RachelGettingMarried_9Rachel Getting Married

This is a film that is uncertain of its genre.  It starts out and has the feel throughout of a slice of life movie, yet, underneath, a great tragedy is struggling to get out, and, at the end, it bursts into a kind of feel-good film.

realitybitesReality Bites

This 1994 movie, written by Helen Childress and directed by Ben Stiller, touches on a number of issues for young people, including attachment to brands, rejection of previous generations, employment difficulties, and romantic angst.  Highly successful at the time, much of the movie can be said to be just as valid for today’s young adults as it was when released.

Rear-Window-pic-2Rear Window

A nation of Peeping Toms.  That’s us, according to home care nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 masterpiece Rear Window.  She’s complaining to photographer L. B. Jefferies (James Stewart) as he sits in his wheelchair staring out the rear window of his apartment in Greenwich Village.

Goldsworthy 01Rivers and Tides

Andy Goldsworthy

Working with Time

The violent colors of autumn leaves, an iron-rich rock that turns water blood red, blackened stalks, great slabs of ice, thorns, chipped rocks: these are the materials that Andy Goldsworthy uses to create his ephemeral art.

Audry Hepburn Roman HolidayRoman Holiday

This classic romantic comedy is as much fun today as it was when the film was first released in 1953.  It is built around two lies of identity told to each other by the main characters so that they can spend a day together in Rome.

ruby-sparksRuby Sparks

Ruby Sparks is a brilliant 2012 romantic fantasy.  Both a comedy and a drama, it never falls into the genre of romantic comedy, but blazes its own original, fantastic trail.  Written by Zoe Kazan and directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the film has a single, organic arc that shoots into the sky like a brilliant firework, ultimately exploding into fragments that all make perfect sense.

Waste Land

Waste Land 01One man’s trash another man’s art?  One man’s human scum another man’s hero?

Brazilian artist Vik Muniz works with “natural materials” such as sugar and garbage.  He has been so successful that he has relocated his studio to New York, but in 2005, he decides it is time to give something back to the country where he grew up poor.  He picks as his subject the largest landfill in the world, Jardim Gramacho, an island just outside Rio de Janeiro, where hundreds of humans comb through the newly arrived trash.

At first, his main concern is for his own welfare.  Would it be safe to work there?

When he arrives at Jardim Gramacho, he is quite surprised that the pickers.turn out to be the perfect subjects for his art.  Far from being abject poor, struggling to live off of the garbage, they are honest workers collecting plastic and metal to recycle and earning $20 to $25 a day for their labor.  Most of them found their way there through unemployment.  Although it took a “while to get used to the smell,” most of them don’t even notice after a while and Muniz goes through the same process.

In fact, their occupation is not only honest, it provides decent livings for most of them in this impoverished land, and it contributes environmentally as well.  Followed by documentary filmmaker Lucy Walker, Vik spends a great deal of time interviewing and getting to know the catadores, choosing seven men and women to work with specifically as his subjects, including a man named Tiao who has organized the workers into an association.  As representative of the catadores, he lobbies the government to make sure that they are provided for and that laws enacted for the improvement of their neighborhoods are carried out.  A friend of his picks up books from the dump and they are collecting them to form a community library.

Waste Land 02Posing Tiao as Jean Paul Marat, in an abandoned bathtub found at the dump, Muniz shoots photographs, then he systematically goes through the catadores that he has selected and puts them in famous poses.  Hiring them away from the dump, he brings them a warehouse where their photos are projected from a height onto the floor.  The workers then select garbage and use it to create the picture over the projection.  Muniz then takes photographs of the picture made of garbage.

Flying Tiao to Berlin, he watches as the photograph is sold at auction for an astounding price and all of the money goes back to the association to help the catadores to expand their center, buy computers and begin teaching adults and children how to build a better life for themselves.  Sale of the art raises over $250,000 for the catadores.

The experience is transformative for all of the workers as they try to make better lives for themselves and their children.  The association expands into a major recycling player in Brazil.

Walker does a masterful job of assembling this film, creating a work that is in itself transformative.  What started out as a film about a socially conscious artist turns out to be about a people who learn, grow and make better lives for themselves.

This is a truly powerful film that accumulates emotional punch as it develops until by the end, the viewer is pulled deeply into the lives of the catadores.  Sometimes all it takes is one person who cares deeply about something to make the world a better place and in this regard both Vik Muniz and Lucy Walker elevate the world around them, using as their tools human beings, cast-offs from society, and their art.

To enjoy more, please visit Artsy’s Vik Muniz page: https://www.artsy.net/artist/vik-muniz.

Words and Pictures

Words and Pictures Clive-Owen Which is more important: words or pictures?

