the six dollar fifty man: being a superhero without being obvious about it

I swear I was planning on digging in and perusing several shorts to find one worth posting, but The Six Dollar Fifty Man happened to be the first one I looked at under Vimeo staff picks. It’s from a couple of years ago but only seems to have been posted to Vimeo a couple of months ago, and besides, it would have been completely worth posting anyway.

I admit off the bat that there are probably too many close-ups, but that’s true of loads of films, and this has some stellar compositions that make up for it. Check out this peach of a shot, from about 9:50:

It’s not just some pretty pictures that make this worthwhile, though; the chassis on this thing is solid, too. The Six Dollar Fifty Man builds up a nice little tale that takes its boy protagonist, Andy, only a bit further along in the process of becoming a fully realized person, which turns out to be just the right amount of character development for a short of 15 minutes.

Also, like most great work, directors Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland neatly fold a thematic thing into the story without making it too obvious. Here that theme is superheroes. This could have been a bad choice, since the intersection of superheroes and ordinary people feels like a well-worn topic at this point — Watchmen and Super come to mind. But it seems fresh here, probably because it’s so subtle, so subtle in fact that I may just be reading too much into it.

Anyway, I present my case herewith. First, there’s the principal. He’s introduced when he makes the morning announcements at Andy’s school, and he immediately seems ominous as he ticks off the boys that will have to come see him about breaking the rules. In cuts of the principal in front of the microphone, we only see his chin and mouth, not his whole face. Later, as the principal watches Andy do something illicit, we see only the side of the man’s face, and we feel the sense of threat emanating from him.

This makes him a very good comic book villain, since the manner in which he is only partially revealed at first makes him all the more obscure and frightening. If I’m being honest, the first example of this elsewhere that pops to mind is Inspector Gadget‘s arch-nemesis, Dr. Claw, whose claw is the only part of him that we ever see. Not a threatening example, but still, I think you see what I’m getting at.

Let’s just assume that was intentional. What’s not clearly intentional but still sort of intriguing is how Andy seems to be capable of quasi-superhuman feats, the more prosaic of which include climbing tall structures and jumping off of them unharmed. There’s also a rather unreal moment that suggests Andy can move objects with his mind.

Here’s how it goes: Starting at around 6:00, Andy is on the roof retrieving a ball. He gets it and throws it back into the yard. Around 6:06 the camera picks up his friend Mary running back to gather the ball, and then switches to following one of the bullies as he walks up to taunt Andy on the roof. (BTW, this switch from following one person to another moving in the opposite direction is a nice little efficiency itself.)

At around 6:17, the ball, flying through the air, hits the jerk kid on the back of the head, and at the same time Mary appears right behind him, in a way that makes it clear she could not possibly have thrown the ball. He turns around and accuses her, but we’re left to wonder, If neither Andy nor Mary threw the ball, who did?

Whether the directors meant it or not, this has superheroic implications, i.e., Andy has telekinetic powers. (Thank you, X-Men, for teaching me about telekinesis way back when.)

This would all be useless if the film didn’t happen to be moving anyway, which it is, but my explaining that isn’t going to prove that to you. So maybe you should just watch it and see for yourself.

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