“Fish Heads” (dir. Salvatore Castellana, 2013, 23:02)
An uncharitable person might point out that Salvatore Castellana’s energetic short film “Fish Heads” is a hash of fairly obvious influences. A foul-mouthed, fast-talking comedy about a heist gone wrong, “Fish Heads” has the plot and dialogue of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, the low-budget black-and-white grit of Wes Anderson’s original “Bottle Rocket” short (not to mention Kevin Smith’s Clerks), and the musical interludes and dreamy stylistic flourishes of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting and multiple Martin Scorsese films. “Fish Heads” is familiar, in other words. Then again, so was the work of directors like Scorsese and Tarantino when they started. As the short’s lead character, Psycho (Alex Cendron) says in the opening voiceover, “It’s the details that are important.”
In the case of “Fish Heads,” the most important detail is how Castellana pays attention to the craft of acting—not just in terms of hiring professionals for the film itself, but in making “Fish Heads” about people who play roles. The characters in this short are all pulpy stereotypes, with nicknames like “Smart Ass” and “Sexy Bitch,” and they’re all (mostly) aware of both their dynamic with each other and the parts they’re supposed to play when they pull the job. Castellana jumbles the chronology some, letting viewers know early on that something went awry with the heist, then flashing back to fill in the reasons. But between the gang’s profane conversations about the lessons of the movie Troy and their spirited debates over whether fish experience pleasure, “Fish Heads” shows that while it’s fun to watch colorful criminals—even in black and white—it isn’t always so fun to be these people.
Previous “Short Cuts” columns can be found here.