Sorry About the Ai Weiwei Film
“Never Sorry,” the new film about the controversial dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei had a promising start. It showed an orange cat (my favorite kind) jumping up and unlocking a door handle then exiting Weiwei’s home. On the voiceover Weiwei said something to the effect of this: cats are different from humans because they can open doors, but they don’t close them behind them.
Wow. I was excited.
But things took a nosedive fairly quickly and it’s not because Weiwei isn’t an interesting subject. He is. It’s just that the filmmaker’s style didn’t appeal to me at all. In fact, I was bored for most of the film up until the time towards the end when they got to Weiwei’s “So Sorry” exhibit at the Tate. Then it got interesting again as they showed the Tate workers unloading and laying out Weiwei’s sunflower seeds and assembling the structure in the front of the building that held the backpacks and made a statement about all the children that died in the China earthquake because the schools were structurally unsound.
Other than those few moments, the film lost me and I’m a fan of Weiwei’s. I really like his work and, of course, I like everything he stands for – and against. Yet, for me, this film didn’t manage to convince me what I already know is true: that Weiwei is brilliant. I don’t understand the accolades. Perhaps, they came just because the art world is enamored with Weiwei and any film about him will be well received because everyone wants to support him.
I had the opposite experience with another film I saw recently, “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present.” Now, this one I went into with skepticism because I’ve always been rather tepid towards Abramovic. I think when she publicly stated a few years ago that artists should never be in relationships with other artists and Jerry Saltz posted this on his Facebook wall asking for opinions, I got turned off by what I perceived as her arrogance. At that point, though, I didn’t know that her two failed relationships with other artists were driving that denouncement.
By the end of the “Artist is Present” I was enamored with Abramovic. This film was brilliant. It got me excited about the artist and excited about her work. Plus I felt emotionally connected to her when the film ended. I can’t say the same about “Never Sorry.” Instead of feeling connected, I found myself looking at my watch. I was the only person in the film, too. Just me. I wonder if anyone here in palm tree land even knows who Weiwei is, or cares?
The one art film I’m crazed to see is “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow,” the documentary about Anselm Kiefer (probably my favorite artist of all time) that was directed by Sophie Fiennes, the sister of the actors Ralph and Joseph. If you see or hear about it anywhere, please, please, please let me know.