Sunday, 27 February 2011

'The Most Beautiful Man In The World'

‘The Most Beautiful Man In The World’ is a BAFTA nominated short film directed and written by Alicia Duffy in 2002. The film’s focus is the theme of youth, in particular the complexity of children’s needs, feelings and experiences, while the story itself centres on the neglect of a young girl, and her need to be free and stimulated. This need is then fulfilled when she escapes her house and is at one with nature, where she encounters a man whose identity as the girl’s father is unknown.

The film invites a variety of interpretations according to the different ideologies of audience members and the complex issues raised. The issue of neglect is prominent throughout the short, with the TV being shown as the only source of stimulation in the girl’s life and the absence of her mother and lack of care received noticeable. A number of different views and ideologies surround this issue with one of the main, dominant views being that a mother should be caring for her young child instead of leaving them to technology. The issue of neglect and child welfare is exposed throughout the opening scene where the TV is seen as the central force in the girl’s life and the one and only form of contact and interaction she has. This symbolisation of the TV highlights the girl’s lack of communication and care and raises the binary opposition of nature vs. nurture.

The variety of different camera shots used and the drab mise-en-scene of the scene also adds to the girl’s lack of stimulation while informing us of the family’s financial hardship. The use of camera and mise-en-scene come together in the use of a wide shot of the girl lying on the floor of an old-fashioned, run-down living room, where she is alone apart from her dog and the sound of her mother’s voice. This shot presents a representation of the girl as being isolated, lonely, fragile and trapped in her home with the bright light from the world outside streaming into the drab room from behind the dirty net curtains. This contrast in lighting showcases the juxtaposition between the entrapment the girl feels inside her home and the freedom she feels when left to roam outside. The theme of entrapment vs. freedom is also shown through the strong use of close-ups and extreme close-ups in the interior scenes compared to the wide shots used when the young girl is out in the field.

In addition to this, the technical element of sound is also used to portray the issue of neglect, as at the beginning of the film the diegetic sound of a television can be heard displaying violent sounds such as guns and arguing, while the camera is focused on the young girl with the light from the television illuminating her face. The sound from the television sounds like a cartoon although it could easily be a violent film or television programme. These diegetic sounds leave the audience wondering why this young girl is possibly watching this and raises the concern that there should be someone there to stop her from doing so. She is also wearing dirty clothing, again raising the idea that she is not being looked after correctly.

Furthermore, the issue of neglect and child welfare is also presented through the use of the girl’s mother being absent yet present throughout the film; this is achieved by never showing the mother however hearing her voice while she is on the phone and discussing money with a companion. While she is on the phone we can tell that this character is young due to the soft, depressed tone of her voice and her monosyllabic, short sentences making her sound weak, vulnerable and stressed. This theme of money and financial strain, along with the idea of a young, single mother, achieves a sense of realism within the film while helping to develop this character and make audience members sympathetic towards her. One ideology that audience members may have to this woman’s financial problems is the socialist ideology that as a young, single parent she should be supported by the state. At this point it is also worth noticing how no government ran authorities are being represented within the text. For example, if the child was seriously being neglected would social services not be attempting to help them and the family in anyway? The reason why social services may not be represented is due to the fact that in today’s society local councils have received a great deal of criticism in failing to spot child neglect cases, sometimes even resulting in the death of the child.

The fact that the mother is the only parent seen and heard in the house could go some way to explain why the child is suffering from some form of neglect and could also help us to understand why the family are suffering economically. This then raises the question as to where the girl’s father is and brings up the ideology that the father, whether in a relationship with the mother or not should be there to support his child and her mother both emotionally and financially. However although the girl’s mother isn’t particularly present and her father is obviously absent from her life she does have some sort of guardian, with the dog constantly looking over her and being by her side, both inside and outside the house.

Once the girl steps outside her prison-like home her disposition changes, relishing in her new found freedom, walking with her arms spread open and invigorating her senses by brushing along the plants. This scene relies heavily on the use of diegetic sound with the sound of insects, water and plants rustling in the wind being extremely exaggerated and combining together to stimulate the girl. This combination of sounds contrasts with the sound in the interior scenes where the only sound is coming from the television; this shows how much more of a stimulating environment it is for the girl. The editing also helps to add to the excitement of the scene by using jump cuts to give a sense of the exhilaration the girl is experiencing.

