Rivers and Tides Movie Review
Documentarian filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer doesn't really have the answers to this question, since he never really asks Goldsworthy, who is nearly the only character to appear in the film, about his obsession with temporary things. Goldsworthy talks extensively about communing with nature, about his love for the sea and the rivers of the world, and about his feelings for various materials and locations. He even talks about attending "art college," but his true motives never really emerge.
Thankfully this is the only real failing in Rivers and Tides, and though it's a big one, you can easily lose yourself in Goldsworthy's absolutely gorgeous compositions. Stacks of wood change color in the sun -- captured beautifully by Riedelsheimer's time-lapse photography. The tide comes in and covers up a rock sculpture; plants grow up around another one, obscuring all but its tip. Some of these installations are more permanent than others -- the rock stacks seem impervious to time -- while others are gone in a second -- a ball of hand-tinted mud immediately disintegrates after making a brightly colored splash in a river.
Of course, Riedelsheimer is a teeny bit disingenuous about the lack of permanence in Goldsworthy's art -- photographs of his (now gone) works sell for tens of thousands of dollars. He also works on commissioned projects for museums, schools, and other institutions, obviously these are designed to be permanent in nature. Some of these commissions are captured in the film, and one in particular -- a tall and winding wall of rocks that must stretch for 300 yards -- is jaw-dropping in its elegance and scale. The other must-see moments involve when Goldsworthy's creations collapse before they're finished. One particularly troubled rock stack falls apart four times, and the expressions on Goldsworthy's face is priceless -- a look of mild frustration combined with massive acceptance and patience. He starts again every time, despite the fact that, in the end, all of his work will return to the earth.
Rivers and Tides is not a perfect documentary but it's probably the most beautiful film you'll see this year. Currently only being exhibited in San Francisco, don't be surprised if you see it arriving at your local arthouse before the fall.
If you missed the theatrical release, Rivers and Tides is now on DVD, which adds seven new short films about Goldsworthy, plus a bio of the artist.
Aka Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time.