Release Date: May 12, 2017
Jeanne: If you are not from Los Angeles or an art aficionado, you may wonder who is responsible for the magnificent installation of antique streetlamps entitled "Urban Light" outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Chris Burden, who began his career with a series of sometimes dangerous and often confusing art performances around the world, is the artist.
"Burden", the documentary by filmmakers Timothy Marrinan and Richard Dewey, does a masterful job of exposing the audience to the genius of Chris Burden. Beginning in 1971, Chris was a student at the University of California Irvine, which had just instituted a brand new art department.
He experimented with performance art for his master's thesis, "5-Day Locker", when he literally locked himself in a 2' X 2' X 3' deep school locker for five days with five gallons of water. His other more outrageous acts, like "Shoot" (1971) --- he had someone shoot him in the arm --- and "Trans-fixed" (1974), being crucified on the back of a VW bug in Venice, California --- catapulted Chris to fame and a place in art history.
Tired of that phase of his art, he turned to sculptures and installations. He purchased land in Topanga Canyon and built an impressive studio where he produced many ingenious works, including "Urban Light" (2008) and "Metropolis II" (2011), which is housed inside LACMA.
Marrinan and Dewey had worked closely with Chris for years. Their relationship began when they were writing a magazine feature on him. They believed his life is one of the "great, untold stories of the art world", and approached him with their idea for a documentary.
Chris allowed them access to all of his archival footage, including an old interview in the '70's with Regis Philbin, sporting a rather large bowtie. "Burden" is a treasure trove of fascinating videos, etc. of most of his major works, such as "Shoot" and "5-Day Locker".
The film also highlights "Doomed" (1975), a show he had in Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which was attended and critiqued by Roger Ebert. At first, Ebert wasn't very sure what to make of this young artist and his bizarre performance, but, like most, he came to recognize Chris' extreme talent.
In later years, Chris eschewed those works, preferring to discuss and accentuate his sculptures and current projects. It is noted that he was always working on multiple ideas at the same time. And Marrinan and Dewey do a marvelous jog of presenting his many accomplishments, along with testimonials from his friends and colleagues.
"Burden" is brilliantly informative and so utterly engrossing. Unfortunately, Chris passed away before the completion of the doc, but it is a wonderful tribute to such a powerful influence in the world of art.
Opinion: See It Now!
David: Okay, which name might not belong in this grouping: Michelangelo, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Burden? If you answered Burden, you may be correct. The documentary entitled "Burden" follows the career of one Chris Burden, a Los Angeles-based performance artist who made his niche in the world of art a little differently than most. The film about his life opens with the names of these world-renowned artists in a mock TV commercial Burden himself produced to get attention --- and it works.
But the gimmick isn't necessary to warrant our interest. Burden himself was a genius --- he passed away in 2015 after a bout with cancer just a month after his 69th birthday. However, his legacy lives on at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in the form of major exhibits, two of which are described here.
One is called "Urban Light", several rows of old-fashioned street lights which adorn the side of LACMA on famed Wilshire Boulevard.
It has become one of the premier icons of Los Angeles, and how "Urban Light" came to be is told in detail in the movie. The second exhibit is called "Metropolis II", a giant sculpture/living replica representing Los Angeles and its maze of freeways, complete with slot cars which wind endlessly, up hill and down, as amazed spectators look on.
But Burden, in his early years, was a performance artist, which means he infused his art with his own body. His most notorious work is entitled "Shoot", in which he had a friend fire a rifle at his left arm. The bullet was supposed to only graze his skin, but the rifleman moved ever so slightly as he pulled the trigger, and the result was more than a graze. This event is shown from a large array of archival footage obtained by filmmakers Richard Dewey and Timothy Marrinan.
In another performance art piece, Burden positioned himself on his back in a public viewing room, behind a large sheet of glass, for 45 hours. It was only when someone decided he needed water to survive that he relinquished his place on the floor.
A smoker, a drinker and a drug user, at least early on, Burden seemed to be his own worst enemy. Was he brilliant, or crazy, or maybe some of both? One thing is certain from watching "Burden" --- he was definitely not cut from the same cloth as most people.
He had the foresight, later in his life, to purchase a large plot of land in Topanga Canyon near L.A. There he had a studio and could also spend quiet time, as he avoided the spotlight despite his reputation. He also bought those discarded streetlamps, one or two at a time, even though he had no idea what he would do with them. Today, tourists and locals alike flock to "Urban Light" to pose with the 202 restored cast iron lamps and take selfies, as they are illuminated nightly. A legacy, indeed!
The documentary also features interviews with Burden's past mentors, fellow art students, footage of his female companions, and a tearful interview with a close collaborator who recalls Burden's final days. The late Roger Ebert talks about Burden's performance art, and old clips of a young Chris Burden being interviewed by a very young Regis Philbin are a highlight.
As for the film itself, I would have enjoyed seeing more photos of his later works than what is shown at the end. Also, knowing some additional details about the sculptures themselves --- for example, how long did Burden work on them --- would have enhanced the production. Nevertheless, "Burden" has many more interesting aspects that make it worthwhile.
Opinion: See It Now!