(director/writer: Katharina Otto-Bernstein; cinematographers: Ian Saladyga/Eric Seefranz; editor: Bernadine Colish; music: Miriam Cutler; cast: Robert Wilson; Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Katharina Otto-Bernstein/Penny CM Stankiewicz; New Yorker Films; 2006)
“A good introduction to those unfamiliar with the artist, while it should also be pleasing to his fans.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A fluffy, straightforward and earnest documentary about the life and work of the avant-garde theater director Robert Wilson that is a good introduction to those unfamiliar with the artist, while it should also be pleasing to his fans. German-born, British-raised and American-educated filmmaker, Katharina Otto-Bernstein, directs a conventional biopic that relies on interviews, talking-head commentaries, conversations with his colleagues-such as noted avant-garde composer Philip Glass with whom he created in 1978 his signature work Einstein on the Beach, family photos and, its best asset, colorful archival clips from Wilson’s many theater productions through the years. We get to know that Wilson was born into a respected, civic minded and wealthy Waco, Texas, Baptist church-going family in 1941 (his conservative dad was mayor, at one time). He stuttered as a child (cured later by a female ballet teacher named Byrd Hoffman, who had him slow down when speaking), was not a good student and only had one friend in childhood–the black son of one of his family’s servants. His unhappy childhood led him to finally rebel against his dad and his conservative roots when he quit the University of Texas law school undergrad program and ventured to NYC to study architecture at Pratt University. He also told his displeased dad that he was gay. Through heartfelt conversations with the open Wilson, we learn how being in the NYC environment opened him up to the world of art and helped him get on the right track of what he should be doing.
We are treated to snippets from his stage productions (some as long as seven hours) that include such works as Deafman Glanceand The Black Rider. The former mentioned play he wrote for a black deaf teenager he adopted and the latter was in collaboration with Tom Waits and William Burroughs. Wilson has gone beyond the fringe to reach a mainstream audience, and feels proud that he did it without compromising his art. His life work is a testament to his belief that art can bring people together. The only surprise is that this film about an artist creating a new theater is so conventional, but that’s not to say it wasn’t competently made.
REVIEWED ON 8/14/2007 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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