Visual art news, views & reviews in Dallas, Texas, USA
Home Index Calendar Member art Join Ops Resources Feedback Contact us Reviews Search
Art Movies Revued
Reviews excerpted from Movies Reviewed, ThEdBlog and other stories by J R Compton. Here arranged alphabetically. Five asterisks is unlikely. Think of them as stars.
The Best Art Videos On The Web
Absolute Wilson*** caught me up on avant garde dance and theatric production from the last half of the last century. Interesting to intriguing, combining personal elements from teaching brain-damaged hyperactive children; to wild, open collaboration; incarceration; and autism by this guy from Waco.
I rented PBS's American Masters production Alexander Calder***/ to see his affect on my late friend Jim Crowe's very similar work. I learned Calder's effect on all of my sculptor friends, whether they know it or not. Art Shirer's work has that childlike simplicity and wiggling, sometimes winding movement. He has taken Calder's directions and expanded them in several dimensions. T.Stone has inherited his monumental moderness. Jim Crowe copied many of Calder's ideas and delight. So many others have copied this or that piece possibly without even knowing it. This bit of history of a happy, often child-like man, is its own delight, complete with many films of the master himself doing what he did best, having fun making art. A must-see
Alfred Stiglitz - The Eloquent Eye*** is informative, illustrative and almost inspiring. It's a slightly better than average documentary about a famous and seminal character in the history of art photography. Yet not quite fascinating and not quite amazing.
After a really bad art show today, I watched Alice Neel***/ and got to see her wonderful portraits that showed real people not just posing for her, but being for her and for the painting. Gives me joy where despair was settling in. Nice to meet the lady, too, well past she's dead. Impressive gathering of her and her treasures and kin. Maybe a tad too much of talking heads, but always a treat to go back again to her work.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry*** is a stirring documentary of who this most powerful artist in the world is and what he does in China against the government and elsewhere. That he continues to exist in one of the most repressive societies in the world is miraculous. That what he does so often surpasses art is thrilling. I'm glad to finally know what this name I've heard so much over the last few years, really stands for. Freedom sounds so hollow here, where we have a modicum of that precious stuff. But in China? Wow.
Then, largely accidentally I discovered the "extras" that were interesting also, and in Amber City*** (1999, 49 minutes), I saw genesis of Museum Hours, although it's 49 minutes long. Set in that beautiful lyrical dark mood with but little hope showing through, we get only inklings of what Filmmaker Jem Cohen was thinking before Museum Hours.
After the inept and tedious Masters of and Wizards of Photography, comes the superb American Photography: A Century of Images,**** made in 1999. Although I'd love to see the last dozen years protrusion into digital, this is a beautiful and intelligent history of American photography chunked into themes that add beadth and depth. Remarkably well done and beautiful to watch. And vastly informative.
I had the high privilege of seeing Spaulding Gray live at Undermain Theatre a decade or more ago, and I've seen most of his movies (and even lived parts of the one of him running to a plane at Tan Son Nhut during an attack) and started out loving seeing him again here, but I couldn't stay with it more than a few minutes, and then I'd be off to do something else. But I kept coming back. Just knowing that he suicided puts the kabosh on it when he keeps talking about death, but in the end, I watched all of it, mostly just bothered by his left-most front tooth. And Everything Is Going Fine*** didn't really improve on my depression, but it didn't make it any worse, and there for awhile, I felt right at home in somebody else's stories.
ANNE TRUITT, working***/ is 13 minutes of an artist talking about colors in her sculpture. Eloquent. First we see in Black & White, then it becomes color. Each scene ends with the camera closing down, so the colors go dense, then dark. That's the only annoying part, although the interview is a little repetitive. The interview is one-sided. Anne only, and we don't see what she is working on, but she talks about it, and we see what she has done as we see her making. Like Ela Piplits' Bruegel talk in Museum Hours, we learn what an artist is thinking, see some and parts of her work, so we have some understanding of it. 2010.
Public TV's ongoing series of American Experience documentaries are several cuts above the ordinary, and Ansel Adams - American Experience***/ is, too. It quickly and eloquently crosses the lines from about art to inspiring. I've heard and read about this guy all my life since I turned onto photography at the University of Dallas in the early 1960s, but this video turned me around an inspired me to pay attention. I learned who he was, what he was up to and what he was like. More than that, I learned about his struggles, his personal life, and best of all what it took to make him who he was. Gently told, but hardly a gentle story. Marred by chronological wandering and rarely just showing a bunch of his best images, I'd still rent it again. It's probably worth its while just to see the wild parts of Yosemite.
Presented without distractions, director Hiroshi Teshigahara's Antonio Gaudi**** is exquisite. A documentary of works of architectural art by the Catalonian master whose span bridged the beginnings of the 20th Century, this remarkably direct film tells Gaudi's story visually, without insulting us with facts or comparisons, historical or critical contexts. We see, and we understand. No one tells us what to think. Far from the usual documentarian's parade of talking heads, this motion picture shows only the barest essential people talking at all. Instead, it concentrates on what's left of Gaudi's visions, his buildings, models and drawings. Showing us what they look like in their own contexts in motions and use. Fascinating and beautiful.
I can see why filmophiles went gaga over this documentary. It tells a story of a son's journey to discover who his father was. His father who had three families. One with the woman he stayed married to. And two other secret families, each with a child. Strange guy. One of the gods of architecture, Louis I. Kahn. I wasn't that thrilled with the whole thing, but toward the end, My Architect: A Son's Journey*** got more emotional and more spiritual. His last building, completed well after his death, is amazing.
Art City***/ is a quick-paced run through a PC variety of New York City artists (whom I probably should know) and critics and curators (whom I do know of, especially Dave Hickey, who used to live and work here) in a documentary about contemporary art from five years ago. Very remiscent of Art in the 21st Century (that was shown on public TV), though not nearly as deep and two years younger. It's fun to listen to the selected artists talk about their art as they make it. Special Features include the parts of the interviews that didn't make it into the film, and we can easily see why. The film's not always in focus, but the film's focus is sharp, and the artists are fascinating.
It was a cute idea adequately fleshed, but my oh my, this was one tedious movie. I was soooo glad when it was over. No way this was one of the best movies of any month, let alone year. Myeh. The Artist**/.
Wim Wenders' — I seem to be on a kick of his flix lately — film, A Trick of Light*** is an odd combination of historic re-presentation and documentary about the Skladanowky Brothers who presented motion pictures before the Lumiere Brothers but the Lumieres did it better, and are credited with "inventing" cinema, when a lof it inventors were working on it with various degrees of success. Endearing characters, interesting history, just not utterly fascinating, and there's a clownishness deep in this film that, though it rings true enough, seem anachronistic.
Artemesia**/ was reminiscent of Camille Claudet a few years back. Set in the early Seventeenth Century, about a woman struggling to know life, experience love and practice art, it's an exquisitely beautiful film, with fine acting, solid character development and a moving plot. A truly positive film experience.
It's a high school boy-girl romance flick with hints at profundity and several attempts, and it's good but not amazing. Our little hero is a slacker with artistic tendencies who wows his art teacher with a final project piece they carefully didn't show us for a few scenes, and that was better, more honest, then they showed it to us in the ultimate moment, and it basically sucked. A friend who used to teach at a community college called that sort of thing girlfriend art, and it really didn't reach much beyond that, but the art teacher and by extension, us, went gaga over it. So it wasn't real, and when a few things in a movie are that bad, I have to start distrusting the whole thing, and I do. The Art of Getting By*** may be adequate.
The Art of the Steal***/ See how politicians, beneficiaries, lawyers, so-called journalists including NPR, major Philadelphia foundations — the powerful PEW and Annenberg foundations, museum mavens, the American Judiciary, the IRS and others stole the world-famous Barnes Collection that Barnes himself insisted remain always as a teaching institution away from the grubby hands of all those Philadelphia liars and thieves and handed it over to those very liars and thieves. Fascinating story, lots of evil amuck. Not nearly enough attention to the individual work in the collection, but a real flavor for who has the real power in America, and can have anything they want.
