Reviewed by Chris Garcia, Editor-In-Chief, Klaus At Gunpoint
Love stories, even Surrealist ones, are a hard sell to me. They tend to be difficult to cut through. When I first got a hold of Lullaby for Lucious and Sumat, I realised that this was not a typical love story, but a thoroughly reinvented kind of story, the sort that small-time home filmmakers of the silent era were specializing in. It was easy then, the language of film was still being invented, but to do so today, with a hundred-plus years of cinematic grammar built up, it is much harder to make such a break-through.
Amazingly, Lullaby for Lucious and Sumat does just that. It creates a vocabulary, and then populates it with a grammar, both visual and auditory, that forces the viewer to re-investigate their perceptions of what has come before. And, utterly contradictory as it may seem, it does it by forcing the viewer to consider, accept and reject, that century of film history and visual expression. Thoroughly post-modernist, but also steeped in a tradition that is older than any any named artistic movement, Lullaby for Lucious & Sumat is an absolute achievement in the history of short film.
Let us start with what is easily taken in: the story to be told. The Moon is tired in his role looking over the world, and he sees the woman with the harp and telescope and they fall in love. Without the Moon, the order of things is lost, werewolves aren’t able to werewolf, lovers are no longer able to lover, astronauts are left to consult maps. It’s a smart movie, and it’s so very, thoroughly surrealist in every aspect that it makes love to all the senses. The story, told completely without dialogue, is beautiful and while I felt it was maybe a touch longer than the story demanded, the production was so amazing that I did not notice on my first viewing.
My first of many.
Watching it, I could see a certain combination of the works by Melies (whenever you show a moon with a human face, whether you mean to or not, you’re referencing Melies!), of the German Expressionists (with an obvious nod towards Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), of the Trick Films of the 1910s, of the artier Disney animations of the 40s, and shorts like The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra. At times, I felt as if I was watching an Eastern European animation of the Soviet era like The Fabulous World of Jules Verne. It’s an absolute visual feast, and what shocked me was the fact that so much of the imagery came from films of the science fiction type. Shots of the cavorting moon, coupled with the images of astronauts, lost in space, all give a taste of science fiction running from Melies to Kubrick. But this is a fantasy film, no mere science fiction bauble! The colors and many of the visuals seem to recall works from as far afield as The Wizard of Oz and Pushing Daisies. At many points, the sense of a digital Guy Maddin begins to leap off the screen. Hell, there’s even some Fellini mixed in there. This is a short that acknowledges every other film ever made. It is a multi-media phoenix rising from the ashes of a century of film.
Perhaps it is the texture of this film that is most engaging. The corrugated suit, visible painter’s tape as costuming, oversaturated colors, woodgrain, felt, printed paper, and foliage, the sense of a cut-paper collage, at times literally, brings the viewer in deep. The animation is not built to seamlessly blend in with the film, it is meant to give that feeling of assemblage that artists from Louise Nevelson and Joseph Cornell to Jeff Wassmann and Greg Colson have productively mined. There’s more than a touch of May Ray and Dali in there, and a timelessness that only makes the appearance of the astronauts that much more humorous and intellectually jarring. There is a dream-like quality to the presentation, which makes the fact that the audience can enter into a dream-state with the characters in what already seems to be a dream-state is a testament to the superiority of the filmmaking. There are Moonbabies, crying and tiny, who are controlled by puppetmasters who are visible in their black body-stockings, but the faces are obviously computer generated. It’s touches like that, the acknowledgement of the traditions of puppetry while still working in the film world of today, that gives so much more to this short.
But this short, so powerfully visual, is significantly more about the music than it is about the images.
Maylee Todd’s song Lullaby For My Fictitious Children Lucious and Sumat was the basis for the short, which she co-wrote with director Alvin Campaña. Maylee appears in the short as the woman of the world and sings the song towards the end of the film. It is amazingly beautiful, what else should we expect from such a stunning voice, but her performance as the woman who the Moon falls in love with is equally beautiful. The music for the entire film is remarkable, tying together a film that is a simple story.
The direction was spectacular, along with the cinematography and the music. Art Direction in a film like this makes the movie, but all together, this film is an absolute feast. Lullaby for Lucious & Sumat is possibly the most gorgeous short film out there right now. It’s a production that I pray makes a wide trip around the festival circuit.