The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - TELEVISION & RADIO -

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.

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