Shortly after the girl begins to explore, the dog runs off and she goes to find him. It’s at this point in the film where the girl finds the man stroking her dog, with the audience not knowing who he is or where he has come from. This allows the audience to interpret who he is in and what he’s about to do in whichever way they feel necessary, with the main assumption being that he is about to harm the girl in some way. This was Alicia Duffy’s rationale when making the film to help keep the plot and the characters ambiguous, also achieved by the lack of dialogue within the text. However, if we delve deeper into the language of the film we begin to realise that this man isn’t a threat to the girl. First of all the man is stroking the dog and the dog isn’t retaliating or being protective towards the child, this suggests that the dog knows the man and knows he is of no harm to the girl. The man also gently picks a bug off the child showing an intimacy between the two, this intimacy shown through the extreme-close up of his hand picking the bug from the girl’s shoulder. The man then smiles at the child and she smiles back, this smile hints towards the suggestion that there may be a relationship between the two characters as it is the first kind of human connection we see the girl have. The young mum is then seen standing at the door of the house watching over her child, she appears calm and composed indicating that she knows the man and that he is of no harm to her daughter. This again backs up the idea that he is the girl’s father.

Once the girl is back inside her house she is once again trapped watching the TV with no stimulation or contact from anyone. The editorial pace also slows down with the shots lasting longer and the lighting becoming once again darker.

Throughout the film the main representational focus is on age; this can be looked at from two perspectives with both the young girl’s boredom and need for stimulation and the young, single mothers struggling, both emotionally and financially, being represented. The girl’s mother’s age is being represented through the narrative storyline of the mother being a young, single parent who is struggling with money worries and who is also finding it difficult to care for her child and give her what she needs; this is a fairly stereotypical representation of the mother as society often criticises and has strong views about young, single mothers not being able to care for their children correctly. Class and status also plays a role in the representation of the mother as we can tell from the run-down mise-en-scene of the house and narrative of the story that she is from a lower class family.

One of the key themes throughout the film is that of Freedom vs. Imprisonment; this theme relates not only to the child and how she is trapped inside her house but also relates to the mother being trapped with the child while the father is free and allowed to do what he wants. This is a representation of gender as women are usually the ones to care for children when partners split while men are able to live their own lives; this is shown again through the close-up shots and dark, depressing lighting used in the interior scenes compared to the wide shots and bright, airy lighting used in the exterior scenes where both the mother and father feature respectively. The costume of who we believe to be the girl’s father also represents his freedom as we see him shirtless, the connotations of this being that the man is free and liberated.

Overall this short brings many ideologies to the foreground and raises many questions about the splitting of parents and how this affects children.

Saturday, 26 February 2011


Made in 1997, ‘Gasman’ was director Lynne Ramsay’s third short film and arguably the one that gave her the most recognition, winning awards at both the Cannes Film Festival and the Scottish BAFTA’s. Since ‘Gasman’ Ramsey has gone on to make several feature films including her debut ‘Ratcatcher’, earning herself several awards and the credibility that she deserves.

Set in the late 70’s, the story behind ‘Gasman’ is one of adultery and deceit, with the father of a working-class Scottish family lying to his wife and children as he lives a double life that includes a mistress and their two children together. The film raises many controversial themes and issues, including sibling rivalry, lack of education, endemic poverty, unemployment, economic deprivation and social
disenfranchisement and alienation.

The beginning of the film sees a series of close-ups of individual members of the family getting ready for some sort of formal occasion, suggested by the smart clothing the characters are putting on. These close-ups are not of the characters faces; they are instead of various different parts of the body, for example, hands, arms and legs. The director has done this deliberately as she doesn’t want the audience to see the main character, as the audience will continue to watch until a main character is established. Ramsey is not following the three act structure at this stage in the film. Throughout this series of close-ups the diegetic music of the Christmas songs ‘Let It Snow’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’ are also heard, hinting towards the time of year in which the film is set. These cheerful Christmas songs and the joyous time of year juxtapose with the sound of the family arguing and shouting at one another in the background.

In this beginning scene of the film there is also intertextuality, where we see the young girl click the heels of her black Mary Janes and say “There’s no place like home.” This particular moment and line is taken from ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ and shows the girl’s innocence and vulnerability, it also hints towards the fact that something is going to change her view of home, therefore losing her child-like sense of innocence. The connotations of the girl’s black shoes compared to Dorothy’s red shoes also hints towards the idea that something is going to change this girl, with black having connotations of negativity and loss while red is linked to luck and love.

