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Ladies First: Girls on Film 2 on DVD

  Short films used to receive plenty of exposure at film festivals, before headlining cinema features and on television, often as filler between the main programmes but nevertheless often demonstrating a invention that made them more memorable than the longer format works. Nowadays, however, it seems you have to seek them out, and DVD compilations are a good way of doing just that, for they are excellent training grounds for promising directors wishing to try out their new ideas, never mind rustling up funds for their bigger projects. Female directors in particular find them useful, and Peccadillo Pictures have released their Girls on Film collections on disc. Let's look at what's on Girls On Film 2: Before Dawn.

First up is Lorelei Pepi's Happy and Gay, a spot on pastiche of nineteen-thirties animation as seen in the early works of Walt Disney or The Fleischer Brothers, only here the subject matter is somewhat different. The efforts of that era were notable for their anything goes nature, but even so they would not often be seen to be presenting a homosexual theme, not without some coding that was, and here Pepi crafted a carefully rendered recreation of that era in black and white with its animal characters, two couples who happen to be gay, and set off for a night on the tiles. There were authentic-sounding song interludes, and a more serious message of how gay people were treated in those days before decriminalisation in the West.

Anne Claire Jaulin's A Qui la Faute tells the sad tale of a girl scout troop in rural France, on a camping trip that will be familiar to many who went through that experience as kids, though what might not be as familiar would be that one of the girls takes the opportunity of this newfound independence among a group of her teenage peers to test her sexuality. She feels moved to plant a big kiss on another girl when they are alone, having gone off to a quiet place in the woods for a pee, but rather than opening up grand new vistas of affection, she winds up being bullied that night as word gets around and she falls victim to the sort of peer pressure that sees the perceived outsider picked on mercilessly. Not an easy watch, but it is performed with sympathy.

Third is Kai Staenicke's B., which adopts a style familiar from Todd Haynes' Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story by animating dolls to spin its yarn. We watch as one of those Barbie or Sindy type toys enters her bedroom spattered in blood, and flashback to see how she got into this situation, basically because she wanted a girlfriend but society's pressures would seem to be forcing her into the arms of a man she has no interest in, romantically or sexually. As many animators have found out, stop motion toys can deliver a powerful theme, in this case the perils of not being allowed to follow your heart, and though this ends more dramatically than many real lives, the point is succinctly made, though there is a more cheerful twist once the doll's drama has played out.

Silly Girl by Hope Dickson Leach is next, a real short short that lasts barely over three minutes and would have slotted into a Channel 4 schedule very nicely back when they did that sort of thing. This had the premise of what you would say to your younger self, a self who is going through all kinds of turmoil, here when a teenage girl was struggling with her sexuality and meets her middle-aged incarnation who in the intervening years has become a man. The girl has just embarrassed herself by revealing she is gay at school, but there is a bright spot when a classmate tracks her down and persuades her she is attracted to her; the protagonist ponders whether "I like girls" would apply to her, but the older version reassures her. That was it, a be who you can be moral.

Fifth is Crystal Clear, created by Max Disgrace, which is even briefer, a gallop through sexual exploration portrayed through images of a body that may take a while to work out precisely what you're looking at for they are female sexual organs, primary and secondary, smooshed up against a glass surface which to make matters less distinct are smeary thanks to their proximity. This was lesbian erotica, therefore to accompany the visuals is a voiceover which extremely explicitly described exactly what the speaker would like to do, and indeed is doing, to the woman she has decided to have sex with. If this sounded aggressively in your face, well, there was an element of that, but enthusiasm was present too in a "lost in the moment" fashion.

To relate the title of the next film is a little bit of a spoiler, since the title comes up at the end and is a punchline, but Rob Savage's Dawn of the Deaf was that effort, telling what starts out looking like a domestic drama, as one deaf teen is obviously not happy being around her father but is powerless to do anything about it (ironically, she cannot get her mother to listen to her), then we flit to a lesbian couple who are also deaf and having an argument in a café, with asides to mischief makers shooting prank films for online and a deaf man delivering a speech about an award he has won, and how happy this acceptance has made him after a lifetime of bullying. To say any more really would spoil it, but this was a good enough opener for an entire movie.

Tvi Lida Leikur by Nana Kristin Masgnusdottir was set in a sports centre, where one muscular young woman takes on an older, fatter man at tennis and soundly beats him, much to his displeasure. Meanwhile, a group of elderly ladies play cards, gambling at a table overlooking the courts, until two of their number venture outside to see the athletic tennis player looking frustrated. They look on admiringly and one thing leads to another, which here means one of the old dears seduces the younger woman and performs a sex act on her in a quiet corridor, as we hear then-President Barack Obama make his speech about gender equality, which included homosexual genders, supposedly a moment of triumph, yet this ended on an ambiguous note. Somewhat inscrutable.

Lud Monaco's Enjoy the Drama, is despite its English title French, and details the last day of a couple of women who may be in love with one another, but decide they have to split up, as one of them has a boyfriend. This was shot with very nineties shakycam, the camera seemingly distracted over and over but continually settling on the two characters as a voiceover, presumably belonging to one of them, babbled about the house they were sharing, how they were forced to move out because of circumstances, and eventually how one may have realised she could not live without the other. This resembled a perfume advertisement in style, only it was aimed at lesbians, and its abrupt climax was more baffling than illuminating.

Plunge by Australia's Kate Lefoe was another short keen to sustain a certain aura of mystery, as it began normally enough with a pair of girlfriends who drive out to an idyllic place in the forest to relax and swim in the small lake there. The photography well captured the sense of a refuge away from the hustle and bustle with nature in all its glory, but it seems the ladies get carried away when they decide to jump off a high-ish cliff into the water. What happened then was like something out of a Shirley Jackson short story, simple but unnerving as there was no explanation for it given, it just occurs and one of the characters we assume has to live with the consequences. An effective work, strangely haunting in its fears of being left alone.

Actresses from Jeremy Hersh was, as the title suggested, about two thespians, only in this instance they were lesbian thespians who meet when one, as a fan, stops the other on the street to gush about how much she appreciated her latest performance. Before she knows what is happening, they are in a bar getting to know each other, and then in bed, but this asked how much did she really know about this woman and how much was she using her fan adoration to feed her own fragile personality. It's all me, me, me with the first girl, and as she cannot take a compliment, even from the "star", it places a strain on the relationship. This was little more than a sketch, but appeared to stem from experience, and that gave it substance.

Battalion to My Beat is last, directed and written by Eimi Imanishi, telling of an Algerian tomboy teen whose dearest wish is to join the military, particularly to battle the Moroccans, a subject she is obsessed with to the point of distracting her from home life, school work and playing with those her own age. She does like a kickabout with a football, however, though even that turns sour when she gets into a scuffle with a boy who snitches on her, leaving her admonished by her elders. It was the depiction of a young girl who is determined to fit in, just not fit in with what was traditional in the eyes of the society she is growing up in, that resonated here, certainly coming of age stories were common in short films, but the location of this made it interesting.

There you go, Girls On Film 2: Before Dawn served up eleven high quality short subjects from a largely female bunch of writers and directors from around the world, all with a gay perspective in one way or another, yet well enough made to appeal not simply to that target audience, as anyone wishing to find out more was welcome to try these. They may find them illuminating, they may find them confounding, but somewhere in between was experience, valuable too.
Author: Graeme Clark


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Last Updated: 18 March, 2006