Monday, September 01, 2008

Spout Mavens Disc #14, Part 5 of 13: Shorts! Volume 3 - Seventeen (2003)

Director: Hisko Hulsing
Netherlands, 12:00, color animated
Cinema 4 Rating: 7

At what level do we begin to recognize our own failure? If we start out with imperial ambitions, is everything else short of controlling the world considered to be a failure? Since most of us will never, or should never, wish for such power, I guess we all have to just be thankful for whatever success we might achieve, and accept our fate from there.

I worked at my previous job for 22 years. I won't go into the details of the five Ws and an H of the situation -- I have discussed these matters elsewhere in bits and pieces on the Cinema 4 Pylon, and if you are actually interested, for whatever reason, I suggest you delve into it there. My need to bring up the length of my stay at that particular hovel of a business was merely to impart the message that 22 years at any one place, home or business, is far too long a span. I started young, full of piss and vinegar, but not quite enough to make me burn the place down and move onward. I despised about 90 percent of the people, employees or customers, with whom I came into contact, and there were certain sections of the business where the workers were little more than savage animals in my eyes. I always felt that anytime soon, something would happen where I would be rid of them and their brutish ways. Either I would leave them behind as I sped towards better times, or they would die the deaths that they so richly deserved for their callowness and their uncaring attitudes towards everything except for the most base forms of human endeavor.

And then, almost imperceptibly, with the faucet slowly dripping away my youth, I found myself stuck. I could not leave the job due to my own fears, my own uncertainty for the future, and I accepted a fate where even a horrid career is better than a world without a clear destination ahead. And even after the worst moments -- those times where I swore I had had enough and would rather kill them all and face the most severe prison sentence ever than work one more day in that pit of damnation -- I found myself punching the clock again. And again. And after so many years, I found myself not warming to those whom I previously despised, but becoming instead enough like them where I could no longer hold myself to a loftier ideal. Soon, I stopped resisting their idiocies and fell into line alongside them. I had become the others.

It has been said for eons that our world is largely run, in nearly every aspect, by fear. Fear can keep us running when we both shouldn't, and fear can also keep from running when we should. Its not so much about overcoming our fears, as it is about coming to an understanding with them, figuring out when they are truly justified or when they are pure shite. My own fear of the future overrode my fear of being trapped in a lifeless hell, and for a long time, I was a horrible person for it. While I won't rule out that there were outside agents that allowed me to come to grips with my fears, in the end, I was the one who had to walk away and start over. I stopped the stagnation at 22 years, and set up elsewhere. No longer do I feel like one of those others that I found so despicable.

In Hisko Hulsing's superbly creepy animated short, Seventeen -- one of 16 films on the Shorts! Volume 3 DVD collection -- we meet a young man named Harry, almost the age I was when I began my 22-year run, in a similar situation. His afternoons are marked by his labors on a roofing job, far above the streets of a village surrounded by patchwork fields. He is surrounded at his job by workers almost exactly of the Cro-Magnon set, and they booze and prank each other to the point that little work seems to actually get done. He strains to shut out the ruffians, and distracts his attention by peering at a woman in the building adjacent to the worksite, who strips slowly and coyly catches Harry's eye as he sits numbly on the edge of the building, several stories above the ground. In fact, the woman is a prostitute, and soon her madam will catch onto Harry's spying and shut the curtains on his afternoon of naive peeping. Harry doesn't see her as a whore, but merely as a target for his youthfully urgent affection, and as he spies, he is dreamy eyed and wistful, completely forgetting his co-workers.

They have not forgotten him, however, and they catch him unaware, lost in his love at first sight daydreams. One of the ruffians grabs Harry's ponytail and pretends to shove him off the roof. Soon, they are attacking some nearby laundry on a drying line, dressing the young lad up in women's clothing, and even after fitting the dress over his head, we see from Harry's point of view that he imagines one of the men, in a hirsute, sweat-laden and frightening closeup, is looking at the innocent, comparatively waiflike and pony-tailed Harry in a lustful, drooling manner. It is but a small harbinger of the horrors to come for Harry, who will now spend the remainder of the film locked in a battle with his delusions -- drunken and real -- interpreting the actions of the citizenry of the village as increasingly aggressive and conspiratorial towards himself.

Obsessed by the beautiful prostitute, Harry attempts to buy a drink for her at a local carnival, but he lingers too long in doubt, and her time is taken by some of his co-workers. Later, he will awaken in a deeply drunken state and wander into a scene where two of those men are having sex with her, and he will not recognize the fact, as she checks her watch in uncaring boredom, that she is literally on the clock. He will only hear her false moaning as screams of agony, and will imagine she is being doubly raped. He will launch himself at the attackers, but he will embarrassingly end up only in sending her sprawling backwards into a mud puddle with his crotch landing on her face, and her potential johns, a winding string of whom are seen waiting around the side of the building and onward, will not take this lightly at all. Interrupted from their pleasures, the men will, in Harry's eyes, and thus ours, transform very nearly into zombies or at least creatures of some arcane night, and shamble after the boy until he is driven from town.

From here, Harry will meet many others who will come at him first as the gentle and friendly, and through our hero's nightmare eye, will reveal themselves as nothing more than hostiles. Women who would grant him sensual release will turn into harpies, those harpies would take on the face of a co-worker, those co-workers will join the rest of the citizenry in ritual sacrifice for a secret blood cult, and good Samaritans will always wish for something craven in return. The images fly fast, and every tiny thing skews threatening to the lad. A carnival which promises joy during the day becomes a bestial thing by night -- this is no profound statement the film is granting us, as we all naturally understand the dark side of such places. But it works remarkably well here, with zigzagging angles and monstrous shadows closing on Harry as he seeks an escape from his ceaseless, mostly self-imposed travails. The film, reflecting his rampant fears, will get the better of him.

The background paintings used to achieve these affects are rough but always lush in their hue and invention. The depth achieved in some of the pieces truly astounds, and despite how savage the film may seem content-wise, it is always stunningly gorgeous and composed. I must profess that even I, one who doesn't flinch at very much initially in any film, was taken aback somewhat by the carnality of the film. Not that I couldn't handle it, but after the comparative mellowness of the previous films on the disc, I wasn't expecting such brutality and menace, let alone the nudity and sex quotient. At times, the content is so grimy that one almost wishes to wash it away with a freakishly innocent episode of The Wiggles.

But it is all for purpose -- this is no gratuitous exercise in filth, but rather a very well-turned examination into stagnation and personal inertia. Harry himself will go back to his roofing job, day after day, slowly sucking into the world he despises and interprets as hostile. He will grow sloppier and unshaven, and his dreams will fade ever deeper into the back of his head as he surrenders only to the daily pleasures, which will fatten his body and weaken his resolve. He will likely even join the line of grunting Neanderthals lined up around the building waiting for a quickie release from a bored sex worker. He will become what he hates, and he will be unrecognizable from those whom he despises.

Hopefully after 22 years of this, he will truly wake up...

1 comment:

Hisko Hulsing said...

This review hits the nail right on the head. Out of all reviews (including newspapers etc.)this one is the most detailed and correct one.
You understood the film better than a lot of semi-intelectual jurymembers at filmfestivals.