“There have always been stories. Ever since the earliest days.”
Once in a while, I like to be reminded that the future is pretty from where we’re sitting, the present endlessly dull, but the past is far more vibrant than any technology can reproduce. That’s a theme that seldom gets put into words without a serious dystopia being presented. It’s one of the things I love about working in the history of technology. I see the pretty, the prototype supercomputers and the micros that will get smaller and smaller and inevitably introduced to watches and phones and cars and refrigerators. I see the present, the consumable and the almost invisible, but mostly, I see the past. It’s a beautiful thing, the past, far more impressive in the non-functional than anything that has ever been produced. For example, if one looks at the UNIVAC, created within the life time of my parents’ generation, it is useless to a modern world. Worse than useless. It can do a project but not of the complexity of Now. It is a giant relic not worthy of reverence. It was worthy, once, for a sliver of time, brief and tame.
But my word, the beauty!
Curves, hard lines, switches, dials, paint in green. Today, a UNIVAC is nothing more important than a doorstop, a boat anchor, a gigantic paperweight. But then, it is also ART compared to our computers today. These machines, our desktops, laptops, even our phones, will someday find their way into museums, perhaps when computers finally end up as things we can no longer see. Historians then, hopefully me among them, will say about their MacBooks and Lenovo Whatevers what I say about the UNVIAC, JOHNNIAC, the IBM 360s, the Crays. ART.
Now, let me tell you about The Last Bookshop…
We talk about books, don’t we? Every year, we say more and more about more and more bookshops closing, about more and more publishers selling out to larger and larger publishers demanding more and more of the authors. Go figure. The trouble is, there’s another feeling among us Reading Kind. The idea that we need more and more books delivered in an easy and easier stream. The eBook crowd. I get them, I do, but I am not one of them. I’ve no interest in eBooks, for the most part. I don’t like ’em because in general, I don’t like technology. I don’t like the rush forward when really, we’ve not dealt with the past. Some science fiction fan I am, no? Besides, I work at a Computer History Museum to remind myself that this too shall pass.
The Last Bookshop is a short of the Future, where things are different, prettier, more accessible, more functional. It is the eBook crowd taken to a logical end, sort of. They won. Everything is easy to cop in the world of The Last Bookshop. It is a world where even eBooks are gone because ‘if there are no books, why would we need a device that is like a book?” Perhaps that makes it a cautionary tale, and it plays out that way, though not in the way I expected.
Directed with a simple style by Richard Dadd and Dan Fryer, it is the story of a young man who has his connection to The NET fall away for him for a day, and like so many others of us who lose connectivity, he went out for a walk, discovers a bit of Reality. That Reality is a bookshop. The Last Bookshop in England, perhaps the Last Bookshop in the world. This is where the story begins, and it is remarkable and beautiful and strange and magical. There are times we need magic, and that magic can often be nothing more than the opening of a mind. The interaction of our two characters, the young man and the Shopkeeper, within a world that has not at all gone insane, merely kept plugging away as we have been. If what we are doing today is insane, then it is a world gone mad, though I would never suggest that. There is nothing fantastic about the world described in The Last Bookshop. it’s our world, only we’ve traded our UNIVACs for iPods, screens for projections, keyboards for gesture interpreters. This is our world, only a touch further down the line, and the magic it presents is the magic that we can feel, that we can find in the world we live in. I’ve introduced books to kids, one in particular who never knew anything about them, and seeing her amazement at the things, that was the kind of magic we’re dealing with here. The Shopkeeper takes him through the world of reading, of books, and more, and through the eyes of a young man changed, we experience that magic.
The first thing that moved me was the music. I watch a lot of shorts, hear a lot of the same music. Not only the same themes, but the exact same music (licensed from the same groups), so when something that even feels as if it was created for the specific film is wonderful, and here the music is so perfectly paired it could be nothing but. The use of concertina particularly made me more passionate about the film. Composer Owen Hewson did a remarkable job, and also played on the tracks. There’s beautiful passion and so many points of turn that you can’t miss it.
It appears that though it’s dated 2012, it’s eligible for next year’s Hugos. This is a short film that would feel right at home on the ballot. It reminds me of another short film about the magic of reading, Moonbot Studio’s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which actually would have made the ballot if we’d turned down our nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form in 2012. One takes place in a world of impossible fantasy, and is more than a little sentimental (in the best possible way!) while the other takes places in a world that is science fictional about the edges, but far more natural. The comparison between the two films isn’t artificial, the themes are similar, though the execution is so divergent.
The Last Bookshop does suffer a bit from an over-population of concept. First, it’s a tad too long. At 20 minutes, it probably has two too many concepts that it tries to wrap up. There’s no paper money any more in the world of The Last Bookshop, no cash registers. The story is so powerful, but at 20 minutes, it seems to justify its length by adding commentary on our literary situation today taken to another level, which to me simply muddies the water a bit. There was a natural ending point, a moment where it would have been perfect to bring the film to its conclusion, and while I can understand the desire to make these points, it hurts the overall impression. It doesn’t ruin it, or make the characters any less lovable, but it keeps it from that plateau that the best short films (Like The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore) inhabit. That extra commentary, which actually gives us some actual conflict, is likely what a lot of folks will take away from it, but it also makes it a bit less universal.
There’s been a lot of attention on The Last Bookshop, which is certainly deserved and a wonderful thing to see for those of us who love short film. It’s the kind of short you can show in almost any scenario. Film festivals will latch on to the quality of the production, literary festivals on the theme of reading and stories being universal, bloggers will latch on to how cool the future will be, and most importantly of all, young kids will be amazed by what’s on the screen, and how cool those books look.
Just like those old computers no one needs anymore…
You can find more about The Last Bookshop, and view the short at http://webakestuff.co.uk/category/film-things/