"Alex Katz: Five Hours" is an enlightening and frustrating glimpse at the creation of a work of art. Filmed by Vincent Katz and his wife Vivien Bittencourt, the film is a 20-minute look at Vincent's father, Alex creating a painting. Prior to this documentary I had never heard of Alex Katz and the paintings of his I looked up, weren't really my bag. "Alex Katz: Five Hours" doesn't change my opinion of Katz as an artist, but it did make me think long and hard about the creative process.
In all honesty, reviewing this disc is no easy feat. It contains only the documentary, which boils down five hours of Katz painting a portrait of his wife into 20 brief minutes. There is no narration and our only access to the aural world of Katz is through the snippets of raw sound. The majority of the film is backed by Meredith Monk songs, which, quite honestly, grated on the nerves. Monk's vocalizations are a biting contrast to an aged master painter, hard at work. I re-watched the documentary again with the mute button on and, frankly I was able to appreciate what I feel was the feature's intended theme: creation.
"Five Hours" forces the viewer to try and get in the head of the artist, or at least be conscious of what the artistic process is. Each of Katz's brushstrokes has an intended purpose, much in the same way, each sentence from a writer has an intended purpose. Each of these strokes builds upon the previous and the result is art. Vincent Katz's approach to the documentary is so simple, but at the same time most effective. I can't think of a single documentary or feature about a painter that doesn't try to interject some sort of critical commentary or ask the author to verbalize what he does on the canvas. Vincent lets his father's work and artistry speak for itself and like art itself, leaves the details of the creative process up to each individual viewer to interpret.
My sole complaint is the DVD itself. While the documentary is absolutely worth watching, I would have a hard time justifying a purchase for 99% of the viewing public. If there were any sort of supplemental material to this release, I could make an argument for it. A mini documentary of Katz himself, perhaps? Likely, nothing of this sort was included because the ultimate intention is for the documentary to speak for Katz and while it does, I can't help but feel a bit cheated by this package and it's steep price.
The film's case states his son and daughter and law videotaped this particular painting, and the quality of the source material shows. It's rough looking and in no way does Katz's painting the visual justice it deserves, but again, that's not the intent of the documentary. It looks like behind-the-scenes footage from a making-of documentary. The focus is Katz and his process; that being said, expect a low-detail, 1.33:1 transfer complete with some tracking artifacts nearly hidden at the bottom of the frame.
The English 2.0 channel audio track is nothing impressive, but serves its intended purpose perfectly. It captures the expanse of Katz's studio perfectly, from the echo of his cart, to the distant sound of the hustle and bustle of New York City right outside the window. The most technically sound the track gets is when the musical score is the lone source of sound. Even then, it's not as rich as one would expect from a music track.
Technically unimpressive, this 20-minute DVD is most likely targeted towards a niche audience. That doesn't betray the beauty and simplicity of the feature presentation and the thought process it ignites. If you have a chance to see "Alex Katz: Five Hours" do so without hesitation, it's an essential look at the creative process. Rent It.