Monday, August 8, 2016


Unclassifiable -- into a single category, at least. That would be Rosamond Purcell, who is, in the words of author Jonathan Safran Foer, an artist, scholar, documentarian and living cabinet of wonder. "Her originality defies category..."  Ms Purcell is yet another of the subjects of these wonderful documentaries -- that seem to debut almost monthly at New York City's Film Forum -- that TrustMovies knew nothing of prior to seeing and thoroughly enjoying the full-length but relatively short movie made about Purcell and her work by Molly Bernstein (who back in 2013 gave us the magical doc on Ricky Jay, Deceptive Practice).

Ms Bernstein, shown at left, has both directed and edited this 75-minute movie, and she's packed it full of oddball wonders and bizarre creations that come from the singular Ms Purcell, whom we meet and view in both current times, below, and way-back-when, shown at bottom. (We also meet her husband of many years, who seems a near-perfect helpmeet.)

A highly intelligent woman who is particularly good at expressing herself (much of what we hear her say here, I believe, has been taken directly from her writings), Purcell tells us right up front regarding her art: "I've stuck with containment, and yet I'm always trying to pick the lock."

Soon we hear from a whole raft of people from Errol Morris to Mr. Jay, as well as museum curators and the like -- each of whom resides at the pinnacle of his or her industry -- and what they have to say about the artist and her work is every bit as intelligent and fascinating as the woman herself.

Just as documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter finds immense beauty in desolation in his new documentary Homo Sapiens, Purcell finds hers in weirdness, sickness, death and the discarded. and yet her work does not seem ugly or sleazy. Instead it just seems mysterious. As Mr. Morris says about it: "Her work preserves the mystery of the object."

That work involves photography (in which she uses natural light only), collage, natural history, and lots more, eventually taking us into the realm of Shakespeare! The movie begins in the junkyard of a friend and supplier, whom she calls Bucky, and it finally ends there, too, even as Purcell tells us of Bucky's death and shows us the destruction of the building, the contents of which have been such a source of inspiration.

I would suggest that one viewing is probably not enough to get full measure out of this short documentary. Purcell's work is so strange, encompassing, rich and often, somehow, just out of reach. You have to keep looking. And thinking. And making connections.

From BOND/360, An Art That Nature Makes: The Work of Rosamond Purcell opens this Wednesday, August 10, for only a one-week run at New York City's Film Forum. Also on this program will be an eight-minute short directed by Lisa Crafts, called Season of Wonder.

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