Thursday, October 14, 2004

The glory of shortness

North American culture seems to dissolve anything remotely different from the entertainment mainstream. The net result of this is a relatively small number of gatekeepers determining what we consume, and how we consume it. As a result, the world is overrun with Julia Roberts movies, Britney Spears music (oops, make that Federline - for this week, anyway), and beach-reading sanctioned by Oprah.

There's nothing overtly wrong with mainstream culture beyond the fact that its all-encompassing nature shunts anything even remotely divergent to the fringe of said mainstream. Given society's apparent desire to maintain a smooth cultural landscape (think melting pot, harmony and assimilation as the main touchpoints here), it's no wonder that the vast majority of us don't know (or care) enough to ask for anything different than we're already fed. We're content to pay time and again to see essentially the same Julia Roberts movie because we've been massaged into believing that predictability represents the zenith of modern culture.

With that in mind, I've always worn the costume of the black sheep, the perpetual contrarian. In doing so, I have come to love the short form. Of what, you ask? Of anything. Short stories, short films, short radio documentaries and their ilk have always appealed to me because they forced the creator to shoehorn a complex message into a tight box. Anyone can tell a story within a 1,000 pages or a seven-part, 14-hour miniseries. But how can a strong message remain strong when its folded into a box barely fit for a yogi?

My first published pieces were a couple of poems in my high school yearbook. I graduated (there I go with the puns again) to letters to the editor, another ruthlessly brief form that weeds out anything not perfectly salient to the central message. I now dip my literary toes in multiple forms, but the one that continues to capture my fancy is the short form. My columns fit a 650-word box. I typically overwrite them by about a hundred or so words, then trim down to fit. My blog postings are similarly tight (except this one, which seems to have taken on a life of its apologies.)

Which brings me down to my original intention when I started this post: to introduce iFilm's Short Films Channel, which serves as a launching point for a wide range of short-form independent films.

I've often made mental notes while viewing a particularly funny short - then come up, well, short when trying to find more background afterward. The Internet opens up entire avenues of access to this material - a good thing for those of us who don't subscribe to the mass market, broadcast-driven, mainstream-loving agenda of modern culture. Sometimes, smaller really is better.


Stephane said...

I like the wave of documentaries turning into pop culture films. I’m thinking of course about Super Size Me and Fahrenheit 9/11. Documentaries are usually reserved for the CBC or the Discovery channel, it is refreshing to see some variety in the current pop culture. I hope to see more documentary films in the future. Being a Star Wars and Star Trek fan, I always thought that I like science fiction because of the special effects. Film makers put more emphasis on special effects now a day then plot lines. I realize that it is the underline message that makes me enjoy a movie not simply the special effects. Thank you for this post Carmi, I will seriously take a look a those independent film shorts.

A Woman Changed said...

I remember being stunned at how difficult it was to write succinctly. I was a copywriter at the time (no, not a good one) and I was asked to write a piece at a 5th grade reading level. Yow. I was humbled. But now, I too am a fan of the short form...especially short stories. With the exception of Tolstoy.

ms. creek said...

I"m not used to anyone but my friends reading and commenting on my blogs- you read other's frequently? And comment?

Carmi said...

Steph: Thanks for confirming why not all science fiction is actually GOOD science fiction. Too many sci-fi producers have forgotten that a good story is pretty much all that matters. George Lucas, can you hear me?

Jill: Sometimes, I think writing short will be the death of me. I used to feel pain whenever I cut out words. That's no longer the case, but I instead agonize over how excising a passage will impact the flow of my work. I'm way too retentive for this line of work.

MJ: Um, yes. That's kind of what bloggers do: they share their thoughts with others, who in turn share their thoughts back. If you're not interested in obtaining feedback from complete strangers, my sense is you might want to consider building a somewhat more pvirate resource than a publicly-accessible blog. It's amazing what you learn when you scan beyond the immediate horizon.

Misc Debris said...

One of the greatest benefits of Blogging for me was the ability to read what I write through the contextual lense of others, as well as evaluate the writing itself based upon concise representation of the central idea.

As a 'journal writer' I recall never (re)reading anything I wrote and ending up repeating the same message over and over again without any notion of evolution. Now I read things upon my blog and can actually see how this new challeng of sharing has really allowed ideas to develop and grow.

As for shortness, I LOVE short film festivals. Without the need to raise millions of dollars or capture the attention of an audience for hours on end, the artist can really run wild and have a field day with the format. Viva la Shorts!