Film Review: I Live For Art (2014, dir. Renee Slade & Ri Stewart)

Creativity-Poster-I-live-For-Art-1-SMALL(Screening tonight at NW Film Center)

The process of creating art – be it music or painting or a piece of fiction – is a subject that has fascinated filmmakers for decades now. But few are the films that actually show the strain and pain that an artist goes through to end up with a finished product (the only one that leaps to mind is Barton Fink).

The beauty of I Live For Art, the fast-paced and earnest new documentary from directors Ri Stewart and Renee Slade, is how you get to see the sausage being made. You watch musician/composer Brian McWhorter going through almost every stage of development of trying to turn an old cast iron bathtub into an art installation, from scrubbing off rust stains to placing a variety of metal tendrils around it. You bear witness to McWhorter and collaborator Mark Gould argue their way through rehearsals for a new piece of music. You see the backstage machinations of a music/arts festival being constructed from the ground up (along with lots and lots of footage of beautiful people dancing away).

As much fun as it is to spend time with these compelling figures (Gould is an especially great subject as he never seems entirely comfortable with the fact that he’s being filmed and interviewed, adding a nice bit of tension to an otherwise vanilla film), Slade and Stewart wisely don’t let those scenes and their interviews with the irascible, mercurial artists be the whole story. The intercut the actions of these men with discussion from author Michael Meade and physicist Amit Goswani about the nature of creativity and the human urge to express itself. As interesting as it is to watch the artists in action, I could have watched an entire two-hour film of each of those men discussing their work.What I’m still curious about is how the subjects for this film were chosen. It’s not as if the world is hurting for documentaries about white men and their pursuits, so why only hone in a bunch of middle-class white guys with few obstacles in their way to get their efforts seen/heard/appreciated. In fact, I’d be curious to see the cameras get turned around to find out what kind of issues that the two female directors of this project have potentially run into to get their films screened and/or distributed. Until that documentary gets made, I’m fine enjoying this colorful glimpse into the mind of the artist.

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