Review by Victoria Large
Posted on 29 April 2012
Source Streaming video
Categories The 2012 Independent Film Festival Boston
“This is all for one picture?” an incredulous teenager asks in Ben Shapiro’s new documentary Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters. The film follows photographer Crewdson as he creates his ambitious Beneath the Roses series of photographs, employing large crews and heavy-duty equipment, and often shutting down streets in the small western Massachusetts towns that provide the settings for his mysterious images.
For those already interested in Crewdson’s work, this film will provide welcome insight into the artist and his methods. We see Crewdson planning, casting, and staging photographs, as well as engaging in an intensive postproduction process that can include compositing the best elements of a set of similar shots. Shapiro captures some wonderful moments of Crewdson interacting with the members of the communities where he takes his photographs, including an instance where a man pushing a cart happens by spontaneously, providing Crewdson with a jolt of inspiration. (The man later reappears in a staged photograph, pushing a cart again.)
The film could also serve as a powerful introduction for newcomers, inviting viewers to look deeply into Crewdson’s elaborately engineered tableaus. The works themselves are extraordinary, betraying filmic influences like Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. Crewdson’s models become characters, often staring into the distance, perhaps making plans, definitely holding secrets. Crewdson frequently compares his photographs to films, but he is interested only in single images, frozen and enigmatic, left for the viewer to interpret. Seeing Crewdson obsess over minutiae - like the exact placement of a model’s hands - speaks to the intensity of his vision, and his assertion that his “life makes sense” when he gets the image that he wants resonates with anyone who is deeply moved to create or enjoy art.
Shapiro’s storytelling feels refreshingly seamless and unobtrusive throughout. He mixes footage of Crewdson at work with interviews and key archival tidbits (including a music video from Crewdson’s former band The Speedies, whose one hit was, amusingly, “Let Me Take Your Photo”). The director also lingers over Crewdson’s actual photos, allowing viewers to take in their uniquely haunting atmosphere and extraordinary sense of detail. It’s striking that as the documentary progresses, it becomes easier to see the strange and cinematic qualities in the ostensibly ordinary streets where Crewdson finds his inspiration. The juxtaposition of the finished photos from Beneath the Roses with footage of Crewdson location hunting, for instance, lets us into his world in an illuminating way. Shapiro doesn’t quite demystify Crewdson’s artistic process - such a task is likely impossible, and maybe not even desirable - but he does offer us an enjoyable peek behind the scenes of the creation of some truly haunting works of art.
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