WHere did special effects and film editing begin? You're looking at it right up there! Edison's folks made a 17 second short about the beheading of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. That's such a simple film, no backstory, just a blindfolded woman walking to a chopping block, and then the axe coming down. That's it. It's a complete story, really, but what's important is that they did not actually chop off a woman's head.
They edited it!
Basically, they shot one piece where they had the actress walk to the block, kneel and the executioner raise his axe, then there was a cut and they put a dummy in her place, and they continued the shooting and then cut the relevant frames together to make it look like that executioner had sliced her head right through! Afterwards, he picks up th ehead and displays it.
This, like the Lumiere's train pulling into the station, caused a sensation, and while it does pre-date Melies, it has nowhere near the complexity of his films.
What does it mean to feel pain?
I'm not talking in the emotional sense, but as in "OH MY GHOD I'M FUCKING BLEEDING" sense that I have encountered so often. Painless explores that question beautifully, but there's far more to it than a single question, in fact I see something underneath the surface that I find both lovely and troubling - is it possible to form any sort of connection with someone who doesn't experience pain of all kinds.
Stick with me, this is going to get deep...
Henry was born without the ability to feel pain. He deals with the practical problem of living without the ability to detect injury by basically shutting himself off from the world, physically and emotionally. He's attempting to fix his problem by delving into science, but at the same time, he's finding the problems of being a human who has to deal with different paths of development.
The performances here are the drive, but the clean direction, and specifically the precision editing, is what makes Painless into something really special. The performances are allowed exactly enough space to develop, and at the same time, it provides a focus, putting our eyes exactly where we need them to be. The sound design should also be called out. There is layering here that feels natural, but at the same time, when I went back and re-examined the sound, it was so developed. If you look at a coffee shop scene, you can see how a gentle music that exists in the space merges with the conversation to give a sensation, a reality, that brings us in because we understand the space, we get the setting. The way it is shot, and the way the actors present themselves to the camera, are then placed into a stylized reality of the frame, which then allows connection.
Henry is played by Joey Klein, and he's got a rough path. He has to play the distance without seeming cold, or maybe he has to play the cold without seeming distant. Evalena Marie as Shani is one of those roles that seems far simpler on the surface than it does in the analysis. The fact is she's the open heart of the film, and it is through her that we experience Henry in transition. I've been a big fan of Evalena since her remarkable turn in Withdrawl and have to say that she gives a performance that should cement her in my pantheon of actresses to watch!
Overall, I enjoyed the hell out of Painless. It's stylish, yet not overwhelming; it is subtle without being coy. It presents a story which may be science fiction without actually being genre, which is a zone of film that I really love.
There is a kind of film I call the Walkin' Around flick. It's fun, and the point of the film is not the progress of the characters through the setting or their encounters, but the way the characters interact with themselves. The road trip movie is the automated form of this sort of thing; the motorcycle to to bike, in essense. The British film Forgotten Man is of that ilk, and it's great fun!
The basic story is a guy who is a part of a theatre company for the homeless, Carl, meets Meredith, and they spend the day and night together walking, talking, encountering, and basically enjoying one another. Carl is dressed nice, because that's his role in the play, and Meredith comes from money.
The real thing here is the acting. Each and every performance is the kind of thing you'd tell folks about. The leads, Obi Abili and Eleanor McLoughlin, are phenomenal, and have all the chemistry you need to pull off a film like this. The stunning black-and-white cinematography allows the subtleties to play across their faces in a way that never intrudes on the bigger picture. I got the feeling that this film would work in Glorious Colour, but as it stood, it was so much more monumental due to the impact each tiny gesture made upon the entirety of the shots.
McLoughlin is magnetic, and Abili has a difficult role to play that he hits perfectly. I've seen other actors walk into this kind of role and go ill off-course into the weeds. Instead, he plays it with a combination of realism and a sense of direction without purpose. That may not make sense when you read it on-screen, but when you see it play out, it totally works. Meredith is a different animal, and she nails it by allowing every event to wash over her and giving into it as if it is a normal reality instead of an unusual occurance. That's another difficult pass, but she makes it happen, and damn well.
Forgotten Man shows twice more at Cinequest, on the 9th at Santana Row in San Jose at 1:30, and at the Century Theatre in Redwood City on Saturday the 11th at 9pm. YOu should go and see it, because it really hits it out of the park... or an appropriately British version of that cliche.
Klaus at Gunpoint
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