(Leaning into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy opened in New York on Friday, March 9 at Film Forum. It has since rolled out into theaters nationwide.)
Call me a philistine, but I knew not the work of the titular subject before watching Leaning into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy, a new documentary from Thomas Riedelsheimer. This is, in fact, the second film about Goldsworthy that Riedelsheimer has made: the first was Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time, in 2001. If you, like me, were blissfully ignorant of the man’s existence, fear not, for this excellent portrait of the conceptual multimedia virtuoso will tell you all you need to know, without ever completely demystifying his enigmatic creations. That is all to the benefit of the movie, as enchanting, elliptical mysteries are the very stock in which both director and star seem to trade, and trade well they each do.
We begin in Brazil, where Goldsworthy analyzes the light falling through a ramshackle hillside hut. He reaches and seems to grab ahold of the shimmering shaft. What could he be doing, we wonder? From there, he travels to a farm, where the clay floor fascinates him equally. As we soon learn, he is an avid student of the world around him, always considering ways to create art that is either organic to its natural context, or created, in a different environment, from materials that recall a distant place, both apart and a part of the new location. After Brazil, Goldsworthy goes to San Francisco, California, to work on a commissioned installation that mixes clay (like that of the farm he visited), human hair and a large tree, creating a cathedral of sorts that celebrates the earth, light and, especially, time.
Indeed, it’s that last element that makes Goldsworthy’s œuvre especially meaningful, as his sculptured installations evolve over days, weeks, months and years, and we watch the time-lapse of the clay cathedral walls cracking and changing color. It is beautiful to behold, textured with meaning about our own impermanence (though some of the artist’s pieces last longer than others). Post-San Francisco, we globe trot to Goldsworthy’s native Scotland, then to England, to Gabon, to Vermont and France. In each location, we observe him at work – now, in later years, with daughter Holly by his side – sometimes flashing back to older footage, which shows both continuity and evolution of process.
Throughout, there is a constant, fascinating tension between a celebration of nature and an interruption/destruction of it, since Goldsworthy’s work, as organic to context as it may (or may not) be, cannot exist without imposing itself on a landscape that was doing just fine without him. I have rarely seen a film that meditates so deeply on the role and effect of an artist on the environment around him. Then again, limited though I may be in my knowledge of contemporary artists, Goldsworthy seems like a sui generis kind of guy.
His work is also performance-based. At various points in the movie, we watch him engage in “hedge climbing,” where he throws himself inside a large Scottish bramble bush and struggle to climb through it, usually fighting the plant every step of the way. And then there’s the “leaning into the wind” of the title, where Goldsworthy hikes to the top of a hill in Scotland famed for its high winds, and leans forward until he can hold a near-horizontal position without being blown over. In other words, not only are natural landscapes his canvas, so is his very body. A remarkable artist and man, Andy Goldsworthy, in Leaning into the Wind, is given a remarkable cinematic tribute.
– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)