~To Erase A Cloud by Jim Longden (Trailer and Film Review)
Review by Lauryn-Ashley Vandyke
Jim Longden described the creation of his new film, To Erase a Cloud, as a “crash course in filmmaking.” It was the entire cast’s first time acting and Jim Longden’s first time directing, but he was determined not to let his lack of formal film education get in the way of his directorial dreams. At age 20, Longden managed to finesse the resources and support needed to make a low-budget short film work, and not without toughening his skin in the process. Now 21, he sees the film as just a stepping stone, but it’s a show of vulnerability and passion from both director Longden and first-time actor, Sonny Hall. The subject matter is heavy and handled with care but not timidity. In the end, more than just a crash course in filmmaking, To Erase a Cloud teaches a lesson about not letting uncertainty hold you back from moving forward.
The film’s effectiveness lies within its ability to maintain a sense of pain throughout its entire span; the pain is not only temporal through the consistent depression of protagonist Johnny Little, played by Sonny Hall, but also spatially embedded throughout the thematic and visual elements Longden employs. One of the themes Longden sprinkles throughout is the theme of falling- falling glass, falling vomit, falling ashes. The short film could be seen as being all falling action- a steady decline toward an ambiguous resolution. Just as the movie is all falling action, fallenness can be seen in the protagonist, who falls victim to an immeasurable and irreparable loneliness. The philosopher Martin Heidegger coins the term fallenness in an existential sense; as humans, we tend to run away from ourselves in order to avoid the anxiety that comes along with existential self-actualization. To face yourself is to face your past self while embracing your future potentiality. Fallenness, for Heidegger, stems from our inability to see our inevitable deaths as incentive to be completely engaged with the world and maximize our self-realization through our honest and direct interaction with our own lives.
Johnny Little, the film’s protagonist, is not fallen in an existential sense as much as in a traumatic sense. Longden chooses to keep this trauma unresolved for as long as he can, a decision maintained through camera motion and shot composition, as well as through Hall’s performance. The frequent frame within a frame effect used by Longden is perpetuated by the emotional distance Sonny Hall’s character embraces through his substance abuse and avoidant gaze. The distance between boy and camera and between gaze and lens maintains that fallen aspect while reiterating Johnny Little’s painful burden. I never once wondered when or why Johnny Little may recover from his pain, and that empathy I felt was not coincidental. Avoidance is inherently human, and that which we obsess over can also be the source of our drive toward running away from our emotions, our past, and our potential to grow. We avoid in order not to feel, even though oftentimes the only way to get to the other side is to go right through. I get the feeling that both Sonny Hall and Jim Longden have had to learn that lesson themselves by the end of the film, when hope glimmers from a source that will bring Johnny Little closer to facing his pain than he has been able to throughout the film’s duration. Longden’s use of frame within a frame lengthens the foreground of the shots and creates a lack of access between viewer and actor, which mirrors the internal inaccessibility between Jonny Little and his own situation. Using Hall’s expressive acting as a feedback loop, Longden is able to use the camera to create more empathy for the character than the unattached characterization of Johnny Little would be able to inspire on his own.
The film is a vessel for understanding the pain that Sonny Hall so genuinely and vulnerably depicts through his palpable headache and pained expression. His distress is captured through his movements and reactions, be they big or small. From Sonny Hall we get slapstick, explosive anger, and gentle emotional exhaustion wrapped up in a 20 minute glimpse into his acting talent. His performance is genuine and believable, and he throws himself into the character to an extent which reveals his trust in Longden’s direction and story-telling capability. Longden and Hall’s creative styles compliment each other like old friends, and the collaborative effort of the crew and post-production exhibit a huge amount of potential for this production team. Jim Longden’s To Erase a Cloud is a movie about obsession by a man who knows what it’s like to be obsessed- with filmmaking. The protagonist of the film runs from his own painful obsession, while Longden takes his obsession with his craft and runs with it. Jim Longden’s short film is proof that being under qualified is not the same as being unqualified, and that you don’t need permission to tell a story. You just have to believe in yourself, in the story, and in your potentiality. Creative self-actualization should be accessible to everyone, and the light at the end of the tunnel only matters to the extent that we can get up and run toward it.