Poet Allen Ginsberg is quoted at the end of this 1997 documentary "I write poetry because the English word inspiration comes from Latin spiritus, breath, I want to breathe freely." And it's through his documentary Inspirations that director Michael Apted asks, What makes an artist want to breathe in a particular way? Whether that artist is pop painter Roy Lichtenstein, a Pueblo sculptor, or David Bowie, Apted is able to open up the individual and peel back the layers to reveal the beating heart of an artist's influences, purposes, and, yes, inspirations. The seven artists profiled here discuss their solitary and collaborative methods, the moments when they knew what they wanted to be when they grew up, their fears of failure, the importance (or not) of passion or their own "immortality," and the excitement that comes with pioneering new work.
Inspirations is a Siamese twin to Apted's documentary on the inner fires driving seven cutting-edge scientists, Me and Isaac Newton, and as such furthers his exploration into not only the personal forces behind people who strive to give more to the world than they take, but also the yin-yang relationships between the arts and the sciences. His subjects don't divulge any deep secrets about what makes a creative person successful. (And, let's say it, in some cases here quite wealthy and famous.) But they do give a plain-speaking sense of themselves that's without pretension or haughty jargon. Fans of '60s newsprint-dot art icon Roy Lichtenstein (who died the year of the film's release) may be disappointed to find that, like a Seinfeld episode, he and his work may really be about nothing.
A relaxed David Bowie (identified only as "musician" and stripped of his glam-rock trappings and artifice) shows himself to be just another working stiff searching for inspirations in the damnedest places. We watch him at work on a new song in his home studio, assisted by other musicians and a computer program he co-developed, the "Verbaliser," which takes his input of sentences from, say, The New York Times, and generates inspiration by way of unexpected arrangements of words, concepts, and connections.
Seattle glass sculptor Dale Chihuly creates his beautiful and fragile work the way a playwright-director mounts a theatrical event, by coordinating the skills and talents of others working for him. He's as likely to find inspiration in the bathtub as in the dew-fogged forests of the Pacific Northwest, and we see him in both environments. New Mexico sculptor Nora Naranjo-Morse connects her work to "clay mother" Earth and her Pueblo heritage. Choreographer Edouard Lock discusses modern dance as an expression of line and movement that makes direct connections to an audience member's memories, and his input is reinforced by one of his dancers, Louise Lecavalier. Japanese architect Tadao Ando uses concrete, glass, and space to blend efficiency and function with expressions of his own spirituality.
As a documentarian, Apted's eye is itself artful and stylish. Maryse Alberti's camerawork is lush and smooth, and Inspirations is, like its counterpart, mindfully edited in thematic sections ("Influences," "On the Edge," "Sex," etc.) and supported by a musical score than ranges from jazzy piano rhythms to New Agey electronic harmonies.
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As a DVD, this Home Vision Entertainment release presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1). The new digital transfer of Apted's rather dreamy, gauzy style is as sharp and clear as a blown-glass raindrop. The Dolby 2.0 stereo audio is likewise well suited to the job at hand. The sole extra is a two-page slipsheet essay by filmmaker, author (Directing the Documentary), and educator Michael Rabiger. Keep-case.