Heiko Kalmbach’s docu on world-renowned German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans ranks as a howling success.

If films about artists are measured by how much they whet viewers’ curiosity about the artist’s work, Heiko Kalmbach’s docu on world-renowned German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans ranks as a howling success. Ultimately, however, Kalmbach’s perverse refusal to give more than teasing glimpses of Tillmans’ vast oeuvre proves more provoking than provocative. Following the personable young shutterbug over four years, through England, Germany and America as he mounts his innovatively structured exhibitions (Tillmans considers the presentations as crucial as the pieces themselves), Kalmbach’s laid-back approach proves more likable than revelatory. Docu opened Sept. 18 at Gotham’s Anthology Film Archives.

Tillmans’ photos range from classical portraits (like the one that results from a lengthy shoot with Fassbinder thesp Irm Hermann), to more abstract, painterly studies, to the candid-looking club-scene images that first brought him fame. Occasionally, particularly when the print is gargantuan (like “Wake,” a fantastic, light-drenched photo of Tillmans’ abandoned studio), Kalmbach pauses long enough to allow the artifact to exert its fascination. Usually, however, the helmer is content to dog Tillmans’ trail, apparently according to the titular quote: “If one thing matters, everything matters.”

If One Thing Matters: A Film About Wolfgang Tillmans

Germany

Production

A Why Make Things production. Produced, directed, edited by Heiko Kalmbach.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Kalmbach; music, Frank S. Baum. Reviewed on DVD, Sept. 16, 2009. English, German dialogue. Running time: 72 MIN.

With

Wolfgang Tillmans, Conor Donlon, Irm Hermann, Charles W. Hustwick, the Pet Shop Boys.
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