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Raymond A. Mendez
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40 international directors were asked to make a short film using the original Cinematographe invented by the Lumière Brothers, working under conditions similar to those of 1895. There were three rules: (1) The film could be no longer than 52 seconds, (2) no synchronized sound was permitted, and (3) no more than three takes. The results run the gamut from Zhang Yimou's convention-thwarting joke to David Lynch's bizarre miniature epic. Written by
Mike D'Angelo <email@example.com>
This DVD is a collection of the interesting, although scattered, results of an inspired project. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Lumiere Brothers' first motion picture, 40 directors from around the world are each allowed to shoot a short film using their original hand-cranked model. The participants have to follow three rules: 1. The film is 52 seconds. 2. No synchronous sound (most use musical scoring or dub in foley sound, and many are silent) and 3. They have to get it within three takes. Unfortunately for the viewer, several of the filmmakers opt to merely capture trite snapshots of everyday life. While this keeps in tradition with the Lumiere Brothers' original films, which wowed audiences unfamiliar with moving images a century ago, it makes for a pretty unremarkable experience today. Patrice Leconte pays tribute to their film of a train arriving in La Ciotat, France in 1895 by documenting the arrival of a modern day streamliner at the same location. Alain Corneau applies the technique of color tints to footage of a dancer twirling about. Some of them set up elaborate sequences (Gabriel Axel, Jerry Schatzberg, Peter Greenaway), some are intentionally minimal (Wim Wenders, Regis Wargnier, Andrei Konchalovsky) or simple and symbolic (Arthur Penn, Abbas Kiarostami, Francis Girod, Cedric Klapisch) and a large number turn the camera on itself (Liv Ullmann, John Boorman, Claude Lelouch, Gaston Kabore, Youseel Chahine, Helma Sanders). David Lynch is one of the few directors who rises to the challenge with an exceptionally creative effort, and his is easily the most impressive of the bunch. I'm sure it was an honor for them to be approached for the project, but the entries of Spike Lee, Nadine Trintignant, Lasse Hallstrom, and Merchant Ivory are quite unimaginative and forgettable. The menu screen lists the directors alphabetically, allowing you to jump directly to your favorite ones. Each short is designated by a chapter stop, accompanied by brief behind-the-scenes moments and interviews in which the directors awkwardly answer questions such as "Why do you film?" and "Is cinema mortal?" These unsuccessful attempts at insight are best summed up by Michael Haneke's reply: "Never ask a centipede why it walks or it'll stumble." As a tribute to film history, it's a novel and occasionally successful idea, but much of the work is too inconsistent to earn repeat viewings.
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