We love mad scientists. We always have. It’s arguable that the Dark Ages tradition of the Evil Wizard is the earliest form of the Mad Scientist, only they didn’t have science to hang the idea on yet. We also love clocks. Always have. There’ve been clocks dating back centuries, some of those from the Middle Ages were incredibly complex, with dancing figures, cavorting animals and bells, Oh The BELLS!!! These clocks, along with automatons, some of which very lifelike, were major attractions all the way up until the 19th Century. They still hold fascination for some folks today, so when there’s a short film about a mad clockmaker, complete with a Frankensteinian theme, you know that it’s made for us to love.
Frank Lucatuorto’s Amelia is a 19 minute joy to behold. It’s the story of Ned, a clockmaker, who builds a clockwork doll to keep himself company. Right there, you can see the Frankenstein tie-in, the single most obvious science fictional theme there is. Of course, there’s the whole steampunk/clockwork angle, which actually makes more sense if it had been what Shelley went with instead of her Biopunk take on the situation. The role of Ned, our clockmaker, is played with remarkable Johnny Depp-ishness by Nick Dillinger. His eyes peer out from blackened pits with a craziness that suggests the main theme of the film. He’s got himself an assistant who we are told may be indentured to his ‘friend’ or may actually be a friend who is tied to the work by a deep loyalty. They work to build a clockwork doll, using piece from Ned’s sister’s collection, and that brings about Amelia, performed with a beautiful combination of stoicism and distance by Danielle Argyros. Ned falls in love with his creation, obviously, and perhaps she falls for him. It is Argyros’ performance that also recalls a Depp character, Edward Scissorhands, but it’s her silence that really brings about her character.
Over the decade I’ve spent watching short films for festivals, there’s a genre that’s been present in seemingly growing numbers. It’s the Sing-Song Fairy Tale. These can be cloyingly sweet affairs with stilted rhymes and messy syntax, while at other times they can be remarkably charming and enticing. We see at least a couple of dozen new ones every year, and in recent times it’s become a bit of a bother. In this case, it works as the narrator puts suitable amounts of drip to every line. It feels like the kind of storytelling an every-other-week dad might put into telling his daughter the rare bedtime story. The script here is smart, and they did not skimp on the soundtrack either, as the score feels custom-built (and you would b shocked at how many shorts today use found, or more often ‘borrowed’ music) and it plays well with both the imagery and the voice-over.
The Art Direction here is nearly spectacular. There’s a feeling not only of James Whale’s Frankenstein (not to mention the other Universal Monster films), and the classic German Expressionism works like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but also legendary short films like the twin 1928 avant-garde masterpieces The Fall of the House of Usher and The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra. The way it’s shot and edited plays up both the romantic and the horror elements, which is a difficult road to hoe, as it were. The look of the film, with it’s almost sickly looking black-and-white, combines with strong performances and a intelligently adult fairy tale script to tell a story that’s been done nearly to death and make it feel… well, old. But good old. The kind of old that lead to the rise of the Steampunk thing to begin with. This isn’t a retelling of classic tales; it’s a re-establishing of a story type using the traditional forms. The acting, in particular, may take its cues from the Universal Book of Direction, but they feel far more naturalistic, stilted, but in a way that the characters are stilted, not the acting. This is a story of clockwork, and every characters is on their own track.
Amelia is one of the shorts to look for this year.Ameliamovie.com has all the information you can find and it’ll let you know when it’s coming to a festival near you!