This is at the core of this powerful 2013 film about education and artistic expression.  The script by Gerald DiPego is extremely well written and the direction by Fred Schepisi is outstanding, but the real reason for this movie’s success is in the two great performances by Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche as the two teachers who inspire their students to understand and to achieve more than mere talent can produce.

Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) teaches writing at Croyden, a high end  preparatory school in Maine.  A professional writer himself, Jack is flirting with losing his job because of functional alcoholism and a lapse of productivity, having failed to publish in quite a few years.  In addition, the school literary magazine which he edits has gone downhill, producing flat, uninspired writing and nothing original from him.  His principal, Rashid (Navid Negahban), confers with head of the governing board, Elspeth (Amy Brenneman) about Jack’s conduct and they give him a warning that his status will be reviewed at the next meeting.

Words and Pictures Juliette BinocheThe new Honors Art teacher, well-known painter Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche), who suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis and walks with the aid of a cane, challenges her students to go beyond themselves to create better art.  Using the old phrase “a picture is worth a thousands words” she tells her students that words are cheap and useless, thus fueling the “war” between the two arts at the school and inspiring the students to achieve more.

Drinking heavily and fighting to keep his job, Jack tries to write something new and inspiring, but all he can create is insipid, so he steals a poem that his son wrote and publishes it in the literary magazine as his own.  It is so good that Dina uses it to inspire her students to make drawings and painting based on it.  Three students figure prominently in this battle of the arts: Emily (Valerie Tian) an Asian painter, Cole (Josh Ssettuba) an African-American graphic artist, and Swint (Adam DiMarco), a writer and would-be cartoonist.  Swint, a show-off has a crush on shy Emily and he begins to harass her, eventually going so far as to distribute an obscene cartoon of her throughout the school.  Jack has defended Swint, but when he discovers the cartoon in Swint’s sketchbook, he turns the boy in and Swint is expelled.

When Dina gives terrific testimony of Jack’s behalf at the board meeting, his job is saved.  He brings her flowers and they consummate their simmering love, but Jack gets up in the night, finds a bottle of vodka in her refrigerator and proceeds to get drunk.  He tells her about plagiarizing the poem from his son and then, losing his balance, he falls into Dina’s most important painting, smearing it.  She throws him out and Jack must begin to confront his own problems for the first time, facing his alcoholism and trying to redeem his own spirit.

Obviously, in a movie like this, the writing is paramount and I give extremely high marks to Gerald DiPego for his literate and organic script.  Director Fred Schepisi thought his words were important enough that he was kept on the set during the filming in order to make changes himself, rather than bringing in any other writers.  But even though writing is important, this film also stands or falls based on its art and Juliette Binoche, doing her own painting, brought a sense of legitimacy by creating terrific paintings and drawings all her own.

Of course, there is no real battle between art and literature.  They are two completely different and equally valid arts.  On the surface, they would appear to be complete opposites, but, as with all creation, the goal should be the same: to touch the human heart.  This movie does that, in part, due to the organic nature of the writing and the painting that fills it.  When I say that a work of art is organic, I mean that it grows naturally out of its components.  The story in Words and Pictures has more to do with Jack’s own frailty and his dependence on alcohol.  It is that dependence that brings his life into complete disarray, despite his other endearing qualities, and it is his control of that weakness that allows him to become a complete person again.  The same is true of Delsanto’s art.  Like, Jack, she has floundered for many years, not because of a lack of inspiration, but because her own degenerating body has had her full attention.  She needed something to wake her up and Jack’s challenge is what brings her back to life creatively.  Her art grows beyond her own injured body to become something beyond what she had been capable of.

Writing an organic script that is completely natural is not an easy process, but DiPego has created a real beauty here.

Clive Owen drives the film with his performance.  The center of the film, he is realistic in every way as an American teacher.  His control of the language, his phrasing, and his maniacal love of good writing is infectious and he seems to be a terrific teacher.  Likewise, Juliette Binoche gives a wonderful performance as Delsanto, nuanced, layered, and impressive.

This film has a strange, emotional power that elevates in the same way that Stand and Deliver moves one to aspire.  Immensely satisfying! I highly recommend this movie!

Rivers and Tides Andy Goldsworthy: Working with Time

Goldsworthy 01The violent colors of autumn leaves, an iron-rich rock that turns water blood red, blackened stalks, great slabs of ice, thorns, chipped rocks: these are the materials that Andy Goldsworthy uses to create his ephemeral art.

