Thursday, June 9, 2011

Motion Studies: “Clive, but you can call me Sir.”

       In addition to being his most optimistic film aside from Happy Go Lucky (2008), and a charming microcosm of four intersecting lives, and a film that brings us to smiles through the self-consciously corny humor of actor David Thewlis, Mike Leigh’s short film The Short and the Curlies (1987) contains one of the most annoying continuity errors of his career. On a bright but banal street, Clive (David Thewlis), walking his bike, tells his name to Joy (Sylvestra Le Touzel), adding, with a guffaw, “…but you can call me sir;” and the camera politely waits for even their shadows to exit on the left. This is all going so lackadaisically well, it jars the viewer when the next shot shows the two youngsters walking uphill on a residential road, from left to right. Why no continuity person (script girl Heather Storr?), camera operator (DP Roger Pratt?), or Leigh himself seemed to care about this break in the motion of the two main characters cannot be known for certain. But it looks strange, just as the horn and bass music sounds strange and the young Thewlis just is, all around, strange.
            Also uncertain is how much continuity matters. If a film is basically working, every visual error is followed by the question of whether or not it is an error at all. The Short and the Curlies is a wistfully unpretentious, well-acted bit of mini-cinema, so why let an awkward shot sequence get in the way? For the viewer, there is no way of fixing this glitch of right-left, then left-right motion, either in their head or on screen. Yet it is a problem that, if expressed to a director, would make most directors kick the perfectionist in the crotch and move on. So we shouldn’t tell Leigh he goofed. Perhaps the error does fit with the theme of awkward humor as a means of social approach. Perhaps it works with the whole brightness, chipper accents, incessant talking, and gross bodily and hair-related problems that are at the center of the film. Ruminating on mistakes made is a bit strange.