Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Un(comfort)able Foods

Last time Nathaniel from The Film Experience picked a couple of short films for the wonderful series Hit Me With Your Best Shot, I started off by saying that short film is in many ways the red-headed stepchild of filmmaking. If only I had saved that observation for this week's edition concerning a trio of short films from Canadian director Jamie Travis! It would have fit perfectly with the three films in question (Why the Anderson Children Didn't Come to Dinner, The Saddest Boy in the World, and The Armoire - all available to view for free online here) which are referred to as Travis' Saddest Children Trilogy. And as a bonus one of the boys is a stepchild (how convenient!) and most of the young boys in it could be considered ginger-esque (okay, now I'm just pushing it). But the comparison of unwanted or unloved children seems to be in keeping with the overall mood of these melancholic, dry-humored shorts in which childhood is observed not with starry-eyed nostalgia but with a darkly sinister and slightly unnerving eye.

Often compared to the intricate, meticulously designed worlds of Wes Anderson, Travis' trilogy does seem to share an aesthetic sensibility to that of the director. Favoring an overall brown color palette (although that could be the late 80s/early 90s setting of the pieces. Man, the 80's loved a brown interior design) that is highlighted by pops of lime green (the same green and white gingham finds its way into all three of the films), each set, costume, and camera angle is carefully chosen to create the distinct world within which these characters live.

Even though each film stands separately and are only connected thematically, there do seem to be reoccurring motifs and images (a milk carton with a missing child's picture makes its way to two of the three, amongst others). Incidentally, the Best Shots I've selected from each film seem to also be connected as they all include an image of food. All three could be considered comfort food, foods we remember fondly as children, but each has a subversive twist to them - making them anything but comforting.

At the start of Travis' first short, Why the Anderson Children Didn't Come to Dinner, a mother (hooked up to an IV) is busily preparing a breakfast feast for her three children. There's huge stacks of french toast, massive piles of bacon, and as she continues to crack egg after egg, she briefly stops and observes this oddity:

Little do we know now, but this brown egg seems to pop up unexpectedly throughout the rest of the film and boy, does it set this mother on edge. As she contemplates the out-of-place egg, she places it under her heel and smashes it. This image perfectly sets up the seemingly normal premise (a mother making breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and with one of these things not like the others, it lets us know that things are slightly off and to expect the unexpected from here on out.

Similarly, another surprisingly warped addition makes it way into a childhood staple in The Saddest Boy in the World. After informing his mother about his unhappy status in the universe, she sends him to a therapist. Naturally the solution is antidepressants and as she "hides" them in his green jello we get this hilarious image:

I love how comically obvious the white and red pills are as they float at the top of the gelatinous mass. Normally a mother will try her best to get you to do what's good for you without letting you know. But the jello, all bright, colorful, and inviting is clearly showing that even a treat has its downside. And rather than masking the medicine, she's letting him observe it head on. No child-like innocence for this young boy - no wonder he's so sad!

And my final image from The Armoire is not as immediately twisted as the other two images but within the context of the story also gives a childhood favorite a darker edge:

Aaron's friend Tony has been missing for weeks. He was last seen at Aaron's house while they were playing a game of Hide and Seek, but Aaron was never able to find him. Later, while watching the news on the couch (you know, every little boy's favorite show), Aaron learns that the body of his young friend has been found. Aaron, instead of showing shock or even acknowledging the fact that a tragedy has occurred, silently sits - letting his ice cream melt down his hand. The drops roll down his fingers as if mimicking the flow of blood after an accident. His ice cream cone suddenly takes on a sinister foreboding and sense of unease as we begin to wonder what Aaron actually knows about all this. Even ice cream isn't safe in Travis' distorted creations.


  1. I absolutely love that your images play as a trilogy as well. and love what you have to say about this scene which is a stunner (The Armoire).

    i'm curious as to which of the films was your favorite?

    1. thanks, nathaniel! i hadn't even planned on having the three images themed together until i picked each one.

      i would say my least favorite is ANDERSON CHILDREN, he's got the visuals down, but is still finding his voice. i think that THE ARMOIRE is probably the best well-made in regards to story and images, but i think my favorite was SADDEST BOY - it was just so twisted!