Eva Hesse Dir. Marcie Begleiter

[Zeitgeist Films; 2016]

Styles: artist documentary
Others: Art 21, How to Draw a Bunny, In the Realms of the Unreal

Decomposing latex dripping from ropes and vaguely sexual sacks and tubes are among the varied objects that comprise the work of the late Eva Hesse (1936-1970). Standing before her seminal sculpture, Hang Up , one beholds a bandaged monstrous frame with a wire coming out at the viewer. From her work, one can infer both a sense of loss and the repository of memories and complex creative processes which brought the object into existence. Indeed, Hesse’s works emit the aura of a magical object that one wishes to know more about.

Eva Hesse, a documentary directed by Marcie Begleiter, sheds light on the art and personal history of the artist, whose life was tragically cut short by a brain tumor at the age of 34. Through interviews with family members and friends, including Carl Andre, Richard Serra, and others close to the artist, Begleiter presents the spectrum of light and darkness in the life of Eva Hesse. The documentary exposes the viewer to rarely seen or heard primary documents including excerpts from Hesse’s journal (read by Selma Blair), personal letters between herself and people she loved including her father (read by Bob Balaban), Sol Lewitt (read by Patrick Kennedy), and her long time friend, Rosie Goldman. They reveal both her pride and internal struggles, giving the audience a window into Hesse’s process of integrating her creative and personal life.

Hearing Hesse’s actual voice towards the end of the film, from a tape recorded interview, with art historian Cindy Nemser, is a delightful revelation. Although a significant part of the film includes interviews with Hesse’s sister Helen Hesse Charash who speaks with a characteristically New Yorker accent, it is still a pleasant shock to hear Hesse’s voice inflected with the same mannerisms, especially since for the majority of the film we hear her words through the voice of Selma Blair.

Animated shots add visual diversity to the film, though at times they seem supplementary rather than complementary. Because the style of animation sits at a distance from the world of materiality and organic forms associated with Hesse, the employment of these techniques opens the door to leaving the world of her visual language to enter the universe of another artist. Likewise, the use of subtly animated photographs, otherwise known as cinemagraphs, also stands out in a way that does not necessarily serve the film.

However, regardless of how one may feel about the treatment of the archival materials, the distribution and exposure of them is what counts most in the end. Ultimately, Begleiter succeeds in establishing a complete arc and thoroughly researched portrait of Eva Hesse’s history and oeuvre. Begleiter’s admiration and view of Eva Hesse as a source of tremendous inspiration is tangible and will be contagious for audiences of this artist documentary.

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