Appellate Judge James A. Stewart finally sees a wall that isn't a barrier.
"If it's insane, and you're still going to do it, it must be art."
As Triumph of the Wall opens, a slug (or perhaps some other tiny creature) makes its way slowly along the stone wall. Soon, we see two guys—Chris and Des—making their way slowly along the wall. Chris and Des, of course, are carrying the stones and placing them.
Building a wall is slow work; at one point, they note that they've only placed four stones in nine hours. It's not just getting the stones, but getting the right stone into the right spot. This isn't a wall where you can fix everything with a little mortar. It's a drystone wall, which is just stones placed very carefully. If they're not placed carefully, it's a temporary wall. It's also going to be a thousand-feet long, about the height of the Eiffel Tower, as an infographic shows.
The film is made and narrated by (appropriately) Bill Stone. He followed Chris, Des, and eventually a few other people through years of painstakingly building the wall at a Quebec estate. Stone also headed to New York state to view a wall that took thirty-seven years and wasn't quite completed, to New England with Chris to check on other walls, and to Scotland to talk to, among other people, a microbiologist who found a better job building stone walls.
Whether you believe it or not, it's rather interesting to watch Chris and his associates work, tramping down the wall as they joke around or discuss their task. I admired what they were doing, even if I suspect I could still make a road trip up to Quebec and find them making finishing touches twenty years from now.
Stone narrates with an "Aw, shucks" kind of self-deprecating voice (actually, a lot of sentences starting with "I mean…"), ruminating on his film, which was supposed to take two months, but was—like Chris' wall—taking years, long enough for the funding to come through, as Stone points out at one juncture. His narration could be good or bad, depending on how much you like gentle humor in drawling voices. I liked it—I noticed when I was done, I'd jotted down the best quotes ("What happens when you commit to something?"), and there were a few—but Stone did a little too much of it. I'd have liked to have seen more ambient or music-backed scenes of the wall being built. Stone seems to notice this himself when he ruminates on silence ("Most of the time, we can't do it.").
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is strong, with the bright greens of the estate contrasting with the blue sky above non-Montreal Quebec. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track works well with a wide variety of music, including a lot of jazz, which even has a self-deprecating tone.
It does look like there's a longer version of the movie out there somewhere, as IMDb gives it two entries.
Triumph of the Wall isn't perfect, but if anything, Stone needed to back up and see just how good his footage was. Chris talks about how much better life would be if people spent their time building walls for the sake of building them, and you can really get into his utopian vision—even if you're not into walls or building them.
I mean…not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
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