I like to include short films in my horror movie list every year because…well, to be honest, I get the impression that many people don’t really have the patience for watching longer movies and I really hope that even my impatient and/or time-starved friends might be able to watch something that I post. Apart from that, there are so many good examples of short horror films that it’s not exactly a challenge to find a good one to share. I would rate THE SIGNALMAN (1976), a thirty minute short I posted in a previous year, as among the three or four best ghost stories ever put on film.
LA CABINA isn’t a ghost story. It’s much more disturbing than that. Unfortunately, to go into great detail about it is to give too much away. Don’t read anything about it before watching. All you need to know is that it is about a man trapped in a phone booth and that it is extremely well done. It won an Emmy the year it was released.
Don’t be fooled by the light, absurdist tone in the beginning of the short. This little movie goes for a wild ride and expertly slips into horror before you know what’s happening. There’s a little bit of Kafka to it…a little bit Hitchcock…a little bit Luis Bunuel.
I don’t need to hold back from providing a plot synopsis of CHRONOPOLIS, but a plot synopsis wouldn’t at all be helpful in evaluating the film. It won an award for “Best Children’s Short” in some fantasy film festival somewhere…and that is extremely disturbing. It’s a bit like finding out that Lynch’s ERASERHEAD won a “Best Young Adult Drama” award. This stuff is not for kids…though your kid may end up being more interesting adults if you expose them to it while young.
The basic premise of CHRONOPOLIS is very H.P. Lovecraft: strange beings who live outside of time are bored…like gods who have nothing to do because they’ve done it all. They spend all their lives playing with the creation and destruction of time itself. Actually, they remind me of contemporary humans glued to their cell phones or playing video games…or at least what we may become after another thirty or more years making these activities central to our lives. It’s clearly not ultimately satisfying to these aliens. They hope that communication with a mountain climber in space/time will somehow make their existence more meaningful.
Most of the movie involves the bizarre alien rituals and hyper-dimensional mechanical manipulations required for the beings to interact with time and also communicate in a way that passes back and forth through the borders of space/time. As you can imagine, it’s very hard to express such abstract concepts convincingly with visual representations, but CHRONOPOLIS succeeds admirably. It is perhaps too successful…the IMDB reviews are very mixed. I have a feeling it’s just too alien for some folks to relate to.
It is all very “fairy people in the mounds kidnapping humans,” alien abduction as spiritual conspiracy,” Terence McKenna’s mechanical machine elves speaking through the mushrooms sort of stuff…
The implications are terrifying, but you may enjoy it based on the imagery alone. It is certainly “psychedelic” and aesthetically interesting. I’m not a fan, personally, of Svānkmajer’s meaty stop-motion psychodramas…but CHRONOPOLIS could be described as being like Svānkmajer after having found religion. Surely it will never inspire an album by Tool. There seems to be a higher purpose to it that makes it either dangerous or magical or both. One gets a sense that the creator has actually been inside the fairy mounds and is here directly transcribing what he has seen…the wonderfully psychedelic electronic music helps tremendously in establishing the atmosphere.
LA CABINA is presented here without subtitles because it is the better version on Youtube. There is only a small amount of speaking at the beginning of the short and you don’t really need to understand it. It’s along the lines of “Hey, look at that phone booth” and “Have a good day at school, son.” The entire story is told visually, so it’s better to have a nice, crisp copy of the movie than one with subtitles.
CHRONOPOLIS has no dialogue (in human language), but there is a short text introducing the movie in French. I’m providing the Google Translate version of the text here as I like the way it’s transformed into broken English. The flawed result of automatic, impersonal translation seems to suit the theme of the film just fine:
“There is not sufficient evidence of non-existence of the city of Chronopolis.
As stated, the dreams and manuscripts agree that reveal the history of the city is an eternal history and desire.
Its inhabitants, hieratic and impassive whose sole occupation and pleasure of call time.
Despite the monotony of immortality, they live in expectation; an important event must occur during the meeting of a particular time and a human being.
But this time waited is preparing…”
So there you go!
LA CABINA (1972):