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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, November-December 2006

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

When art forms collide--documentary and music, documentary and visual arts, documentary and theater--the prospect presents a scintillating problem: How does one do justice to something as elusive and mysterious as the creative process and the imagination? What are the intrinsic challenges in creating a nonfiction work that is as artistically rigorous as the subject that the documentary maker pursues? How does one reconcile the person and the work?

Documentaries about artists and the creative process have proliferated the nonfiction media landscape for quite some time, and this issue offers a mere snapshot of what's out there now; we simply can't cover the wealth of exemplary works, past, present and future, that help to define this particular strand of documentary filmmaking.

Arlene Donnelly Nelson and David Nelson have been following installation artist Spencer Tunick over the course of three documentaries--Naked States, Naked World and positively+naked. Shelley Gabert speaks to the Nelsons about working with an artist as he evolves--and as they evolve as filmmakers.

Robert Wilson and Tony Kushner have transformed theater in dramatically contrasting ways, and Tamara Krinsky, a classically-trained actress in her own right, talks to Katharina Otto-Bernstein, director of Absolute Wilson, and Frieda Lee Mock, director of Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner, about how they tackled their respective subjects.

Photography has figured as the first port-of-call for many documentary filmmakers--from Paul Strand and Willard Van Dyke to Jem Cohen and Bruce Weber. Robert Frank, subject of Gerald Fox's Leaving Home, Coming Home, made photography his primary métier, but he also staked his claim in nonfiction filmmaking with Pull My Daisy and Cocksucker Blues. Sally Mann, on the other hand, has stuck to photography, and Steven Cantor has profiled her in two documentaries--the Academy Award-nominated Blood Ties and the forthcoming What Remains. Danielle DiGiacomo looks at both  Leaving Home, Coming Home and What Remains.

DiGiacomo does double-duty here in looking at docs about three experimental artists--Andy Warhol, Jack Smith and Matthew Barney--whose oeuvre presented considerable artistic challenges--and opportunities--for filmmakers Ric Burns, Mary Jordan and Allison Chernick.

Warhol loomed large in curator/impresario Henry Geldzahler's orbit during the 1960s in New York. Peter Rosen's Who Gets To Call It Art? captures that heady time when contemporary art stormed the barricades of the uptown set. Rosen shares his filmmaking choices with Bob Fisher.

Finally, Christopher Bosen brings together docs about two disparate artists--Simon Rodia, the creator of the Watts Towers in Los Angeles, and the late jazz poet-playwright Oscar Brown Jr.--as Edward Landler and Brad Byer, and donnie l. betts discuss the long journeys they took with their respective films, I Build the Tower and Music is My Mistress.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White