The issue of economic deprivation is also brought to the foreground in this opening scene with the lighting and mise-en-scene of the house showcasing this. The grim, grey lighting gives the house an almost decrepit feel and represents the harsh situation that the family are in. Character codes also hint at the family’s financial strain as the family talk to each other in an abrupt, aggressive fashion; however this could be due to the mother’s knowledge of her husband’s affair. Close-up shots of the father smoking and drinking also adds to the strain the family are feeling as the father is obviously nervous, he also exhales in these shots showing the struggle he is facing, either due to the families economic hardship or because he has two families to provide for, although at this point in the film the man’s other family is not known. The father’s weak, droning voice also suggests the struggle that he is facing.

The film continues with the children and the father leaving for what turns out to be the local pub’s Christmas party. We then see a panning shot of the mother’s face looking out at her family from the kitchen window. This shot shows the mother looking anxious and concerned, possibly because she knows that her children are about to meet their other siblings for the first time and she is concerned about what could happen. Following this, we see a wide shot of a bleak and miserable looking road with the girl and her father walking together and the boy trailing behind; this gives us the impression that the boy, being older than the girl, may have an idea to his dad’s other family and so resents him for that. The fact the boy also runs in the other direction from his sister and dad suggests that he wants to break free.

The next time we see the family they are walking along an abandoned railway line. The slow tracking shot of the family walking along the tracks is extremely significant with the neglected tracks stretching into the distance and giving a sense of infinity and hopelessness, insinuating that the family have no hope and will be in this situation forever. However the bright lighting used makes the family’s situation seem not so bad and gives the scene a positive edge.

The family continue to walk with the girl being picked up by her dad, when all of a sudden he puts the girl down and walks out of the frame. It’s at this point in the film that we meet the other family who we assume to be the man’s mistress and their two children. We immediately notice the children’s clothing, it is dirty and simple unlike the girl’s pretty yellow party dress. The state of the other children’s clothing is also pointed out when the young girl says to her brother “Look at the clothes they’re wearing, they look like tramps.” The simple, dirty clothing the children are wearing suggests economic hardship and how the father is unable to provide for both sets of children. While the comment made by the girl gives a sense of conflict between the other girl and herself, foreshadowing what is about to happen later on in the film. The theme of adultery is also brought to the attention of the audience when in reply to the girl’s comment her brother says “She looks like you”, communicating to the audience that they are actually related. The two boys are also of a similar age, as are the two girls, suggesting that the father was building both families at the same time.

We then witness a conversation taking place between the father and this other woman, portrayed through a series of close-ups. These shots give a sense of intimacy and show how close the man and woman are to each other. They also allow for the character codes to be read and interpreted by the audience, for example, we can see from the man’s eyes that he is stressed and under pressure but we can also see how much he loves this woman and wants to be with her. However it is fairly clear the woman feels nothing for him with the extreme close-up of the man touching her hair and her ignoring him do so showing her rejection towards him. The camera then cuts to a head and shoulders shot of the young girl’s face; she seems to be working out what’s just happened, thus beginning her loss of innocence. However she soon seems to forget about it running alongside her dad to resume her rightful place by his side.

The family then arrive at a run-down pub where the camera pans to follow the father to a table full of men drinking, taking us into a drinking culture where kids are forgotten about and therefore raising the issue of neglect with the audience. The issue of neglect is also presented through the following shot of the boy sitting in a chair that swamps him in the corner of the frame, with this portraying him as lonely, isolated and fragile. We then see the two girls dancing with each other; this lends a touch of dramatic irony to the text with the irony being their joy and the fact that they have no idea about their situation. The brown haired girl is later seen dancing with Father Christmas while the blonde haired girl is isolated and alone, this is representative of the two girl’s relationship with their father with the brown haired girl being close to her father and the other girl rarely seeing him. A wide shot of the blonde girl on her own is then shown, highlighting her isolation and alienation from everyone else in the room. This shot pans around the room and is handheld, conveying a sense of intoxication while showing the chaos that is going on in the room, also shown through the quick editorial pace. The blonde girl then goes over to sit on her father’s lap with the brown haired girl immediately noticing this and attempting to pull the girl off her dad’s lap saying “That’s my daddy” over and over again. The girls begin to fight with the quick cuts and editorial pace showing aggression and loss of control. The father then interrupts the girls fight, pulling them apart all the while searching for more beer and cigarettes, again raising the issue of neglect. The close-up of the empty cigarette packet and the man’s down expression is also symbolic, informing the audience that he has no comfort and there is no saving himself from the situation that he’s created.

