Seasoned British helmer Michael Apted moves back into the docu realm with the accomplished "Inspirations," a fascinating scrutiny of the creative process via portraits of seven quite different artists. Pic is built around lengthy interviews, and one of the main reasons it works so well is that all seven subjects are remarkably articulate. The first pic from Clear Blue Sky Prods., the indie outfit owned by new-media mogul Paul Allen, "Inspirations" could find limited support in upscale arthouse settings, but its most natural home will be on the small screen. First-rate docu will fit right in at pubcasters, educational webs and specialty arts channels, and the inclusion of celebrity artists David Bowie and Roy Lichtenstein will help make this a highly sellable item internationally.

Seasoned British helmer Michael Apted moves back into the docu realm with the accomplished “Inspirations,” a fascinating scrutiny of the creative process via portraits of seven quite different artists. Pic is built around lengthy interviews, and one of the main reasons it works so well is that all seven subjects are remarkably articulate. The first pic from Clear Blue Sky Prods., the indie outfit owned by new-media mogul Paul Allen, “Inspirations” could find limited support in upscale arthouse settings, but its most natural home will be on the small screen. First-rate docu will fit right in at pubcasters, educational webs and specialty arts channels, and the inclusion of celebrity artists David Bowie and Roy Lichtenstein will help make this a highly sellable item internationally.

Besides arty rock star Bowie and seminal Pop artist Lichtenstein, pic focuses on innovative Montreal choreographer Edouard Lock, dancer Louise Lecavalier, Japanese architect Tadao Ando, clay sculptor Nora Naranjo-Morse and Seattle-based glass artist Dale Chihuly. Apted opts not to go for the straight, biographical approach when putting these artists under the microscope. Rather, he has them explore in some detail just exactly how they create their art, whether it’s Lock’s dark, postmodern dance or Lichtenstein’s cheery, comics-flavored canvases. There is also plenty of footage of the artists at work , which helps greatly to keep pic from looking like a standard-issue talking-heads docu.

For instance, Bowie is captured in the studio recording with his band, and, in one of the most interesting segments in the film, he explains how he uses a personalized computer program, the Verbasizer, to take newspaper articles, randomly reorganize the sentences, and create his Burroughs-esque, nonlinear lyrics.

Lichtenstein is shown painting one of his trademark dot-filled works in his studio, Chihuly is seen directing the frantic operations at his bustling glassworks factory, Naranjo-Morse is captured massaging her earthy clay sculptures, excerpts are included from one of Lock’s dance pieces, and Ando is shot on the site of one of his more ambitious building projects inJapan.

Bowie is probably the most entertaining of the characters, showcasing his dry British wit to good effect and once again coming across as one of the most eloquent rock musicians around. Chihuly, who cuts a swashbuckling figure with his brash style and prominent eye-patch, is also a captivating personality.

Lock, the most intellectual of the bunch, provides a rather rigorous analysis of his challenging, sexually charged style of modern dance. Louise Lecavalier, who has a Gothic, vampirish look, is the lead dancer with Lock’s La La La Human Steps troupe, and is more down-to-earth in her commentary. The normally reserved Lichtenstein opens up a bit with Apted, perhaps because much of the interview takes place while he’s busy at work, and he delivers a surprisingly matter-of-fact description of his cool, ironic Pop style of painting.

Naranjo-Morse talks of the quasi-mystical connections she feels to her ancestors and the evocative landscape of New Mexico, while the weakest link by far is Ando, in large part because his interview is dubbed into English.

Apted’s thoughtful approach gives the subjects a good deal of room to come through with genuine insights about the mysterious process of creating art. Pic is a tad long, however, and would benefit from losing about 10 minutes.

All tech credits are top-notch, and soundtrack is as eclectic as the artists on display, ranging from ethereal, traditional Japanese folk to high-tech avant-garde rock from Bowie and his band.

Inspirations

(DOCU)

Production

A Clear Blue Sky Prods. production. (International sales: Eileen Gregory, Los Angeles.) Produced by Jody Patton, Eileen Gregory. Directed by Michael Apted.

Crew

Camera (color), Maryse Alberti; editor, Susanne Szabo Rostock; music, Patrick Seymour; associate producer, Eric Robison. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 6, 1997. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

With: Tadao Ando, David Bowie, Dale Chihuly, Roy Lichtenstein, Louise Lecavalier, Edouard Lock, Nora Naranjo-Morse.
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