Year Released: 2006
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 18 minutes
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In a single shot, with an aged and experienced hand reaching out in the dark and drawing on a section of an alleyway with a piece of chalk, writer director Matt Johnson clearly defines the experience of being a writer.
The hands that either use chalk, a pencil, a pen, or a computer keyboard are our hands. The mind that makes words and thoughts appear on that sidewalk or in a newspaper or on a computer screen is our own. And just like that sole hand lingering over the marks made while making new ones, we are alone when we write. Oh sure it’s nice to be recognized by someone who recently read what we wrote, and it’s even nice to have our opinions, beliefs, and memories debated by those who disagree with us. But for an hour or two or three at a time, it’s just us. We are invisible to the world, much like the chalk artist in the black suit and fedora (Gil Glasgow) in charge of all that transpires, first starting with bleak, depressed Jeannie (Theresa Arrison) who can’t raise herself out of her funk. Only her dog can lead her to what can: The first chalk message out of 10 she’ll find, the first few words out of 45.
Soon, Jeannie is inspired, challenged, changed, and worried as a result of these messages, even moreso when she meets a guy outside, late at night who she thinks might have drawn the words she now holds so dear. But the surprise she finally finds shows that while writing—for people like me, various newspaper columnists, novelists, and all others who strive to express themselves with what they have built up in their minds through thousands of words—is not always glamorous (in fact, it’s not uncommon to be unkempt while writing), the effect that it has on those who we want to affect is impossible to accurately imagine. That’s why the chalk writer walks alone. If he took part in the later celebration, he would be peppered with question upon question as to why he does this, how he started, if he meant to inspire those he did, where he’ll go next. And by that, the whimsical nature of his work would significantly diminish. Best to be invisible, to just let the words appear where they will.
And while watching “Chalk”, it’s amazing to watch what many words will do, not only from a writer’s perspective, but from what Jeannie goes through as well. In our daily lives we do so much, sometimes too much, and some people, like Jeannie, do nothing at all. Happiness can be found anywhere, even in the most seemingly insignificant parts of a neighborhood. She’s found it, and now we find it too, in a short film bound to please more than just the artists and the dreamers. Hopefully Matt Johnson won’t lapse into invisibility. More of his efforts would be most welcome.
Posted on July 12, 2006 in Reviews by Rory L. Aronsky
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