2016 / 8 MINUTES / DIRECTOR: ANDY ROBINSON / SCREENSTORY: ANDY ROBINSON, WEND BAKER, CHARLOTTE VOWLES / STARRING: BECKY LOUISE RICH / MUSIC: MOMO:TEMPO
Having notched up an extraordinary 34,000 hits in the year or so since his unofficial film accompaniment to the Seasons of War book hit YouTube, Andy Robinson’s next film was always going to have a difficult job following such an impressive project. Fortunately, rather than trying to outdo his previous effort – surely an impossible task and a hiding to failure – Robinson has instead produced a small-scale film that doesn’t bear comparison in any way except that of inspiration. Two Feet Tall is a delightful seven minutes that breezes by in what feels like a quarter of the time.
The concept, by Wend Baker, is simple enough. Two Feet Tall tells the story of a downtrodden young woman entirely through the medium of what her feet get up to. With the camera staying always at a level just a few inches from the ground, we first see the feet poking from the bottom of the duvet as the morning alarm goes off, then in the kitchen as breakfast is prepared, walking to work, in the office and the cafeteria at lunch, at a meeting and finally walking home in the evening. The same story is told five times over, with the same incidents occurring in each iteration, but every time with a different action or result. What might have quickly become dull in fact gets ever more engrossing as the film progresses, for a combination of reasons.
On the one hand there’s the photography, which is sharp and simple (there’s a beautiful slow-motion sequence involving a puddle which is not only charming but also acts to foreshadow both the resolution and the final destination), never overcomplicating things to the extent where there’s any doubt in the viewer’s mind as to how the plot is progressing. And there is properly a plot, which develops through each repetition of the sequence of events such that it’s very easy to become involved in the emotional life of the principal character in spite of never really seeing anything above her knees. There is also the fast and straightforward way in which each incident is dealt with, never outstaying its welcome as might easily have been the temptation, so that the iterations each last barely more than a minute, but still manage to give a full account of the owner of the feet’s life.
Then there’s the music, by Timo Peach aka Momo:Tempo, which is as accomplished and as uncomplicated as everything else and thus succeeds in servicing the story without unbalancing or dominating over any of the other elements. It’s a lovely little theme, not a million miles away from the feel of the Badlands score if given a suburban makeover, and altogether it rounds off a thoughtful and coherent set of elements especially satisfactorily.
Two Feet Tall is oddly far more fulfilling an experience than any seven-minute film featuring only images of people’s feet has any right to be, the trajectory of the main character’s emotional life more rewardingly told than in many a major Hollywood blockbuster – and there is even a moment involving a pair of shoes covering the words “Help Me” that is affecting enough to be thoroughly moving. If there’s an issue with the film at all, it’s in what the change from flat to high heels says about the owner of the feet – but I guess as a metaphor for empowerment it’s an obvious visual choice to make, so far be it for me to criticise.
All in all Robinson’s Seasons of War follow-up must be judged a success; probably – in its modest way – even more of a success than the Doctor Who-themed short that preceded it. Certainly it’s an exquisitely rounded piece of work considering the simplicity of its premise!
AUDIO REVIEW: THE SECRET OF SPRINGHEEL’D JACK SERIES 3 EPISODE 1 THE PERIL OF THE EMPIRES / SCREENPLAY: ROBERT VALENTINE, GARETH PARKER / PUBLISHER: THE WIRELESS THEATRE COMPANY / STARRING: CHRISTOPHER FINNEY, MATTHEW KELLY, DAVID BENSON, LOUIS TAMONE, JENNY RUNACRE / RELEASE DATE: 30TH OCTOBER (World Audio Drama Day)
The second series of the wonderfully named Wireless Theatre Company’s Springheel Saga ended with early Victorian era detective Jonah Smith reconciled to the devilish vision that had haunted him since as a child he had lost his parents in the Great Scratch Row Fire, and eighteen months later Christopher Finney is back to reprise his role one final time in this concluding series of half-hour episodes. Following the vaguely Nightmare Man revelations in The Legend of Springheel’d Jack, this last set of three instalments promises to finally deliver the revelation as to what precisely the ghostly apparition really is.
