JWR Articles: Film/DVD - S & M: Short and Male (Director/Writer: Howard Goldberg) - April 28, 2008
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S & M: Short and Male

4.5 4.5
86 min.

Reviewed at the 2008 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival
On the short end of the shtick

The plight of height-challenged (or to be more politically correct: “short-stature”) men is put under the lens of one of their number—director/writer/editor/narrator Howard Goldberg—who provides an at times hilarious, informative and disturbing dissertation.

The laughs range from stand-up zingers (comic Tom Rubin, himself a short man who will go to any length to score: “I’m even too tall for a midget fetish.”) to sight gags (seeing a Canadian coxswain being hugged like a teddy bear by two of his towering rowers) to a kind-of pinball slapstick (on the crowded sidewalks of Times Square, hidden cameras strapped to the shoulders of a Tall and Short Man Walking—with a spaghetti Western trumpet providing the macho reinforcement—produce a collision differential of 1-16, respectively).

We learn much about historical shorties—notably the egocentric, power-hungry leaders such as Napoleon and his present-day reincarnate, Nicholas Zarcozy, but little balance is provided by the likes of Jean Chrétien, the “little man from Shawinigan” or musical giants such as Erich Leinsdorf, Karl Ančerl or Herbert von Karajan. (Happily many of the music tracks offer classic gems from a Mozart piano concerto to Tchaikovsky ballet, but using Johann Strauss Sr.’s Radetzky March in Paris failed to connect the dots, or perhaps it was the preponderance of short notes?)

It’s the horrific sequences that linger in long-term memory and, possibly, confuse the overall direction and purpose of the documentary. Seeing 17-year-old, 4’11” Akash’s legs broken on purpose to “fool” his stumped bones into filling the gap (adding an extra 2.5 inches) and hearing his desperate cries of agony during the 100 day+ recovery is gut wrenching. Yet he assures us it was worth every scream.

In China, law student Jiang Tao, realizing he’s too short to apply for a height-restricted civil service job, does the “American” thing and sues his own government for violating his human rights (the constitution is silent on any sort of height discrimination) and wins! Yet the ensuing interview with his tied-to-the-land father devastatingly captures a short-lived victory: “The government will never forget [that you have caused it to lose face],” says the stoic dad, his son nearly in tears.

Jiang gets the point and opts to accept a full scholarship in Scandinavia for further study of human rights.

Finally, it falls to Josh, Goldberg’s son, to offer the sagest comment of all: “So just live with it,” he implores during a heart-to-heart, height-as-obstacle chat with his talented father.

Clearly, size does matter, but as German Gutierrez’s cinematography subliminally proves, the world can appear to be a wholly different place, depending on the beholder’s point of view. JWR

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Director/Writer - Howard Goldberg
Producer - Ina Fichma
Music - Ned Bouhalassa
Cinematographer - German Gutierrez
Editor - Howard Goldberg
Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
purchase information, production sponsors:
Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival
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