One of the most creative artists in the world, Goldsworthy purposely creates beauty from nature that nature herself will destroy sooner or later and mostly sooner.  He is also a photographer, which is essential to document the works of art that sometimes last only moments and sometimes years before they are gone.  Working from his home base in Penpont, Scotland, he travels the world interacting with water, stone, and growth to form both small and massive creations that inspire and delight.

Goldsworthy 02This beautiful documentation of his work was lovingly created by German writer, director, and cinematographer Thomas Riedelsheimer for Mediopolis and Fernsehproduktion Gmbh with incredible music by Fred Frith.

Beginning on the isolated shores of Nova Scotia, Goldsworthy acclimatizes himself by building a twisting line from icicles, bending and shaping them into what appears to be the lazy oxbow of a river, gleaming white in the sun as it slips into and out of a rock on the shoreline, waiting only for the sun to melt it.  Riedelsheimer’s camera lingers on the swirls as a river rushes into the sea and the tide moves in to smother it.  On another day, Goldsworthy builds a gigantic pine cone from rocks along the shore, but the balance is so delicate that it keeps falling apart and he must start over again.  The tide is out, but it will come back in by 3:00 PM so he must work fast to get it finished.  There is not enough time, so he must give up.  He explains that as he works with the rocks, he gets to know them, to understand how they fit together.  On the third day, his giant pine cone stands on the shore and he watches as the tide comes in, completely covering it with sea water, but when the tide goes back out, it is revealed again, still standing.  Gathering driftwood, he creates a hemisphere of sticks on the rocks, building and coming together with a perfectly round hole in the top.  A man wanders by and the two of the watch as the tide rises, swirling the wood back out into the sea that threw it up on the shore in the first place.

Goldsworthy 03At home, in Penpont, he works on a hillside, among the long-haired oxen, pulling reeds from the ground and arranging them on the hill with brilliant bronze points flowing away from a jet black circle in the center.  Using thorns, he tacks sticks to the branch of a tree, intersecting them until they form a perfect center in the middle.  He wraps leaves tightly around themselves to create a gigantic snail.

Working on a commission at Storm King Arts Center in Mountainville, N.Y., Goldsworthy directs workers in the creation of a wall that snakes like a river through the trees, disappearing down into a pond and re-emerging on the other side to continue on.  Splashing through a stream, he finds red rocks with a high iron content and breaks them down into dust.  He either mixes the dust with water that pools in holes in rocks, creating a blood red circle, or he tosses a ball of the dust into the river, making large, bright red splotches in the stream.  Using thorns, he connects a train of leaves that unwinds in the river like a large, green snake.

Standfoto RIVERS AND TIDESRiedelsheimer’s camera follows him as he makes a huge volume of art, most of it destined for immediate destruction by the world from which it is created.  Along the way, Goldsworthy talks about the philosophy of his art and the nature of time and existence.  Creation and destruction are obviously at the heart of his work, but the two acts work within a given time.  For example, creating his gigantic cone of rocks on the beach before the tide comes in to cover it or listening to the wind as he works on his tree sculpture, knowing that in the space of minute the delicate structure can fall.  Nature itself is in a constant rhythm of creation and destruction.  Goldsworthy looks at the example of his iron rock, how it solidified over the eons, how it even now contains the water that runs through everything and how, once pulverized, he can return it to the river as dust, knowing that it will again coalesce in the riverbed.

Time is like the images of the river that are a recurring motif in Goldsworthy’s work.  It swirls around us constantly from moment to moment, pulling in something here, discarding something there.  Existence, like Goldsworthy’s creations, is ephemeral.

Goldsworthy 05We are like the river that passes through it.

I admit that documentaries have never been my favorite form of film, but recently, due to the influence of my friend, Harlan Heald, I have begun to watch more and more of them, especially films about artists–and this is one of the best, because it is not just about art, but it exists as a work of art in itself.  It is a film that I can watch over and over and every time it makes me feel more a part of the natural universe I inhabit.  It is a creation of great beauty.

The DVD contains two disks.  Disk 1 contains the film, plus a number of short films about some of the individual projects, as well as information about Goldsworthy, Riedelsheimer, and the production company.  Disk 2 contains a very interesting film about a project where Goldsworthy created 13 gigantic snowballs, each containing a different texture (one contained pine cones and another contained cow hair) that were deposited on various streets throughout London at mid-summer, to melt during the longest day of the year.  Riedelsheimer followed the process as well as filming the reaction of a great many Londoners to finding this monstrosities on their streets.  It also contains an in-depth interview with Riedelsheimer.

Goldsworthy 06This is a DVD that could easily be a part of anyone’s collection as it can be viewed over and over again with enjoyment.  The colors a beautiful, the cinematography is wonderful, and the philosophy is very enlightening.

I highly recommend Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy (Working with Time).