A Year in Shorts Day 323: "Second Class Mail"

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the name Alison Snowden, directors of such shorts like the excellent Bob’s Birthday and the decidedly less excellent Animal Behaviour. And, in what seems to be a theme for us this week, we bid a fond farewell to another artist by going back to the beginning, in this case the 1985 short, Second Class Mail.

(via TV Tropes)

Made while Alison Snowden was still a student at The National Film and Television School (for those of you who wanted to feel bad about all you haven't accomplished in your life, here you go), Second Class Mail follows a lonely old woman as she awaits a special delivery. (As a point of interest, one of the animators on this short was Snowden's classmate, future Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park! Everything's coming full circle it seems.) Said special delivery? A blow-up doll of an old man to keep her company. In many ways, Second Class Mail is similar to a lot of the One-Joke Shorts we've covered in the past, with the short's runtime dedicated to setting up the punchline at the end. And yet, that descriptor doesn't quite fit this film. It might be more accurate to describe Second Class Mail a Two-Joke Short, dedicating most of itself to the telling of one joke, complete with a quick second, related gag at the end. So maybe more of a One-and-a-Half-Joke Short? I don't know. To discuss it in too much detail would risk spoiling the surprise, and at only four and a half minutes long, there's little reason for you not to watch it yourself.

Despite its relative simplicity, many of the hallmarks which would go on to define Snowden's work are on full display in Second Class Mail. Her pleasantly crude style, slyly dark sense of humor and, most of all, her keen insight into human nature. Snowden's minimalistic aesthetic is especially pleasing here, making use of blank space in a way that's unique and nice to look at. And the joke in the center of the short is pretty solid; it might not be laugh-out-loud funny, but it's cute. Perhaps more than anything, Second Class Mail reminds me of George and Rosemary; in a way, it's something of a warmup for that film. Both films tackle loneliness and aging in a way that's straightforward, perhaps a little cynical, but certainly never mean-spirited. Alison Snowden has great affection for her characters in spite of their foibles, and it's hard not to get swept up along with that. That's a trait which defines the other two shorts nominated for Best Animated Short that year; maybe there was something in the water. While Second Class Mail might not be quite on the same level as The Big Snit (or some of Snowden's later shorts), it nevertheless serves a great showcase for an emerging talent. I don't know why that was our theme for the past four days, but it's been nice nevertheless! In a world where many filmmakers never quite live up to their early potential, it's nice to see that there are plenty of artists who managed to build on it.

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