Although Swiss-born artist Rudy Burckhardt (1914-99) is probably best known (to the degree that he's known at all outside insular art-world circles) for his elegant, timeless B&W photographs of New York City, he was a dilettante in the best sense of the word, trying his hand at filmmaking, painting and collage. And while many artists are as famous for their monumental egos as for their work, Burckhardt was a generous collaborator and a genuinely unassuming man so unassuming that he apparently declined to be interviewed on camera for Doris Kornish's fascinating, sometimes frustrating, look at his life and work. His voice is heard at length, and Kornish assembled a good deal of footage of Burckhardt at work and play. But the on-camera talking is left to other heads, among them Burckhardt's sons, painter Tom and filmmaker Jacob (though not Burckhardt's wife, painter Yvonne Jacquette); Burckhardt's younger brother, Lucas; spoken word popularizer Bob Holman; painters Alex Katz, Mimi Gross and George Schneeman; dancer/choreographer Gabrielle Lansner, and Daghdha Dance Company director Yoshiko Chuma. Born into a staid family in Basel, Burckhardt came to the US in 1935 at the urging of Edwin Denby, then a dancer but later a noted dance critic, essayist and poet; he and Burckhardt went on to collaborate on several projects. Burckhardt first distinguished himself as a still photographer, then taught himself how to use a movie camera and began making shorts, eventually completing dozens of films that ranged as widely in subject matter as they did in length. Kornish's film includes lengthy excerpts from the luridly lyrical Square Times (1967), an affectionate portrait of Times Square after dark; Lurk (1965), a re-imagining of the Frankenstein story starring multi-media artist Red Grooms as the lumbering monster and Denby as the mad scientist; and Money! (1968), a farce about the richest man in the world. Kornish also filmed Burckhardt making the playful collages he generally gave to friends; not only is the footage a record of his working process, but it evokes another of Burhardt's most famous projects, a series of portraits of other artists at work that he shot for Art News magazine in the 1950s and '60s. Whatever the film's flaws it's technically rough and Kornish's decision to identify interviewees only by name, suggesting their professions through background props (Gross is shot in a room full of canvases, Chuma in a darkened theater, etc) is distracting it's an engaging introduction to an underappreciated artist.
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- Released: 1996
- Rating: NR
- Review: Although Swiss-born artist Rudy Burckhardt (1914-99) is probably best known (to the degree that he's known at all outside insular art-world circles) for his elegant, timeless B&W photographs of New York City, he was a dilettante in the best sense of the wo… (more)