Fipresci Home the international federation of film critics  
  about us | festival reports | awards | undercurrent   contact | site map 
home > undercurrent > issue 1 > Man's Favorite Short  

about the writer

Adrian Martin is a film critic for The Age in Melbourne. He has written books on The Mad Max Movies (2003), Once Upon a Time in America (1998), Raúl Ruiz (2004), and several others. He has won the Byron Kennedy Australian Film Institute Award and the Geraldine Pascall Prize for critical writing. He is also co-editor of the book Movie Mutations (2003) with Jonathan Rosenbaum, and the Internet magazine Rouge.

short films

This section has been edited by Belinda van de Graaf and Adrian Martin.

Man's Favorite Short


by Adrian Martin

"Several Friends" (Charles Burnett, 1969)
by Andy Rector

The Pain of Cinema: "Interior New York Subway" (G. W. Bitzer, 1905)
by Gabe Klinger


Improvised Polemic by Derek Malcolm: "LBJ" (Santiago Alvarez, 1968)

Dream Work (Peter Tscherkassky, Austria, 2001) by Adrian Martin

Short Film Poetry by Jonathan Rosenbaum: "The House Is Black" (Forugh Farrokhzad, 1962) and "When It Rains" (Charles Burnett, 1995)



Introduction by Adrian Martin

What is the best way to watch a short film — what is the best way to "consume" this form? No one has yet been able to work this puzzle out. At festivals and special screening events all over the world, shorts are jammed together, like diverse artworks in a crowded group-show, in programs of 90 minutes or two hours or more; and sometimes there is not just one session of shorts, but many, hour after hour, day after day, classified by director, or genre (horror, comedy, drama), or type (documentary, animation, experimental).... It never works; it's too much information, aesthetic overload. Short films just don't fit the standard rituals of film programming or consumption. Cinephiles find they need to spirit some precious examples away, isolate them on a DVD or videotape, and then look for that elusive opportunity to watch them, write about them, show them in a classroom or lecture hall....

Short films have this strangely "maladaptive" quality within the life of global cinema culture — because their form never really follows their function. The best short films (whether stories or collages or lyric poems) are crystalline, compacted, condensed. They are the proverbial aesthetic iceberg: what's visible is the smallest part, everything else resonates and expands across time, in the mind....

Film lovers fret about the sometimes loveless language of the cinema industry. In some countries and tongues, the terms that indicate short film as distinct from long film are purely descriptive, non-judgmental, referring only to a comparatively small amount of footage or a short running-time. In English, the ugly word shorts comes freighted with dismissive condescension, even sheer indifference: in my country of Australia, back in the late '80s, a corporate exhibitor-distributor even made a populist fanfare from the act of banning short films from programming as it bullishly declared in its display ads: "No more boring shorts!" Can you believe that?

But this is no longer the historical moment for whining or victimology. Far from being the overlooked, suppressed siblings of the cinema globe, there seem to be more opportunities than ever to fund, make, screen and distribute short films. As in the European '60s, anthology films proliferate. Television, as always, has its cracks to fill (between two shows, one day, I caught an unannounced, remarkable dance film by the Quay Brothers), and its twinkling, carnivorous short-form formats: ads, music videos, dancing animated logos. The digital days of audio-vision have compressed everything, giving birth to mammoth touring events like "Resfest." Turn on the Internet and wait for the download of something short and sharp.... Look at Wong Kar-wai's career as an example of the way the winds are blowing: his features are assemblages of pieces (sometimes resembling so many short films); he contributes an episode to the Eros anthology alongside Antonioni and Soderbergh; he makes a moody online narrative fragment for BMW cars; his promotional spots for Motorola phones and whatnot are shown not only on TV to their target markets but also at Rotterdam and elsewhere....

It is in this spirit of new-found (or perhaps re-found) diversity that Undercurrent offers a series of appreciations of favorite short films. Just as film programming can never quite manage to accommodate the short form, film criticism rarely creates the opportunity for celebrating and analyzing its fruits. Nothing unites the random gallery of choices gathered here: they cover the full range from the impressive fledgling efforts of film-school beginners, all the way to avant-garde masterpieces made by artists who rarely feel the need to stretch past the fifteen-minute mark — and with infinite possibilities and hybrids in-between. One thing, however, is clear: if it was ever possible to believe, erroneously or conveniently, that short films are merely a preparation, rehearsal, training-ground or low-budget compensation for the "real thing" of feature production, it is no longer possible today. The short film exists and insists, more colorfully and powerfully than ever before; it is now up to us to create the rituals that will honor and savor this crystalline cinema.

Adrian Martin




bullet. # 7 (1.2011)
bullet. # 6 (4.2010)
bullet. # 5 (5.2009)
bullet. # 4 (10.2008)
bullet. # 3 (11.2006)
bullet. # 2 (7.2006)
bullet. # 1 (4.2006)


issue # 1 4.2006

bullet. Contents
bullet. Marías on Guerín
bullet. Martin on Crowe
bullet. Fujiwara on Tsai
bullet. Klinger on Garrel
bullet. How Critics Work
bullet. Man's Favorite Short
bullet. Amengual Tribute
bullet. Leslie Shatz