I received my degree in the history of art from the University of Oregon in 1989 and though my current career (Web developer) is only tangentially related to my college education I've never lost my intense interest in art and artists. It was then with great interest that I discovered 'Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant-Garde' on DVD.
Part of Public Broadcasting's American Masters series, 'Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant-Garde' is a fascinating hour long documentary on the artist's life and work. Man Ray isn't as well known as contemporaries Ernst, Duchamp, Picasso and Stieglitz but his work, which spans almost every medium from painting and sculpture to photography and film, has a profound influence on modern trends in the visual arts and graphic design. The photographs of Richard Avedon are inspired and informed by Man Ray's images, sculptor Constantin Brancusi worked Man Ray's compositions into his pieces and just about every major perfume maker and fashion designer has paid homage to Man Ray in their glossy print ads. His language of expression has become so ubiquitous that his art seems instantly familiar.
The documentary, narrated by Stockard Channing, is detailed and engaging. It features interviews with the artist, his friends and associates. There are dozens of images of his work and the commentary is insightful and well writen. By the end of the program viewers should have a good feel for Man Ray's approach to art and his place in the pantheon of modern masters.
The transfer is full screen non-anamorphic, which isn't a major drawback for material of this nature. The color sections of the program are fully saturated and exhibit serviceable contrast. The black and white clips very in quality due to the fact that they're derived from many sources but are crisp and detailed throughout.
The audio tracks in Dolby 2.0 stereo are free of distortion and are pleasantly mixed. The dynamic range is significantly broader than I remember it being on broadcast TV, making the disc easy to listen to and never grating on the ear.
Extra content on this disc is very limited. There's a short text-based essay on Man Ray, brief production credits and DVD ROM Web links. If you look up this title on any of the main DVD retailer's sites you'll see mention of short Man Ray films and an archive of early drawings but this content isn't actually on the disc. Rather, there are pointers to Web pages where these films and images can be found.
Because of my background in art I found Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant-Garde very satisfying and will make it a part of my permanent collection. If you enjoy avant-garde art or are already a fan of Man Ray you'll want to give this disc a try. For all others, rental is the way to go.