Best thing I can say about this movie is that I either smiled big all the way through it, or I was laughing out loud. But it's also true that my mind was engaged through it, too. It's about an artist who is funny, and he's funny in his art, and his art is funny, and so's his whole art career, but it still sells for the big bucks. He's done a lot of things, probably most noteworthy he helped design Pee Wee's Playhouse, still makes puppets, has done animation till he went crazy, has a family and still he makes art. The movie of it is very well done, edited, oh, all those movie things. Remarkably well-made movie. Beauty Is Embarrassing — The Wayne White Story****
Being Elmo — A Puppeteer's Journey*** is not the greatest documentary, and it frays around some of its edges, kinda like letting the seams show in a puppet. But it's got heart and miles of that. It's affecting and entertaining and tells a story that I liked. It's not really about Elmo. It's about being Elmo.
The logic of a photograph, or a collection of them, about a photograph collector, maybe the photograph collector and Robert Maplethorp, an odd telling, documentary of a life in the arts and deaths in gay cancer. Such an odd movie, we understand photography through it, and collecting. Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe***/
Whether it's on the street in New York or on the runway in Paris, watching Bill Cunningham work is a joy, and lucky for us, that's what Bill Cunningham New York***/ is all about. The joy of working the work he wants to. What his life is all about. Photographing clothes.
Blind Light***/ is a visually poetic, lyrically interwoven plot parallel of 1) a documentary about a doctor who built a villa in Capri to capture the light — who was blinded by a degenerative eye disease caused by light, then wrote a popular autobiographical book; 2) a fictional story of a photographer played by Edie Falco who comes to see the light; 3) a personal travelogue remembering the filmmaker and her mother's trip to the villa; and 4) the reflexive story within a story within the movie of the making of this film — all combining high quality 35mm and Super 8 into a haunting and bright, moody and colorful film that nearly succeeds on all tracks of its ambitious goals.
Boogie Woogie**/ is supposedly about high-level art collectors and dealers vying for great or famous art. I don't know much about those guys, but this flick just feels wrong on every level. Worse, I never once believe the stories or the characters, although there were a very few nuances that almost rang true.
I used to read his column in the L.A. Free Press in the 70s, then lost track of Charles. Bukowski: Born into This***/ is superb documentary without breaking new ground. I now have a much better idea who was Charles Bukowski, and I'm glad to know it.
Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff*** held my attention most of its hour and 26 minutes. Better than that, he led me to a number of other films, many classics, that Cardiff either shot or directed. Most of its interest is as a short, Cardiff-related history of English and American movies.
Carrington***** is the sensual, moving story of a passionate yet asexual relationship between an artist and a writer. Outstanding acting, story, cinematography. Lots of sex and romance. One of that year's best. My favorite quote in the movie is after some friends remind Carrington that her love object is a bugger. She replies, "You always have to put up with something."
Time-stopping movies and TV shows are almost as wonderful as time-traveling ones. Cashback***/ began as a sweet little time-stopper, won an award, added a life and some loves to the hero's life and became a fullish-length movie of the same name. Gentle, sexy (lots of full frontal female nudity; only hints of male parts) and sweet little movie about a young man who thought he could, and in movies that's the same as being able to, stop time. Oh, and our hero is an artist.
It's more like The Making Of than the beautiful full-length time-lapse event I was expecting, but it has its moral, which is that the most visible proof that the climate is changing, and the globe is warming, is the glaciers, which we repeatedly watch disappearing into sloshing water. Chasing Ice*** is the story of a photographer and his assistants who time-lapse photo- and video-graphed glaciers across the top of the world, dying.
Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio*** is the long name for a one-hour-short documentary about a school of architecture that designed and built (important) a series of homes and public building for the people of Hale County, Alabama. It is both charming and educational — and inspiring. The houses the students made are beautiful and comparatively inexpensive. Maybe a little too much talking head scenes and never enough images of the buildings and the people who use them.
Another artist and a slightly different take on the documentary form. Robert Crumb, his family and his several lovers in the scintillating Crumb**** are astounding, shocking, amazing, and very much themselves. One of the absolutely best and strangest artist films of all time.
Dali*** was a good enough documentary of the famous artist's life and ambitions. Just what I wanted. I loved his paintings when I was a boy, but I'd lost track. Stumbled upon him again in my first Art History class at the U of Dallas (aced it), in libraries and bookstores and other people's libraries since. But I needed to know who this guy was. This movie told me what I needed to know and reminded me of The Savior's (Salvador)' true greatness, despite an immense ego that only diminished when he finally did.
The Dali Dimension*** is a sometimes stumbling, often eloquent exposition of Salvador — whom a man with a camera late in the documentary called, "a man like his paintings, most unusual, very interesting" — Dali's fascination and artistic response to then-new discoveries in psychoanalysis, physics and biology, often commingled with religion. I've always responded positively if viscerally to Dali's art while believing he was an egocentric windbag. But this film informed my appreciation and reversed much of my disapproval. No doubt the guy was a genius. Now I begin to understand some of his thinking that went into that strange work. Too bad the visual quality of the film itself suffers so.
When I put it in my queue, I thought The Desert of Forbidden Art*** was about art stolen back from the Nazis, but it's about Nukus Museum Director Igor Savitsky who saved 40,000 banned Soviet paintings from the KGB by buying them from the painters' families on credit, then getting money from the Ubekistanian government (a major feat), then "hiding" them 1,700 miles away from Moscow, in the poore country north of Afghanistan. Lots of images of amazing art from the early years of the 20th Century and interviews with painters and other artists' families, and letters read by famous American actors. A treat.
I can't help it. I put off watching The Devil and Daniel Johnston***/ for nearly three weeks. When I finally sat down with it on a sleepless night, I got into it. Still, and growing all the way through it, I became convinced it was fraud. A fiction. Not documentary, mockumentary. A strange, literally unbelievable, story of the life of a certifiable crazy person. On Beyond Crumb without the knuckle of a grasp on reality. Over the edges in too many dimensions. An amazing perverse fiction about the reality of madness and bad taste. Too weird.
When I put it in my queue, I thought The Desert of Forbidden Art*** was about art stolen back from the Nazis, but it's about Nukus Museum Director Igor Savitsky who saved 40,000 banned Soviet paintings from the KGB by buying them from the painters' families on credit, then getting money from the Uzbekistan government (a major feat), then "hiding" them 1,700 miles away from Moscow, in the poorer country north of Afghanistan. Lots of images of amazing art from the early years of the 20th Century and interviews with painters and other artists' families, and letters read by famous American actors. A treat.
A love affair. An art heist mystery. An enigmatic riddle of identity and what really happened. Opaque, but beautiful and dreamlike, then transparent at the end. A movie that tells its story gently and visually, though there is dialog. Great plot, superb pacing. Wildly romantic. Delicious mind games. Excellent title. Luscious. The Double Hour**** Italian with subtitles
Drawing the Line: A Portrait of Keith Haring***/ is only 30 minutes long but includes many pieces in the historic progression of his work; homage to his art heroes; a minimum of art critic gibberish; plenty of him making and talking about his work; and like his work, a maximum of fun. 2004
Dumbo**** is utterly wonderful. Cornball and ever so slightly saccharine at times, most often it is amazing. Racist from all the big Black men who pound the circus into reality and the crows who bring jive music to it, but still amazing after all these years.
