Robert Wilson doc disappointingly pedestrian

Absolute Wilson

on October 27, 2006 by Bridget Byrne
It's pleasing to be reminded of Robert Wilson's work, or, as the case may be, eye-opening to see it for the first time. And it's amusing to hear Wilson's bruised-humor reflections of his relationship with his family, particularly his dad. But overall there's much less "there” there than might be expected from "Absolute Wilson," the documentary Katharina Otto-Bernstein has put together after trailing the artistic creator for several years.

But maybe that's the truth -- that there's not as much there as the eye sees and delights in. The visuals of Wilson's theatrical, operatic, dance-driven, fine-art concoctions are often a treat -- clever, amusing, poignant and thought-provoking -- but that doesn't mean there's that much thought behind them, or that what thoughts there are can stand alone. His work is clearly strengthened when linked to the work of writers, thinkers and musicians who appear to actually have something to say or play.

This is a surprisingly by-the-book documentary, a rather standard combination of clips and talking heads, among them musician David Byrne, the late Susan Sontag, opera diva Jessye Norman, composer Philip Glass and Wilson's sister Suzanne, who still seems a little shell-shocked by what her brother gets up to. Over all, though not surprisingly, the result is too sharply slanted in favor of Wilson's genius rather than in questioning his talent. Critic John Simon does show up to provide a squib of scalding dissent from the fan base, but then he's not known for liking anything much. There are many hints but not much clear exposure of how personal indulgences and odd friendships impact Wilson's creativity and a few murmurs about whether that's for better or worse. People occasionally sound a bit peeved about the way he carries on, and he in turn is coy about his own behavior. But some of the stuff he puts up on stage in productions like "Einstein on the Beach" and "Deafman Glance" is certainly worth a second look, and this at least is one way of getting one. Directed and written by Katharina Otto- Bernstein. Produced by Katharina Otto-Bernstein and Penny CM Stankiewicz. A New Yorker release. Documentary. Not yet rated. Running time: 110 min
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