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RUNNING TIME: 58 Minutes
- A menu telling you the address of PBS.org (which is, coincidently, www.pbs.org)
A documentary on a South African man who makes art that old white people pretend to understand.
William Kentridge is a South African artist whose work encompasses a wide array of media. Art: 21 is a PBS program for people who have season tickets to the opera. Are you ready to feel cultured?
And the world is saying, what the fuck?
William Kentridge is possibly most recognized for his animated films. These films are unique, surreal pieces that near performance art despite the medium. Inside the films, Kentridge seems focused on the actual process in which he creates, the individual scenes are each a single drawing that is filmed, erased, and adjusted. It’s a beautiful process and Kentridge doesn’t hide any of it, leaving the eraser marks obvious and selling the sketches at showings. Point is, dude likes to share exactly how he does what he does on an intellectual and technical level. That’s a great quality to have in a filmed subject, and on the level Kentridge is at it’s a great asset to the interested viewer. The problem is, most of the runtime of Anything Is Possible is devoted to clips of Kentridge’s work. Clips that make zero sense out of context.
Translated into English that means, scariest thing ever
Puppets beating on a human skull (with German chanting as background music) until it bursts into gore, a guy on unicycle pulling a giant nose, a looped video of a torn paper portrait singing into a cell phone. These are some of the random clips shown with little to no context. And on their own, that shit borders on parody. It’s dangerously close to Vulva’s performance art in Spaced, all it needed was someone yelling DEATH and SEX every time the scene changes. The aesthetics jump out, but shown in a string it starts to blend together and seem shallow. A lot of Kentridge’s work is steeped in social meanings, but these themes mean nothing when all we are shown is a man petting his cat over and over again as a woman watches in horror. As is the case with a lot of modern artists, Kentridge’s pieces rely entirely on building that context over a period of time. There is an expectation that an audience will invest the time to understand the piece. At the same time though, you generally go in knowing the broader themes of the work. Anything Is Possible doesn’t even give you that. If we don’t know the clip from the film they are showing is based on apartheid, we generally have no idea what is happening at all, so the pieces and clips quickly degrade into a parade of the absurd. It’s not grotesque or provocative, it’s just strange. Art:21 is expecting the viewer to bring the knowledge and context for modern art, I suppose for a PBS program that is par for the course, but expecting the audience to know enough about an obscure ten year old installation to make sense of a naked man davening over a picture of another naked man holding a gramophone is a little absurd.
When the program isn’t montages of shit to scare people on acid with, it’s an engaging conversation with a very open artist. Kentridge is pretty much the only speaker, but that’s okay because he has a lot to say. He spends little time on biography and mostly just waxes on about the broad strokes of art. That’s great, because I have little interest in making puppet people renditions of human tragedy. What Kentridge does is ostensibly abstract and beautiful, but it also freaks me the hell out and is nothing like what I would ever want to do with my time. But Kentridge keeps things in the nebulous realm of creation, allowing the viewers who found his work as presented here impenetrable and off putting into his creative process. During the program, we see Kentridge directing an opera about a nose that runs away from its owners face and becomes a political figure in 19th century Russia. Not the most accessible subject, but what we see Kentridge doing during this process is universal. He is timing the scenes and directing the minute movements of extras. It’s not so much seeing the technical process that is of interest in these scenes, but just watching someone approach what to appears to be such a nonsensical fever dream with a clear, direct vision. I may not know what the hell is going on, but he sure does. That has it’s own charm, as people who make such fucked up stuff are the people you most want to find that one little tic in that might be the key to everything. I suppose then, Anything Is Possible is fifty percent batshit insane random clips and fifty percent trying to figure out what they mean. I guess that makes a complete puzzle. Maybe that was the intention all along? I don’t know. Fuck modern art, it makes me feel stupid.
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Not an extra to be found and a non-anamorphic transfer. Come on, PBS. I know you need the money, but at this point I think you’d have to pay a DVD house extra to give you a non-anamorphic transfer. I have a sad feeling this disc was made with iMovies in some interns apartment.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars