Welcome to a special edition of the bi-weekly Eat My Shorts column, shorter than usual and themed to April Fools' Day. I thought it appropriate to write on short films today because for a long time, to me, the format was synonymous with twist endings. I used to think most shorts were basically just simple gags or practical jokes adapted to the screen.
That's the way it seemed when I was in film school, anyway, with everyone's first-ever assignment to make a five-minute silent work, which tended to involve a humorous setup followed by a visual punchline. Basically something as slapstick-simple as the Lumiere's pioneering 'L'arroseur arrosé' (aka 'The Sprinkler Sprinkled'), which you can watch after the jump.
There's also the remake from a year later, which adds an extra level of revenge. I've always been fascinated with the shorts that not only involve slapstick pranks on screen but which fool the audience as well. In a way, if you believe the legend, the Lumiere's are also responsible for that breakthrough. Not that they meant to necessarily fool their audience, but they still made viewers think a locomotive was heading right for them during exhibition of 'L'arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat' (aka 'Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat'). Watch that one here.
Then, of course, there was Georges Melies, the original movie magician with tons of tricks up his camera. Did any of his films go further than being mere illusions and actually trick the viewer? I'm not sure how they were received, but Melies does appear to be the first ever filmmaker to employ the "it was all a dream" conceit. Among others through his career, there was 'La Lune a un metre' ('The Astronomer's Dream'), which survives to this day, and 'The Drunkard's Dream.' And Thomas Edison copied him with films such as 'The Artist's Dream' and 'The Artist's Dilemma.' Watch those here and here.
Of course, we've since seen the twist done in everything from multiple versions of 'The Wizard of Oz' and 'Alice in Wonderland' to TV's 'Newhart.' But here's the one by Melies that some believe started it all:
Okay, now let's jump ahead from the 19th century all the way to the 21st, from which I'd like to share three examples of prank-ish films ranging from the worst sort of deception to the best kind of satisfying reveal. Let's look at the big faker first, a low-budget work titled 'Fragile,' which came out of The 48 Hour Film Project, winning a number of awards during the 2009 Minneapolis edition. Pretty well directed, given the circumstances of the competition, by Vaughn Juares (aka Vaughn G. Smith), it is quite heavy handed (and oddly magically handed, as you'll see), and the twist will probably piss you off more than any M. Night Shyamalan ending. Watch it and see why:
Next up is a short from 2002 that may remind you of the frustratingly fooling feature film 'Identity,' released the following year, but it's not really as big a joke on the audience as it is just a nice little tease with a nice little surprise. Of course, I've probably ruined it for you by acknowledging that there is a surprise. You'd likely get it regardless since it's kind of a familiar concept. Anyway, it's still worth watching for the acting, especially by star Jeremy Sisto, and directorial execution from Trevor Sands (who surprisingly still hasn't gotten a feature made as a result of this). Titled 'INSiDE,' you can view it below:
Last but not least is the 2008 Oscar nominee 'Tanghi Argentini,' a Dutch comedy directed by Guy Thys that may involve a tiny piece of manipulation, but nothing so terrible that you'll feel you were duped in a bad way. It's more 'Amelie' than 'High Tension,' if you know what I mean -- not that 'Amelie' has a twist ending, but, well, you'll understand in just under 14 minutes. Enjoy:
Can you think of any other shorts that kind of "punk" you in this way? Share some links or at least titles in the comments.