The family then leave the pub, meeting the woman at the train tracks. The man and the woman don’t speak; instead they walk in opposite directions, the man with the brown haired girl and her brother and the woman with her two children. All of a sudden the brown haired girl runs back to the other family, picking up a stone as if to throw it at them, this stone symbolises hatred with the boy previously throwing a stone at his father, however for some reason she throws it on the floor. The lighting of the scene is now darker and bleaker with the train-tracks lit up by the moon, perhaps showing the two families hopeless fates.

Friday, 25 February 2011


Made as part of the Cinema Extreme Scheme in 2006, ‘Soft’ was writer and director Simon Ellis’ fourth short film, winning 15 awards in total including the International Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and Best Short Film at the British Independent Film Awards. Following the success of ‘Soft’ Simon Ellis has since gone on to write and direct his first feature film ‘Dogging: A Love Story.’

The film begins with the title set against a simple black background and the diegetic sound of a male voice shouting. The next thing we see is a group of teenagers running down an alleyway, screaming and shouting at each other. This scene was filmed using a mobile phone, with the pixelated image, shaky camera movement and reduced sound quality showing this. The screaming and shouting of the group combined with the shakiness of the camera evokes a sense of urgency and chaos within both the text and the audience.

As the group reach the end of the alleyway we see them join another group of youths who are bullying a boy in a school uniform. Most of the characters are dressed fairly stereotypically with a girl in a white shirt and a bunch of boys in black hoodies. However, the ring leader of the group, a chavvy looking boy in a white tracksuit stands out from the rest, with his tracksuit holding connotations of being lower-class and having a lack of education, whilst also holding the connotations of innocence and purity due to its colour. The scene also looks grey and overcast conveying the negative tone of the scene.

As the film continues and the boy in the white tracksuit repeatedly hits the other, we notice that one of the hooded youths is in fact filming this attack on their mobile, taking us into the world of ‘happy slapping’; a huge issue with teenagers in today’s society which often leads to cyber bullying, with these cruel images being sent around the victim’s social network. The screen then goes to black, showing a pass in time and a change of location.

A high-angled celluloid shot showing a quiet residential street full of terraced-houses and middle-class cars is the next thing we see, taking us into a new scene and more importantly a new location with a different tone. The diegetic sound of birds tweeting is heard while naturalistic lighting sets the tone of the scene as peaceful and tranquil, a complete contrast to the previous scene where there was chaos and violence. We then hear the sound of a car before it enters the frame and parks up. An adult male then gets out of the car before locking it and entering his home.

As we enter the house, along with the man, we see a high-angled shot from the top of the stairs looking down at the front door. This shot is accompanied by the sound of heavy thumping coming from techno music being played in a room upstairs. A youthful pair of legs sporting jeans and trainers then walks into the frame, walking downstairs and then running back up as we hear the sound of a key in the door and see the man from the street entering. We assume that the man and the boy whose legs we’ve just seen are father and son, as the man calls upstairs for him to move his bag; we also assume that the boy is afraid of his dad as we see only his lower half. However we later find out that the boy is the school boy who was getting beaten up in the mobile phone footage and he was in fact hiding his bruised face from his father.

We then follow the man out into the kitchen as he begins to prepare himself a cup of tea, only to realise that he is out of milk. He calls out to his son to go and get some; however the boy simply turns his music up, ignoring his request. The man then exits the house deciding to get some himself. It is at this point in the film that we see this character fully for the first time. We notice his attire, he is dressed in a shirt and tie, the tie being a symbolic piece of costume symbolising his important job and middle-class status; class and status also being represented through the interior of the house and the leafy, suburban area in which the family live.

The camera then follows the man out of the house in a tracking shot, where we see him greet a neighbour and begin his journey to the shops. The diegetic sound of birds is again heard, re-instating the tranquil tone of the film at this moment in time. This shot is then cut and we go to mobile phone footage of the gang of youths standing outside a corner shop, beat-boxing into a traffic cone. We then go back to a celluloid shot of the dad, as he walks along a leafy walkway with the sound of church bells in the background. The scene is again cut and we go back to the mobile phone footage and the gang, who are now jumping out at passers-by and using colloquial language often associated with gang culture. These quick cuts combined with the contrast in tone and diegetic sound helps to build tension within the audience and the film itself, while also acting as an ellipsis, showing a pass in time. They also help the audience to become aware of the director’s rationale, which is to highlight the generational and cultural differences between adults and teenagers today. The use of parallel editing suggests to the audience that at some point the gang and the father are going to meet and that there is going to be some kind of struggle between them.

