Ari Gold’s hypnotic short “Helicopter” effortlessly binds together the sometimes fractured elements of loss — the confusion, the sensory shock and stunted conversations — into a strong and beautiful retelling of the loss of his own mother Melissa Gold, the late companion of iconic music producer Bill Graham, who died with Graham in a freak helicopter crash on a rainy night returning from a show.
“Helicopter” begins with young Ari (played by Kevin Abrams) dealing with the aftermath of a confusing break-up, and then traces the scattered shots of communication and consolation that he and his mother (the voice of Ari’s sister, Nina Gold) share over quick answering machine messages filled with advice and jokes.
After the fatal accident, what would be a private loss is magnified and completely public as the media trumpets news of the accident, with a focus on Graham, everywhere. Ari and his brother and sister are forced to cling to their private grief and search for peace of mind through the clamoring storm of everyday people, sycophants and fans who band together to celebrate the life of Graham.
Just as Ari’s mom is vaguely described in the press as one of “two others” involved in the crash, Ari and his siblings become ghost-like, angry others in their own lives – nightmares, fights, and looping memories of the death plague them all, with only glimpses of awkward, tension-releasing humor. “Helicopter” bridges this harsh reality with visual snapshots that illuminate the surreal side of loss, as animated black-and-white footage of the helicopter igniting in the storm and a Technicolor, toy-sized layout of the town that the family proceeds through blend with gorgeous, otherworldly music (courtesy of Ari’s brother, Ethan Gold) in the most emotional moments. The effect is both perfectly intimate and somehow appropriately, fantastically removed.
“Helicopter” is lyrical, totally brave, and feels wholly true. Though it deals with the aftermath of death, it is ultimately a love story, made with love, about the hard-won clarity that comes when grief runs its course and the heart starts to rebuild.