Edge of Dreaming**** is about a woman, a filmmaker, who dreams she will die in her 48th year. She dreams that soon after she dreamt her horse died, and he died the night she had the dream, so she takes the death dream to heart and lungs, which clog till sometimes she cannot breathe. In life Amy Hardie makes movies about science, and in this dream movie she animates many important parts of dreaming and thinking, and in beauty- and meaning- full trip sequences she continues to advance the plot till. Well, to know that, you have to watch the movie, but it's beautiful and intelligent and a little magical and visually exquisite. 2009
Oh, my gosh. I'm so glad that's over with. I've spent the last three days watching and refusing to watch and then watching this awful movie some more. Watching almost anything to keep going back to watch Edward Munch: Special Edition. Disks One and Two**/. All the way up my Netflix Queue, I thought it was just one disk. But then I was expecting the usual biopic. Two was too much. Three hours of constantly circling back to his family. Coughing children bleeding from their mouths. Swaddled in white stained by the blood. Dying of tuberculosis. His father a doctor. Everybody dying or committing suicide. Not a lasting relationship among them. Gloom, doom and no wonder he was troubled. Then there's his romantic life, if you can call it life. Instersticed among all that depression. His art. We see hands painting, etching, gouging woodblocks. Get a feel for his art, see it, like all the other elements of his life, recurring and again. I liked the special features on disk one. They tell about the museum. Through the movie perhaps every critique of his art through his life. Nobody liked it, yet he kept being invited to have solo shows, be in shows around Europe. Then back to reciting how much everyone loathed his work. Now I have to go back and explore his art again. I've always liked it, always thought those who wrote about it attributed too much depression to him and his art. Still think that.
Every Picture Tells A Story*** begins with four famous painting, which art critic Waldemar Januszczak carefully enunciates the story and stories behind. Fascinating bits of history and mythology, but next time I'll select the paintings he dissects more carefully.
As a documentary of early 21st Century graffiti artists, the early portions of Exit Through the Gift Shop*** are exciting and informative and very art and art history. As the documentation of the fall and rise of Mr. Brain Dead (no, no, that's Mr. Brainwash, but I think I was right the first time.), it grows long and tedious. I didn't want this idiot winning and he kept winning at the art game, even though he clearly had never had an original idea in his head. All totaled, it's a big minus. Not exactly a waste of time, but mostly. Clearly Banksy is a better filmmaker, a much better and more intelligent artist, and Mr. Brain Dead is just that.
Picasso, Magritte, Calder and all those other big-time famous fine artists of the last century are intriguing to learn about and watch their influence on so many artists since, but one of the most influential artists of all time has to be Chuck Jones. In Extremes and in Betweens, a Life in Animation***/ we don't learn all that much about his personal life and family, but we get to see many of the cartoons that have subtly or overtly influenced us all. He didn't invent Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck, but he had a hand in their development. However, he did invent Peppy LePeau, Wylie Coyote and the greatest underdog who ever lived (in celluloid, at least) and always won, The Roadrunner. Here, we get to watch the development of all those and many more remarkably human, mostly animal characters.
From it's odd beginning to its even odder end, this movie is a visual delight. Strange, some might say weird, but almost always smile-worthy, The Fairy**** is vividly colorful visual, but absurdist fun. It has to be one of those movies Netflix calls visually arresting, so varied and wonderful those can sometimes be, this is more so. And just when it begins to veer off too much, it comes back to silly surreality. Very peculiar. Mostly funny, sometimes hilarious. A little strained momentarily maybe, but it always comes back to joy.
The best thing about Frazetta*** is his art, by the hundreds, filling the frames of this documentary, and it's nice to see him and listen to him talk about his life, his family and his art — and even watch him make art. His art surpassed the supposed limitations of illustration in the 1950s and reinvented it since, but this movie never makes the jump. Although the content is fascinating, the movie itself is gimmicky and hokey.
I somehow managed to miss writing about Frida****, which we saw right about here in the chronology. Wonderful visualization of a familiar historical story about one of North America's greatest art couple and one of this continent's most expressive visual artists. The movie was better than we expected, with a solid grasp on history in general and Frida Khalo's work in particular. I can still — several months later — see her and her famous painting of herself and husband Diego Rivera's portrait coming to life via special effects. Lots of delicious art philosophy, great characters and characterizations. A delight.
I didn't think I did till the end, but I liked this movie even though it has nothing to do with Diane Arbus or making photographs or visual thinking and overly much about the famous photographers' often strange subjects. This film is not about a lot of things it properly should have been. I appreciate historical accuracy, and the biographical aspects of this movie are blatantly imaginary. But it is strikingly visual, often beautiful and intentionally weird (even though actual freaks inhabit it), and intriguingly and inappropriately spooky as if the filmmakers forget they were not making a horror flick. The title is stupidly funny, but not much else about Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus***/ is.
Once I learned, in the Special Features, that the movie I'd just seen came from Performance Art, the little sense it so slowly made, made much more sense. Performance, when done particularly well, does that. It pulls everything in and makes a visual sense out of it, if not an everything else sense. This movie is unique in that. After the end, I began to like it more and more. Before it finally stopped, I got up and did other things. But I always came back. I saw every second of it. In order. Early on, however, I began not expecting a lot of the usual movie sense in it. An ocean of it, may be there, ebbing and flowing. Like tides. Creating a certain rhythm that mocks a story. Maybe not. The Future****
Watching Gerhart Richter Paining**** has been a revelation. I kept quitting it to go off to work on my own art ideas. Think deeply of my own progress as an artist. Nice that some movies can do that. I wouldn't want to have to watch it again. This time I saw it in smidgens and splats, like him putting his paintings together. That was fascinating. Any time I get to watch a painter paint is. This guy is and a lot of other people think he is, very interesting. I don't much care, but still thought it was a fine movie, because it kept inspiring me.
Goya, Crazy Like a Genius**** is remarkable for showing us Goya while an only mildy egomaniacal critic tells the great painter's many stories. Darned few talking heads. More than anything else we see Goya's works, in detail, in most of their glory and in chronological order. Not so much a cinnematic masterpiece, but a story very well told and profusely illustrated.
I thought it was going to be yet another documentary on her life and work. But Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen as Georgia O'Keefe and Alfred Stiegletz. Wow. An idea fraught, like their marriage and relationship, with difficulties and pain. Amazing to get so much understanding in just those few word. And beautiful. Amazing. Georgia O'Keefe***/
Despite its dreadful reproduction of her work, which are sometimes even cropped, and the narrator's mispronunciations and hackneyed text, Great Women Artists: Georgia O'Keefe**/ shows an intelligent, if stilted history of her life and work. Presented in the short rectangular format of early television, with no talking heads and few back stories or images beyond her own and old black & whites of landscapes and a few people, all of which narrated by a sonorous voiced male reading a script, it's still interesting and presented in chronological order, so we begin to understand the progress of her career.
Here's another art movie, this time about a staged photograph creator, who turns whole city blocks or neighborhoods into large-format (8 x 10) film photos, which are very precisely planned and executed with major-movie-like precision and crews. Nice stuff, elegant, eloquent, with multiple poignant details visible through windows, doors and other apertures. Probably makes editions and sells them for big bucks. He doesn't just tell us how they're done, we see it, from him arriving on the scene, to the massive, cooperative work his set-up photos are. Very interesting work and process. In the end, the artist tries for wisdom, and I was busy typing every word, when I realized it didn't make much sense, and I don't think I can make much use of what he said (but it's below just past the next sentence.). Whereas the whole movie, by showing technique, was crawling with ideas and concepts. "There are moments in an artist's career when you have to challenge every expectation of what you think you know. I feel very strongly that every artist has one central story to tell The struggle was to tell and retell that story over an over again in visual form and try to challenge that story. But at the core, that story remains the same. It's like the defining story of who you are." Gregory Crewdson — Brief Encounters***
I saw this one, because Netflix said in stars that I would like it, and because it's Danish. Like Canada's Film Board, they make good movies, especially the ones Netflix rates 3+ for me. This is a grisly (both blood and other bodily excretions) thriller about a high-class sleaze who is a corporate Headhunter***/ who talks his clients up, finds out if they have art worth stealing, then steals it. Soon after the beginning, I knew I didn't care what happened to our ... uh (He's no hero.) protagonist, so I just enjoyed the ride. Once that got going, it got complicated and grisly, then the movie engages us in a series of plot switchbacks that turn him into The Good Guy, which is still difficult to accept, and despite murders he and his archenemy pursuer perpetrate, it ends more than happily. A preposterous plot I was willing to go along with. I guess.
