Like so many motion-picture enthusiasts, Charlie Cline grew up running around with his parents' video camera, making backyard versions of George Romero's zombie films. "I sort of went through a gore phase," says Cline, who grew up in central West Virginia. "It seems like a common story for Appalachian filmmakers to start at that level."
But artists' influences widen with their world, and through his graduate film studies at Ohio University, Cline discovered art films and international cinema. Five years after graduating (and an admittedly fruitless stint seeking film work in Los Angeles), Cline stumbled across another source of inspiration. Now an instructor in the communications department of Robert Morris University, he was preparing for a class by watching video clips of century-plus-old works by pioneers including Edison and the Lumií¨re brothers -- so-called primitive cinema, largely brief static documents of such subjects as a man sneezing or a train arriving at a station.
"My mind automatically flips into parody," says Cline, who started conceiving a film that would move from activities utterly mundane ("Man Opens Umbrella") to the increasingly bizarre -- which is how the production of his next short film came to require a performer in a bear costume. Later, in that imaginatively fertile half-asleep state of mind, Cline thought of a novel way to tie the planned film's disparate episodes together. "Archive" gets its local premiere at the Dec. 14 Film Kitchen, along with Cline's earlier short "Mysteries of the Unanticipated" and "Something Else," a short by Chris Radcliff.
For "Archive," Cline sought to recreate the feel of the vintage flickers that sparked it. Cline and director of photography Richie Sherman shot in black-and-white on Super 8 mm film (the old home-movie format); Cline developed the exposed footage himself for that nicked-up, aged look. He digitized the images for editing in the Final Cut Pro program, but "Archive" retains the deep-focus images unique to Super 8, as well as the format's beautiful range of gray tones. The six songs on the soundtrack -- including the catchy "Jada Jada Jada Jing Jing Jing," by A. Fields and Chorus -- were recorded off actual vintage wax cylinders played on a family friend's actual vintage Edison player.
"Archive" was shot in West Virginia and Pittsburgh in a necessarily threadbare manner. "We'd be ready to shoot and we'd have everything but somebody to wear the bear suit," Cline recalls.
In its six minutes, "Archive" moves from gentle parody to something more surreal, finally changing tenor for an ambiguously metaphysical coda. Cline likewise sought to create an atmosphere of unresolve in "Mysteries of the Unanticipated," his mock documentary short about a son grappling with his elderly father's bizarre compulsion to walk in circles around the kitchen table.
"I like setting up worlds that seem to obey different rules, even if you don't know what the rules are," says Cline. "So often in films, the mystery is more satisfying than the conclusion."
Audience response to "Mysteries" varies. "Either people like it or they feel like they missed something," says Cline. "I would [tell them,] 'You probably haven't missed something.'"
Chris Radcliff doesn't talk as though he and collaborator Alex Jerri were trying to be controversial. It's just that the short film they made as seniors in Penn State's film program, "Something Else," has as main characters Andrew and Meg, a brother and sister who are in love -- romantic love. "Kind of like a healthy, wholesome, intimate relationship, but it just happens to be between brother and sister," says Radcliff earnestly.
Set in suburbia, "Something Else" boasts a strong visual sense; Radcliff says his influences include Hong Kong-based arthouse favorite Wong Kar-Wai. Beyond the incest angle -- if you can get beyond it -- "Something Else" tells of two people coming to terms with their young lives.
"Most people think that it's like a sweet kind of story," says Radcliff. But, he acknowledges, "I have gotten a few people that were kind of disgusted by it."