At our recent screening, when the publisher was up front making a point about short film being 100 years old, someone in the audience said something like, “and now they’re TV commercials.” Sadly, she’s right. Somehow short film went from being the avant garde to a tool of advertising, without most of us getting to see any of it.
The recent slate of Super Bowl ads gives us occasion to consider this disaster. The publisher said he couldn’t be bothered on this topic; he pelted us with gruyere and said he was busy planning next year’s Davos forum (after this year’s topic, “Shaping the Global Agenda: The Shifting Power Equation,” they will be more clear next year with, “Does Anyone Else Miss the ‘80s?: All Zimbabwe Needs Is a Good Loan”). But most of us watched the game and a lot of TV ads, in general. While this year’s Super Bowl ads were less creative than in recent years—and we also think the NYT is crazy for reading Iraq-related feelings into the inanity (see HERE)—it is still undeniable that advertisers have adopted many of the lessons of experimental film from the last 50 years into their product.
Just like short stories have been a place for creativity and experimentation in literature since their beginning, short film has often led cinema down new audio-visual roads. The big difference, of course, is that everyone got to read short stories almost right away. Nobody locked them up and only let writers and MFA students read them. But short film, despite being over 100 years old, has remained marginalized and obscure. Directors and film students are well versed in the form—indeed most of them have made short films—but somehow the general public has been kept in the dark.
But back to advertising. Lamentably, advertisers have not been so deprived. They’ve kept up and were quick to adopt any new a-v trick that might grab one’s attention and lead one to buy, say, Sprite.
Historically, before an art form is fully coopted and used as a tool for selling crap, it usually passes through a phase of popularity. Rock music is an easy example. It went from being cool, to being popular, whereby it was then used to peddle Ford Mustangs. But at least people got to hear the music. (Then we had the 1970s. And, after the ’73 oil embargo, we didn’t even have real Mustangs, anymore.)
There is really no way to remedy this. But we can do our best to promote short film and start to reclaim it for the general public. Art should give the public new ways to think about the world, not just advertisers.