There are more than a few laughs to be had in the first 20 minutes or so of Howard Goldberg’s S&M: Short And Male, a documentary about men hovering on either side of five feet.
This is largely intentional — most of these men have learned the hard way how to cope with their stature, and Goldberg showcases everything from the twin Montreal dentists who seem resigned to their shortness, to the L.A. entertainment lawyer who’s channeled his disappointment and anger into a sideline doing stand-up comedy.
“I picked each subject because of what they brought to the table,” Goldberg recalls, “and for Tom Rubin, the entertainment lawyer by day, comedian by night, he just seemed to be a very entertaining, funny guy. His lines like ‘There’s a fetish for shit but not for short men. There’s a midget fetish but I’m too tall for that.’ I couldn’t resist. I guess he goes beyond and illustrates some aggressive tendencies with short men.”
Goldberg tours the world exploring how short men cope with life, visiting the industry leader in elevator shoes and a haberdasher for the short-statured, and spending time with the founders of NOSSA (National Organization Of Short-Statured Adults), whose membership rolls at the time of filming hovered around 20.
“Organizations like NOSSA aren’t a joke,” Goldberg says, “though they sound like a joke, they make sense. And since the time of filming their members have been working to raise their profile and they now have about 200 members, which is a tenfold increase. Now there are groups with names like the Tall Man’s Group, or the worldwide association of tall people, and in Canada alone there are 3,000 members. So obviously it’s a lot more fun to join the tall group than the short group.”
Things get somber, and even sad, when Goldberg turns his camera on Graham, an extraordinarily sweet little boy whose parents have put him on a regimen of growth hormones, and Akash, a 19-year-old undergoing an incredibly painful course of leg-lengthening surgery. As a six-foot-tall man, it was probably far too easy to laugh at the film up till this point, though suddenly the humour starts to choke in my throat, and the real pain experienced by short men — either self-inflicted or imposed — becomes palpable.
“When you realize that all these things that the older, achieved men have been complaining about are very real to the child and to the parents of the child who want the best for their child, and it’s real to the teenager who is making the decision for himself, who’s of age, who’s processed the situation, and who’s said to himself that, as an adult at four foot eleven, I will never be happy. And as a result I’ll put myself through any amount of risk and pain to change that situation. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be happy, but I don’t think it’s all in his head, so I wanted the film to show his side of the equation.”