Articles by

<Ian Erickson-Kery>

02/15/12 4:00am

The Forgotten Space
Directed by Allan Sekula and Noel Burch

As The Forgotten Space points out, the sea has always been mysterious and largely unknown to humanity, despite the fact that it takes up the majority of the Earth’s surface. However, 90 per cent of commercial transport occurs in this “forgotten space,” meaning that actual obfuscation may accompany the mystery of the sea. The film’s project is to undo some of this forgetting; it develops from a comment on maritime commerce into a sweeping examination of systems and stories that global capitalism blinds its consumers from witnessing.

The political documentary is an essential form in this kind of pursuit—bringing the forgotten and obscured into detailed view in order to up transparency and, sometimes, provoke action. The form has potent potential to respond to faceless, marginalizing forces by chronicling actual human experiences with depth and rawness. In doing so, documentaries must triumph the specific over the general.

This is the ultimate pitfall of The Forgotten Space: it chooses to look out at the capitalist system rather than turning inward to human experience. In its voyage with the global shipping system, it depicts a number of local situations—in Rotterdam, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Bilbao—with insight and often heart-rending interviews and clips. However, the potency of these accounts is diminished by the film’s over-ambitiousness. It often strays from the broad subject of shipping to the even broader and more ambiguous subject of capitalism itself. Indeed, it addresses many of the crises of late capitalism—such as excessive globalization, the dominance of multinational corporations, the gambling of market investors, and over-mechanization—independently of shipping. More problematically, the local stories begin to appear secondary to broader ideological concerns.

The personal accounts, which are too numerous and treated too quickly, become lost. The Forgotten Space seems an attempt to depict global capitalism in its totality, almost forgetting one of the reasons the system is troubling to begin with—it is too widespread and pervasive to ever be accounted for.

Stylistically, the film is certainly well-executed, if at times a bit polished and self-conscious. Allen Secula’s narration effectively captures the bleakness of his subject matter in a droning but always insightful tone. At times, his words resonate poetically: “in the outskirts of Rotterdam’s shipping yards, the little human labor that remains has become a literal appendage to the machine.” Elsewhere, they comes across as smug and cynical, such as when he describes “the free play of the mind and the muscles” at a Rotterdam day care as “spirited rehearsal for the automatic future.”

The film bears a strange resemblance to Lars von Trier’s Melancholia in that it communicates a sense of impending doom with beautiful images. The Forgotten Space contains refined shot after refined shot, giving grace to vessels, shipping yards, meandering trains and interview subjects alike. However, one must question the politics of such aesthetics. Is watching, and perhaps learning, enough? There is a faint call for action at the end, but the film is less a political catalyst than an aesthetically refined portrayal of something widely known to be vast and faceless.

Opens February 15 at Anthology Film Archives

01/30/12 8:00am

In 1845, panic swept the Northeastern United States as 23 percent of its residents were infected with Combustivism, a disorder causing hallucinations, delusions and violent outrages. The situation became so dire that martial law was declared in several states. Meanwhile, unsubstantiated rumors circulated about the cause of the disorder. One theory purported that the inhalation of the dried remnants of cardinal feces was to blame, provoking the widespread slaughter of the species whose ubiquity gave the state of Massachusetts ("Red Sky" in Algonquin) its name. Various reactionary measures were taken over the course of the next half-decade, including the burning of a Philadelphia neighborhood and numerous Brooklyn rose fields, until finally a chemist named George Halley correctly determined that the removal of nitrous oxide during coal production would end the outbreak.

The above account, paraphrased from the press release written by Todd Colby for Marianne Vitale's solo show What I Need To Do Is Lighten the Fuck up ABout a Lot of Shit (at Zach Feuer through February 25), is about as factual as Sarah Palin's assertion that Paul Revere rode to warn the British. But while someone with a rudimentary knowledge of U.S. history could detect Palin's gaffe, the ornate combustivism fiction appears coherent lest you happen to know, for instance, that Massachusetts' name refers to the state's blue hills, not cardinals. The thoroughly and entertainingly absurd press release speaks to the ease with which American history can be written with truthiness, the literary quality of all historical accounts, and our collective need to lighten the fuck up.

