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Brevity, Part 6: Roundhay Garden Scene, ctd.(well, it’s short)

Roundhay Garden Scene is hardly the only short film that transcends its brief running time. Here are seven other shorts whose impacts are much larger, and last much longer, than their respective running times might indicate.

2003: Stan Brakhage’s Chinese Series (2 min):

More frames are at Fred Camper's website

Stan Brakhage created this, his final film, while lying on his deathbed. Using his saliva, he moistened black film leader, then scratched images in it with his fingernails. His instructions were that the film end “wherever he stopped scratching.”

2000: Guy Maddin’s Heart of the World (6 min):

Maddin created this epic short as a trailer for the Toronto Film Festival; many attendees argued that it should have won the festival prize for best film. It was later named one of the best movies of the year by The New York Times and The Village Voice.

The film is extremely dense, containing hundreds of shots (the Average Shot Length is supposedly somewhere around 2 seconds), and referring heavily to 1920s Soviet and German cinema. The title is (presumably) swiped from D.W. Griffiths’s Hearts of the World (1918).

Kino eventually stuck Heart of the World on the same DVD as Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (one of Maddin’s few feature-length flops) and Archangel (easily Maddin’s best unwatched/underrated film). I bet that many who bought the disc did so mainly to get the short.

1953: Chuck Jones’s Duck Amuck (7 min):

When did postmodernism begin? Chuck Jones created this cartoon in 1951; its release was delayed for two years because Warner Bros. worried that audiences wouldn’t like so much Daffy (and so little Bugs). It has since gone on to be considered one of the greatest cartoons of all time.

1981: Laurie Anderson’s O Superman (8 min):

Anderson’s simple and haunting music video expresses seemingly every nuclear era fear (and then some), tracing the military-industrial complex from the home (and home technology) out into the broader social sphere, through the USPS and the military, then back home again. The melody is Anderson’s version of the aria “O Souverain, o juge, o père” from Jules Massenet’s opera Le Cid (1885) (hence her dedication “for Massenet”). The song’s popularity led to Anderson being signed by Warner Bros., and O Superman‘s inclusion on her first album, Big Science (1982). Later, the song and video resurfaced for a while, resonating with new meaning, following the September 11th attacks.

1977: Ray and Charles Eames’s Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero (9 min):

The Eames’s, best known for their mass-produced molded plywood furniture (such as the Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman), made this educational film for IBM. It’s an adaptation of Kees Boeke’s book Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps (1957). No other film explores so thoroughly the twin edges of human understanding.

…These next last two short films are a bit longer, but I really wanted to include them, as they’re two of my favorites. And both are rather epic considering their respective lengths.

1983: Cecelia Condit’s Possibly in Michigan (12 min):

Like Maddin’s film, Possibly in Michigan contains a vast amount of footage, which Condit has edited down into a punk fairy tale opera about the war of the sexes, consumerism, cannibalism, and more. You can watch only the first five minutes at YouTube, but they convey some sense of the project’s ambitious scope.

1936: Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart (19 min)

(You can watch the whole thing at YouTube, even though I can’t embed it here.)

Long available only in 16mm prints (which were in private collections), Cornell’s first film was released to DVD in 2000 on the National Film Preservation Foundation’s invaluable Treasures from American Film Archives.

Cornell took a print of the 1931 film East of Borneo and cut out the shots featuring star Rose Hobart. These he reassembled and projected through a blue-tinted piece of glass at silent speed (16 frames per second, rather than 24), accompanied by songs from Nestor Amaral’s “Holiday in Brazil” (which Cornell had bought used).

Salvador Dalí famously disrupted the first screening by knocking over the projector, crying out that Cornell had stolen the idea for the film from Dalí’s subconscious.

…Happy viewing!

  • A. D. Jameson is the author of five books, most recently I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE and CINEMAPS: AN ATLAS OF 35 GREAT MOVIES (with artist Andrew DeGraff). Last May, he received his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the Program for Writers at UIC.

5 thoughts on “Brevity, Part 6: Roundhay Garden Scene, ctd.(well, it’s short)

  1. Thanks for letting us know Rose Hobart is on YouTube. I think the last time I saw it was at Cornell’s retrospective “Navigating the Imagination.” Happy to be able to see it again.

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