Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2016 3:16 pm 
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Mumblecore schlub's abortive summer sojourn in Philly

Mike MacCherone is a towering nerdy guy, and he gives phatic nerd utterance an almost epic level of inexpressiveness.

According to the festival blurb, in Short Stay the director, Ted Fendt, "delivers on the promise of his acclaimed short films without sacrificing an ounce of his singular charm and rigor." Really? The "singular charm" is a bit hard to perceive. Whose? Certainly not the protagonist's; he has none. Short Stay reads like a rudimentary "mumblecore" film, with no progress beyond the minimalist genre's early days -- depicting, as the first halting examples of the genre often did, the unremarkable everyday doings of an unappealing thirty-something going nowhere very slowly. Mike (Mike MacCherone, who presents as height and bulk almost without personality), whose job delivering pizzas has few career opportunities, is offered a chance to sublet a friend's room in Philadelphia. He also gets to do the guy's city walking tours.

The blurb author says the film shows "economy of expression." That's easy: not much is happening: a few parties, a few uneventful dates, the room, the job. And also, we're told, Fendt has an "incomparable nose for the tragicomic dimension of the everyday." Actually, the events are drab and ordinary. They are neither tragic nor comic.

And then there are the tech aspects of the film, its nonexistent artistry. The images are 16mm blown up to 35mm, but a very far cry from the gorgeous look such formatting can have as exemplified by the Oscar-nominated work of Edward Lachman for Todd Haynes'd Carol last year. This looks like a movie shot in home video, but it isn't ironic or period, as in mumble "godfather" Andrew Bujalski's strange, fascinating Computer Chess. While Lachman has shot on super 16 for "grain," a rich human texture, in Short Stay the images just look rudimentary and blurry. There is no visual sense here. The shooting gets us through the scenes, just barely, and that's it. The déjeuner sur l'herbe still (shown above) is a rarity. Most shots are medium closeups you might see in a telenovela.

As for Fendt's moving up from shorts without loss, the problem is that he has only barely moved up. Short Stay, with its repetitious incidents and scenes, reads simply a short film in need of editing. It makes 61 minutes seem like a long time. It is a bore. However, Fendt may grow, as a few "mumblecore" directors (notably Bujalski) and actors (notably Greta Gerwig) have done. Miracles can happen. But this audition isn't very promising.

Short Stay, 61 mins., debuted at the Berlinale 12 Feb. 2016. It shows again 20 Feb. as part of New Directors/New Films in New York, where it was screened for this review.

Reviewed in Hollywood Reporter at the Berlinale by Jordon Mintzer. It debuted in the Forum section there. Shot in 16mm. and blown up to 35 mm. film. The director and his project are sympathetically described by Caroline Marques in an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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