Stone Me, Would You Beleaf It?

Leaning Into the Wind (Thomas Riedelsheimer, 2018)

Andy Goldsworthy is a sculptor who works with — and in — nature. More to the point, he worked as a farm labourer in his teens.

He was in one of the Folkestone Triennials, on the Old High Street, smearing mud on the interior of a shop window and allowing it to crack and dry out. There was also a film of one of his rain shadows — lying on a street as it starts to rain, leaving a ghostly impression of his body. And he has works at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park — a sheepfold with dead tree — and Jupiter Artland — including lumps of coal in trees, Stone Coppice.

We see him almost absorbed into landscapes — South American forests, Cumbrian and French hills, Scottish woodland, climbing across blackthorn coppices, through bushes, between roots. We see him maneuvre trees into mud-lined buildings, draw lines with leaves on steps in Edinburgh, decorating a tree with narrow branches pinned in by pine needles. Sometimes he is working alone, especially with a fallen elm tree, sometimes with his apparently more-talented daughter Holly, sometimes with a team of labourers, cutting rock into open sarcophagi. It is site-specific artwork, even if he has half a dozen schticks.

He is most clearly moved when talking about the fallen elm — someone has removed some of the branches in his absence — and when he is about to cut into bedrock.

(Spoiler: he doesn’t. Quarrying is one thing, but disturbing the geology is another.)

And somewhere in here is his former wife, who died after their divorce.

It’s hard to grasp how startling his work is on a large screen, let alone a tablet, but the camerawork and the drone shots do their best. You get a sense of his empathy and shared knowledge with a Spanish-speaking old woman, who shows him a clay, dung and straw floor, and that he is clearly learning from her — not quite appropriating. Whilst you hear from her, his daughter, some of his assistants (one of whom he compares scars with, in a presumable unintended homage to Jaws), there are no vox pops, nor curators, nor art histories. We don’t know who commissions the works. We do hear Fred Frith’s quasi-indigenous soundtrack, which is frankly irritating pastiche rather than enriching.

And the wind and the lean? We see that as his penultimate work — you might not spot the one in the closing credits — where it is him and the wind. Whilst Antony Gormley’s works are sculptures based on his body, they are monumental and solid, whether iron figures in the sea or giant above the road to Gateshead; here Goldsworthy’s body is more fragile, more self-effacing..

Revolution in My Ears

Tangerine Dream – Revolution of Sound (Margarete Kreuzer, 2017)

I guess there’s always been a contradiction at the heart of appreciating bands which go through multiple line ups. I don’t hold to the school of thought that Pink Floyd stopped when Syd left — but I think I prefer a Yes with a Jon Anderson to one without, even if, say, Chris Squire drove the sound. For me the best Tangerine Dream albums are the Froese-Franke-Baumann ones, broadly speaking the Virgin years, but those with Schmoelling come close. And I like Klaus Schulze and Steve Joliffe’s solo works more than Franke or Baumann’s.

Are they always Tangerine Dream? Continue reading →

A Fine Romance

Family Romance, LLC (Werner Herzog, 2019)

Indeed the whole effort at replacing the real father by a superior one is only an expression of the child’s longing for the happy, vanished days when his father seemed to him the noblest and strongest of men and his mother the dearest and loveliest of women. (Freud)

Here’s an oddity — a work of fiction in which some of the actors play themselves. Or a documentary in which everything is staged.

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Fathers and Sons

My Rembrandt (Oeke Hoogendijk, 2019)

Rembrandt Let the Little Children Come to MeThere’s a telling moment early on in this documentary, when Jan Six discusses Rembrandt‘s portraits of his son Titus over the years: I’ll do it for you Dad, but on my own terms.

(I paraphrase.)

Continue reading →

Reservoir Wolves

The Wolfpack (Crystal Moselle, 2015)

For a form about voyeurism, cinema is very narcissistic. Coming up soon is Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, 2015), where the characters make their own movies, and there was Son of Rambow (Garth Jennings, 2007) and Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, 2008), alongside all sorts of Hollywood satires and actors as characters.

