“1-6” is one of those enigmatic, vaguely European experimental titles (like something from Peter Greenaway) that Hollywood shuns that makes perfect sense once you watch the film. The title refers to six silent vignettes that depict a young, hapless prisoner of sorts trying to perform six different simple (but daunting) tasks before a small hourglass runs out.
The promise seems to be that if he completes a task in time, the dapper Jeeves type standing behind him with a baseball bat will not beat him senseless. Each task gets more difficult, if only for the fact that the poor guy’s limbs are increasingly bandaged and propped up with slings and braces.
The music of the piece, a snappy ballpark-organ mix of “Mack The Knife” that restarts with each new challenge, contributes to the growing sense of frustration. As it goes on, this frustration feels like a sort of metaphor for the way many people go through life, jumping through hoops, falling just short of the mark, taking the punishment and being told through it all to remain cheerful.
The roles of the young guy and his older tormentor are not terribly complex, but admirably they both display enough expressiveness and subtle timing to make the comedy work. The fact that the film is silent and in grainy black and-white just adds to the charm and demonstrates the extra creative lengths that director Bo Webb is willing to go.
The film was bought by MTV and then expanded for their use into the slightly longer “1-11”. “1-11” does not improve upon the original, but once again confirms Webb’s cleverness in coming up with these situations. Some of the additional segments are as funny as the originals, although the final segment of 1-11 confuses the issue by introducing some kind of taciturn secret society of loser-bashing butlers and attempting some sort of final resolving punch-line. It just seems tacked-on and unclear, but none of the material added and formatted for MTV should or does take anything away from the smart, funny experience of 1-6 that attracted them in the first place.