Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters

I've often felt that it would be wonderful to record your dreams in a concrete and technologically accurate way like a TiVo device or DVR although this is impossible, at least right now. But there is one artist who is striving to document his own personal REM tableaux. His name is Gregory Crewdson and he is obsessed.

"Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters" is a new documentary about Crewdson's  large format photographs that spill on the eye like a painting by George Bellows or Edward Hopper if filmed by David Lynch.

Crewdson's immense works are painstakingly staged and posed before they are shot. His work which resembles film, is often shot on location in Mid-American towns and they have a definitive economically depressed tone. Shabby grey people often stare in doorways their mouths agape with eyes full of sleep. Often, an eerie supernatural light emanates from windows suggesting the arrival of aliens or possibly a noxious gas.

Crewdon's mastery is unmatched ; he manipulates huge machinery, people and lights, often  building entire sets to produce his imagery.

But for me, at least from the point of view of a documentary, Crewdson himself seems more compelling than his work. Throughout the film he tells of his father, a psychoanalyst in New York. He admits to wanting to eavesdrop on psychiatric sessions, of having dyslexia, of making art during his divorce (which were dioramas of birds and suburban houses clearly inspired by the film Blue Velvet) and one wishes for more details.

Crewdson is clearly a charismatic person but the documentary reveals little of his personal life. What about his divorce? And who was she? Crewdson also mentions a sensation of dislocation, yet we are given very little as to how he really feels about himself, his loves or his parents. Given the obvious otherworldly and personal nature of his work, I was left craving a bit more.

The documentary, which contains many striking on-location scenes of Crewdson at work, as he poses his cast, nervously walking and talking, is so step by step that it seemed I was watching an art history piece more than a feature documentary. The residents all seem to respect him as he closes down entire streets of a Massachusetts town and that's all well and good, but given that the work is existential and haunting it seemed to be missing some dramatic discontent.  What about his enemies? I'm sure the artist has some critics.

Despite its want of private information however, "Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters" makes a good introduction to an artist who works with his own insular visions. Excluding any intimacies of the artist, the photographs are majestic alone, lighted with minute detail and birthing new suburban offspring to the painters John William Waterhouse and Millais.

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