As the man arrives at the shop, we see the gang of youths on celluloid film for the first time. They begin to harass the man, popping a balloon in his face and laughing at his reaction. However the man doesn’t shy away from the gang as he sarcastically laughs back, showing the gang of youths up and embarrassing the ring leader in front of his peers. The man then enters the shop and buys a pint of milk from a worried looking shopkeeper while the youths bang on the window, again building the tension within the audience. As he begins to exit the shop the boy in the white tracksuit appears, standing in the man’s way. The man politely asks him to move and he does so, but as soon as they get outside of the shop we are back to the mobile phone footage with the camera zooming in on the father, selecting him as a target. The boy in the white tracksuit then confronts the man as he drops the milk, kicking him to the ground and spitting; the man does not retaliate instead he gets back up and begins to walk home. The youth then begins to do the robot, celebrating the fear he had over the man.

The camera then switches back to celluloid film as we follow the man home in a series of close-ups and wide shots that enable us to not only see the man’s reaction to what’s just happened but enable us to see the gang of youths following him from behind. The quick cuts between these shots are combined with flashbacks of the incident where we also hear the sound of a heavy, thumping heartbeat conveying the man’s anxiety and worry over the incident. As the man enters his home, we see the gang turn the corner and position themselves outside the house.

Back at home, the boy tries to approach his dad about his injuries whilst making a cup of tea. It is at this point that we realise the son is the school boy who was being attacked in the mobile phone footage as the camera quickly cuts to the boy’s busted lip to show its importance and that the father has the exact same injury. The man now realises his son was subject to the same event that he was, but instead of defending his son he dishes out the advice that he should stick up for himself.

The father and son then move into the front room where they sit on the sofa as the gang begin to throw stones at the window, the camera stays focused on the pair at this point in the film creating tension and showing the panic and worry on their faces progressing. The father attempts to ignore the situation and keep the boy still as he insists that his dad do something. The boy then jumps up but the dad restrains him from going outside. As the boy asks his father if he’s scared it dawns on the man that he’s got to face his fears and go outside. As the man begins to remove his tie and approach the front door the editorial pace slows down, showing his hesitation and the fear he has over confronting the youths. He tries to assure his son that he is not scared but the boy doesn’t believe him, pushing him aside and storming out of the house to confront the gang himself. The man then follows his son out of the house, reluctantly following his advice to stand up for yourself. As he nears the group the celluloid footage is cut short and we are back to the mobile phone, with the gang turning on the father. Suddenly we see the boy rush back into the house and come back out grasping a cricket bat, rushing to his father’s aid by swinging for the boy in the white tracksuit. As the youth falls to the ground the camera switches back to celluloid film. The boy continues to swing the bat around in quick succession, scaring the remaining gang members away. Afterwards he goes to hand his dad the bat but instead drops it, showing his hurt and disappointment in his father. The boy then enters the house and slams the door shut while his dad is left outside ashamed of the coward he is.

The film ends with an aerial view of the street showing the father retrieving the cricket bat from the ground and entering his house. As several people begin to leave their houses the diegetic sound of traffic and dogs barking are now heard creating a bleak and unseen version of community.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

'About A Girl'

‘About A Girl’ is a BAFTA award winning short film from 2001. Written by Julie Rutterford and directed by Brian Percival, the film gained great success winning several awards at a host of UK film festivals. It was director Brian Percival’s only short film and since then he has gone on to direct major television dramas such as ‘Pleasureland’ and ‘The Ruby In The Smoke’.

Set in Manchester’s industrial estate, the film is documentary like with the protagonist of the piece, a 13 year old girl, talking directly to camera about her family, friends, dreams and aspirations. Throughout the short many themes and issues are brought to the foreground including teenage pregnancy, lack of education, endemic poverty, unemployment and perhaps most importantly the issue of separated parents and how this affects children.