I'm a typophile. I've been a typesetter, a publication designer and a publisher nearly all my life. I have used it and abused it. The movie Helvetica***/ is funny and fascinating. I know a lot of the talking bodies in it, because they are and have been my type and design heroes. If I'd known David Carson was going to be in this, I would have rented it just for him. As it is, there's scads of great type and design-ers here, and I found it fascinanting.
Herb and Dorothy***/ are two of the greatest collectors of minimal and conceptual in the world. They amassed their remarkable collection slowly, carefully and passionately — they wanted to see everything — within their modest means. Herb worked at the Post Office, and Dorothy worked at the Library. They lived on her wages and bought art with his. It only had to be affordable — and fit into their smallish, one-bedroom apartment, and they often paid it off on time. If Herb couldn't carry it or take it home in the subway, they didn't want it. Most of their collection, that was eventually donated to the National Gallery of Art, is what Herb calls "tough art." They never thought the artists they bought would become famous — they bought it because they liked the work — and the artists, many of whom became their friends. The movie is not just about the collecting couple, it shows many of the artists — famous and not — they collect, early and late, so it's a wonderful bit of New York art history.
Watching Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird***/ was a little like watching that iconic movie again, which I have every decade or so since it came out in 1960. Most of the talking heads were either Harper's friends or fellow writers, and what they had to say was important and instructive, as was the movie itself. This documentary is only an hour and 22 minutes, but it was a treat, and I learned a few things about her and the book and her friends, and I know I would have liked her.
Before watching it, I played the preview, then forgot it was the preview for that movie, and the longer it played — not long at all, the more I wanted to see it. So I did. Then I hated it. But I might still go back to High Art and see the rest of that dreadful flick just to figure it out. Or not.
The made-for-TV and boy does it show The Highwaymen - Florida's Outsider Artists*** lacks visual or video or lighting — or for that matter audio or much of anything else — sophistication but it does tell the story of this historical group of Black artists led by "a benevolent White artist" (naturally, or could they have shown it on TV?) whose work is now, supposedly, selling like tulips. The title's sponsor is the gallery selling the work, and the video sells and sells and sells (but is anybody buying?). It is racist through and through, running subtitles on Black guys whose words are plenty clear, and it is repetitive, befitting that it was made for TV viewers who don't know from ART, and some of the "historical" visuals are just stupid. But it's also interesting and shows a lot of these outsider artists' work.
Though I watch TED Talks often enough for my own enjoyment, it hadn't occurred that they are actually movies, so from now on, I'll list some of the better ones here, if I remember again. Many are utterly fascinating. I'd told a friend who had presented someone who was uncannily like David Blaine in her gallery this year as something like performance art, about this video. Blaine's presentation — titled How I held my breath for 17 minutes***/, seems almost bland, but what he does and shows and says is anything but. If you're not aware of TED Talks, it might be a treat just to wander around on the site. I always find vids there that stimulate my mind — often extraordinarily, and I'll tag them onto this page, if I like or hate them enough to write about them, though they're not all this good, and some are significantly better.
How to Draw A Bunny**** is the story of Ray Johnson, a strange art genius known for his simplistic cartoons, complex collages, drawings and, primarily for his extensive mail art. Anna and I have sat through too many movies about artists lately, so I did not have high expectations. But I was wrong. This sprightly documentary shows us who Ray really was — a difficult man, at best — in most of his glory and many of his foibles. It's put together strangely, to the beat, as it were, of a different drummer, and it's several different kinds of wonderful.
This vision amazed me. Truly visually arresting, it presents us with the odd amalgam of a realistic and animated comix universe. French, so it does not devolve utterly into stupidity as our own often do, yet foreign enough in creation and characterizations that we stay tuned. Graphically weird, somewhere beyond the setting of The Fifth Element, out into manifestations of Philip K. Dick's dystopia. If there's much wrong, it's the bad-guy plots that stutter the story, although the red hammerhead-seeker and Horus Himself, are superbly accomplished. Fierce movie. Immortal***/
Perhaps I shouldn't have begun The Impressionists with Disk 2, but the thoroughly fictionalized lead characters, all of whom were the masters of Impressionism were vivid and human, even intelligently shown. Monet, who outlived them all, tells us the story, filled with enough historical fact to make us wonder what all was made up. I found it entertaining and informative.
I Shot Andy Warhol ***/ is the gruesome tale of the woman (introducing Liv Taylor) who shot AW and why. Hurts to watch her spiraling downward — somewhere between Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer and Sid & Nancy. 1996
John James Audubon: Drawn from Nature*** is one of the better public TV biographies. Plenty of infomation, chronologically follows his life through ups and downs to his dying words, "Billy, let's get our guns and go down to Long Pond and shoot some ducks."
Ken Burns' America: Thomas Hart Benton**** is a lively story jammed with art that's almost hyperactive, with plenty of bright, joyful music of the time — and stupid art critics like Hilton Kramer being their usual idiot selves. Amazing heart for a public documentary about art — well before Burns' intra-image zooming got mindlessly monotonous. Here the camera moves around, goes where it needs to go to illustrate what somebody is talking about, and it is never hideous slow. Hot dog! This is one fine documentary! I smiled and laughed out loud with the human comedy of it all the way through. Hooray!
Even if they've updated it nearly out of the stratosphere, I love Dr. Seuss, and until recently I'd not heard of The Lorax***, but it's a sing-along, song-filled story about saving trees, so bears and fishies and everybody else can grow where once weren't trees.
Much is made of the fact that this filmmaker, Lucy Jarvis, was allowed into the Louvre with television cameras, but not much was revealed of its inner life. Its art and history are of great interest, and the paintings are always fascinating, but in this low resolution videotaping, we see these works in even lower resolution than we saw them in books and reproduction — vague phantasms of the real art, nor is much of the building and its operation or expansion or care mentioned, let alone shown to this TV show's intended mass audience. The Louvre*** was good enough for 1978. Is there an update?
I am indulging in a history of art of the 20th Century, one famous artist at a time. Lately, I've watched Picasso, Alexander Calder, Max Ernst and Frazetta flash from DVDs. It is not like watching Dallas artists appear, grow, learn, expand, expound, disappear (etc.). But my concentrated attentions have taught me new facts and fascinating concepts I did not learn from reproductions in books. The filmmaker of Magritte: An Attempt at the Impossible****'s contemporized film sequences of the painter's symbols at first seemed odd, over edges. But they are informative, memorable, some — like the candles burning — quite marvelous. We see the filmmakers making art of the artist's art and his making of it.
Man Ray**/ Volume was sufficient, but understanding the dialog was very difficult. Tape quality was poor, and it didn't help that the film was mostly simultaneously interpreted French. Utterly riddiculous music added to the surrealism, perhaps on purpose. Peggy Lee singing Fever all the way through seemed anachronisticly absurd. The early 60s flick, comprising long conversations with the Paris Surrealists in French, was historically interesting, visually repetitive (but fascinating) and seriously lacking historical context. We rarely saw Ray's larger works entire. Instead, they were panned and scanned, always filling the screen with illogical movement.
Like a low-contrast black & white grandfather of Koyaanisqatsi, Man with the Movie Camera*** (1929) is long, tending toward the tedious with a repetitive sleep-inducing soundtrack, and it is not nearly as interesting to see than to talk about its importance. It's only an hour and eight minutes long, but I had to watch it in segments. It is more visually fascinating when it shows the man with the movie camera than what he filmed, and the editing is experimentally and annoyingly non-sequitur. It's an interesting enough look at the early years of movies while the syntax of film was still being invented. Documentary in content and context, it's a truly lurid portrait of "Modern Soviet Living," accomplishing its purpose to create a new language of film by being far enough ahead of the curve technically, but it lost its soul and most of its meaning in all the early/basic visual gimmicks, and now it's more dated than historic.
