Up the Valley and Beyond

There is a section of features in this year’s New York Film Festival entitled “On the Arts.” The focus is music and performance, spread across widely distant genres. Becoming Traviata, a documentary about Natalie Dessay’s first production of the opera in France, doesn’t have much of its soundtrack in common with Punk in Africa. This diversity of subject continues outside of the official “On the Arts” section and into the shorts programs, where there are a handful of truly celebratory films about artists and their work. (Perhaps they should have somehow been jointly packaged with the features.) A Brief History of John Baldessari, A Story for the Modlins, and Up the Valley and Beyond bridge the gap between cinema and the still arts of painting, sculpture, and photography. They’re a motley bunch, two of them charismatic documentaries and the third an eccentric mini-biopic. Yet they have in common a playful sense of style, with which they complement and interpret the work of their subjects rather than simply presenting and praising it. All three embrace the spirit of John Baldessari’s declaration, “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art.”

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