Great documentaries about the arts

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I’ve been looking for some extra inspiration in the studio lately, so I’m revisiting favorite documentaries on the arts.

Exit Through the Gift Shop - Banksy created this film using footage from a French shop owner obsessed with graffiti and meeting Banksy. Beautiful images, and a surprising twist.

Touch the Sound – We follow the world’s only solo percussionist, Evelyn Glennie as she performs on 3 different continents and talks about her relationship to sound and music. Glennie’s commitment to making music and absolute joy in what she does comes through brilliantly. DPL doesn’t own any of her music, but I highly recommend checking her out. She also did a TED talk.

Bill Cunningham New York – We follow the New York Times’ fashion photographer as he shoots in NYC and Paris. Interspersed with his work are his really interesting insights on fashion and culture in general.

Our City Dreams – Delves into the lives of 5 prominent female New York artists- Nancy Spero, Marina Abramovic, Kiki Smith, Ghada Amer, and Swoon. Talks about how the city feeds their work, why they moved there, and how they live their lives.

Mad Hot Ballroom – We watch 5th graders from three New York public schools as they prepare for a yearly ballroom dance competition. Watching these kids move from fidgeting along opposite walls to developing opinions about dance is interesting and hilarious.

Rivers and Tides – Filmmaker Thomas Reidelsheimer created a beautiful and brilliantly shot film with Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy. Watching Goldsworthy work is mesmerizing and his lack of self importance is refreshing.

Art: 21 – The really excellent PBS TV series featuring some of today’s best artists.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child – Filmed by his friend Tamara Davis, this documentary shows Basquiat’s brilliance and the heartbreaking toll that fame took on him.

Edward Burtynsky: Manufactured Landscapes – The photographs and situations that Burtynsky discovers are so incredibly beautiful… until the camera pulls back and what was once a colorful abstraction is now a pile of trash in a Chinese village. Industrial waste has never been so beautiful. (see also: Manufactured Landscapes: The Photographs of Edward Burtynsky)

Bomb It – Follows graffiti writers across 4 continents. The work is beautiful, and listening to them talk about art, personal philosophies, and of course, the legality of the work, is really amazing. See also: Style Wars (early NYC graffiti), Write and Unite, and the Graffiti Verite series.

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037 – I love watching things being built, but seeing the relationship that the musicians have with the Steinway really made this film shine.

Rip! A Remix Manifesto – Filmmaker Brett Gaylor discusses copyright and its relationship to the arts. A large portion of the documentary covers Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) and how copyright influences his mashup music. Really interesting stuff.

*not @ DPL* Nerdcore Rising – Hilarious! We follow Nerdcore artist MC Frontalot on his first tour, talk about what it means to have a form of music exclusively by and for geeks, and of course, the nerdy struggle for acceptance. See the trailer here.

So, this isn’t a documentary, but I really also want to let you know about Every Day is a Good Day: The Visual Art of John Cage. Although he’s mostly known for his music and collaborations with dancer Merce Cunningham, this book talks about Cage’s time making prints. It’s an amazing look at how a professional artist follows a set pattern in artmaking, but at the same time is able to breathe life and curiosity into his work so it doesn’t seem stale. If you enjoy printmaking, Zen Buddhism, or are in a rut, this is a great book to read.

What are you watching/reading to get your creative juices flowing?

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