Sunday, December 07, 2008

World of Echoes: Reprise

I recently reviewed the following for Video Librarian, and thought it
was worth sharing. Click here for my review of the theatrical feature.

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell (***1/2)

It's hard to be ahead of your time, even if, in retrospect, Charl-
es "Arthur" Russell wasn't doing anything all that unusual. He
sang, produced, and played the cello. There's nothing overtly
strange about his music, except that it's ethereal without ever
entering the more recognizable realms of psychedelia or new age.

And there you have the makings of a cult artist, which is
where Wild Combination begins, when Russell was just
another Iowa kid, playing in the school orchestra. After his
father, Chuck, discovered pot paraphernalia in his bedroom,
they fought, and Arthur hit the road. The year was 1967.

In an archival interview, Allen Ginsberg recalls meeting him in
the Bay Area, where Russell accompanied his readings, an association
that continued after he moved to New York in 1974. There, Arthur
combined folk, avant-garde, proto-punk, disco, garage, and house.

DVD extra - Jens Lekman performing Russell's "A Little Lost"

While he was experimenting with different musical forms,
he was also "transitioning" from straight to gay. Granted, his
musical approach wasn't mainstream, and he recorded under
a variety of pseudonyms, but he never really "played well with
others." It turned out for the best, since he was always meant
to be a solo artist, and it's in that mode that he recorded the
singular songs for which he's best remembered today.

Fittingly, Matt Wolf's debut is more than just a by-the-num-
bers biodoc about an obscure artist, since the 24-year-old
has unearthed an impressive array of rare material, staged
evocative recreations that rarely draw attention to them-
selves, and lined up eloquent speakers like Philip Glass, Er-
nie Brooks, and Russell's partner, Tom Lee. If his portrait
sounds more like a rock documentary than a queer film,
that's because it plays that way until the touching final act.

Extras include 25 minutes of performance footage (1985-
'89), a rambling yet revealing 1970 cassette letter to his par-
ents, Ginsberg's chant at his funeral, and spare and sympath-
etic covers by Arthur’s Landing (featuring Brooks), Joel Gibb
(Hidden Cameras), Verity Susman (Electrelane), and Jens
, who appears in the film. Highly recommended.

Endnote: This is the second title in my embarrassingly irreg-
ular Movie of the Month series. Click here for the first entry,
The Rabbit Is Me, one of the finest reissues of 2008, and here
for Chris & Don. Image from ("from Terrace
of Unintelligibility by Phil Niblock, courtesy of Audika Records").

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