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Rivers and Tides
Reviewed by Dennis Morton

Andy Goldsworthy: his cousin is a spider, his aunt was a sunset.

No, not really, of course not. But Andy Goldsworthy is an unusual man. His art and a glimpse of his life is the subject of a documentary called Rivers And Tides which has just opened at The Nickelodeon Theatre, in downtown Santa Cruz.

Rivers And Tides is that rarest of documentaries. It’s a true work of art about works of art and the artist who makes them. Director and cinematographer Thomas Riedelsheimer spent the better part of a year, in four countries, filming Goldsworthy at work, and even at home. Goldsworthy works mostly outdoors, in all seasons, creating art out of the elements. Nothing seems beyond his reach. In Goldsworthy’s scarred and weathered hands, icicles, leaves, dust, driftwood, flowers, bracken, brambles, moss, rain, rocks and stone – are shaped into objects of transitory beauty.

If it’s true that ‘one picture is worth a thousand words’, then Riedelsheimer and his camera are the equivalent of a small library, a very good small library full of books you’ll never tire of. It’s a challenge apportioning the praise due this beautiful film. The focus is always on Goldsworthy and his magnificent art, but the stunning camera work and the imaginative editing of Thomas Riedelsheimer is art of equal brilliance.

Riedelsheimer has been in Santa Cruz for over a week, working on his next project, a cinematic portrait of the dynamic Scottish percussionist, Evelyn Glennie. While here he made himself available for several interviews, one on KUSP. And after the Saturday night late screening at The Nick, Riedelsheimer spent almost an hour fielding questions from an energetically appreciative audience. Clearly, the audience was as interested in Riedelsheimer’s work as it was in Goldsworthy’s. In all probability, you will be too.

In many decades of watching and loving movies, I’ve never seen a film like this. Art requires dedication and concentration, lots of effort and energy to produce something that may or may not be accepted as beautiful or of any worth whatsoever. With so much emotional and physical effort expended, it’s easy to understand why some artists become attached to their work and go to great lengths to preserve it. But Andy Goldsworthy makes art he knows won’t last. On a Nova Scotian beach we watch him build a driftwood dome, the most arresting and beautiful part of which may well be the part that isn’t there, an almost perfectly round opening at the top. And then we watch the tide come in and disassemble his work. Following Goldsworthy around is to confront our own mortality. Nothing lasts. Everything changes. Beauty is of the moment.

While viewers with Buddhist orientations might be tempted to call Goldsworthy one of their own, in his interviews, Riedelsheimer points out that Goldsworthy is loathe to be tagged with a label. The film makes it clear that Goldsworthy usually photographs his work. He’s not without attachment. The Goldsworthy in Rivers And Tides is an accepting man, patient and contemplative. He can look directly into the camera and say things that from other mouths would feel like preposterous new age babble. But from him we believe it.

Rivers And Tides is easily the best documentary I have ever seen. In this visually stunning portrait of an unusual artist, Thomas Riedelsheimer quietly reveals that he too is an artist of extraordinary skill. I can’t come close to telling you how beautiful this film is.

I can suggest in the strongest terms that you not miss the opportunity to see it on the big screen. Do not wait for the video. If you see only one film this year, make it Rivers And Tides.

For the KUSP Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.