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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

DVD Review: Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder is a documentary on the artist and sculptor who created the mobile art form. It’s really a celebration of his work, with footage of many of his pieces which have both a beauty and an innocence. Alexander Calder was filmed as part of the American Masters series.

The film opens with a shot of a large sculpture reflected in water. The camera then pans up through the grass and foliage at the edge of the water to the sculpture itself, giving it the sense of rising out nature, though also being in contrast to it. There are then shots of mobiles in action – some small, some large – and there is such grace and beauty to the movement.

Brendan Gill says that before Calder’s time, “Sculpture was an expression of solidity, of motionlessness.” Arne Glimcher says: “He changed the nature of sculpture. He redefined what sculpture was, could possibly be, and now is.” That gives you a sense of his impact right at the beginning of the film, before the documentary then goes into his biography.

His parents were both artists – his mother a painter, and his father a sculptor, so he was creating from the get-go, even making his own toys when growing up. And his upbringing is perhaps part of what allowed him to maintain that childlike quality throughout his life. Several people interviewed in this film describe Calder as a child, that he was a child his whole life.  By the way, the narration, which is done by Tovah Feldshuh, at times embraces and embodies that feel itself, and is kind of humorous, as when she says, “He grew an unfortunate moustache,” or when she sort of imitates Calder’s way of speaking.

The film shows us lots of his work, including his early sketches and paintings, and then his early wire sculptures, such as his Josephine Baker work. He would make wire portraits of people at parties, as gifts. And then he created a wire circus in his home, and would perform all the acts for friends and others who would pop by (like Man Ray). And it was his wire circus that got him his first solo exhibition in New York.

Several people are interviewed in this film, including family members, art critics and friends. Arthur Miller is one of those interviewed, and he talks about the circus creations.

One thing that really struck me was how Alexander Calder worked in all forms, and seemed to master them all. In addition to wire and wood sculpture, he worked with glass, designed stage sets, illustrated books, created anti-war posters, made jewelry, and even painted two jets. His creativity was inexhaustible.

And of course there are his abstract sculptures. The film shows us various examples of his larger sculptures in places around the world. The story of the sculpture in Grand Rapids in 1969 is particularly interesting.

Bonus Material

The DVD includes a few special features. The first is a new interview with director Roger Sherman on this film. It took four years to make it. He talks about what he learned about filming sculptures and also talks about the narration. This feature is approximately six minutes. There is also a Roger Sherman biography.

The DVD also includes a photo gallery, with photos of Calder’s work, of Calder himself, and photos of Roger Sherman filming the sculptures.

Alexander Calder was directed by Roger Sherman and released on DVD on May 6, 2014 through First Run Features.

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