Urban Visions Review

In the plethora of DVDs being released there seems to have been very few releases focussing solely on short films: they have quickly become a mere DVD extra coaxing us into buying a full-length film. Lowave however are hoping to buck this trend and the first release from this Parisian editor showcases eleven shorts. The films range from the purely experimental (such as Push and Pako) to more conventional narrational styles (Der Letze Flug, One Last Thing) but all deal with the artist's vision of urban life. Even though shorts or experimental films may not be everyone's cup of tea, this collection is particularly engrossing; granted this is not going to become a Saturday night favourite, but all of the films are of quite a high standard and the experimental films are all accessible enough: none of the films can really be rated as self-indulgent or abstruse.

Here's a breakdown of what's featured on the disc:
Push (Gorka Aguado; 4:29): Using the sounds and images of buttons being switched on and off, the film develops cleverly choreographs these buttons at a constant, relentless rhythm.

One Last Thing (Hilton Earl; 5:15): Against a jazz soundtrack and a narrated voice-over, the camera follows a man in a night-time walk through London.

Fausse Solitude (Pierre-Yves Cruaud; 5:45): Paris swirls faster and faster around the director/author as the electronic soundtrack speeds up. Very much experimental and probably a little overlong , the film does offer an interesting comment on the individual pitted against the high-speed society.

Der Letzte Flug (Lombardi Clan; 11:24): Based on a true event, the films looks at four friends getting high and how they deal with one of their friends overdose. With impeccable performances and a great taste for expressionistic lighting, this is an excellent short film.

Pako (Nosfe; 1:27): using Zoo-TV like messages, the director toys with the audiences mind against a backdrop of noise and oppressive imagery. Very much experimental but very concise.

Hi-Fi (Sean Baker; 5:34): Using a rough and ready style and no dialogue, Baker follows four youths in NY getting high in a car and driving aimlessly though the city. Despite reminding me of Aaronorfsky at times, the film is well edited and filmed making it another high point in the collection.

Novanta (GC Tarantola; 12:10): In a truly bizarre combination of computer animation and morphed skin textures, we see the chaotic trip of bus number 90 through Milan. Although quite unsettling to watch, there's no denying the artist's visual flair here.

When the floor became the ceiling (Rudolf Buitenbach; 6:03): An actor is trying to learn his lines but his concentration is constantly being broken by his neighbours noisy habits.

Raus aus seinem kleidern (Corinna Schnitt; 7:18): Against the monologue of a woman explaining to us why she prefers taking caring of her clothes more than human contact, a camera passively looks at her repetitively airing an item of clothing. A poignant but clever look into the world of a person suffering from compulsive obsessive disorder - intelligently the filmmaker chooses to not laugh at the person but attempt to understand it by "putting herself in her clothes".

Promenaux (Stefano Canapa; 11:19): Filmed in grain B&W, Canapa gives us a loving vision of Paris with much in common with Robert Doisneau's eye for the individual in the masses. Voluntarily grainy and strangely lit, this is a brilliant but hypnotic film.

The Strip Mall Trilogy (Roger Beebe; 9:06): Taking the garish visuals of these shopping malls, the film kicks off with a manic rush of images cycling through shapes and colours to then moves to a child singing the alphabet to a thrashy guitar... A successful attempt by Beebe to convey his stress and angst to the audience.

Bonus film: Street Crossing (Pablo Altès; 5:58): Filming a NY street in slow motion with a static camera, Altès' film is designed to be played as an eternal loop.

The DVD:
The image: Given that the source material for most of these films was not of the highest quality (most were filmed on the likes of 16mm , Super 8 or mini DV), this was going to be a difficult collection to transfer. I'm delighted to say that they've taken the utmost care in transferring the films adding anamorphic enhancement when needed (only one film was filmed in a non-4:3 ratio) and showing themselves more than competent with the more difficult materials. There are a few occurrences of print damage but overall they have done an excellent job.

The sound:They have stuck with the original mixes of each film which was either stereo or mono. No 5.1 mix in sight thank goodness! The sound is all very clear and audible - nothing to flaw here either

The menus:The menus are basic but mostly easy to navigate - there's a slight problem with the play all function - it didn't work on my player but it seems that it works on most players. Also the inclusion of three languages on the menus may not be to everyone's taste (a better option may have been to select the language right at the start and have separate menus) but we can only applaud Lowave for attempting to cater for most of Europe with this DVD.

The subtitles:Lowave should really be commended for their efforts here - there are German, English, French, Italian and Spanish subtitles for the films. The English and the French subtitles were very good translations from what I could make out. The subtitles are generated on the fly but may be a little small for some people's taste.

The extras:The extras despite not being numerous are really quite good. There's a detailed biography and filmography of all the participants (in English, French and German) and a "director's commentary" film - each artist giving a short comment on their film - it only runs for a total of 6 minutes but is well edited together and really gets the essential message from each participant. To round it all off, we also get a short trailer advertising the DVD.

Conclusions:A very well chosen collection of short films is given an excellent release by Lowave - the care and effort that has gone into this project is evident as is their wish to share these films with as wide an audience as possible. Highly recommended for all those interested in experimental or truly independent film making. Although I don't think this DVD is available via a UK online retailer, you can order this, from their site.

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