It’s a shame that the people who really need to see Matthew Akers’ transfixing debut documentary, Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present, won’t go near it. If the years and years of time spent by newspaper opinion columns bemoaning the “waste” of taxpayer funding for what they deem an artist’s silly folly had been used instead to create something that moves and deeply effects just one person in this world then we’d surely be better off for it. The woman at the centre of The Artist is Present, Serbian born performance artist Marina Abramović, is a fascinating one and this documentary’s final 30 minutes is a testament to the power that her work has over people. As she sat gallantly in Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) for some 736.5 hours, her work took on the stature of legend, so it’s sad to think there are far too many out there who, as one news reporter featured within says, see her as little more than “some Yugoslavian provocateur.”
Beginning several months before the opening of her extensive, acclaimed 2010 retrospective at MoMA in Manhattan, The Artist is Present (which takes its name from the title of the MoMA exhibit) looks at the artistic process as well as the effect it has on its creator and those who view it. It’s a daunting endeavour that Abramovic and her collaborators embark on, and one that certainly had me joking about the sore legs I get from sitting down for hours at a time in a darkened cinema.
Don’t be mistaken by the subject matter, Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present isn’t a slog to sit through. Abramović herself is a captivating woman and an entertaining one who isn’t afraid to let the camera into her world (bare body and all). Her secret love for fashion is a particular comical revelation. There are even fleeting appearances by James Franco and Orlando Bloom, and the liberal video footage of her earlier work is wonderful to see.
It’s hard not to wish Akers’ film had been as inventive with the cinematic form as Abramović has been with her art, but it’s hard to really worry about that when the results are as good as this. One particular moment involving the artist and her ex-husband is a certainty to remain one of the most startling film images of the year. The Artist is Present is a mesmerising portrait of one of the world’s most creative individuals.
Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present is screening again at the Melbourne International Film Festival on Wednesday 15 August with a release by Madman Entertainment in the future
Director: Matthew Akers