Docurama // 2001 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // February 1st, 2005
"I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and 'found' tools -- a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches. I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn" -- Andy Goldsworthy
While other members of his art class stayed inside the college studio and worked on line drawings, a young Andy Goldsworthy wandered the shoreline of his native Scotland and became entranced with the sea. He found solace in the quiet, tranquil forests and inspiration in the rivers and streams that flowed through the land, cutting an indelible swath into the countryside. From his first experiments with clay and sand, to his intricate work with ice and stone, Goldsworthy understood his calling. He couldn't be bothered with paints or charcoals. He had no tolerance for oils or canvas. In Goldsworthy's mind, the entire planet was a palette, and he would set about arranging it in keeping his own vision of aesthetic purity.
For this amazing sculptor/photographer, art is time plus nature accented with patience. It is combining the proper organic elements together so that they appear to be a direct response to the passage of eons, the rise and fall of the season and tides. It's manipulation of what already exists in the terrain, the taking of the untreated beauty of the world around him and forming it into shapes both suggestive and completely foreign to their surroundings. His works are as much about the construction as they are the end result, each a kind of communing with the environment combined with an inherent knowledge of the earth to form sights of spectacular beauty.
A stunning work of heartbreaking exquisiteness that also has a great deal to say about man's relationship to the world around him, Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides is one of the best documentaries ever made about an artisan and his craft. German director Thomas Riedelsheimer uses the remarkable aspects of Andy's story -- his use of nature, the creation of tenuous masterpieces that time, temperature, and tides often destroy, and his intuitive, instinctual ability to make miracles out of the most mundane of objects -- and unites them with a spectacular visual sense to transport the audience into an ambient world of startling wonders. This film not only touches your senses and sensibilities, but your soul as well. It replenishes the spirit as it eases the mind.
When we first meet Goldsworthy, he is in Nova Scotia, working on one of his many commissions. It is very early in the morning, with dawn several hours away. Bare hands grabbing onto fragile bits of ice, the cold seeming to cut through every tendon and ligament, he meticulously places the frozen jewels in a curved alignment. Then another piece. Then another. One falls off, and a new facet is found and affixed. As the sun rises, the graceful work is revealed. Using icicles, Goldsworthy has created the illusion of water, suspended in mid air, languidly twisting and turning through a riverside rock. As the arches defy gravity and the curves disappear inside the stone, the heat of the oncoming day takes its toll. Before our eyes, the beauty the artist has created is reclaimed by the facet that fostered his work. As the ice melts, the piece falls apart, returning to the river, and awaits to later freeze and solidify, giving Goldsworthy yet more fodder for his next idea.
There is an element of the aboriginal in Goldsworthy's work, a focus on circles and spirals as a direct reference to the spinning of the earth, and the movement of water and rock over and around the soil. Drawing on the druid nature of his native land (Scotland seems like a dreamland of rich green grasses, haunting hills and valleys, and majestic miniature mountains made out of shale and granite) as well as the complexity of Celtic design, Goldsworthy is like a modern shaman, traveling the world, leaving his undeniable mark wherever he goes. Celebrated for his egg shaped rock mounds, seeming to balance perfectly on their rounded bottoms as their points pitch toward the heavens, Goldsworthy utilizes techniques both personal and primeval to achieve his extraordinary works. Some, like the ice sculpture, don't last a day. Others appear ready to bear the true test of time.
Throughout this moving visual feast -- a kind of magnificence one could easily glutton themselves on -- Goldsworthy describes his feelings and his fears at being incapable of controlling the elements necessary for his craft. He is both in command of and in awe of nature, how it works with and against him. During another set piece sequence, Goldsworthy sets out to build one of his egg mounds near the seashore. He has only a few hours before the tide returns and, try as he might, his pile constantly crumbles. After four tries, he appears defeated and dejected. But as he rearranges the stones and starts again, he voices a differing sentiment. Obviously, he hasn't learned all the rocks' secrets yet, he says. When he does, he will be able to succeed. The shots of the impressive effigy slowly being consumed by the rising water are extremely powerful (as is what happens when the flow again ebbs and recedes) and illustrates what Rivers and Tides does best. It gives us a glimpse into the Zen-like mentality of a creative genius, while showing us the majesty and the magic of the special gifts he leaves behind. From intricate leaf ropes fastened together with thorns, to homemade red pigment dug from the ground and smashed between stones, the "found" facets of Goldsworthy's muse make for an extraordinary cinematic trip.
Director Riedelsheimer is also responsible for much of the splendor here. Knowing that Goldsworthy's mannerisms and works more or less speak for themselves, he lets the camera languish and move about his subject, slowly drinking in the drama of creation and the vibrancy of art being born. With an amazingly moody soundtrack by ex-Henry Cow founder Fred Frith providing an achingly atmospheric backdrop, Riedelsheimer uses slow pans, time lapse photography, incremental dissolves, and an overhead effect to reveal and revel in all aspects of Goldsworthy's pieces. We see how nature treats them, what time does to them, and how the constant surge of the Earth's forces effect and change them. As optically dramatic as the work is aesthetically gratifying, this is the perfect amalgamation of subject and cinematics. Riedelsheimer creates his own masterwork by simply letting the lens capture Goldsworthy in all his complicated, considered intellectualism. Contrasting the artist's philosophical spiel with the unrefined, natural look of his works, we get a study in suggested sentiments that speak volumes.
Docurama recognizes and respects this multimedia meditation and offers up Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides in a technically perfected DVD presentation. Aside from the lack of an anamorphic transfer, the 1.85:1 image is radiant in its color and detail. Since muted earth tones make up the vast majority of Goldsworthy's tints, color correction is crucial to understanding the power in his art. Docurama's picture is incandescent, highlighting the occasional burst of primary pigment with shocking clarity. Sound is also important, as both the environmental and the prerecorded help shape and sketch the power in Goldsworthy's works. The Dolby Digital Stereo is spectacular -- full of depth and aching with ambient beauty. As audibly intriguing as it is visually dazzling, Rivers and Tides is a near reference quality DVD experience. Extras are on the earnest side, with several short films (actually, full scenes from the documentary that were later chopped and reedited for time or tone), a photo gallery, and a biography of both Goldsworthy and Riedelsheimer rounding out the contextual supplements.
For many, this will be their initial introduction to Andy Goldsworthy, his personal ethos, and his creative accord between nature and a desire to explore time. Others will simply be mesmerized by the way in which this amazing artist manipulates the planet to achieve wholly organic greatness. About as worthy as a documentary focus as you can find, Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides is a life affirming and altering experience. It is one of the best fact-based films ever.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Seven Previously-Unseen Short Films
* Photo Gallery
* Andy Goldsworthy Biography
* Filmmaker Biography
* Information on Docurama