Over the past 35 years, Robert Wilson has become the richest and most successful (not to mention most predictable) director-designer to emerge from the New York performance avant-garde of the late ’60s. Absolute here refers to Wilson’s desire to bend all media—opera, plays, installation art—to his severe aesthetic, a large-scale hybrid of Surrealist juxtapositions and Futurist angularity, paced at about half the rate of glacial shift.
How a gawky stutterer from Texas became a globalist art god is the motor behind Katharina Otto-Bernstein’s energetic, humorous tribute. She makes fine use of archival footage from Wilson’s early performances, such as Deafman Glance (1971). Otto-Bernstein’s interviews with collaborators (Philip Glass), fans (Susan Sontag) and academics shed light on what made Wilson’s theater so accessible yet refined. Only crusty John Simon opines that the emperor is naked. As with most artist docs, it’s long on breathless admiration and short on technical craft—although scenes of Wilson in rehearsal shows a petulant puppet master with inexhaustible energy and a tendency to throw fits. The shot that says it all: Wilson manhandling Isabelle Huppert for 1994’s Orlando, showing her precisely how to hold her arm, as if he were David LaChapelle and she just runway meat. Is that irritation on her face? Absolutely impossible. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — David Cote