While many are familiar with Lucas' short THX 1138 4EB, far fewer have seen his previous USC student film.
In 1966, George Lucas made a two-minute and 48-second MOS short film, Freiheit, as part of his studies at USC's film school. It may be hard to believe from watching this simple film, but just a year later, Lucas' final school project, the 15-minute version of what would later become his debut feature THX 1138, garnered significant praise and jump-started his career. It led to a deal with Warner Bros. through Lucas' mentor Francis Ford Coppola and the newly-formed American Zoetrope.
In just under three minutes, Lucas manages to set a scene, establish mystery and suspense, and demonstrate a sophisticated comprehension of the grammar of cinema.
Freiheit— the German word for freedom—is a film with a very simple plot. We see a young man (credited as "Boy" and played by future Grease director Randal Kleiser) running through a field, afraid of something unknown. He stops at a clearing, and, after a few tense beats, makes another (slo-mo) run for it, only to be cut down in a hail of jump-cuts and bullets before he can reach the other side. As he dies, a series of voiceovers opine vaguely on the subject of freedom ("Without freedom, there's no reason to live"). We see a soldier, gun slung over his shoulder, standing over the protagonist; it is implied that this is the man who killed him. And that's it.
Regarding the film, Open Culture remarks, "Lucas combines still with moving images and dynamically varies the speed of the latter to build as much visual interest as possible in a short time (and on an undoubtedly near-nonexistent budget). He creates an urgent mood quickly by using both music and abstract sound."
Freiheit very much an art film and a student film—evidenced by its jumpy, new-wave cutting, use of stills, and a title card that simply reads "a film by LUCAS"—but it's also, oddly, Lucas' most overtly real-world political film. The title, for instance, seems to be a reference to the Berlin Wall, though its lack of translation telegraphs an intentional vagueness common to many directors' early works. In just under three minutes, Lucas manages to set a scene, establish a semblance of mystery and suspense, and demonstrate a relatively sophisticated comprehension of the grammar of cinema— he knows the rules enough to know how to break them.
But there is nothing in Freiheit that could prepare us for what was to come one year later, in the form of a 15-minute short that started his career:
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PAePOxImiM&ab_channel=triproundnight
With THX 1138 4EB, Lucas took a quantum leap that would lead him to an award at the erstwhile National Student Film Festival. At the ceremony in New York, Lucas met Steven Spielberg as well as Hollywood film executive Ned Tanen, two people who would prove immensely influential in his life and career. Within a few years, Lucas would expand the short into the cult classic sci-fi dystopia THX 1138.
Freiheit's chief value is the fascinating glimpse it offers into the very early work of a filmmaker who would go on to change filmmaking forever.
Someone needs to put in some CGI gunshots. And some pseudo-dinosaurs. And some cute robots. And some rocks so Boy can be more obscured. Oh, and he needs to shout, "Nooooooooooooooo!" at the end. And then we need to send it to "Lucas".
August 29, 2016 at 2:38PM