Hi all! Today I’ve got something really special – my dear friend Achariya Rezak, writer for hockey site SB Nation and master of Jungian archetypes, wrote a review for sci-fi short ‘Real Artists.’ Please enjoy! She’s included a link to the original Ken Liu story, too!
Title: Cameo Wood’s Real Artists is a Jungian romp through the politics of creation
When I read Ken Liu’s short story, I was immediately struck by his ability to translate our modern discomfort with the uncanny valley into terms of movie making. His short story is about the meta-process of filmmaking, told through the eyes of a “real artist” (“Real Artists” is the title of the film and the short story) Sophia, who has spent her whole life loving — and wanting to work for — a certain film company. Cameo Wood’s twelve-minute short based on this story adds yet another twist, layering on an additional intensity to this parable about creation.
Without giving away many details, the film tells the story of a young woman who is interviewing for a job with her favorite film company, Semaphore Studios, the company that inspired her to make her own supercut edits of their films and go to film school. The story follows her on a job interview, through her initial meeting with the creative director, Anne, to her gradual realization that not all at Semaphore is as it seemed.
I was immediately struck by a few important differences between the film and the short story, differences that highlight the filmmaker’s firm grounding in social issues. Aside from an initial few moments of footage containing a man, the only speaking characters in the film are women, from the receptionist, to creative director Anne Palladon (rather than Len Palladon, who is a man in the short story), to the main character and company interviewee, Sophia. The two main characters are also women of color — Sophia is black, and Anne is Asian. In the short story, the races of Sophia and Len are not explicitly described.
This choice of casting works beautifully. Sophia, played by Tiffany Hines, has a face expressive enough to carry the emotional weight of the film, especially in each scene’s long close-ups. I wondered how all of the short story’s exposition would translate to the medium of the film short, a medium that would not be able to carry so much dialogue. Wood managed to pare Sophia’s history down to a few important exchanges conveyed through the dialogue rather than voiceover, and images rather than exposition.
The second difference between the story and film centered around the name of Sophia’s favorite movie by Semaphore. The short story calls it The Triassic; the film calls it Mythos. The choice of the “mythos” was an astute one. It brought to my mind the idea of the Jungian collective unconscious, the underwater iceberg stories of the mind that Jung believed we all shared — and this myth-making, storytelling unconscious plays a pivotal role in the film.
One of the central conceits of the film is a certain piece of software. I wondered how it would be rendered, and found it perfectly done. The software, named Big Semiotics, or Big Semi for short, is part of Semaphore’s filmmaking process. It looked just as Apple-bland, harmless, and user-friendly as I thought it should look. Big Semi is an enormously scary metaphor for data mining, and Wood turned it into an intuitive-looking ap that generates gentle curves in heroic, Baymax blue.
The cinematography worked well for the subject. The lines were all clean and spare, the better to focus on the interaction of the characters. The rooms full of “creators” watching movies were also effectively shot, allowing a glaring contrast between the white world outside of filmmaking, and the dark and murky world of the collective unconscious of the watchers. The final twist in the story was shot in an entirely different way, and was effective enough to haunt me still.
The film is framed by an interesting conceit — the first scene moves from a man filming a commercial, to the commercial on display behind a receptionist, to Sophia. The end of the film does almost the same thing in reverse, leaving the viewer to ponder Chinese philosophers and butterflies. The title of the film, Real Artists, is called into question by Anne at the very end. She takes Sophia’s initial quotation about real artists, and changes the word “real” to “great.” The difference is very telling, and subtly done.
The short story comes to no easy resolution; the film concludes in an interesting endless loop. Both are excellent ways to complete the tale, and both are well worth the minimal time it will take to enjoy them.
Real Artists will be screening shortly on March 2 at the Cinequest Film Festival, and March 5 at the Manchester Film Festival. Hopefully it will also be available more widely.