Art Fag City at The Reeler: Not Quite Absolute Wilson

by Art Fag City on October 31, 2006 Events

Last week I had the rare opportunity of speaking with avant guard theater designer and playwright Robert Wilson and director Katharina Otto-Bernstein for the launch of the new documentary Absolute Wilson. I am disappointed I couldn’t fit more from the interview into the review, as Wilson discussed some of the problems he struggles to resolve in his latest work in progress, Bach’s Passion of St. John, but since this is the arena of Art Fag City, you can expect to see that here a little later on. Of course, opinion is also the arena of AFC, so I am providing a healthy clipping from my piece now up at The Reeler below.

“You cannot capture this in film. Absolutely not,” said Absolute Wilson director Katharina Otto-Bernstein of the work of vanguard theater artist Robert Wilson. Whether or not this is true, I can't say these are the most inspirational words I've heard from a filmmaker this week. Sporting a title that reads like an homage to a vodka ad, Otto-Bernstein's documentary portrays its subject’s life and work using the flawed premise that the inclusion of his personal struggles will make up for her reluctance to create a film that is a tribute to Wilson's creative sensibilities.

Not that the latter is necessary to put together a successful documentary on the artist. Absolute Wilson provides a good overview of Wilson's career, and there is a wealth of footage from famous colleagues including musicians David Byrne and Tom Waits, literary legend William Burroughs and the late critic and novelist Susan Sontag. Beginning with a discussion of Wilson's childhood, the film documents his struggles as a youth to overcome a stutter and slow learning, going on to highlight the most important projects of Wilson's career. Often serving as dominant plot points, these works include his experimental theater The Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds, his successful five-hour opera Einstein on the Beach (made in collaboration with the composer Philip Glass) and “CIVIL WarS,” an ill-fated commission offered to the artist in the early ’80s by the Los Angeles Olympic Committee.

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