Salon des Refusés
The idea of a space in which to showcase art rejected by larger institutions is not a new one. The first Salon des Refusés was established in 1863, a year in which the Paris Salon turned away an unprecedented 3,000 works of art which were subsequently exhibited as part of a rival event, and 147 years later two innovative young women have breathed new life into the concept. Chloë Roddick and Kirsty Dootson met whilst working in the submissions department of a UK film festival, and were horrified to discover that as few as five per cent of short films actually make it onto the screens of the festivals to which they are submitted. Since unlucky films often failed to make the grade on the basis of pedantic technical fussing rather than merit or otherwise, Chloë and Kirsty resolved to find room for them elsewhere. The first of their Salon des Refusés events, held at Bermondsey’s ludicrously charming Shortwave Cinema, aimed to do just that. Here’s what went down…
Second Cousins Once Removed
(USA, 10m30s, dir. Eliza Hittman)
I can’t help but feel that this was a less than ideal choice for the first film of the evening, hammering home as it does the criticism most often levelled at short films – they don’t last long enough for anything to actually happen. This can, of course, be irrelevant or inaccurate, but in the case of Second Cousins Once Removed it’s broadly on the money. Despite promising “a tender and beautiful coming-of-age tale”, what it essentially delivers is about five minutes of nondescript tweenage moping followed by a passably interesting bit of sexual aggression which isn’t in any way developed. The director is worth looking out for again on the strength of the cinematography, but judged on its own merits this short ain’t much.
(UK, 8m27s, dir. Rob Munday)
I don’t feel I’ve ever been cool enough to be allowed to enjoy anything with the prefix ‘beat’ except possibly Beatrix Potter, so I do my best to dismiss anything which looks like On The Road before I have to own up to not really understanding it. Happily, Moving America is the very opposite of exclusive – a delicious multisensory soup of vivid images and gentle voiceover, it is exactly the sort of thing I’d like to have projected on my bedroom ceiling when I can’t sleep. Hugely enjoyable. (Disclaimer: the photo has nothing to do with Moving America, but apparently putting images online is tantamount to being in thrall to the Man, so what can you do?)
At Home With The Ants
(NZ, 9m45s, dir. Jill Kennedy)
Subtracting at least one dimension from the previous short but still managing to up the psychedelia, At Home With The Ants is perhaps best described as an animated collage with attention deficit disorder. It skips at breakneck pace between its fixed-image characters as if we’re watching a home video made by Horse from A Town Called Panic, and as a parade of numbered craneflies and mice and lizards and little men on camels and Christ knows what dance jerkily across the screen you may wish to question any beliefs you’re holding re: the existence of a benevolent creator. Slightly too long at a shade under ten minutes, this is nevertheless a visual treat.
A Grumpy Old Man
(UK, 7m30s, dir. Rachel Tracy)
Far and away the most stripped down film of the night, a substantial portion of this short interview with widower and curmudgeon Sid is composed of just one shot. Sid, who was approached by director/camerawoman/interviewer Rachel Tracy whilst lighting a cigarette on his mobility scooter (livin’ the dream!), is a North London pensioner with a tiny flat full of clocks. No, seriously. This chap’s got clocks like you don’t even know. He’s also got a monstrously sad life story, which is delivered in such a disarming and matter-of-fact fashion that I wanted to rewatch it to make sure I’d heard him correctly. The gems which make this short superb were handed to Tracy on a plate, so I’ve not got much of a stance on her – Sid, however, has a bright on-screen future ahead of him.
(UK, 14m59s, dir. Leo deHaan)
When will we be rid of ‘gritty’ bloody films showing gangsters in Soho/the East End/[insert grimy town here] having understated face-offs to a backdrop of hookers posing in badly cut jeans? Not yet, obviously, because some utter bastard decided to finance Vendetta. Its production values are probably the highest of any film in this feature, but things are pretty bad when the best thing you can say about a film is that the camera was obviously decent. Fifteen minutes of watching a miserable old bugger traipse around London being rebuffed by barmaids serves to contribute nothing at all to the sum total of human experience, I’m afraid – at least Lock, Stock… has some bearable dialogue.
A Hundred and Forty Suns
(UK, 3m50s, dir. Jonathan Blair)
It is perhaps just as well that this is the shortest short of all; visually intense and rich with complex ideas, four minutes of Jonathan Blair’s inspired animation must be approaching a lethal dose. Based on the lyrically rich Russian poem ‘An Extraordinary Adventure Which Befell Vladimir Mayakovsky in a Summer Cottage’, it is as beautiful as it is confusing, following a nameless, voiceless, distinctly inhuman character as he apparently enters into a dialogue with the Sun. I must admit that I only really made any sense of the film after reading Mayakovsky’s poem, but even when one has no bloody idea what’s going on it’s an exceptionally enjoyable watch.
(UK, 16m28s, dir. Stephanie Zari)
I’m glad I’ve seen Marigolds, but I don’t ever want to watch it again. An extraordinarily uncomfortable film to watch, it depicts the sudden joy of a slovenly late-middle-aged woman upon hearing her son will be returning home for a flying visit, only to find that his unexpected new girlfriend forces her to confront some very unusual feelings about her little boy. Jane Guernier is hypnotic as the lead character, so much so that I can scarcely recall the other characters – her neuroses, mood swings and very thinly veiled lust are so exquisitely painful to watch. I’m just not sure I’m ever going to feel quite the same way about rubber gloves as I used to.
Ho! Terrible Exteriors
(Israel, 26m55s, dir. Lior Shamriz)
At almost half an hour long, this film is substantially too meaty for most short film festivals – and, I would suggest, also substantially too mental. A piece of ‘experimental fiction’ delivered in rapid-fire Ivrit, Ho! Terrible Exteriors (no, I’ve got no idea) cuts between a couple bathing in a rural water hole and another struggling to cope with the respective infidelity and asexuality of its members. So far, so good. Then there’s lots of gratuitous onscreen penis, a sequence in which various people pretend to be flying although they’re manifestly not even fooling themselves, and someone who gets his head smashed in with a big fucking rock. Not telling you who – find out if you really fancy it, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
The nature of the Salon des Refusés’ lineup is inevitably a double-edged sword – whilst some of its features definitely merited the bleak white cruelty of a rejection slip, there were other films which I was hugely glad to have had the chance to watch. Think of it as the Revels of the film festival world.