By contrast, the three works in the exhibition are delightfully tactile proof that, unlike texts, objects' material conditions reveal their histories. Each work subjects reclaimed lumber, a material with its own unknown history, to a specific, very physical, process. "Burned Bridge" (2012) is part of a series in which Vitale constructs scaled-down models of actual bridges and sets them aflame. The result is a sculpture that contains chaos and decay within its crisp frame of charred trusses. A pungent scent left by the fire fills the gallery, evoking the smell of burning rose fields conjured by the press release. The scent gives the sculpture a powerful life force in spite of its destruction.

"Outhouse" (2012) similarly evokes an ambiguous past. The eight-foot-tall structure looms above the viewer and has only the semblance of a closed door, casting into question its interior. The only entry points, so to speak, are a smattering of bullet holes that indicate an unusual process (shooting the work) and suggest a number of peculiar possible narratives.

Finally, an untitled wall-hung piece in the form of a large rectangular canvas is made from vertical slats of lumber pierced with nails. It has the feel of a cabin-chic Brooklyn bar gone awry and the eerie harshness of an Anselm Kiefer painting. Through such objects and processes, and Colby's story, the past bleeds into the present; Vitale deftly explores this grey zone between memory, history and reality in her cerebral, playful and sensorial exhibition.

(Images courtesy the artist, Zach Feuer Gallery)

01/18/12 4:00am

Watching TV with the Red Chinese
Directed by Shimon Dotan

Like a late-night armchair philosophy session, Watching TV With the Red Chinese has lofty cerebral ambitions. It grasps—or more accurately, claws—to make sense to itself. The year is 1980 and the setting is an especially rough patch of Harlem. Students Tzu (James Chen), Wa (Keong Sim) and Chen (Leonardo Nam) have just arrived from communist China. They encounter turmoil left and right—homelessness, violence, urban grit—but they quickly make friends with their next-door neighbor Dexter (Ryan O’Nan), a literature teacher, and his friend Billy (Michael Esper), a struggling filmmaker.

From here, the film does a lot of thinking, which comes mainly in the form of isolated philosophical pronouncements from its characters. A shot of a malaise-filled Dexter waiting in a grimy subway station appears on numerous occasions, each accompanied by a different angst-ridden morsel of thought. These usually have something to do with chance and alternate reality, which seems to fill each character’s thoughts. These reflections quickly grow tiresome and repetitive, eventually bearing little more distinction or permanence than a passing subway car.

In scene after scene the Chinese trio serves as little more than backdrop to the lives of the film’s American characters. Billy makes the students the subject of his film, Watching TV with the Red Chinese of the same title. Grainy footage from this project is interspersed through the actual film. In these frames, the Chinese are represented as clumsy and dogmatic in their response to American culture. This film has elements to provide meaningful insight about cross-cultural exchange, but the characters have so little depth that cultures pass each other like ships in the night. There are a few moments of poignant cultural dialogue, like an impromptu game of football in the street, but these are few and fleeting.

Towards the end, the narrative devolves into a love triangle between Dexter, his ex-girlfriend Suzanne (Gillian Jacobs) and Chen. Each character becomes emotionally wrought to the point of melodrama, while the film fails to present a single scene of viable dialogue or romance between lovers. Especially problematic is the fact the Chen, who Suzanne does eventually date, never seems to be more than an aside to Dexter and Suzanne’s emotional troubles. Caught in the midst of this, Chen dies in a grisly accident; he is the literal victim of the film’s refusal to account for cultural or emotional nuance.

Watching TV With the Red Chinese suffers the same miserable fate that awaits much grandiose philosophical thinking: verbiage becomes an inadequate substitute for life. This obsession with idea of content suffocates the film from beginning to end.

Opens January 20

01/04/12 7:00am

On the surface, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture (through February 12) has the appearance of an ordinary museum exhibition. It contains 104 works, the majority of which are painted or photographed portraits. There are some films and installations, but much of the work is very conventional in nature. No slides. No extra-long foosball tables hanging from the ceiling.

Yet the exhibition proves to be much more dynamic than its flashy counterparts at the New Museum (Carsten Höller’s Experience) and the Guggenheim (Maurizio Cattelan’s All). Hide/Seek demands engagement with an intricate web of personal histories. This web lends structure to a show where few single pieces stand out because each is so compelling.

