Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Daalder at AFA: Here is Always Somewhere Else

Ambitious performance art “happenings” can be dangerous. Dutch-born artist Bas Jan Ader planned a grand climatic reception when he set off across the Atlantic in what would have been the smallest craft to accomplish the solo journey. Tragically, the boat made it, but Ader was lost at sea. Rene Daalder plumbs the significance of his friend’s life and death in Here is Always Somewhere Else (trailer here), which screens during the upcoming Daalder retrospective at the Anthology Film Archives.

Like Daalder, Ader immigrated from the Calvinist high north of Holland, to pursue an artistic career in Los Angeles. Both made names for themselves, following somewhat idiosyncratic paths. However, the story of Ader’s father looms particularly heavily over his son’s life. Bas Jan Ader, Sr. was a priest executed during WWII by the National Socialists for harboring Dutch Jews. Ader, Jr. was only two years old at the time. However, Daalder eventually draws some intriguing parallels between the Aders (not involving the father’s resistance heroics).

Leaving behind a relatively slim body of work, primarily experimental films and photos often featuring the artist falling victim to gravity, Ader is an enigmatic figure, even to those who knew him best. Yet, Daalder nicely places him in the context of the Dutch art of his time and the expat milieu. Indeed, for Daalder, Ader’s metaphysical inscrutability becomes part of his essence.

Somewhere has a poetic quality that will come as a jarring shift of gears compared to the VR animation and exploitation subversion that distinguishes so much of Daalder’s filmography. He and co-editor Aaron Ohlmann integrate Ader’s films and images in smartly evocative ways. The quietly authoritative quality of Daalder’s only slightly accented English narration is also rather effective. Arguably, it is one of the more artistic documentaries about art and artists, far more accomplished than many of the recent art-related docs which aired on Independent Lens (including the Oscar-nominated Waste Land).

Unlike some of Daalder’s films that will probably appeal more to a cult audience (which evidently includes myself), Somewhere can hang with any exclusive art-house documentary. It is a challenging, culturally literate film that well serves the reputation of both subject and filmmaker. Definitely recommended, it screens this Saturday (6/11) as the Daalder series continues at AFA.