The film begins with the title being typed onto a simple black background in a text like font, while the sound of beeping is also heard suggesting the theme of youth to the audience and representing the age of the character we are about to see. The next thing we see is a wide shot of a silhouetted girl dancing and singing along to ‘Stronger’ by Britney Spears in an overgrown, unkempt field. The use of a wide shot here shows the girls isolation as she is alone with nothing but her music and her surroundings, while the dim lighting and the fact we can’t see the girl clearly helps to create a sense of mystery around this character and draw the audience in. Also, we later find out that the lyrics of the song are significant to the girl and her situation, as she has had to become stronger due to the things that have happened to her throughout her life.

The film then cuts to a series of hand-held close-ups of a young girl with a strong Manchurian accent talking directly to camera. Her accent represents her regional identity while the mise-en-scene of the scene shows her working class background, with the grim lighting and dilapidated industrial estate showing this. It is through the mise-en-scene that the issues of endemic poverty and social disenfranchisement are brought to the audience’s attention. Costume is also used to hint towards the girl’s class and status, with her gold hoops, scraped back hair and sporty puffa jacket all holding the stereotypical connotations of ‘chav’ and being from a lower class.

We also notice that the girl is very erratic in her speech, going from one topic to the next and talking openly about herself; this shows the girl’s confidence in not just herself but the confidence that she has in the audience, confiding in them about her family and her wish to become a singer in the future. However her erratic speech could also be a sign of her stress and anxiety over her lost baby and what she’s about to do. The use of jump cuts and the quick editorial pace also helps to add to the girl’s erratic behaviour, conveying the complicated, messy life that she is leading.

Between each of these close-ups the film cuts to show flashbacks of the girl’s day-to-day life. The first one we see is of the girl, her mother and younger sibling, with the girl in the foreground of the frame texting and her mum and sister in the background, with the mum completing a scratch card and telling the young child to “Shush a minute!” as she tries to get her attention. The use of the scratch card signifies the mothers dream to get out of their financial situation, however it also raises the issue of gambling and how children are being ignored as a result of it, raising the Christian ideology that gambling in any form and for whatever reason is wrong.

The girl then begins to talk about her father and it is obvious from what she says that her mother and father are separated and do not have a good relationship. We then see the girl and who we assume to be her dad having lunch; this appears to be their quality time together however the girl’s father is more interested in reading his paper than talking to his daughter. The girl then goes on to say how she watches her dad play football on a Sunday and then he takes her to the pub for a coke and a packet of crisps. We then see the girl outside the pub on her own, eating her crisps and singing along to ‘Stronger’, while we hear the diegetic sound of cheers from inside the establishment. This shows where the father’s priorities are and raises the issue of child neglect as some would say that even as a young teenager the girl shouldn’t be left outside on her own.

The girl is then pictured on the bus with her friends singing the Britney Spears song ‘Oops, I Did It Again’; it is at this point in the film that we see the girl for the first time as a child, laughing and mucking around with her mates. However, the song has the line “I’m not that innocent” which hints towards the girl’s own loss of innocence which we later see in the film. The girl then begins to talk about her hopes of becoming a pop star and how she writes the music for her band, but not on a piano as her mum says they can’t afford one. It is here we notice the girl’s resentment towards her mother, with the girl blaming her mum for everything they do not have. This highlights the girl’s immaturity as she doesn’t understand the financial situation her and her family are in, however it also highlights the mothers neglect with the girl saying her mum always has enough money for burgers, cigarettes and lager.

As the girl continues her walk by the canal, she begins to tell the story of how her and her brother bought a puppy, hiding it in her brother’s room until their mum found it. The girl then reveals that her mother asked the neighbours to dispose of it in the canal. We then see the girl overlooking the canal from a high-angle as she throws a plastic bag in and walks away. It is here that the shocking discovery that the girl’s still born baby was in the bag is revealed as the bag unravels and the baby sinks into the depths of the water. The audience are now fully aware of the girl’s naivety and lack of emotional maturity as she dumps her baby in the canal without any emotion whatsoever.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


‘Youth’ is the second short film from writer and director Jane Linfoot. Made in 2007, the film was a part of The Directors Lab and was screened at both the Edinburgh and Los Angeles film festivals. Since ‘Youth’ Linfoot has gone on to create her third short film ‘On Your Own’ and is now in the process of writing her debut feature.

The nineteen minute short is split into three sections, each focusing on a different form of youth in one way or another.

