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This is the story of the quest of the artist Christo to wrap the famous Pont Neuf in France in fabric. It took Christo and his wife ten years to get permission from the Parisian government, and the project created a storm of dialogue throughout Paris.Written by
Martin Lewison <MLewison@utk.edu>
Christo wraps a bridge, and we are invited to ask "Is it art?"
The next in a fascinating series by the Maysles brothers' docs on Christo and his public/performance art/sculptures. This one on wrapping the famous Pont Neuf bridge in Paris, which is almost anti-climatic after the initial footage of trying to get it made.
As I've watched the series of films in order, the filmmakers are eschewing the initial objective and minimalist mode - of merely reporting what happens - with actually telling us the back-story of his works. The "Islands" film (Florida, paired with this film on Plexifilm's DVD) goes behind the scenes into the Chamber of Commerce and shows Christo working simultaneously on the Berlin and Paris projects before wrapping the islands. And in the "Paris" film they spend even more time than any other on the background of Christo himself as well as the politics of the project. In fact Christo met his wife in Paris, and they ruminate on how Paris, and the Pont Neuf, are heavily symbolic locations. The film itself has a romantic air, and spends time showing Christo smiling, kissing his wife, dining with in laws, etc., between the actual process of wrapping the bridge. This is a far cry from the original "Valley Curtain" film, which was 100% concerned with the engineering challenge of hanging that vinyl curtain. No "is it art?" discussions, no politicians. Just the object for us to consider and ruminate over.
In a way, more is less. "Paris" uses man-on-the-street footage of citizens discussing the merits and aesthetics of the object like no previous film, and plenty of politicians maneuvering back and forth over the political ramifications of okaying it, etc. The film, and Christo, seem to be only going through the motions. The rude and audacious shock of the sculpture is muted when you know too much about how it came about. It becomes mundane in a disappointing way.
But a documentary on an artist may not be able to fully capture the intuitive and secret impulse and motivation of an artist and our response to grand and challenging art anyway. The fact that the film, and the work, were created and exists(ed), is the best answer to these questions.
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