Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 06, 2018 2:19 pm 
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An artist and his filmmaker, back for another highly crafted picture

In 2001 the now 55-year-old German-born Thomas Riedelsheimer, the maker of Leaning in the Wind, made another documentary about his subject here, Rivers and Tides. It was Riedelsheimer's first feature, a critical (and modest commercial) success, and it gained him an international reputation as a specialist in films about art. That subject, to which he now lovingly returns in this new film, is the Scottish-born Andy Goldsworthy, an artist who creates natural site-specific sculptures, often of a transitory, even deliberately ephemeral nature. They may be fabricated in patient solitude out of leaves or twigs, and designed so in a short time they will fall over, or blow away or wash away. Sometimes, however, they are composed of rock, using heavy machinery and crews of workmen, and carved or compacted and built to last. More of the latter perhaps this time than last, but just as much of the ephemera.

My piece of fifteen years ago appears to be as thorough and informed a review of Rivers and Tides as is to be found. I was as nice as you can be about both Goldsworthy and Riedelsheimer. It seems at the outset hard to find new things to say now because this new film doesn't add much. The artist and the invisible filmmaker are fifteen or sixteen years older. How they've changed and what major works Goldsworthy has done in the interim (aren't his works by intention minor?) however, is not very clear. My skeptical feelings about the artist aren't much altered by watching the new film either. There remains much to admire, but much also to question, both about the artist and his documentarian.

One of the problems is Riedelsheimer's films in both instances are the kind that lets their subject speak entirely for himself, but this one doesn't say much, and when he does, it's not very informative. His statements, to the camera, or to the wind, are murmured or whispered phrases (with this time the occasional toned down version of the F-word, "flickin'"), vaguely spiritual, but frankly not tellin' us a whole flickin' lot. Of course a documentary need not be literally informative. But with an inarticulate subject, perhaps Riedelsheimer ought not to strive so hard to make his film itself an art piece, with arbitrary transitions, and a cryptic manner, and a kind of promotional piece, breathless and awed and designed to awaken that response in the viewer.

As to the circumstances of the artist and of the making of his work, this new one perhaps informs us even less than the earlier one did. That one at least showed the elaborate office and files and assistants and family, a bit. The ideal of the films is to make it seem like he doodles alone, nobly, out in nature. Goldsworthy is a highly successful big-time famous artist, with lots of assistants, an international reputation, many big expensive coffee-table books about him for sale in museums, many coordinated exhibitions in elite galleries. You can imagine what he spends a lot of time doing - the openings, the meetings with gallerists and curators, the hiring of the assistants, not to mention the relations, if he has any, at home with family.

There is this time, to be fair, some show of machinery and crews to move stones around and cut them. But the mess and noise of actually doing the work is missing, and there is no information, only the touchy-feely musings of Andy, as before, which I was not alone in finding not, in truth, very informative, even about him.

My earlier review contrasted Goldsworthy with Michael Heizer and the early pioneers he is drawing on, on the one hand, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude on the other, whose work is about interacting with people, including governments and officials as well as he public, not doodling out in hidden places (with hidden support teams) for the expensive art books sold in museums. A new thing occurred to me, perhaps from seeing the Indian artist's work recently in London, the debt Goldsworthy may also owe to the work of Anish Kapoor, especially for the bright-colored use of natural pigments, which Goldsworthy enjoys spitting out into the air. ​​

There are several images that stand out from Leaning Into the Wind. One is of Goldsworthy and assistants (and in one instance in the woods with his daughter, and he does at one point whisper of a second wife long ago and four children), flattening bright red patches of leaf into long, perfectly regular lines - one in Edinburgh, where it always rains - going down a stone walkway. Or the same kind of line, made out of bright yellow leaf. These are relatively public artworks, though whether they aroused much notice isn't sure, and they soon washed away. Much time is spent making hollowed-out "beds" from rocks set in striking remote places. They look like rough archaic bathtubs. For these, machinery and men are required. None is required to lie on dry places till it rains, and then get up, leaving an outline of his body that will soon wash away. The signature images are of Andy "leaning into" or struggling against nature. In one scene he tries to walk into strong wind near a precipice, and keeps falling down. In another, he scrambles through high brambles, or climbs through a clump of bramble-like trees. He is a tough old bird, soft yet weathered now, short fluffy hair gray, with hands often chipped and torn from his hard work. A tough, yet tender man. But damn it, why don't he and Riedelsheimer have more to tell us?

Leaning Into the Wind, 93 mins., debuted in the San Francisco International Film Festival in May 2017; it was also shown in the Edinburgh Festival in June. it opened theatrically in Germany 14 Dec. 2017, and comes to US theaters (Film Forum, NYC) 9 Mar. 2018.

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