Even at a mere 46 minutes, Marilyn in Manhattan*** is repetitive enough to be improbably padded. It's not a great documentary, but it is of her, so who cares? It reveals some of her truths and glosses over others, so it's not probing, either. Just a short made for TV romp.
Mary Cassatt was a fine American painter, and we're told that repeatedly in this uninspired movie that suffers from an insipid script, spurious and oft-repeated images and a lot of stirring b.s that sounds good but doesn't really mean anything. Mary Cassatt - A Brush with Independence*** is adequate as a documentary and an introduction to her work and life story. We learn about the person but not much about her work. One of the stupider lines in this fairly stupid movie is near the end. "She slipped into a diabetic coma, but like she had so many times before, she perservered." As if that meant something.
The pre-movie and hideously audioed click click progression of famous photographs would have been far more effective if they'd been in focus, but here we have another dull grayscale — plenty of white, but never a definitive black throughout — documentary whose greatest lift is getting to see lots of excellent photographs, even if they are all out of focus here. Not often I long for the mind numbing lingering zooms of Ken Burns, but here it might have helped. I wanted hard details but got none. Fifties hoakum, apparently before color film was invented. Masters of Photography: Edward Steichen**/. Way over-explained. 30 minutes.
Masters of Photography — Gertrude Käsebier*** was short, but since I count 20-hour TV series as just one flick, why not this essential slide show of the founding mother of modern American photography. I found it via Image Resource, but there's more material on Käsebier at Collections Search, Shorpy, Wiki on Photo Secession and Camera Work etc.
Max Ernst*** was a color- and shape-ful character. One of the greats of 20th Century art. But this documentary, at least the first hour is not up to his quality, although it has its moments. I've had to stop it in its tracks four times now, just to stop the stupid soundtrack long enough to regain my sanity. Igor Stravinsky is great, and maybe whoever used it here was attuned to surrealism, but it grates. Great, though, to see so much of his art and to hear his friends, especially the women in his life talk about him — often more eloquently than he does. Waiting endlessly, for the rarely simultaneous for translations of his early German is tedious. But once he gets to America, the story brightens, and he learns English. Watching him dance down a narrow street in New York City is almost worth the price of admission. Nice.
The Mill & The Cross*** is a plodding, almost painful, often viciously violent, slow and deeply surreal reenactment of Pieter Bruegel's 1564 painting, The Procession to Calvary as a vivid, minutely detailed and overly didactic tale of the painting in its time and place and the people who inhabit it. Very strange.
I suppose it's possible I could stand a 24-minute discussion of the design of dissent that is the bonus material for Milton Glaser: To Inform and Deilight***, which itself is informative and Glasser's graphic arts and illustrations reproduced are delightful, but I just don't think I could stand that much more talking heads. He's famous, amazing, extraordinarily talented in several art directions, and his heart is obviously in the right places, but though I was inspired by his history of images, I was dismayed at the pacing and over-reliance on gabbing faces.
MirrorMask**** is a marvelous fantasy, aimed at children but more in there for adults. It blends drawings and computer-generated animation with actors in a manner and style I'd not seen before or since. Fun, funny, marvelously inventive. Unique.
Good idea, and some of our better actors, but the plot leaves us lurching from one sentimental payoff to another in what might have been a much longer story that got badly chopped up, and it's difficult to imagine what really happened. "Based on a true story". Like, yes, there really were The Monuments Men***, but the rest is smarmy fiction. It has its moments, but they are few and don't quite match. Noble music sometimes but not so righteous screenplay or presentation. For what it was, it should have been amazing, but it's a highbrow notion aimed at just anybody — making more sentimentality than sense.
My Best Friend Klaus Kinski*** is another play of light and dark. Sane and murderous crazy. It's about conflict and accord, best friends and, luckily, a whole lot about making movies.
I thought I didn't like this one, then when I restarted it, I discovered a masterpiece of a movie about friendship and conversation and art, that's both subtle and overt about two people not descending into romance — and a city and its museum. And light and movement and color and sound. Beautifully filmed, dense with irony and humanity, humor and grace. And space — I remember one scene when I suddenly was remembering Roger Winter's urban cityscapes. I had thought of sending it back without finishing it, because so little seemed to be going on at first. Then that so little became so important I couldn't stop watching, absorbing information, understanding things about people and art and space and place. No flash, no bang, just a movie called Museum Hours****, quiet conversations and docent Ela Piplits' scintillating lecture taught me more about Bruegel than ever. Lovely, lilting superb. If you'd rather, check the Menu for the English without subtitles version, so you can concentrate on seeing the art in the movie and of the movie. 2012
Sometimes I don't know what I can possibly do to raise my spirits, and sometimes I'm lucky enough to have a streaming movie that brings the best dance in the world right to me. It may be a clumsy challenge to back up the vidstream or find just the right spot to re-see what I've just seen and want so much to see again and again, and within a couple re-views my body moves and my spirit flies — and I'm less than seven minutes into the movie. I'm where I need to be; watching unorthodox dance. These timings are approximate but Take Four at 6:06 (inchage markers); Lombard's Way at 7:02 (big smile); Bumble Bee at 7:23 (big laugh, every time); Italian Concerto at 10:27... Oh, I can't keep stop and starting these things while it streams. Literally every couple minutes there's something visually astounding with people moving and, just wow. All that and talking heads, too — but those are always broken up with more motion. Never Stand Still: Dancing at Jacob's Pillow***/ slows a little toward the end when innovation bows to classical, and only rarely sustains a sensation like Pina, which I have to see again [below], and again but in all, a joy.
I've had this one in my queue for months, if not years. I've always expected it to be very good, and it was. We follow one piano through the full year of its creation, step by step, listening to each worker who plays their part in its production. Meanwhile, we see and hear famous and other serious pianists choose instruments and tell what they like and why. Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L 1037****
Obscene***/ is about Barney Rosset and his Grove Press publishing house and Evergreen Review magazine, which both published then-controversial, often banned authors and books. Talking heads, yes, of course, it is a documentary, but because Rosset was an aspiring filmmaker and also because he gathered fine graphic artists for his publishing, there are excellent visuals illustrating the various court and other battles with the police, the government and its courts. Exciting for an Old Lefty, of interest to anyone who reads four-letter words or concepts in print, when before Rosset, that was illegal. Rosset first published Lady Chatterly's Lover, Tropic of Cancer, Naked Lunch, Howl and the list continues. It was rarely easy, but now we can say almost anything in print. BR (before Rosset), we could not.
I rented Painted Lady*** thinking it were a movie. It is instead two episodes of Masterpiece Theater. And though theatric, no masterpiece. In it Helen Mirren plays a has-been singer whose friend is murdered, and to catch the killer and get back the painting stolen from the victim and to pay off the murdered man's errant son's gambling debts (the plot continues to spin nearly out of control...), she becomes an international art dealer (just like that, oh and she reads one book). If you can believe any of this plot, you'd probably have more interest than I in seeing the conclusion that's not mentioned in the menu. I called Netflix's 24-hour help line (buried deep in their public menus), and a nice woman helped me find the second half hidden in the Scene Selections. No mention anywhere else. I watched till the end, which was as silly as the rest of this labyrinthine story and noted the stupid visual pun but didn't catch the lifting of Sister Wendy's PBS lecture. Masterpiece, my foot. 1997
Until late tonight I'd never heard of Paul Goodman. Seeing this elegant, intellectual documentary about his life surprised me. Took me from my usual day and night and made me think and wonder about this guy. An honest man. Bi-sexual, anti-war, writer, amazing poet, thinker, one-man think tank, author of nearly 60 books of literature, poetry, fiction and nonfiction, explainer and understander, happy and sometimes sad man. Spokesman for The New Left. Tonight, Paul Goldman Changed My Life***, too.