The first section of the film focuses on a gothic looking boy, who we see dance wildly around his room and then pretend to kiss his bedroom mirror as his father watches. This scene begins with a close-up of the teenage boy asleep in his bed, with the diegetic sound of high-heels and a female voice in the background. The camera then focuses on a large mug being placed on a small bedside table by who we assume to be the boy’s mother. She then opens the curtains allowing naturalistic lighting to flow into the room, as she exits the frame, signalling her absence from both the youth’s room and the house itself.

We then see the boy get out of bed and put a record on as he wrestles himself into a pair of black skinny jeans. These jeans along with his jet black hair give the stereotypical representation of a ‘goth’ or ‘emo’ while also showing the boy’s rebellious streak. The scene is overexposed with the bright lighting creating a bleached, nostalgic look which leaves the boy looking almost porcelain, beautifying his teenage years.

We are alerted to the time period in which this section is set through the mise-en-scene of the room and the costume the characters are wearing. The wallpaper has a retro, 70’s feel while the old-fashioned vinyl record player helps to add to the overall time period. The boy then begins to dance wildly to the diegetic music that he has put on. The music has a heavy base guitar, signifying the punk culture of which this boy is obviously a part of.

As the boy turns the music up he reaches for a polaroid camera which he begins to take pictures of himself with. This act represents his vanity while also signifying to the audience that the boy is exploring his sexuality, with the boy being shirtless and posing provocatively. We then see the boy place the photos in a book and out of sight, showing his secretive side.

Once the photos are hidden away we see the boy begin to tighten a belt around different parts of his body. First of all, the belt is tied around his neck and his arms are folded showcasing the entrapment he is feeling, either as a prisoner of his sexuality or as a prisoner of his parents smothering him. Next the boy wraps the belt tightly around his left arm, causing a vein to rise to the surface, this act brings to mind the issue of drug abuse, in particular heroin and could signify the boy’s use of it or his desire to. The final thing the boy does with the belt is wrap it around his neck as he imitates hanging himself. The use of the belt in this scene raises many possible themes, most noticeably suicide, body issues and drug abuse.

After mucking around with the belt, the boy approaches his bedroom mirror seductively. We then see him begin to dramatically kiss his reflection. This sequence again explores the boy’s sexuality and signifies how he is trying to find both himself and his sexual oritentation.

This first section of the film is brought to an end by the boy’s father walking in on him as he is kissing his reflection. The boy then stops in his tracks as he notices his father standing behind him, staring at him emotionlessly. The boy’s father then leaves the room as the boy is left feeling embarrassed by what his father has just witnessed.

The middle section of the film focuses on two female characters, an older girl around the age of 16 and a younger girl aged about 12. We don’t know the relationship between the two girls but we assume they are sisters. This section of the film is set at a leisure centre where we see the two girls go swimming; it is here that we see the older girl begin a flirtation with a teenage boy and we notice the young girl’s insecurity regarding her weight.

This second section begins with a mid-shot of the two girls chatting. The older of the two girls has her back to the camera while the younger girl is sat facing the camera in her swimming costume. The choice of costume each of the girls are wearing helps to establish their ages with the older of the two wearing a revealing bikini with lots of jewellery, while the younger girls opts to be covered up in a swimming costume, hat and goggles, the younger girl’s choice of costume hinting towards her body insecurities. It appears as if the two are talking about the older girl’s boyfriend with the younger girl asking about kissing. The young girl then goes on to tell her sister that the colour of her bikini doesn’t suit her however the older girl insists that she likes the colour.

As the two begin their walk from the changing rooms to the pool we hear the diegetic sound of water splashing, as the older girl spitefully asks her sister “When’s it due?” The girl then laughs and walks off. The shot then cuts to a close-up of the young girl whose reaction to the remark is one of hurt and upset, we can see from her facial expression how much the insult has affected her. This shot highlights the theme of body issues and raises the issue of obese children, a story often brought to our attention by today’s media. This shot is then brought to a close by the screen fading to black, this acting as an ellipsis to show a pass in time and to help move the story on.

After the ellipsis we are introduced to a teenage boy, who we assume is the older girl’s boyfriend. We see the boy washing his hands with the camera focusing on his torso; it is here we notice that the boy himself isn’t particularly slim. The camera then cuts to the older girl sitting on the edge of the pool, with her feet dangling over the edge, looking anxiously towards the changing rooms. The boy who we saw washing his hands then jumps into the pool, much to the girl’s delight. The younger of the two girls is then seen peeping around a wall, too embarrassed about her weight to enter the swimming pool.

