Friday, 4 May 2012

PUSHWAGNER - Reviewed By Greg Klymkiw - HOT DOCS 2012 MUST-SEE #15

Pushwagner (2012) dir. August B. Hanssen, Even Benestad ****
Review by Greg Klymkiw
"But then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'" - Jack Kerouac

Pushwagner rocks! It rocks hard! This has easily got to be one of the best documentaries I've ever seen about a contemporary living artist. And WHAT an artist! What a movie! On the surface, we learn very little about Norway's septuagenarian bad boy beat-punk maniac artist and yet we learn EVERYTHING we need to know. What's fabulous about the picture - among so many things - is that it never slips into the horrid doc-cliches of so many profile biography portraits. We meet who we need to meet. We hear who we need to hear from. We learn what we need to know. No endless parade of ex-friends-lovers-family-pundits. No endless, boring details about his life (just the good stuff, thanks). No annoying insert shots. No twee solo guitar strumming or piano tinkles in the background (just a stunning, vibrant musical score from composer Gisle Martens Meyer). Even the central conflict of the film, his court battle to regain control of all his artwork that he mistakenly signed over to a former associate, is handled in a compact manner evocative of Pushwagner himself. Mostly, all we need to know is what we get in spades - Pushwagner is clearly some kind of genius, an astounding artist and totally fucking cooler than cool!

The art. WOW! First of all, Pushwagner as a human being is a work of art. The movie opens with a great image of one of his paintings and words of his mad wisdom that pretty much summarize the film, Pushwagner, art, life and (at least for me) the central question of the universe and why we're even here.

Pushwagner Declaration: "You have to press on like a bulldozer to reveal the man behind the mask for future generations."

Tell me about it! Rock on, man. Give me more.

We see the mad genius directing the directors. They know what they're doing. They get what they need and then some. Ah, but what movies I'd have loved to see Pushwagner direct. At least I can imagine them. At least my imaginings can, after seeing this astounding motion picture, permeate my dreams. I can let the pieces of Pushwagner time float about my cerebellum in those deepest points of slumber.

Pushwagner Declaration: "Control has nothing to do with fantasy. Art is fiction. It's about telling a good lie. It doesn't matter as long as it's entertaining. The fun thing about it, is not whether it's true or false, it's the story itself."

The central question that presses on like a bulldozer to reveal the man behind the mask for future generations is this: In a documentary portrait of anyone or anything: Who has upper hand? The subject or the director?

Or both?

Pushwagner demands the filmmakers ask him what he is reading. He demands they compose the shot to his liking. He demands to reveal what he IS reading. He tells them what their next question SHOULD have been.

A stirring series of shots as Pushwagner marches through the streets on his way to court. He will do battle with his former collaborator/assistant Morten Dreyer. He gave 2000 artworks to Dreyer. He wants them back. I know nothing about Dreyer. For all I know, he is a lost bastard child of my favourite director of all time, Carl Dreyer and has assumed this surname, abandoning that of his birth mother. This is not true, of course. It doesn't have to be. I'm more than happy to imagine it. To let it permeate my brain cells. It's a lie, of course. A good lie, I think. Would Pushwagner think so? Probably not. In the meantime, he wants his art back from Dreyer - not much else matters.

Pushwagner Declaration: "If you don't fight you won't survive. You need opposition."

And the art. Creepy, haunting, funny. Hordes of suited suits in dead cities of glass. Magritte by way of Jack Kirby. Bureaucrats. Dead, Empty. So alive.

Pushwagner Declaration: "Art means life or death. In the last 40 years I've lived a vagrant life. Between different social strata but also in different rooms."

Axel Jensen - writer extraordinaire. Pushwagner's chief influence. Collaborator on several great books. And an astounding montage that sucks us into the Pushwagner-Jensen world of Soft City, an artistic collaboration seldom paralleled.

And the vodka. Endless vodka. Mother's milk down Pushwagner's gullet.

Pushwagner Declaration: "To listen to rock and roll you must live it."

What we wonder is when Pushwagner will keel over? Will it happen on film?

Pushwagner Declaration: "Only a catastrophe can change the human heart."

And there he lay in a hospital bed. Kidney failure. Dehydrated. Undernourished. For weeks, Pushwagner has ingested nothing but vodka. He looks to the homeless for guidance. He too was once homeless and like them, he seeks to "neutralize negative psychological circumstances by drinking."

His mantra is "so little time, so much to do".

Will he do it?

A mad dance with a Bloody Mary clutched in his hand. Crazed brilliant sketches during the court case. Refusing to speak at his own art show, then taking over from a mouth-piece to toast Mother Norway.

Pushwagner the artist. Pushwagner the man.

The man who "goes to loo and wipes his arse."

Billowing smoke.

A cigarette stubbed into an ashtray.

See this movie.


"Pushwagner" is playing Thu, May 3 9:15 PM at Cumberland 2 and Fri, May 4 11:30 PM at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema during the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival 2012. To get tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.