5 Films About Christo and Jeanne-Claude (NTSC)

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Released 7-Jun-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Audio Commentary-Filmmakers
Booklet
Interviews-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production ?
Running Time 277:00 (Case: 282)
RSDL / Flipper No/No
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Albert Maysles
David Maysles
Charlotte Zwerin
Studio
Distributor
Stomp Visual Starring Christo
Jeanne-Claude
Case Slip Case
RPI $69.95 Music Wendy Blackstone
Phillip Johnston
Philip Glass


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (160Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    A lot of readers would have heard of Christo, an artist who they might consider strange given that most of his publicised projects seem to involve wrapping large objects like buildings and landmarks. In 1969 he wrapped the coast of Little Bay in Sydney with 90,000 square metres of erosion control fabric. But Christo's artworks encompass more than just wrapping things.

    Born in Bulgaria in 1935 as Christo Javacheff, he met his Casablanca-born wife Jeanne-Claude in Paris in the late 1950s. They began wrapping structures and objects in the early 1960s, and moved permanently to New York in 1963. It looks like they spent a decade just wrapping things, but they began to branch out in the 1970s by creating enormous structures, not necessarily enormous in size but often enormous in scale; a 24.5 mile fence across the Californian landscape, half a million square metres of fabric surrounding eleven islands, a 381 metre-wide curtain across a valley in Colorado. Their latest project is to construct 7,500 gates in New York's Central Park, a project that was conceived in 1979 and is due to be realised in early 2005. All of their projects are self-funded through the sale of Christo's artworks, and all of the materials used are recycled.

    In 1972 the pair commenced a working relationship with the Maysles brothers, David and Albert, two well-known documentary film-makers whom they had met a decade earlier. The collaboration has extended to five films, which are included in this deluxe package. Several were edited by Charlotte Zwerin who worked extensively with the brothers. The last of the five films only involved Albert, as David died in 1987. Apart from Christo, they made some superb films, like the Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter and Horowitz Plays Mozart. Their style is very much cinema verite, with the narrative driven by the editing and eschewing the use of voice-overs.

    You would think that films about an artist making art that many people find, well, weird, would be fairly dry and uninteresting. Not so. These films concentrate on the effort involved in getting the projects off the ground, and there is enough drama and humour in that to make the films entertaining. Christo and his wife turn out to be likeable though somewhat eccentric characters. This package sat on the site's pile of unallocated discs for a long time before I decided to review it, and I'm glad I did - I wish I had grabbed it earlier.

    So what is the art about? In Christo's words, it is as much about the process of getting the environmental art from conception to fruition as it is about the final product. The completed works are strangely beautiful, not only in themselves but in the way that they highlight the natural beauty of their settings. This is something that the Maysles captured very well in these films. The films are as follows:

    Christo's Valley Curtain (25:56)

    This was the first of the collaborations between the Maysles and Christo, and was nominated for an Academy Award. Christo's vision was to erect an orange curtain across a valley in Colorado. The film juxtaposes Christo designing the curtain using drawings and photographs with the construction of the final product. In particular, we see the uncovering and unfolding of the curtain and the dramas involved with this activity. This is an absorbing film that is very well edited and the sequences after the curtain has been unfolded are quite memorable.

    Running Fence (57:00)

    This time Christo and Jeanne-Claude plan to erect a 24-mile long, 18-foot high nylon curtain for two weeks in 1976, across two counties in California and ending by disappearing into the ocean. The interesting part of this film is not so much the artwork, but the problems the artists faced in getting permission to erect it. We see a couple of town council meetings where the matter is debated, and the pair travelling from ranch to ranch explaining their plans to the ranchers and getting them to sign contracts allowing the fence to be constructed. One of the volunteers helping to erect the lengthy fence is actor Kevin McCarthy, probably still on the run from those body snatchers.

    Islands (55:32)

    The Maysles' third film about the artists sees them trying to get three projects off the ground: wrapping the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris; wrapping the Reichstag; and surrounding eleven man-made islands in Florida with pink plastic sheets. As the latter is the only one that gets approval, it gets the bulk of this film.

    The interesting part of this film is the politics involved in getting the projects started. In Miami, Christo must get the approval of the Dade County Commission, and one commissioner who is against the project wants the county to see a profit from the venture. The Parisian side of things sees Christo attempting to get the approval of the Mayor of Paris, one Jacques Chirac. His reasons for not approving the artwork immediately give an insight into the mind of an ambitious politician. The German venture has obvious problems, given that approval would need to come from the various countries administering Berlin: one wall of the Reichstag is the border with the Russian sector.

    Christo in Paris (57:52)

    The Pont Neuf wrapping shown in the previous film eventually happened in 1995. The material shot in the early 1980s for Islands was expanded into this standalone documentary. The film was released in 1990 after the death of David Maysles. There is more footage of Jacques Chirac and his comments at the end about Minister of Culture Jack Lang are priceless.

