The importance of the short film is in some ways equivalent
to the importance of the exceptionally long film. In both cases
we're talking about films that evade the relatively arbitrary industrial
standard imposed by the so-called feature film and the complex set
of practices, rules, prohibitions, and imperatives attached to this
tradition. The wide-ranging art of cinema expands well beyond such
a standard, and short films are among the most precious casualties
of that bias.
Let's not forget that short films existed before features
did. It's also pertinent to recall that marketing interests tend
to define most versions of film history that we encounter rather
than the interests of either filmmakers or spectators. Jean-Luc
Godard pointed this out in his Deux fois cinquante ans de cinema
français (1995) when he observed that the "100 years of cinema"
being celebrated at the time was a matter of exhibition rather than
filmmaking, which is why projectors were being emphasized rather
than cameras. In any case, it's precisely the difficulties of packaging
and presenting short films that lead to their being marginalized
and neglected. The frequent gear changes we have to make during
programs of short films, whether they're devoted to the same or
to different filmmakers, are quite unlike the prolonged submersion
we experience with features.
One of the key issues that should be addressed at
the outset of this discussion is whether we can make ontological
distinctions of the kind that Frank O'Connor makes in his book The
Lonely Voice between short stories and novels. Is there a difference
between the concepts of time employed in each, or merely a difference
Jonathan Rosenbaum is film critic for the "Chicago
Reader". His books include: "Midnight Movies" (with J. Hoberman,
1987), "Greed" (1991), "Moving Places" (1995), "Placing Movies"
(1995), "Movies as Politics" (1997), "Dead Man" (BFI, 2000), "Movie
Wars" (2000), "Abbas Kiarostami" (with Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, 2003),
"Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia" (edited
with Adrian Martin, 2003) and "Essential Cinema: On the Necessity
of Film Canons" (2004).