Flipping through the internet this morning, I came across this review of the film the ABCs of Death, published by the excellent film review blog Twitch Film. I recommend taking a look at it here. It’s a pretty straightforward review, noting the good, the bad and the ugly of the anthology horror series that takes it’s linking theme from the Alphabet, assigning a different genre film director to each letter.
What I love about the review itself though, or rather, the idea of reviewing anthology films, is that it essentially deals with a series of short films, programmed together as a whole package. It is essentially what a short film programmer at a festival does, however you rarely see anyone writing about short film packages as part of a whole. If short films are written about (and Twitch does occasionally write about them), they are isolated and discussed as a single work, based on the quality of the narrative or the director. These anthology films offer a certain mainstreamization of the idea of watching short films as a genre, which I believe is really positive. I think that there are a lot of positives to watching short films – their concise, time-constrained nature makes them more in line with poetry than feature films – and I think that most cinema-viewers tend to ignore short films as a genre. The glamour lies in the feature, and often shorts are only a stepping stone for the director to get there.
I do wish, however that the packages as a whole would consider the works more like a curated festival program. It seems that these reviews always note the un-evenness of the compilations, with some works stronger than others. Although that is always going to be the case in a short film compilation, simplybecause the works have different character and textures from one another, which can make it difficult to flow between them and they are going to appeal more to some people’s tastes than others, there is no reason for any of the works to be failures. If you just stick whatever films you happen to have into a program, with no discernment for quality, it doesn’t do any favours for audience reception and development. People see it and remember that one of the works was awesome, but the rest were meh, and don’t have any strong desire to watch more compilations. Also, as noted within the Twitch article, it affects the reception of the strong works in the program, tainting the way we remember them.
I tend to imagine the art of short film programming as akin to being a sommelier or chef. Every tasting has to be special in its own right, but also has to work together as a cohesive whole. I also think that short films are something that you grow a taste for, like wine or different foods. It’s a matter of training your taste to appreciate the subtleties, and the more you try different short films, the more refined your senses get and the more likely you are to try works that challenge you. Although I don’t think that every short film has to be challenging and that everyone should be watching highly experimental films (well maybe I think that a little…), I do think that there is a lot of value in challenging yourself and taking in food/wine/art that is unique, well-made and thoughtful. I also passionately hope that we can ask people to do this without being snobbish or elitist about our tastes, but rather to just have experiences together and try and find a common ground for discussion.
Here is to Anthology films as the gateway drug into the world of short films.