Running Fence (1977)

ALBERT MAYSLES, DAVID MAYSLES, CHARLOTTE ZWERIN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1977.    Cinematography by Albert Maysles, David Maysles.   Music by .   Film Editing by Charlotte Zwerin.  

Conceptual artist and fabric sculptor extraordinaire conceives of a project to erect a 24 mile long, 18 high fabric fence across northern California, which he wants to extend into the sea with the purpose of making it seem to disappear before your eyes.  His plans, as often was the case with his nutty, grandiose ideas, initially meet with resistance by the people of Marin County, who declare that it is a waste of money and most definitely not art.  Christo and his wife and chief collaborator make a point of getting to know the people of the county and, in doing so, win them over, but hearings continue and officials offer resistance while local ranchers are all for it. In this rich and exuberant documentary that is only an hour long, we get to witness conversations about the nature of modern art (including one woman’s talking about the temporal nature of her masterpieces in the kitchen) and hear Christo give his own testimony about his feelings on the subject before getting down to work.  The Maysles Brothers, as always, create a narrative from their footage without ever reducing everything down to simple good and evil, we want to see the artist triumph but we also have plenty of sympathy for bureaucrat who are concerned about the environmental impact of his work on the land they are in charge of protecting; Christo’s disregard for a decision of the court in extending the fences into the sea, a rare case of rebellion for both him and Jeanne-Claude, is something the directors present without judgment. It’s a film that is as much about the fences as it is about the work’s ability to bring out the best nature of (most) people.

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