Short Starts is a column devoted to kicking off the week with a short film, typically one tied to a new release. Today we look at SIX short films involving Sam Worthington, star of “The Debt.”
Most Americans know Sam Worthington for his big Hollywood roles, namely those in the blockbusters “Avatar,” “Terminator: Salvation” and the “Clash of the Titans” remake. And maybe for having hit an early saturation point while his name seemed attached to every major movie talked about in Los Angeles in the first half of 2010. Before breaking out here with parts anyone with muscle and a pretty face could fill, Worthington was a true, award-winning talent in Australia, enough that he even tested for the role of James Bond before Daniel Craig won the gig. With “The Debt,” which opens Wednesday, we might get to see this acting ability better displayed, plus a little of what he might have been like as 007, since he plays a secret agent man.
Before catching him in that, I thought we could look back on some of his older work, to see earlier evidence. Rather than spend all the time it takes to watch him in features, including his AFI-winning performance in “Somersault” and his modern take on “Macbeth,” it’ll be a lot more fun to check out his work with the short film. As it turns out, every one of his short subjects is available to watch online (although maybe not all of them legitimately), including one he wrote, directed, shot and scored, titled “Enzo.” Interestingly, it’s sort of a mockumentary, which seems a common genre among the six shorts in Worthington’s filmography. Maybe he should hook up with Christopher Guest for some indie cred in the U.S.?
Check out all six shorts after the jump.
“Life in a Volkswagen” (2000, Craig Anderson & Bryan Moses)
From the very beginning of Worthington’s career, this sequel to a 1999 short titled “Life in a Datsun” features the actor alongside cast mates from his debut feature, “Bootmen” (a sorta grown-up Aussie “Billy Elliott”). The only thing is, I can’t seem to find him in it. Maybe it’s the quality of the YouTube, or the fast camera at the end, which his where he’s apparently on screen somewhere. Regardless, I couldn’t leave this out of the showcase because it’s actually kind of funny, and it’s a nice bookend with the last film below, being that it’s a mockumentary involving the making of a film (or “anti-film”) that gets out of hand.
“A Matter of Life” (2001, Jennifer Perrott)
Worthington is front and center in this cute little sketch about a man trying to rescue dying flowers from a presumed drought. Like many shorts with a punchline (or volta, as Daniel Walber calls it), this one has a nice bit of irony at the end. As far as an exhibition of great acting talent, though, this isn’t one. Still, he won Best Actor at the 2001 Tropfest for the performance.
“Enzo” (2004, Sam Worthington)
Here we have no on screen appearance by Worthington, not even a hidden one. It’s his filmmaking debut, and he’s credited with four jobs behind the camera: writer, director, cinematographer and composer. Submitted to Sydney’s Tropfest, the world’s largest all-shorts film festival (where the prior two shorts were also screened), he claimed at the time, “It’s the first time I’ve ever directed anything, so I didn’t have a clue.” And having had the filmmaking experience he also stated he’d “stick with acting.” This is probably fair. “Enzo” shows us a fairly simple documentary-like look at a soccer player, but it’s not particularly good. Still, Dorian Nkono won Best Actor at the 2004 Tropfest for his performance as the title character.
“Blue Poles” (2004, Darcy Yuille)
To see this short, you have to skip to the 14 minute mark in the above film, a compilation of themed shorts called “Love & Distrust” (you may recall another part of this movie was recently showcased by Daniel Walber in a Short Starts column devoted to a Robert Pattinson role). I like this one quite a lot, and it does actually display Worthington’s quieter, more sensitive side. He plays a man traveling cross country in 1973 to see the eponymous painting by Jackson Pollack, then just acquired by the National Gallery of Australia. Along the way he picks up a hippie chick (Hallie Shellam) with a “free love” issue.
“A Fairytale of the City” (2006, Vanessa Caswill)
This is a bizarre, arty short film that’s like a pre-make of “Enchanted” (and I guess in turn “The Smurfs”). Worthington plays an artist — and not a very good one — who finds a lost young woman in the park and takes her in as his muse/subject. She has escaped from a “Hansel and Gretel” type situation where she was made to have sex regularly with a male prisoner, as both wear bags over their heads. I should give it credit for telling a visual story with no dialogue, but it’s still a pretty weak mix of fairy tale and art school cliches. Caswill is no Catherine Breillat, this is for certain.
“The Faking Game” (2006, Damon Herriman)
My favorite of the bunch is this third mockumentary, reflexively about the making of a mockumentary (with plenty of nods to Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais and other legends of the genre), which only stars Worthington in a minor cameo role as himself. It’s a neat part, not only because it’s yet another mockumentary gig but because it highlights how Worthington is at the time the hot shit in Australia, yet it’s three years before we in the States will really know his name. Also, Worthington’s exit is nearly identical to Craig Anderson’s exit in “Life in a Volkswagen,” with which it also shares the concept of a filmmaker losing control of his own production. The short continues below:
It has been five years since Worthington appeared in or made a short film, one of the drawbacks of being in the Hollywood spotlight perhaps. He also hasn’t done anything else with the documentary form, including the faux doc genre, as far as I can tell, since 2006, when he also narrated his first doc feature (“Battle of Long Tan”). Maybe now that he’s past his saturation point and not actually starring in every (or really any) tentpole this year, couldn’t he return to either or both film types. At least he could do a Funny or Die skit or something.