Two Versions of the Art Short

Two very different shorts made for a great bill at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art on Saturday morning, January 25 in Film Fest program labeled simply and emphatically, "Art!" Fertilize is a spellbinding 8-minute short from Belgium directed by Senne Dehandschutter.

Employing both CGI and almost two dozen live modern dancers in fantastic, sexy costumes, Fertlize creates an entire world out of its dreamy Junkie XL soundtrack, Brazilian capoeira dancing, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style acrobatics. It's an apocalyptic love story (as far as I could tell) about a dreadlocked dancer and a woman warrior with a wardrobe malfunction. The filmmaker was present, and, when asked if this film school thesis project received an "A," answered, "oh no, not at all. I went way over budget and it was a year late."

No matter. Dehandschutter is a huge talent and should be scooped up by Hollywood or the advertising industry any minute. He'd make a great match with Aszure Barton.
Grace Hartigan: Shattering Boundaries, at 37 minutes, occupies a fascinating threshold, both as a film and as a story.

Neither a feature-length biography nor a conventional short film, Boundaries tells the life of a neglected contemporary of the Abstract Expressionists who was included in several of the most important early exhibitions of the "New York school" as early as 1951. Hartigan, who died in November of 2008, contributes enormously to the film through her thoughtful and at times self-revealing commentary.

The film starts obliquely, letting the viewer gradually realize just how important and prolific Hartigan actually was. This is a smart strategy, and the film largely succeeds because it never lets the hype (or lack of it) get ahead of the humanity of Grace Hartigan. Along the way, one picks up some valuable insights into America's most influential generation of painters. Yes, alcohol was the most commonly used solvent, and no, marriages and relationships more generally were not so well served by it.

Despite affairs with several of the key figures in Abstract Expressionism, and a late marriage to a scientist that began in smiles and ended in madness, the closest Hartigan ever came to real love appears to have been a Platonic intimacy with the poet Frank O'Hara. She tells a story about selling something toAlfred Barr of the Museum of Modern Art and getting a call from O'Hara, who worked there at the register in the gift shop. O'Hara said, "Hi Grace, Alfred Barr is trying to get one of your pictures through the revolving doors of the museum and I'm afraid he's going to damage it. Oh, there he goes to the side door! Everything's going to be OK."

Whether or not the film succeeds in reviving interest in Hartigan's work, which looks quite good on screen, it will certainly become an object of interest in itself for the side view it gives of a very special place and time.

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