The One Role You Never Knew Matthew Modine Could Play
How The Acting Legend Has Quietly, But Consistently, Had A Second Career in Short Filmmaking
You know him from any number of films and television shows. Full Metal Jacket. Short Cuts. The Dark Knight Rises. Stranger Things. Plus, he’s got six credits in films coming out in 2018 alone.
But did you know he is racking up just as many credits in short films? And no, we’re not talking about as an actor. In the last 20 years, Modine has directed, written and/or produced over 10 solid short films. You’d be hard pressed to find another short film director this prolific…particularly as a second job. And most unique of all, Modine has never gone for the flashy debut feature (or any feature, to be exact). And this is probably for the best, given the laundry list of failed directorial efforts from established actors we already have.
In honor of an actor who has proven himself to have great respect for the short film form, let’s go through the highlights of his directing journey!
I THINK I THOUGHT (2008)
After taking over 10 years between short film projects, Matthew Modine contributed to the 21st century’s short cinema scene with a satire on our thought-lives in the post 9/11 age. With loose, off-the-cuff camerawork and an assemblage of cuts which look to be straight from a sitcom, Modine presents, then subverts, the artificiality of our daily lives in the modern, crowded world.
A breezy, humorous and self-referential soundtrack works right in tandem with Modine’s overall project, proving that the darkest comedies work best when they are the most focused, and the most singular.
Though the film takes awhile to get the most satirical part of the premises going (that of the aptly-named “Thinkers Anonymous”), once the film’s themes are a-go, I Think A Thought truly finds its groove.
JESUS WAS A COMMIE (2011)
Matthew Modine put on the director’s hat for a short documentary next. Though the idea of Jesus as a peaceful revolutionary is by no means new, Modine makes the argument relevant again with the controversial statement of the title (and of the film’s ensuing argument).
This documentary is as accomplished and cinematic as his narrative fare. He chooses to intersperse his own narration with grainy, 70s style sequences of Modine walking contemplatively around cities. Instead of turning into cliche, Jesus Was a Commie only gets more complex by placing Modine intentionally (and silently) next to the poor and homeless. He does nothing for them, just as we do every day (he suggests).
Modine proves himself to be a competent doc filmmaker in the editing room as well, using stock footage at key and timely moments. All of this works together to enhance the film’s thesis that the fall of Communism in the 20th century was not due to the purity of the ideology itself, but rather to the human capacity for greed and dominion.
AS TEARS GO BY (2012)
In this music video cover of the famous Rolling Stones’ song, Modine shows that he can not only “think” hard about various issues, but that he also knows how to commit to a style and tone.
This neon-laden dream piece is simple in its construction, yet powerful in execution. The film’s subject (and dreamy lounge singer) is Modine’s own daughter, Ruby. Not only does this guarantee a personal touch, but it also explains how loving and affectionate (almost like a father) the camera is to her.
The music video also obsesses with circles upon circles, creating strange and wonderful reflections and prisms by which to view Ruby’s face and vintage microphone.
If you’ve got a few minutes and want to be put into a (good) trance, this is the Modine for you!
SUPER SEX (2016)
This is Matthew Modine’s latest (and greatest) short film thus far. It is both his most humorous and most mature work in the filmography.
It follows a brother and sister (Kevin Nealon and Elizabeth Perkins) who decide to get their father (Ed Asner) a prostitute for his 86th birthday.
Either because of his experience or his decision to not act in his own narrative short film, Super Sex feels to be his most polished and sparkling script yet, full of humorous moments that could be easy to miss on a first viewing. Every interaction and piece of dialogue feels earned, showing itself to be both real and yet seeming like it could have been improvised. The quirky story-line is aided by a film with a real eye for classical composition and well-timed soundtrack cues.
Super Sex placed at Tribeca, and for good reason. The sky is the limit for Matthew Modine’s directing (and acting….of course!) career.