| Persistence of Vision


Kevin Schreck

USA, 2012


Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 09 May 2013

Source digital projection

Categories The 2013 Independent Film Festival Boston

The new documentary Persistence of Vision retraces the history of acclaimed animator Richard Williams’ troubled attempts to bring a groundbreaking feature film to life. It bears some thematic resemblance to Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s Lost In La Mancha, which chronicles Terry Gilliam’s scuttled efforts to adapt Don Quixote for the big screen. Both films deal with creative frustration and the unhappy realities of balancing commerce and art. But while the scrapped production in Lost in La Mancha seems beset by cosmic bad luck, including floods, the blighted feature in Persistence of Vision is more obviously derailed by its director’s obsession with making his film a masterpiece. The story — skillfully told by first-time feature director Kevin Schreck — isn’t fully a cautionary tale or a tribute, but rather a fascinating meditation on the creative process and the terrible specter of compromise.

A note at the beginning of Persistence of Vision informs us that Williams now refuses to discuss his unfinished dream project, The Thief and the Cobbler, on record, but Schreck does a fine job of acquainting us with the animator via archive footage as well as insightful interviews with many individuals who worked at Williams’ London studio during the decades that The Thief was considered a work in progress. The studio comes across as both an inspiring and disconcerting place to work: Williams is clearly dedicated to advancing the art and craft of animation for its own sake, which is an admirable thing, but he also insists on grueling work schedules for his animators, and his standards are incredibly exacting, particularly where his dream project is concerned. Schreck’s documentary balances truly striking footage of Williams’ unfinished opus (gathered from animators and collectors) with horror stories about budget and schedule overruns and employees who barely get a chance to see their families; implicitly raising the question of how much dedication to craft is too much. (One also wonders if Williams ever really meant to finish the film. Does any final product truly match our initial inspirations?)

Yet while Persistence of Vision resists the urge to be overly fawning about Williams’ very real gifts and ambition, it does help us understand his largely noble intentions, and we can’t help but despair at the most crushing blows dealt to his project, including an instance of startlingly high-profile plagiarism. (The Thief gestates for so long that many of its ideas make their way into a Disney film.) Smaller spoiler here for those who don’t know The Thief’s ultimate fate: Schreck includes a trailer for the version of Williams’ film that was eventually released, a dreary reimagining that took shape after Williams lost creative control of the project. I could barely watch the trailer, peering through splayed fingers at a creation so contrary to its would-be director’s original goals that it was actually painful to take in. Persistence of Vision is a heartbreaker. But it does include touches of hope, and an engaging story like this ought to be told. Happily, Shreck proves more than up to the task of sharing it.

More The 2013 Independent Film Festival Boston

We don’t do comments anymore, but you may contact us here or find us on Twitter or Facebook.