Consignment (2013) – By Teresa D. Lee

As brief and transient as life is, the pursuit of love can sometimes become a maddening descent into selfish coveting. Desperate singles are sometimes tempted by the fear of loneliness into venomously competitive feelings of possession of significant others. Is there anything more horrific and endangering than selecting a person as a goal to end such soul-consuming longing? Such longing can only distract an individual from developing a self-assured identity while searching for meaning in life, and any victory hinges upon the appraising judgment of the prized other.

This sort of poisonous temptation and damaging self-delusion is veiled by a romantic noir in the independent short film Consignment, directed by Justin Hannah and produced with him by Abbra Smallwood as Manic Baby Studio. A 1950s period noir with surreal undertones and a cerebral style of storytelling, the film tells the story of a young woman desperate to restore an important romantic relationship she lost via the aid of a mysterious box from a consignment shop. However, the box may not be the ideal answer; it even may corrupt those who possess it. Not every detail of the story is spelled out, and it rewards repeat viewings and careful attention to its scenic design.

Producer-actress Abbra Smallwood stars as a young woman grieving over unrequited love who visits a local consignment shop to fill the void left in her life after she was cast aside. Like one of Hitchcock’s heroines, she delicately cradles the phone in her hands and handles the objects in the consignment shop and her living room very carefully, thereby making herself more ephemerally ancient and suggesting an elegant way of conducting oneself that seems lost on our generation today. Supporting cast members Margaret Wuertz, Jessica McGill, Jake Gilliam, Silvio Wolf Busch, and Timothy Hull also take us through a wide spectrum of emotion in a very short running time.

This film may be enjoyed just by following dream logic to feel its longing, foreboding, fear and lust without trying to understand the motivations of its characters, but if you’ve taken a film class you’ll find it holds up to academic film criticism. High camera angles and a slow zoom in accompany the dark tones of the music to create the same feeling of helpless foreboding for the box as the shots of the radiator in Eraserhead. The monochromatic cinematography and camera work by Lee Clements visually bring focus to the sense of touch to echo the interactions the actors have with the objects and connect the audience to memories of ephemeral times past. A score of incidental violin music played by Nicole Garcia alternately evokes sentimental nostalgia and fearful dread of the objects with which the young heroine surrounds herself.

It’s amazing to see a film with the style of an early David Lynch film produced to a comparable level of quality in a timeframe comparable to a Roger Corman movie from a local studio. Consignment was shot by Manic Baby in four days on a budget of $2000. Locations local to central and eastern Kentucky were chosen for their enduring historical appearance, and all props and vehicles shown were also perfectly preserved relics of a bygone era.

"I’m crazy," confessed director Justin Hannah about the great lengths he and his production crew went to in order to track down appropriate props and wardrobe to properly place the film’s story during the 1950s. Antique props were found in Louisville and Lexington and on Ebay, and I was particularly impressed by 50s cars parked along the street and the inclusion of a ‘For Our Matchless Friends" sign in the consignment shop. Aside from the inclusion of smoking as a trope of the noir genre, this sign hearkens back to a time long past when smoking was taken as a given behavior to be facilitated rather than discouraged.

Consignment is currently making a round of film festivals, including the 2013 World Independent Film Festival where it won in the category of Best Short Film, and the Floyd Film Festival where it won for Most Original Film. It is currently awaiting approval by the Hollyshorts monthly screening series. You can find more information on this film at the Manic Baby Studio website at http://www.manicbaby.com and Like them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/manicbaby.