Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters is an obsessive documentary
A documentary by Ben Shapiro. Unrated. Opens Friday, January 11, at the Vancity Theatre
In Peeping Tom, the film that effectively ended British director Michael Powell’s career in 1960—the same year as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho—the son of a sadistic psychologist turned photography into a fatally voyeuristic art. Brooklyn-born Gregory Crewdson doesn’t take things quite that far, although he is still trying to figure out why his analyst father introduced him, in childhood, to the disturbingly mundane photographs of Diane Arbus.
Mostly working in the hollowed-out, postindustrial towns of rural Massachusetts, Crewdson has documented the existential and material decay in a manner that recalls the haunted painterly worlds of Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth, as well as the David Lynch movies he so obviously loves. Ben Shapiro’s equally obsessive documentary smoothly follows the artist—who is as transparently amusing as his images are darkly foreboding—for almost a decade, as he mounts “Beneath the Roses”, his most ambitious series to date.
Local art followers will be familiar with the iconic complexity of oversized shots by Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham. With his armies of helpers, spontaneous casting process, and fanatical search for only the most telling shards of light, Crewdson takes their concerns about role-playing and isolation to even more intensely cinematic levels. Whether of a woman floating in lingerie on a water-flooded soundstage or of non-events he calls “moments between moments” on actual small-town streets, his beautifully mounted scenes distill the essence of an unmade movie—or an unfinished life—down to single images of staggeringly enigmatic power.
Brief Encounters, which will inspire artists of every stripe, is breezily edited but there’s not much biography aside from the Freudian background cited above and the nugget that this future image maker was in a new-wave band and penned their only regional hit, the presciently titled “Let Me Take Your Photo”. As Uncle Sigmund said, there are no accidents—and especially not in front of the camera.