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National Student Film Awards

In New York last weekend

By Tim Hunter

ONCE AGAIN, the villain is UCLA. They breed television shows out there. With all the equipment to play with, it stands to reason some one would have a feeling for dissolves or a zoom lens, or just a cut with some meaning. But with one exception, they don't, and therein lies much of the sadness of the Third National Student Film Awards.

A documentary about a modern-day cowboy spills over into observation of his town, than gropes around to find its lost focal point, and succeeds only in ending three or four times before the end titles; good color photography and John Fahey's original guitar score can't save Donald MacDonald's The Latter Day (UCLA) from being a tedious excursion to low-level technical competence because of its ill-conceived, impersonal idea. We imagine, in watching these films, committees of students in a think-tank saying "Hey, I've got a good idea for a film..." at best, and probably, "Hey, this wouldn't be so had..."

The notable exception is UCLA's 8-minute Now That The Buffalo's Gone, by Burton C. Gershfield, an intensely personal treatment of the American Indian seen in modern media, photographed in high contrast solarized color. With blood-red skies surrounding purple-and-green silhouetted Indians, Gershfield synthesizes two unique aspects of American a from two different centuries and creates a novel and moving film.

But the Philharmonic Hall screening revealed that the judges chose technical proficiency over imagination. Going To Work In The Morning From Brooklyn (Philip Messina) shows that they know what a point-of-view shot is over there at NYU and that they can shoot in subways and make a second story window look like the forty-seventh floor, but the film itself just isn't there over-and-above its elementary expertise. The winning cartoon, Marcello, I'm So Bored (John Milius; University of Southern California) tritely surveys familiar ground (wicked old Southern California) in Disneylike animation, drawings, and for the piece de resistance, a little photographic negative. That it says nothing and means nothing is troubling only because the negative footage looks well cut; one wonders why Milius didn't make something more consequential. At least it was more consequential than UCLA's second prize animated film, An Idea (Walton White), the idea of which escaped me completely although I'm willing to take their word that one existed somewhere.

RICHARD Bartlett's A Question of Color (Boston University) proved a nicely-made and often-funny parody ofA Man And A woman. With Francis Lai's strings blaring on the soundtrack, the hero's Volvo roars down the highway, the camera treating it as if it were Ferrari's greatest master-piece; the lovers on a tiny piece of grimy beach are flanked by stagehands running around with large strips of colored paper; the bossa nova singing exhusband becomes a pudgy Hawaiian who falls down a flight of stairs to his death. All this is fine but somewhere from the background comes a gnawing feeling that the conception owes too much to Lelouch--that Bartlett didn't really have much to say.

Chris Parker's experimental winnerCut (U. of Iowa; its choice accentuated the uselessness of the dramatic-documentary-animation-experimental categories) aped Godard's Masculin-Feminine in discussing the making of movies, some very elementary metaphysics, and the old illusion-vs.-reality bit. I didn't like it, but that's between me and my generally perverse taste; at least it was the film Parker wanted to make, plainly personal and chock full of substance. One can't quarrel with a well-executed idea, one can only like or dislike it. Peter Simmons' My House (San Francisco State) is another one that can't be criticized: he had the sense to tell his joke about a community of identical houses in two and a half minutes (last year's one-gag film lasted thirty-five).

AT THE point in June Steel's wretched Kien-holtz on Exhibit (UCLA) when bad shots of the sculpture degenerated into fourth-rate cinema verite interviews with the spectators, I decided to take a nap, and slept happily straight through it until the big film (first prize, dramatic division) came on, George Lucas's THX 1138 4EB (USC), which is as dazzling as advance reports (Newsweek's, among others) had suggested. Lucas's premise comes direct from Alphaville and 1984: in a computer-run dehumanized society where everyone is numbered and serves a function, one man is in undefined revolt. The entire action of the film consists of his running through endless corridors, largely seen through computer monitors. The idea is simple and effective, and extraordinarily well filmed; the initial shot of the rebel, THX 1138 4EB, running toward the camera of a closed-circuit television instantly evokes a gut empathetic reaction, and the color and opticals (dissolves mostly) are employed with flair and discipline. If it all seems insubstantial when it's over, at least Lucas has made a valid stylistic exercise from a serviceable cinematic premise.

All this grumbling obliquely suggests that the excellent 16mm equipment of the New York and California film schools cannot-substitute for solid thought and style. Personal commitment and expression through film-making is harder to acquire than technical proficiency and, to date; is still sorely lacking in the winners of this most-important student competition.

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