    Umbrellas (80:40)

    In 1991 Christo undertook his most expensive project to date: to install 3,100 6-metre high umbrellas in two valleys. A valley in California had yellow umbrellas, while another valley in Japan had blue umbrellas. Unfortunately, a typhoon in Japan and a freak storm in California caused problems, and tragedy was to strike in both countries.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    All of the films are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and are not 16x9 enhanced. The original aspect ratio would have been 1.37:1, so there has been some minimal trimming of the image. The television format is NTSC, and this release seems to be a direct port of the Region 1 release.

    The oldest film in this collection has problems with colour and shadow detail. The colour seems to be oversaturated, with dark flesh tones. There is no detail in shadows, and there are no genuine blacks either. At times, the dark areas of the picture are green. This may be partly due to the nature of the source material used. Otherwise, the video quality on each film is reasonable. Each transfer is quite sharp and detailed.

    There are some film to video artefacts. Generally, the transfers have the look of being taken from video masters and not directly from the original film material. There is a thin film across the image at all times. Some of the films suffer from dot crawl. An example of this can be seen in Umbrellas at 61:39 on the rims of the yellow umbrellas. There is a lot of grain at times, especially in the older films. There is also occasional aliasing.

    There are several examples of excessive noise reduction in Umbrellas, for example at 35:21.

    Film artefacts are also present, with dirt, scratches and assorted debris visible.

    Optional subtitles are not provided. However, Islands has burned-in white subtitles in English for the French and German dialogue. The last two films have non-removable electronic subtitles for the French and Japanese dialogue respectively. The subtitles are well-timed and easy to read.

    All three discs are single layered, so there are no layer changes to disrupt the flow of any of the films.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio on all films is Dolby Digital 2.0, which seems to me to be mono in all cases.

    Some viewers may have trouble with the dialogue. Christo has a thick accent and it is not always clear what he is saying. Jeanne-Claude speaks a little more deliberately and thus I had no problems with her dialogue. Occasionally the audio is a little quiet when picking up the comments of the bemused locals in each film, but the dialogue can be made out. Generally the audio is acceptable. It is lacking in body and is a little thin at times, but it is serviceable for documentary films of this type.

    The music varies from film to film. I do not recall any music in Christo's Valley Curtain. Running Fence has some country-style music which seems to be from pre-recorded sources. Islands has no music credit. Christo in Paris has a music credit for Wendy Blackstone, but most of the music is Edith Piaf or by Philip Glass. Umbrellas has a jazzy score with Japanese influences by Phillip Johnston.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    While not strictly an extra, the packaging of these films is excellent. The three discs each come in a separate and very thin plastic case, with nice cover photographs of the films. In addition there is a substantial booklet, and all are encased in a cardboard slipcase.

Audio Commentary with Christo, Jeanne-Claude and Albert Maysles

    Each of the films has an audio commentary recorded in 2004. As both David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin are now dead, only Albert was available for these commentaries. He might as well not have been there either as he has very little to say. I suspect that he had trouble getting a word in edge-wise. Christo and Jeanne-Claude hog the microphone, and as a result there are very few quiet spots in any of the commentaries.

    The commentaries are very good, with the artists enthusiastically recalling their experiences in making the artworks. It is usual for audio commentaries to be mixed in with the existing soundtracks of films, so that when there are pauses in the commentary the sound from the original material can be clearly heard. That is not the case here. The sound of the originals is very faint if it is heard at all. It seems that the original sound has been muted completely, and the only sound from the original films is that which we hear in the background of the commentary recording as the trio watch the films. This is not really a problem given that there are only a couple of quiet passages across the five films, though it does make it sound quite different to your ordinary audio commentary. Some of the audio seems to be patched in from the interview detailed below.

    The audio also seems to be at a higher volume than the main audio, so turn your sound down slightly before engaging the commentaries. In the last two films, the audio is cut off mid-sentence by the film ending. The only other comment that I will make is that Christo's accent is no less thick than it was in 1972, so sometimes careful attention needs to be paid to understand what he is saying. Jeanne-Claude is a more deliberate speaker and therefore I had no trouble understanding her comments.

Interview with Christo and Jeanne-Claude (27:19)

    This interview was recorded in December 2003, and features Christo, Jeanne-Claude and Albert Maysles seated in front of the camera reminiscing about the films. There seems to be an interviewer off-screen, who does not say much and is not miked-up. This extra was recorded on video and suffers from some aliasing. Some of the material was used in the audio commentaries.

Booklet

    A nice 84-page booklet with colour photos from the various projects, and text written by Maysles, Charles Taylor and the artists. This is more like one of those slim art books than a DVD booklet. The thick cover makes it feel more substantial than most DVD booklets.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There are no differences between the Region 4 and Region 1 releases of this material. I expect that the distributor has simply imported the Region 1 release for distribution here, so there is no reason to prefer one above the other, except on grounds of cost and availability.

Summary

    Five superb documentaries, well worth seeking out.

    The video and audio quality are by no means perfect but they are acceptable.

    The extra material is useful and entertaining.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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