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5 Films by Jay Rosenblatt
By Casey McCabe
If you were to ask filmmakers why they became filmmakers, you'd get some pretty sounding answers. Maybe a few would claim a burning need to tell stories, and film as the only conceivable medium in which to tell them. And a few of these filmmakers might actually mean it.
And then there are the films that speak for themselves. Films that make you sink several inches deeper in your seat. Films that make you exit the theater very slowly, reluctant to shake yourself out of the hypnosis, yet curious as to whether the outside world will look the same. San Francisco filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt has produced five of these films over the past decade, and they are now on screen in an amazingly dense 80 minutes called "5 Films by Jay Rosenblatt"
Rosenblatt's films remind us that there is a far more pure strain of independent film than what is often called independent filmmaking these days. His films are neither documentary or fiction. They run less than 20 minutes, in which time you are gently forced to reconsider the human condition. They are challenging offerings even by art house standards, yet provide mesmerizing entertainment. The films of Jay Rosenblatt do not stand a chance in any larger outlet. Jay Rosenblatt simply makes the films he has to make.
The films of Jay Rosenblatt tend to be remarkably short-winded ruminations. "The Smell of Burning Ants" is an extraordinarily keen, well crafted observation on the brutal cruelty of boyhood. "King of the Jews" is a personal account of growing up Jewish in a family that instilled in him a terrible fear of Jesus Christ, until one day by accident a young Rosenblatt is stunned to learn that Christ himself was a Jew. Rosenblatt's most cited work "Human Remains" gives voice to Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong as they matter-of-factly confess their pedestrian triumphs and shortcomings, including Hitler's weakness for chocolate eclairs, Franco's fondness for hunting partridges, Mao's refusal to brush his teeth, Mussolini's athletic enthusiasm, and Stalin's love of a good practical joke. We are asked to consider that these murderous dictators are human beings, too. But as Rosenblatt obviously figured out, that's even more chilling than the boilerplate depiction of evil.
Interestingly enough, Rosenblatt does not actually shoot film. He compiles footage from pre-1960s archival sources, including obscure medical and educational training films. Another trademark likely inspired by minimal budgets is the use of repetition, slo-motion, and reversals....devices that not only wrench extra length from a film clip, but also give Rosenblatt his hypnotic rhythms. Like other modern artists of the found object persuasion, Rosenblatt points at the seemingly mundane and forces you to recognize the profound archetype lurking beneath.
These films are an existential lesson in human nature. They're also a great example of Buddhist filmmaking– doing more with less than you ever thought possible. For lack of a better term, his work has often been dubbed experimental. My guess is that Jay Rosenblatt knows exactly what he's doing.
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