Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bill Stone's stonemason doc, TRIUMPH OF THE WALL, subverts one's expectations

This new documentary via Canada probably also subverted the expectations of its filmmaker, Bill Stone, and certainly those of the fellow building the title subject in TRIUMPH OF THE WALL. That's a very clever title, by the way, as it plays on an earlier and maybe a tad more famous documentary of almost the same name (if you switched that "A" for an "I"). Truthfully, though, it is difficult to say what the expectations of that builder, a newly-minted stonemason named Chris Overing, actually are, as Mr. Overing, shown below -- a very cute and hirsute young man with absolutely great legs -- keeps everything personal about himself, his supposed "client" (for whom he is building said wall) and the great estate upon which he may live and clearly does work (for money, or is he family, or does he take it out in trade?). Who knows? This guy keeps it all very close to the vest.

What we do know, if we can believe it all, is that Overing plans to build a 1,000 foot-long dry-stone wall in this area of rural Quebec, and that Stone, who has met up with the guy early on, talks stone-mason into letting filmmaker record the project -- with the under-standing that we will not delve into personal matters. Of course, the personal counts for so much, but you wouldn't know it here. Except maybe where the filmmaker himself is concerned. And so Triumph may remind you a good bit of the movies of Ross McElwee.

Regarding Mr Stone, shown at left, who acts as writer/director/cinema-tographer/narrator, we do learn a few things. In the beginning he wonders if this is all about making choices, and the wrong ones, at that. No, it's instead about making something lasting that is yours and will guarantee your reputation. Somebody here is seeking permanence. Good luck. (I guess neither filmmaker, shown at left, nor stonemason has read Ozymandius.) Still, the whole project offers something to do (and to film), and from what we see of the wall (a few photos below), in close-up and in long shot as it grows in length, it is indeed a thing of beauty.

Meanwhile, we learn that Stone's companion of some years (shown above) has left him, and that his fish (shown below) is dying. Does our fellow have problems with commitment? Or simple care-taking? Or maybe it's just that, concerning artists, it is always the art that trumps all. No answers here, either, but the questions do linger.

Along the way of this too-long, 102-minute movie, we meet a number of Overing's paid assistants, some of whom we learn almost nothing about, others at least we get to hear kibbitzing about their job and their boss. In the most telling scene, two assistants complain of their low pay and how the boss is often late and-where-the-hell-is-he-this-morning? And then he shows up, carting a huge load of new rocks that he's been gathering over probably the last few hours.

We follow along, literally year after year after year, beginning in 2001. (Did 9/11 have anything to do with this project? We don't know. Though we do get, from those two assistants, some jokey repertoire about that dismal day, along with some chatter about Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music.) Will the wall ever be finished? Good question, and one that the filmmaker clearly has been pondering.

So, toward the end of the film, he hightails it off to Scotland to see some older dry-stone walls and chat with the men who've built them -- one of whom is shown just below.

So what the fuck is this movie about? Another good question. After viewing it, I went to the press materials and discovered that the filmmaker imagines that Triumph just might be "the manifesto of the X and Y generations: the right -- or plight -- of having the broadest freedom to choose one's life direction. No generation in history has ever been so free to uniquely define themselves and follow their 'passions.' Yet many find themselves in paralysis, having to come to terms with what can seem like an overwhelming obligation to fulfill self-created goals."

The above is very interesting, but it seems to me you could apply it, for starters, to Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac and their friends from those On the Road days. And Overing, above and below, certainly possesses some of the same charisma of Cassady. (Instead of "On the Road" you might call this one, "On the Build.") And every generation, after all, has its seekers; there may simply be more of them around these days, what with so little paying work available. (At one point, with the film's nod to the importance of plain old "work," Uncle Vanya came immediately to my mind.)

There is something besides wall-building going on here, that's for sure, but I'm afraid that Stone has not been able to near fully do it justice. Still, his documentary is worth seeing, and thinking about. Once you do, feel free to weigh in here and post a comment.

Triumph of the Wall, from Bunbury Films and distributed by First Run Features, opens this Friday, May 31, in New York City at the Quad Cinema and the following week, June 3, at the Knickerbocker Cinema in Holland, Michigan. Those are the only playdates currently scheduled, but surely a DVD release is eventually planned.

Personal Appearances! For those who want to know more, 
and you surely will, once you've seen this film,
director Bill Stone, producer Fred Bohbot and the 
"Wall Guy" Chris Overing will be present at the Quad Cinema 
for Q&A's on Friday, 5/31; Saturday, 6/1; 
and Sunday, 6/2, following the 7:00 pm shows.

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