Some Guinness World Records are admirable: the fastest marathon on crutches (5 hrs 29 mins, by a one-legged man); or the most marathons run in a year (157 – by a 68-year-old). Some are just plain silly: the longest fingernail (10 feet 2 inches!) or the most bees covering a human body (331,000, which must have taken a while to count).
Which camp does 50 Kisses fall into? The film, which I first wrote about here, has just been inducted into the Guinness Book of Records for the most screenwriters (51 of them) on a single movie – a record previously held by 1948’s Forever And A Day, with 21. Usually a superabundance of screenwriters on a Hollywood film signals desperation. But in this case, it’s integral to the project: get 50 short scripts by different writers, allow directors and producers to film the script of their choice, and stitch the best of the bunch into a feature-length whole.
The result is a triumph. I watched it for a second time yesterday, when overall director Chris Jones celebrated with a special screening at BAFTA for all the writers, and it actually improves with a second viewing. The quick succession of twists and terrific ideas, swinging from comedy to tragedy and back, is almost overwhelming first time round.
I recently spent three days at a Hollywood film festival watching back-to-back shorts, and 50 Kisses gives a similar experience. So, in the spirit of festivals, here are my own awards for the best shorts in 50 Kisses. Aspiring writers and directors can learn an enormous amount from comparing the screenplays to the finished films – click on the links below to read and watch them:
Best film: Smasheroo, directed by Kerry and Evan Marlowe. A terrific script by James Howard, in which a husband stands by his brain-damaged wife, even when she calls him by their dog’s name, is made cinematic by scenes of broken windshield glass flying through blackness; the lines on a road are echoed by a Wartenberg pinwheel rolled along skin. Performances are understated; the situation is never milked for pathos, and it’s all the more affecting for that. Script here, watch here.
Best script: Neil, written by Nigel Karikari. How can you test whether your android is fully lifelike? With a kiss… The script was so good that it attracted eight different filmed versions, two of which, confusingly, are included in 50 Kisses. The version directed by Simon Reglar excels through pitch-perfect performances. Script here, watch here.
Best directing: Practice Makes Perfect, directed by Vance Malone. A young boy tests out kissing before his first big date – but will he have the courage to put his practising into practice? Vance wins my vote because, if you compare the finished film to Mark Pallis’s original script, you will see a number of directorial decisions that have enormously improved the finished result: putting the many flashbacks of the boy’s kissing experiments back in sequential order; removing the slapstick humour and having the confidence to be simply sweet and touching; cutting the only two lines of dialogue; and giving the girl the climactic initiative rather than the boy. Script here, watch here.
Best editing: Neil again, this time as directed and edited by Anil Rao. While this version doesn’t work as harmoniously for me as Simon Reglar’s version above, it’s the one that bears the clearest authorial stamp and vision. It’s beautifully art-directed and collage-edited. As Rao himself says, “[It was] the opportunity to relish my film theory of image montage as haiku. A non-linear experience exposes us to discover and seek truth as a memorial jigsaw.” Watch here.
Best actor: Stuart Martin. In The Moment, a hitman runs into a hitch – he may fancy the man he’s pointing the gun at. It’s a tall order, to play a guy so twinkly, so confident in his own charisma, that he can stop a bullet with a smile; Stuart Martin delivers. Script here, watch here.
Best actress: Keziah Gardom in First/Last. In a future in which a deadly disease is transmitted through saliva, kissing is literally a matter of life and death. Shot on zero budget by Manchester students, this is elevated by Gardom’s touchingly vulnerable performance in an emotionally demanding role – all the more remarkable for it being her sole screen credit to date. Script here, watch here.