Wednesday, May 27, 2009

DOXA Preview Three: In a Dream

I don't always give positive reviews to films, y'know? It's not that I'm easy. I gave a pretty negative review to Ron Mann's Know Your Mushrooms a few months ago; though I have respect for Ron Mann, have admired some of his films, and am interested in mushrooms, I thought the film was overly reliant on anecdotes, lacking serious educational content, and a tad silly and facile -- and I said so at some length. Normally, when it comes to art and music, I *do* try to write about stuff that I actually like, especially on this blog -- but if I'm asked to review something and don't care for it, I say so (or simply decline to do the review).

However: I've previewed four films for this year's DOXA festival, and all have been excellent - engaging, entertaining, and memorable. I'm recommending all of them, but not because of any payola-moochin', ass-kissin', favour-curryin' ulterior motive (it's not like DOXA is buying advertising space on my blog; no one is!). You still have a chance to see American Swing, by far the horniest and funniest of the bunch, tomorrow night; and on Saturday, there will be a screening of Frederick Wiseman's film Welfare, which I will be writing about at greater length in the next couple of days. (If you don't know Wiseman's work, you should check this out). Another film that I haven't yet reviewed, that may well be of interest to my blog followers, is In A Dream (official site here), a lovely but at times painful documentary about a singular American artist, Isaiah Zagar, who has decorated much of his South Philedelphia neighbourhood with elaborate mosaics - stunning to behold and a tourist attraction (his official site includes a map of his work and several images of it).

Isaiah and Julia; photo from the In A Dream website

In A Dream is shot by Isaiah's youngest son, Jeremy Zagar, and covers some harrowing ground indeed. Isaiah Zagar has difficulties with reality, both due to mental illness - he describes himself at one point trying to pull off his penis and testicles - and due to the fact, it seems, that he is an extremely sensitive and perceptive man possessed of considerable vision, who thus realizes that much that passes for "reality" these days is in fact insane, pernicious horseshit. (This in turn contributes to what his wife, Julia, describes as "delusions of grandeur" and what he himself describes as an addictive relationship to his work). Some of his troubles are in the past - like his suicide attempt at age 29; some of them were happening during the period when the film was being made, like his split with his wife or his older son's struggles with addiction. Through it all, we gather, art has been a coping mechanism and a source of identity and joy for the elder Zagar, who appears to be remaking the world - or at least his corner of it - to suit his vision of things, as artists are wont to do.

Jeremy Zagar approaches his subject with a gentle, dreamlike aesthetic that lends a certain artful unreality to proceedings - how, perhaps, he imagines his father perceives the world; it makes the film quite lovely to watch. There are passages I was not very comfortable with - there's something a bit strange and vaguely objectionable about a son documenting his mother and father breaking up, for public consumption, and I would have frankly been more interested in hearing about Isaiah's relationship to his work than seeing real-time documentation of his failings as a man. But the film was compelling throughout, and reveals something about the troubled relationship of the artist to the world that I don't recall having seen so honestly laid bare.

I really don't have that much else to say about In A Dream - but if you're someone who needs to see it, I've probably already said enough. It screens tomorrow at the Cinematheque.

I'll have one more entry, about Frederick Wiseman's Welfare, up in the next few days. Hope at least some of you are enjoying the festival...

No comments: