A Year in Shorts Day 168: "Pearl"
Today’s short poses something of an interesting philosophical conundrum for me. You see, Patrick Osborne’s Pearl is no ordinary film. Released in 2016, Pearl is the first VR film to be nominated for an Academy Award. Which is all well and good, but I don’t own a VR headset. So while I am able to watch Pearl, I’m not able to experience it in the way the filmmakers intended. So can any review I write be entirely fair? Of course, every other short I’ve covered was meant to be seen in theaters, and that’s rarely been the case for me. And I guess it doesn’t matter either way, because Pearl is a perfectly lovely film with or without VR!
If the name Patrick Osborne sounds familiar to you, it's because he won himself an Oscar the year before with Feast, which we covered here ages ago. And while Pearl didn't win the Oscar (that's what happens when you don't have the power of the Mouse behind you), I think I like this one a little better. It tells the story of a father and his daughter over the years, going from living a nomad lifestyle out of their car to something more settled, all to the tune of Alexis Harte's "No Wrong Way Home." It's a beautiful little film, and luckily for all of us normal people, they made a theatrical version of it that's a bit easier to watch.
Now wasn't that lovely? Admittedly it loses something in the theatrical version, but it's better than trying to click around wildly for a good angle. Some people (including the writer of the film's highest-rated review on Letterboxd) think this short signals the death knell of cinema (or some other such nonsense) because it gives too much control to the viewer instead of the artist. With all due respect, that's absurd. Art is not defined by its limitations but its possibilities; a film like this isn't the death of cinema, but an exploration of it. It most reminds me of Chiho Aoshima's Takaamanohara, which I had the privilege of seeing when it was being shown at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Projected onto a 25 x 5 meter mural, Takaamanohara is essentially a short film you can experience from multiple angles. My brother and I must have watched it three times, taking different sections of the room to take it all in. Pearl takes a similar approach, and we should applaud that.
And aside from the innovation, Pearl is just a damn good film. The story is simple but touching; I'm a sucker for father/daughter relationships, despite being neither a father (at least as far as I know) nor a daughter (at least as far as you know). Plus there's something about the "entire life condensed into six minutes" conceit that always hits me in the heart. The animation is pretty good as well; perhaps not technically "great", but it's certainly got a unique style, which absolutely counts for something. (Besides, how can you not give bonus points to a film which animates in 360 degrees?) And the song (which I believe was written specifically for this short) is just lovely too. Once again I find myself wishing a short film could have found its way into the Best Original Song. It certainly would have been more worthy than "Can't Stop the Feeling." But I suppose I'm a sucker for folk music from the 2010s.
Whatever your thoughts, whether it be on contemporary folk music or the Academy acknowledging a Virtual Reality film, Pearl is worth a watch in any format. Not surprisingly, Patrick Obsorne lost the Oscars to Disney (technically Pixar with Piper, which IS a better short), but he at least got to set a record!
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