The Rise of the ‘Stealth Short’?

What Just Happened?

In the last few months we’ve been treated to a couple of short films that seemingly appeared out of nowhere and landed on mainstream platforms. With little or no fanfare they crept up on us, and creeped the hell out their unsuspecting audience. According to Peter Bradshaw:

Dropping short films without warning is the new rock’n’roll for A-list directors right now

What Did Jack Do?

David Lynch first screened What Did Jack Do? at the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris in November 2017. Then this month it dropped on Netflix, and yes – boo hiss and all that, but not all of us can pop over to Paris to catch a 17 minute short film, even if we are serious fans. Shot in 2016, it features Lynch and a dapper capuchin monkey called Jack who is accused of murder. 

Jack has a human mouth and speaks Twin Peaksian, with all the necessary awkward pauses you’d expect from a conversation with a cop who may, or may not be based on Deputy Director Gordon Cole without a hearing problem. The mouth is awkward too. It’s just ‘off’ throughout. Off enough to make you uncomfortable, and slightly concerned that it might go horribly wrong at any moment.

So far, so Lynch. The big question is why and how did it end up on Netflix. Is this a move towards springing short films on an audience that didn’t know they had an appetite for them? If it is, it hasn’t quite had the impact that Johnathan Glazer’s The Fall did.

The Fall

Glazer’s 7 minute short didn’t even get a billing when it screened on BBC Two at 10pm on Sunday 27 October, 2019. Slipping in between The Americas with Simon Reeve and Live at The Apollo the 7 minute film took most viewers by surprise. Glazer only gave a couple of interviews about the film, explaining that he didn’t want it to have context, let alone fanfare.

 “I thought it would benefit most from being dropped unannounced, I didn’t want to frame it with any expectation.”

Coming from the mind of a serious and occasionally surreal filmmaker, and with a score by Mica Levy, The Fall had diverse inspirations; a photo of Donald and Eric Trump posing with a dead leopard, a Bertolt Brecht poem written in exile in the 1930 and Goya’s The Sleep of Reasons Produces Monsters.

“In the dark times / Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing / About the dark times.”

Not the usual themes for a Sunday evening on BBC Two. Let’s hope there’s a programmer slowly but surely infiltrating the schedule to introduce a new audience to short film. The Fall also appeared unannounced in a number of leading independent cinemas, surprising theatrical audiences across the UK. Now there’s an idea… we’ve been championing the return of the pre-feature short for some while now.

The Fall is on the BBC iPlayer until June 2020

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