As part of my continuing process of brushing up on American Cultural Icons I viewed Katherina Otto-Bernstein’s 2006 documentary on ROBERT WILSON, who is arguably the pre-eminent avant-garde theater director/artist in the world. I shouldn’t have been quite so ignorant of Mr. Wilson as although he is American, most of his work has been in Europe where there is a much healthier respect and a very definite audience for his work.
Born in Waco Texas in 1940 to a family of wealthy but strict Southern Baptists, young Robert had both a stutter and learning difficulties, two significant traits that he not only overcame, but which provoked him to constantly help others in similar predicaments throughout his life, sometimes ending with participating with them on performance pieces.
He went to NY to study architecture at Pratt where he cared less abut completing his study assignments and more about a ballet group affiliated to the school where he started to create and perform some very eclectic contemporary pieces. After he graduated he foolishly went back to Texas which ended in a failed a suicide attempt (he was openly gay in a very hostile environment) and that had him scurrying back to NY and very soon creating his first major success ‘Deafman Glance’ based on a deaf –mute African-American child he befriended and later adopted.
Bernstein’s film painstaking traces every step of Wilson’s career and how it took off …..and with the use of some excellent archival footage … and lengthy interviews with Wilson himself, pieced together his un-parallel prolific body of work. The man is unquestionable a creative genius often applauded for work way way ahead of the field, and on other occasion derided for the very same reasons. He collaborated with the likes of Philip Glass, David Bryne, Jessye Norman, Tom Waits etc etc and his work had devoted fans like Susan Sontag who claimed to have seen one of Wilson’e best pieces over 40 times.
This is a well-crafted film about an articulate and visionary artist whose work when just viewed in clips like this is breath-talkingly stunning, and frankly leaves one in awe. There were flashes of what a nightmare he could be with his rages over finite detail (the look on Isabelle Hupert’s face as he kept correcting her said it all), but for us who view just the work, it is well worth every part of their pain.
If you are as ignorant of the man and his work as I was, I cannot recommend this movie enough, And if you are familiar with his work them seeing clips of so many of his best pieces is well worth renting this.