RESTING outside on a sunny day I gaze up at the bulbous clouds drifting by. If I look long enough I can make out images among the folds of the clouds. I get a kick out of seeing what might not initially be seen at first glance. As the wisps of cloud matter slowly swirl about, I can make out what looks like an eagle with outstretched wings. Continuing to stare at the same spot the eagle soon disintegrates and becomes the face of a rabbit with attentive ears. Since I was young I have always looked at things with an eye to reality and one to fantasy. Even when I am stuck in traffic I try to keep myself busy by scanning the landscape around to see if images can appear based on how I focus on the shadows or the bright spots of an area. Once there was a flatbed truck alongside of me that had crushed automobiles stacked up to haul to a scrap yard. With traffic barely moving I was able to find outlines of a variety of different objects like a leopard and a clown. THIS ability, if you will, helps me I believe in my attempts to understand modern art. I am fortunate to live in a city that has a modern art museum and some of its exhibits have been a fascinating experience for me. There was the artist who created large sculptures of ordinary things like monkeys and dogs; however, they looked like they were made out of blown up balloons. You know, like the kind a clown or magician would make at a carnival show. I can appreciate the effort and work that went in to create such a piece. Now there have been some shows where I feel clueless with what is on display. A canvas covered totally in black paint doesn’t move me; I wonder if I should focus on the brushstrokes, the consistency of the color or its relationship to its surroundings. My confusion can supersede my involvement with a work of art or what someone is saying is a work of art. I felt the same towards some of this extraordinary artist’s works in this film festival nominated documentary. PERFORMANCE artist, visionary, crazy, unorthodox are some of the terms one can apply to Chris Burden. Whether you understand his craft or not, you will certainly get a reaction from it. I had never heard of this artist until I watched this film, directed by Richard Dewey (The Leisure Class) and Timothy Marrinan (Invisible Lives). Right from the start there were times where I sat and thought this man has a death wish and then another scene would take place where I was amused with his creation. As the movie continued I found myself more and more intrigued with learning about Chris and his motivations. The raw footage interspersed with his current life provided a well rounded presentation of his growth and legacy I thought. Though I did not understand what he was trying to do with some of his performance pieces (if that is how he classified his “live” pieces), I certainly had a reaction to them. Maybe that was the point he was trying to make all this time; I honestly cannot give an answer. I will say I certainly walked away from this picture with a new appreciation for people who want to be artists.
3 ¼ stars
She would be woken up in the middle of the night and told to pick out one thing in her room to take with her. It had taken place so many times that she already knew which doll she would choose to take on their trip that only had an arrival destination, never a return trip. Extra clothes were never taken because each family member always had one piece of baggage that was already filled up with clothing. All of the stuffed pieces of luggage were kept in the basement, ready to go in an instant. She remembered very few of the trips since all of them always took place in the middle of the night when most of the neighborhood was fast asleep. Quietly the family would pile into the car while her Dad filled the trunk with the suitcases, careful to close the trunk with the least amount of noise. Leaving their home behind she usually fell back to sleep before they reached the highway. It was not until the sun peeked up out of the east before she would wake up with her doll clutched close to her body. Though these trips always involved sadness, having to leave friends and neighbors behind, they were expected because of their father’s line of work. He had told the family because he worked for the FBI, they would have to relocate periodically after his assignment was completed. Since all of his work was top secret, they had to evacuate their residences in the middle of the night, under the cover of darkness which was the exact same reason she would read in some of her mystery books. It was not until she was about to graduate from middle school that she found out her Dad did not work for the FBI; he was wanted by them. AFTER their conceptual performance artist parents Annie and Caleb Fang, played by Maryann Plunkett (The Squid and the Whale, Blue Valentine) and Christopher Walken (Jersey Boys, A Late Quartet) went missing under disturbing circumstances; Annie and her brother Baxter, played by Nicole Kidman (Paddington, The Railway Man) and Jason Bateman (The Gift, Bad Words) agreed to meet at their parents’ house to figure out if indeed there was foul play involved or was this another one of their parents’ public stunts. This comedic drama directed by Jason Bateman had a curious, different type of story that kept me totally interested in it. Grant you it was pretty easy to do with the wonderful acting from the cast. I enjoyed the way flashbacks were inserted into the story; some of them were wild ideas that involved the children being incorporated into the parents’ artistic endeavors. Jason did a sensitive job in directing the actors through the script because their performances were multi-layered. I do not know how popular the novel was that this mystery film was based on; but with such an off the wall story, I was mesmerized by this picture. Just where was the Department of Children and Family Services?
Whenever we want to complain or bitch about something, we have various options to express ourselves. There are social media sites, company websites and even physical protests available to us. When I was going through months of hell trying to refinance my mortgage, I kept my office and classes updated on my bank’s incompetencies. It never occurred to me that our freedom of speech really is a luxury…until I saw this startling movie. What added to this amazing, viewing experience was how I had no prior knowledge of the artist/activist Ai Weiwei. Have any of you heard of him? He was the artistic consultant for the Beijing National Stadium a/k/a Bird’s Nest for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. An acclaimed Chinese artist who took to the internet to protest the government’s policies; Ai Weiwei was an outspoken critic in a country that frowned upon such activity. This documentary played like a movie thriller at times. When the government shut down his internet, Ai Weiwei took to Twitter in getting out his messages. I was appalled with the tactics that were used against him. Besides showing the political aspects of this vocal activist, I felt like I scored with a two for one coupon as there was also a focus on his artistic side. His exhibits were fascinating to me, though seeing the photos of him dropping a 2000 year old urn to the ground took me by surprise. I can only imagine the horror on the faces of antique dealers. There are people who hear the word documentary and think the movie will be dull and unexciting; however, they would be wrong with this captivating film. Part mystery, part action with a creative flair; this one man has been living his life in defiance of the probing eyes from Big Brother. English and Mandarin spoken.
3 1/3 stars