Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Genre of the Short Weapons Film


As we endure the vast explosion of creativity enabled by the long-coming, often heralded, and deeply regretted democratization of the filmmaking and film distribution processes, we would expect, and we are told to expect, the emergence of new genre of film, in particular, of short film. These genre have exploded in number and, almost unnoticed, are embedded in our consciousness and evoke all the human emotions of humor, boredom, disgust, fear, envy, awe and hatred in varying amounts.

Oscar Wilde supposedly said, in a quote I have never been able to find, that “thank God not everyone writes plays, because if they did we would have to see them and that would be tedious.” Or words to that effect. 

One problem with being sarcastic is that every once in a while one is sincere and it can be difficult for one's readers or audience to catch the transition from overt sarcasm to sincere admiration, especially if one has a sense of humor that can be misunderstood. So be warned, this essay, about half way through, will turn sincere in admiration, as we talk about the genre of our nominal topic, the short weapons film.

Ah, the short weapons film! Lost among billions of short films about cute pets, fitness, how to fix your toilet, the prodigal grandchild, sex, young women in their underclothes, young men in their underclothes, narratives about crossing the border, self-hypnosis, TED talks, political or other character assassination, lists of things found in movies (10 best sexist jokes, 10 best science fiction movies that fail), films about the weather, machinima with voice over delivering narratives on how to exterminate aliens in your new synthetic Corvette, among all of these we also have the subgenre of the “short weapons film”.

The “short weapons film” comes in primarily two forms, the professional and the amateur.

The lesser form is the professional sales film that accompanies each new and proposed weapon system. Be it a missile, or a sidearm, or a new French small submarine for special forces insertion and “exfiltration”, these short films are professional (that is, people are being paid to make them) and contain certain standard elements in a predictable fashion. They are less than 10 minutes long and narrate how new technology and ideas solve a problem in conflict resolution whether that means seeing in the dark, blowing something up, travelling fast or what have you.  The film moves on to describe the particular solution incorporating live footage and synthetic imagery to show how this technology can solve this problem.  Story structure is straightforward and leads to the "obligatory" scenes, such as a solid set of time lapse photography of a missile launch or a target being hit.  Audio is typical for the genre of the short industrial film.  Often just voice over with a theme or inspirational music at certain times.  Occasionally a few seconds of an interview with a key weapons designer or customer.  Each subgenre of weapons film has its own conventions.  For example, few films about submarines can resist using that famous sonar ping at least once or twice in their film.

These films are boring  but they may have interesting elements if you happen to be interested in the technology.  

But there is another genre of short weapons film that is enthusiastic, exciting, fun, unfunded, amateur and occasionally completely drop dead brilliant.

This is the short film that is made by the sailors or soldiers themselves to describe their work, or demonstrate their esprit de corps or just show how much fun it can be to pilot an A-10 close support aircraft, or fly a modern air superiority fighter next to its brethren from WW 2, or the gorgeous choreography and jaw-dropping danger of flying from a carrier, or landing a helicopter at night in the desert. These are edited raw footage with a rock & roll background theme, generally speaking, and natural sounds from the activity from the point of view of the observer, the pilot, the ground crew, the control tower. The technical quality of the imagery varies from excellent to extreme low resolution and quantized night footage, but the authenticity of the imagery is never in doubt. The sense of presence, of being there, in Iraq, on the aircraft carrier, what have you, is genuine and completely sincere. These are young people flying jets, jumping out of airplanes and blowing things up.

Here is an example of an Airborne exercise in which people jump out of perfectly good helicopters when in the air:

This art form is transient and perishable.  The issue of the music copyright for small art films continues to come up.   The classic in this case is the short film about U2 spy plane practice landings and take off.  The U2 is known as the "Dragon Lady" for a variety of reasons.  Among other things it does not have normal landing gear to save weight.  So it discards its gear when it takes off and then basically does a modified crash landing when it lands with the pilot being unable to see much of anything.

The original film was brilliant, but the music was not their's.  So they substituted another track, which is of course not as good.   But if you wish, you can watch the video with the sound off, and then play the real track in the BG with some manual synchronization.  Its really good.   The music is "She Hates Me" by Puddle of Mudd.

U2 being chased by the cops

U2 Dragon Lady: She fucking hates me (the video, turn the audio off)

She Hates Me by Puddle of Mudd (the music)

For those of you who want to sing along, the words to She Hate Me are here:

Yes, they got one of their chase cars to pretend to pull the U2 pilot off the plane and check him for drunk driving.

Not all these films are this brilliant of course.   But they are generally quite fun in a certain way.

Note: This post will be updated if I can find better versions of the video, or even the video with the original music track. Trust me, this is worth it.


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