Paul Klee: The Silence of the Angel***/ is a remarkable and affecting film about an artist I knew little more about than I liked the work I'd seen, but I'd only seen a little. As a moody chronology and intellectual explanation, this dark, lilting, intelligent history follows his life and especially his work, tells us what he was thinking, often in his own words, and mimics his sometimes forlorn presence by the appearances of a rag doll he may have created — although it is never introduced or credited. The DVD also offers a slide show of 150 of Klee's work we control the timing of. I assume it is presented chronologically. That simple showing was mesmerizing, although I suspect several pieces were sideways.
This one's title is The Photographer***/, and I keep trying to watch it, but I just can't. It's so stupid. Ignores every reality to tell this semi-mystical story. Our hero (or anti-hero, who knows, it's early in the movie.) is a photographer who has a show in New York, and sells everything, then he's got another show coming up, but he doesn't have any shots worth showing, and he's in anguish. But for no apparent reason, he doesn't just go out and shoot the same old stuff. Then 8x10 black and whites keep showing up, images of his life that he lives into. Image shows up. Later he happens upon the place they were shot at and is in the pictures. And he obviously knows he didn't shoot them, but he's gonna show them anyway.
Somehow the black & white 8x10s are going to transmogrify into big exhibition prints without the negatives or digital original images. Yeah, right. Maybe somebody who didn't know how this stuff really happens, might believe some of this crap, but mostly, nobody could be that dumb. So now, maybe I gotta finish the stupid movie. But I don't want to. But I keep at it. It occurs that our crew. It keeps growing. Is like Dorothy, off to see the wizard. There's a photographer — he keeps saying he takes photographs, but we haven't seen him do that even once, although he held a camera (no film) in one seen. And his acquired first pal, whom he saved from muggers. The new pal is a writer who doesn't write. They went to a fortune teller, who's not quite sure she sees anything, but she emcees into a feather duster like a microphone and explains what's going on as we watch it happen. OK, so this is going somewhere. But the photographer is still schmuck.
Then while the team (that now includes a drunk warrior 'celebrating' his bachelor night on a Monday) looks for the photographs that the photographer in the title didn't take but wants and probably needs, Romeo finds a typewriter ribbon, the photographer finds another 8x10, the warrior (who isn't) gets snagged on some barbed wire trying to drain the main vein. They have a fun little party, and eventually Max (the photographer) attains enlightenment and learns the big lesson, and they do not all live happily ever after, but the important ones do.
And after watching the whole thing, and putting all the pieces together (well, most of them) I went back and changed my original two asterisks to 4.
Then I posted it online, thought about it once more, pulled it back up and left the asterisks at 3.5.
This is very much like being taken into a new realm in which I have no expertise. Clueless about Classical composers, I never know whose music that is, but here's a piano tuner solving sonic specific quandaries from pianists. I haven't the faintest what he's talking about but the sound tells me. It's as if he were speaking in a foreign language, and of course, he actually is. Most of the words are from captions, although they speak English sometimes. No dubbing. So instead of listening as close as I could to a movie about sound, I am firing on more than the cylinders I have, to keep up with what they are saying. And it's invigorating. Lots of high-level piano technology interspersed with marvelous visual traffic and later, architectural, transitions, Pianomania***/ fills my head with notes and music and understanding.
Picasso and Braque goe to the Movies*** is yet another talking heads production trying to explain something somewhat beyond them. Movie guys talkking about Cubism. Ho the hum. Interesting but hardly earth-shaking.
Piece By Piece***/ is about a whole different set of outsider artists, the men and women who mark and tag their colorful if often gaudy ways across our urban centers. Graffiti artists. Some would say a contradiction in terms. The music is wonderful and as exciting as the stories, the legends, the lores and the artistic styles. A lexicon of new terminology for the new form of expression and destructions. A lot of information piled in fast, just like the real stuff, piece by piece.
I love watching dance, especially not ballet, although I can watch a few hours of that sometimes, too. But it is what I can only call new dance that holds my attentions, and I never really know when that's what I am going to get, I just have to keep trying various media. TV is a wash for that penetrating amazing wonderful dance that I so love. But movies make it sing sometimes when there's not a chance under heaven I'd ever get to see the best of new dance anywhere. Like in Pina*****'s stunningly visual and not-at-all all serious, but always all visual and sound and movement. Best of all, it kept surprising and amazing me.
Pixar Short Films**** is a fascinating history of Pixar Studios style and technique — and especially humanization of animated cartoon characters from primitive to sophisticated. Superb. Glad I got to see the transition.
Pleasantville**** is a once-in-a-lifetime film that could only be a film, no other medium could support this primarily visual look at conformity and non. Good acting, outstanding dialog, truly superb and original film. You've never seen anything like it and won't again for awhile. Like I've said only rarely before, after you see this gem, you know you've been movied!
Pollock**** was great, not nearly as sad as I'd read, although it is not a feel-good flick. Strong cinematography, excellent acting, I still remember many scenes and just loved watching Ed Harris be Jackson Pollock, especially his painting scenes. Usually pseudo-biographical films about artists don't show the act of creation at all, very rarely this fluidly. 2001
POPaganda: The Art & Crimes of Ron English***/ is a little more involved than most art documentaries, and we appreciate the little things like its own soundrack, but mostly that's what it is. A movie that documents Ron English in both his legal and illegal art forms. Legal in galleries and chapter transitions and illegal glued over billboards. Actually one of the more intelligent art movies, since it gets at the artist's true motives directly from the artist who has lots of those, many of which skewers McDonalds and other symbols of Corporate America. 2004
I am delighting in the stories around and about masterpieces of modern paintings, first Manet's Le Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe, then James Whistler's Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist's Mother, the title of which the Netflix jacket entirely misses, and Edvard Munch's The Scream. Each is explained in high and low art terms, often with ktisch of it and art critics' responses. Thoroughly fascinating, I'm looking forward to more. The Private Life of a Masterpiece: Masterpieces 1851 to 1900***/.
Another edition of The Private Life of a Masterpiece: Masterpieces of Sculpture***/ brings us, again, three major works presented in history, the history of their materials and need, art criticism the people who initially and subsequently encountered it, in all its kitch and glory — Michelangelo's David, Edgar Degas' Little Dancer and Rodin's The Kiss. Fascinating and involving.
Netflix touted Proof** as a dramedy, but it was bleaker than that. Hardly our hero, the lead is blind and surly. He takes photographs wherever he is, then gets his proof when someone he trusts describes it to him. Trusting someone is an issue, however. His housekeeper, who supposedly is madly in love with him, moves his furniture around to thwart him and perpetrates other meannesses like stealing his dog when it and he are in the park. Of minor interest, this Aussie flick has one of Russell Crowe's early roles, though it's hardly a breakout one in this dyspeptic flick. I struggled to finish it, stopping and starting often, then wondered why I bothered.
Pussy Riot***/ is fun and depressing. Fun, because what they did, and depressing, because where they are is in Russia, where we aret old, there is not freedom of expression [but we tell ourselves the other side of that same lie] — as if we had a whole lot of that here. But the movie is a hoot, because what they did is amazing, and we get to watch a lot of it.
The Rape of Europa***/ documents compellingly and with many contemporary photographs the colossal robery of European art and culture by the Nazis, the Russians and the Americans during World War II. It's a fascinating story with many heroes and villans, including a truly mediocre painter named Adolf Hitler.
Renoir***/ is a lovely movie, rich with the color and form of the Elder's painting, and we see a lot of that painter, being waited on hand and foot, but it is almost the younger whom this movie is about. He and the model who sat for Pierre-August but sparked Jean's life passion, too. I assume much of what we see is historically accurate and what we feel, perhaps less so. That seems they way these things go, but it's a new Renoir coming slowly into his own we watch this time, as the old man, crippled and barely alive, continues but only for now. 2012
Rivers and Tides**** is an amazing little film about sculptor Andy Goldsworthy who makes intuitive art — he says so in probably the only bit of gratuitous exposition in this gently beautiful film. He's talking to his wife, who probably already knows, and we figure it out as he goes about creating his art — in Scotland and in America. This is a deeply intelligent, even moving first-person singular film about an artist. It's about process. We watch the idea spark, his actual step by step work. We even get to see him fail as well as succeed. Some of the more beautiful scenes are of his work in situ, in rivers and tides and the wind. Stunning in its simplicity. Luscious three-dimensionality and his understandings of what he is doing and why — almost never what I might have expected. Exquisite film about making art.