Apparently Moselle saw half a dozen teens, dressed like characters from Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992), in Manhattan. See spoke to them and found that they were part of a large family of children, all named for Indian gods, who had spent most of their lives locked in an apartment. Their father, Oscar Angulo, a Peruvian, had the only key to the place and strictly regulated any trips out — perhaps several a year, perhaps none. He wanted to protect them from the outside world of drugs and sex and violence and yet one cant’t help but feel this is another kind of abuse — especially given mentions of violence against their midwestern mother Susanne and his frequent drunkness.

And yet they were perfectly at liberty to watch Quentin Tarantino movies, indeed the apartment apparently had five thousand VHS tapes and DVDs. Not only could they watch these films, they could film their own versions of them with home made props. Movies within movies. A real life version of Gondry’s films.

As they reached adulthood, there was clearly going to be conflict — and finally Mukunda escaped, leading the others in turn. They go on a train for the first time, to Coney Island for the first time, to a cinema for the first time.

The documentary leaves more questions than answers and is not comfortable. We are given no indication as to how it came about and what access Moselle had, and how much her intervention made the story. It is not clear how the apartment is paid for — Oscar has worked but doesn’t seem to, Susanne has home schooled them with some payment, but they have no visible means of support. And you get the feeling you wouldn’t want them for neighbours. The abuse has clearly been normalised — the Angulo family seem curious happy and content, despite their imprisonment. It is as if the have been living in Plato’s cave their whole lives.

You can only hope that the world will live up to them.

Be Careful Out There

Precinct Seven Five (Tiller Russell, 2014)

We’re used from television programmes such as NYPD Blue and The Wire to the complex interrelations between cops, criminals, politicians and victims and the shades of moral greyness that are faced in policing the streets. Our news of the last couple of years has been filled with dubious shootings of African Americans — not that this is a new phenomena. And despite the fact that particular police forces are clearly — in Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton’s term — institutionally racist, we keep ending up with the one bad apple alibi.

This account of New York police corruption in the late 1980s and early 1990s is a documentary, although you can imagine Al Pacino and Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro playing the roles and the DEA guy is a double for J.K. Simmons. Thus it is mostly talking heads — with only one of the speakers shown in silhouette, one of the New York dealers — along with police evidence video, grainy reconstruction, archive photos and the inevitable skycam view of the streets.

But it begins with former policeman Michael Dowd giving evidence to some kind of enquiry and is taken up in talking heads. There had already been corruption in a nearby Brooklyn precinct, and several cops had resigned lest they be exposed too. Dowd, having reflected on the cynicism with which their ethical training was treated, began his shadow career by asking for a bribe rather than arresting a criminal and then started lifting cash from crime scenes. Soon he recruited his partner, Kenny Eurell, by giving him a hundred dollar bill from a crack dealer. Dowd appears the most dynamic of the speakers, the camera moves with him rather than staying locked off and it is clear there is next to no remorse.

We’re talked through his career — the bribes and thefts proceed to a working relationship with a local king pin to arresting the competition to a potential kidnapping of a debtor’s wife. The amounts of money involved are clearly vast — hundreds of thousands a week, devastating hundreds if not thousands of lives. The Dominican kingpin clearly admired Dowd, but still thought of Eurell as a cop and not up to it. (Meanwhile: cast Jared Leto?)

And inevitably it comes crashing down — we see his testimony — and we might reassure ourselves that criminals will not prosper. Dowd served his sentence. Only one female voice is heard — Eurell’s wife — and none of the consumers of crack. What is striking is that the real emotions come when you see Dowd and Eurell’s discussion of their feelings for each other — textbook homosociality. Clearly a cop’s partner is a blood brother, indeed when they discuss becoming partners you expect there to be a swapping of blood. You have to have each others’ back. You have to trust the other person won’t betray you.

And you get the sense that Dowd doesn’t regret a single moment of his career — only the betrayal.