It’s 1877, more than three decades after Smith’s last encounter with his nebulous nemesis, and to say that the intervening years have changed his circumstances since their last meeting would be an understatement. But Jack has returned, and having attacked Aldershot Barracks in a scene-setting cold open, Benjamin Disraeli (David Benson)’s government are looking for our erstwhile detective in order to help them solve the mystery once and for all. They’re not the only ones on Springheel’s trail though, and in common with the previous series, The Peril of the Empires sets up this third triptych as a contest between competing parties to track the beast down for varyingly nefarious reasons.
With the authors continuing to intertwine real history with their own fictional characters, The Secret of Springheel’d Jack begins in as authentically-feeling a fashion as its predecessors had been produced, and while it would be advisable for any new listeners to seek out those preceding six episodes – not least for the performances of Julian Glover in the first series, and Nicholas Parsons in the second (with another notable name promised for later in this final run) – fans of Victorian melodrama with a supernatural, potentially sci-fi twist will soon be up to speed with the story here, thanks to some deft scene setting happily disguised beyond some superlative acting, the occasionally dodgy Prussian accent notwithstanding. Chris Finney (late of Wizards Vs Aliens) continues to be excellent as Detective Smith, aging forty years across the saga, and there’s even a turn from Matthew Kelly as the German Ambassador.
Given a slightly melancholy edge thanks to its elliptical nature, harkening back to the tragic way the saga had begun, The Peril of the Empires is a classy production that largely eschews the “acting for radio” that can sometimes blight plays of its kind. And although it perhaps isn’t as ripe as later Victorian detective dramas are in the habit of being, instead it begins the telling of another relatively traditional story in an archetypal fashion, with recognisable elements masking what undertakes to be an unpredictable if not entirely surprising conclusion to the trilogy.
A smart-phone meant I was able to enjoy Joe Queenan's recent Guardian article about missing vital movie moments from the comfort of the sofa in my living room. I wondered what pivotal scenes in movies I had also sat through while sitting in this sofa, and that because I'd watched the films all the way through, had enhanced my appreciation of the way the movies had ended?
The Dinosaur Project features a scene approximately a quarter of the way in, where the main cast are cooped up in a helicopter which is suddenly attacked by Pterodactyls. I realised that this scene would have come totally out of the blue, and would have felt ridiculously contrived, had it not been for an earlier shot of some news footage of a dinosaur in an African river. Fortunately I hadn't been talking on my phone when the news footage appeared, and so when the Pterodactyl attack happened I was mentally prepared for it, logging the film as being one that was likely to include dinosaurs.
It's amazing. I've been watching movies since I was about as tall as a grasshopper's knee, and never once in all that time have I deliberately missed anything, even going to the occasional bother of turning my phone off while entering the cinema in order to ensure my appreciation of the film I had paid to see would be as complete as possible.
Filmmakers understand that the people who've paid good money to see a film would generally speaking like to get their money's worth, and will often go the extra mile to make sure that every frame and line of dialogue in their product is worth sitting through. Often it's the least expository moments in movies that are the best. Who can forget that gorgeous moment in The Sword and the Sorcerer when one of the cast accidentally enters a harem and looks around with glee at the naked female bodies present? It adds nothing to the plot, but nevertheless caused considerable mirth among the paying patrons of the cinema in Sheffield where I first watched the movie.
I recently watched the Italian pastiche Bloody Sin: Abominations of the Third Reich with my step-daughter, who had been Snap-Chatting with her friends throughout the ninety minutes running time. At the end of the film, she asked me if the two surviving characters were actually the same two characters who had been conjoined twins during the flashback sequence earlier in the movie where we saw the Nazi experiments that had unlocked the seventh gate to Hell and caused the events of the film to come into being. "Yes," I told her, proud that even though she'd spent the entire running time focussing just as much on her social media as she had the DVD, she'd still managed to absorb enough about the plot for it to make sense in her head.
The implications of all this were fascinating: those films I'd found awful first time around probably actually were awful, and I didn't feel the need to go back and revisit them in case I'd missed anything. But those films that I'd enjoyed I had probably enjoyed because the producers, the writers and the directors had bothered to keep me entertained by rewarding my patience with interesting characters and situations, as well as with plots that were worth sitting through.
My existence as a movie-goer is not a sham. You pays your money and you gets your money's worth. Obviously if you don't pay you don't feel you owe the movie-makers anything - especially if you're being paid to write reviews that can ultimately have an impact upon their career prospects.
My own reviews, of things I sat all the way through, can be found in Starburst Magazine and at their website here: