It seems that Sean Christensen came into this world virtually seeing, breathing and living film. The way Christensen puts it, “I was fortunate enough to be born at a time and into economic circumstances where technology was advancing at a rapid pace—toward a D.I.Y. trajectory. Everything was just out there and totally accessible. The 8mm camera, once a mainstay of the American suburban family was replaced by the VHS camcorder and Blockbusters [were] on every street corner.”
Christensen admits that he is fascinated by the mundane and the family dramas that play themselves out in this arena. At this point in his young, filmmaking career, he has no interest in venturing beyond his own family— into the glitz of Hollywood make-believe, or its big screen. He is particularly interested in the way a child understands the world. To accomplish this cinematically, he steps backward into his own childhood, complete with the filmmaking tools of that time—ancient footage, a VHS camcorder and a projector.
As Christensen illustrates, this is the only way to understand the world around us.
Says Christensen, “As a child, you perceive things that are large in size, as ultimate truth. Your mother represents every woman, your father every man. You see things in absolute terms. When looking up at cinema projection 70 feet by 30 feet, you interpret these images as absolute truth. Since you hardly [ever] see non-actors or real stories up there, you tend to disassociate yourself from your own reality.”
Christensen raises a very serious point. Disassociation may be fun for a while, but in the long run, not only loses its novelty but may possibly lead to pathological results. Perhaps we all secretly prefer mundane, family dramas and are just afraid to admit this. Case in point, our current obsession with Reality T.V. and game shows. Not surprisingly, these were the mainstay of family life since the invention of the small screen. Christensen’s ability to transform such small-screen ideas to the big-screen is refreshing, intelligent and wholesome. Well maybe not that wholesome… You see, I forgot to tell you that Sean Christensen has a very subtle flair for disturbance and horror. You don’t notice this creeping up on you until it’s too late. Then, all that remain are reverberations that may very well stay with you for the rest of your life.
Christensen’s short film, “Shave,” is a brilliant, experimental documentary drama. It is a joyous yet disturbing autobiographical disconnect of a toddler’s violent clash with the adult world. Here, young Sean must come to terms with his father’s abrupt decision to shave his mustache and thereby, his identity.
Christensen’s decision to film this drama in his unique, documentary style provides the viewer with the unease of a voyeur peaking at something best left private. The whir of the projector’s disquieting motor and shutter-clicks counterpoint Christensen’s hypnotically slow, voiceover. All the while, we hear the distant voices of this studied family as it is viewed in both stills and 8-millimeter video.
Later, the mother’s voice tells young Sean that mustaches grow back and daddy will soon be as he always was. In voiceover, adult Sean remarks that for as long as he can remember, his father always had a mustache and he wants to keep it that way. Nevertheless, the image of water moving through a drain makes each statement as fragile and ambiguous as life itself.