Film Review: Beuys
Joseph Beuys when asked to define art said, “The concept of art has expanded so far that every normal situation is art.” Given Beuys own definition, Andres Veiel’s film about the artist would thus fit under the category of art. Veiel claims to have watched over 300 hours of footage of Beuys and to have filmed over 20 interviews. The original plan for the film was to have about 30% be archival footage, but the final cut yielded the film with roughly 95% archival material.
Veiel and his team of editors had a vast wealth of archival photography, film, recorded interviews, and written documentation on Beuys. In the original cut of the film Veiel organized the artist’s biography in a typical, linear documentary style, but due to holes in the archives, which according to Viele left the film feeling spotty in areas and didn’t honor the artistic sensibilities of Beuys, the decision was made to revisit the cutting table and organize the material in a non-linear fashion that felt more on beat with Beuys as an artist.
The documentary developed a locutionary air. Beuys more famous works were covered to include, I Like America and America Likes Me (1974) and How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965). However, without a linear timeline the artist’s development was indefinite. The film failed to provide context in regards to historical events that were occurring at the time of Beuys’ work, and while the artist’s presence and impact was irrefutable, the omission of grounding his work in any social and political context only weakened the sense of the artist's prominence.
Viele used an interesting structure in the film incorporating contact sheets that allowed us to zoom in and out of photographs of the artist, helping us visually shift from different time periods. Beuys' work was also exclusively shown in original archival footage, which gave it a greater gravitas than re-capturing his work in the present. The grainy, inferior technical quality of the material harkens back to the time Beuys was producing, and seeing the works in the time they were created with the artist in the room gives them a sense of immediacy and life.
Joseph Beuys is one of the pioneers of performance art. Many artists today have gained prominence by re-imaging the work of Beuys. He was a shadowed man, with depths and corners to his genius that may never be illuminated. Like his project, 7,000 Eichen (Oaks), that literally continues to grow, Beuys' sentiments and impact will continue to percolate and resonate in the art world for many years to come. The state of the world lends itself to the retention of Beuys' relevancy, and while Veiel fell short on grounding the artist's work in its historical context, he did well to transplant Beuys into our immediate consciousness, reminding us his prodigious artistry is still alive in its concernment.