On Monday the sun shone so I cycled home slowly on quiet roads, tipping my face to the sky. The evening air was dry, a constant warmth broken only by the breeze. As I reached home, clouds gathered low and dark and the breeze strengthened to a wind – the sunshine was to be short lived. But the brevity of that half hour made it all the sweeter; its rarity investing it with more value, forcing me to pay closer attention, to remember it as clearly as possible.
When short is done well it is all-absorbing, its impact staying with you far longer than its own length might suggest. Short can be punchy and poetic, and the best should be celebrated – a shot of concentrated knowledge, atmosphere, feeling, understanding.
In these ten documentary shorts, Vittorio De Seta chronicled the pre-industrial world of southern Italy in the 1950s, each capturing a way of life – of fishermen, farmers, miners and their communities – in little more than ten minutes. The films are beautiful, shot with careful framing and in colours that only film (as opposed to digital) can achieve. What speaking there is (and there is remarkably little) is in Italian, and there are no subtitles, but no matter – the pictures, music (work songs sung by those being filmed) and ambient sound tell us all we need to know. De Seta was a trained architect from a wealthy family, but he filmed most of these shorts himself, capturing the details of manual labour and peasant-living with intimacy and understanding. You can buy the re-issued films on DVD here, but they can also be found on YouTube (links listed here).
Short stories can tend to compensate for the lack of room in which to develop character and landscape by over-egging their descriptions, leaving little room for the reader’s own imagination. This is particularly the case when it comes to writing about Africa, a continent that still struggles to escape the blanket of stereotype and expectation that covers it whole. Osondu’s stories somehow by-pass this, addressing his Africa (mostly Nigeria, occasionally Sudan) through the lens of its relationship with America. His writing is unsentimental and funny but tragic too, full of hard truths and distorted dreams. In 2009 Osondu won the Caine Prize for African Writing. This year’s shortlist has just been announced; you can read their short stories here.
LISTEN – THE POETRY ARCHIVE
T.S. Eliot said that ‘genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood’. This is never truer than when it is spoken out loud, even more so when the readers are the poets themselves. In 1999 the then Poet Laureate Andrew Motion and recording engineer Richard Carrington fell to talking about just this. In the knowledge that poetry was originally an oral art form, they decided to dedicate themselves to obtaining, preserving and restoring recordings of poets present and past. And so The Poetry Archive was begun. The site contains readings old and new, short and long but they all have one thing in common – they offer a unique insight into the heart of a poem that only the poet who wrote it could ever provide.
DO – SAY ECHDOE
The Welsh word for ‘the day before yesterday’. Why use four words when you can use just one?
Image: A still from Vittorio De Seta’s Lu Tempu Du Li Pisci Spata, 1954. Watch it here.