We witness a boxing match through the lens of a vintage silent film era style: The material is sepia-toned and yellowed; there are inconsistencies in brightness and speed, as if the camera (or the projector) were cranked by hand; from the soundtrack we hear a vaudeville piano music jingling akin to that which was usually played alongside slapstick films in the 1910s and 20s – even the aspect ratio is so retro it looks almost like a perfect square.
But suddenly, postmodernism breaks into the film (with modernism virtually leapfrogged completely), as the slapstick boxing match suddenly displays an amount of blood confusingly unusual for the early time period – and then there's this massive monster of an intertitle, designed to look just like the old one in the silent films of old, but the tonality of its wit is completely anachronistic: “Unbelievable accidents that have happened due to outrageous stupidity, but still have a happy ending.” We are warned: This is a short which wants to throw us off balance at every turn.
Directed with a lot of gusto and all possible tricks of the trade by Ove Musting, SILENT FILM is a tongue-in-cheek game with our expectations of tradition and modernity. Like Steven Soderberghs THE GOOD GERMAN, in which he emulated the style of Hollywood's Golden Era of melodrama in the 1940s, but injecting it with a modern perspective on violence, morality and sexual politics that would have been impossible to realize at the time, Musting also has one or two things to say about our times, which he cleverly conceals in this pretended period piece. Shots of money changing hands, for example, are amassed in the fight sequences as well as in the scenes of people gambling: It's all about money, all the time.
There's a deeper irony there: We see gamblers and cheaters being brought to justice in form of a prize fight boxing match. A card shark whose aces up his sleeves are being found out by a brawl; the mastermind of a classic shell operation, who receives some fish in the face for his cheating; and a guy facilitating illegal help mechanisms at arm wrestling (for whatever reason anybody would want to do that…); in order to get their just comeuppance, they are all hurled into a ring with a fighter the size of Ivan Drago like early Christians into the Roman arenas. A conflict over money is supposed to be solved by a boxing match with even more money changing hands, as the bets come in and bundles of cash are handed to scantily clad ladies – this can neither be right nor can it go according to plan. And of course, something suddenly changes. The music, for example. It goes from slapstick piano to brooding Blues guitar. And in a surreal turn worthy of a dark David Lynch nightmare all of a sudden the card shark seems to project evil powers from his eyes, incapacitating his boxing opponent. Then the shell operator screams so hard the fighter goes down and is counted out. The arm wrestling guy shoots some kind of Street Fighter-esque energy ball. Superheroes have taken over a black-and-white silent film. Once again, postmodernism has invaded a seemingly innocent code of aesthetics. Whether or not that is a happy ending, though, will have to be decided elsewhere.
Interview with Ove Musting
More informations about The Tallinn University Baltic Film and Media School (BFM)