In a world where the short attention span is rapidly becoming the cultural norm, it’s somewhat surprising that short subjects tend to get short shrift from film-goers. The full-length feature has been king since the Roaring 20’s, when Hollywood lost the knack for making money from one- and two-reelers, theater operators realized they could sell more concessions during longer programs, and audiences began to associate high art with bulk or length (e.g., Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, Andy Warhol’s Empire, and the Star Wars sextology).
If you’re someone who began to fidget in your chair during The Lord of the Rings or you are simply interested in seeing what artistic statement can be made in fifteen minutes or less, Pacific Film Archive’s current series, Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, may scratch your itch. Produced in collaboration with the San Francisco Cinematheque, and coinciding with the release of a terrific new book of the same name published by UC Press, the Radical Light series consists of over two dozen experimental and/or avant-garde short subjects produced by local filmmakers.
After starting with a program focusing on the films of the immediate post-World War II years, Radical Light continues at 7:30 pm this Wednesday evening, October 6. Consisting of six short subjects produced during the Beat Era— the years between 1953 and 1960 — the program includes Stan Brakhage’s first color film, 1955’s In Between.
Over the span of his half-century long career, the tireless Brakhage produced almost 400 films, many of which have recently been compiled by The Criterion Collection on two DVD sets. In Between — an examination of the ornate work of local collage artist Jess Collins, featuring music by John Cage— isn’t included in either of Criterion’s excellent sets, however, so this a rare opportunity to see this unique film.
Wednesday night’s program also includes a remarkable nine-and-a-half minute film entitled Have You Sold Your Dozen Roses?. Shot in 1957 by filmmakers Philip Greene, David Myers, and Allen Willis at a Bay Area landfill, it features unforgettable and strangely beautiful scenes — if the word beauty can be ascribed to a landfill — of locals rooting through piles of refuse, and is accompanied by a poem of the same name narrated by legendary beat Lawrence Ferlinghetti. While I admit to being a bit of a philistine when it comes to verse—though I do enjoy a bit of Philip Larkin from time to time — Ferlinghetti’s soothing, melodic tones provides perfect accompaniment to the film.
The advantage of the short film is its brevity: over almost as soon as it’s begun, it demands and receives your attention. And there’s something of the lucky dip about them — should you dislike the one you’re currently watching, no worries, you may well like the next one a great deal. Chances are, though, that you’ll get value for money on Wednesday night—with six films screening in a little more than an hour, even the shortest of short attention spans should make it through the program.