I do not think we’re meant to see films once.
Stanley Kubrick once said, “The whole idea that a movie should be seen only once is an extension of our traditional conception of the film as an ephemeral entertainment rather than as a visual work of art. We don’t believe that we should hear a great piece of music only once or see a great painting once, or even read a great book just once.”
If you share the above sentiment, then you agree that films should be seen again and again, in different eras and under different societal conditions. A film always has something to say, irrespective of the time period it is experienced or re-experienced. If this holds true for feature-length films (from near four-hour epics like The Irishman (2019) or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), to 80-minute wonders like 2021’s Shiva Baby) then how much more for shorts? If a feature film should be viewed more than once, how many times should one watch a short film? The answer is as many times as possible. Dealer’s choice.
This was the solution I offered to viewers who might not get the short film ANTISTROFI by ‘Biyi Alexander, the first time around. It is the solution I’m offering now.
Of the Essence is a 5-minute short film written by Akinjare Olamide and co-directed by Akinjare Olamide and Ewoma Great Oro. The story takes place in three locations: a makeshift studio where the main character, Jason (Akinjare Olamide) is in a recording session with a music producer (Israel Nkadi); a living room where Jason has a pretty deep conversation with Jane (Hilda Egbuna); and a kitchen where this conversation is continued and concluded. In the first scene, Jason raps the following lyrics over a thumping beat: “I’m a London scammer/ Based in Lagos and Alabama…Faster, man I never been gladder.” The song is quite catchy and is ridden with the type of bravado and posturing common in rap songs and hip-hop culture. On his way out, Jason stops in front of a wall on which posters of famous artistes, like Wizkid, Kanye West, Tupac and Michael Jackson, are arranged. He gazes longingly at the posters as the title of the film is displayed on screen.
In the next scene, he approaches Jane, a young lady watching TV in a sitting room. Their conversation goes like this:
Jane: What’s up?
Jason: What does time mean to you?
Jane: Why so deep?
Jason: You were the one who asked. So, what does time mean to you?
And then the pair proceed to have a discussion about the nature of time. It’s pretty amateur stuff. Nothing that would excite the ghost of Stephen Hawking or anything. But this part resonated with me somehow. The performances aren’t that spectacular. Matter of fact, the actors deliver their lines in a flat monotone, free from any inflections. The deadpan delivery of the dialogue recalls Yorgos Lanthimos’s bare style, seen in Dogtooth (2009) and The Lobster (2015), but especially The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017). However, where Lanthimos seems to use his own on purpose and with a view to eliciting a certain reaction in the audience, the one in Of the Essence feels partly like an afterthought. The whole movie feels this way. Like it was put together in a hurry and with little regard for coherence. And yet, after watching it a couple times, I found it strangely compelling. Maybe Akinjare and Ewoma unintentionally made a film that adheres more to dream logic than reality. Or maybe it’s not that deep. I have my theories for sure. One of them regards Of the Essence as an essay film, albeit an unfinished one. Another one is that Jane is not real and the discussion about time is all taking place in Jason’s head.
Halfway through their conversation, Jason asks Jane what film or show she’s watching on TV. Her reply strengthens my convictions about this being a dreamlike world: “I don’t even know.” This is followed immediately by: “Do you want a sandwich?” The ease with which they switch from talking about time and existence to sandwiches and soda drinks is impressive, if unnatural. This contrast creates an effect which gives the short a certain vibe.
Jason talks about how he cannot wait to become famous for his music and Jane says that it takes time to build something worthwhile. At this point, the actors might as well have broken the fourth wall and gazed into the camera to recite their lines. The discussion is tied with a neat bow as the meaning of the title becomes clearer. Time is of the essence. Even when we are hardworking, we are still at the mercy of time, trusting that one day it’d pay off. Therefore, patience is key.
The film ends with Jason standing outside and staring into space, presumably anticipating what the future holds.
I still don’t think we’re meant to see films once. I’d love to hear your thoughts about Of the Essence in the comments.
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Watch Of The Essence on YouTube below: