Saturday, August 23, 2008
Are there any good documentaries about contemporary artists?
I try to resist blog posts as 'poll' but I'm truly at a loss here. The other night we went for drinks at Mike's place and got to talking about the dearth of good art documentaries, probably as a result of my complaining about Strange Culture, which I detested. Both Mike and I are fans of Ray Johnson, but found How to Draw a Bunny pretty underwhelming, which is remarkable given the artist's fascinating life.
Good music documentaries, by comparison, are plentiful. We talked about the Half Japanese doc The Band That Would Be King and The Devil and Daniel Johnston (both by Jeff Feuerzeig), the Fred Frith film Step Across the Border, the Lennon doc Imagine, etc. Even Some Kind of Monster, about Metallica (who I've never had any interest in) was excellent. Two films I've been desperately trying to find online this summer are both music docs - one about children and the other about the elderly. Young@Heart documents the New England seniors choir of the same name who perform songs by the Ramones, Sonic Youth, Neil Young, Radiohead, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, etc. (their rendition of the Rolling Stones' Ruby Tuesday is heartbreaking). Girls Rock! is a film about a rock camp for young girls. I've only seen one clip, but I've seen it a hundred times and never tire of it.
I realize that art production is often a solitary event and music making is generally social, but for a scene so dependent on documentation it's incredible that there are so few great art documentaries. In terms of bio-pics, I don't mind Julian Schnabel's Basquiat, except for that awful scene where Schnabel himself (portrayed by, ah, none other than Gary Oldman) is lovingly dancing with his daughter to a song by, well, Julian Schnabel. But where's the biopic for Fluxus impresario George Maciunas? Even Warhol is reduced to a supporting role in cinema (Basquiat, I Shot Andy Warhol). Films about artists mostly tend to be films about troubled lives taken too soon, more often than stories about art. Last year's My Kid Could Paint That was good, but is more about ethics and responsibility than it is art (should parents push their children? should the filmmaker betray the trust of his subjects? etc. etc.)
There's little in the way of good television coverage, too, though I have a friend who is trying to correct that (which is no small task).
By all means, if you have suggestions (better yet, links) please leave them below.