Tag Archives: documentary movies

Do You Want to Buy a Snowball?

The Melt Goes On Forever: The Art & Times of David Hammons

by Hope Madden

In 1983, a woman buys a snowball from a street vendor. He has many snowballs laid out in a beautiful pattern on a blanket on a wintery New York street, surrounded by other vendors. She thinks she’s helping a homeless man but keeps the snowball in her parents’ freezer in Queens for months before letting her mom toss it.

Decades later she realizes the seller was David Hammons, an American artist who defied boundaries, mocked socially accepted practice, and became one of the most influential voices in art.

I bet she wishes she’d kept the snowball.

Documentarians Harold Crooks and Judd Tully share countless similar anecdotes as they unveil, layer upon layer, something of what Hammons meant to an art world desperately in need of him.

“The more he tells the art world to go fuck itself, the more they want him,” says poet Steve Cannon, whose poem “Rousing the Rubble” offers worthy narration to sections of the film. An ode to Hammons, the poem announces the artist’s many phases, as does the documentary:

            Booomboxes, into bebop, hip hop, scatter shots – lower poles Higher Goals –

            into human hair – into Bottle caps into people and their attributes ­–

Cannon’s interviews, as well as those with art historians, artists, curators and collectors, will have to mainly suffice. Although Hammons himself does appear and speak on a handful of rare occasions, his voice is mainly absent (he prefers not to be interviewed, the doc clarifies).

Those who do talk illuminate the spirit of an artist whose work defies categorization. That work, luckily, we do get to view throughout the film. Provocative, racial, absurd, prescient – the art itself is all of this, and the film points to Hammons’s rejection of the norms of the art world as among his most valuable qualities.

The Melt Goes On Forever celebrates the audacity of Hammons’s  curation, the subversive nature of his exhibition and the humor in his reactions and presentations, but is quick to point out that his lasting impact on art in the U.S. and globally is more a product of the intensity and relevance of the work itself.

The Melt Goes On Forever: The Art & Times of David Hammons screens this weekend only at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

Red Pill or Blue?

A Glitch in the Matrix

by Hope Madden

Nobody makes documentaries quite like Rodney Ascher.

You can see the 2010 short that first got him the attention of the Sundance Film Festival, S from Hell, in its entirety on YouTube right now. I think you should. It gives you just a taste of the mixture of absurd, earnest, terrifying and funny that inform his nonfiction recipes.

His 2012 documentary feature debut, Room 237, gave us a glimpse of his own fascination with personal obsessions. Ascher’s interest in the opinions and voices of his subjects clearly allows them to feel the safety necessary to share deeply held and seemingly ludicrous ideas. It also gives the film a sense of exploration rather than judgment. You are truly invited to wonder what if?

His most potent and terrifying invitation, The Nightmare, is so sincere in its sleuthing it may convince you that the film itself has infected you with a debilitating condition. So it’s no surprise that any new effort from Ascher draws awed anticipation from weirdos and cinephiles alike (not that there’s a big difference between the two).

Plus a ton of utterly fascinating footage of Philip K. Dick speaking.

A Glitch in the Matrix, premiering earlier this week at Sundance and opening digitally (appropriately enough) this weekend, explores Simulation Theory. You know, that zany notion that we’re not real, we’re all living in a simulating played by beings of a higher intelligence.

Nutty, right?   

Once again, Ascher’s meticulously built doc feels simultaneously playful and dark—two adjectives that suit the topic brilliantly. We’re reminded of Descartes attempts to prove that he exists, and before that, of Plato’s musings that we may be simply witnessing some form of life facsimile and not participating in reality at all.

So, it’s not a new idea. Perhaps the most intriguing notion the film brings up is that, when aquaducts were the height of technology, the world believed our bodies were at the mercy of our own humors. Once the telegraph became top tech, suddenly our bodies were run by electrical currents. And later, we “understood” that our brains were like computers.

It’s no surprise, then that in a virtual world, we lean toward the notion that reality is its own form of virtual reality. But Ascher digs much deeper, drawing images of a culture and personality type compelled by these ideas, and the hard potential consequences of a Matrix in the hands of someone less noble than Neo.

A Glitch in the Matrix becomes Ascher’s most complicated and poignant film.