‘Wild Combination: A Portrait Of Arthur Russell’ at the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival

Arthur Russell

Fall is film festival time in the Northwest and just as our own is winding down Seattle’s is heating up. I love that the currently up and running 13th annual Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival features Halloween horror favs like The Hunger alongside more traditional gay fare.

But a particular highlight is tomorrow’s Wild Combination: A Portrait Of Arthur Russell, which screens at the Harvard Exit Theater at 9:45.

The eccentric musician who composed and pushed his voice and cello into forms as diverse as disco, early ambient, folk and his own uncategorizable genius, died of AIDS in 1992. A collaborator with such names as Philip Glass, Allen Ginsberg, Laurie Anderson and director Robert Wilson, Russell has been looked over as the influential composer that he was.

Director Matt Wolf combines a wide array of Russell’s music, some of which has not been heard for decades, into a beautifully shot documentary that truly does justice to the breadth of Russell’s work. However, the entrancingly pretty cinematography and heart-wrenching testimonials by Russell’s parents, partner and other loved ones, while a lovely tribute, do not mirror Russell’s own unique and eccentric brilliance.

It is a documentary as straightforward as any, the cuts artfully darting between video clips and interviews, overlaid with historic footage and voice-overs set to music. It is an effective celebration of Arthur Russell but it lacks the experimental fervor that permeated his work.

And perhaps this is the only way to truly bring him to the forefront. An extra layer of complication could truly confound an already misunderstood artist. But for the documentary medium to truly move forward as an innovative mixture of tribute, artistry and information, more risk needs to be taken in the portrayal of a figure so committed to pushing the envelope.

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