To trace just one narrative: there are two early-20th century oil paintings by Marsden Hartley, which serve as abstract metaphors for two different love interests. Charles Demuth’s “Study for Poster Portrait: Marsden Hartley” (ca. 1923-24) is an abstract portrait of Hartley, whom he counted as a friend. Another Demuth watercolor, “Cabaret Interior with Carl Van Vechten” (ca. 1918), includes a portrait of the Midwest-born writer and photographer who chronicled the Harlem Renaissance and navigated the city’s libidinous nightlife. Three of Van Vechten’s black and white portraits, including one of Langston Hughes, are included. More than static images, the portraits become portals into the artists’ lived experiences.

Hide/Seek navigates the vicissitudes of time, place, class, race and gender with remarkable dexterity. Viewers gain glimpses into the milieux of gay icons like Frank O’Hara and Andy Warhol. Nan Goldin’s photographs give face to a subaltern community of drag queens. The works capture success, glamour and tremendous hardship. In the final room, viewers encounter a large-scale AA Bronson photograph of a brutally emaciated Félix Partz, Bronson’s lover and colleague (with Jorge Zontal) in the art collective General Idea, a few hours after his death in 1994. Poignantly, Bronson’s photograph looms above a Félix Gonzáles-Torrez wrapped candy installation and an unfinished painting by Keith Haring (who also died of AIDS).

Laudably, the museum included David Wojnarowicz’s short film “A Fire in My Belly” (1987) and devoted a small room to its making. The National Portrait Gallery removed the film from its showing of Hide/Seek last year upon protest from the Catholic League and Republican House Speaker John Boehner over an image of ants crawling on a crucifix. The controversy only highlights the vital importance of an exhibition like this today. Hide/Seek cries out against marginalizing forces and the histories they suppress. It presents a rich and complex account of American history, the kind of story that could go a long way in overcoming the present’s stark divisions.

12/07/11 4:00am

Rapid technological advancement over the last decade has produced an immense number of instruments for recording and replaying images and sounds. The exhibition Cory Arcangel vs. Pierre Bismuth at Team Gallery (through December 23) employs different technological instruments (some obsolete, others state-of-the-art) as both media and content. The placement of these disparate technologies in the same space, while incongruous, underlines a fact of life today: technological advancement leaves a vast amount of detritus in its wake. As obsolescence happens ever more quickly, we increasingly use and experience the world through objects that are no longer up to date.
The two artists live on different continents and are of different generations, but are each represented by the gallery. Their exhibition contains three works by Arcangel (selected by Bismuth), three by Bismuth (selected by Arcangel), and a collaborative work. This curatorial platform echoes a sentiment discernible in the works themselves: in an age increasingly shaped by technology, a human element persists. Bismuth’s “Redeemed” (2011) consists of four basic abstract forms, each made from assorted tubes of discarded neon, which were collected by Arcangel. The glowing, gently curving wall-hung sculptures light the gallery after being rescued from either destruction or more conventional commercial uses.

The show’s success hinges more on its overall effect than on individual works. Some are quite restrained in their conceptual gestures. On the other hand, Arcangel’s video “There’s always one at every party” (2010) tracks a joke about coffee table books through various episodes of Seinfeld in a manner that comes across as amateur in comparison to works like Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video montage “The Clock.” An unrelated piece by Bismuth, “Proposal for an Improbable American TV Program – Part II – Seinfeld” (2007), also takes Seinfeld as its subject matter, inserting so many layers of laugh track over the sitcom’s dialogue that it becomes incomprehensible. Each of these works is more trite than spontaneous; their laugh tracks substitute for the playful humor elsewhere in the exhibition.

However, the show’s spirit holds steadfast in Arcangel’s “Various Books/Various Scents” (2011), which contains an unlikely assortment of books sprayed with celebrity-endorsed scents. As if browsing a hybrid of Barnes & Noble and Sephora, viewers can pick up Punk 365 to smell Hannah Montana’s Ready to Rock or The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths by Rosalind Krauss to smell Queen Latifah’s Queen. This show demonstrates, both on the whole and through its perfume-scented books, that conventional notions of the avant-garde—whether technological or artistic—are bunk. Here, art lies in the playful use and interpretation of cultural and material detritus.

