‘It’s only fucking rock and roll’. After considered soul-searching and philosophical ponderings, Noel Gallagher’s Mancunian drawl brought proceedings down to earth with a sharp bump, stifled laughter rippling around the Roxy Bar and Screen. One of the London Short Film Festival’s many events combining music and film, the 65-minute documentary, Introspective (2006), was a captivating exploration of definitions: musicians struggling to define themselves, as individuals, among their contemporary peers, and within a complex sprawl of musical genres and history. While this type of quandary might not keep Noel Gallagher awake at night, fortunately there were plenty more thoughtful voices to discuss what the term ‘post-rock’ really means. A simple, low-fi mix of interviews and performances by bands associated with the movement, Adam Garriga’s documentary presented the audience with important dilemmas facing all artists in an age of information overload: how to come up with something original when it feels as if everything has been done before; and how to escape pigeon-holing while being indentified. The interviewees were an analytical, critical and engaging bunch, as they tried to find the words to define their art and their own place within the world. One of the more eloquent speakers, Jan St Werner from Mouse on Mars complained about the media trying to categorise and file bands: ‘our work is our definition,’ he explained. Ending with an eerily beautiful live performance of Low’s ‘(That’s How We Sing) Amazing Grace’, the film proved that words and definitions are not always necessary or able to do artworks justice.
The London Short Film Festival happily followed this dictum throughout its own programming. And this was nowhere better displayed than at the Leftfield and Luscious screening. The shorts compiled into this enigmatically titled programme defied categorisation, lying somewhere between video art and art-house cinema. Such assorted misshapes are usually left out in the cold or side-lined so it was nice to see them taking centre stage for a packed-out screening at the ICA.
As two ghostly figures appeared on screen, shrouded by mist and ethereal strings and saws, it was clear that this was going to be an interesting afternoon. While at times the programme felt a little long and films occasionally missed the mark, most offered memorable moments and arresting images and some were really very special. Generally, it was those that tried to marry conventional linear narratives with more intangible, obscure forms that worked least well. The dialogue rested heavily and awkwardly in these films, making you wish the filmmaker had dispensed with the everyday altogether and just let the visuals speak for themselves.
Toby Tatum’s painterly short, The Sealed World, which started the screening, presented two women cut off in an over-grown, secluded garden. Here, everyday activities become hyper-ritualised with girls deliberating, obsessing over books, pouring tea and, most bizarre of all, fondant fancies. This otherworldly, haunting quality was apparent across many of the selected films: from Conversation, a series of slowed-down, theatrical facial expressions that spiralled into increasingly abstract forms; to We Only Talk at Night, with its compositions of hypnotic pulsating city lights. Layered images, split screens and disjointed soundtracks were popular as filmmakers experimented and pushed at their media. For me, the most successful films were the ones that seemed to enjoy the possibilities of film – shorts that were happy being shorts and filmmakers who were happy working with film.
The programme was at its best with joyful celebrations of rhythm. Most straightforward, Sam Firth’s I.D. created a mischievous montage of photo booth pictures cataloguing teenage posturing and chameleon hairstyles while Max Hattler’s Aanaatt presented an endlessly mobile sequence of animated Bauhaus-style shapes and compositions. Magnus Irvin’s Spiral In Spiral Out also centred on geometric forms as drawn spirals expanded and increased, recalling early scientific films demonstrating the multiplication of microscopic organisms. The stand-out works of the programme were two shorts – Con Moto and Without You – by Tal Rosner, who won the festival award within this category. His kaleidoscopic visions of architectural views and receding countryside shot from racing train windows demonstrate the excitement that arises when music and film combine successfully. With a dynamism similar to Léger’s Le Ballet mécanique, Con Moto‘s interpretation of Stravinsky’s 1935 Concerto for Two Pianos provided a fantastic seven minutes of cinematic vitality. An exceedingly happy marriage between music and film, which spoke for itself.
Watch Tal Rosner’s Con Moto: