There have been countless documentaries concerning the lives of artists going back at least as far as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s film about his pal, Pablo Picasso. Other recent memorable examples include David Carson’s Helvetica and John W. Walter’s How To Draw a Bunny. Truthfully, one could curate an entire film festival just with bio docs about musicians, dancers, singers and filmmakers.
Just why certain artists stand out always makes a fascinating story. With Ben Shapiro’s Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters, while we do get a good chunk of biography, the film is more concerned with the seminal photographer’s creative process. It manages to succeed. By the end of the film, I had the urge to both attend a Crewdson exhibition as well as to visit the Berkshires.
By way of full disclosure, I should mention that I grew up going to summer camp in the Hudson Valley with Crewdson and so when I met Shapiro at an IFP party over the holidays and learned about his project, I made a point to see his film at SXSW at first opportunity. The film did not disappoint. And while Crewdson was not in Austin with the film, I did feel that by the end of the film, I had caught up with him on some level.
Shapiro followed Crewdson around, off and on, over a 10-year span. The crux of the film centers on a period of his artwork where the photographer was creating a series extraordinarily detailed set pieces (which can sell for as high as $125,000). We don’t know much about the locals that populate the towns in Western Massachusetts where he shoots these cinematic portraits and are sometimes recruited to act in them, but that is not necessarily part of the filmmaker’s responsibility. The movie is about Crewdson’s artistic process within the context of a life.