William Wegman

film 5 of 46

Crane Art

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 15, 2015

The titles are really important here. They don’t function in that way that Roland Barthes quite properly criticized in his essay “The Rhetoric of the Image” (collected in the book Image, Music, Text, 1977). That idea was that captions effectively eliminate the richness and multiplicity of the image, because they cause us to stop looking or thinking. Wegman’s films are tiny, action-centered things, with analysis or irony generally occurring to the viewer in the midst of or just after the action in question. So the titles start as simple description, and not pre-emptive analysis. Then they serve as part of the general opening up process. They lead us into the friendly absurdity of the situation, helping us to understand what he’s up to, leaving us to our own subsequent analysis.

Same here. Here’s a crane, making art. There’s the crane’s art. The film entire is a contemplation on the impossibility, absurdity, funny charm of the whole contrivance. Crane Art. That stuffed creature is painting a picture onto that paper on the wall there. Sometimes, accidentally, it is painting the wall. We’ve got that puppet thing going, which is kind of similar to that Cezanne-like, representation/abstraction split. It’s just an object, but there’s something compelling, even mysterious or divine about how operator skill and spectator interest can enliven the inanimate. The painting looks like an abstracted or maybe zoological kind of Chinese calligraphy. Is it bleeding ink out of the mouth? Is that the artist’s shadow down there, momentarily?

At the end, the answer. There’s a brush in its mouth! A poser, with a resolution at the end. Fun!