Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ursula (1961)

Directed by:
Lloyd Michael Williams

Director Lloyd Michael Williams spent his youth working at Cinema 16 in New York City, where he was influenced by the 16mm experimental films frequently shown there, and began shooting his own short 16mm short films as early as age 13. After high school, he enrolled in New York University to study Film, Television & Radio, and continued making films. One of his film; 1959's Lewis Carroll-inspired Jabberwock ended up winning the Silver Medallion at the Cannes Film Festival. Two years later he made the nightmarish Ursula, which would take home a Bronze Medallion at Cannes and also won a major award at the Boston International Film Festival. Despite these accomplishments (as well as making many other award winning short films), Williams himself isn't very well known and information on most of his films is hard to come by on the internet.

Ursula (based on the story "Miss Gentilbelle" by Charles Beaumont) involves the mental decay of a small child at the hands of her domineering and cruel mother. The fact the child is presented to us as a young girl but is actually played by a little boy (Calvin Waters) really opens this up to multiple interpretations, whether that was intended or not. Taking the casting at face value, it could be a case of a young mind becoming unglued because of mental abuse and forced transvestism. If you ignore the casting (no real issue is made of the child's gender and the boy playing the part could easily pass for a girl), then this could be seen as trauma caused by a child being forced into a gender role. The mother (Dorothea Griffin) chastises her child for ripping her dress and doesn't think she should be playing outside or getting dirty, and goes as far as killing her daughter / son's pet bird. The child eventually either murders her mother or just fantasizes about doing so. Throughout, experimental techniques are used to illustrate the child's inner turmoil; overlapping shots of trees, the house, the moon and water, as well as distorted or echoing voices. The stabbing scene instantly brought to mind the cellar stabbing scene of Mrs. Cooper in Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead (1968) because of the murderous child and distorted screams.

Other Cinema offers this short and five others on the compilation Experiments in Terror, which was released on DVD in 2003. Beaumont's story would later be re-filmed in 1970 (as an episode of the "Journey to the Unknown" TV series) and again in 2000 by director Tara Miele.

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