LAST WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS …
FACED with the arrival of the vast and stodgy Quality Television Drama pudding that is Howards End, it was doubly refreshing last week to see the return of Random Acts (Thursday, 12.05am), Channel 4’s strand devoted to rounding up some of the best contemporary short films, and a perfectly tart palate cleanser. Cramming six wildly different pieces into around 24 minutes, whatever else there is to say about it, at least you know if you don’t like what you’re seeing, there’ll be something else along soon.
Channel 4 has changed a lot since it appeared in 1982, and anyone who remembers the 4 that was will grumble not many changes have been for the better. But, while it’s more buried today than it once was, a commitment to short film and animation has remained a constant throughout the channel’s history. In the 1980s, if you (A) didn’t live in a town with an arthouse cinema and/ or (B) couldn’t afford tickets, it was pretty much the only place you’d stand any chance of seeing work by the likes of Jan Svankmajer or The Brothers Quay.
Arguably, YouTube has made a short film strand on TV redundant. But, amid all the swamping noise, clutter and chatter online, Random Acts quietly but firmly makes the case that a dedicated, curated showcase is perhaps more valuable now than ever. The show’s promotional blurb says a lot about how Channel 4’s ideas of itself and its audience have declined: “The late-night, post-pub serving of the world’s craziest ... short films.” But the series itself ignores the “it’s bonkers bantz!” stuff, to offer the films seriously, albeit with crafty humour. A filmmaker herself, regular host Zawe Ashton’s introductions are careful, sly, smartly blank little miniatures.
This week’s selection ranged across wide territory, some nightmarish, some moving, some out to mess you up, but all made with attitude and ideas about life and about experimenting with images and sound. Among them, filmmaker Kirsten Lepore’s “Hi Stranger,” was an unsettling piece of encouragements eduction delivered by a sexy-sexless naked thing that looked like a mix between a bodacious Bod and an unfinished Nick Park creation. Johnny Kelly’s “Fern” had the great Monica Dolan cultivating a relationship with a jealous houseplant, like a lonely suburban Little Shop Of Horrors. Choreographer Antoine Marc delivered a filmed dance piece as much about editing and inevitable stillness as bodies in motion, and artist Alex Bag’s advertising assault “Diaper Surprise” was the kind of blast you wish you could forget.
Finally, director Mike Fisher’s “Last Words” gave simple visual accompaniment to Simon Armitage’s daft but devastating poem, a love story between a woman dying from a spider bite in her kitchen and a man adrift on the Indian Ocean, who she phones by mistake. In the binge age, Random Acts flies the flag for films that come nibble-sized, and nibble back at you.