Luxembourg filmmaker Jeff Desom graduated from the Bournemouth Arts Institute in 2007. His senior project featured the experimental pianist Volker Bertelmann, a.k.a. Hauskchka. Morgenrot is an animated short film about a composer who’s plagued by writer’s block. Desom uses the image of a burning piano dropping off a building to serve as a recurring dream of the composer. The animation is reconfigured from early twentieth century photographs from the vast collection of the Library of Congress and old postcards of New York purchased at a Parisian flea market. “The grainy, smoky, memory-laden and exquisite short film unveils evocative, slightly ominous imagery of Manhattan. It breathes with an air of poetic déjà vu, like a dream you’ve just been jarred awake from and, even though you know you’ve just experienced it, you can’t quite remember the outcome.”
Another brilliant piece of storytelling by Jeff Desom is the short film The Key. It’s been nearly three years since Jeff Desom’s video for Morgenrot by Hauschka – aka German pianist Volker Bertelmann – left a lasting impression. The burning upright piano falling continuously from the top of a skyscraper in sepia-tinged Depression-era Manhattan remains a powerful image and Morgenrot went on to win awards and a UK MVA nomination.
Now comes the director and musician’s latest collaboration – and that upright piano is back. There’s also that distinctly between-the-wars period feel, but that’s where the similarities with the VFX-fuelled minimalism of Morgenrot ends. This is a wonderful, beautifully-made comedy-drama, driven by an almost-Chaplinesque performance by its principle performer, Summer Shapiro (who in my opinion bears an uncanny resemblance to Lady Gaga, sans masks and costumes).
Despite being an unaccompanied female without a functioning vehicle, she manages to transport the piano all over some breathtaking landscapes in Luxembourg – Jeff’s homeland. And as he explains, his familiarity with the settings helped him to get great production value with very limited resources.
And it will ultimately become clear why he called his charming story The Key, even though the track is Children, from Hauschka’s latest album Foreign Landscapes.
Title: Hauschka “The Key”
Track: Children (Fat Cat)
With: Summer Shapiro
Director: Jeff Desom
DoP: Jean-Louis Schuller
Steadicam: Olivier Koos, Raoul Henri
Editor: Chris Coupland
Costume: Carole Pochard
Jeff Desom on making The Key
“We shot during four days pretty much all over Luxembourg. It’s kind of a small place, you don’t have to drive for more than an hour to get anywhere. And since there wasn’t much time to prepare, it helped to know all these locations around my hometown.
“Summer Shapiro (the piano mover) and I met through Hauschka – she’s a physical comedian from San Fransisco,” he continues. “The idea of moving a piano seemed to lend itself to that genre. She was touring Europe at the time so we decided to go for it. I gutted an old piano and put a set of serious wheels on it.
“To keep things flexible, fast and cheap, crew was reduced to a bare minimum. We were like a bunch of bank robbers wherever we went. Get the piano out of the van, shoot and be gone long before anyone could call the cops. Summer was a true sport, the piano was still quite heavy and she took away more than one scar.”
Jeff Desom created a visual installation based on footage from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). This is what happens when you extract all of the film’s footage shot from Jimmy Stewart’s point of view, stitch together and reconstruct the pieces and place them on a single plane.
“I dissected all of Hitchcock’s Rear Window and stiched it back together in After Effects. I stabilized all the shots with camera movement in them. Since everything was filmed from pretty much the same angle I was able to match them into a single panoramic view of the entire backyard without any greater distortions. The order of events stays true to the movie’s plot.” – Jeff Desom