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Art On Film At JBFC Film Series


The fine arts have always had a solemn embrace with the art of film since the days of silent movies. As the "art form of the 20th century" began to cement its reputation in the first two decades, artists (many with a surreal bent) experimented with the new form of moving image to give kinetic motion to their individual visions. Salvador Dali, Fernand Leger, El Lisitsky, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Strand and others collaborated with budding film artistes to expand the horizons of the new art form beyond simply telling entertaining narrative stories.

This embrace still continues as evidenced by the superb collection of films to be unspooled in the coming weeks at the Jacob Burns Film Center, that inestimable film resource north of New York City in the pleasant village of Pleasantville, New York. Entitled FrameWorks, the series will present 7 titles that create a strong impression of the currents of art from the historic to the present day. The series began last evening with the openning night presentation of the acclaimed documentary MARWENCOL directed by Jeffrey Malmberg.


The film, which has won top documentary honors at a slew of film festivals in the past year, is both an intimate tale of a complicated loner and the world that he creates after a shattering incident changes his life forever. The film explores the fantasy world of Mark Hogancamp, an upstate New York laborer who emerges from a brain-damaging coma after five men beat him senseless outside a bar. As a kind of refuge from his inner world of pain and demons, he creates a universe unto himself. He builds a 1/6th scale World War II-era town in his backyard, which he populates with dolls representing his friends and family and creates life-like photographs detailing the town's many relationships and dramas. Playing in the town and photographing the action helps Mark to recover his hand-eye coordination and deal with the psychic wounds of the attack.

The screening featured a q&a session with Tod Lippy, editor of Esopus Magazine and founder of the Esopus Space gallery in New York, who discovered the fledgling artist and organized his first major art exhibition. The film creates a stirring tension within the recovering artist who must now choose between the safety of his fantasy life in the made-up utopia he dubs Marwencol and the real world that he has avoided since the attack. This is gripping documentary filmmaking that comments on both the artistic and political dimensions of personality and artistic promise.


The series will present programs each Wednesday through February 23. Next week, the focus is on the street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose meteoric rise from bohemia to the New York art world's pinnacle in the 1980s, reflects the hunger of that art world for the next big thing and the callous treatment that it can dish out once the artist has already been discovered. JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD mines this rich material and presents intimate interviews with the artist at different stages of his career as conducted by his friend, the film director Tamra Davis. That Basquiat, who died of a drug overdose at the tender age of 27, now is considered one of the seminal artists of the 1980s, whose works now sell in the millions of dollars, adds a "James Dean"-like mystery to the inner life of a young man who could not quite handle the attention and rejection of the New York art demi-monde.

Two other recent documentaries focus on the Ghanian-born artist El Anatsui, whose sumptuous wall hangings have made him the hottest African artist of our times, and Francesa Woodman, a photographer of eery, metaphysical portraiture whose tragic suicide reveals personal phobias and a troubled relationship with her family, who also are distinguished artists in their own right.


Two recent acclaimed documentaries, RIVERS AND TIDES: ANDY GOLSWORTHY WORKING WITH TIME and JOAN MITCHELL: PORTRAIT OF A PAINTER provide eloquent visual testimonies to the unique artistic vision of both their subjects and their creators. Goldsworthy's work is perfectly suited for the moving image, since it focuses on how natural elements such as leaves, stones and icicles evolve and change from moment to moment, to provide an exitential meditation on the transgience of life. Mitchell was one of the few women in the rather macho world of Abstract Expressionist art, whose blazing colors and graceful lyricism is now appreciated for the personal style that is hers alone.

As an added bonus, the series is presenting a rare screening of the 1956 Henri-George Clouzot film THE MYSTERY OF PICASSO, whcih documents the work of perhaps the most famous artist of the past 100 years, with a personal intimacy that reveals both the artist's sleight of hand and his deceivingly whimsical style that is fraught with psychological meaning.

For more information on these films and their screening dates (and special speakers at the screenings) at the Jacob Burns Film Center, visit:

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor

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Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

The Ultimate Guide to the New York Film, Video and New Media Scene.

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