Friday, April 29, 2011

Movie with Abe: Earthwork

Directed by Chris Ordal
Released April 29, 2011

There have been many movies made about artists of varying degrees of fame. Most often, madness overtakes the protagonists, in such films as “Pollock” or “The Aviator.” More recently, there have also been portraits of creative artists working in less traditional fields. Take, for instance, “Exit through the Gift Shop,” which follows the work of notorious street artists, or “Smash His Camera,” which attempts to humanize an infamous paparazzo. The latest artist to grace the screen may not be crazy, but he may well be one of the kindest men you’re ever likely to meet, and one of the most talented.

Stan Herd is an artist who creates earthworks, planting his canvas in the earth itself to form a temporary but majestic work of art. After toiling in Kansas and struggling to get noticed in order to finally get rewarded financially for the hard work fuelled by his creativity, Herd went to New York City to utilize a piece of land purchased by Donald Trump in the interim period before demolition and construction began. “Earthwork” is Herd’s story brought to the big screen, with a bit of help from Herd himself, who designed the film’s playful and impressive titles, which start the film out on an energetic and distinctive note.

“Earthwork” is both a realization of Herd’s work and a story about unlikely friendships and teamwork. When Herd arrives in New York and visits his future workspace, he learns that there are several homeless individuals living where he will be working. Rather than be scared away or attempt to ignore them or kick them out, Herd joyfully incorporates his neighbors into his process, giving them tasks to do that both help lighten his load and enable them to give their lives a sense of purpose, if only temporarily.

The ensemble cast helps to make this film work due to the quiet, human performances delivered by the actors. Even if Laura Kirk’s sappy portrayal of Herd’s wife back in Kansas leaves something to be desired, things brighten considerably once Herd arrives in New York City and meets the urban dwellers. John Hawkes, fresh off his Oscar nomination for last year’s “Winter’s Bone,” is back to playing nice guys but still puts just as much heart and hard work into his performances. Among the ensemble, James McDaniel and Zach Grenier stand out as two lost individuals whose lives are transformed by Herd’s presence. The film is a tribute to Herd’s art and his influence, and though it drags and lags at points, it’s overall a pleasant, eye-opening and eye-popping experience.


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