Judge Gordon Sullivan once did A Short Film About Holding On.
"Watch with an open mind, develop your own perspective and share the film with people around you."
There's an old joke floating around about the improvisational aspects of jazz, that it's the only form of music where the guys on the stage are having more fun than the people watching. The same can sometimes be said of cinematic improvisation. When it works it is hailed as a brilliant performance, but when it doesn't it can produce some of the worst acting known to humanity (as anyone who's sat through a boring student film can attest). A Short Film About Letting Go, a film that is the result of improvisation on the part of the entire filmmaking team, balances between these two extremes, at times showing flashes of emotional brilliance but always being hampered by a lack of clarity.
A Short Film About Letting Go follows two pairs of characters in 11 minutes. A boy (Christopher Sowers) and a girl (Aqua Maureen Yost) are teetering on the brink of their relationship, while father (Mark Eric Ridley) and son (Malcolm Ridley) are trying to smooth over the rougher patches in their past relationship.
A Short Film About Letting Go is a difficult experience to judge. As a narrative film it pretty much falls flat: we don't learn much about the characters, there's not much plot to speak of, and there's no real resolution per se. Taking the film, as it appears to be offered, as more of an emotional sketch improves the experience somewhat. Orchestrating the visuals and music to an elegant degree, the film provides an emotional snapshot of these two relationships, letting character interaction combine with the cinematic elements to evoke somewhat wistful emotions.
The film's real strengths, though, are not actors' improvisations, but the film's solid visual and aural elements. As the extras reveal, the filmmakers chose to give each of the two stories its own visual style. The young couple gets a more chaotic, shaky cam vibe, while the father/son combo gets more steady cam style shots. The couple's shots also tend to feature shallow depth of field and lots of out of focus shots that give those sections a dreamy quality that was very interesting. In contrast, the static shots of the other story give it a gravity that adds to the father/son dynamic. The music accompanying the film works to enhance the mood with its subtle textures.
This all tells me that the group behind A Short Film About Letting Go have a bright future ahead of them. Although I'm not sure that everyone would be into the less plot-oriented aspects of the production, the deliberate and effective use of sound and vision to enhance the improv makes me want to see their next, preferably feature-length, film.
The DVD that Verdict was sent was a check disc, so I can't comment on final specs. From what I saw with this DVD, the 2.35:1 transfer is solid and the stereo soundtrack keeps the dialogue and music well balanced.
Film students and fans of the film alike will find something to enjoy on this DVD. To augment the short film, viewers are treated to three featurettes. The first really takes on the film from the actors' perspective, talking about the improv process and how comforting and freeing it was. The second focuses on the editing of the picture, especially on how difficult it is to edit a film out of improvised scenes. The final featurette basically allows the audience to sit in on a discussion about the film's post production as decisions about the film's presentation are made. Finally, the disc presents "earlier versions," which are basically deleted or recut scenes from previous version of the film. They run together for a little less than 10 minutes and feature commentary by director J. Erik Reese.
A Short Film About Letting Go will likely appeal to student filmmakers and fans of the non-narrative short film. For those audience, or those looking to broaden their horizons, A Short Film is worth a rental for the behind-the-scenes peek alone. Those looking for a solid plot or thrills and chills should look elsewhere.
A Short Film About Letting Go is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Sabi Pictures
• Deleted Scenes
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