Neighbours (1952)

Despite several articles (like this one) and interviews that acknowledge the multiple influences art films like Neighbours had on George Lucas, it surprises me how little interest or patience many Star Wars fans have for art films.

In 2004, I was lucky enough for LucasFilm and AtomFilms to select my Star Wars fan film as one of 10 finalists in The Official Star Wars Fan Film Festival at San Diego Comic-Con. This was very exciting as Mr. Lucas personally screened each of the 10 finalist films himself – in order to award one the “George Lucas Selects” award. My film entitled MADE TO SUFFER was based on his earlier “arty” student films (like Herbie) and presented an experimental representation of the dual nature of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and his golden creation: one-time “binary load-lifter” programmer, C-3PO. Upon meeting some of the other Star Wars fan filmmaker finalists who made clever SW parodies or EU narratives, I was met with icy cold receptions and comments like, “Oh. You made that film.” Needless to say, I didn’t make any new friends that day.  But that didn’t matter. George Lucas saw my movie and it was played repeatedly at the LucasFilm pavilion at the convention. That was almost good enough for me. Here is my less-than-one-minute film…

Most certainly, MADE TO SUFFER is a different type of fan film. However, there truly is plenty of room for all types of inspirations and genres within Star Wars. And so, a seed was planted and would blossom six years later when I launched the Digging Star Wars blog…

Many of the Star Wars faithful heard the stories of George Lucas watching Saturday serials, reading comic books and the like as a kid. Few fans acknowledge his art film legacy. Lucas’ college film buddies, mentors, and collaborators were a crafty bunch – creating cutting edge cinema in ragtag facilities, often geared more for art houses and film festivals than the mainstream movie theater. This avant-garde bent is most prevalent in Lucas’ early short films and his first feature, THX-1138.

Lucas also ingested art films with as much enthusiasm as the beloved serials. One such film – that inspired a number of Star Wars elements and film techniques – is Neighbours (1952).

Not to be confused with the Seth Rogen/Zac Efron comedy released last month, “Neighbours” is crafted by Scottish-Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren and is the tale of two neighbors that fight over a single flower that pops up between their properties. While the story grows darker and darker during the course of the film, the storytelling method – using variable-speed photography and stop-frame animation – is incredibly playful. Here is the short film in its entirety…

Neighbours won the 1952 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). While the film is clearly an artful narrative, the anti-war theme is the main message.

Wikipedia lists that the film has had an interesting number of American re-edits throughout history as our country’s attitude towards war changed from the 1950s to 1970s and so on.

After seeing Neighbours, several Jedi references – both technically and thematically – lept out at me. From the “fencing” to the stop-motion “flight” of the men, I saw nods to lightsaber duels and speeder bikes. Jedi, as mentioned in our Saving Private Ryan episode, is perhaps the most political film of the original trilogy when it comes to depicting warfare. In Neighbours, the continuous fighting warps the faces of the men battling each other over the flower. The tribal-like distortion of facial features is very similar to how Anakin Skywalker looks like once Luke takes Vader’s mask off. This is no coincidence. Vader is the ultimate symbol of the galactic civil war, of innocence lost, and how a man can become “more machine now than man” thanks to the evil and ruthless pursuit of power and domination.

Likewise, the pale, wrinkled face of the Emperor illustrates a man that is so bent on controlling the galaxy, it has warped and mutilated his own face…

Movie lovers often complain of film snobs that won’t see mainstream movies. In my humble opinion, movie-watching is a two-way street. If you love a “popcorn-movie” like Star Wars, you should give the films that inspired the saga – including little, bitty art films like Neighbours, a chance. And, fellow fan filmmakers, leave a little room in your heart for weird tiny experiments like Made to Suffer. Because you never know who may watch a film like “that”…maybe even George Lucas himself. 


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