Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Inspirations is another absorbing documentary about exemplary people from Michael Apted, who
a couple of years later made the similar film about modern scientists,
Me & Isaac Newton. Here, the title is
the direct subject - we experience seven artists at work, and listen as they try to explain
themselves. The range of personalities is broad, but the dedication each shows to their individual
artistic pursuit is remarkably similar.
We witness seven contemporary artists working in different media. Tadao Ando is an
architect who specializes in buildings of concrete and glass. Ex rock star David Bowie paints, and
creates expressionistic music. Dale Chihuly oversees a glassworks where he creates startling crystal
creations. Louise Lecavalier is a modern dancer. Roy Lichtenstein is the famous pop artist from the
60s, still hard at work in 1997. Edouard Lock is a choreographer. And Nora Naranjo-Morse is a Native
American sculptor who works in the clay of her ancestors. Each artist does their best to explain
themselves, and to address several common artistic issues.
In the first ten minutes watching Inspirations, Savant was judging the artists on view, on the
basis of whether the specific thing they were working on did or didn't appeal. This is the way we are
accustomed to thinking about artists - they are their work. David Bowie plays with an unpromising
word ramdomizer to come up with lyrics, Nora Naranjo-Morse goes out and digs her own clay, very
typical docu subjects at first.
Then the shape of Inspirations becomes clear, when we realize that the subject of the film
is the artistic process itself. The specific artworks become a backdrop to more pressing
concerns: What makes one become an artist? What does one expect? How does one know when they're
being creative? Michael Apted again proves himself a master at illuminating intangibles such as these.
Some of the artists are exactly what they seem, and others bear a more lengthy scrutiny. The Japanese
architect's concrete monoliths can be intimidating, until we learn more of his philosphy of design.
The choreographer's wordy rationales of what he does with movement are difficult to grasp, but the
plain-talking (and extremely interesting-looking) dancer expresses very simply both the joys of her
craft, and its limits.
Each specialization has factors that shape the artist's vision. The glassmaker is so attuned to momentary
failure ("lots of breakage, see") that he just plows forward trying to be prolific, hoping that by
working constantly, he'll be in action 'when the good ideas happen to come along'. The
musician-painter Bowie sees himself as a blessed survivor, an old rocker who
now wakes with the dawn and enjoys the basic pleasures, and only hopes to keep expressing himself.
The sculptor, throwing strange creations in a quasi-Indian motif, communicates her nigh-transcendental
feelings of harmony when she works, feelings of oneness with her roots, of being alive.
The architect searches for 'the perfect construction' through a gauntlet of client needs and demanding
regulations. For him perfection is elusive, but his craft is so expensive, just to be able to
continue forward to new work represents unqualified success. The choreographer and dancer's work,
unless recorded, disappears as soon as they create it - they have to be content with an art that
often never outlives their performances. The famous pop artist keeps coming to his studio
every day to experiment in new forms. He's already ensured himself of a place in Art History, yet
the same drive that motivated him to create is still there to bring him back.
After all the artists are established, Apted does several round-robins with pertinent questions, all
of which have more interesting answers than one would expect. How did they ever begin? How do they
relate to positive and negative criticism? Is there a sexual aspect of their work? Has their work
changed the way they look at the world?
At 100 minutes, Inspirations seems just right, a film whose function fits its form as much as
any of the artist's work it shows. In HVe's very handsome, exactingly-transferred DVD, the added
resolution of 16:9 shows the artworks with an eye-opening clarity that makes us appreciate them
all the more, especially things that don't normally record well on video: Lichtenstein's little
dots, the patterns in Chihuly's amazing glass creations. Edouard Lock edited the dance sequences
of his work, very interestingly so.
The stereo mix is unobtrusive. Inspirations has several scenes where the artists try to
teach their craft, with students hard at work trying their hands at dangerous things like
glass-blowing. It would certainly be a much better tool for teaching art than the endless docus
on great painters Savant snoozed through in high school.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Packaging: Yin Yang keep case
Reviewed: July 5, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson