A Bleak and Harrowing Look into the Future

If you’re like me, then short films aren’t typically on your radar. They never seem to come to movie theaters, aren’t substantial enough to be shown on television, and many are animated, meaning there are no stars in them to grace the covers of glossy magazines while vacationing in Cabo. They draw almost no attention at all except for at artsy hipster-attracting film festivals, like the one recently held in Beloit. This festival was the reason I began my recent connoisseurship of short films. Motivated by guilt from not actually heading downtown to go see any short films, I holed up in my room to watch some of them.

By far my favorite was “Lucky Day Forever,” a 16-minute Polish film written, directed and designed by Alek Wasilewski. It’s hard to believe that such a concise product took five years to make. Up to this point in his career, Wasilewski worked with even shorter flash animations, comics, and photography. Many are disturbing like one animation called “Polsupah” in which a husband cuts his son’s head off as the wife watches and then the two have impromptu sex as their son’s blood spills on to the floor. This is definitely not the type of thing you want to watch in the library. Even if you’re alone at home, don’t watch it. It’s disturbing. Luckily, Wasilewski has toned things down a bit with “Lucky Day Forever,” perhaps in hopes to appeal to a broader audience and to allow his film to be watched in more libraries.

The film tells the story of a scum called Prole 514 in a rigid binary class system where he falls to the bottom due to his dark skin. His only pleasures are beer and the pornographic propaganda from the white world on his television. A bruised and battered love interest appears for Prole only to be quickly forgotten when he wins the “Great Lottery,” earning him his ticket to enter the pristine, elite, and white world of beings called “B’s” who live in perpetual fame, riches, and sensual ecstasy. However, we soon come to learn that even with his skyward-rocketing social trajectory, the outlook for Prole is decidedly bleak.

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Packed with blatant symbolism and surrealist parodies of the world we live in, “Lucky Day Forever” definitely requires more than one viewing. The most staunch attacks are aimed at racism, classism, and the powerful influence media has over the individual. Prole works in  glimmering silver mall where the tall B’s walk past him without even noticing his small dark presence. The TV shows only garrish MTV-like videos with celebrities telling a near comatose Prole that “Anyone can be a star.”

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In some ways the film lacks originality as the motif of a corrupted futuristic world are nothing new to art. In many ways, the plot and themes echo Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Wasilewski offers a different lens to look at the way our society may be headed. For one, the new medium of film provides an visually abrasive and powerful portrait of the a possible future. At the same time, the use of 2-D Flash animation allows Wasilewski to play with proportions and exaggerations to really drive home his themes of social inequality. Wasilewski’s Polish heritage adds another layer of meaning to the film’s commentary. The parallels of racial subjugation call to mind Poland’s history of subjugation at the hands of both Hitler and Stalin during World War II. Somewhat accordingly, the film palpitates with anger.

In all, the short is captivating with its weirdness. The cartoon characters are borderline pornographic which, even in 2-D stop animation, can be offputting. Yet it is precisely this perturbed fascination that keeps you watching as Prole’s life unravels while ascending to the top ranks of white society. The film gets at real issues that can be over-hashed to death by independent art projects, but it also applies a new and brazenly bold lens to tensions that we like to think have faded away. Wasilewski’s short drudges up this societal muck and the result is appropriately unsettling.

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M-83 Ramps Up the Volume and Finesse

True to the band’s name, M-83’s sixth and double album Hurry Up We’re Dreaming transports you into a vast far-off galaxy and make you reluctant to return. Luckily, you don’t have to. Twenty-two tracks fill a solid hour of celestial stargazing amid blurred vocals and electronic emotion. The continuous synthetic vibes can be soothing or repetitive depending on your mood. Each track blends into the next providing a reserved but stimulating background for philosophizing, reading, sleeping, or exploring alternative states of consciousness. The lyrics and the melodies travel in circles with repeated phrases and tunes further wrapping you into the M-83 universe.

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This time around Anothony Gonzalez describes his move to Los Angeles after living in France for most of his life. Unlike previous endeavors, much of the album is a collaboration with many other artists including Zola Jesus’ vocalist Nika Roza Danilova. The album hums with the excitement and energy from this newness and experimentation.

Many songs like go without lyrics and many of those that are included are unintelligible in the name of shoegaze rock. But if you take the time to look up the lyrics, you will find a text that echoes the music it accompanies. The tracks come across as simultaneously wistful, serene, and expectant, trying to capture the entire range of human emotion. The songs tell stories of love, wonder, and the great experience of being human in a fleeting world. In the pop-infused “Steve McQueen,” Gonzalez sings, “The world is a goldmine/That will melt tomorrow.”

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Some of the best tracks are those that forego lyrics like “Where the Boats Go” and “When Will You Come Home.” These carry a meaningful weight despite the lack of human voice. They are carried instead by a wide range of instruments from saxophone to piano and acoustic guitar. Emotion is belied by the soaring strings and slap bass. Gonzalez stated that the album is “mainly about dreams, how every one is different, how you dream differently when you’re a kid, a teenager, or an adult.”

For the most part the album lives up to Gonzalez’ vision, effectively capturing an ambitious spectrum of emotion. The sheer number and variety of tracks with each flowing into, but at the same time very distinct, from the next. Longer songs of intense drums and upbeat tempo are coupled with their antitheses of short, sweeping and slow string interludes. The simple ballad structure of many of the songs is reminiscent of Peter Gabriel and Queen. However, M-83 steps into a new musical dimension by laying on the synth and minimizing vocals.

The double disks are supposed to compliment each other as “brother and sister” and in each, Gonzalez slowly builds anticipation with his trance-like style. The first disk is more reserved with subdued energy and the second acts as climax and fallout. In this way, the two work together to provide an arc of emotion that rises to a peak and then subsides with the closing outro. Although the album may be a little self-indulgent and long winded, it is an auditory space adventure that you won’t forget.