The Movie Waffler Shorts Showcase - <i>SWEET MADNESS</i> / <i>LABEL</i> | The Movie Waffler

Shorts Showcase - SWEET MADNESS / LABEL

TMW looks at two recent shorts.

Reviews by Benjamin Poole

Sweet Madness
Within the culture of sequential art/comics, Harley Quinn is an intriguing and pivotal figure. First created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini for their cartoon, Batman: The Animated Series, Harley only actually showed up in comics a year later, this rare adoption into the print medium (comic characters usually graduate from page to screen) setting the tone for the character’s idiosyncratic and mercurial, multimedia existence. More recently, Harley Quinn has been front and centre in the Arkham Asylum video games, a perennial favourite of cosplayers, and, no longer playing second fiddle to her beau, the eponymous star of Amanda Conner’s frisky, reflexive comic book. Her official live action debut will be 2016’s Suicide Squad, where Margot Robbie will don the black hearts and bunches, but until then fans can taste the madness with Peter Dukes’ Quinn focussed short Sweet Madness.
This playful vignette sees Harley taking the mayor’s family hostage (seriously, you couldn’t pay me enough to be the mayor of Gotham), with a singular demand: to deliver a particular inmate of Arkham to the rendezvous, no prizes for guessing which one. As Harley, Madeleine Wade fully inhabits her role, playing Quinn with a peppy menace, springing in and out of the frame as it suits her. For the first half of the short, we are aligned with the hostages, seeing their clowny captor in threatening glimpses, but, when Harley’s request is fulfilled, the film’s perspective cleverly flicks to aligning with Harley as she philanders/interrogates ‘Mister J’, allowing us to feel her sadness, her desperation, and, finally, towards the end, the unpredictable danger that such a character should be capable of but which is rarely evident, with lesser representations focussing more on cheesy art and cutesy moping after the Joker…
Sweet Madness is well made, highly entertaining and the Harley fans will have lots to enjoy. However, as an obsessive nerd, I did take issue with the portrayal of Mister J himself, who seems, well… too reasonable, arguing with Harley that her actions ‘don’t make sense’. There is, I suppose, the alternative argument that, in fact, the Joker is actually a rational sociopath who affects madness as part of his shtick, which, used here, serves to exemplify Harley’s nuttiness - but someone getting the drop on Mister J? Never!

There’s more female vindictiveness to be found in Jaschar L Marktanner’s German language LABEL (Aufdruck), where two young women relax in a café, smoking, drinking coffee, and holding indecently forth on the minutia of other people and the overwhelming futility of existence. The feel here is French New Wave, with the bourgeois ennui of Buñuel, and the flat existentialism of Godard evident in the women’s disdain for the world at large, the meta-textuality, and their foul mouthed observations, which get more and more absurd by the utterance. The classy piano of the score, and the monochromatic photography stylishly framing the women’s hegemonic looks, work to create a sophisticated dissonance, further expressing the film’s scatological script. If there is a criticism, it’s that at four minutes this cut is not long enough - for a joke like LABEL’s conceit to truly make an impact, it needs the reiterations, variations and accumulative climax of something like the endurance of an Stewart Lee/Andy Kaufman routine, or even Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, where the situation is stretched from amusing, to weird, to almost unbearable, way back to funny again. In LABEL, Marktanner plays it slightly too safely, but it’s still a fun watch - where else will you find evocative lines with such profane, broken poetry as ‘cigarettes are so crippled. Only just lit and they’re gone’?