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Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell a film by Matt Wolf. 2008, USA, 71 min. With Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass and David Toop. A revealing and richly textured portrait of the enigmatic musical genius.

This week Le Cinéma Club screens Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, Matt Wolf’s richly textured and endlessly revealing feature documentary on the life and work of one of pop and experimental music’s most enigmatic and heartbreaking figures. A runaway from the farmland of Iowa who left his mark on New York’s countercultures in innumerable forms – profound and transitory, approachable and radical – Russell was a cult figure in his own time, and neglected after his passing in 1992 from AIDS. Wolf’s empathetic and insightful film was key to the widespread rediscovery of Russell’s work upon its initial release in 2008, and we screen it now upon the occasion of its 10th anniversary and Oscilloscope’s release of the film on deluxe Blu-ray and DVD accompanied by rare and exclusive Russell footage and a commentary by Wolf.

 

 

The film adopts a patchwork approach to a diverse, oftentimes contradictory personality, a style that “accepts the fragmentation of the person”, as interviewee David Toop describes Russell’s frequent use of pseudonyms. Wolf chooses to focuses his interviews on just a handful of Russell’s close friends, family and collaborators, including his parents, Philip Glass, and longtime partner Tom Lee, lending the film remarkable intimacy. Through photographs, Russell’s recordings and archival footage we move from the composer’s early encounters with Alan Ginsberg and the Modern Lovers to his late disco productions, catching hitherto unseen glimpses of the artist every step along the way. Wolf, who came from an experimental film background, also makes the daring move of incorporating original footage, with actors playing Russell in his habitual haunts and wearing his actual clothes, shot in Super 8 and DV by cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (Manchester by the Sea, Martha Marcy May Marlene).

 

“In the process of making the movie, I learned things from Arthur about being an artist and pursuing it at all costs. Arthur struggled: he created obstacles for himself and he frustrated his collaborators and loved ones. But I think, unlike many other people, Arthur was able to connect to a primal place of childlike innocence and fun. I love going there with him.” MATT WOLF

 

Matt Wolf is a New York based filmmaker. His 2013 film Teenage investigated the mid-century rise of youth culture, world-premiered at Tribeca and screened at CPH:DOX and the London Film Festival. In 2015 he made the HBO documentary It’s Me, Hilary on Eloise Illustrator Hilary Knight, with executive producers Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner. He is a Guggenheim Fellow, and currently in post-production on Recorder, a documentary on Marion Stokes, an activist who secretly recorded television 24 hours a day for 30 years.

Credits for
WILD COMBINATION: A PORTRAIT OF ARTHUR RUSSELL
with
Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass & David Toop
writer
Matt Wolf
producer
Ben Howe, Kyle Martin & Matt Wolf
cinematography
Jody Lee Lipes
music
Arthur Russell
editor
Lance Edmands
production design
Phil Buccellato
costume design
Janicza Bravo
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