Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell

After discovering a pot pipe and marijuana paraphenalia in his son's room, Arthur's father says he "bounced him on the floor a couple times" and the next day his son ran away, eventually landing in NYC. 

Cellist/composer/singer Arthur Russell may not have had the same amount of formal training as other downtown hipsters like Juilliard/Boulanger pedigreed Philip Glass, (the film does not detail Russell's time spent at the Manhattan School of Music) but nevertheless the young man became music director for influential performance hotspot The Kitchen.  In the melieu of this cultural incubator, Russell connected with other emerging and established artists and performers.

The failure of a potentially high profile work with Robert Wilson confined Russell's career to arty but forgotten 12" dance club mixes issued under multiple fanciful monikers, further obscuring the artist from scrutiny or identification.  As he had coped with disfiguring acne scars in adolescence, Russell avoided showing his face, polishing his diction, or establishing his name. Wild Combination doesn't investigate the workaholic's self-sabotage.

File under "obscure New York artists who died prematurely of AIDS."  This growing genre of documentaries shows the loss of great minds and talents like Arthur Russell, regardless of what level of success or achievement they attained.  We mourn the loss of these artists and the alternative culture they so actively created.

One of the touching parts of the film is the history of Russell's relationship with partner Tom Lee, a terrific interview subject, as well as the bonding between Tom and Russell's parents.

1 comment:

EH said...

I really loved this doc and was incredibly moved by the interviews with his parents and lover. A very, very spectacular talent he was. Glad to see someone else giving this film the love it merits.