Back in the pool the girl and her boyfriend are kissing, suggesting how far she is ahead of her sister in both age and her sexual development. The camera then cuts back to the girl in the changing rooms, this time we see a wide shot of the girl, this showing her isolation and loneliness. We are then back with the older girl and her boyfriend, who are floating on their backs, showing their carefree attitude to life. Linfoot then shows the younger of the two girls in a series of close-ups, the first shot showing her holding a packet of crisps and the second a head and shoulders shot showing the girls contemplation over whether to eat the crisps or not. The final and possibly most important shot focuses on the girl’s stomach, highlighting how she feels about her weight after her sister’s comment but also the temptation that is there to eat the crisps. However the girl holds back and resists temptation, her resisting bringing the issue of anorexia amongst young girls and how they are influenced by stick thin models and celebrities to the foreground.

In the pool, the older girl and her boyfriend are seen mucking around when suddenly he dunks the girl’s head under water, an underwater shot is then used to show the girl’s panic as he does this. The girl then comes up for air and pushes the boy away, seeing what he has done not as funny, but instead as malicious and immature; this seems to spell the end of their relationship. The young girl is now pictured in the changing room eating her crisps and drinking a bottle of Fanta.

The final section of ‘Youth’ is the most mediated out of the three and possibly the most stereotypical with this section following three male thugs, one of whom is carrying a knife. This section focuses on peer pressure with the alpha male of the group pressuring one of the other boys into giving him the knife, it is from here the situation escalates with this section and the film ending on a cliff-hanger, with the audience wondering whether the knife was actually used.

The section begins with a high angled shot showing three male characters dressed in what appears to be school uniform, they are seen walking up the stairs of a bus where they sit at the very back as this is where the “top dogs” and the “hard kids” sit. As they walk along the deck, heading towards the back, a father and his little boy are shown walking down the stairs of the bus with the little boy wearing an animal mask. We are then shown the three teenagers sitting at the back of the bus, shouting swear words and making rude gestures out the window to a gang on the street; their actions a stereotypical representation of gang identity, with the boys being aggressive and rebellious. The boy’s costumes also help to add to their identity with their school uniforms being messy and not to a high standard, with all three having short ties and the two black youths each wearing a diamond stud in their ear. The regional identity of the boy’s is also shown through their strong London accents and their use of colloquial language often associated with gang culture. The overcast, washed out colour palette of the scene and naturalistic lighting also suggests the inner city location in which the piece is set.

A close-up editorial sequence is then shown to the audience, depicting the only white boy in the group holding a knife, this highlighting his role as ringleader within the group. The use of the knife brings to mind the issue of gang violence and knife crime, with these issues being widely covered by today’s media. One of the other boys then begins to ask the boy with the knife, whose name is now established as John, to give him the knife. As the boys continue to argue, a group of teenage girls walk onto the bus wearing the same school uniform as the boys. The boy’s age, gender and sexuality are clearly represented in the following sequence with all three boys gazing at the girls as they chat animatedly. One of the boys then asks another if he likes the girls causing the other one to quip he can’t as he is gay, causing a fight to break out between the three. The footage is now handheld to follow the fight and to create tension with the white youth struggling for breath. The fight is then interrupted by the sound of a mobile phone. The two black boys then begin to argue over who is going to answer the phone while the camera is focused on the white male using an asthma pump. As the boy is using his pump, the other boys begin to become more violent and aggressive causing an adult male to turn round, disgusted in their behaviour. One of the boys then tries to pressure John into stabbing the stranger, however the stranger leaves before it’s too late after he is hit by a fizzy drink can thrown by one of the boys.

John then gets up out of his seat to look out of the opposite window but as he does he is grabbed by one of the other boys who places a plastic bag over his head, John then struggles to breathe as he asks the boy to leave him alone. We then see John flick open his pocket knife as the diegetic sounds fade away. The final shot is a close-up of the empty drinks can rolling around on the floor of the bus, leaving the audience to wonder what John did with the knife.

Overall this short presents many areas of representation and brings a wide variety of themes and issues to the foreground, most noticeably the pressures facing teenagers today. However I couldn’t help but feel that this film is fairly stereotypical in their characters, particularly in the last section with the characters being a stereotypical representation of yob culture with the way in which they dress and talk showing this.