Spout Mavens Disc #14, Part 8 of 13: Shorts! Volume 3 - New York Trio (2002-2004)

New York Trio: Confection, Colorforms & Date
Director: Eva Saks
U.S., 4, 8 & 5 minutes respectively, all color
Cinema 4 Ratings: 5s across the board

Only fives for three straight Eva Saks' films? How can I be mean to someone whose chief desire seems to be to entertain or educate children?

Smack-dab in the middle of the Shorts! Volume 3 DVD collection lies a mysterious region known as the New Yorker's Triangle... er, I mean the New York Trio, consisting of two films of absolute, nearly cloying innocence and a third, slightly more adult short featuring a character whose death I was almost screaming for until the snotty little gold-digger's ways are changed for about thirty seconds when surrounded by the emotional residue of September 11, 2001. (That she will rebound from this the next day, and in about six months time or so, convince her unfortunate boyfriend that she needs a gigantic, unnecessary, ridiculous "wedding of the century" is not mentioned within the film. But, if you know anyone even remotely like her, and we each probably know about two or three thousand of them, then you know it's coming...)

Reading up on director Eva Saks on her website and elsewhere, it came as no surprise to find out that her films have been showing up on Sesame Street over the last few years. This is no knock on their quality, mind you... even to this day, long after such behavior is considered fashionable or at least socially acceptable for a non-child raising adult, I still spend some time at 123 Sesame Street, often early in the morning and only when I am flipping channels and notice that some random cable station is showing it. As a puppeteer myself, and a massive Muppet nut, I still find it the purest way to enjoy Henson's creations. As long as I avoid Elmo (whom I consider an abomination to decent Muppets everywhere -- there is no real character within his puppet work, and he is almost purely driven, annoyingly, by his voice. He almost makes Telly Monster bearable...) Skipping past the little red fiend, I can sift through the show, watch familiar old Ernie and Bert bits (though they seem to show up less and less all the time), and every once in a while, my vigilance is rewarded by a series of spies opening their coats counting to ten, the song about the Lower Case N not being lonely anymore or the one about the Capital I (in the middle of the desert, in the center of the sky), or one of the older short films that used to be shuffled throughout the show, like I'm An Aardvark.

This appears to be the province where Eva Saks wishes to thrive, and judging from the first two films in her New York Trio,
seemingly connected only by location, Confection and Colorforms, while I have no knowledge as to whether these particular pieces have ever appeared on the show, I can understand how she managed to get on the show. It is no knock on either the capabilities of those who have created short films for Sesame Street, nor on Ms. Saks, to say that there is a comfort level within her work that fits in well with what has preceded her on the show. This could imply that the skill level doesn't necessarily have to be that high or artful to make it on the show; it just has to fall somewhere within the properly accepted ranges of subject matter and also come off, at least, as seeming moderately well-crafted.

I am certain that those far less jaded than I will find her work perfectly delightful, perhaps even heartwarming. The last time I looked, I still had a heart, and while it is one to shy away from the most gooey of sentiments, on most occasions, it does react well to sincerity, no matter how squishy the atmosphere surrounding the sentiment might be. And yet, confronted by a massive dose of what I can only assume is a most sincere effort on Ms. Saks' part to both entertain and to mildly illuminate her audience on varied subjects such as the plight of the homeless, racial and communal understanding and the personal sacrifice of the superficial, I am left cold, and find myself oddly stunned by this conclusion.

I was hostile to Confection from the start, not liking the choice of small girls in the lead at all (though I guess she grew on me slightly in my repeat viewings), and seeing the film as more of a Lifestyles of the Affluent and Bratty (as I did the other films), with her obsession for expensive desserts and her secret desire to become a ballerina. Sure, her encounter with a homeless man seems like it changes her, because this is the viewpoint the film forces on us, but really, the girl only rewards him with her frosted strawberry goodie because he applauds her daydream performance on the ballet stage. In truth, she is only facing the first point in her conditioning into adulthood. The homeless man knows what he wants -- the delicious dessert, and he recognizes how to get it, by producing what the girl, who is laden with a snooty busybody of a mother who simply must be the most horrible person, truly craves: some small measure of approval. He applauds -- the bell is rung -- she delivers the prize -- the puppy drools.

Colorforms ups the ante for me by having a perfectly wonderful tiny "actress" in the lead role as the unbelievably Messy Little Girl, but despite this, I was still left unmoved by the story. In a nutshell, and that's not hard considering how short these films are, a little girl is so crazily messy that her parents decide to call in the big guns to help her get some manners, i.e. "the grandfather." He confronts her at the breakfast table, she stands her ground, the parents rush off to some daily business where they won't be returning until much, much later, the grandfather and the girl sit with arms locked in a standoff, and once the parents leave, the grandfather whisks the girl off to an Indo-Caribbean Pagwa celebration, where the residents of the neighborhood throw garishly colored powders at one another and yell "Happy Pagwa." None of this is really explained to the audience -- I for one have only encountered mention of this bizarre ritual once before, but really, I couldn't care less about it -- and I was left wondering to what extent it was really explained to the girl. For all we know, the tot merely understands that she has gotten to attend a swell parade and gotten to be really, really, really messy, and all with an adult's loving approval.

But when they return to the house, they sit back in the standoff pose they had when the parents left, pretending to not have moved at all. The girl tells her mother, who asks if she has learned anything, "Cleanliness is next to godliness," which I am fairly certain is only a series of rote words to such a tiny girl. And here I get confused, because in essence, the girl is not just keeping secrets from her parents at the insistence of another adult, which is a dangerous precedent, but she is also lying to her mother and herself, because if she actually learned anything during her adventure, it was that filthiness is actually next to godliness, given the celebration in which she partook. The film itself has some fun moments, and great reaction shots from the girl, but the stiffness of the adult acting doesn't help the film win me over. In the end, like
Confection, Colorforms comes off as middling and seeming to backtrack over its intentions.

And then there is Date, which loses me from second one. I don't like women like the one portrayed by the admittedly gorgeous actress in the lead role, her attitude, her bossiness, her superficial insistence. Certainly, the film is going to play off this, and it does, turning her completely around when she is confronted with a wall of posters at a candlelight vigil for the still missing victims of 9/11 (coincidentally, my birthday, and I insist that it plays no part in my feelings towards this film; if the film were excellent, I would tell you so). This is the best shot of the three films, but also, and thankfully, the shortest content-wise (its credits pad it out to the second longest). It's not that I don't think the story is fine -- in fact, as a concept, I don't have a problem with the film at all. I just don't like her character, and as I stated before, people who behave like that do not change overnight, and she will be back to pushing her boyfriend around financially within a fortnight, if not sooner. I am fairly certain, even though she will tell the story of how much this moment changed her for years and years -- something I hear people say constantly, even as they prove their hypocrisy almost instantaneously -- I would bet that she will have largely forgotten that moment action-wise within 24 hours.

Much like I will hope to forget her Date...

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