Rock Prophesies*** is the overblown title of a slightly overblown documentary about an old guy photographer who's going around, still taking rock band pix, but also looking for the next big things in rock and roll, including a band called The Sick Puppies from Australia and 16-year-old guitar wizard Tyler Dow Bryant, oh, from somewhere small town in the sticks. What's the guy's secret? He asks other stars he's photographed, then he and his film crew follow through. Interesting enough. Made me want to check them out, but the movie's pretty cornball. And the next big thing never quite is.
The Russian Ark**/ seemed like a great idea — one, whole movie long, camera on, drag it through a large building that holds the cultural heritage of a nation, with lots of costumes and acting and history and dancing and color, etc. all the way through, then turn the camera off at the end. The spectacle of it was pleasant enough. The story — if one can call that a story — baffled me. I liked looking at the building and traveling back and forth in time (sorta), but overall, I'd rather they had edited together a bunch of different takes like most other movies do.
I kept thinking this must be fiction but isn't
it amazing that a woman painter is portrayed as other than young and beautiful,
and her paintings
were remarkable. That's what the visiting German art critic thought when
he discovered the woman who cleaned his house painted amazing work. When
he could, he showed and sold her paintings, but he kept leaving, for World
War I and the Depression. But he always came back. Usually kind, but always
a little crazy, and driven like painters sometimes are, Séraphine*** de
Senlis achieved success in her own lifetime, but it was never easy.
This following extended review is taken from ThEdBlog on DallasArtsRevue. Only the bolded movies are new here.
I've been watching art movies. Not art house movies, but movies about artists. My favorite is still Hiroshi Teshigahara's Antonio Gaudi*****. It's exquisitely visual, as I wrote on my movie pages and have added to the DARts Art Movies page. Oddly, the subject of this latest artist movie, Dallas artist Rusty Scruby, mentions Gaudi.
They have visions in common. Both create natural undulating surfaces in service to their art. Both are complicated people who obsessively make complex art. Even elements of the artists' work are similarly interconnected. Rusty is still very much alive, and Antonio has been dead since 1926. Gaudi is world famous. Rusty's working on it.
My understanding and appreciation for both artists deepened as I watched their movies, although Gaudi has been one of my heroes since college. I have seen Scruby's work but had passed on it as gimmicky. Now I see both sides.
Not surprisingly, Hiroshi Teshigahara is more deft a director than Quin Mathews, but Quin's work here is solid, although the lengths of the titles may be instructive. Rusty Scruby - Beyond the Plane, A Portrait of The Artist in Motion**** verses Antonio Gaudi.
Teshigahara's film moves us through the Catalonian master's buildings — and his mind. Quin's shows Scruby in motion as a human, a creator, craftsman, theoretician, exhibiting artist, salesman and musician. I didn't learn about Antonio's personal life, but Scruby's is populated with three-dimensional characters who help.
I award more asterisks to innovative movies on the leading edges of their form. Teshigahara qualifies. Mathews is good at what he does, and I'd give him points for following his form to function, not fashion. But I want more of Scruby talking and less of the people around him — some of whom have not got comfortable with the camera like Scruby has — although it was pleasant to see some old friends we share, and they wouldn't be so 3D if they didn't share who they are, too.
The moments when Scruby talks about his obsessions and how they feed his art are intellectually enthralling. Set my mind to rambling about my own craft's concerns (and more). Many artists don't know what their work is about. Most think they know but get lost in theories and forget facts. When artists speak knowingly from their selves as they make art, it's inspiring.
Difficult to get long-dead artists to give the real skinny or go off on personal tangents. Talking heads, even if they're moving around the screen, don't cut it. In Picasso: Magic, Sex, Death****, a very personable and knowledgeable old friend narrates telling details, but the movie provides rare few short movies of Pablo in action. We see and hear but do not necessarily understand. The master's voice is curiously missing.
Many artist movies screw up talking art-crit nonsense. The narrator of Artists of the 20th Century: Man Ray**/ runs off at the mouth through a long series of sloppily copies Ray's work, then stops dead at a gleaming phallus. It's wonderful education to see the work of artists, famous or not. Worth the price of admission. Even when a movie fails, getting to see dozens, even hundreds of their work is fascinating, though sometimes we have to turn off the sound.
In the Picasso movie, reflections of people moving in his work on the walls of active places show us it's real and alive, not some stupid slide Ken Burnsed in and out of. Seeing the textures — Scruby's art is vivified by them — like seeing a sly silhouette etched in a Picasso painting, is stirring.
A more recent favorite is Magritte, An Attempt at the Impossible**** (reviewed below), that incorporates much of the Original Surrealist's work, intelligent biography, understated art-criticism and surreal vignettes that reveal and promote understandings of specific work. Similar to the quick, colorful painting-inspired back-story scenes in Frida, only better, more intellectual and stranger.
Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre**/
The most fascinating aspect of Sign Painters***, was watching them wield a brush. Their sureness of line and elegance of application is continuously amazing to watch and appreciate, and listening to them discuss their craft was informative and intriguing. Several of the painters interviewed mentioned that they were not fine artists, which is true. Most are not, and won't ever be, although some of their signs could become fine art or almost, if they last decades or centuries. Old craft sometimes morphs into art. A few likened their work to fine art, and while there are many similarities in techniques, the medium is the message, and they'd have to extrapolate more than was evident in these examples. One talked a lot about how his current project, going up in time-lapse motion on a trestle behind him as he spoke, was so much like graffiti, which it in few ways was. It was big, but carefully not stylized or particularly colorful, and its message minimal. But some sign-painters with a wider view than was evident in this documentary could probably make very solid fine art if they had more to say, and I'd love to watch them do it. Available on iTunes.
Simon Schama: Power of Art: Disc 1**** may be the most beautiful, fascinating, educational and interesting movie about artists I've ever seen. Took awhile to not be offput by Simon's accent and haughty manner, but the mix of him talking about works of art we see him next to or in front of in great museums or cut into and away from recreations of the artists' lives he leads us in exploring is visually and factually fascinating. I guess there's more discs and more artists, but I learned more about Carravaggio, Gianlorenzo Bernini and Rembrndt van Rijn that I ever have before.
Sketches of Frank Gehry**** is a simple movie by Sydney Pollack (who actually shot a lot of the video) about an amazing architect. I had only a vague notion of who this Gehry guy was. I'd seen some shimmering museums in photos and thought I needed to know more. This was the perfect vehicle. Watching Gehry work told me more than a thousand talking heads. This is a beautiful film with many little nuances. It's about art, and it is art.
Oddly reminiscent of deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie's Touch the Sound, this deft, surreal movie about percussive terrorists who employ large-scale industrial effects and the intermittantly deaf but almost always tone-deaf policeman obsessed with stopping them and exacting his own sonic revenge, Sound of Noise**** is a strange and superb comedy that rarely stoops to laugh out loud humor.
Stone Reader**** is a wonderful, moving movie about a book and its authors but also about people who read books and the people who write them. If you heard this movie on the radio you could make up your own visuals for it, just like we do when we read books. But the visuals this director came up with are eloquent, lyrical, beautiful and elegant.
Strand: Under Dark Cloth*** is your typical documentary about a famous photographer, Paul Strand, who, among other things, started the 20th Century trend to photograph abstract images. There's some annoying noises like a woman crying behind black & white photographs we know had no soundtracks and way too many talking heads, but some of them were important. Best of all a chance to hear Paul Strand, major photographer of the early 20th Century talk talk about his work, but never long enough, although we get to watch, briefly, him make photographs with a camera that does not use a dark cloth.
