Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2024 5:46 pm 
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A 3D-film art documentary that overwhelms us with externals

Anselm Kiefer is a formidable artist by any measure, and to capture some of his grandiosity, Wim Wenders has made a film about him in 3D (as he did in 2011 about dancer-choreographer Pina Bausch). The medium can capture the way Kiefer's "paintings," if one can call them that, stand out from the wall with husks of straw and all kinds of objects dripping from them. These he attacks with a long-handled blow torch, water-hose-bearing assistants at the ready, and pours molten lead on. Equally grand are three-dimensional installations arranged in vast studios. In these Kiefer began modestly after his first big success in the art boom of the eighties, by buying a retired French brick factory. It is hard to keep track of the succession of huge work spaces that have followed. One near Paris is the current largest.

Kiefer's mature work has grown less pointedly literary and instructional - and focused on World War II (he was born just before the German surrender) - and now the (more or less) two-dimensional wall creations are more pure landscapes and more unified and attractive as art. The trouble with them is an archival one, in their frailty: that his utterly mad use of materials ignores the possibility of preservation that is possible with conventional sculpture or oil painting on canvas. They must be a nightmare to transport and will eventually decay and rot. He doesn't care. It's all part of the process, and links him with the destructiveness of war that is one of his major subjects.

This is an artist so unbelievably ambitious and pretentious that it ceases to matter very much and one accepts him at face value: he is an artist of considerable talent and greater energy and audacity. One sees that observing him, though in his late seventies, vigorously working in this film and tooling around his studio (one of them) on a bicycle. The bike is necessary because the studio is so big it must be a city block or more from one end of it to the other. To his credit, the artist from the beginning of his success poured his profits into his work and the means of producing it and spaces to do so.

And it is clearly not just show. If you want an artist who has a good "rap" about his oeuvre, there is no better. Quoting Romanian Jewish poet (and Holocaust survivor) Paul Celan frequently, spewing profundities about mythology, he alludes to the thought of the influential German philosopher, and Nazi Party member, Martin Heidegger, and this is only the beginning. He is never at a loss for words, and makes one think of Picasso's description of Salvador Dali, "his mind is like an outboard motor continually running."

Yet for all this one finishes watching Anselm feeling hungry. One would like to know more about Anselm Kiefer otherwise than as a cigar-chomping artistic phenom, to learn more about the private man and not just the public one. There are brief, mostly wordless, flashbacks to his earlier life as an artist and before that as a child, with the artist's own son Daniel Kiefer posing as his young adult self, and Anton Wenders, the director's great-nephew, in leather shorts and period clothes as little Anselm as a sensitive child with glimmerings of future obsessions. These moments are evocative in their way, without really saying much. But with an artist of this magnitude, productivity - we see him working on a half dozen huge paintings with multiple assistants standing by - and ambition, here is a clear case where for a change one would like a longer than 93-minute film. One needs a documentary (and 2D would really be fine) that delved into more detail about Kiefer's career and work past and present - and bothered just a little less about how big and impressive it is and complicated to produce. How big and how hard to make art is are not the things that determine the work's ultimate value or interest, and a film that suggests that is detrimental both to the artist and to art in general. But it should be, like this, in German. Kiefer, however outcast or disapproved of from his early Nazi salute photographs, is very German, and should not be forced into French or English.

Anselm/ Anselm – Das Rauschen der Zeit ("Anselm - The noise of time," original title), 93 mins., debuted at Cannes May 17, 2023 as a special screening, where it competed for the L'Œil d'or. It has shown at other festivals including Melbourne, Vancouver, London, New York, and Chicago, openng theatrically in the US Dec. 8, 2023. Opening in San Francisco at the Roxie Theater Jan. 19, 2024. Metacritic rating: 82%.


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