Absolute Wilson: Docu about Visual Artist Robert Wilson

The new documentary Absolute Wilson offers a chronicle the life and career of Robert Wilson, one of the world’s most groundbreaking visual artists. Though the film is ultimately more a celebration than a critical work, being the first of its kind has both historical and artistic merits.

Filmmaker Katharina Otto-Bernstein has followed the restless creator for five years around the world, resulting in a unique portrait of a complex and idiosyncratic artist that freely moves between past and present.

More than a biography, and defying chronology, Absolute Wilson describes the moving and revealing tale of a child, the son of the mayor of Waco, who grew up as a troubled outsider in a segregated and fundamentalist Texas during the 1940s and 1950s.

Plagued by a speech impediment and learning disabilities, and longing for the love of a disapproving father, Wilson quickly learned to embrace his differences. Like other artists, being an outsider and shy, Wilson channeled his status anxieties into his artistic work. As a youngster, he discovered profound liberation in the New York arts world of the 1960s.

Inter-cutting candid interviews of the artist himself with rare, never before seen archival footage of his work, Absolute Wilson is a tour de force into the mind of an unbending spirit. Providing further insight into Wilson’s life and art is lively commentary from a range of collaborators, lovers, admirers, family members — and even detractors — including musician David Byrne, writer Susan Sontag (in one of the last interviews before her death), composer Philip Glass, opera star Jessye Norman, and critic John Rockwell.

Wilson has long been considered one of contemporary cultures most insoluble mysteries. The creator of revolutionary works of theatre, opera, dance, performance and fine art, Wilson has continued to change the landscape of 21st century expression with groundbreaking international theatre productions such as “Deafman Glance,” “Einstein on the Beach” and “The Black Rider.” Wilson’s work pushes the limits of time and space, forging images of astonishing beauty, nightmarish psychological complexity, stark wit and haunting emotion. Many have lauded him as a mesmerizing visual genius. Others damn his productions as self-indulgent, excessively long, and extremely costly.

Overall, Absolute Wilson is more revelatory about the artist than the person and his lifestyle. Living up to the docu’s apt title, the incendiary, influential, contradictory, puzzling, otherworldly, mischievous, unclassifiable Wilson is absolutely all of these.