Saturday, 25 October 2008

[59] Bedhead (dir. Robert Rodriguez, 1991) [It Came From Youtube]

It Came From Youtube is a series of posts reviewing or promoting video or music content from that is of note. To start with, here is a short essay regarding Hollywood director Robert Rodriguez's first short film, Bedhead (youtube link). It is recommended that you watch the video in question, or listen to the music, before reading the piece.


Robert Rodriguez is one of the more interesting personalities in American filmmaking today. He is a strident visionary, an unpretentious auteur, an exponent of cutting-edge technology, and a spokesperson for (relatively) low-budget, well-made feature films. However, he is often under-rated, even patronised by a critical community which does not seem capable of enjoying the discreetly radical popcorn entertainment he creates. Whereas his contemporaries, such as Quentin Tarantino or Steven Soderbergh, inhabit a plain which encompasses the mainstream and the leftfield, Rodriguez is often overlooked or sidelined.

Indeed, both Tarantino and Soderbergh have in their own ways made self-conscious attempts at classic or artistic cinema. Rodriguez seems to have an altogether more humble approach, making his films much more entertaining in sensibility. However, Rodriguez commands a great deal of autonomy and authority with his films. Due to his cheap and fast working methods, he has often been given freedom beyond his contemporaries to fulfil his own creative vision to sometimes effective, if at times subtle, outcomes.

His career started with Bedhead, a short film produced in 1991. Shot on a modest budget, the film became a success when shown at various film festivals. Even at this early stage, all of the hallmarks of Rodriguez's style are present. The story, an imaginative little gem, concerns a young girl, Rebecca, and the one torment in her life: her brother David, with his insufferable bedhead. David at first is shown to be a monster, making his sister's life hell: he eats his breakfasts sloppily, stabs bugs with his fork and swallows them down. He even defaces her one, supposedly safe doll. After a scuffle with David, however, Rebecca bashes her head on the ground. When she wakes, she discovers she has amazing powers, which initially seem endless. She realises she could do anything, but feels compelled to do something about that bedhead.

Rodriguez documents the shift away from David the terror to Rebecca the all-powerful in a wonderful shift of tone. The early part of the film is pure John Carpenter, complete with creepy synth score. Once Rebecca's powers are introduced, the shift goes towards the resourceful, imaginative special effects seen in low-budget successes such as Sam Raimi's Evil Dead. The fast cutting and expressive sound dubbing gives the whole film an authentic, entertaining momentum. It pays off because Rodriguez's creativity and ideas are working overtime.

Especially early on in his career, he had a capacity to make the most of what would be weaknesses or shortcomings for other film-makers; instead, he would craft something that would look much better than those focusing on the budget would expect. Here, he uses a handy narration, to mask the lack of sound-sync recording methods; a wheelchair was used in place of a dolly. Equally, Rodriguez, already working as director, co-writer, cinematographer, co-scorer and editor, made great use of his family in the production of the film. In fact, the whole cast is made up of family members, and his brother David doubled up as writer and dolly grip (with a friend, Bryant Delafosse, helping out too).

The film starts with a short animated sequence, created by Rodriguez and his production partner (and now ex-wife) Elizabeth Avellan. The influence of comics and cartoons, something that the creator himself dabbled in, and would return to time and time again in his career, is evident. Also present, if more subsumed than in later films, is an awareness of Mexican American issues. Of course, on a very level of representation, the family in the film are Mexican-American, and one of Rebecca's ambitions for her new-found superpowers is politically-slanted ('I realised I had the power to do anything I wanted. I could bring peace to the Middle-East, or become the first Mexican-American female president of the united states..'). Of course, Rodriguez almost immediately pushes this under the rug, and gets back to the rollercoaster ride ('...the first thing I'm going to do is get rid of that bedhead').

Nevertheless, there is still a motivated attempt to represent the Mexican-American experience in the film, or at least make the neutral American viewer engage with this background. In this case, this is primarily seen in David's chosen brand of cereal - 'Little Dog's Big Cacotas Cereal' - a blink-and-you'll-miss in-joke which translates as 'Little Dog's Big Shits Cereal'. The use of Spanish, and Mexican-American experience, even on such a minimal level here, later becomes an important aspect in such films as the El Mariachi Trilogy, or the Spy Kids movies.

For a 9 minute movie, Bedhead is packed with ideas. It is executed well, and has the tone of a 'gee whizz' modern fable. Rodriguez would go on to create bigger, better and more ambitious movies, but it is here that his tricks and undeniable charm are first realised. I can't think of many films that offer such a concentrated dose of fun.


Read about Bedhead on IMDB here.
Read about Bedhead on Wikipedia here.

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