On Behalf of Short Films
If I could have a minute of your time, I’d like to make the case for short films. I know some Flickcharters simply don’t admit to having seen them when they appear. Others only choose a short film over a full length movie they hate. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences currently confers an award in three different short film fields (live action, animation, documentary); surely that must legitimize the medium? Unfortunately, this is not the case. Many unfairly dismiss those as second-class awards, comparable to Best Sound Mixing and just as inferior to Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
How many times have you finished watching a movie and felt that it would have been stronger had it trimmed some of the fat? Not that excising alone would necessarily improve Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but one of the most common complaints about the movie is that entirely too much time is spent on characters and situations that really aren’t important to the story (looking at you, Sam’s parents). The short film, by design, cannot afford to become bloated. In many cases, it literally cannot afford it; the budget is too strict.
All stories begin with an idea. Sometimes that idea evolves into a multi-faceted story that demands to grow into a full-length feature, but what about those ideas that can be expressed and realized in less screen time? Consider other art media. Would one argue that its brevity is sufficient reason to consider Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” inferior to whatever is the latest generic supernatural thriller? Monet used canvases often smaller than my TV; are they not as well crafted as the mural on your elementary school wall?
“Size matters not,” said Yoda. He was right. Hawthorne and Monet each expressed their ideas clearly and completely. The short story need not be further developed; the painting not larger. Why, then, should we dismiss short films out of hand?
Personally, I suspect it’s because short films are rarely presented to us outside film festivals. There are short film compilation DVDs, but rarely is a short film sold individually. A short film may be screened in the theater, but it’s almost always as a sort of opening act to the main feature. Netflix currently doesn’t stream short films, with the notable exception of a few compilations of short films provided by the Criterion Collection.
It also doesn’t help that the few short films that have gotten our collective attention in recent years have all been animated (a medium itself long considered inferior to live action). Younger movie audiences may be entirely unaware that anyone other than Pixar has even made a short film in their lifetime. In this regard, short films are a niche; fans must actively seek them, rather than sit back and wait for the studio marketing campaign to appeal for their attention. Fortunately, some short films have found their way to our libraries as bonus features on DVD releases. Wes Anderson’s Hotel Chevalier, for instance, can be found on the DVD release of The Darjeeling Limited (to which it was a prelude). Tim Burton’s early shorts Frankenweenie and Vincent have been included with the last two releases of The Nightmare before Christmas. If you check out your DVD of The Ring Two, you’ll find Rings, a short film set between The Ring and its feature length sequel. I personally felt Rings was a more interesting and compelling sequel.
Thankfully, iTunes at least sells short films for $1.99 apiece ($2.99 in HD). You can rent them for $0.99 apiece if you’re not willing to entirely commit to the purchase. Having seen and loved Thank You for Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air, I was excited to learn that iTunes sells a pair of short films directed by Jason Reitman (In God We Trust and Consent). They’re combined, meaning you have to pay $3.99 at once, and you have to either watch In God We Trust or fast forward through it to get to Consent, but at least I’ve gotten to see them and they’re now in my library. They were both delightful, and neither left me feeling as though they were sketches or drafts of what could become a feature; they are complete and rewarding just as they are.
Also, in an effort to promote filmmaking by women, Glamour has produced a series of short films by and about women (“Glamour Reel Moments” is the name of the series). Several of these can be streamed free from Glamour’s Hulu page, including the charming coming-of-age story Cutlass starring Virginia Madsen, Kurt Russell, Chevy Chase, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, and directed by Kate Hudson. (I wonder how many Twilight fans just became excited finding out that Stewart and Fanning were in a short film together.) The shorts from this series that I’ve seen have all been interesting, amusing and/or poignant.
Don’t get me wrong; I love a good epic (Lawrence of Arabia, you’ll note, is #1 on my personal Flickchart). A short film is generally more intimate, though, and sometimes that’s what I want in a story. Short films feel more personal, I think, and leave more to the imagination as we are rarely told much about the events before or after what we’re shown. Short films do not have the luxury of trying to draw us into them; they must engage us early, yet I’ve rarely seen a short film that I felt was too hurried.
The next time you’re ranking movies, and a short film appears, I ask you to really consider it. Did it tell a thoughtful, interesting, entertaining story? If so, then it did its job. Don’t let its brief running time be a liability. The Mechanical Monsters is one of the most enjoyable Superman stories ever told. It is greatly superior to Superman III, and I have no hesitation choosing the 70 year old animated short film over the more recent live action feature. I think a lot of Superman fans, if they’re really honest with themselves, would agree. Once you’ve reached that level of acceptance, you can begin to properly rank short films. Maybe they’ll seem a little too high on your Flickchart at first. That’s okay. As they find their way to their proper places, you may very well learn something about your taste that you once denied yourself.
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Travis as minlshaw on Flickchart. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.