Skip navigation

Short Before The Movie

Janet Merewether
2003

Director's statement, September 2013

"Jonas Mekas once wrote that 8mm home movies would be the folk art of the 20th century. Short Before The Movie takes us on a quick trip to the crossroads of cinema, where film as commodity, artform, home movie and cultural document meet.

Short Before the Movie interweaves home movie footage, filmed by the director, with reconstructed movie trailers and extracts from feature film screenwriting manuals. In Short Before the Movie I contrast personal cinema with industrial cinema practices. My Director’s Statement draws the battle-lines, ‘Super 8 home movies vs Cinema commercials, movie trailers, test screening questionnaires, clichéd scripts, and big budget feature film marketing strategies.’ (Merewether 2003) This is a concern shared by many avant-garde filmmakers and media artists, who challenge the production practices and economics of the studio-dominated American feature film industry.

Short Before the Movie is based on my own collection of Super 8 home movies shot over a fifteen-year period. The film begins with a graphic title: ‘In 1963, Jonas Mekas wrote that 8mm home movies would be the folk art of the twentieth century.’ This is based on a statement from ‘8 mm. Cinema as Folk Art’ in his collected journals Rise of the New American Cinema:

The day is close when...8mm home movie footage will be collected and appreciated as beautiful folk art, like songs and the lyric poetry that was created by the people...Blind as we are, it will take us a few more years to see it, but some people see it already. They see the beauty of the sunsets taken by a Bronx woman when she passed through the Arizona desert; travelogue footage, awkward footage that will suddenly sing with an unexpected rapture; the Brooklyn bridge footage; the Orchard St footage – time is laying a veil of poetry over them... (Mekas 1972, p. 83)

The visual poetry of personal image-making which film-maker and critic Jonas Mekas describes is rarely incorporated into contemporary feature films, although it can be located in creative, autobiographical documentaries, as well as single channel or installation based media art.

Short Before the Movie interweaves extracts from industrial cinema texts such as Hollywood screenwriting books, movie trailers and test screening questionnaires, which are counterpointed against subjective Super 8 footage. This juxtaposition drives the film’s central investigation into the contrived and clichéd devices used by commercial cinema, as opposed to the direct emotional truths, and affect, to be found in spontaneous home movies.

In developing the script for Short Before the Movie, I analysed a variety of texts, for example Linda Seger’s Making a Good Script Great (1987), which is one of a plethora of Hollywood scriptwriting books that promotes the use of predictable plot structures such as the ‘Hero’s Journey’. These script formulas, designed for commercial genre films, are the antithesis of personal film-making, and often divert artists and writers from attentively observing real life through the camera lens. Where are the surprising and poignant moments, the fleeting impressions, the uncertainties of chance encounters or spontaneous performances which give us the great moments in fiction, documentary or experimental cinema? It could be argued that the increasing dominance of the Hollywood model decreases the diversity of directorial styles being offered to audiences, though, in recent years, self-presentation and self-publishing through the internet has corrected this to some extent.

Another source referenced and ironically reconstructed as voice-over in Short Before the Movie is the formulaic style of questionnaire designed for feature film and studio test screenings, where audiences are invited to rate their responses to actors, plotlines and conclusions. Whilst often being useful for producers, financiers and distributors, this process has undermined the autonomy of the director and has further contributed to the predictability of genre pictures which dominate our cinema screens."

Format
Digital Betacam (from Super 8)
Duration
00:05:50
Related organisations
Janet Merewether, excerpt, 'Short before the movie' 2003 – via Vimeo 
Janet Merewether - WHY, Janet Merewether discusses the making of her work 'Short before the movie' – via Vimeo 
Janet Merewether - HOW, Janet Merewether discusses the making of her work 'Short before the movie' – via Vimeo 
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions,
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions, – via d/Archive 
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions,
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions, – via d/Archive 
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions,
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions, – via d/Archive 
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions,
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions, – via d/Archive 
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions,
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions, – via i1291.photobucket.com 
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions,
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions, – via i1291.photobucket.com 
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions,
Janet Merewether, Short Before the Movie, 2003.© Janet Merewether t/a Go Girl Productions, – via i1291.photobucket.com