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Movie Reviews: The Short Films of David Lowery

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One thing I like to do as part of the Uber-Indie Project is use the space to throw a small amount of recognition to not only the films themselves, but the people who made them, the creative souls who toil in obscurity. Usually this does nothing more than show up when someone Googles themselves, but still, you never know. That's why you always see the list of credits along with the review. But with shorts, it's a little different, because the credits don't hold true from film to film. So what to do? Well, we're going to split the review into parts and see if that works. Unfortunately, I can't get as in-depth with these as I normally would. So it goes.

The Outlaw Son (2006)

Starring: Kyle Williams and Machete
Cinematography by: Nicholas Prendergast
Written and directed by: David Lowery

11 min/Austin, Texas

lowryA flight into Austin. A phone call. Coffee in a diner. A long night in a parked car. Silence. Long, uncomfortable silences. To call The Outlaw Son sparse and minimalist would be something of an understatement. This is a film where, at first glance, nothing happens until the final moments, where it might appear that Lowery is stringing us along until the finale, but I don't think that's the case. The way he films it, in short little clips buffered by a blank screen, almost like flipping through a photo album, it builds ever so slightly. The sort of thing you could easily miss.

It's a film where the tiniest of gestures mean everything, and even thought the film at no point bothers to connect the dots between the ending and the rest of the film, here's my either/or theory: either Lowery is indulging in art for art's sake, the standard student film approach, or (and I hope it's this one) The Outlaw Son is a picture of a relationship in trouble, of some level of heartbreak, of the long sleepless nights working through your problems, and the ending is an act of solidarity, the type of "we're in this together now", team-building thing you see when sports teams all shave their heads for the playoffs. They've come to some sort of resolution and this is the point where they begin to move forward. And even if it isn't, even if I'm completely wrong, it's an effective film regardless.

A Catalog of Anticipations II

Starring: Mary Margaret Lowery and Cammi Heath
Cinematography by: David Lowery
Written and directed by: David Lowery
4 min/Austin, Texas

A story of a little girl (played by Mary Margaret Lowery, narrated by Cammi Heath) who collects interesting things, only to discover a dead fairy in the field behind her house. She finds more and more, eventually theorizing that there must have been some sort of war, and then one day, one of them comes back to life. It sounds pretty out there, but it isn't, mostly because of the way Lowery chooses to tell this story. Eschewing traditional means, the film exists as a series of photographs, advancing one still image at a time, with the fairies realized by stop motion animation (using clay, I assume) that merges flawlessly with the rest of the film. The story is a short one, recounted in the matter-of-fact way that only a child can manage. To her, there doesn't seem to be anything all that remarkable about a fairy war in her yard, and so she tells the story in that manner. But it still contains a dry sadness that's in a lot of ways more poignant than a river of tears.

A Catalog of Anticipations I

Starring: David Lowery
Cinematography by: David Lowery
Written and directed by: David Lowery
4 min/Austin, Texas

Lowery himself stars in A Catalog of Anticipations I, a take on the classic rebirth theme that's so prevalent in cinema. It's nicely done — the shots are well-composed and the editing is crisp — but this isn't something we haven't seen numerous times and it doesn't attempt to put a different twist on it. I don't know that there's much of a reason for this film to exist, other than in a larger work or as something of an exercise. That being said, there aren't many filmmakers who'd be willing to lay in the mud and put dirt in their mouth for a film. Hell, that's why you hire actors, so someone else can lay in the mud while you sit in a chair sipping coffee.

Some Analog Lines

Starring: David Lowery and Benjamin Lowery

Sound design by: Brad Mitchell
Cinematography by: David Lowery
Written and directed by: David Lowery
6 min/Austin, Texas

Disclosure: Some Analog Lines is one of my favorite short films and the main reason I asked David to participate in the Uber-Indie Project.

David Lowery's Some Analog Lines is a thoughtful, nuanced look at the creative process, the nature of art, and the inherent nature of audience perception. Lowery narrates himself, sometimes doubling, tripling his voice into uneven layers, sometimes letting it run solo. He chronicles the genesis of his filmmaking career, starting with a ghost story he made as a child along with his younger brother Benjamin. Cut to today where they're both still making films, only now they're animated, David's a stop-motion animation and Benjamin's CGI. He ponders the differences between the two mediums, how the stop-motion gets more respect from a cineaste, how the CGI doesn't get the credit it deserves, how the fact that we can see the fingerprints in the clay somehow means something to us on a fundamental level, much like the homemade bookshelf or the Super-8 footage of a ghost story or the hand-written message in a book. Because it's easier for an audience to identify with something when we can see the humanity in it. The ability to see those fingerprints is important somehow.

But does that diminish the CGI? Of course not.

What's interesting to me about Some Analog Lines is how in talking about the fingerprints, Lowery so freely uses technology to make his point, almost as if he's showing the audience that the computer can too have a soul. He pulls the screen out of the computer and puts it in the air around him, manipulating the controls with his hands, must like he did with his stop-motion animation. He literally takes two clips and splices them together in the air, almost exactly as he does earlier in the projection booth. It's a fascinating marriage of two aspects of the medium that all too often seem to be at odds, fighting over who will survive. What Lowery's effectively saying is that we can take the best of both worlds, we can use the digital wizardry to enhance the tried and true analog methods, and vice versa. At which point we'll really have achieved something.

Web Series – Episode 1

Starring: Nathan Lowery and Anna Lowery
Cinematography by: David Lowery
Written and directed by: David Lowery
4 min/Austin, Texas

It's difficult sometimes to get an accurate sense of a potential web series from just one four-minute episode, but I'll try. The story follows a brother and sister who are, for whatever reason, on their own in the wild (or, at least in the woods near a town with a train). The brother leaves the little girl hidden in the woods while he scouts for an empty house they can inhabit, at least temporarily. At first, you'd think maybe they're just wandering the country, but the brother seems to have set up some sort of trap out of twine (or perhaps he's just putting their food up in a tree where people can't reach it, I'm not sure), so perhaps there's something larger at play. I'm reminded of Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973) and Denis Johnson's novella Jesus' Son, and that's a pretty good start.

Land of Nod

Starring: Michelle Proksell and David Lowery
Written and directed by: Michelle Proksell and David Lowery
3 min/Austin, Texas

Finally we have a music video for an uncredited song. What's most impressive here, besides the shot where the pills rise out of the bottle, is the fact that Proksell and Lowery both play multiple characters in the same scene that interact with each other seamlessly. Rather than the standard move of having them stay in separate parts of the screen, where you can easily edit the performances into one shot, these characters pass in front of each other without it really occurring to the audience that these characters are being played by the same actor. And, sure, this isn't such a big deal in a Hollywood blockbuster, but in an uber-indie? It just doesn't happen all that often without looking terrible. But beyond that, it's a nice looking video, with crisp photography and a vintage set that contrasts with the final scene in the overwhelming brightness of a hospital. It just shows the value of cinematography in setting the mood for a film, and it's this that Lowery does exceptionally well. That's the unifying theme in all these shorts, the ability of a filmmaker to sustain a mood, and not just one, but several different ones, unique to each project.

The point being that Lowery's talent is undeniable, his grasp of the medium innate. He is, beyond question, a filmmaker worth watching.

You can read David Lowery's insightful blog, where he not only chronicles his own filmmaking journey, but also makes available some of the films you've read about here. Also, you can check out the official webpage and his profile at IMDb and IndieFilmPedia.

Got a film you'd like to submit for the Uber-Indie Project? Go here for details.

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