A Year in Shorts Day 293: "Frank Film"
Full disclosure fellow Oscar Baiters- we got a weird one today. I'm talking weird weird. This might actually be the weirdest film we've looked at in our Year in Shorts. And we have looked at some weird films! But today's film, the 1973 Oscar-winning short Frank Film, might just be the height of surreal, experimental filmmaking. I haven’t the foggiest idea what it means. All I know is that I like it quite a bit. And I think you just might like it too!
Directed by Caroline and Frank Fouris (Frank, the titular Frank of Frank Film, also narrates the short), Frank Film is both fairly easy and incredibly difficult to summarize. There's no real plot to speak of her, with the core of the film being Frank reciting an autobiographical story while images from his magazine clippings collection provide some visual aid for what he's saying. (Frank Film's origins as a creative outlet for the director's random collection is one of the many things it has in common with the previous decade's Very Nice, Very Nice. It's probably safe to assume that that film had more than a small influence on this one, even if Very Nice, Very Nice was considerably easier to understand.) At the same time, Frank also recites a list of words, many of which start with the letter F. And... that's just about it. On paper, it doesn't sound like much. But a lot of films don't sound terribly exciting on paper when you get right down to it. It's the experience that matters. And Frank Film is an experience.
Look, Frank Film is definitely not an easy film to understand. And frankly, I'd argue it's a film where understanding it is beside the point. Sure, there's a narrative of sorts, but it's pretty clear that you're not expected to follow it. Instead, the Fourises simply want you to let this film wash over you in its own unique energy. It almost strikes me as a filmed attempt to try and recreate consciousness itself, with its central story being overwhelmed by connected words and images. Watching Frank Film reminds me a little of reading the works of Herman Koch, only on steroids. (Yes, I will find a way to try and sneak in the fact that I've read a couple of Herman Koch novels any chance I get.) It's not a technique that I think could sustain a feature, but in a short it works pretty well. I'll admit that Frank Film is not exactly the type of film that I go out of my way to watch (at the end of the day, I have pretty simple tastes and Frank Film is fairly highfalutin'), but I'm glad I did. Experimental cinema is certainly not for everyone; hell most of the time it's not for me. Still, it's important to expand your horizons and open your mind. You might be surprised by what you wind up enjoying!
I feel like I'm not really doing a great job at explaining this. Frank Film is another one of those films that's very hard to review, at least without getting overly technical or going into an excessive amount of detail on the filmmaking. I'll leave that sort of thing to the people who know better than I; for me, it's the experience of watching a film that matters most. The fact that I find it so hard to write about in this case is more of a testament to the film's success than it is my failings as a writer. (Or at least I hope that's the case.) Frank Film is one of those shorts you simply have to experience for yourself to understand, and I highly recommend it. The Academy Award for Best Animated Short went to a lot of experimental films in the 1970s, but none of them were anywhere near as bold as this. And very few of them were nearly as good.
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