Monday, September 17, 2007

William Eggleston "In the Real World"

I just finished watching the DVD William Eggleston in the Real World (obtained from the local library) - I found it by turns fascinating, mildly depressing and illuminating.

Eggleston comes across as laconic and taciturn in the extreme, yet with burst of humour and grace.

The first 15 or minutes of the film follow him as he wanders around Mayfield Kentucky on a freezing winters day photographing at the invitiation of Gus Van Sant. He seems mildly lost and yet sure of what he wants - he stops and starts, backtracks, prowls around a diner - though I ended up wanting to give him a scarf and a hot cup of tea (with maybe something a little stronger in it).

In different scenes Eggleston seems to slow down almost to a stop but then there would be a burst of energy before slowing down again. His speaks so quietly, his southern accent and diction almost a mumble, that his words are subtitled, highlighting the feeling that this is all something foreign.

And at the temple like Getty Museum in LA he becomes almost like an excited schoolboy as he wanders around a newly hung show of his work, peering closely at a print here, exclaiming about the selection of work there - all the while the public viewing the exhibit apparently oblivious to who this well dressed elderly gentleman is.

Oh and there's also lots of rather drunken rambling.

At the end of the movie, the film maker attempts to engage Eggleston in a conversation about the process of picture making and Eggleston merely becomes more and more obtuse (and the film maker more and more annoying), but it is preceded by his ruminations on dreams about beautiful photographs - which is quite magical - and ends with the following:

"Whatever it is about pictures, photographs, it's just about impossible to follow up with words. They don't have anything to do with each other...Art, or what we call that, you can love it and appreciate it, but you can't really talk about it. Doesn't make any sense."

The more you watch him, the more and more his pictures seem to make simple sense - this is merely how he sees. In the end it all seemed to confirm Geoff Dyers description of Eggleston where he says, in part:

"Eggleston's photographs look like they were taken by a Martian who lost the ticket for his flight home and ended up working at a gun shop in a small town near Memphis. On the weekend he searches for the ticket - it must be somewhere - with a haphazard thoroughness that confounds established methods of investigation..."

There is a short NY Times review here
And you can view the trailer here

(I should add that the "production values" in this documentary are poor - to put it mildly. But if you can manage to put those aside, which I must admit took me a while, I still think it's worth watching)


Yona Yona said...

I mostly agree with your impression of the film. However, I don't share the criticism on the filmmaker or 'production values' at all. I am always grateful for the opportunity of insight to another photographer's universe. More often than not the alternative to 'inferior production quality' is having no film at all, which would be a real shame.

Luis said...

Overall, I liked this film. It reminded me of what the mutual friends Eggleston and I share have said about him. I loved seeing his earliest pictures, the family portraits in B&W, which bore portents of greatness.

There was never any doubt in my mind that his wife had to be a very strong and extraordinary person to tolerate Bill's partying, the quite publicized long term affair, topped with others. I wish we could have seen Lucia. In the film, Rosa's love for him, respect for his work, and grasp of his significance in the world became perfectly clear.

The scene with Leigh H. didn't cross any lines for me, in spite of its personal nature, because W.E.'s excesses have been laid bare all along. After all, the world may be inundated with alcoholics, but there is only one Eggleston.

What was fascinating about it was the artist's struggle to connect, even with a close friend. I loved seeing him sketching, and the finished product.

Also loved how the film pulled no punches about W.E.'s frailties and strengths, and perhaps, most of all, about the loneliness of the long-distance artist.

I don't think I'd be breaking any confidences if I mentioned that a mutual friend told me about how L.F. is a good, long-term friend of W.E., and how the former has called on the phone a few times while he was visiting. Curious, I asked, "what DO they talk about?", surely you must have overheard something."Yes, they talked for some time."

For the most part, they talked about the weather, music and speakers.

--- Luis

Anonymous said...

I too thought the production values of this doc were poor - to the point that it was distracting. I can embrace the indie aesthetic (whatever that is these days as Indie means something completely different that just aesthetics) but this film looked like anyone else's poorly shot home movies, not to mention edited poorly too. Sometimes editing is all about what you cut OUT not leave IN.

I feel like I am a rather well-grounded person. You might even call me "normal". But the more docs I see that follow artists of any kind, I am concluding that in order to be a "master" one needs to be just a little bit odd, in some manner.

Just my observation.