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Turning her back on her wealthy, established family, Diane Arbus falls in love with Lionel Sweeney, an enigmatic mentor who introduces Arbus to the marginalized people who help her become one of the most revered photographers of the twentieth century.
Robert Downey Jr.,
Happy to have been born in a world with William Eggleston and Michael Almereyda
I saw Michael Almereyda's "William Eggleston in the Real World" at its Canadian premiere on Sept. 14, 2005 at the Toronto International Film Festival. The screening was part of the Dialogues program at the Fest but Michael Almereyda was unable to attend due to commitments in New York City so there was no Q&A.
This was a film that grew on me, as it started out very boring and became more and more interesting as time went on. Almereyda starts by following Eggleston and his assistant/son Winston as they wander around Mayfield, Kentucky on a commission from Gus Van Sant to shoot photographs. Almereyda's hand-held camera shakes and picks up the wind and all sorts of extraneous noises while Eggleston barely says anything and even when he does it needs sub-titling to help you make it out.* Then they start making their way home to Memphis, Tennessee and stop off at a ruined house for sale by the side of the road, advertised as a "real fixer-upper", and suddenly you start seeing the beauty of the things that Eggleston is seeing in the damaged green roof or the patterns of sunlight on the dusty floors. Soon you are at home with him where he does some amateur improvisations on his electronic keyboard and piano.
Then he takes you along on a trip to visit his girl-friend Leigh Haslip (Eggleston has meanwhile been quite happily married to his wife Rosa for 40 years, and she must just humor his occasional philandering since she later describes him and his family as "He's sweet, all the Egglestons are sweet, it's in their genes"). At Haslip's house, Eggleston sketches a free-form portrait while Haslip herself rather drunkenly rambles and lounges on a couch in her pajamas. Eggleston is still not saying a lot, but you are gradually liking him more and more, as you realize this is an artist with no pretensions whatsoever. He is what he is and he does what he does and he doesn't care about having to explain himself or his work to you at all. You can take it or leave it.
For the rest of the film you follow along on a few more trips such as to the Getty Museum in LA where Eggleston walks around rather anonymously at his own photographic exhibit. You get to view a few clips from Eggleston's own black and white experimental video film "Stranded in Canton" (1973-74)(see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0479545/combined) which was also shown at 2005 Toronto Film Fest after having been recently distilled down from 30 hours to about 76 minutes with assistance by director Robert Gordon (see http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1271076/) and film editor John Olivio. There is a single scene towards the end where Almereyda finally seems to get Eggleston pinned down at a restaurant and he tries to get him to talk art and photography with provoking statements such as "Real life is an illusion. Photographs are the reality", and Eggleston protests and disagrees and says that he doesn't understand what Almereyda is talking about. So you never really do get any answers from Eggleston himself.
When the credits role at the end with the sound of Roy Orbison's beautiful singing of "In the Real World" you are back again at Leigh Haslip's house where both she and Eggleston are just gleefully enjoying the song on the stereo while they talk about how happy they are to have not been born in the Middle Ages before there was Roy Orbison. And I'm just as happy to have not been born before there were the photographs of William Eggleston and this film by Michael Almereyda.
Addendum: Feb. 11, 2006 * I recently reread this and remembered that it was sometime early in the film when Almereyda comes out with a line describing some of Eggleston's low angle shots as "if they were taken by the family dog" which got a great laugh out of the audience.
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