes on too long, for example, and some shots seem deliberately obscure — but it also relates the story effectively and produces a few beautiful views too.

Even cleverer is the use of sound: there’s virtually no dialogue, so the occasional half-heard splashes, often amongst background chatter, are all the more telling. Mostly this is in a subtle fashion, though the key phrase that reveals all is both pretty blunt (though not inordinately so) and repeated an awful lot in a very short space of time.

Gasman is not wholly successful, then, though it does have an interesting story with a strong ending, dialogue-free, that both completes the plot and leaves you wondering what happens next.

4 out of 5

This short is available on the DVD Cinema16: British Short Films, as well as the Criterion Collection and Pathe/Fox releases of Ratcatcher.