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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chalk (**1/2)


Chalk
USA, 2006, 85 minutes
Directed by Mike Akel
Cast: Troy Schremmer, Janelle Schremmer, Shannon Haragan, Chris Mass, Jeff Guerrero, Jerry Jarmon, Kaytea Brock, Dan Eggleston, Glen Lewis, Wendy Campbell, Jacqueline Seaborn.

Picked this up from my library today and gave it a look when I got home, mainly because I was intrigued by its connection with Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) - Chalk is the debut release of his new distribution company venture with Hart-Sharp Productions aimed at releasing films with "social relevance" - as well as its subject matter: it's about beleaguered teachers, a demographic I deal with on a daily basis at my library gig. Chalk boasts a good cast and some good ideas, but I could never get over its derivative feel. There's nothing new here in terms of filmmaking that isn't either tried-or-true. Specifically, it's shot in the exact mockumentary style as The Office (both versions - UK original and current American counterpart). And that's hard for me to get past. I was just reading a quote by Arthur Koestler about how "the measure of an artist's originality...is the extent to which his selective emphasis deviates from the conventional norm and establishes new standards of relevance." In other words, there are leaders and there are followers. And Chalk follows some very well-trod ground - the "played out" mockumentary genre. It merely fills the footsteps of those that went before; it doesn't create a new path. Or, as A.V. Club's Nathan Rabin put it:
Thanks largely to the enduring popularity and influence of the British Office and its American counterpart, the past few years have produced a bevy of shows with a visual and comic vocabulary heavy on handheld camera, jittery editing, nervous laughter, awkward social interaction, and low-key character comedy. Unsurprisingly, this style of comedy is rapidly becoming nearly as clich├ęd as the staid, conventionally shot laughers that preceded it. Chalk is the latest heavily improvised mockumentary proudly traversing the tradition of The Office and Christopher Guest. It'd feel much fresher if it had been released even five years ago.

Ah, there's the rub. Timing is everything.

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