Short Rounds is a bi-weekly column dedicated to spreading the love of short film. Every other Wednesday we'll curate a number of flicks around a theme, from current Film Festivals to whatever is in the air. You know you've got the time.
Everyone seems to be in a bit of a tizzy about The Hunger Games. A fifteen-second promo clip for a minute-long teaser trailer? Nonsense! Granted, the whole blogosphere posted it anyway, and more power to them. The internet craves video, no matter how diminutive. As for the teaser itself, what to make of it? Well, apparently it’s so enigmatic as to merit MTV calling in experts. How much can anyone even fit in just over sixty seconds?
Quite a lot, actually. We’re in a bit of a renaissance of micro-cinema, phenomenal short shorts with tiny runtimes. 2009 saw the Oscar nomination of an animated short clocking in at less than three minutes, the hilarious Oktapodi. Projects like the French International Festival of Very Shorts and Filminute zoom in on this petite form of cinema, and help encourage filmmaking on every level. Sometimes you only need a few seconds to tell a story, intrigue your audience or create a fleeting moment of beautiful artistic expression. Therefore, in honor of Jennifer Lawrence’s brief woodland instant, here are ten great films at about sixty seconds or less.
The Black Hole by Phil Sansom and Olly Williams
The most obvious way to use a minute of film might be just telling a good joke. It can even get fairly complex, if things are paced correctly. This particular short plays around with an initially magical idea and turns it into a witty comment on human nature. It’s just the right speed, opening with a sustained moment of discovery and rapidly speeding up to the perfectly abrupt punch line.
Good-Bye Mr. Nice Guy by Ana Iliesu and Matei Branea
There’s really no end to the possibilities in a single minute of comedy. Here’s a creative short from Romania that uses only two shots and a gradual interjection of animation to throw us off and ready the final laugh. It’s simply framed but incorporates a number of elements at once in order to pack everything into a single minute. Comically cliché break-up dialogue, amusing sound-effects and the light blue aquatic intrusion interact with bubbly ease and show that just a handful of seconds might be all we need.
The Sprinkler Sprinkled by Auguste and Louis Lumière
The very first gentlemen to discover the comic potential of tiny cinema were, of course, the Lumière brothers. This particular short is actually a remake of the French duo’s first sprinkler film from the year prior, which was filmed in a slightly less impressive garden. At first glance it looks like a simple job, but every part of the choreography is arranged perfectly. The hose is laid out for exact framing of the image, and even the sprinkler himself has to hold the nozzle just right to knock off his own hat. The result is a concisely structured gag that proves comedy really is all about timing.
The Temptation of St. Anthony by Georges Méliès
It’s oddly poetic that these miniature short films have only been able to thrive in the 19th and 21st centuries. Initially they were all that was possible, and once the technology allowed for longer movies it wouldn’t be until the YouTube era that anyone would find reason to produce such small works again. Yet while watching the techniques and spirit of these films, that 100-year gap seems like nothing at all. Here’s another great short from the 1890s, Méliès’ magical depiction of St. Anthony pursued by easy women. Using his familiar methods of jump-cut apparition, this is a fascinating step for cinema into overt religious imagery.
Morning Beats by Alan Travers and Move by Rick Merecki
Narrative experimentation isn’t the only way filmmakers can construct something great in such a small space. A minute can also be used to zoom in on a single element, like rhythm. These two shorts use editing to create a hypnotic effect, entrancing you for the duration. Morning Beats plays off of the humdrum AM routines we all have, distilling that experience into an arrangement of images and sounds. Move, on the other hand, is broader in scope, bringing the whole world into a single unified beat. Both combine repetitive yet diverse visuals with an expanding yet cohesive soundtrack, which pays off stunningly.
Choose Not To Fall by Matthew Marsh
Sometimes all a filmmaker is looking for is atmosphere. This short, a mini-documentary about leading free runner Daniel Ilabaca, captures a philosophy of Parkour in concise, poetic and impressive visual language. Under quiet music and a calm voiceover from the athlete, this single minute encapsulates the more spiritual dimensions of an unconventional sport.
How Do You Do by Gabriel Achim
This film, based on a short story, is equally interested in expressing a specific sort of atmosphere. Yet here the goal is more imaginative, replicating the literary and observational attitude of its bemused protagonist. The warm comedy proceeds to evoke a very particular sense of humor, running with quick editing, whimsical details (why is the guy carrying a watermelon?), and delightful voiceover. Evocative of Closely Watched Trains and some of the best comedy Eastern European cinema has offered over the years, it does so with equally characteristic capriciousness.
Monkeyshines No. 1 and No. 2 by William K.L. Dickson and William William Heise
It’s hard to call these some of the first experimental films given that at the time of their creation, film itself was experimental. Regardless, this is one trippy pair of shorts. Done at the Edison labs, the Monkeyshines films are a very early attempt to capture the image of a person on celluloid. Haunting and historic, there’s something entirely unexpected about these rare clips that is worth taking the time (75 seconds total) to gaze into the past.
Flesh by Maarten Rots
This one is perhaps just as experimental as the Edison clips, though in a very different way. Breaking the fourth wall, Rots uses but a single shot to first entice you into voyeurism and then whips everything around to smack you across the face. It’s both cleverly funny and subtly profound, bringing the viewer first to laughter and then an unsettled fascination with the power of cinema and what it means to watch.