(Courtesy of Team Gallery, New York)

11/09/11 9:46am

A rendering of Christo and Jeanne Claudes Over the River. (Photo: Woflgang Volz, courtesy Christo)

  • A rendering of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s “Over the River.” (Photo: Woflgang Volz, courtesy Christo)

New York-based installation artist Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude have been realizing their monumental visions for decades; they wrapped a section of Australian coastline with fabric in 1969 and did the same to Paris’ Pont Neuf in 1984 and Berlin’s Reichstag in 1995. In 2005, they dotted the paths of Central Park with over 7,500 fabric gates. Monday, after 18 years of planning and negotiation, Christo received the go-ahead from the Bureau of Land Management to begin construction on 5.9 miles of fabric canopies to be placed over sections of 42 miles of the Arkansas River in Colorado. The project, called “Over the River,” still needs a few local approvals, but this one marks a major step forward after an environmental impact evaluation by the federal government.

Proponents, including Colorado native and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, cite the potential $121 million windfall from tourism to the installation, which is to be on view for a few weeks possibly as early as 2014. Opponents, including a local group called ROAR (Rags Over the Arkansas River), say that the project will harm the local fishing industry, spur traffic problems, and negatively impact the local bighorn sheep population. A biting editorial in the Denver Post stated that, “in our minds, draping fabric over the area would be akin to putting lipstick on a toddler and entering her in a pageant.”

The artist duo has long seen the negotiation process surrounding their works as part of the art itself. “Every artist in the world likes his or her work to make people think. Imagine how many people were thinking, how many professionals were thinking and writing in preparing that environmental impact statement,” Christo said after the release of Monday’s decision. A long period of negotiation and conversation has preceded many of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works; the Central Park gates, for instance, were unveiled 26 years after their original conception.

The dialogue surrounding “Over the River” demonstrates the artists’ continued ability to provoke local and national engagement over art and the environment, which is never unproductive. The fact that tourism and money are central to the debate in this instance is an unfortunate reality, but the Arkansas River installation has the potential to stand apart from Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s oeuvre and other American western land art pieces. Visitors will be able to experience it from both the land above and in rafts below. Further, the work’s temporary nature prevents it from falling into disrepair or causing a major environmental impact. Regardless, a work of epic proportions is in store.

11/09/11 7:45am

In Derivatives, William Powhida audaciously looks today’s seemingly faceless problems right in the eye. The bulk and best of the show at Postmasters (through November 26) features pencil and watercolor drawings that take the form of manifestos and diagrams and range from notebook-page to mural size. At a time when rapid change renders the present ever more fleeting, Powhida anchors his work firmly in the here and now.

However, he in no way attempts to simplify or distill the present situation. The first drawing is a letter to the art world that begins, “I feel you there trying to process the CRAZY shit going on. I’ve been there for months, and it’s driving me INSANE.” The shit he’s talking about is endlessly multifarious: bankers, the Tea Party, Jeffrey Deitch, Bushwick, fluoride, you name it. To try to make sense of it all, Powhida close-reads the full gamut of media information, right down to obscure tweets. The results are drawings saturated with sharply opinionated text, both original and quoted, as well as corporate logos and portraits of power players.

The show’s astonishing triumph is that, unlike online, everything is worth reading. Out of the cacophony emerges a powerful clarity. Each piece is transparent in its intentions, whether those are to schematize political figures and art institutions, classify art critics and art dealers, or acknowledge the problems with selling art. Where Ryan Trecartin’s video work has deftly established an aesthetic for our brand- and internet-obsessed age, Powhida’s words cry out in opposition.

At a juncture where many Americans are taking to the streets, he refuses to disavow art’s capacity to mount earnest, rigorous, and self-conscious critique. With this show, some of the best thinking about inequality is happening on the vaunted white walls of Chelsea.

(Images courtesy the artist, Postmasters.)

11/03/11 4:00am

Young Goethe in Love
Directed by Philipp Stölzl

Young Goethe in Love opens with all of the trappings of youth in rebellion. The young, strapping Johann Goethe (Alexander Fehling) dashes haphazardly through the manicured courtyard of a law school. He’s running late for a law exam, in which, of course, he humiliatingly fails. His exit is met with jeers from more successful peers, and in a gracefully filmed sequence he scrapes the German equivalent of “Kiss My Ass” into of the snow. Scenes like these, in which a young person makes a boisterous outcry against their forced and structured circumstances, are familiar. But the familiarity of the scene in no way leads into a predictable film; rather, it is just the first layer of many. While the film is mostly just about the emotional travails of being young and in love, it explores the realm with a high degree of wit, style and historical consciousness.