In talking-heads documentaries, my eyes wander while I listen when nothing much is visual, and Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fileds*** insisted on flashing identifications of whoever's head is talking. When I tune suddenly back, Merritt is talking movies and says, "That's how I feel about other people's records: I think they're emphasizing convention over beauty and interest, and I'm usually emphasizing interest and beauty over convention." The joy of this movie is watching them make their music, step by step and in leaps of faith.
Surviving Picasso***/ -- Someday there'll be a movie starring an historical figure not played by Hannibal Lecter. Till then he'll have to do. Here, he's a certifiable AH, truly the Spaniard he always was, not much of the genius PP was, more a glimpse into Pablo's social life than his creativity, though he daubs paint in one scene and hunts junk in others. A new look at an old viewer.
Sylvia**** about Sylvia Plath, whom I'd probably identify with too much, is scintillating. Gweneth risks being plain often and is marvelous credible as a deeply depressed poet whose insecurities feed her life, work and suicide. Dark and affecting film. Beautiful imagery even when she's all down. Lush, memorable, even set in England. Now I have to read her.
Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre**/ is a 35-minute program about Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's life and art. It's interesting, has photographs of the artist and paintings and drawings and posters by him in a sort of twisting, turning life's story. The art is discussed by somebody who keeps assuring us that the artists, poets and dancers in Lautrec's life were working on Modernism, not on their own work. Which is to say, the narration is full of high-falutin' art crit, which as usual, has little to do with the facts of an artist's life and time. Worse, the same images of his work keep recyling till I had most of them memorized. There's also a lot of early photographs of Montmartre and Toulouse and his friends that are fascinating, and movies of the times and some of the places that are just parked there for historic, not significance, more like flavor. I know a little more about Lautrec now, and I'm thankful for that, but there's much else that needs telling that is not dependent upon bullshit art crit.
Trance*** is a stylish bit of trickery on us as well as on the leading men. But it is stylish and we are led on a merry prank that's fun to watch, if silly. It's about the theft of a famous and very expensive painting that probably never existed. Lotta sound and furry signifying almost nothing at all. But racy with full frontal (female-only, of course) nudity and lots of blood, real and imagined.
The Universe of Keith Haring***. Nice enough flick. A little uneven. Intrusive soundtrack sometimes. Historic video smears on pan and keeps panning, but the contemp stuff is good, clean. Lots of
Van Gogh: Brush with Genius***/ has him speaking English with a thick French accent and using contemporary idioms, but this movie is mostly about the paintings, and they are gorgeous.
Visions of Light***/ is a wonderful compilation of movie history's great technical visual leaps forward with lots of intelligent movie fan experts and a fascinating, chronological collection of clips from each. Now I've got a great, long list of even more movies worth seeing.
Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Schulman*** is the long way around calling Mr. Schulman the best photographer of Modernist Architecture. This documentary about the photographer shows his work and the houses he portrays giving us a four-dimensional view of architecture in the middles of the 20th Century. Sewing the segments together are sometimes delightful — one is utterly goofy, but most are beguiling and entertaining transitional animations. There's too much reliance on what the filmmakers thought a view camera sounded like — the hackneyed camera click transition, but overall it's an informative and occasional entertaining thesis on Modernist architecture and its photographer.
The Wall**** is not the Pink Floyd movie of the same name but a healthy meal of German Existentialism, superbly wrought and starring one woman, cut off from the world by an invisible, low humming wall, fights loneliness, eventually wins at that but looses her friends and creatures along the way. Nothing is explained really, and not that much needs exposition. Long, slow, often beautiful.
The Wavy Gravy Movie: Saint Misbehaving***/ is think-worthy documentation of the era of peace, love and civil disobedience. Much of it is wonderful funny; but it's all serious; and mind-rearranging, if you give it a chance. Here, I'm quoting Wavy's long-time friend, Doctor Larry Brilliant from the film: "Sitting in front of a clown who has thought more deeply than you have; who knows more that he's read in books than you have; you have to go into a period of suspended disbelief .... He's adopted this ruse, this disguise or persona of being a clown, and it fits him, but he's really a deeply spiritual being." Touching to this aging hippie.
I didn't like her all that much at the beginning. Too full of herself, despite those huge blue eyes and chemical stains on her fingers, I slowly came to appreciate her, her oeuvre. I liked her family from the get go, but it took some learning and some understanding and a lot of seeing her photographs to begin to accept her as an art star. What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann***/ is exquisite in the details and moments. There's the briefest of rain scene that is perfect. Many poignant and meaningful moments in this film. Her cutting her husband's hair outside on their farm. Animals acting and reacting with her. Lovely.
It's about an important art guy in New York in the middle of the last century Who Gets to Call It Art?****, and it may be the best movie about an art era I've ever seen. Henry Geldzahler curated exhibitions and knew artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Frank Stalla, David Hockney, Helen Frankenthaller and others who are now household names. At least in the households I know. It's done standard documentary style with few new edges and an irreverent style. Wonderful soundtrack that got me boogying when the art world changed and settled me down when it was settling. It's only 80 minutes long not counting all the extras, but it tells more about that era in art, via the voices of the artists and the visuals of them than anything else.
Waking Sleeping Beauty*** is a documentary about the rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall and ... of Walt Disney's Animation department. Like any decent movie, it's got plot and characters, more than one moral, challenges and triumphs, etc. It goes on and on and on, with marvelous little transitional sequences of sunrise to sunset of the buildings the animators inhabited as transitional sequences. It gets carried away with itself sometimes, probably pushes too hard on the corporate side and little light on the creative side, but it's all in there together.
War Photographer***/ is a documentary of someone who may well be the best war photographer. I don't follow war photographers after David Douglas Duncan and Danny Lyons (different kind of war) any more. He is good. But deeper than being a good composer, exposer, etc., he is a good person, willing to go to wars and other dangerous places around the world, to elicit our help for the poeple James Nachtway photographs. Interesting, compelling, gentle.
William Eggleston, Photographer**/ and Henri Cartier-Bresson* can easily be placed in the Ho-hum Department. The former does show us this strange guy's droll personality well enough, but it goes on and on to little effect, except to show us his amazingly droll (but stellar, sometimes simplicity is an artistic, if not a human, joy) photographs, which are better enjoyed in a book at the library or bookstore. Same for Cartier-Bresson, which is a better and better known photographer, but the movie is a complete bore.
There are times when all I really need is to see some dance. When whatever else I'm up to fails me, I have to see the motions, watch the abstract rhythms, see the beat. Usually I have no idea that's what will save me. It just happens. Happened couple months ago at the performance series at Central Trak. Don't ever get my fill, sustenance till next time. Tonight, of all things, it was a dose of William Shatner's Gonzo Ballet**** streaming. All those dance exclusives tossed salad together with not always inane lyrics and that voice. Yes it was funny, but art, too. Whenever the talking heads 'd gone on too long, dance took over. A little gloriodsky with the special effects one time, but still perfect. No tutus, thank good, but Traditional throughout. Nothing we haven't seen, but oh the juxtapositions.
Calling George Eastman The Wizard of Photography*** is piling it on deep. He was the businessman who popularized it and commodified it, but he wasn't that creative, except for making money at it. He was a micro manager and clearly uncomfortable with his eventual massive success. When I saw the unexplained title, I thought it would be about Jerry Ulesmann or one of the other true wizards of the form. The straightforward chronological documentary is interesting enough, but I expect more from something calling itself wizard.
The Woodmans***/ is more about making art than any movie I can remember. It's also about Francesca, who made amazing beautiful and telling photographs, and her family. Mom was a ceramist. Dad a painter. And her big brother. How they remember her, of course, but also who they were and why and how they all made pretty good art. This one will stick with me awhile. But I kept thinking I remembered the mother's work from another movie, and Francesca's, too.
The Work of Director Chris Cunningham***/ varies from exquisite surrealism to loud, stupid repition, but through these too few visual tracks for songs is a outré attitude and psycho babble heart. Fascinating, unbearable, and lots between.