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Home Vision Entertainment
1997 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 100 min. /
Starring Tadao Ando, David Bowie, Dale Chihuly, Louise LeCavalier, Roy Lichtenstein, Edouard Locke, Nora Naranjo-Morse
Cinematography Maryse Alberti, Amnon Zlayet
Film Editor Susanne Rostock
Original Music Patrick Seymour
Produced by Michael Apted, Eileen Gregory, Jody Patton and Steven Wren
Directed by Michael Apted

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, Inspirations rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Yin Yang keep case
Reviewed: July 5, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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