The conversations between Goethe and his love interest Lotte Buff (Miriam Stein)—moments that have ruined many a similar film with dripping, debased romanticism—are effectively witty during their courtship and earnest and insightful in their separation after Lotte’s betrothal to another man. While their chemistry has a certain Germanic rigidity, the viewer can tap into the range of Fehling and Stein’s emotional expression.

Indeed, Lotte’s arranged marriage, Goethe’s attempted suicide, a pistol duel between Goethe and Lotte’s husband, and even scenes of drunken stupor are enacted with emotional nuance that is sure to provoke sympathy. Goethe and Lotte become more than storied, star-crossed lovers, although Stein’s acting goes further than Fehling’s on that front. Fehling at times seems a bit dazed amidst the contours shaped by the greater breath and sharpness of other performances.

A rich aesthetic sensibility ripens the emotional content of the film. The cinematography is elegant and crisp, and given that the film was shot mostly in actual 18th century buildings rather than on sets, there is a creative use of natural light. The compositions are a bit too ordered at times, but the cinematographer Kolja Brandt loosens the reins at appropriate moments, such as a scene of earthy sexual passion and one of a topsy-turvy street carnival. Style is an occasional topic of conversation in the film, and this preoccupation is matched by elegant, individualized, and historically conscious costumes.

However, the film’s historicity is strained at times. In Lotte and Goethe’s last encounter, Lotte foretells the story of their happy life apart. Goethe is skeptical of any prospect of happiness and she responds that the story “is more than the truth. It is poetry.” While this high valuation of literary pursuits is admirable, it raises some issues with the film’s premise: the supposedly true story that spawned the literary classic The Sorrows of Young Werther. Her utterance unintentionally comes across as whimsical; a very personal moment is rendered impersonal by philosophical pronouncement wanting in originality. Further, it comes across as a catch-all response to any perceived anachronisms or inaccuracies—a apology the film doesn’t need to make. But on the whole, the film effectively balances intentional whimsy and emotional gravity and supplements them with a refined sense of style. It tells a compelling and enjoyable story.

Opens November 4

10/14/11 4:00am

Directed by Joel Schumacher

Everyone’s asking for pity in Trespass, Joel Schumacher’s latest “psychological thriller” that’s actually an anti-psychological thriller. A majority of the 90-minute film takes place on a single evening in which the Miller family is invaded in their lavish home by a band of swarthy extortionists. But that’s not all. Teenage Avery (Liana Liberato) is mad at her mom Sarah (Nicole Kidman) for not letting her go to a party, and Sarah is pouring herself glasses of wine over her money-obsessed husband Kyle’s (Nicholas Cage) neglect of their sex life. The “Mo Money Mo Problems” plot is set up in about 10 minutes, at which point Avery is already dodging security cameras, hopping fences, and getting into her tipsy friend’s car to go party.

The burglars, disguised as cops, get into the Miller compound in a few seconds time and moments later Sarah and Kyle are on the floor and lots of shouting ensues. Here’s where we get a first taste of the film’s perilously clichéd dialogue; Elias (Ben Mendelsohn), the head honcho of the burglars, yells, “I know a lot about you, Kyle, and what I don’t know, you’re gonna tell me.” One wonders if an actual burglar has ever made this pronouncement, and even if so, if anyone has ever felt legitimately threatened by it.

This is a central failure of the film’s narrative: the burglars are so dumb that it requires an extremely willful suspension of disbelief to buy that they even make it into the house, let alone manage to stay for so long. Spoiler alert: each of the four burglars dies. And of course the Millers all survive, albeit frazzled and bruised. But who could imagine that Elias’ younger brother Jonah (Cam Gigandet) would die in a pile of burning cash set aflame by a match and a coincidental trail of gasoline? The four deaths each occur in the blink of an eye and without any narrative groundwork, rendering them laughable. But that’s okay because they’re bad people, right? The Millers are at least trying to maintain a home for themselves—they’ve clearly invested a lot of money towards that end. Do the burglars have anything to show for themselves? Do they deserve any sympathy?

Well, the film gives the burglars some dimensionality, just not much. Elias is a dope dealer because he’s “not good at anything else;” he needs some cash to pay off a nemesis. Elias’ girlfriend, Petal (Jordana Spiro), is a drug-addict and a frenzied emotional wreck. The handsome and robust Jonah has his eye on Sarah, and she can’t help but glimpse back. There are a number of dream-sequence-like flashbacks to flirtatious encounters between the two during Jonah’s prior visits as a technician. The suspicion of adultery—none actually occurs—might appear to complicate the film’s simplistic moral landscape, but it falls short of even a soap opera’s depth of intrigue.

