The World According to Shorts.
Sometimes it takes a fresh batch of short films to remind us what’s really possible in the marvelous medium of cinema. And no, that laughing Swedish baby on YouTube doesn’t count, although of course you totally need to check that out because the rest of the world’s population is waiting for you to have seen it. Many great short films are not at all commercially viable, which often correlates to their greatness. Except, of course, when the whole not-being-viable thing gives license to hacks and lousy storytellers. Many short films, actually, are horrible. It’s weird; those don’t feel short at all. They feel interminable.
But the great ones are alive with narrative precision and formal inventiveness and not caring much about lowering their denominator or otherwise pandering, usually because their makers long ago have been liberated by the idea that nobody’s going to see the thing anyway, so big whoop if they don’t “get it.”
Today, one way to bring great shorts into your home is with Wholphin, the occasional DVD magazine published by McSweeney’s, and with a newly released collection from New Yorker Films called The World According to Shorts. Mixed bags, both, but you take the rough with the smooth. For instance, with Wholphin, for every clunky, mawkish adaptation of a Michael Chabon story featuring Paul Rudd and Zoey Deschanel phoning it in, you’ll get a brilliant, bizarre, animated adventure by Carson Mell, like Chonto, the fictive memoir of an aging rocker and his special monkey. With The World, you get memorably libidinous bookends: The opener, from Chile, is a darkly funny little Bunuellian number called The Bitch, in which a bourgeois couple get turned on by fantasies of their maid ripping them off; and the closer, from Germany, is a trippily sexualized black-and-white animated Western, by turns tender and horrifying, called Ring of Fire.
And until someone finally posts video of the laughing Swedish baby’s reaction to “Two Girls One Cup,” these will do nicely.