Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Contact (2009)

Country: USA

It is not very often that I get the opportunity to travel down some of the smaller intersections of The Celluloid Highway. Along these ill lit and creepy passages and avenues lies the domain of the short film. The short remains a vital means of expression, a space in which to experiment and to scratch onto the celluloid an artists personality. To view the short as simply a calling card or as a means to an end is to do a disservice to a delicate and challenging form of storytelling which needs to communicate its themes and message in a much clearer and concise manner. I was recently invited to view the latest offering from independent filmmaker Jeremiah Kipp, a short ten minute movie entitled Contact. With limited budgets comes the necessity to learn all aspects of the filmmaking process and Kipp has done just that. With experience in writing, directing and producing, Kipp’s most notable credit to date was as assistant director on I Sell the Dead (2008).

Contact seems much more interested in exploring stylistic and formal techniques than it does in telling a story. This is not a bad thing at all, because the narrative is deceptively simple and charts an individuals experimentation with drugs. The film offers us two mutually opposed worlds. The first is a stale vision of middle class suburban domesticity, the second the ugly urban decay of the inner cities. There is a sense of urban and industrial alienation here which evokes the memory of David Lynch’s nightmarish and perplexing debut feature Eraserhead (1977). This link to Lynch is further aided by a weird throbbing soundtrack that plays throughout (dialogue at a minimum), and monochrome cinematography. However the shaky handheld camera work is a world away from the stately visuals of Lynch’s early efforts. The sense that weird events can happen within the familiar confines of an apartment is a further allusion (even if it is drug inspired in this case) and gives the film an uncanny impression. An hallucination in which the two drug experimenters find their faces melted together is good fun and is reminiscent of the body bending visual effects seen in Society (1989).

The formal aspects that Kipp utilises to good effect combine to create a palpable mood and an underlying tension that pervades every frame. The widescreen presentation gives it a cinematic feel uncommon in short films, and leads to a greater attention to composition and framing. The message of the film was somewhat unclear to me. It would at first glance seem to be anti-drug, but the film refuses to editorialise, instead preferring to allow the contrasts between two different realms to speak for themselves. Although it sets up these oppositions, it doesn’t actually favour either. This suggests that the films attitude to the questions that arise out of the drug/hallucination imagery are more ambiguous than first thought. Importantly the formal and stylistic devices that Kipp uses are not merely an attempt to make his film look arty or cool, but are in service to the narrative, and that indicates an impressive intelligence behind the camera.

View Contact here:

© Shaun Anderson 2010

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