William Kurelek's The Maze
Robert M. Young and David Grubin
During work on a 1969 film dealing with "psychotic art," Young became fascinated by Kurelek's painting "The Maze," a depiction of the "inside" of the artist's "skull" made while he was being treated for clinical depression and suspected schizophrenia in 1953.
The trope of the "crazy" artist is a powerful one. Even people unfamiliar with art history know Vincent Van Gogh — the unofficial patron saint of mental illness. While Kurelek's psychological issues aren't as well known as Van Gogh's, his early work uses art as a therapeutic tool. So it's understandable how and why the filmmakers would be interested in investigating his mental distress and "extreme feelings of unreality" while simultaneously showcasing the very art he created during and after his stint in psychiatric hospitals.
Interview footage with the artist, his family, members of his medical team and his priest shows each speaking with surprising candour about Kurelek's beliefs, traits and life. Through the course of this documentary, the young Kurelek seems less crazy than sensitive and uncertain about how to live as an artist. His "hard and ambitious" immigrant father's strict notion of success and dismissive attitude towards Kurelek's artistic tendencies have left him feeling isolated and misunderstood.
Few of us live without anxiety or fear — we fear eschewing social conventions and expectations, we don't want to disappoint others or ourselves, we wonder how to live a meaningful life. Through Kurelek's example, this documentary outlines the hardships associated not just with trying to make sense of choosing an unconventional path, but of merely being alive.
There is something fascinating about witnessing an artist articulate his thoughts without censor or shame. Whenever people are able to discuss their struggles and successes, their neuroses and hopes with authenticity, as Kurelek does in this documentary, it feels like a gift. The artist's recollection of the life-changing revelation he experienced after undergoing 14 electroshock therapy sessions, a time he considers a "spiritual crisis," is almost uncomfortably intimate.
Like in the documentary In the Realms of the Unreal, William Kurelek's The Maze uses an amplified "Ken Burns Effect" to illustrate the interviewees' words and provide a compelling narrative arc. Not only does this documentary pan along and zoom in on still imagery — in this case, Kurelek's paintings and drawings — but it also makes certain figures move, gesticulate or sing.
When the work of an artist is looked at solely through the lens of their autobiography, however, there is a danger of reductionism. While the visual manipulation of Kurelek's paintings is intriguing and effectively affective, it also ascribes fixed meaning onto images that should remain unbound.
ReviewsOct 29, 2014
The BabadookJennifer Kent
At every Toronto After Dark Fest, there's at least one film that rides a wave of palpable buzz and has attendees clamouring to see it. Last ...
ReviewsOct 24, 2014
Films about time travel are some of the trickiest ones to create as far as sci-fi subgenres are concerned — it's not so much about the...
ReviewsOct 23, 2014
Why Horror?Nicolas Kleiman, Rob Lindsay
As a nerd, it's always pretty weird seeing your favourite genre rise to the surface of mainstream culture, and horror is no exception. In hi...
ReviewsOct 22, 2014
Time LapseBradley King
You don't fuck with time. That's the philosophical takeaway - an idea espoused time and time again by one of the lead characters - in Bradle...
ReviewsOct 21, 2014
John Geddes' Hellmouth is a kaleidoscopic vision of hell that tantalizes with some bewitching visuals but ultimately comes off more as funho...
ReviewsOct 20, 2014
Kumiko, The Treasure HunterDavid Zellner
In 2001, a woman named Takako Konishi was found dead in a remote area of Minnesota. Botched eyewitness information swirled into an urban leg...
ReviewsOct 19, 2014
Man, I really wanted to like Zombeavers. Based on the trailer, which currently boasts over three million hits on YouTube, the film seemed li...
ReviewsOct 18, 2014
ABCs of Death 2Various Directors
When producers Ant Timpson and Tim League announced that they'd be producing a followup to 2012's highly ambitious anthology film The ABCs o...