No words necessary
Brilliant documentary follows the sublime flow of an artist working with nature
Documentaries about artists at work are inherently fascinating, and not just when the artist involved is charismatic and flamboyantly successful. Even with the obligatory gnomic artist’s statements and the academic talking heads, they give us privileged moments among even the most mundane mysteries of the creative process.
Thomas Riedelsheimer’s Rivers and Tides, a much admired study of the environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy, is almost another matter altogether. Very little is said in this film, and most of that is offhand remarks by the artist himself. Riedelsheimer shows us Goldsworthy at home and at work, but his attention to the works and to the natural environments (to which Goldsworthy himself is exquisitely attuned) combines into something astonishing and perhaps sublime as well.
Goldsworthy works outdoors in all kinds of weather, with “site-specific” creations made of the natural materials at hand—rocks, leaves, vines, sticks, blossoms, icicles—and produces stone arches, sinuous rock walls, cone-shaped pieces made with balanced rocks, etc. Some of the works are meant to have only a transitory existence—the sun will melt the ice sculpture, the rising of the tide will carry off the swirl-shaped dome made of driftwood.
The film’s full title is Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time, and Riedelsheimer’s direction is brilliantly attuned to the artist’s earthy and extended contemplation of the “flow” within nature. Indeed, while Goldsworthy documents his fugitive works in remote locales via photography, Riedelsheimer’s film documents them in motion and with some quiet and calm long takes that give visible form, as no still photograph can, to the artist’s intuitive notions about multi-layered time.
The edgily delicate musical score by avant-gardist Fred Frith is an exceptional creation in its own right, and it contributes much to the film’s palpable aura of heightened awareness. And Goldsworthy himself comes across as good-naturedly down-to-earth and admirably wary of saying too much about the mysteries he means to celebrate in his work.