This is another of Cult Epics’ entries in their new Rene Daalder Collection. His most recent film, it’s a documentary about conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader. The brief body of work he left behind is best known for using gravity as a medium (so, for instance, he did a number of filmed pieces of himself or objects falling). He was lost at sea in1975 while attempting to cross the Atlantic in a minuscule boat as part of a piece to called “In Search of the Miraculous.” Daalder’s 68-minute film retraces Ader’s life, but does so in part through the filter of Daalder’s own parallel experiences as an expatriate Dutch artist. The film is very interesting, though I would have like a bit more analysis of Ader’s work, in order to have a better understanding of exactly what it was doing, and Daalder’s speculations about what Ader’s final thoughts might have been are a little too definitive. Still, a strong documentary.
This is not a film that really needs an elaborate sound design. Since much of the running time consists of narration and interviews, as long as the voices are clear, all is well, and that is certainly the case. But there are a few evocative scenes at sea, and there the surround effects of waves and wind are very striking, plunging the audience into the environment. Meanwhile, there is an interesting use of deliberate pop and static on the soundtrack. The only false note is sounded by inappropriate surround dialogue that occurs when footage of Daalder’s The White Slave is being shown.
The picture quality depends on the source. Some of the footage here is quite old, some of it is clearly 8 mm film, and this is in contrast to the rather harsh shot-on-video look of some of the present day interviews. But this is all part of the look of the film, and the transfer stays true to the artistic project. In other words, well done.
Disc 1 features a Q&A following the LA premiere of the film, a video record of a 2008 exhibit of works inspired by Ader, and the trailer. Disc 2 is the film and video work of Ader himself, providing the full context to what is discussed in the feature.
Another fascinating release, revealing a world that is certainly new to me. A little more explanation would have been nice, as I said, but what is here is still plenty involving.