A low-key appreciation of multitalented musician Arthur Russell, whose 1980s New York heyday incorporated  work in pop, classical and disco.

“Wild Combination” is a low-key appreciation of multitalented musician Arthur Russell, whose 1980s New York heyday incorporated  work in pop, classical and disco. Russell died of AIDS in 1992, but a recent tribute album of covers, Gotham print profiles and release of his own music have given his oeuvre new traction. His emerging cult status, along with pic’s glimpses of pre-Studio 54 dance/music scene, render this attractive to fests and DVD completists over arthouse distribs.

Fleeing Oskaloosa, Iowa, when his Chuck caught him with pot, cellist Russell met Allen Ginsberg and discovered Buddhism in San Francisco before following the Beat poet to New York and a collaboration with Philip Glass. He became music director of art center the Kitchen in 1974, and was soon marrying orchestral music and pop sensibilities to the nascent disco scene with a demanding perfectionism that would prove self-defeating. “Not many people allow themselves the full extent of their complexity,” someone says, sagely encapsulating the composer’s eccentric nature. Pic is thin on actual footage of Russell, but pungently evokes the creative petrie dish of the late-1970s, early-1980s downtown. Tech credits are modest but evocative.

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell

Production

A Polari Pictures production. Produced by Kyle Martin, Ben Howe, Matt Wolf. Executive producers, Mark Lewin, Philip Aarons, Shelley Fox Aarons. Directed, written by Matt Wolf.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Jody Lee Lipes; editor, Lane Edmands; music, Arthur Russell, various; costume designer, Janicza Bravo; sound (Dolby LtRt), Micah Bloomberg. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama: Documentaries), Feb. 15, 2008. Running time: 70 MIN.

With

Arthur Russell, Chuck Russell, Emily Russell, Philip Glass, David Toop, Tom Lee, Allen Ginsberg, Ernie Brooks.

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