Five Films About Christo & Jena-Claude (DVD)

Movies Reviews
Five Films About Christo & Jena-Claude (DVD)

Since so much of what sculptors and painters do is a slow and laborious process—part mental rumination and part gradual development of the physical piece—any film about that process might bring to mind the old saw “about as interesting as watching paint dry.” To make a film of any interest on the subject would take a controversial and visionary artist and documentary filmmakers who know how to isolate the drama and detail in everyday life. That’s just what happened when the Maysles brothers captured these films about environmental artists Christo and Jean-Claude. The five films gathered in this amazing three-disc set are the result of their 30-year collaboration, standing as a testament to artistic integrity and an obsessive need to follow one’s muse.

Perhaps what makes Christo such a compelling documentary subject is the sheer ambition of the scale of his work. Christo’s Valley Curtain (1974) captures the drama of installing a quarter-mile orange curtain across Rifle Gap in Colorado. As curious country club golfers look on, the crew struggles against wind and bad luck. What’s particularly striking is the level of emotional involvement the steel workers on the project invest in its success.

Tracing numerous projects over the decades, the films work together to create a larger story. After all, each successive project became seemingly more impossible to pull off, including surrounding eleven islands in Biscane Bay with 6.5 million square feet of pink fabric and erecting thousands of umbrellas simultaneously in Japan and California. But Christo In Paris (1990) offers the richest narrative and the most background on the artists, documenting the love story between Christo and Jean-Claude, as well as his 10-year struggle to wrap the Pont Neuf. These five films are an important consideration of bold artistic vision and an essential body of documentary filmmaking.

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