Dir/scr: Katharina Otto-Bernstein. US-Ger. 2006.105mins.
The Texan-borninnovator has worked at a frenzied pace since his arrival on the avant-gardetheatre scene in the 1960s, giving AbsoluteWilson a lot of information to pack in. Even so, a little trimming andslightly less of the reverent testimony from Wilson's admirers could make thisan even more attractive prospect for broadcasting. Theatrical prospects seemlimited to specialist distributors after its Forum premiere in Berlin.
Wilson himself makesan urbane, articulate interviewee, speaking frankly about his work, his privatelife, his gay identity (briefly), and his childhood in a strait-laced SouthernBaptist family in Waco, Texas. Given what we learn about his disapprovingfather and emotionally chilly mother, one senses that his overcoming ofchildhood obstacles was little less than heroic.
Wilson's ownearly learning difficulties later gave him an empathyfor the socially challenged: we see how his adoption of Raymond Andrews, a deafblack teen, fuelled his breakthrough work Deafman Glance, and how he found a close collaborator in autistic youthChristopher Knowles.
A largely, butnot strictly, chronological account shows Wilson's progress move from outsiderto key player in the small but intense New York art and dance world of the 1960s.In New York, he becomes the Warhol-like focus of a commune-like scene: onecommentator compares him to a religious cult leader.
From the 1980son, Wilson is an international cultural mover and shaker on a multi-milliondollar scale - although he has often put his own finances at serious risk, andfaced financial and artistic disaster, especially when the plug was pulled onhis production The CIVIL warS [sic], a 12-hour epic commissioned for the 1984Olympics.
Video footage ofseveral Wilson productions gives a sense of the hallucinatory strangeness ofhis work, but hardly does justice to the vividly colouredlighting that has become his trademark. But the film never quite conveys asense of Wilson's importance as an innovator, or of the meaning of his work:what comes across is glimpses of dazzling, eccentricand wildly ambitious son et lumière spectacles.
While countlesstalking heads pay rapturous tribute to Wilson's genius, New York theatre criticJohn Simon is the only substantial dissenter. The film generally paints Wilsonas an affable, somewhat godlike figure, but glimpses of Wilson in rehearsalsuggest that the man can also be hell to deal with.
Otto-Bernsteinhas certainly trawled the archives thoroughly, with a rich display of Wilsoniana in photos, cuttings and on film. The assembledinterviewees could hardly be starrier - they include composer Philip Glass,singers Jessye Norman and David Byrne and the latecritic Susan Sontag. The film may be formallyconventional, but that works to its advantage in depicting a deeplyunconventional man.
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