The Long and the Tall of It.
Gerald Saul.
Thoughts on “Shooting Star” by Jason Britski, 2002

It is not difficult to understand the romanticization of the shooting star. Until the past century, this phenomenon was viewed as magical sparks in the night sky, unpredictable and beautiful, provoking countless metaphors over the ages.
Britski’s film “Shooting Star” begins with a demystifying quote from Webster’s dictionary, describing them as “a small celestial body passing with great velocity through the earth’s atmosphere and becoming incandescent through friction with the resisting air”. For the next four minutes, Britski intercuts between four general images, a medium shot of a man in negative, television coverage of hockey legend Rocket Richard, x-rays of human bodies in motion, and an Ave Maria shrine. I will look at each of these in turn.

The negative man appears at the beginning and ending as well as some place markers throughout the film. Within this context, my instinct is to interpret him as a stand in for the filmmaker, observing but not participating in any of the action. (In actuality, he is Danny Scavuso, filmmaker and friend of Britski’s. Britski rarely appears in his own films.) As such, this figure has a duel role as both the observer as well as being observed; we watch him watching. Due to the nature of the negative image Scavuso is presented in, especially in the context of x-ray images I will discuss later, the film of this figure can be treated as piercingly analytical, as if were being studied by a machine. By him being a male observer, Britski may also be suggesting that the primary viewer of this film is also male.

Film of a television on which a vintage hockey game is played featuring “Rocket” Richard of the Montreal Canadiens comes complete with subtitled play-by-play announcing. The screen is inset within the film frame, reminding us that the television is a mechanical interface between the subject and the viewer. The subtitled comments compare this hockey great’s style to painting or poetry and calls him a “shooting star”. Certainly Britski’s choice of these particular comments reflect his own desire to be recognized simultaneously as virile (who can be more masculine than a non-helmet-wearing internationally famous hockey player) and as an artist. However, the black and white television is clearly a piece of our past, a nostalgic fragment of rapidly fading history, and therefore of long lost and unachievable strength.

X-rayed images, quite obviously vintage due to the antiquated and severely hazardous method of x-raying continuously so that the movement of finger or toe bones wiggling without the surrounding flesh can be observed with the naked eye, constitutes the most thought provoking images in the film. There are nested metaphors being formed. The x-rays may be of the negative man, lit perhaps by the “incandescent” light of the shooting star. The shooting star is short lived, as are the subjects of the horrendous procedure of extended x-raying. In the end, the visual display for both the x-ray, the shooting star, and perhaps the filmmaker, come at a fatal price.

The last recurring image is that of a shrine. While the presence of a star at the peak of this shrine certainly connected to the shooting star theme it remains the most difficult sequence to rationalize with the rest of the film. This star refers to the most famous of biblical celestial bodies, the light over the Christ’s birthplace, but Britski’s use of it here is never well explained. It could be that the pale wooden shape is being compared to the majestic nature of the original, commenting on the inherent weakness of reproductions. This is supported by the sound of an automatic photo printer which also recurs throughout the film. It could also refer to something more divine, a search for redemption due to an awareness of brevity of life, reflected in the shooting star theme.

In conclusion, it seems to me that Britski has used the shooting star to create a metaphor for the masculine ideal with a somber realization that, in the end, masculinity must give way to mortality.

Gerald Saul 2005