The film makes a lot of hints at current events. Kyle deals in the kinds of things that led America to economic peril—you know, like real estate (it’s unclear). He admits to living entirely on credit. When the burglars realize they’ve robbed nothing but a middleman, Avery, who took a cab home from the party after getting fed up with a douchey, coke-gummed boy, offers to go back to the party where she knows there’s a stash of money. She says it’s saved up for “the next 9/11,” whatever form that cataclysm might take. We see the Miller compound’s penetration by the terrifying outside world, which seems spiraling towards collapse on terms that go unarticulated. Imagine an incoherent series of news ticker announcements on one of the Millers’ big-screen TVs: REAL ESTATE BUBBLE… HEROIN TRADE… TERROR THREAT…

Amidst all of this confusion, the film seems to yearn for world that only exists in American mythology: a world in which the Millers could just be a happy nuclear family, living self-sufficiently on their homestead. But we never get a glimpse of what this might look like specifically for the Millers; they’re fundamentally unhappy, burglary or not. In the closing frame, they lie together in a pile of their own sweat and blood, and whatever hope we have for their future exists only as wish-fulfillment. Within these confines, actual empathy for any character is far-fetched.

Opens October 14

10/06/11 1:39pm


The New York Film Festival screened the music doc Andrew Bird: Fever Year twice this past weekend.

When conceiving Andrew Bird: Fever Year, director Xan Aranda rejected the idea of a biographical film about the folk-rocker. “That is what the internet is for,” said the newly minted director at a post-screening Q&A at this past Saturday’s world premiere at the New York Film Festival. Instead, Aranda sought to “give the viewer a chance to spend time with [Bird]” through a gently meandering series of live performance clips, interviews, and scenes of Bird rehearsing and living.

The film traces the last four months of a feverishly intense year of touring for Bird. The title refers literally to an onstage accident that left him on crutches for much of the tour and with a perpetually high temperature. At one point, a bandmate refers to him as a “sickly little bird,” and while viewers do see an at-times meek Bird, what resonates most is his resilience and commitment to his creative process.

Bird describes his inspiration as “waking up and the mystery that comes from [the self].” That mystery, he later suggests is like chasing a ghost. The documentary’s success comes from the subtle mechanisms it uses to draw viewers back to this idea.

A highlight of the film is a clip of a live performance of “Anonanimal,” accompanied by audio clips from an interview in which he discusses his sudden urge to switch from violin to guitar for a few measures, forcing a brief but good-humored pause in the song. The juxtaposition of song and reflection gives the viewer a glimpse of his spontaneous creative process.

Much of Bird’s work, including “Anonanimal,” makes extensive use of use of looping, particularly of intricate violin melodies. Bird talks about how until very recently, he considered himself only a “student” of looping. The viewer sees how variable Bird’s loops are in live performances, creating a distinct experience for each audience. Bird actually discusses the popular success of “Fitz & Dizzyspells” with a tinge of frustration—to him, the melodies come together too seamlessly, like in a pop song. Looping and aversion to finality figure deftly into Bird’s ghost-chasing philosophy, as well as the film’s lack of linear narrative.

The film makes clear Bird’s intense focus, which he admits borders on obsession. A clip of Bird rehearsing with Annie Clark of St. Vincent leaves an impression of mutual admiration but also seriousness—they are very intent on finessing their duo piece the whole time. But the film provides insight into Bird’s life outside of music as well. He discusses his collaboration with Chicago artisans as a sort of diversion. For instance, he worked with one artisan to make undulating wooden sculptures that look like the barrels of phonographs, and were later used on the sets of Bird’s tour performances.

While Bird is quiet and inward in every sense, viewers see a person deeply committed to his friends, family, and bandmates, and someone humble and gracious to his audiences. Bird spends much of his spare time at his family’s farm in northwestern Illinois. He makes music there, inspired by the lack of “constant crisis” he encounters in his Chicago life, but we also see him tending vegetables and enjoying the tranquility he lacks while touring. Bird is inspired to make music by everything he does, and one might hear the city in his intricate loops and the country in his drawn-out chords.

This rare glimpse into Bird’s life leaves an inspiring impression, not only to be firmly committed to what excites and intrigues us, but also to keep on chasing the ghost that we wake up with each morning.