Quote The Simpsons: “Chicks really dig it when you’re the last of something.” Such is the distinct charm of Jessica Edwards’s documentary short Seltzer Works. Among artful shots of spinning machines and a garage door manufacturing plant, we follow Kenny Gomberg, third-generation seltzer bottler, the last of his kind in Brooklyn—making it a pretty good bet he’s the last seltzer man anywhere. He still uses glass bottles with triggers, and though his delivery service had to be shut down, he happily provides the lower borough with purely authentic suds; real seltzer should hurt when you drink it, he says.
A skillful ode to a working man’s craftsmanship in post-industrial New York, with a suitably bubbly score, Seltzer Works strikes a peculiar but uplifting note within a recession; if at least one old-timey employer is still solvent, it can’t be all that bad. Sure, this coin has another side, fully exploited by Edwards’s camera: Gomberg remains in business only as an anthropological, living history. But the man attaches such a contagious sense of pride and import to his daily grind that any argument is washed away. Enjoy it however you take it.
And then there is the most inventive and dynamic short of Full Frame 2010. Taken alone, the voiceover to Laurie Hill’s Photograph of Jesus is simple enough. An archivist at Hulton Archive/Getty Images discusses some of the more outlandish inquiries he has received, including the titular request (“not a painting, not an etching…”). Every episode is real, we are told in a closing title, and every request requires a modicum of effort, resulting in searches for photos of a dodo, extinct since the 17th century, or Hitler at the ’48 Olympics in London. Amusing though his know-it-all tone is, the archivist’s personal accounts should be little more than a good story to hear over a pint.
Enter Laurie Hill. Her frenetic, careening stop-motion tour through the library’s narrow stacks brings the voice’s impossible tasks to life with awesome visual inventions. One among countless examples: a photographic Hitler leaps out of a box to take the track in ’48. Read “awesome” in its fundamental definition, as from the first image of the claustrophobic space, Photograph of Jesus inspires constant wonder as to the depth and originality of Hill’s vision. How’d she make it all happen? Though the film exists in too small a market for so grand an honor as an animated short Academy Award, it easily establishes its worth within one of the more clever and quick-witted of filmmaking subdivisions.
The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival runs from April 8 to 11.