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Joseph Gordon-Levitt's 5 Best hitRECord Shorts and How They Formed His Vision For 'Don Jon'

Photo of Ben Travers By Ben Travers | Indiewire September 24, 2013 at 10:14AM

While we're still a few days away from Joseph Gordon-Levitt's feature-length directorial debut "Don Jon," you can watch his first efforts behind the camera right now.
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"The Man With a Turnip For a Head"

Gary Oldman's live narration kind of steals the spotlight from this perfectly delightful animated short. I'm sure everyone involved in its creation was honored by the Oscar nominee's involvement, but let's not get too distracted from the simple yet vital message behind "The Man With a Turnip For a Head:" be yourself, and be proud to be unique. What many may have learned as children during "Sesame Street" or "Mr. Rodgers" is reinforced for adult fans and filmmakers in a succinct two minute video. 

The same could be said for "Don Jon." The film isn't a condemnation of a lifestyle. It never throws Jon under the bus for behaving the way he does. Gordon-Levitt actually defends his character's addiction, instead choosing to condemn a society that pushes impractical ideals onto Jon. He shouldn't be embarrassed by what makes him happy (thought he may want to ask why it's what makes him the happiest). Gordon-Levitt takes an aspect of life many people deem their most intimate and exposes the lies within the entertainment industry's depiction of it. By putting these issues front and center, he stands by Jon's right to be himself and not be judged for it.

"The Man With a Turnip For a Head" also mimics "Don Jon" in its pacing. Gordon-Levitt, the director, seems focused on delivering films with a visual and lyrical poetry. Here, it's apparent at every level from the rhyming lines to the four-beat melody repeating throughout. Yet many of the movements within the frame also accompany the beats in narration, a trait apparent even in the trailer for "Don Jon." "My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. My porn." This cycle of Jon's priorities repeats and speeds up as new images flash across the screen until the appearance of Scarlett Johansson changes the pattern. 

It's an intriguing facet of the young director's dynamic, and one that becomes more apparent with every video he's behind. Granted, there are way more cooks in the hitRECord kitchen than on "Don Jon," but that doesn't mean he didn't learn and apply equally from both experiences.  

"Escargots"

Gordon-Levitt's rhythms become even more apparent in the first hitRECord video ever published. Don't ask me to interpret the French poem performed by the young actor. Jacque Prevert's "Chanson des escargots qui vont a l'enterrement" is as foreign to me now as it was before I became enamored with the 2006 video interpretation from Gordon-Levitt and Rian Johnson, director and collaborator on "Brick" and "Looper." 

Yet even without Google translator, viewers can see how Gordon-Levitt incorporates found footage into the three-minute video and, more importantly, the passion with which he attacks the material. At the very least, it supports the idea Gordon-Levitt is a filmmaker innately interested in all aspects of the medium and how each can relate to the other. Visual poetry is the name of his game, and it's all too on the nose with this early work.

This article is related to: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, hitRECord, Don Jon, Videos, Short Film, Shorts, Shorts, Filmmaker Toolkit: Shorts